Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tanks, but no Tanks

I was clearing out the Tatooine bonus series quests on my Jedi Sentinel when the call came through on Gen Chat.

"LFM for World Boss."

It's not like I haven't seen that before.  Even WoW got back into the World Boss business with Mists, so you'll occasionally see recruitment messages in Trade Chat in much the same way you'd see pug raids in the old days.*  Still, I used to eschew World Boss runs in much the same way that I passed on raids:  I simply didn't have the time to invest in the gear grind and then the raids themselves.  Perhaps I'm not being entirely fair about raids these days, with LFR and all, but watching guildies smash themselves against ICC day in and day out for 3+ hours at a time kind of turned me off of raiding as anything more than an occasional diversion into AQ40 or Sunwell.

Still, one nice thing that the World Bosses in TOR have going for them are that they're level appropriate for the world you're in.  If you're at the right level for being on a specific world, you can assist in taking on that planet's World Boss.  No gear grind needed.**

Before I could talk myself out of it, I whispered the player rounding up the WB attempt and promptly received an invite.  I took a speeder out to the Dune Sea and scanned the list of people who joined up; I recognized a few people from Heroics I'd run, and one other person I'd run a Flashpoint with.  The slots were quickly filling up to the max of 16, and by the time I arrived people were splitting themselves off into the three parts of the trinity.  There was only one thing...

"Do we have a tank?" someone asked.

"Um," I replied, scanning the lists, "I don't think we have a tank spec at all.  But we've got a LOT of healers."

Indeed we did.  I counted seven Commandos alone, and three Jedi Sages.  There were a couple of Gunslingers, and one other Sentinel besides myself.  One person piped up, "I'm the only Scoundrel here? :-("

"Yeah," I replied, "but you're OUR Scoundrel."

The player organizing the run quickly spammed Gen Chat with "LF tank for World Boss" until our fifteenth slot was taken.  "Hi!" the tank said.  "Who's the main tank?"

"You are," someone said.  "You're our only tank."

One of the Commandos added, "Yeah, but you've got about 10 healers backing you up."

"Okay, cool.  I'll get there and we'll do this."

Playing toons whose damage can really spike --a Mage (WoW), a Barbarian (AoC), or a Gunslinger (TOR)-- taught me the value of waiting before joining in an attack.***  So I had a ringside seat of watching about a half dozen glowing green lines on that tank when he started in on the WB.  I'd have laughed if I wasn't so intent on getting into position, because it looked like the old Chain Heal spell run amok.

But what I really had in mind was this Order of the Stick comic.

We DPSed down the World Boss without losing a single toon.  In fact, I don't think that either myself or the tank dropped below 75% health for the entire fight.  Hell, it's entirely possible that I could have tanked the WB with that much healing available; not that I'd want to have tried, mind you, but it does illustrate the value of having excess healing to go around.


To piggyback on that WB adventure, I can make the conjecture that in a battleground a healer is far more important than a tank.

While having tanks and/or melee DPS is nice to have, BGs are won or lost by the number of healers a side has.  My completely unscientific observation has been borne out by months upon months of grinding through Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, where you can make a reasonable assertion which side will win purely based on which side has more healers.  

A good healer can turn a squishy Mage into a tank.  No healer can turn a Warrior into a sitting duck.

And while a Ret/Prot Pally has a very limited number of heals before they run out of mana, the Feral Druid and Shadow Priest can hang around, dropping far more heals, even though they are technically a DPS spec. I've recently been in an Arathi Basin battleground where a Shadow Priest, a Mage, and a Feral Druid kept six players busy at the Stables.  Sure, they eventually lost, but the corresponding loss in time to taking them out meant 1/5 of one side kept 1/3 of another side from impacting the game. Spreading 9 people across four nodes meant that nodes were shorthanded, and the other side could (and did) take over at least one other node.

A good healer, just like the Demonology Warlock with their Wild Imps, can swing the battle by being a force multiplier.  Sure, you've got others with pets, such as the Hunter and Frost Mage, but a healer is a force multiplier without needing a pet at all.  By keeping teammates upright, the healer has an oversized impact on the game.  And if that healer can drop AoEs like the Druid can....

Well, you get the point.  A healer is a prized commodity in the BG world.

*Old days = pre patch 4.3.  Not to make you feel ancient or anything.

**Imagine a Knucklerot on steroids in every region of WoW, and you get the idea.

***Well, that and being a smudge on the floor when the boss smacks you good.

EtA:  Corrected a logic issue in the last paragraph.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Curse of Redbeard Strikes Again!

You'd think that I'd have learned by now.

I start a toon, and that toon's class and/or spec gets nerfed.

It happened with Ret (although it took Cata dropping for it to finally get there).  It happened with Frost (again, Cata's release was the kicker).  It happened with Locks, too.

And now it's happened with Rogues.

You don't notice that Rogues got nerfed a bit in Mists until you get higher up in level, around the 30s.  That's when a lot of other toons start to get new abilities.  Or their existing abilities take a big leap in utility.

Like, say, those damn Wild Imps.

Back in my day, when I leveled Adelwulf, we didn't have no stinking Wild Imps.  We Warlocks took our lumps from every other class, and we LIKED it!  And we walked to school barefoot, too!  Uphill!  Both ways!!

It's more than a bit disconcerting that in the L30s BGs you can suddenly find yourself fighting 4-5 on 1 due to those Wild Imps.  Couple that with some improved AI on the succubus and the Lock is no longer the butt end of the BG spectrum like it was in Cata.  In fact, if you put two Demonology Locks together and add one healer, you can pin an entire bunch of people down at the entrance in Arathi Basin.

A Rogue's ability is designed for maximum damage close in, sacrificing armor for speed.  If the Rogue fails to kill the enemy quickly, then they're a sitting duck.  In the L30s in Mists, what ends up happening is that those other classes take a big leap forward in survivability, whereas the Rogue's corresponding damage output levels off.  This results in the Rogue being unable to pick on even the stragglers in a BG if they're of comparable level to the Rogue.

And you can forget about a healer.  A Rogue simply doesn't have enough stuns to take out a healer of comparable level in the L30s.


From where I stand watching BGs in the mid-30s, the Feral Druid still rules the roost.  The Disco Priest has fallen back a bit, and has been replaced by the Mistweaver Monk and Demonology Warlock.  Warriors have gotten their mojo back a bit, and two warriors together can handle a group of 4-5 DPS.  What I've found surprising is that Frost Mages have made a comeback of sorts.  Back in Cata you had Fire and Arcane making inroads into BGs based upon their higher damage output, but it seems that in Mists that Frost has reasserted itself as the Mage PvP spec once more.  As a (retired) Frost Mage player, it's nice to see the spec doing well.  As a (current) Rogue player, however, they're harder to take down than before.

Paladins seem to have made a bit of a recovery from their easy pickings of the L20s, but they still trail Warriors in survivability.  Ret still has the aftereffect from Cata's overhaul; the lack of decent emergency healing seems to hamper Ret more than anything else.  Being a (retired) Ret player, I've noticed that the major Paladin failing in L30s Mists has nothing to do with the class, but with the player type.  Pallies are more prone to charging in alone than any other class, save perhaps the Warrior, but without the Warrior's survivability.  I call it the Sir Lancelot Syndrome*, which is an offshoot of how Pallies can simply plow through mobs in most other circumstances.  It feeds a belief in invincibility, and encourages the "Follow me!  Chaaaarge!" sort of behavior.

I was guilty of SLS as much as anyone else.  I'm sure the gleaming armor and "Servant of the Light" didn't help, but I knew that even the Holy Spec wasn't as squishy as most classes, so it only made sense to wade into the thick of the fight.  Additionally, in a game like AB where one player can gum up the works and divert 4-5 people away from trying to take another base, it's only natural that a class that can take a beating would be the one to storm the beachhead.  In my hubris, I also figured that if I led by example, others would follow.  Naturally, a few years of playing BGs has beaten that idea out of me, but I still backslide from time to time.


Warsong Gulch is one of those BGs where your opinion of it is entirely shaped upon how well your side does in it.  You can top the meters day after day, but if your side doesn't win, you start to get bitter.**  I recognized that in myself in the most recent losing streak I've been in, as it was an echo of my time leveling Adelwulf.  There was this long period from L20 through L40 where my Lock could count on one paw the number of victories in WSG.  My Rogue found the BG much better --winning about half of the time will do that to a person-- but this current losing streak can wear on a psyche.

When you port in and you see half of the other side is a healer of some sort, you know you're in trouble.  The backbiting starts before even the first flag is captured, and the cries of "we ALWAYS suck!" fill the air.  Players drop like flies, and people who replace them look around, declare "What a fail group!" and drop themselves.

It's enough to make a body back up, go out into a zone, and work on a gathering skill for a while.

Or maybe visit the Darkmoon Faire.

But WSG is still lurking there, like Lucy and her football, hoping to get the Charlie Brown of BG players back in for another go.  "Surely it can't be that bad," you say to yourself.

"Yes it can," the pessimistic side of you retorts, "and don't call me Shirley."

"But maybe it's different this time."

"You said that the last time.  And the time before that.  And...."

"You know, when you talk to yourself, that's when you realize you're a bit off your rocker."

"So you're coming around to my way of thinking.  Good job!"

Maybe I ought to give WSG another try.  This streak has got to end sometime.  After all, even Manchester City won the Premier League last year.

*SLS makes a catchy acronym, you know.

**And your XP moves forward at a snail's pace.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Don't Think He's Overcompensating for Something, Do You?

You know Illidan's favorite line?

Yeah, that was me when I hooked up the new desktop late last week.  I was so not prepared.

I work on a 14 inch laptop (81 in2).  Our old desktop had a 19 inch (160 in2) monitor.  The school laptop is 15.6 inches (120 in2).

The new desktop, by comparison, has a 23 inch HD monitor (230 in2).  I felt like it was the first day at a previous job back in the 90s, going from working on a 14 inch terminal to a 21 inch SGI workstation.  The only difference was that this new machine required a bunch of patches right off the bat (new OS, you know), but once that and the security software were in place I was off to downloading some MMOs.*

The first one was WoW, because I could play in a limited basis while the client itself was downloading.

I'd played so long on extremely low graphics settings that I was unprepared for how the game would look with current equipment (with a bit better than average graphics card).  For one thing, the 1080 resolution on a properly sized monitor is positively HUGE.  There was all this freaking space around where I was used to having to shoehorn in my mods; I'd grown so accustomed to having to mentally keep track of where enemies were located just off my viewing area that actually seeing them on-screen was unnerving.  And I'll be honest:  I thought I was playing an upgraded version of WoW because I could actually see the detail in both the background and the toons.**

If I thought that WoW was good, LOTRO and Age of Conan were better.  AoC seemed to have a bit of an issue with getting the toons at distance filled in, but it was still light years better than what I'd seen before.  Aion, on the other hand, seemed to be similar enough in graphics quality, but just moved better.***

Then I tried out TOR.

The details that I'd missed playing the game at extremely low graphics settings were stunning.  There I was --in Tatooine of all places-- staring at the sand on the screen.  The cutscenes didn't look all that different, but the actual worlds...

"Amazing," I said in Guild Chat when I was exploring The Wetlands on my Rogue.  "Everything is so huge."

"Yeah," said a guildie.  "Running on a smaller screen really takes out a lot of the details."

"And this is with a machine that you'd kind of classify as only a borderline gaming machine too.  Not one of the high powered $2k+ machines."

"Borderline gaming?"

"Yeah.  No $400 graphics card or solid state drive.  About the only splurge I did was to get the i7 CPU and 12 GB RAM."

Now, I'd be lying if I said that the fancy new machine suddenly improved my gaming, because it didn't.  Actually, my gaming got worse, because I was so used to being able to move around the smaller screen so quickly with a short flick of the wrist that having everything spread out so much made it more of a chore to use.  I also spent a lot more time looking down at where things were rather than where the enemy was when I was out and about.

And I have to confess that I spent way too much time just looking around rather than paying attention to the mobs around me.  You know, the ones that might actually kill me.

I can easily see why some game houses spend so much money on artwork in their attempt to take advantage of modern computer graphics, but I can now also see how that can be a money pit.  While I can stare at the visuals now, after a while it'll become old hat.  Once that happens, all the visuals in the world won't save a game without a deep and engrossing story, good gameplay, and replayability.

But in the meantime I'm going to grok some sand and swampland for a while.****

*Okay, perusing some clips on YouTube came first.  And setting up my family's accounts.  And setting up my wife's e-mail.  And setting up the network drive so I could listen to music/edit family videos.  And....

**And the pets.  With the higher resolution graphics, the Shivarra was a bit more PG-13 than I was comfortable with having my kids around.  But then again, I'd already covered that a while back.

***Aion still feels too.... Nintendo for my taste.  When I read the quest text, the language style isn't what I would use, and it just feels more like a translation from another culture.  It seems strange saying that, especially since AoC was developed by Funcom, but whereas the AoC NPCs talk like they came out of a Robert E. Howard short story, Aion's is decidedly different.

****My sister-in-law once said that professional golf broadcasts on television were tailor made for HDTV.  Now having seen the details in games with HD graphics, I can understand her argument a bit better.  And yes, for the record, we don't have a HD television in our house.  Our old 25 inch RCA is still chugging along, and there's been no need to replace it.  (Yet.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Mind Me, I'm Just Having Withdrawal Symptoms

Yes, I really do exist.

I dropped off the map last week due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and in no small part to my (lack of) MMO experiences on a laptop.  

What I've done is cherry pick what I've put on the laptop so that there's a minimum of times where the thing is on and downloading a game throughout the night, so I've focused on installing the three big heavy hitters in our household:  WoW, TOR, and LOTRO.*

Ironically enough, I've had an easier time slipping back into TOR than WoW, but that's because I've also been running without my mods.  It's been since 2009 when I last ran WoW without any mods at all, and boy does it show.  

I know some purists prefer the default WoW interface, and I used to think that I didn't need it much at all either, but boy do I miss Deadly Boss Mods (among others).  I couldn't tell you the number of times I've been looking around for a timer in a BG only to remember that I don't have it installed.  I've also made the declaration several times that "I'm going to install DBM no matter what the time of night is", only to forget it once the WoW session is over.

You'd think that means that I really don't miss mods all that much if I don't bother to put them in, right?

Well, sort of.

I think that dealing with the TOR interface has helped me immeasurably for this sort of situation.  It's a flashback to the days when I was leveling Quintalan in Wrath:  I'd level without mods, would get into an instance, and then learned the boss fights by watching for the in-game cues.  DBM and the other mods were a godsend for the clueless** or people who were too busy watching their rotation.  You didn't have to rely upon memory at all, but watch for the "Phase 2" or the "*Soul Storm*" to get your butt into the correct position.  Knowing the position was up to you, of course, but it was easier to handle knowing the "when" to do it.

WoW sans mods is more than a mere throwback, it's also a rejection of the current state of the game.  No serious raiding team will take you on if you don't have a requisite list of mods, those mods are absolutely essential to improving your efficiency to a proper raiding/PvP level.  You can demonstrate your skill all you want, but nobody will believe that you have the commitment to be a "serious" raider without them.

I could survive without any mods, but I realize that I can't perform at peak efficiency without them.  Even WoW's game design has taken into account the variety of mods out there; do you honestly think that the Arthas and Deathwing fights were designed for a player without any mods at all?  Of course they weren't; they were designed as a challenge, and when all of the best raiders are running heavily modded interfaces, that has an impact on the boss fight.

It's perhaps a chicken and egg scenario, but in its present state WoW is a mod driven game.  Even the controversial mods, such as Healers Have to Die or GearPlayerScore, have pushed the game in different directions.  For example, Blizz has taken PlayerScore, simplified it into the current gear rating, and incorporated it heavily into the game.  The old "go to Dal Fountain for GS check" has been replaced with "minimum ### gear rating required".

If you could scan a prospective raiding partner for currently used mods, would you?  Perhaps you might say that's too much intrusion into a player's personal preferences.  Maybe you might say that it's not needed; "skill trumps gear" as the saying goes, and the same ought to go for mods.  But if you were a raid leader and you could, just how great would that temptation be?

And would you like what you saw, without having seen the player in action?

*And Civ IV and LEGO Star Wars III.  I pretty much had to install Civ IV Complete, and the kids like LEGO Star Wars III for the battleground games.

**You'd be a "noob no more" as Soul once put it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lurching Toward Civilization

I managed to get WoW running on the new laptop.

After having played for a couple of hours that way, I wonder how people can handle playing MMOs on a laptop long term.

I can't possibly be that old, but my hands were cramping after a pair of battlegrounds.  And if I didn't have a wireless mouse, I don't think I could have handled using the trackpad at all.

The minor annoyances of dealing with a new OS (Win 8 in this case) I can handle in stride.  After all, I work in IT, and I know a new OS means some bugs in the system as all of the other apps get stressed in ways that beta testers never seem to get around to.  You just check frequently for patches and move on.  Considering my wife isn't cursing up a blue streak like she does when she tries to use my work laptop, I'll take that as a sign of approval.

However, one minor annoyance that I did find was that when I installed WoW and logged in, it wouldn't let me jump to the server listings directly.  I had to first allow the game to select a server, and then I could back out and find my usual haunts.  It would seem to be a minor thing that on a new install the game would check to see if you already have toons available, and if so it would allow you to select the server.  I know it used to do that back when the old machine lost a drive and I had to replace all of my apps (that'd be late Wrath - early Cata), so Blizz must have made a conscious decision to change the opening sequence into this server-selection-on-rails system.

Still, it was good to be back.  I've got several days worth of downloads ahead of me, but at least I can lurk around Warsong Gulch once more.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are You Ready for Some Football StarCraft?

So we now have a release date for SC2's expac, Heart of the Swarm.

However, unlike Blizzard release dates of years past, HotS* has been announced four months in advance, on March 12, 2013.  The typical Blizz release announcement is 1-2 months in advance, so more than doubling that is more than a bit unusual.

I don't think I can read too much into the release date --unless it's not quite stable enough and Blizz is confident they'll make the release date if they push it out far enough-- but what is likely is that Blizz took Christmas and sports into consideration when announcing the release date.  If HotS is ready for the traditional 2 month release date, a mid-January release date is too close to Christmas to attract attention from the casual player (who most likely got a stack of games for presents).  Mid-February is possible, but there's a little holiday called Valentine's Day out there that might provide some competition.**  Finally, mid-March is right in the middle of the men's and women's college basketball tournament, March Madness, and right after the NFL season concludes.

Okay, what's the big deal about sports, right?  Well....

I've noticed the past several Blizz releases are promoted heavily on U.S. sports broadcasts.  Cata, Mists, D3, and SC2 have all been promoted heavily on ESPN, FOX Sports, and regular network sports broadcasts.  Blizz would be crazy to not try to capitalize on the sporting events over January through March.  I've been seeing ads for Assassin's Creed III on baseball, the Olympics, and (American) football since the summer, and believe me, Blizz took notice.  They want that gamer demographic that sports broadcasts provides.

Which also begs the question:  why didn't other MMO game companies, such as Funcom, Bioware, or ArenaNet, go for the same advertising target as heavily?  Given the discussions in Gen Chat during the Olympics, you'd think that the sports viewer is a large part of the audience for TOR, Star Wars or no Star Wars.  And The Secret World would be perfect for that subset as well, particularly given all of the crime dramas that the CBS network promotes on their sports broadcasts.  It seems that these companies (as well as Turbine) relied more upon social media rather than going out and promoting their game in the same manner that Blizz does.  Social media is great, but it has to be one part of a more comprehensive advertising plan.

Well, here's to the next several months, and seeing a lot of Sarah Kerrigan on the small screen!

*Hots.  Yeah, that'll work for an acronym.

**I can see the YouTube video now:  going out with your S.O. on Valentine's Day, or playing a video game?  You decide!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thank you, Sir! May I have another?!

I was going to write about how I have to shake off the cobwebs when I switch toons around, and how I have to make sure I have my buttons aligned up across toons (and potentially even MMOs), but technical difficulties got in the way.

This Saturday, I was down in the basement insulating the rim joists* when I heard an argument break out among the kids upstairs.  "Dad," one of them called, "come up and fix the computer!"

I shook off the foam insulation shavings on me and marched upstairs, expecting to have to power cycle a locked up computer.  The kids know all about the old three-finger salute, and can navigate the task manager to kill a hung program, so when I get called it's either for a) a password or b) to power cycle something.  When I arrived in front of the computer, however, I was confronted by a solid color screen.

"Uh oh," I said.  "What did you do?"

"I didn't do it, Steph did it!" my son replied.

"I didn't do anything!" she wailed.  "I was exiting LOTRO, and the screen came up!"

"Well," I said, reaching around the PC's case, "let me hard boot it."

After a hard boot, I got to the login screen only to have it disappear behind a solid tan color.

"Crap.  This isn't good."

"Can you fix it?"

"I can try.  Let me boot it into safe mode and make sure we don't have any disk trouble or malware.  But I think we lost a graphics card."

Several hours and many reboots later, I'm convinced that it's either the graphics card failing or the CPU overheating.  Once the second or third fan kicks in during the boot cycle, the video goes crazy.  I almost wished it was malware, because I can fix that more easily than a hardware problem.

Sighing, I got up and wandered over to where my youngest was sitting on the couch, wearing a melancholy expression on her face.  "It wasn't your fault," I told her.  "It's a hardware problem, and nothing you did caused that."

"Can I help?" she asked, brightening.

"No, I've got to figure out what to do."

Like Anna over at Too Many Annas, I'm confronted by a failing, aging PC with obsolete architecture.  In my case, 32-bit architecture, and if this is the graphics card, a replacement might require me to replace the power supply as well.  And if it's the CPU, finding a replacement motherboard might be more trouble than it's worth.  The PC is over five years old, and it was only a middle-of-the-pack machine back when I bought it.

Therefore, I guess that means it's time to replace the old warhorse.

As a corollary to this, it means I'm kind of out of an MMO machine for the time being.  I suppose I could install one of the MMOs that the kids and I both play on the new laptop I'd gotten for their schoolwork, but it's not an ideal situation.  Besides, I'd prefer keeping as many games off of a supposedly "work/school" machine as possible.  (Yeah, and maybe pigs will fly without the aid of a trebuchet.)

So, I guess I'm going to write about things that have already happened, as opposed to anything recent.  But really, I'm not a bleeding edge kind of guy.  The last time I did that with the PC industry was 1999, when I plunked down way too many dollars to get one of the first AMD Athlon machines, which then went for half of that price within six months.  And as for gaming, ever heard of the game Darklands?  That was the last time I got a game right as it came out and immediately dove into it, and ow were the bugs bad.**  Having learned my lesson, I merely aim for something reasonable and waiting patiently for any bugs to shake out.

*For the curious, here's a link from the online version of the Family Handyman.  And for the record, their estimate of "a day" for how long it takes doesn't take into account actually moving any crap in the basement around.  Depending on the amount of crap you have, it can take many days.....

**If you're remember, when Cata was released I didn't enter into any Cata zones until three months later, when the "I'm bored!" refrain was in full swing.  And yes, eventually Darklands got the bugs worked out and was an excellent game, but the damage had already been done to Microprose's reputation.  Even Sid Meier's Civ 2 and Colonization couldn't save the long decline of Microprose.

EtA:  Fixed an autocorrect error.  what IS it with those things anyway?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Anybody Remember Shorthand?

One thing that has always amazed me is the ability of some people to type messages on the fly while playing an MMO.

Perhaps I'm showing my age, but I have to stop what I'm doing and type with both hands in order to respond to something I'm watching.  If I'm in a BG and we get jumped by 4-5 people in Arathi Basin, I basically have to sacrifice myself in order to warn everyone else.*

All I can do is marvel at the people who raid and can type while they're casting or playing whack-a-boss.  I once carried on a conversation with a blogger friend while the blogger was in the middle of progression ICC.  When I mentioned that I'll let him do his job, he kind of laughed it off, saying it wasn't a big deal.

I suppose that's were a multi-button mouse (like the Razer Naga) comes in handy.  Of course, you still have to be able to type with one hand, and I'm kind of lousy at that.

What would be nice would be combining voice recognition software with an MMO, so that you can speak into a mic and have what you're saying pop up in typewritten chat.

Of course, I can see some readers saying "there's this thing called Mumble or Vent, and it really works!"  Yes, I know all about those, but when do you use that when you get into a random BG?  Or an instance pug without guildies (or any other guild to provide vent access)?  Last I checked, most non-raid pugs just roll with it and get going without much more than a "howdy!"  The thing is, the more you play, the more complex things are, the nicer it is to communicate without these artificial barriers.

For example, discussing which enemy to DPS down when confronting the opposing faction team in Mandalorian Raiders helps that encounter go much more smoothly.  Likewise, working out strategy in Gundrak helps make fighting Gal'Darah that much easier.  I've found that more wipes come from a lack of coherent strategy, such as in Halls of Reflections or Magister's Terrace, than the inability to get the job done. Perhaps the worst place for a strategy breakdown is in the long run to get away from Arthas in HoR, because if not everybody is on the same page, that increases the likelihood of a wipe exponentially.

That loops back to the need to communicate, and the disadvantages puggers have over guild runs.

I can type, and type quickly.  Not everybody can.  I can't type on the fly in the middle of a fight, while others can.  That means that other forms of communication --such as audio chat-- are superior, because people can communicate without changing what they're doing.  However, the current setup of using a third party tool --often paid for by a guild who would naturally be reluctant to share with a non-guildie-- is a barrier that ought to be examined.  Yes, I know about WoW's built in audio chat, but really, who does use that anyway?

Here is an opportunity for either an entrepreneur or an MMO company to fill in a communication gap and reap some nice profits.

*Well, unless I'm stealthed as a Rogue.  Even then, if I'm low enough level people will find me easily.

Friday, November 2, 2012

All Crossed Up

Maybe it's just me, but I'm starting to wonder how useful the cross server lowbie zones have been lately.

Sure, there are more people in the zones, but I've been surprised at how quickly the zone population plummeted a month after release.

I've been cruising the lowbie zones up through Arathi Highlands and Stonetalon Mountains, and if there have been more than ten other toons in a zone with me I'd be surprised.  And before you point out that I play at odd hours, I've also been on in the evening and midday this past week and found no difference to the zone population.  If anything, I've found more people on Darkshore in the early morning than in the evening (which is also typically raid time).  What bothers me is that I've seen even fewer Horde than Alliance in Ashenvale, and that used to never happen.

Why have I been out and about?  Leveling Skinning and Leatherworking to fill in the gaps in my gear.  Of course, leveling these professions means that I have to range far and wide to collect skins and/or leather, so I see a lot of the zones.  I've also seen my FPS drop as soon as I enter a new zone; not the official FPS, mind you, but there's a visible slowdown on screen on some zones* that I can only attribute to the cross-server manipulation.

I was hoping that the lack of toons in Darnassus was just a blip on the radar, but that seems to not be the case.

This whole cross-server change has made me wonder just how many servers they merge at one time in a zone, and whether this is dynamic or not.  While I do have to admit from a technical standpoint it's pretty impressive, I'm kind of disheartened by the knowledge that things would be even worse if Blizz wasn't performing their wizardry.

Let's call the cross-server zones what they really are:  Lowbie Server Merges.  They're indicative of an increasingly visible problem that WoW has:  most of the toons are at or close to max level, and there's a lack of new blood coming into the game.

Okay, now with that declaration there is a big caveat.  Blizz encourages new players to go to "New Player" servers.  A brand new player --not one invited to play by a current player-- will most likely end up there, meaning that those servers will have a disproportionate share of lowbie toons.  However, those "New Player" servers have a reputation for having such a small server population that they couldn't even rate "Low" on the activity listings.**

I've hashed all this before when the cross-server merges were first announced, but having seen the Mists wave come and go I think this discussion has to be reopened.

To fix this problem, I'd so something that for Blizz would be truly radical:  Make L1-L60 playable without a subscription.  That doesn't mean completely F2P, since you'd have to buy the game (+expacs if you want to play a Pandaren, Goblin, or Worgen), but after that purchase having the first 60 levels free would bring in a lot of activity to the game.  I'm also amenable to extending the Starter Edition to L60, which would get a player to Outland and just enough to whet their appetite for more.

Would Blizz lose money on this idea?  Maybe, maybe not.  It depends on how many people convert to a subscription, and how much money it would cost to handle the server load, versus how much technical expertise it would take to expand the lowbie zone merges seamlessly.  

Now, this might wreak havoc with the auction house, given that gold farmers will use this to flood the market with goods for sale, but you never know what might go down.  A subscriber won't necessarily need a separate account, but the subscriber's children or significant other might.  An occasional player who can't afford a sub can keep in touch with guildies.  The player who left and wants an extended test run can do so.  The Old Timer who grouses that the only way AQ40 should be run is at level can now do so.

And maybe it will make some of those old L55-60 zones more relevant again.  Okay, that's probably asking too much of Silithus, but the others....

*Ashenvale and Stonetalon are two of the worst.

**I overheard this one once in Gen Chat in the "yo mama" vein:  "Your server is so empty that it dreams of the day it can be classified as a New Player server."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's the Endorphins!
The Endorphins, I tell you!!

There are people who play primarily a single toon or a single class/style/archetype of toon.  There are also those who may have a main yet tinker around, never feeling truly satisfied.

And then there are the altoholics.

I used to boggle at the people who had no qualms about leveling one of each toon all the way to max level.  I knew how long it took me to level one toon, never mind a dozen, so for the average altoholic I used to take that and multiply it by 8-9-10.  All I could do was simply shake my head.

How could someone actually level so many alts?  What about exploring other things in-game?  What about raiding or PvP?

Well, I figured there was no way I'd ever find myself bitten by the altoholic bug when I was staring at the grind from L1-L90.  For me, there simply weren't enough hours in a day to level a full stable of toons to max level before the next expac came out.  Besides, the WoW story is pretty much the same with all toons on a faction; with the exception of the two weapons quests, Blizzard has removed the old class quests from WoW.  If you want to see pretty much everything outside of the intro zones these days, all you have to do is level a toon on each faction.  That's it.

While I was confident that altoholism wasn't going to afflict me in WoW, I hadn't counted on the bug in another MMO.

LOTRO and Age of Conan also suffer from the overly long leveling process (L85 and L80, respectively), but TOR has a much lower level cap at L50.  TOR also has something that the other games don't have:  an actual class quest chain.  I presume companion romances are a bonus, but I'm sure that there's a significant portion of the playerbase out there that doesn't care about that sort of thing.

The TOR class quests are something that keep the game interesting.  Just like there are only so many times you can enter the Amani Tombs before wanting to claw your eyeballs out, there's only a limited number of trips into the Chemworks Factory in Taris before you start throwing in the towel.  But when you throw in a class quest chain into the mix, you find yourself wondering what might come next.

I'll never forget when I leveled Quintalan and received the class quest chain that ended in the Thalassian Charger and the Blood Knight tabard.  Sure, due to changes in the game I was able to get the Charger "officially" at L40, it was only when I finished all of the side quests, accumulated all the mats, and showed the Scourge, the Scarlet Crusade, and the Argent Dawn who was boss that I finally earned my place as a Blood Knight.  I'll also never forget the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when Lord Bloodvalor chuckled maniacally as he gave me my tabard; it was then that I realized just how far the Blood Knights had truly strayed from the Light.  Although not part of the class quest itself, Lady Liadrin's appearance before the Sha'tar was intensely personal, signaling the beginning of the end of the old Blood Knights.

Likewise, I'll never forget when I leveled my Gunslinger and he finally got his starship back.  "Where... Is... My... Ship?!!" he demanded of the flunkies that Skavak had thrown in his path.  And then, when he finally boarded the ship only to find someone else inside...

While the Blood Knight class quests were great, for some reason I never had the urge to try out other WoW classes.  Other TOR classes, however, beckoned.

So I've found myself with a complete stable of classes on both factions, slowly leveling them all.  Given my rate of gameplay, I'll probably finish them sometime by the end of next year at the earliest.  But you know what?  I don't mind.  I'm just along for the ride.  Perhaps that's the enduring legacy of the altoholic:  the desire to learn everything about a game, manifesting in an urge to just follow the story to the end.  ALL of them.

EtA:  Got bit by the editing bug and replaced a "while" at the beginning of the seventh paragraph.  That's what I get for being in NaNo mode and skipping editing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Scenery Only Changes for the Lead Dog

Of course, a lot of that has to do with my leveling process.

The only time I set foot in an instance with my Rogue was for Shadowfang Keep, just to pick up the mats for the Rogue L20 Dagger.  When I did, I shot up two (!) levels, and I wasn't even using half of the available heirlooms out there.  Based on that experience, I can see how some people could level via instances and have made it all the way to L90 by now.  Throw in the rested XP bonus that a Pandaren gets, and the Cata-rebuilt Old World simply flies by.

But the funny thing is, I hear less and less about raiding from the bloggers I read, and more about everything else.*

I don't know whether people have been simply been distracted by all the other things to do, such as WoW-ville and WoW-emon, or that raiding has simply slipped down the ladder of priorities.  If it's the former, then Blizzard is to be congratulated for spreading out the raiding tiers in such a clever manner.**  If it's the latter, then I'm not sure what it really means for the rest of the expac.

What if Blizz had a raid and not that many people came?

From a purely monetary standpoint Blizz wouldn't care, because they're still getting (and keeping) the subs.  But given that new raids take up the majority of developers' patch activity after release, a decline in people actually using the raids is a waste of money.  By comparison, pet battles and farming are in steady state mode, where some changes could be worked by just adding a few things to an already existing framework.  This takes fewer people than designing and building a new instance, much less a raid, and the bean counters will start to ask questions about the proper allocation of resources.

The upcoming 5.1 patch won't have a new raid, so Blizz is already anticipating not needing to address the "I'm bored!" crowd.  Unlike 4.1, this lack of a new raid was by original design,*** so I'd imagine that Blizz has this all plotted out right now.  But if people still aren't as progressed as Blizz hoped, then they may take steps to increase the desirability of raids.

Like, oh, throwing in pet drops.

But you know what would be better?  Going back and fixing the timeline.  It's just a pipe dream now, but it would still be better than leaving things as they are.  Going from [2012 if you play a Pandaren] -> 2010 -> 2007 -> 2008 -> 2010 -> 2012 is a bit of a problem for new players, and telling people "the game only really begins at L90" doesn't help that initial leveling process and understanding the story in the first place.

Or, lacking that, how about resurrecting some of the raids that died in development?  Like, say, Abyssal Maw?  Or a non-raid quest chain like Quel'Delar?

*And naturally, right as I'm writing this, Rades posts about pre-raid gear.  I swear I keep Murphy in business all by myself.

**Remember, about a month in to Cata, there were people saying "I'm bored!" because they'd already cleared all the raid content on release.  By giving people something else to become addicted to, they've effectively slowed down raid progression and countered the effect of LFR.

***Unless there's a blue post stating otherwise.  I don't frequent the forums THAT much.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Every Time a Bell Rings, an Angel Gets His Wings

Even though I grew up watching Speed Racer and Starblazers, I'm not much of a fan of Anime or Manga.  I also never played an NES in high school, even though it came out during my sophomore year.  I've never played Final Fantasy, Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, the S-NES, the Wii, or a Playstation (1, 2, or 3).

Perhaps that explains my initial reaction when --on a whim-- I downloaded Aion and began tinkering around with the game.

I'd read a few articles on Massively extolling Aion, and while I'll admit the premise sounded interesting --kind of a simplified MMO version of the In Nomine RPG and Exalted RPGs*-- the reason why I finally decided to give it a whirl were the magic words "free to play".  I'd seen the game at stores, examined the reviews online, and yet I didn't have the money in the budget to spend trying yet another game out.**

Well, I could handle 'free', and I could even shoehorn the MMO into my existing disk drive without too much pain.  Therefore, I set up NCSoft's launch software, clicked 'install' on Aion, and went to bed.

I'd have gotten things done without anybody noticing too, if it weren't for my youngest who wandered over when I was checking the weather forecast and asked "Aion?  What's that?"

"Just some maintenance I'm doing," I replied.***  When her back was turned I muttered and waved my hand.  "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."



Sometime later that morning the game finished installing and this evening I took a quick peek --four levels worth-- at Aion.

Okay, given the graphics at the NCSoft website, I expected a certain look.  No, not quite the Alexstraza bikini bottom + leggings outfit, but the "poofy upper-calf skirt that somehow manages to not actually move" clothing.  But what I didn't expect during character creation was to see either the "childlike body" or the "refugees from a Super Mario game" head.

Really?  I mean, really?

Who would think "You know, a game like this just needs a completely over-the-top head that looks like it came from one of those mushroom people" anyway?

Thankfully, I didn't see anybody in the starting zone who thought it was a good idea.

Another thing that bothered me quite a bit was that the character selection kind of left the concept of non-human race in complete limbo.  Oh sure, you can select something that looks kind of like an Elf, but it's never identified as such.  I stared at it for a bit, then saw it was "face selection number whatever", and then shook my head.  Of course humans have pointy ears that stick out perpendicular to their heads!  I should have figured that out!

Well, tinkering with the character creation options, I must admit that Aion got one thing absolutely totally right:  female breasts.  There's a slider (yeah yeah, insert joke here) to adjust the size of a female toon's breasts, much like the slider in Age of Conan.  But in AoC, where the size begins in the C/D cup range and goes from there to... well... huge, the slider in Aion starts in the A/B range and goes up to D/DD.  I don't know about you, but the Aion cup sizes are much more realistic than the teenage fantasy AoC version.

After I created a Scout toon, I pretty much jumped right into the game.  It starts out with a very brief overview of the fighting between the two celestial factions and their common foe, then your character wakes up.  Seems the toon has been napping on the job, and you'd better get going into the starting zone.

Questing is straightforward:  if you've played an MMO before, you know how it works.  Compared to other more recent MMOs, Aion takes a page straight out of WoW (and older console games) with the scrolling text for quest info.  The quests are mainly of the kill ten rats variety, so that's very familiar ground.  There's a quest log, a map that slowly gets revealed as you travel through the world, and oh yeah, there's gold farmers too.

But what's up with the mouse buttons, anyway?

Every other MMO I've played has the left button for window movement and the right button to move your toon and/or select things.  In Aion, it's almost reversed except for the left mouse button being unable to move your toon at all.  It's such a jarring transition that the next time I log in I'm going to see if I can keybind this sucker properly.

But my impression of the game?


It just feels so... Anime to me.  Perhaps that's not exactly the right word, but I can definitely tell that it was developed in Asia as opposed to the other MMOs I've played.  The feel of the quest text, the graphics, and especially the sound remind me more of a Super NES game than anything else.  There's a lot more that Aion has in common with Zelda than with Mass Effect; when I read that first quest text, I blurted out "Nintendo!", even though the thrust of the story was more adult than any of the games I'd ever seen my brother play on the S-NES.****

I can see where this game would appeal to people who grew up playing those games, but for someone who cut his teeth on Ultima and Baldur's Gate, it just feels too cutesy.  The toons and NPCs and quests may look adult, but everything else about the game just feels oriented toward a different demographic.

I'm still going to play it a little bit --free is free, and I might change my mind after a bit more time with the game-- but I can't help but think that Aion isn't really targeted to me.

But I'm going to tweak those key bindings, even if it kills me.

*In Nomine is a pencil and paper RPG, published in the U.S. by Steve Jackson Games, wherein players assume the roles of Angels and Demons.  As you may have guessed, it relies heavily upon Christian and other Near East sources for background material.  Exalted is an RPG put out by White Wolf --the Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness people-- wherein the PCs are avatars of the gods.  They start out being pretty much badass from the beginning, much like in Aion.

**Which is why I've never tried Guild Wars or Guild Wars 2, in spite of them being single purchase games.  Okay, there's also the issue of disk space, but I digress.

***I actually was cleaning up some old programs that people hadn't touched in a few years, so it wasn't a complete fib.

****I'm kind of glad that nobody was within hearing range at the time, or I'd have had some explaining to do.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When They Said Monk, I Thought They Meant Thelonious

Every time I think that the big wave of Pandaren have passed my Rogue by, another wave blows through the low level BGs.  I haven't decided whether these are second or third (or fourth!) alts or not, but their popularity has plumbed depths not seen since the Sindorei made an appearance as "The Pretty Horde".

As far as Monks go, they're definitely more popular in low level BGs than either of their play-any-role brethren, Druids and Paladins.  Time will tell whether this holds up, but I suspect that they're eventually settle into the space where in select battlegrounds they'll be the second option after Druids and in others they'll be the first.

Here are a few notes from what I've experienced as a player attempting to slice and dice the three classes:

  • In spite of the Monk's multitasking abilities, the stealth of the Feral Druid still is King in Warsong Gulch.*  Being able to stealth in, lay a few nasty attacks, and then switch out and drop healing all over the place means that a single Druid can keep almost half of a WSG team busy attempting to DPS them down.  The Monk simply doesn't have the utility to compete with that, and the Paladin is reduced to a support role by comparison.
  • At low levels, the Monk's healing spec is more useful than the Paladin's Holy Spec, but not as good as the Resto Druid's.  Once a Holy Spec Pally gets Beacon of Light at the end of the 30s this may start to change, but Soothing Mist is more useful than Holy Shock (which has that 6 second cooldown) when you have to switch gears and change who you're healing in a BG at the drop of a hat.
  • An extremely tough combo to crack is the Druid/Monk duo protecting a flag.  Between the Monk's interrupts/heals and the Druid's AoE heals, they can withstand an attack by a group more than twice their number long enough for support to arrive.  It's only when the flag carrier in WSG gets upwards of 10 stacks does that debuff start to overcome the healing disparity of the Druid/Monk duo.
  • Ironically enough, I prefer attacking Paladins even more than Warriors.  Maybe it's that Paladins don't really reach their stride until higher levels, but Warriors get enough stuns and have enough armor on them that it's easier to pick on a Pally instead.
  • One thing I've noticed is that although they're based on a similar frame, the female Pandaren is much much more popular than the female Dwarf.  Never underestimate the power of fur, I suppose.
  • Playing Straight, No Chaser while running Warsong Gulch gives a completely different vibe to the BG.  I think I need to check out some of Monk's old CDs out of the library, just so my Night Elf has something to be hep to while stunning, well, Monks.

*And, I presume, Eye of the Storm and Twin Peaks, but I haven't made it there yet.

Monday, October 15, 2012

This Was His Place of Power -- You are NOTHING Here!

I had a few hours to myself late the other week, so I finally decided to queue up for the TOR equivalent of an non-raid instance, known as a Flashpoint in-game.

The nice thing about TOR is that you can run multiplayer content without setting foot in a Flashpoint or a raid (aka an Operation) by simply running a few Heroic missions**.  Heroics take a lot less time than the average WoW Instance or TOR Flashpoint, so you can squeeze them fairly easily into any free time you have.  In some respects the Heroic concept is similar to Scenarios in Mists, but whereas Scenarios went for more of an instance feel with mobs and bosses (initially at least) the TOR Heroics can span the entire gamut between the old WoW group quests to more standard instances.  Certain Heroics, such as Fall of the Locust, have more of an Azjol-Nerub feel in their focus and speed, while others such as Destroy the Beacons is more a standard group quest.

Although Heroics provided me with some familiarity with multiplayer content in TOR, I still wasn't sure what to expect in a Flashpoint.  A dungeon is a dungeon is a dungeon, right?  Well, not really.

Unlike most other MMOs, TOR's Flashpoints are designed for four people.  For the WoW-centric, that means a Tank:Healer:DPS ratio of 1:1:2 instead of the traditional 1:1:3*.  That gives a bit more importance to DPS, because with a few exceptions a WoW 5-man is tuned in such a way that you could lose a single DPS and still survive a trash mob or a boss.  In TOR, if you lose a DPS, that's half of your expected DPS output disappearing.

Well, that's not quite a fair assessment, since the tank and healer in a TOR Flashpoint are expected to pull their weight in DPS too, but their primary responsibilities lie with threat management and keeping their squadmates upright.  And everyone --I do mean everyone-- is expected to provide CC as needed.

A case in point:  I've been in instances where people have simply refused to CC something --even when asked-- as if they were personal affronts on their core abilities.  Runs I'd prefer to forget in Magister's Terrace, Arcatraz, and Blackrock Depths come to mind.  But in the TOR 4-man Heroics I've been in, that's never been a problem.  In fact, the one time that someone tried to chain pull ala Drak Theron or Lost City of the Tol'vir, we wiped and the Jedi Guardian said "Okay, THAT was a stupid idea."

So.  I had a pretty good idea what to expect, but I decided that the smartest move for me was to take an alt and queue up for a low end Flashpoint.  My expectation was that the lower level flashpoints would have easier mechanics than the higher level ones.  Just like you wouldn't want to throw a noob into the deep end of the pool and queue up Magister's Terrace at level, I didn't want to find out about all sorts of esoteric boss mechanics the hard way with my max level Gunslinger.

Therefore, I pulled out my Jedi Sentinel and queued up for a random.  In short order I found myself on Athiss, being told to jump down the hole to the entry.  (I found out on a later run that the hole had a sliceable  elevator.  Oh well.)

Athiss is the classic "send an expedition in to examine ruins, they run into trouble, and you have to rescue them" instance.  This kind of defines Brann Bronzebeard's entire modus operandii, if you ask me.  It's a part-outside part-inside Flashpoint, which does make it interesting.  I've been wracking my brain on anything similar that I've run through, and about all I can come up with is something like Halls of Origination or Utgarde Keep, where the dungeon goes outside for a bit.  The thing is, WoW's instances tend to be very narrow affairs, shuttling the party from one boss to the next, and Athiss' outdoors areas feel much more wide open.  Maybe not as wide open as Old Hillsbrad, but still very broad.  If you wanted to spend a lot of time you could clear it all, but that wasn't why we were there.  Instead of the game imposing an artificial narrow scope, the party ourselves did by negotiating from point A to point B.

Inside, naturally, is a more traditional affair with anyone involved with instance running.  There are a few trash mobs involved, and then a mini-boss or two, and then a boss.  For the Republic faction, you're learning about the area as you go; I suspect an Imperial group would already have a good grasp of the background given that it was a Sith area to start with.  The end boss fight has a few interesting mechanics --think of Ionar in Halls of Lightning and you get the idea-- but it does take a while to win the fight.  The healer was certainly kept busy, and I'm glad that it wasn't my job.

Okay, enough basic review (as if you haven't seen this sort of thing around the net already).  What did I think?

I liked the assortment of enemies to fight.  They ran the gamut from Weak through Champion (Boss), and that disparity made DPS-ing down a mob harder than usual.  The Weak enemies still pack a punch, and if you don't take care of them quickly their attacks can take out one of your group.  Group dynamics are still the same as always:  somebody focuses on the bigger bad while others perform clean-up duty.***

However, one thing that WoW does have that TOR doesn't is add-ons, and you really start to feel that lack in Flashpoints.  Maybe it's because I've used add-ons as a crutch for so long, but in a Flashpoint you end up using a lot more buttons than while out questing or in your average Heroic, and I missed the UI add-ons that WoW has.  You have to adjust to a standard UI, and that means making sure that you have your button priorities set up properly.****

Still, that's a minor quibble, and something I have to make a mental adjustment on.

On the whole, I liked the feel of the Flashpoint.  What I saw in both Athiss and Mandalorian Raiders (the second Flashpoint that I ran, this time as a DPS Commando) was a way to use voice and sound that Blizz has yet to implement in WoW.  Sure, WoW has the occasional voiceover/intro scene/cutscene, but it also has the standard aggro - PC death - different phase - boss death type of commentary.  Anything else tends to get put in the scrolling text.  Using voiceovers from a boss (or someone else) while running the Flashpoint provides flavor that you don't see in WoW, especially when the voiceovers are from people that you don't encounter for a long while.  Being taunted (via audio) every step of the way through Mandalorian Raiders by the leader of Clan Varad has a completely different feel for it than "Prince Taladram Yells: Who trespasses in the Old Kingdom?"  Imagining what a WoW instance would look like if the Svala Sorrowgrave scene in Utgarde Pinnacle were throughout an entire instance is what Bioware was shooting for.

However, I can see where a large number of WoW players wouldn't give a damn about flavor or text or voice at all; "see it and kill it" is their mantra, and if they run the same Flashpoint a dozen times, they don't want to have to "see all this crap again", as one WoW player I know put it.  "I play this to kill things and to down raid bosses, I don't play this to think."*****

The player who is predisposed to like a story driven game like TOR will like their approach to instances; for other people it is more of a hit-and-miss proposition.  I can see where the lack of add-ons will drive some people nuts, and they flee to the safety of WoW (or Rift) and its numerous add-ons.  But I'll be honest in that once I got used to having to prioritize differently, it wasn't so bad to run without add-ons.  You stop worrying about damage meters and trying to fine tune your threat management; you just roll with it and do what is best for the group.

And for the record, my old Core Duo processor machine held up pretty well throughout the Flashpoints, thank-you-very-much.  Sure, it would have been nice for the graphics to draw a bit quicker at the intro, but I  survived.

*Or Age of Conan's 2:2:2.  Yes, AoC's instances are designed for two tanks, two heals, and two DPS.  The mobs hit pretty hard in AoC's instances, just like their elites out in the game world.

**For the uninitiated, Heroic missions (Heroics for short) are the equivalent of extended group quests in WoW.  They are entirely optional, can be run for badges as dailies, and are a great way to essentially perform mini group content without sacrificing too much time.  Since they're not part of the main story line, you don't feel required to run them, unlike those group quests in Age of Conan.  Also, since the groups are entirely player built you're not stuck with a complete trinity of tank-DPS-healer; I've been in heroics that had three DPS and a healer, or one tank and three healers.  If you remember pulling an impromptu group together to try to kill Knucklerot and Luzran in the Ghostlands, then you get the idea of how putting together a Heroic operates.  So, if you're in TOR and you see someone ask in Gen Chat about running Heroics, they're not talking about Heroic level dungeons like you would in WoW.

***Just like in Alterac Valley there are some people who actually stay and defend the towers while everybody else rushes off to attack Vann or Drek.

****In PvP, that means everybody is on the same UI and add-on footing, which is always a good thing.

*****This sort of person is also most likely to start yelling "I'm bored!" after blitzkrieging through the content in Mists, but I digress.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Great Divide

There are days when I really wish that screen caps were working for me in WoW again.

You see, in a recent Arathi Basin run, I was the only non-Pandaren in the group.

You read that right.

The Alliance had fifteen players:  one Night Elf, fourteen Pandaren.

The Horde was nearly as bad:  one Blood Elf (a monk), one Tauren (a Druid), thirteen Pandaren.

Orcs?  Humans?  What are those?

You know how some people were excited because the Pandaren capable of being on either faction meant that you couldn't rely upon silhouettes any more?  In this scenario, you don't even bother looking at silhouettes; you just rely upon your add-ons.  Due to the scenery, I felt like I was in some bizarre recreation of the Spanish Civil War, but with pandas.  The only thing that was missing was a few Messerschmitts flying overhead.  (Note to Gnomes and/or Goblins:  make yourselves useful and build some Spitfires and ME-109s!)


Leveling via BGs is often something that goes in fits and spurts.

Unlike leveling via instances or questing, gear acquisition becomes a bit of a problem.  Sure, you can use heirlooms to make up the bulk of your gear, but what if a) you don't have heirlooms for the class you're creating, or b) you can't afford or don't want to move heirlooms over across servers?  Here are a few options:

  • You can go do some questing to get a few pieces here and there, but the Old World's quests discourage cherry picking.  In the pre-Cata days, you could do a quest here and a quest there, grab what reward you wanted, and then go on your merry way.  Now, with the linear quest lines in Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms, you can't do that without running a lot of quests to get to the one you really want. Forcing you to quest through the majority of a zone kind of defeats the purpose of leveling via BGs.  
  • You can run the occasional instance, but you're at the mercy of whatever gear drops.*  Instances, however, will level you very very fast, especially at low levels.  If you're not careful, you'll end up leveling via instances instead of via BGs.
  • If you've the cash, you can look through the auction house and rummage through the available gear.  That has the advantage of speed, because you can quickly hunt through the AH in between BGs, but it's not very cost effective.  But hey, if you play the AH already or are sitting on a pile of gold, why worry?
  • If you don't mind being out in the world a lot between BGs, you can also craft your gear.  The speed of BGs proccing these days --anywhere from 1-6 minutes-- means that you're either going to have to set aside some crafting time for your toon or you're going to just have to live with getting one or two items at a time in between BGs.  For the gathering professions, however, you can also level fairly quickly, so you have to be careful that you don't outlevel the gear you're hoping to craft.
  • Visiting the Silverwing Sentinels/Warsong Supply Officer and their Defilers/League of Arathor equivalents is a good way of supplementing gear at low levels.  Once you gain access to Alterac Valley, another vendor opens up for use.  While this isn't perfect --you have to travel a lot-- it will fill in gaps.
Finding gear for leveling via BGs can often become a huge subgame, because gear can create such a huge disparity in a BG.  At least a Rogue can hide if the time isn't right to strike, but what if your Mage or Lock is the undergeared one?  Well, I know from experience that it's not fun being the target.


The net result of all this is that I've often found my toons undergeared in BGs, particularly when I'm up against toons with a full set of heirloom gear supplemented with the highest available crafted items.  I may play BGs, but other people live them.  It isn't until you get up to L78 and you run into the people with Cata greens that you see a disparity on the same level as in the lower three tiers of BGs between the haves and the have nots.  When you're a toon with about half white gear going up against the heirloom equipped, all of the skill in the world isn't going to keep you from being one-shot.  When my Rogue finally got enough Honor to buy and equip the heirloom dagger, my DPS and kills took a big jump.  I didn't change my play style, I just added a really nice piece of gear, and that bit of min-maxing was all the difference.

Lara at the now sadly defunct Root and Branch blog had written a story encapsulating this disparity, entitled Don't Fret Your Pretty Little Head.  Although she wrote from the perspective of instances, it also applied directly to BGs.  I often wondered which was worse, the nerd rage of dungeon puggers or the nerd rage of the BG puggers, and I think that the prize has to go to BG puggers, because they can bitch and moan and whine and be anti-social without repercussion.  If someone is an ass in an instance, you've at least got a shot at getting rid of them via vote kick.  In a BG, you're stuck with them unless they go AFK, and believe me they know it.  They're the ones always saying that the faction you're on sucks, that you suck, that you don't know how to play your class, that your mother had sexual relations with a turnip, etc.

But you know what?  Gear matters, often more than skill.  Sure, gear can cover up deficiencies in skill, but gear can also help you dominate beyond what skill can't provide.  Skill isn't going to give you an extra 200 health in the L15-19 BGs, and being one shot is still being one shot.  Additionally, how you acquire skill is more difficult than acquiring gear:  you actually go out and play the game, take your lumps and learn how things work.

And you get told that you're an idiot.  Frequently.

Who'd want to put up with that abuse when there's a nice, easy alternative in place?

For those who have the honor and/or gold, that is.

*I ran Shadowfang Keep to get the mats for the Rogue weapon, but discovered that the dagger I got from the Silverwing Sentinels was actually better.  Go figure.

**The speed of BGs proccing these days --anywhere from 1-6 minutes-- means that you're either going to have to set aside some crafting time for your toon or you're going to just have to live

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Azerothian Pink

In the U.S. it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor of that JD Kenata of Amateur Azerothian is organizing an I'm Going Pink campaign for WoW bloggers.  (Thanks to Kamalia of Kamalia et alia for her post, or I'd have missed it.)  The idea is to wear transmogrified pink gear* in Azeroth this month --or at least post pics of it on your blog-- to help raise awareness for breast cancer.

Now, I'm not much of a transmogrifier, but I'd encourage those who are to have one of their toons wear pink for October.  Just about everybody either has a relative or knows someone who has wrestled with breast cancer, and this is a fine way to demonstrate in-game support for breast cancer research.  And if someone is being hassled in-game for this, stick up for them.

For you comics fans out there, Deviant Artist Maisa Chaves (aka Halfy) has created four drawings of some iconic DC and Marvel female superheroes as part of a campaign in Mozambique for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I'd seen this on both Facebook and The Mary Sue, but I wanted to post them here.  The pics below of She-Hulk, Storm, Catwoman, and Wonder Woman will send you to their respective page on the Deviant Art website, where a larger size can be found.

*Pink is the color of breast cancer awareness in general.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

And I Danced on Your Graves!

I once wondered how on earth the two factions in WoW could have Warlocks as a playable class, given the history of Azeroth.  Given the perceived wickedness of Warlocks by both factions, how both could tolerate Locks in their midst was a puzzle.

However, that was the in-game perception of a specific class.  Metagame-wise, Locks are Mages with funkier pets, more DoTs, and lots of fears.*

But you want to know who are the real metagame bad guys?  Rogues.

Having spent some time playing my new Rogue, I can feel the seductive tug of being just so bad.  See that straggler lowbie bringing up the rear of the pack in Warsong Gulch?  Sap and kill.  Players respawning at the rez points?  Sap sap sap, wait for a good juicy lowbie, then kill.  A pair of the enemy trying to reach the flag?  Sap them both repeatedly until they blow their trinkets and chase me, wasting precious time.

Yesterday, in WSG, I was checking the scoreboard when I realized what I was doing.  I'd never checked the scoreboard until now.  But I was becoming the sort of player that I hated.

And yet I loved it.

And that I really liked WSG after all.

That thought gave me pause.  I've had a low opinion of WSG pretty much since the day I set foot in the place, and my experience leveling a Lock through battlegrounds only reinforced that dislike.  I can't count the number of times I'd been ganked by a Rogue while in that BG, swearing that if I ever decided to start a Rogue I'd never do any of this stuff.  And yet there I was, roaming around in the rez zone, waiting for toons to respawn so I could gank them before they could buff themselves.


Does the class make the player, or the player make the class?

It's a little bit of both, I'd imagine.

As my example above showed, the Rogue's gameplay is tailored to striking from the shadows.  It doesn't have the magical or spiritual abilities that other classes have, and it doesn't have the get-down-and-dirty-in-the-trenches that the Warrior has.  It doesn't have the send-in-a-pet-and sit-back-and-CC/damage that a Hunter has.  For a Rogue to be effective it has to get up close and personal, but it also has to avoid getting into a slugfest as much as possible.  That means slinking around and striking from the shadows when conditions are optimal.

Because a Rogue can do this, it also means that a Rogue can operate behind enemy lines.  Causing death and wreaking havoc is a Rogue's calling card.  In WoW's PvP environment, Rogues aren't Robin Hood.  They aren't even Han Solo.**  They're a bit more brutal:

Kids, don't try to imitate Tony Montana when you
grow up, k?  Or at least not the Rogue at the end.

But at the same time, Rogues have their admirers as performers of (un)official activities in groups such as SI:7.  I look at that as WoW's attempt to put lipstick on a pig, because no matter how you dress it up, Rogues are involved with the so-called dishonorable jobs.

This sort of class attracts a certain type of player.  And that attraction is seductive, promising the thrill of the well executed backstab in exchange for glory atop the scorecard.  A single backstab can be the difference between victory and defeat, and the trick is knowing when to take it.


Ironically enough, I've found it more difficult to be an evil player when the storyline explicitly gives you the option to do it, such as playing a Dark Side character in The Old Republic.

When Yoda talks about the Dark Side being "quicker, easier, more seductive," he could have been talking about playing a Dark Side character in The Old Republic.  Anyone of either faction can play a Dark Side character, but certain classes (::cough:: Sith ::cough::) are better suited than others.  The temptation to click on that side of the wheel, to KILL! MAIM! TERRIFY! and explore the dark path, is a valid game option.  And when I pull up an Imperial player, I often am drawn to that selection.  But in my case, I find that I can't make my characters take Dark Side choices very often.  In spite of my best efforts, I'm still me when I play.

This even goes for the Sith classes, the Warrior and Inquisitor.  Perhaps it is the story, and the over-the-top evil that the Sith wallow in that turns me off, but I find myself playing more Light Side Sith than anything else. I have chosen some Dark Side selections on the wheel, and they do register approval with some of the NPCs, but more often they register fear.  (Of course, that's what the Sith want, but I digress.)

My son explained it best when he tried and gave up on an Imperial Agent.***  When he saw me noodling around on a Sith Inquisitor, he mentioned that he'd deleted his Imperial toon.  "I just couldn't do it," he said.  "They kept asking me to do all these bad things, and I just couldn't do it."


As for my dilemma, I'm going to continue to play the Rogue, but be mindful of what sort of player I can be.  Is the victory worth the price?  Do I want to be an asshat?  All's fair in love and war and BGs, right?


Bueller?  Bueller?

*Yes, I still love playing a Frost Mage.  No, I've not drunk the kool-aid.

**Although they do shoot first.  Take that, George Lucas!

***The kids have their own free account; this is done deliberately so they don't interfere with my account.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another Day in the Neighborhood

You know it's going to be one of those days when you login in the morning to a post-expac WoW and the first toon you see is a Pandaren named Skadoosh.*

Then I got in a WSG team with 6 Monks on our side, one named Choppnblok.**  "I'm surprised that there's a non-monk out there," one of them quipped.

Afterwards, I wandered through Elwynn just for the hell of it, and I found at least one Horde Rogue loitering outside the gates of Stormwind, stalking the occasional Pandaren.

I was tempted to get onto Moon Guard just to see what was happening at Goldshire, but my brain kind of let out a little scream and hid under the covers.

As far as activity goes, there wasn't too much of a difference at Stormwind itself (mid 40s), but there was definitely activity in Pandaria (mid 40s each in the first few zones).  I'm not sure if this bodes well, however, given that there was more activity on the server back when Cata was released.  I guess we'll wait and see how things develop.

*If you have to ask, it's a reference from Kung Fu Panda.

**We lost because the Horde side had 4 healers, two of them Druids with the AoE heals, and they kept healing each other while defending the flag.  Not much you can do there if you don't have the same number of heals.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Who's Manipulating Whom?

I realize that everybody else is busy counting down the minutes before Mists drops, and those few not doing that are waxing eloquently on the Theramore scenario.  But I can't say that I'm really all that interested with either Mists or Theramore.

There hasn't been a real event to get people excited about Mists, and no matter what people say, Theramore ain't it.  Having a sneak-peak special preview of Theramore's scenario tuned for L85 isn't the same as the Outlands invasion/Scourge invasion/Twilight's Hammer+Elemental invasion that we'd had in the past.  World events are supposed to ramp up excitement for the new expac, not leave us scratching our heads.*

Am I the only one out there who gets the feeling that Blizz is performing a Trial of the Crusader experiment on the lead-in to Mists?

If you'll recall, Trial of the Crusader was Blizz' response to the "moar boss less trash" compaints from some out there in the WoW-verse.  Instead of trash, there was boss after boss after boss.  They gave the complainers exactly what they wanted, but the raid itself fell flat.  ToC was yet another case of people  not exactly understanding what they really wanted; they didn't want no trash, they wanted no extraneous trash.  There's a big difference between the two.

Like ToC, I wonder if Blizz is simply foregoing the traditional world event because of the reaction to the previous world event.  People knew in advance that Cairne was going to die offscreen in The Shattering, so they paid a visit to him one last time.  When the Elemental invasion happened, I made a point of trying to be around Thunder Bluff, just so I could fight alongside Cairne, and I know I wasn't the only one doing it.

Blizzard took note of these little spontaneous in-game gatherings, and decided to do one better with the Mists event:  take advantage of the book to drive in-game behavior, by letting the cat out of the bag that Theramore would be destroyed, and have a reciprocal response from the players.

The problem with this idea is twofold:  Jaina/Theramore isn't nearly as beloved as Cairne was, and the circumstances behind Cairne's death was well known to the general WoW population.  Sure, Theramore bites it and we know the how, but nobody knows the why.  There's too much in the fall of Theramore that goes against the current questlines for this to make any sense, and even the book is silent as to why.**

My first reaction to this conundrum was that Blizz simply dropped the ball.  It wouldn't be the first time that I'd come across incomplete questlines or other head scratchers in the game, and it smacked of Blizz not spending nearly enough time on the transition phase and too much time to get Mists out the door.***  The more I think about it, however, the more I'm convinced that this lack of "why" is deliberate.  Blizz wants you to feel the mystery surrounding Theramore, and will use that to drive a wedge between Garrosh and the rest of the in game world.

But if that's the case, then they didn't get quite the reaction that they planned.  Like an Ed Greenwood novel, they overreached with their cleverness.

Sometimes it makes more sense to follow Occam's Razor rather than invent an even more convoluted in-game explanation.  I know that WoW's reputation was built upon corruption and the premise that the most bizarre explanation was the right one, but there are times when simplicity is better.  And no, I don't mean the ToC version of "simplicity", but a simplification of the plot.  The K.I.S.S. moniker.****

Think of it this way:  I've found that the best stories told in an RPG session are the ones where I --as the DM-- don't have much of anything to do with it.  I may play the NPCs with different motives, but the PCs are the ones who drive the story.  They interpret things, occasionally get stuff wrong, and make for memorable game sessions.  If I'm not railroading people along, the story takes on a life of its own and the players feel like they've a stake in the tale.  Additionally, I can then make the NPCs react to the players, creating new subplots based upon what the PCs did.  But my job is simple:  set the pieces in motion and step back.  Don't manipulate with a heavy hand.  If there's an overarching story to the expac, present it without making it seem like a) the players need to pay for access to "premium" content (the books), or b) the story dropped out of the sky, fully formed, onto the ground below.

Azeroth is a great place for storytelling.  It just needs to be used for that purpose.

*Or be the equivalent of a big neon sign shouting "Buy the book!"

**There's that 'read the book!' refrain again.

***If that's the case, then Mists was in worse shape when the release date was announced than we were led to believe.  I've worked in software, so I know what it looks like when a release is in danger of slipping.

****You mean you don't know this?  No, I'm not talking about the band, but "Keep It Simple, Stupid!"

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Marches On

There have been some well known blogging voices that have faded into the sunset this year.  This happens all the time, but it still seems odd to read a post announcing a blog's end or a blog going on hiatus.

Today, Cynwise of Cynwise's Warcraft Manual announced that he's going to take a break from blogging until next year.

I'm going to miss Cyn's walls of text, his self deprecating humor, and his sharp insights into PvP and BGs in WoW.  He was always thorough in his analyses, and he never believed that BGs were so hard that a noob couldn't excel at them.  After one of his entries in his magnum opus, The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm, I quipped that if he brought that level of detail to his job, I'd want him on my side in an argument at work.  He never, and I do mean never, came unprepared to a topic.

I've moved Cyn's link down to the Blogs in Mothballs section, but I'm really tempted to move it to the References area.

As with Ratters when he retired, I'll miss ya, Cyn.  Don't be a stranger.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's in a Name, Anyway?

Names are a funny thing.

When I was on the Twisted Nether blogcast, one of the standard questions Fim asked me was where I got my characters' names.  Even though I knew it was coming --I'd listened to all but the last few questions* of a few episodes prior to my interview-- I still kind of muddled through an answer.  What it boils down to is that I tried to create names that at least sounded Fantasy-esque.  The each name's origin may be different, but the name itself arose from a desire to make something that sounded at least semi-realistic.

Every time I enter a BG and find the game populated with names like "Sukstobeu", "Ikeelthings" and "Hotsxyfun", I'm reminded that not everyone plays the game with the same goals in mind.

I've often wondered how much of a correlation there is between purely goofball names and a players' tendency to play certain aspects of an MMO.  I suppose there are exceptions, but I don't often find players with XBox-esque names while I'm out and about in Azeroth, leveling by questing.  I'm sure that once Pandaria drops that'll change, but right now it seems that a lot of these sort of names are concentrated in BGs, and to a lesser extent instances/raids.

While I realize there's a great tendency to pass these people off as merely kids or teenagers, I don't think there's a direct correlation between age and name choice.  I can think of enough examples in the guilds I've been in that refute the idea that only kids play with names like that.

But what does stand out in my mind is that the level of immersion a player wants in a game does have an impact on their toon names.

Quite a few of the people I know who have crazy names don't really care much about lore/story, RP-ing**, or seeing a final raid boss down due to in-game reasons.  They're not likely to be (non-battle) pet collectors, transmog players, or achievement hunters.  Among the MMO bloggers I chat with, I don't think a single one has created a name like "MrCowCanMooCanU"***.  But to me, that makes sense because we care about the games we write about, and we're not playing just to kill a few things and blow off some steam.  Or show off our e-peens.

When we take time to create names that sound Fantasy-esque, we're saying that immersion matters.

There's a great temptation to make the leap from naming to immersion to longevity in a game, but I don't think you can connect the last two.  There have been far too many people who have tried games and moved on to make an effective link there.  Just because someone does care about immersion doesn't mean that other factors don't influence their game playing.

Still, I've never forgotten what one (now ex) guildie on Horde side once told me in Stonecore when I said "So THAT was what happened to Millhouse":  "Q, I don't care about who they are, all I just want to do is kill them."

And you can guess what type of name his was.

*I figured I might as well be surprised by a few of the questions, and the famous "last three" seemed like a good idea.

**Erotic role playing (ERP) is most likely a different kettle of fish.

***Now having written this, I'd bet money that someone --probably Rades-- would name a Tauren that just to tweak me.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Who is at the Top of the Charts?

If I see another permutation of the name "Po" in a BG, I think I'll scream.

I should have been checking whether screen caps are back working so I could have caught it, but there was one Arathi Basin run wherein two of the participants were named Po (one on each side).  Every other BG I'd run from a period of Tuesday through early Thursday has had a different "Po" as well.  At first I thought it was the same player, but noooo.....

All these Kung Fu Panda references, and we haven't even gotten to the Pandaren yet.


In case you haven't been in a low level BG lately, Disco Priests are the current OP class right now.  You know how much fun it is to have 4+ people beating on a Prot Pally without much success?  That Pally has now been replaced by the Disco Priest.  I couldn't count the number of times multiple people ganged up on a Disco Priest in a BG, only to have the Priest emerge unscathed.

I'm sorry, but there's something very wrong about a Clothie being able to handle people like that.  We're talking about a Priest, not a Jedi.

Disco priests have suddenly become so popular in the entry level BG range that their numbers are approaching 'DK in Outland' levels.  I was in an Arathi Basin BG on Wednesday where there were six Disco Priests on the Alliance side, and four on the Horde side.  And who topped the kill charts in that BG?  The Disco Priests.  All of them.


My slowness issue seems to have been corrected in the latest 5.0.5 patch, although a perusal of the patch notes didn't reveal anything specific to my problem.    Unfortunately, the washed out effect is still there, despite me tweaking the graphics settings like crazy.

As is typically the case in software, my issues are more likely "artifacts" or "features" as opposed to bugs.  I haven't come across anything new, but I guess we'll see what comes up.


In TOR, I managed to provide an interesting bug case for the devs.

I'd created a Trooper, and while she was working on her initial class quest on Ord Mandell, I'd stumbled upon the previously bugged mission The Ambush.  Well, I muddled through it, but afterwards the thing refused to complete, but at the same time, I was given the next mission in the sequence.  Therefore, I've got two quests from the same chain sitting in my Mission Log, and I can't complete the one because of interference from the other.  The devs have tried a few things --especially since they fixed that mission on Tuesday's down time-- but they're still scratching their heads over my Trooper's conundrum.  I presume they could manually intervene with my toon and correct it manually, but they probably want to figure out how it got there so it doesn't happen to other people.

Considering I'm playing my Trooper as a complete no-nonsense sort, she would not take kindly to this situation.  (Think Sergeant Mack on Taris in the bonus series, and you get the idea.)


Some months into Cata, I'd stated how tactical Vashj'ir was for ranged DPS was, and how liberating it was for a Mage to have that vertical dimension to work from.  When you go straight from Wrath zones to Vashj'ir without stopping to gear up, the Cata 'jump' meant you had to take it easy and work a pull at a time until you got yourself a complete set of baseline Cata green gear.  This was a bit of a sea change from what people were used to leveling up through Wrath, although the Storm Peaks and Icecrown did have a bit of that tactical feel to it.

To a lesser extent, that tactical feel is what it's like leveling out in the field for TOR, although it feels like that on a more consistent basis.  WoW --especially in the post-5.0.4 world-- seems built for steamrolling over mobs out in the field.

Now, a game like Age of Conan, however, is much more unforgiving.  And brutal.

I was reminded of that when I returned to my Barbarian and worked a bit on some quests in Old Tarantia.  Unlike WoW and TOR (and LOTRO, for that matter), AoC does not go in for so-called 'heroic combat'.  You definitely have to work your way patiently through mobs if they're at-level, and more than one mob at a time often spells doom to your player.  The AoC mobs are also much MUCH more sensitive to activity nearby, and will aggro from a much greater distance than in WoW or TOR.

These little touches of realism keep me grounded after playing sessions of "Jump into the fray and kill them all!!!" fighting found in WoW or TOR.  It also helps my leveling experience out in the other two games, because I play more conservatively and patiently.

Perhaps I'm onto something here, because I do get a lot of satisfaction playing different MMOs, and I can enjoy them for what they are.  From my perspective, they complement each other, because I'm not in a rush to be the first or the absolute best.  I'm not trying to be that hard core raider slogging through hard modes, but rather just having fun puttering around in different worlds.

Now, if someone will get around to creating an MMO version of Lankhmar....