Thursday, May 31, 2012

NBI Ending

Although the month of May has come to a close, the fruits of the NBI Initiative will continue to ripen over the years.

Welcome to all new bloggers!

Monday, May 28, 2012

In Memoriam

In honor of those who served and fought.  Memorial Day may be an American holiday, but most other countries also have an Armistice Day or Day of Remembrance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ghost Towns

Things are pretty dead when Dalaran has just as many people in it on a Monday night as Stormwind.

I suppose you could argue that it was an 'up' day for Dalaran with 20 or so people in it on a Monday night, but Stormwind?  Of course, that other software product that Blizz dropped last week might have something to do with that, but the downward trend had been noticeable since the beginning of the year.

Ironically enough, the regular LFD random queue was the shortest it had been in well over a year for me, clocking in at around six minutes.  Maybe you'd expect a quick wait as a tank or healer, but DPS?  But on the flip side, getting into a random BG meant a 10 minute wait, a definite change from the typical 2-3 minutes.

I can't really make any sense of the weirdness surrounding the queues; while empty servers ought to translate into longer wait times for both sets of queues, it only impacted BGs.  Perhaps the people who are left playing WoW at this stage of the release are those who are the true 'hardcore' players:  leveling alts, crafting, transmogging, raiding, etc.*  If that's the case, leveling alts might be the reason for the short LFD queue times:  you get a bubble of people who began leveling alts at roughly the same time, and they all reached Cata instances at once.

Of these so-called hardcores, how many of these people are still blogging out there, working on beta, and figuring out their pathway to L90 on Mists?  Maybe we bloggers have a skewed sense of things, because we're passionate enough about the game to devote words to it in addition to any in-game activity.  But right now, I think we've long since entered the long lull before the lead up to the next expac, and the servers won't get busy again until the release date is imminent.

Which brings me to the Blizzard suggestion to merge servers in low population zones to give the illusion of more activity.

I can't be the only one who, when I first heard about the idea, said "I guess the first zones they'll do are Exodar and Silvermoon City.  After all, nothing says 'activity' quite like seeing a hundred or so bank alts in one location."

From an activity standpoint, this proposal sounds absolutely great.  It will give newbies the impression that there are a lot of things going on in WoW, and might convince them to stick with the game past L20.  It will also make some historically dead zones more lifelike, and will help players in The Ghostlands and Bloodmyst Isle find groups for questing.

However, WoW being WoW, I have some concerns about the proposal.  Not from a technical standpoint, but from a social standpoint.

What's the worst part about the social experience in WoW, particularly from the standpoint of a new player?

It isn't a lack of people to interact with, but an excess of antisocial people ruining the initial play experience:
  • People who go kill opposing factions' quest givers in the intro zone.  (These are intro zones, so unless a newbie decides to set the PvP flag there isn't any direct ganking going on.)
  • People with names such as "Isukballz" or "Killitnow" challenging people to duels, killing the mobs you were supposed to work on, and spamming guild invites to any and all comers.
  • The toon who decides to zero in on a player for some ERP.
  • The "Yr doin it wrong!" or "L2P noob!" toon who spews trash into Gen Chat just because they think it's funny.
And that's even before what a new player will see if they make it through the intro zone and into a city for the first time:  Trade Chat.

Based on an initial experience like that, it's a wonder that WoW gets new subs at all.

If Blizz is serious about bringing in and keeping new blood, then they have to address the social issues in WoW.  This isn't Polyanna country, and it ain't EVE, either.  People like to be welcomed and respected and tolerated.  If they feel the environment is toxic, they'll move on.  You can't expect a new player to blindly stumble through all of the social pitfalls and land in a good guild without guidance, and likewise you can't expect someone to blithely ignore all of the social issues that some players bring to WoW.

This is something that Blizz will need to tackle now, before Mists, when their system will strain under the weight of hordes of leveling Pandaren named Pandaspanx or Hotnfurry.

*Well, aside from the gold farmers, that is.  When I left Icecrown a couple of days ago there were more people there (15) than in Dal (10).  And as for me, I don't consider myself hardcore at all.  I just get on and play when I can.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Great Spoof of the D3 Opening

I enjoyed this, hopefully you will too!
(there's nothing NSFW about the video, but it would still be awkward to have a co-worker look over at you watching this one)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Law of Unintended Consequences is Alive and Well

Steve Rogers:  How do you know about this, Beast?
Beast:  I am an agent of S.W.O.R.D.  Also.
Steve Rogers:  Anybody else here an agent of a clandestine specialized covert operation and forgot to bring it up?
Spider-man:  I'm a level 27 Rogue on World of Warcraft.  Does that count?
--From 2012 Free Comic Book Day "The Avengers:  Age of Ultron 0.1"

Sometimes I get my thinking done doing something very mundane, such as cutting the grass.

Of course, when I do cut the grass, I've got my earbuds in to muffle the noise from the mower, and that means I've either got music or a podcast on.

Not too long after I mentioned that I didn't have the time to listen to podcasts in a previous blog entry, I began to make time.  I have a small collection of regulars in the pencil-and-paper RPG and WoW areas, but I'm always looking to find a podcast with an interesting voice.  So, while I pushed the mower along late last afternoon, I listened to the 2 GMs 1 Mic podcast* and became acquainted with the term "murder hobos".

According to one of the hosts of the show, it's a put down of one aspect of old-school style RPGs:  your characters move from place to place and kill things.  I chuckled at the definition, because not only would characters from old-school RPGs qualify as murder hobos, but those of most MMOs as well.


When was the last time you walked into an instance and didn't kill just about everything?  (No, wipes don't count.)  Of course, the complexity of interactions beyond the absolute basics keep higher level actions out of the reach of most MMOs., so it isn't quite a fair comparison.  We, as players, can interact more between each other (or with a DM) than we can with computer NPCs.  And with NPCs programmed to perform only certain duties, it doesn't take very long before interacting with an NPC gets boring.

This got me to wondering whether the "biggest beta ever" for MoP is a good thing or not.

Getting all of the annual subs into the beta is a good thing from a polish and bugs standpoint, but what about from a freshness standpoint?

Some of the beta testers have been playing for over a month now, and we can expect this beta to continue for the foreseeable future.  However, how many of those beta players will find themselves burning out on MoP more quickly than if they'd not been in the beta?  Could Blizz be feeding the beast by getting everyone into beta so that they'll have seen everything (or enough of it, anyway), only to discover widespread apathy a month or two into release?

Before anyone starts telling me how awesome and cool beta is, I'll point out one thing:  I worked in software development for five years.  I've been through about six or seven development cycles on a product that took well over 300 developers worth of effort.  By the time the product went Gold, we were utterly and completely sick of working on that release and looked forward to the next release.**

If that happens to developers who (supposedly) like to code, why wouldn't it happen for beta testers?

Think about it:  people will have effectively been playing MoP since April 2012.  Those of us not in the beta won't get to try it out for several months (or later); while MoP will be fresh for us, it'll be old hat for the testers.

And how long did it take before people started complaining about things to do in Cata or Wrath?  A few months?

I'm not sure what the consequences of the beta will be (other than a polished product), but what I am sure of is that people wouldn't have thought of them beforehand.

*I've only listened to part of one episode so far, but it's pretty good; I'm willing to listen to a few more podcasts before I decide to pick it up or not.  The hosts do use colorful language, so this isn't the sort of podcast to listen where little ears might hear.

**One of the statements that would cause the most anguish in a developer were the words "I need you to work bugs on the current release for a few months."

EtA:  It's "agent", not "ancient".  Stupid auto correct.  @#$&!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Musings -- Brann's Trusty Pick Version

There are days when I think WoW is composed of 2 million subs and 8 million gold farmers.

Why yes, I'm working on mats for a chopper.  Does it show?

The elimination of the wait for older mats when a new expac is released, such as Titansteel (and Felsteel for you older BC types) has been a blessing and a curse.  It's a blessing because you can farm all you want to collect the mats needed to create Titansteel without having to wait a day/week/what-have-you, but it's a curse because everyone else is doing that too.  The entire cycle is compressed, and when you add the gold farmers to the list there can be days when you could spent almost all of your WoW time cruising Northrend and not find a single Titanium node.

Back in Wrath, I used to farm Titanium and Saronite for the gems, and in the wee hours on a PvP server there would be three of us (quite literally) fighting it out for the nodes.  When I switched Q over to a PvE server, that number fluctuated between 3-5 people, but it wasn't too difficult to get your share of the ore and assorted goodies.  However, in late Cata, it seems that there's a toon parked over every spawning point for Titanium or several cruising Icecrown or Sholazar for all of the spare Saronite.  The number of toons farming ore has more than doubled, and I've spent 10 minutes or more hunting around before I found a lonely hunk of Saronite that wasn't being mined at that very moment.

Strangely enough, this doesn't translate into an overabundance of gold farming in the BC zones.  Khorium and Eternium are still easily mined, while the BC herbs have been left alone as well.  (My Worgen Lock finally made it to Outland, so he's ready to get some clown gear to match up better in BGs.)  I guess you could chalk it up to not a lot of demand out there for the BC stuff, but if you read the blogs touting transmog you'd think otherwise.

Perhaps what really attracts the gold farmers is the near 5 digit price tag that a chopper or mechano-hog will fetch on the AH.*


Since I've been Farmer Bob the past couple of weeks, instead of running BGs I've queued up for a few normal 5-mans instead.  I figure that the time it takes for the queue to pop is better spent cruising for mining nodes than the extremely short entry times for BGs.

I still don't know what the Heroic queues are like, but the random normals are clocking in at a half an hour.  Based on that, I've been reluctant to specifically queue up for those normals I haven't done on Tom yet, mainly Stonecore and Throne of the Tides.  It's not like I've not seen Stonecore before --it always seemed to proc whenever I queued up on Neve-- but it would be nice to actually mark that as finished on a Ret Pally.  And Throne of the Tides...  Well, I think I've seen that pop once all of Cata.

Naga just aren't as popular as they were in BC, I guess.


I didn't quite notice this until the past couple of weeks, but leveling via BGs in WoW is cyclic.

When you start out at the bottom of the level range for a BG, you're just glorified fodder.  (Clothies, such as Priests and Locks, are even more so.)  It can be painful to drag yourself up to that next level, and you get used to dying a lot.  Once you make that level, however, then path to level after gets easier.  And the next one, even more so, until you just kind of cruise out of one level range into another.

Then the cycle starts over again.

This cycle is a lot like leveling via questing in Age of Conan.

There's a pretty big dropoff in XP when you kill a mob two (or even one) level beneath yours in AoC, even more than WoW.  What that means is when you're questing in a zone and you level up to where the mobs close to you are 2 levels below you, your XP intake drops precipitously, and your leveling slows to a crawl.  You then have to push yourself to another portion of the zone where you match up better with the mobs.  The thing is, AoC orients those mobs so that you have to be really precise about your pulls so that you don't end up with 3 or more mobs on you at once.

Oh, and did I mention they spawn more frequently than WoW?  If you enter a higher level zone, you'll not only have to fight your way in, but also fight your way out.

I'm sure this was done to "encourage" grouping, but for someone who plays at odd hours, that means that the leveling process operates in spurts:  you gain a level or two fast, then you have to go to a higher level area where your progress slows to a crawl.  Just like leveling via BGs in WoW.


I don't often talk about my kids' MMO playing, but I figured I had to share this little tidbit:

My oldest managed to get her L22 Elf Hunter to Rivendell last week.

The kids had tried to get their toons to Rivendell before --they play F2P, so they had to run there-- but they always would get zapped by the high level mobs once they got past Weathertop.  So it was no small effort that she managed to zip through that last zone to reach the Last Homely House East of the Sea.

She then proceeded to start geeking out.

"OMG!!  There's Frodo!  And there's Gandalf!  And Bilbo!!  And look:  there's Merry and Sam and Pippin!!!  This is just so cool!!!"

I don't think she stopped grinning the rest of that evening.

*The Battered Hilt still shows no sign of dropping in value, probably more due to transmog and desire to see the questline than anything else.  The thing is, you can clear most of the mobs in the entry area of Heroic Forge of Saron without that much trouble, so why not just do that instead until you get a drop?  You'll even get a nice supply of Frostweave to sell on top of it.

EtA: Have I mentioned that I disklike trackpads that are too sensitive?  They make "whenever I" change into "when I ever".  Sheesh.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blog Alert - Need More Rage Has Gone Sentimental

I could try to post something about the death of Maurice Sendak, but anything I'd come up with pales in comparison to what Ratshag did at Need More Rage.

Go now, and smile.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When Rateds Attack

Last week I had an evening to myself, so I logged in as Tomakan to get in some BGs.

The first couple of runs were okay, but when I got Arathi Basin, I ported in and was greeted by groans.

"What?" I asked in BG chat.  I may not be the best BG player out there, but I'm certainly not that bad.

"The Mal'Gannis crew is here," one of my team replied.

I took a look at the Horde side's lineup and saw the telltale server name Mal'Gannis five times.  "Oh... crap."

"Maybe we should give up now," another Alliance player suggested.

"Hell no," a Rogue replied.  "We'll beat those assholes!"

Having met the Mal'Gannis Five before, I had my doubts.  They were all members of the same guild, and at the very least they were kitted out with a full set of Cataclysmic gear.*  That indicated they either ran Rateds or 5s in Arenas, and they were all used to working with each other.  Compare that with a traditional pugged BG, and the differences were obvious.

In this particular AB run, they were a roving group of five and smashed everyone in their way.

The lopsided loss took its toll on a few players.  "Alliance always sucks!" said one enlightened soul.

"Come on," I replied.  "We're a bunch of puggers up against a Rated team.  You don't think that has an impact?"

"Alliance sucks!"

I rolled my eyes.  When confronted with such logic, there's not much you can do.

Still, that does bring up the question what a Rated or 5s group was doing in a traditional pug, anyway.  I'd put it up to a "blowing off steam" or "taking a break", except that they've been staples of the random BGs for the past month.  Well, sort of random, anyway:  you'll find them in the lower sized BGs for the most part, where they can have a larger impact on the outcome (WSG, BoG, TP, AB, and EotS).  The advantages of a well-oiled machine like what they have over a bunch of puggers ought to be obvious; it would take a massive screw-up on the rest of their side to lose.  Or having a comparable Rated team on the Alliance side.

From a game standpoint, a Rated team has just as much right to run a regular BG pug as the next group, but I can't help but think of the similarities between that and an event that happened several years ago.

My son was playing baseball in an instructional league for six and seven year olds.  Each team was allowed a maximum of two eight year olds per team, because of the instructional nature of the league.  If you've ever seen six and seven year olds play, you know that you've got the wide spectrum of abilities and attention spans assembled out there on the field.  I used to pull my hair out watching my son looking all over the place rather than at the batter; on more than one occasion the ball would be hit toward him and it scooted right on by before he realized what was happening.

In one particular game, however, we arrived and I noticed several of our parents looking worried over by the sidelines.  I shooed my son over to where the coaches were and joined the group.  They'd been watching the other team warm up, and something wasn't right.  "They're acting way too mature for six and seven year olds," one mom told me.  Sure enough, that team had gotten the balls out and were warming up without any supervision whatsoever, and their accuracy was almost frightening.

Once the game began, it was clear there was a mismatch.

Their pitcher was throwing hard --and I do mean hard-- and mowed down our players with three consecutive strike-outs.  They came up to the plate, and started killing the ball everywhere.  Before the first inning was over, the score was 6-0.  I was annoyed, but I couldn't say much; I mean, the other team was just that good.  It was like watching a major league team play against a college team.

When one of our coaches came back to the dugout, however, he was mad.  He'd been talking to all of the other teams' kids when he was out at second base as an additional umpire, and it turned out that the other team was playing with a stacked deck:  all of the kids were eight year olds.  Additionally, that team had a game the next day, in an eight and nine year old league.

They were using our team as batting practice.

As you can surmise, the game was called after three innings due to runs.  Our coach put in a protest to the league about the other team, and we found out later that several other teams had done the same thing.  Nevertheless, the damage had been done.  It's kind of hard to explain to a seven year old that the ass-kicking they just received didn't count because the other team cheated, because they'd just been beaten out on the field.

Comparatively speaking, what that baseball team did was cheating, while a Rated team running regular BG pugs isn't.  However, the mismatch is very real, and can be very disheartening to someone learning to play BGs.  Spend an entertaining afternoon being corpse camped in WSG and tell me how you feel that makes you a better player.  Here's a hint:  it doesn't.  When you respawn, get buffed, and then you get stun-stun-stunned to death, you have almost no chance at actually learning to play.  Instead, you'll probably decide to not play PvP.

The hardcore EVE types will argue that it's all for the better to separate the wheat from the chaff, but there's a drawback to such behavior.  You feed into the stereotype that PvPers are all assholes who hang out with ninja looters and trade chat nutjobs.  "L2P noob!" doesn't help the community, it harms the community by making it shrink.

Am I arguing for a self banning of rated teams from regular BGs?  It is tempting, but I believe what's needed here is restraint.  Sure, you can wipe the floor of the WW with the other team's butts, but there's no need to go corpse camping.  It isn't necessary to hold onto that last flag instead of capping just so you can farm honorable kills.  The big rule ought to be "Don't be a jerk."

After all, karma can be a real bitch.

A short update:  In between the time I wrote this and posted it, I spent a half an hour in WoW.  I got into WSG, and discovered the full Mal'Gannis Rated team on the other side.  What happened?  After the first flag capture, they put us on farm.  Players began leaving like rats fleeing a sinking ship.  After another five minutes of it, even I gave up and took the debuff rather than get killed another dozen times.  Soloing the Pit of Saron seemed like a better deal.

*Remember, the Armory is your friend.  And when that doesn't work, create a toon on the server, go to the Hall of Legends, and inspect them that way.  Know thy enemy.

EtA:  Corrected a couple of grammar errors in the baseball story.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Just D... Wait, what do you mean that line's taken?

This is written for the Newbie Blogger Initiative, which is going on throughout May 2012.  You can find more info at

Trademarks aside, that's the best advice I can give a new blogger.

Just go ahead and write.  Don't be afraid.

Well, be smart.  Don't write things that'll get you in trouble at work, or with your family, or with your friends.  If you want guild drama, the easiest thing to do is start posting about the scuttlebutt in your guild and what you think of it all.  If you wonder whether something you're writing is going to cause trouble, skip it and come back to it later.

If, however, you really don't care what people think and you've got the intestinal fortitude to back it up, then damn the torpedoes!

I realize that people will say to write what you know, and yes, that does let a new blogger start out on familiar ground.  But for my money, the act of writing itself is more important.  You're only going to get better as a blogger and a writer if you challenge yourself, by pushing what you can do.  When I look back at my initial columns when writing PC, I cringe.  I had no idea how little I knew about WoW, and what I thought then was decent writing now seems really klunky and pretentious.  Do I wish I'd been a better writer back then?  Sure.  But the thing is, the only way I really did improve was to work at it:  I played more, learned more about the game, and I wrote.

When you write, a funny thing happens.  You gain perspective.  You analyze yourself and what you believe.  You realize that not everyone will agree with you.  Hell, you also realize that what you thought was pretty good might be utter crap to another person.  Or worse, boring as sin.

Don't go into this because you want to be an awesome! cool! popular! blogger, because that's lightning in a bottle.  You can't chase fame without sacrificing yourself in the process.  Instead, blog because you want to, and because you have words that want to come out.  When you blog like that, you're exposing more of yourself than if you were chasing fame, but in that risk lies the reward.

A blog is a strange thing.  It's composed of your writing, and it can live indefinitely if you want it to.  It doesn't need readers to survive.  What it does need is a blogger.

Don't worry about readers.  Don't worry if it seems you're shouting into the wind.  Concern yourself with what you can control, and that's the content.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

PC Joins the Newbie Blogger Initiative

I found out about this initiative from Spinks of Welcome to Spinksville!, and I can't think of a better way to help bring new blood into the blogging hobby.

This initiative is being run by Syp of Biobreak, and there's a board where bloggers --both old and new-- can sign up and participate.  The initiative is slated to run over the month of May, and both PC and many other bloggers will be posting encouragement and advice on blogging on their own blogs.

See you around!