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....

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Few Thoughts from a Brain in Need of Coffee

It's a Monday, and it shows.

While I'm waiting for the coffee to hit my system, I figured I'd capture a few more thoughts from MMO space.

White Outs Abound

I didn't notice this on Adelwulf, but when I switched to my Night Elf Rogue, I discovered that the WoW graphics have indeed taken a bit of a hit.  While she was in Dolanaar*, I kept thinking that I needed to get some eyedrops or something, because she --and much of the background-- seemed to be washed out.

Then I switched to Tomakan to go transfer some of my gold and got a big surprise when I saw the old Paladin in the Exodar.  Most of the bright graphical details were washed out in a haze of white.

I can make out enough to play, but considering that I didn't change any of my graphics settings I wasn't expecting this.  While I suppose I can tinker with increasing my graphics settings, if I do it too much I definitely won't be able to play the game due to the FPS hit.  I'm kind of hoping that this is a mistake and will get corrected, but I don't hold out much hope in that regard.

Putting on my Crash Helmet

While questing in Teldrassil and learning the ropes of being a Rogue (more on that later), I'd been killing whatever I came across.  That is, until a killing blow laid my installation low.

I'd been getting concerned about the stability of my installation since the patch, especially when I opened up my bags and perusing the gear inside I could see my toon's animation visibly slow down to a crawl.  I'd been disabling all the add-ons I have to see if that improved anything, but no dice.  But still, I wasn't expecting the installation to crash during combat.

I'm pretty sure that in all the time I've played WoW, I've had the game crash maybe one other time, and that I wrote off to issues surrounding the 3.5 patches + hotfixes.  However, given the graphics problems, the sound problem with the launch window, and some other issues, the pre-release Mists patch hasn't exactly given a boost to my confidence level.  I'd actually feel better if Blizzard were bombarding my installation with a stream of hotfixes, but that hasn't been the case.  Also, I really really don't want to have to reinstall the whole damn game, either, because that could take ages.

If this instability continues, I might end up playing other MMOs because they're not behaving badly.

"Stun stun stun stun... Vanish!"**

I've discovered that the easiest way to confound a Rogue is to randomly switch direction.


You know you're getting annoyed when you're talking back to the screen, saying "Stay still so I can backstab you, dammit!"

Ah, the life of a Rogue.

I thought about entering a BG right as I dinged L11, but then I came to my senses.  There'd be no way in hell that I'd be useful if I didn't have Sap, and I get that at L12.

The more I play a Rogue, the more respect I have for the physical skill of playing one.  It requires more of a safecracker's touch to orient yourself prior to attacking, whereas the other classes I've played are more of the point-and-shoot/swing/blast variety.  But I can see that the fewer CC required in a situation, the less of an advantage the Rogue has.  Steamrolling through instances would put the Rogue at a disadvantage, for instance, because by its very nature a steamroll would eschew any  CC or DoTs in favor of brute force.  Sure, a Rogue could switch to Combat spec for those scenarios, but a Rogue's strengths are in poisons and CC.

Still, the skills that weaken a Rogue in PvE allow it to excel in PvP.  And really, the Rogue is tailor made for BGs, so much so that I may end up revising my negative opinion of Warsong Gulch.

Deviation from the Norm

I've been working on some alts for TOR to see what the class quests are, and I've gotten four of them (Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Jedi Councillor, Jedi Knight) just to the point where they get their ship.  Having gone through most of the Smuggler's campagin arc, I figured I knew how things worked.  Perhaps it's the WoW-ness of MMOs, but I was thinking along the lines of:    Starting Zone -> Coruscant -> Taris -> Nar Shadda -> etc.

But imagine my surprise when I got the Jedi Knight to his ship, used the holocommunicator, and I was to head to... Ord Mandell.

Wait, what?  The Smuggler/Trooper starting zone?  Where did this come from?

I had to remind myself that I wasn't playing WoW, and that each class quest goes differently.

Oh, and the Sith starship?  That looks awesome.  The Jedi ship, much less so.  I still think that some Corellians took the Jedi Order for a ride when they sold them that starship design.  It takes some balls to be a starship salesman to the Jedi, but like car salesmen everywhere, they somehow managed to get the best end of the deal.

I still like the interior layout of the Smuggler's Freighter the best, however.

*Yes, a female NE Rogue.  I don't want to fall into the segregated trap of having my casters be female while the melee bunch be male, and I still prefer the female NE to the male by a long shot.  I'm sorry, but green hair and beard doesn't do it for me.

**From Wowcrendor's Youtube video, Class Stereotypes.

EtA:  'for', 'from'.  They both start with 'F', right?  Just like another 'F' word....