Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Does Azeroth even know what a Pilgrim is?

I once read a blog post by SFF writer and former SFWA president John Scalzi* in which he defined the straight white male to be the lowest difficulty setting there is.  By using the video game analogy --and WoW in particular-- he helped to explain the privilege that the straight white male has in the Western world.**

Today, on the eve of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, I was reminded again of how U.S.-centric WoW is when I logged in and discovered that Pilgrim's Bounty had started.

If you live in the U.S., you probably never gave it a second thought.  Just like if you live in Germany or you live in a place with a lot of German immigrants (like the U.S.), of course there's a Brewfest holiday!  Or that the mid-Summer/mid-Winter holidays line up with someone living in the northern hemisphere.

Sure, there's the nod to the Chinese New Year, but two things about that festival:  out of all the international non-Western festivals, Blizz chose only that one; and the Chinese New Year festival is celebrated in the U.S. too, mainly in areas with a sizable Chinatown (such as San Francisco and New York City).

To be fair, WoW isn't the only MMO with a sizable chunk of Western themed festivals --there's LOTRO, for starters-- but WoW has a much bigger non-Western and non-U.S. subscriber presence.


I've occasionally wondered what it must be like to play a game that has so many nods to a culture not my own.  I'm not into anime/manga, and I grew up just before the original Nintendo console swept the world, so I have no insights into JRPGs or Japanese video games in general.***  I can see the differences in games such as Aion and to a much lesser extent Guild Wars 2, but that's more a matter of graphics and quest text. The immersion found within is still Western in emphasis, such as light and dark angels in Aion.

Mists of Pandaria was an attempt by Blizzard to create an Asian-themed culture, but it was more a mashup of existing Asian cultures than anything else.  I liken it to Hasbro's attempt to appeal to Football/Soccer fans by creating Manchester United Monopoly.  If Hasbro expected Arsenal or Norwich City fans to pick up a copy of Man U Monopoly, they were sadly mistaken.****

Since I'm in the default setting for our current batch of MMOs, I don't know what it's like to play an MMO from another culture or country.  I don't know what small things might be present that I just simply assume to be correct and never realize that's unique to the U.S.  (Dear Lord, I hope that Paris Hilton isn't that well known internationally.  PLEASE.)

Then again, maybe this is just so much navel gazing, since obviously people don't care enough to unsubscribe from WoW or other MMOs about it.

*And he lives in my state, so I claim him as local.  One of these days I'd like to actually get a chance to meet him when he comes to visit our local bookstore, but work always seems to intervene.

**I'm not sure how it translates to non-Western countries, but given the cultural dominance the West has, it's probably still accurate.

***Outside of Donkey Kong and other 80's arcade games.  And the numerous Zero Wing "All your base are belong to us" memes, of course.  I did watch Star Blazers (known to anime fans as Space Battleship Yamato, complete with the sea shanty theme song) and Speed Racer, but that's it.

****Maybe they were counting on other English Premier League fans burning copies of Man U before matches.  I could see THAT happening.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lemme go get my alt, and, um... This may take a while...

This post is a little late.  I'd like to be able to say that it was due to my extreme focus on NaNoWriMo this year, but it was due to work suddenly getting busy these past few weeks.  The push for the Holidays has begun, and people are trying to throw projects over the fence before they split for vacation.  So, once again, my attempt at NaNo boils down to whether I can get to at least 15k words or not.  Last year it was definitely a "not", and this year isn't looking so good either.

Anyway, I'd been playing a Commando on SWTOR for months, and I decided to pull my Sith Sorcerer out of stasis and level her for a bit.  When I last went adventuring with her she was on Quesh, or as I like to call it, Hutta Part II.*  It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, then off I went into the polluted swamps.

I'd figured that I'd need some time to settle into the button commands, but what I didn't expect was how long it would take to become comfortable with those commands.  I've been playing her for several hours now, but I still don't have an attack sequence down pat.

This is the first time I've had trouble getting myself to remember what buttons to push for a toon.  This goes beyond the "it'll take a level or so to get used to things" that I've become accustomed to, and into the "OMGWTF is happening here?" realm.  Have I finally crossed that age boundary where things become harder to understand?

I certainly hope not.

When I hear people 10+ years younger than me say "well, back in the day...." in an MMO chat session, you just know that this genre is designed with younger people in mind.  There's no avoiding that of the people who still login to my WoW guild, I'm by at least a half a decade the oldest.  I used to chuckle at Ancient's blog subtitle** because she was poking fun at herself, but now I chuckle because I wonder if I'm joining her in being well outside the demographic too.

I look at LOTRO's keybar graphics and wonder how someone with worse eyes than mine can distinguish between the abilities.  When I first tried LOTRO a few years ago, I thought the keybar graphics were the worst part of the game, and as time has gone on, my eyes --and my opinion-- have only gotten worse.

While I get that computer games are considered the province of the young, there are plenty of us out there who began playing in the Pong era.  Those of us who remember Colossal Cave or Zerk or even Space Invaders would like a seat at the big table, and not pushed off to the Candy Crush/Farmville table.***  Like the grandma who plays Black Ops, we want to challenge ourselves and enjoy a game with a deep storyline. And maybe blow up some stuff, too.

I recognize that I'm not going to be the quickest clicker out there.  Hell, even when I was young I was never one of the best at the old Konami Track and Field arcade game, and the entire game consisted of pounding the buttons to go as fast as you could.  Being the quickest, however, shouldn't automatically translate into being the best.  Strategy and knowing your limitations are both important, as well as finding ways to maximize your strengths.  And those are things that anybody can do, regardless of age.

It may just take some of us a bit longer than usual to get up to speed on a particular toon, that's all.

*Or "Bejing on a sunny day."  I'd have said Los Angeles in the past, but I think Bejing's well documented pollution problems have pushed it way past Los Angeles or Mexico City.

**"No wisdom here, just thoughts about the games from someone seriously outside the demographic."

***The Sid Meier's Civ series, on the other hand, is a fantastic turn-based game, proving that you don't have to be the quickest clicker around to win a strategy game.  Same for the Total War series, where you don't have to fight the battles and instead play the game strictly as a strategy game.  Now, if someone could get around to making an updated Master of Orion without overloading on the fiddly bits....

Monday, November 11, 2013

Paging White Wolf.... Someone is taking your WoD moniker...

(I keep wondering when someone else is going to point out that White Wolf's World of Darkness has been using WoD since the Vampire: the Masquerade RPG was released back in 1991, but I guess it's just me.)

Seems that everybody else is jumping on the Warlords of Draenor commentary, so as usual I'm bringing up the rear.

Here are some thoughts about the announced WoW expansion:

  • Blizzard is taking dead aim at EQ Next.

    Remember how EQ Next will be more of a sandbox with player housing?  Blizzard does, and the new Garrison ability is designed to counter that.  The idea is to give a player just enough of a taste of the sandbox that they won't be tempted by EQ Next's bigger sandbox environment.  Blizz isn't about to change their themepark MMO environment into a sandbox, so they decided that most players will only want a little bit of a sandbox instead.  Of course, this could backfire on Blizz to where enough players say "Hey, this sandbox is kind of fun, maybe I'll go try out EQ Next and see what it is like." But knowing Blizz' track record, I doubt it.
  • The rest of Azeroth doesn't matter.

    If you didn't realize this when Cataclysm's revamped Azeroth left Outland, Northrend, and the BC starting zones out of whack (story wise), then they made it pretty plain with Warlords of Draenor.  They expect to give an account a free jump to L90 with a purchase of WoD, and "learning to play your class" means "going to the Proving Grounds".  This is the real intention of the Proving Grounds; to make all of the legacy software in WoW irrelevant.  Sure, you can level the old fashioned way, but Blizzard doesn't want you to.  The solution to fixing story problems caused by Cataclysm is to simply pretend that they don't exist; they want a new player to skip years of MMO development so you can get to the end game.
  • "It's all about the endgame" is what WoW is about.

    That refrain about endgame is how WoW has kept its dominance over all other MMOs to this point.  Any other challenger to WoW's crown has been smacked down because of players who rush to the level cap and then complain that there's nothing to do.  While WoW has fallen victim to that complaint before (see: Cataclysm), Blizzard has kept WoW going with enough new endgame content to keep its core subscriber base satisfied.* Now, with WoD's "instant L90" and the Proving Grounds, Blizzard is basically saying that those people who claim "endgame is where the game begins" were right all along. A new player can buy all of the WoW stuff**, jump to L90, hang around in the Proving Grounds for a few hours, and take off for Draenor. No fuss, no muss.

    On the flip side of that, Blizzard is running the risk of eliminating one of their big edges over their competition:  their years of developing the world of Azeroth.  You can spend up to a year playing one toon and still not reach the level cap, but by eliminating that richness of the experience, Blizzard is reducing the entire WoW focus to ten levels and raiding.  A smart company can exploit that should there be delays once the level cap is reached.
  • The devs didn't watch Star Trek.

    The City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison ought to be required viewing for anyone who wants to make time travel the centerpiece of an MMO expansion.***  To stop someone from altering the timeline, you jump to a period just prior to their entrance into the timeline and stop them when they appear.  Allowing them to work their disruption and THEN show up to put the pieces back together just makes for messy storytelling and makes suspension of disbelief incredibly hard to pull off.

    The devs wanted to go to Draenor; I get that.  And I get that probably 70% of WoW players won't care because they just want to kill stuff and hang with their friends.  But surely they could come up with a better excuse to go to Draenor than this.  This just seems like they had "Heroes of the Storm" on the brain when they dreamed up "let's have them all go back to kill Gul'dan and company!"
  • The devs DID read comics.

    This story smacks of comic book alternate Earths.  The difference here is that while the alternate Earth idea for comics came about because too many authors had written stories that simply couldn't be reconciled without this handwaving, WoW had much tighter control over the story and the direction of the game. They shouldn't have gotten themselves into this sort of trouble --in game-- where they needed to perform this time travel handwaving.
  • And Doctor Who... Don't go there.

    Keep The Doctor --and The Master-- out of it.  I'm quite looking forward to The Day of the Doctor on November 23rd, and I don't want to have arguments claiming that The Doctor was the model for Azerothian time travel disrupting it.

    Besides, I'll sic a Weeping Angel after you if you suggest such a thing.
  • The Old Gods are Behind This.

    I guarantee it.  We'll probably find out that the Infinite Dragonflight is behind this, with the Old Gods pulling their strings.  Why?  Because who else would hate both the current Azeroth and the Burning Legion?  Blizzard has shown via the Mists storyline that they're unwilling to deviate from the Legion, the Lich King, or the Old Gods as the big bad for the end of an expac, so this expac will be no different.

    The final boss?  A corrupted Nozdormu, who creates the Infinite Dragonflight from the Bronze Dragonflight.  Pure speculation, but there's two groups that have access to time travel, and this wraps everything up in a complete package.
  • Trolls will show up somewhere.

    There hasn't been a WoW expac without them as an adversary, so why stop now?
  • Blizzard continues to get a lot of mileage out of their graphics engine.

    New character models notwithstanding, from Vanilla through Mists the artists have been able to maximize the terrain to great effect.  If you look closely at the terrain, it's still the same old stuff that's out there in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, but just reworked to maximum effect.  I believe this will continue to be the case with WoD.
  • Warlords of Draenor won't get a release date until EQ Next and Wildstar have one first.

    It's a game of one-upsmanship, and Blizzard has shown that they intend to wield their power as the 800 lb gorilla of the MMO market to maximum effect.  Wildstar's devs have said that they intend to go straight after WoW, so expect WoD to drop right before Wildstar does.  As much as I think this entire behavior is infantile, there's no denying that it works.

I guess I had more to get off my chest than I expected.  I know I've got some months --maybe even years, if I go and do what I usually do and start a new class from scratch-- before I make a decision on WoD, but I find myself stuck on the entire concept of the thing.  This expac has the feel of a Michael Bay movie, where it's all pretty, but there's nothing at it's heart that makes sense.

*Just a guess, but I suspect that 2-3 million of the subscriber base are what I'd call WoW's core players, those who'd play WoW until they turned off the lights.

**Not a cheap investment, by the way.  It's still somewhere over $100 if you will buy all of the expacs + Warlords of Draenor when it comes out, unless Blizz really cuts the price on all of the previous expacs to a minimal charge.

***Back to the Future I through III comes in a close second.  Oh, and while I don't like Harlan's behavior as a human being (go read his Wikipedia entry for an eyeful), there's no denying he wrote some classic SF.

Edit:  Fixed some punctuation and grammar errors.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

Yes, there's something strange afoot, Watson, and it has nothing to do with BlizzCon.

A Kickstarter campaign is underway for an MMO with a Jane Austen theme.

Called "Ever, Jane", it is a virtual world based on the works of Jane Austen.  Unlike a more traditional MMO where fighting and gear acquisition are first and foremost, this is an MMO about "playing the actual character in the game, building stories."*

From what I can tell, the emphasis is on activities in Regency England at the time, such as balls/parties, gossiping/sleuthing, hunting, and other activities.  The thrust is to emphasize roleplaying while allowing a player's actions to help shape the story.

It sounds like an ambitious project, and if people are interested they can check out the Kickstarter campaign to view the video as well as download the prototype.  There's a lot of work ahead for their development team, but I wish them well.

EDIT:  Here's the video from the Kickstarter:

*From the Kickstarter site.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Well, that didn't take long....

That's a wee bit of a screwup in advance of any announcement.

If the rumors are true and time travel --and Garrosh-- are at the center of the expac, I'm not so sure I'm on board.  I'm kind of blah about the whole idea of Garrosh again.

A Short pre-BlizzCon Post

Everyone in the WoW-verse seems to be yakking about Warlords of Draenor in the past week or two, focusing on the new WoW expac.  But this being a con for all things Blizz, what if they announce something else entirely?

Like, say, a WoW themed game* for Xbox One/PS4?  A PvP oriented game?

They already have practice with Diablo 3, so it's not too much of a jump to consider that they'd tap into the next-gen console market.

Again, something to consider as people are probably already lining up for the 11 AM PST opening ceremonies.

*Or Starcraft, for that matter.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Look, I'm a Rogue. I'm not supposed to have more health than a Prot Pally."

The past week or two's worth of random battlegrounds has seen a dramatic rise in a rather disconcerting trend:  I've got the high health.

That's not how random battlegrounds are supposed to work.

You're supposed to have a mix of players, or at possibly a premade of a guild/arena group in the mix.  And really, I see a lot of the latter on the Horde side:  4 out of every 5 random BGs I'm in involve a Horde premade of some sort.*  But even without the premades, I can see the health of each enemy player, and they follow the standard pattern of high to low health:  tanks > plate DPS/locks > leather DPS > other cloth DPS.

However, the Alliance health numbers are all over the map, with the lone exception that my Rogue is always in the top two in health.

I knew what my max health with Malevolent PvP gear was (360k-ish), and what my max health with Tyrannical gear was (420 ish).  I'm now part of the way through getting Grievous gear, which puts me in around 450k health.  But most of my random BG teams have health in the 350k range, with some players around 410k and the fresh L90s at less than 300k.**

That means that Alliance teams are typically undergeared and severely outgunned by Horde teams.

How undergeared?  Well, I know that by only running random BGs, I've fallen behind the arena players by an additional Grievous piece***, or two if you count the 1250 point gear and take this week into account. That's enough of a difference for a maximum geared Hunter (plus current raid tier gear) to 4-5 shot me, as happened multiple times last night.****  And if I'm at max PvP gear without running arenas, imagine what it's like for someone with a half Malevolent/ half Tyrannical set.

I was in a Twin Peaks BG this morning and I watched it happen.  We even had more than the usual number of healers at four (!) whereas the Horde only had one, and our health was actually decent for a change (averaged in the low 420s.)  But the Horde side, where I counted 6-7 players at 480k health and higher, simply cut through our side like a hot knife through butter.  Putting it in a different way, the Horde was able to out-DPS four healers in a 10v10 match.  That we were lacking in strategy --only about 1/3 of the team was trying to get the flag at any one time-- was almost immaterial when 2 healers in a convoy couldn't keep a Shaman or myself upright.

Such a DPS imbalance in random BGs is worrisome, particularly when in arenas/rateds at least you're paired against teams with similar ratings.  That doesn't guarantee similar teams, but it sure helps in evening out the skill levels.  Shouldn't there be at least a reasonable attempt at matching up the iLevels of players in a 10s or 15s random BG so you don't have slaughters like this one?

But then again, I've seen weird groupings in randoms.  Like six rogues on one side in WSG.  Or seven hunters vs. five locks in AB.  When I get to a random that's not raid size, I quickly check our listings.  If I see more than three rogues in a 10s or four in a 15s, I'll voluntarily drop, telling the group there's no way you can win with this many rogues.  I can go blow off 15 minutes soloing Pit of Saron or Halls of Lightning instead of getting frustrated when I'm being farmed by a Mal'Ganis or Tichondrius premade.


BlizzCon is this week, so I presume that on Friday we'll hear about the new WoW expac.

Unless we won't.

I'll concede that it's entirely possible that The Dark Below is going to be the name of the next WoW expac, but in terms of Blizzard history they are very late in announcing an expac after the last major patch for the current expac drops.  Perhaps Blizz saw that extended beta as a big part of the reason why their subs dropped and are swinging heavily toward the "don't tell them anything until we're just about to release it" Apple-style presentation.  The risk for this is to have an unstable release where people have major problems at launch (see:  Diablo III).

But here's an idea:  maybe Blizz is going to go for a lot of smaller expacs rather than one big one every two years.  What about the possibility of new content every year --ala SWTOR and GW2-- with 2-3 patches accompanying it?  More content, quicker, so people will fork over $20 for an expac every year rather than $35 every two years.

Or make Wow F2P, but gateway raids and arenas to subs only?  That would enable Blizz to keep most of their subs who live for raiding or arenas/rateds, but allow the casuals to drop in and out as necessary.  Of course, a cash shop would be needed to pump the casuals for money, as Blizz would be giving up a lot of money in subs to do this.  But it is more of a likelihood than I considered before.

Either way, in two days we'll see what happens.  One thing I will bet money on is that while their subs are down, don't count Blizz out just yet.  They're not the same crew running things during vanilla and BC, but they're not going to screw up their IP.

At least I don't think so.

*For the sake of simplicity, I'm focusing on 10 and 15 man BGs.  the 40 man raid BGs will almost always have a guild group in the mix due to the size of the teams.

**I've said it before and I'll say it again:  chain running AV and IoC for an Alliance player is the quickest way to get geared up with Honor level gear.  And for a plate wearer, that'll put you on par with my health.

***Merely running random BGs will get you a max of 1800 Conquest points a week, while arenas will get a max of 2200 Conquest points.  If you want to keep up with the Joneses, you have to run arenas, which is suicide to most Mists-era Rogues when paired against other classes of equal skill.

****You get used to the routine:  either they spot you lurking about or they ride in when you're trying to help finish off an enemy by a flag.  They send their pet after you, use their Deterrence to deflect your blows, and then drop some traps to slow you while jumping backward to rain down hell while you try to run after them. You can't run quickly because you likely blew your escape CDs on getting away from the Concussive Shot and/or captured by a net.  And since some of the Hunter's DoTs aren't removable by Cloak of Shadows, you can't Vanish.  You're a sitting duck.