Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Musical Finish

In honor of the end of Blapril, I thought I'd post a music video from the past with heavy fantasy overtones.

You know, Ronnie James Dio.

The man himself.
Pic is from The Guardian,
attributed to Yui Mok/PA

But when I was searching for the right video to post, found this cover of Dio's Holy Diver by the band Burning Witches:

80's Metal lives on.

I was very impressed by their sound. How on earth haven't I heard of them before?

Anyway, here's the original Ronnie James Dio version:

Now I really feel old, because I remember
watching this on MTV.

So here's to the end of Blapril!!


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What's Shakin', Mr. Peterson?

Woody: What's Shakin', Mr. Peterson?
Norm: All four cheeks and a couple of chins.
--from Cheers episode "Snow Job", 1984

One of the big reasons why I haven't joined a guild since my original time in WoW Retail has been the spectacular implosion of a guild I was in.... Twice.

Yes, the same guild blew up not once, but twice.

I wasn't one of the people directly involved or instigated the destruction, but after the second implosion I took Quintalan and Neve and split. Were it not for the Alliance guild that my other toons were in*, I'd have been guildless since roughly mid-Cataclysm onward.

I had absolutely no desire to get in the middle of --or, for that matter, be the adult in the room-- what seemed to me to be middle school drama. After all, I get enough drama at home, in the my neighborhood, or at work, so why have it in my gaming?

For the most part that has worked out well for me, especially since the MMO experience in ESO, LOTRO, and SWTOR isn't very dependent upon guilds at all. However, there are times when I do miss logging in and being greeted with "Red!!!" from about a half dozen or so people.** That connection of being with people who like you just for who you are is priceless.

Yes, I'm old enough to have watched
Cheers when it was first on television.
This supercut of Norm's quips when
entering the bar has always stuck with me.

Last night, I'd made plans to connect with another player to run an instance at 8 PM server time. He, like myself, is guildless, but we tend to get into groups together and we accumulated a friends list that is pretty similar. So when I logged in he whispered me and we grouped up to hopefully get a run in.

Well, that didn't work out so well. We quickly got a group of four together, needing only a tank (as usual), but then the DPS Warrior dropped group without a word and then a few minutes later the Hunter begged out.

So we decided to simply work on his quest for the Abyssal Dukes in Silithus.

I'll be perfectly honest: as a Wrath baby, I'd never seen more than maybe a dozen people at one time in that zone until last night. The place was a nuthouse, as both Horde and Alliance groups were rep grinding in advance of the AQ Opening event. That made acquiring the gear to summon the elementals a bit harder than usual, as everybody was competing for the same Twilight's Hammer cultists that dropped the gear. But eventually we got through enough of the grind that my friend decided he was going to go to the auction house and get the last piece or two so we could summon the Abyssal Duke.

Yes, we were intending to try to two man it, as we didn't have any issues taking down the lesser elementals as a Resto Druid and a Rogue. However, before we could bug out to the AH, we paused to watch another pair (Warrior tank and Mage) in the process of taking on one of the Dukes.

When I saw the Warrior tank get launched by the Duke about a good couple hundred feet (in game), I said in chat "There's no way we could pull this off with just the two of us."

Apparently my friend thought the same thing, so he reached out to the two of them to see about joining up. He dropped group, got invited, and then he in turn invited me to the group.

It was then when I realized who the Warrior and Mage were.

I'd run with them back when we were all in the L20s and L30s through several instances.

"Hey guys! I've not seen you two in months!"


"Hey Az!! How've you been?"

We spent a minute or two catching up and then we proceeded to summon and then take down the Duke, completing a quest that we started on 3+ hours ago.

We chatted a bit more then waved goodbye, going our separate ways.

It was then that I realized that I'd missed those guild type interactions.


To answer the obvious question, no, I'm not planning on joining a guild anytime soon. Not for a lack of invites, but because I'm trying to play on my terms. I'm not really interested in raiding, although I would like to follow the Onyxia line all the way through, and there are enough players out there that seem mystified by that premise*** that I'm not really interested in having to deal with that in a guild.

And there is still the matter of that middle school drama that even erupts on the LookingForGroup chat. I know enough good people throughout all of the major guilds on the server that when somebody trashes the guild on chat I have to resist the urge to step into the drama and tell people to not trash an entire guild based on the behavior of one or two people. "I'm not an assistant principal," I have to keep telling myself, "The guild can take care of themselves." Then I imagine what it'd be like having that guild name above Az or Card, having to defend myself from that crap, and I take a deep breath and say "no thanks" to joining a guild.

*This was pre-Azshandra (Retail Version) for reference.

**None of the guilds I was in was ever very large, so the concept of gigantic guilds of 200+ people just seems to be almost obscene. By comparison, the mini-Reds' elementary school consisted of roughly 450 students from Kindergarten through 5th Grade, so when you get to guild sizes of beyond 40-50 people you start to lose a connection to everybody in the guild.

***"You don't want to raid? But this is WoW!" was the answer I got when somebody asked me about joining a guild. Yeah, that guy didn't end up on my friends list.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Blurring the Lines

Sunshine has streamed through our house the past few days, lightening the mood here in Chez Redbeard.

You never quite realize how much the lack of clear skies can depress a mood until you find yourself mired in the middle of it.

Back in 1997, I spent an entire Summer working through my own version of crunch, arriving at work at 4 AM and leaving at 8 or 9 PM. Wash, rinse, repeat. At one point I joked that I could walk out the door in mid-October and not return until after New Years, and still have enough excess hours left over to take another week off.

I'd leave in the morning before dawn and go home as the sun was setting in the west. The hours in between were spent in a desperate rush to try to stay one step ahead of the developers as I was building testcases, testing code against them, and then debugging the results. On top of that, I was converting the homebrewed test harnesses and reporting scripts --typically written in Korn Shell-- into Perl and then into C just so I could get enough throughput to keep up with the demands of the job.

At one point in mid-July I sat in a co-worker's empty window cubicle, sipping coffee and watching the sun creep over the wooded hills in the distance, and I wondered just what the hell I was doing here anyway. Sure, management had promised bonuses and an extra week of vacation for the project I was working on*, but a few weeks prior --on a week that I'd worked 89 hours ahead of a holiday weekend-- the exhausted technical lead had left after pulling an all-nighter, fallen asleep at the wheel of his car, and crashed into a parked car on the side of the road. Luckily for everybody concerned he emerged without a scratch; he told me later that one moment he was driving into the community square and the next thing he remembered was the airbag deflating. But still, it was a sobering moment for me.

I've been wrestling with the question of what the price of work is ever since.


Two years later there were similar demands made of my time, but with an infant in the house I finally found some measure of spine to push back on what management's expectations were of me versus being there for my wife and daughter. Maybe reducing my hours to a "manageable" 55-60 hours/week doesn't seem like much, but compared to the 80 hour work weeks I had been pulling that Summer of 97 it was heaven. But the realization that the crunch would never truly go away is what motivated me to find a new job, which I eventually landed a couple of years later.

Fast forward from then to now, and those days truly are a fading memory.

There are some nights I wake up in a cold sweat, believing that I have reports to get out and the app build had crashed in the night, and I had to figure out which code change broke the app before the devs got to work. Then I'd remember where I was, breathe a sigh of relief, and roll over.

But still, the balance between work and play has blurred over the years. Certainly this has been accelerated for many people by the ongoing pandemic, but I've had this issue ever since I began to work from home. My work and home life have sufficiently blurred that my boss is constantly pestering me to shut off the laptop when I reach 5 PM, but there's always just one more thing to take care of before I finish.


And now we come to my other "job", the blog.

I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for Blapril2020 --or at least I thought I did-- but I've found the dedication to this a lot more than I ever did for NaNoWriMo. Right now I'm on target for writing a post on 17/30 days in April, which is the busiest this blog has been since May 2010**, and back then we had three writers at PC. (Please don't read them. They're really badly written.) I wasn't sure I'd be able to maintain that output, but once I got started my notion of duty kicked in, and you can guess the rest.

I've wondered just how much this Blapril will change things about my approach to blogging; for a while I was concerned that I'd not have enough things to write about, but that doesn't seem to be the case.*** I was also concerned that the blog would simply turn into a "Travels with Red" event where PC becomes a personal self-absorbed blog in the same manner that some influencers have, but I hope that hasn't been the case. But about 15 days or so ago I was thinking to myself  "I don't think I can keep doing this" and now the end is in sight.

Is the slog worth it? I'm not sure.

It's not like I've experienced demands placed on my time before. After all, I have plenty of experience dealing with insane work experiences (see above), and by comparison this isn't that big a deal.  But still, this does turn gaming into a version of work, and that's something I've become acutely aware of this past month.

As my blogging output has gone up, my enjoyment with gaming has gone down a bit. Not that I don't have a good time goofing around in WoW or Stardew Valley or any other game, but I'm always looking for an interesting story to write about. In as much the same way that someone who gets really good at music never really approaches listening to music the same way again, I've found a similar experience with gaming.

I think that when this is over I'd like to go back to a more normal level of blogging, which for me is 1-2 posts per week. I can handle that amount of demand on my writing, and it also means that I can spend more time simply enjoying games for their own sake rather than always looking for that angle to write about. Plus, it also gives me time to tinker with some other writing I'm doing, because Cardwyn can be a pretty harsh taskmaster when I'm not writing about her.

Maybe with some more distance from Blapril I'll be able to answer the "is it worth it?" question better, but we'll see.


*And yes, they did deliver. This post would have an entirely different feel to it if they didn't. Trust me.

**There were 22 posts that month, which is the current record for posts on PC. The only times we've come close to that were March 2020 --driven primarily by One Final Lesson-- and this month.

***And I did it without resorting to politics or name calling, either.

EtA: Cleaned up some grammar and restored half of a sentence that I'd accidentally deleted.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Weariness in the Long Journey

Since I work from home, that part of my life has adapted well to the current state of lockdown we've found ourselves in. For an introvert such as myself, I've found that I don't miss the lack of outside commitments very much. Sure, I'd prefer to have seen the oldest mini-Red's junior recital and the  various music commitments for the youngest mini-Red at high school*, but I'm not missing items such as lessons and large family get-togethers over Easter and birthdays so much.

What I do find myself missing, however, are the hours of solitude while I work.

As I've mentioned before, my wife works for a corporation with a bullseye as its logo, so she's frequently gone either during the day or in the evening. Even with the lockdown in progress that hasn't changed. The day before Ohio's lockdown was to go into effect, she was pulled aside at work and given her "essential employee" papers to present to the cops should things get bad enough that she'd have to present proof that she was supposed to be out and about.

But with in-person school cancelled, I've found that sharing the house on an ongoing constant basis with the three mini-Reds for the past 1.5 months to be draining.


Oh, it's not them per se who are the problem, it's the constant managing of my online presence as well as what my online bandwidth that gets to me after a while. I feel like we're back when only one of them was in high school yet all three needed access to the internet to complete their homework. Back in those days I had a 5:0.7 internet connection, and if one of them was online watching YouTube it would in turn impact everybody else's connections. And if anybody was using YouTube to stream music, all hell would break loose in the house.

While my internet connection is better (20:2, and without switching to Time Warner/Spectrum that's the best I can do until our local telecom gets around to running fiber to our neighborhood), all three of them have classes utilizing Zoom and other video conference software. And that doesn't even take into account my own work, which frequently involves (audio) meetings. So while I'm not having to play peacemaker for internet bandwidth, I'm constantly on edge for what might be coming my way.

For example, we had issues with our internet about 3+ weeks ago, and it turned out that when the house was originally built the buried telephone line put in by the local telecom was cut by the builder in two separate places and subsequently repaired. Well, over the years those connections had deteriorated and needed repairs. However, the repair on the section closest to the house failed because a bird was picking at the line, which destroyed the repair by letting moisture into the line. The telecom repair person discovered the bird by having the bird dive bomb him while he was fixing the line.

Or, as my Grandfather (the original Red) would have grumbled, "Dumb bird!!"

As a result, the telecom has placed an order to replace our phone line with a completely new one. That's usually a cause for celebration, but when they're going to do it is sometime in the next few weeks. When it happens, I can't move to the library or a local coffee shop to work, and neither can the rest of the mini-Reds. So I have to explain to my boss that I have to take an "unforeseen" off day when the telecom decides to show up.**

The mini-Reds won't be so lucky, and I'll likely have to burn through my cell phone's bandwidth by creating a temporary hot spot just so they can work.


That brings me to the other problem: gaming.

I've grown used to spending some time at lunch blowing off steam by getting on an MMO for an hour or so, but with bandwidth at such a premium I've been forced into what my old gaming routine was: taking advantage of the really early or really late hours.

And I've since discovered that I can no longer game in the wee hours like I used to for extended periods of time.

In my younger days, I had no issues doing group activities until 2 AM or getting up at 5 AM to have a couple of hours to myself, but I've found that I can no longer do that; the next day at work I get wiped out by noon. The solution is either a) drink more coffee, or b) take a nap. I've discovered that too much coffee gets me jittery these days, so a nap it is. And "poof!" there goes my lunchtime stress relief.


I believe I'm at that point in the lockdown where a good ol' primal scream would do the job and clear out all of the "blahs" out there. The only thing is that I'd only do something like that when alone, and I'm anything but alone these days.

Who knew that introverts would be having issues too?


*The middle mini-Red is not playing any organized music in his freshman year at college, although it wouldn't shock me if he decided to get the itch to play sometime later.

**And in traditional telecom/cable company fashion, it'll be "sometime in the next 30 days".

Friday, April 24, 2020

Serendipity in the Morning

Sometimes, you actively seek out new experiences.

Sometimes, they seek you out.

And sometimes, you make lemonade out of lemons.

My day began more than a wee bit early when my cell started rebooting at 4:15 AM.

Every five minutes.

Since I'm on call 24x7, my work phone is always with me, and is right next to my glasses when I go to sleep in case I get awakened due to an emergency. So when my phone began it's shenanigans, it woke me up.

I ended up having to fiddle around with it --forcing updates, removing some unused apps, clearing space, and rebooting-- until I noticed that the phone was really hot, so I said to hell with it and popped out the battery and let it cool for about a half an hour.

By then I was already awake, so I took care of some housekeeping, checked my email, and decided there wasn't anything at work that couldn't wait for normal business hours. That meant I might as well boot up the main house PC and get onto Classic for a little while.

4:45 AM EST on a West Coast server is basically dead time: few people are loitering around the capital cities, almost nobody is chatting on LookingForGroup, and if you see people out in the world they're likely people who just got off work on the night shift or who start a 6 AM EST work shift.

In other words, it's prime time for anybody who wants to farm, say, Timbermaw reputation.

So Cardwyn decided that she needed a change of scenery and left the Plaguelands in search of Felwood.


Unlike Az, Cardwyn can't sneak her way through Timbermaw Hold, so she needed to grind enough Timbermaw rep to get to at least Unfriendly.*

Courtesy of previous grinding she was pretty close to getting to Unfriendly, but I figured that between the two Firbolg zones in Felwood the northern one was going to be the one most people in-zone would be at. After all, it was closest to both the Alliance flight point as well as Timbermaw Hold itself. But just in case, I decided to do some grinding there to start and then move south if things got too busy.

The only other player in the northern zone was a Pally, who almost immediately ran up to me and whispered a piece of gear to me. "Do you need this?" he asked.

Momentarily taken aback, I checked and discovered that this green actually beat the green piece that I'd gotten in Sunken Temple. "Actually, it does," I replied.

He opened a trade to give me the gear, and in return I gave him some water. "Have a great morning!" he said and was on his way.

This reminded me of the time back in Wrath when I was on Quintalan, leveling in Desolace, and an L80 Pally rode up, told me he was unsubscribing, and offered me tons of gear and gold. Obviously this little kindness wasn't on that level, but the randomness of it all touched me. So when a Warrior posted in LFG about looking for help in Duskwood with Morbent Fel and Bride of the Embalmer, I whispered that I'd help if he didn't get any at level takers.

"You're the only one who replied," he said, so he invited me to a group and I ported down to Stormwind.


The last time I visited Morbent Fel I assisted someone when Cardwyn was in somewhere in the L40s. But when you're sitting at L57, I figured this would be a pushover. All I had to do was wait for the player on the quest to use the magical device to render Morbent Fel vulnerable, and that would be that.

But wouldn't you know that bastard resisted at least three or four of my Frostbolts.

After the first two in a row, I thought that maybe I'd forgotten that he was resistant to cold spells and switched to a Fireball, but that didn't help much. Switching back to a Frostbolt I gave him some damage, but then he resisted me again. I gritted my teeth and just kept slogging away, and he finally dropped.

"The damn bastard kept resisting me," I said in chat.

The Warrior laughed, and I grumbled something about no good deed going unpunished.

The Bride dropped in almost no time at all, so I felt much better when I waved goodbye to the Warrior and headed back to Felwood to continue my grinding.


When I finally logged to get ready for work, I felt good. The day may have started lousy, but it also gave me the chance to give as well as receive some random act of kindness.

Now, if my phone will merely behave....


*Or she could make a run of it, but come on. I wasn't about to strip Card down to her skivvies and do the corpse run routine if I could avoid it. Az already did that, and I'd rather not become known as "the guy who strips his toons and runs around in the snow".

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


Vizzini: I can't compete with you physically, and you're no match for my brains.
Westley: You're that smart?
Vizzini: Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?
Westley: Yes.
Vizzini: Morons.
--From The Princess Bride

I was commenting on an unrelated matter on Wilhelm Arcturus' The Ancient Gaming Noob when I was struck by a thought: are there any real people left in Azeroth? My comment there briefly touched on it, but I felt this an interesting enough question that it deserved a more fully fleshed out blog post.

I'm not going to dispute that, at heart, an MMO lives and dies by the people who play the game. No players = no game. However, fleshing out a game world is what separates some MMOs from others. This was most clear in the dead WoW cities --namely The Exodar and Silvermoon City-- in Wrath and later expacs. You could wander both cities and hardly see a soul; and if you did, they were just new toons passing through to other places.

And without those players, both locales were almost totally empty. In Silvermoon City especially, the NPCs were so spread out that any flavor they gave to the game was diminished to almost nothing.

Compare the dead Silvermoon City to, say, Bree in LOTRO.

Complete with one Elf in a fancy cloak.

Even when no players are around, Bree is a place. Villagers come and go, congregate in The Prancing Pony, and show up in the jail.

The attention to detail is something else.

It feels alive in a way that Silvermoon City never seemed to be.*


Still, that doesn't really answer the question per se.

I'm also thinking about how removed the players are from the non-players --the common people as well as the nobles-- in a game world.

Consider LOTRO.

At the beginning, just like a lot of MMOs, you're just a commoner who got sucked into events out of your control. Yes, your intro zone has Aragorn (Humans/Hobbits) or the Sons of Elrond + Dwalin, but once your job in the intro zone is done, you're back to being a regular schmoe again. Notably, things don't exactly go well in either intro zone**, so those failures do end up powering your overall quest arc through the low-mid level zones.

Still, you are just a regular person who has "risen to the occasion". Even your interactions with Gandalf, Aragorn, Elrond, and others don't rise to the level of "Woo, Great Hero!" or "Greetings, fellow mighty person upon Middle-earth!" They're more counselors than leaders, nudging you to do what needs doing.

And the "regular person just helping out" theme continues through Moria and into Dunland as well as the outskirts of Rohan, where my story in LOTRO stands at the moment.


Now, look at WoW Classic.

The beginning is about as humble as you can get. You're a volunteer to just help out your locality, with the literal Kill Ten Rats (or Kobolds) quests to get you started. There's a gradual overall theme to the quests --Defias in Human zones, corruption of nature in Tauren and Night Elf zones, etc.-- but they remain the "local guy helps out and roots out problems" variety. By the time you get to the mid-level zones, you're fairly skilled and you've already gotten the core of the potential endgame questlines in hand, but you still don't interact much with faction leaders at all. People don't start quest text with "Heroes!! We need your help!!" (Except the Argent Dawn, but they're an odd bunch.) There's still plenty of examples of "regular people" NPCs out there that you interact with and can still feel a connection to.

When you get to max level, you're a cog in the endgame quests/raids, just a member of the army. Hey, maybe a Faction Leader gives you an attaboy from time to time, but you're definitely not part of that crowd.


Okay, now what about Elder Scrolls Online?


Almost from the beginning you end up ingratiating yourself to a faction leader, and you quickly become that faction leader's trusted advisor/fixer/best friend, and in spite of the wealth of commoners around you're almost immediately separated from them by your interactions with the mighty of ESO. I mean, how many people count Lord Vivec or Queen Ayrenn as good friends?

It's pretty obvious from the get-go that your character is meant to hang with the high and mighty, and people all over Tamriel know your name (or they think they do). Even the Daedric princes know your name, which isn't necessarily a good thing. You're about as far removed from the common folk --and the nobility, to be honest-- as you can possibly be in an MMO. I'm kind of waiting for you to ascend to the rank of "honorary Daedric Prince" or something.


And now we turn to Retail WoW.

By nature of the expansions, I suppose, we've gone from being "a member of the army that stormed Onyxia's Lair to finally end the threats from within" to "possibly one of the most powerful heroes who ever existed."**** Although it took longer than ESO, Retail is at that point where you pretty much exist on an entirely other level than the rest of Azeroth. And really, given all the rest of what has happened to Azeroth over the expacs, just how is there anybody even left outside of said heroes? You think some farmer in Elwynn or hunter in Mulgore managed to be untouched through all of these years of total warfare? At this point, if Azeroth simply blew up into chunks and your players had to traverse the void to find a new home, I'd not be shocked. Nor would I be shocked that it's also the home to a metric ton of Old Gods as well as --no nobody's surprise-- your opposing faction who just happened to find the same random world out there.


I guess my point is that the farther you're removed from where you came from, the harder the question "what are you fighting for?" is to answer. It's the same problem that people who have been fighting all of their lives eventually confront: they've spent so much time fighting that their understanding of why they fight becomes merely an abstraction, and in turn they lose a part of their humanity.

Is that the sacrifice some make so that others can live in peace? Yes. I'd also argue that not many do so realizing what the true nature of that cost is: they may think death is the worst thing to happen to them, but maybe living becomes a crueler fate than death.

But at the same time, MMOs present a conundrum: you need to keep people interested by showing off "more" and "better" and "cooler" with each new expac, but what keeps a player grounded? Where is the slave whispering to a Roman general "Remember, you are mortal" as the general is given a Triumph? Where are the regular people that make your world real enough to be worth fighting for? Where is your connection to the game world?


*There are parts of Darnassus that feel that way too, but they're compensated for by NPC activity connected by the bridges throughout the central location. It's only when you get out by the Warrior Tier and those outer rings that Darnassus approaches Silvermoon levels of emptiness.

**That's putting it mildly.

***I'm still building up deeds to pick up Riders of Rohan itself, and yeah, I know that it's all free for the moment, but I'll get around to it.

****Pretty sure Vizzi would say he was even better, tho.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The "Multiple" Part of MMOs

One thing I've noticed over my time in WoW Classic is that I've been able to connect with a wider group of people than I ever did in LOTRO, SWTOR, or ESO.* Yes, there's Retail WoW, but outside of the guild(s) in my Retail years there's a diminishing return on reaching out to people outside of your guild.

Part of this is, I suspect, the lack of an automated LFG/LFR in Classic. This, along with no server merges/crossovers means that you have to look for players on the server when you want to run an instance or PUG a raid. This is a pretty well documented feature of Classic, and when you're on the short end of the stick --such as not being a tank when putting a group together these days-- the automated LFG feature can look like a godsend. However, as someone I ran an Uldaman instance a couple of weeks ago put it, that automated feature simply aggravated the situation by making people care less about the people you ran with, rather than more.

"If I had a dollar the number of times I ported into The Old Kingdom only to have at least one or two people immediately drop, I'd have thought I won the lottery," I quipped.

After some thinking about the matter, I do believe that there's another reason why I've been more social in Classic than just the memories and shared experiences.

I've run into tons of people who said to me "I'm a bit rusty here, as I've not run this instance since 2007," and I've not cared a whit. Other times, people have said "Shouldn't we do [tactics] instead of [other tactics]? We did this the other day and it seemed to work," and I've been fine with either.

But there's more to it than just being tolerant of fellow players.

I've been in runs in the other games with assholes, and I've been in runs with fantastic people. But except for Classic, I've never seen people sacrifice one toon's run to help the group.


The other day in Blackrock Depths, I was in with Cardwyn helping people complete the Jailbreak escort quest --we were on the "kill both Angerforge and the Golem Lord" portion-- when we hit a stone wall. We couldn't unlock the door to get to either boss without the Shadowforge Key, and nobody had it. "Hey," I said, "I'll drop from the group, log into my main, and you can add her."

"Does she have the key?" one of the group asked.

"No, but she's an L60 Rogue," I replied. "She can pick the lock. Just like how she can pick the lock to the back door of Stratholme."

"You'd really do that?"

"Sure, it's not an issue at all. Az is stuck in Silithus, however, so it'll be a few before I get to BRD."

If you think about it, in other MMOs people would have dropped group once we hit a roadblock. After all, there's the quick and easy solution of using the automated tool. But if you're in a group and you invested time and energy putting the group together, you're not going to let a roadblock be an issue.

And the thing is, I was merely paying it forward for a BRD run that Card was in a couple of days before that. Due to our tank dropping (time factor), our Ret Pally was promoted to "honorary tank" and he tanked most everything except for the Golem Lord. For that, he dropped group, switched to his Warrior Tank toon, and tanked the Golem Lord. He then switched back to his Ret Pally so he could complete the run.


Because of these shared experiences with grouping, whether in a zone for a quest or in an instance, I've found that I've made more connections in Classic than I have in quite a while. Some of these players are guildless (like me), and others already belong to guilds. But when your guild is so large that you turn to another member of an instance run and say "Oh, I had no idea we were in the same guild," it becomes hard to think of a guild as an extended family.**

I've had extended conversations with some other MMO players that I've not had --outside of some blogger friends, you know who you are-- in years. And I discovered that I missed that aspect of the game.

Does this mean I'm going to suddenly join a guild? Um, no. I'm perfectly happy being independent, chatting with a slowly expanding group of friends. Celebrating with them when they finally land in a guild that is welcoming and allowing them to run instances and raid without feeling marginalized. Commiserating with them when they get out of a bad run, or they're not getting any luck on their drops. Making them laugh with my "Dad joke" level quips. Or just listening as they tell a story about their life.

You know, things that breathe life into an MMO.

So here's to MMOs and the connections they bring. Here's hoping you find your connections.


*There's also Age of Conan, but what happened there was that the few people that I did connect with over there either turned their accounts into bots, vanished, or were hacked and turned into bots. AoC is also one of those MMOs where if you're not in a huge --and I do mean huge-- guild there's almost no interaction with other people outside said guild. It's kind of an ArcheAge vibe over there with heavy PvP orientation of the guilds and their fortresses. Because of that, I was only interested in the storyline behind AoC as well as the atmosphere there.

And yes, Guild Wars 2 is a bit of an odd duck. The game encourages grouping for the dynamic in-zone group events, but you're not required to form an official group to participate. Most of the rest of the time, you're off by yourself doing single-player things, and then a dynamic group event pops up and people come from out of the woodwork to help out.

**I asked the guildies in that run just how big their guild was, and it turns out they had 240 active members. I think the largest guild I was ever a member of was back in Wrath, and I think we had about 40 active members for a brief period of time. And a rigorous application process, because they didn't want people getting in and causing chaos.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Cog is What Makes The Machine Go

(I'd been putting #Blapril instead of #Blapril2020 in the posts. Oh yay. Guess I'm going to have to go fix that.)

What to write about Developer/Creator Appreciation Week of #Blapril?

That you have my sympathy.

You're already in an impossible position --attempting to please a (very) fickle audience, while at the same time maintain your own sanity-- and then on top of it you're typically crapped upon salary-wise by your employer and told what a "privilege" it is to work in the video games industry as an excuse. When you decide to deviate from an implicitly defined "formula" for video games, the gatekeepers come out of the woodwork to tell you that "you're doing it wrong" to be polite about it.

In short, the video games industry is a microcosm of what our pre-pandemic lives were like, but played out in public and all over the internet.

It's not as if people were going to follow the foibles of Bob's Plumbing and Propane* all over Reddit, but I can guarantee you that any post about Star Wars: The Old Republic on Facebook will result in at least a decent number of commenters saying "I can't believe this shitty game is still around, and who would ever play this piece of shit is beyond me."

For starters.

It's like seeing an ad for Ivory Soap --yes, it still exists, people-- and waiting for the inevitable "P&G is in league with SATAN!!!" comments from conspiracy theorists who thought the old P&G logo described a hidden connection to Satanists that was only revealed to a chosen few.

Or hearing the "Paul is Dead" refrain from people who still think Paul McCartney died in a car crash in the mid 60s, prior to Sargent Pepper's release.**

Besides, if there's anybody who had a deal with the Devil, it has to be Keith Richards.


I'd rather not crush anybody's hopes and dreams (tm), but if you're getting into the IT field --let alone the video games industry-- you have to realize that the early days of video games (70s through the 90s) are long gone, and Corporate America (tm) and the MBA people have invaded the video games industry and turned it into just another corporate drone kind of life, where the investors reign supreme.

Oh, there are exceptions out there, but in general you have to realize that video game development is a job like any other, and upper management typically looks at the developer/creator as just another cog in the machine. If you think otherwise, go listen to a quarterly investor call for a company such as EA or Activision/Blizzard.

Once, several years ago, I fielded a call from a comp sci club at a local university, who wanted me to talk to their computer science students about the exciting things I was doing in the field I was in. The presumption was that because of my field, I was getting to do all sorts of cutting edge work in IT.

"Um," I said, "I'm not sure if I'm the right guy to talk to your club."

"Why not?"

"Because about half of a job in my field is spent in meetings."

"Meetings?" I could almost hear the guy's optimism burst and deflate.

"Yeah. That and bureacracy, because [my field] is the butt end of the universe in IT. And if someone knows your name, it's because the crap is hitting the fan and people are yelling your name. If nobody knows your name, it means everything is working right, and then people wonder why they're paying so much for your time and effort."


So yes, developers, I hear you. I see you, and I appreciate all of your efforts.

Yes, I see the shitstorms that come out of saying things such as the story being just as important in video games as other parts, and I see the layoffs that hit your company when you still had record profits. I see you being thrown under the bus when upper management wants a sacrificial lamb for when nobody at the top could provide consistent and cohesive direction. And I see you when you are marginalized, made to feel small --or unwanted-- or stressed beyond belief when the company wants you to work 80-100 hour work weeks.

Yeah, I see you. You have my respect and my love, and I wish I had won the lottery so that I could create a game company that would do things right for their developers.

But since Powerball hasn't been so kind (not like it's ever going to, let's be real here), I can only give you my love and support.


*I have no idea if this company exists, but it wouldn't shock me if it does.

**Newsflash: Paul is not only still alive, but had a recent album release and even played Lady Madonna on the One World Together At Home fundraiser.

Friday, April 17, 2020

As One Set of Leveling Follies Concludes, Another Begins

Azshandra dinged last week by finally completing Blackrock Depths, which was a real struggle given that it took her about 3-4 weeks to finally get into a run that actually made it to completion.

But Cardwyn? The "Alt Who is Not Quite an Alt" didn't have such issues.

She began the week at L53, got into a couple of Sunken Temple runs, and then after a day's worth of farming and questing in Burning Steppes* she managed to get into not one but two BRD runs in a single night.

And she got to the point where she could finally witness the end of the Marshall Windsor questline**, beating Az to the punch.

Go figure.

It's a weird feeling when your alt is able to complete something ahead of your main.

But like I alluded to above, she's not exactly an alt, but more of a "co-main" at this point.


The more I think about it, I believe her ability to catch up to Az in leveling had not as much to do with Mages being more in demand than Rogues but more to do with Rogues' ability to simply bypass lots of mobs by sneaking through them. Mages, with no such ability, have to essentially blast their way through to quest objectives, which add to the amount of XP they gain when performing similar quests.

Therefore, if I create another class that doesn't have a stealth ability --such as, say, a Paladin-- that Pally will likely level up more quickly than Az as well.

And you can put two and two together and figure out that I'm already thinking of leveling another alt, just because.

I'd considered returning to my Paladin roots for a while now, but as time has gone on I've watched how Pallys are commonly considered one of two things: Healers or Tanks. Yes, Paladins have a Retribution spec --which I've typically played with the exception of Quintalan's early leveling as Holy-- but Ret Pallys seem to be frowned upon in Classic.

When I mentioned this to another Classic friend, she said "Look, go play what you want to play. Don't let the crowd influence you." Which is typically the advice I'd give to almost everybody as well, so it took me aback to see that same advice given to me.

But she was right.

I should play what I want to play, and if others have issues with me playing Ret, that's their problem, not mine.


Then the question becomes who to create.

I thought about one of my old Paladins, Balthan, but I discovered that "Balthan" was already used on the Myzrael server, so I created a "Balthane". I've also considered a few other names, based on either other Paladins I've played or characters I created, but some of them I'm going to wait on for any Burning Crusade servers, and others were also not available. So for the moment, Balthane it is.

But hey, it's better than nothing.


*And also finding another kindred soul while working on the Dragonkin Menace quest, which begins the Marshall Windsor questline. Having leveled as Horde back in the day, I didn't even know this questline existed until Classic dropped, because I switched to Alliance around the time Cataclysm was released. And, as I now know, Cataclysm wiped out the Marshall Windsor questline.

**Bolvar was in a killed state last night, so the group I was in decided not to wait for him to respawn so the event could complete, but all I have to do is talk to the squire and that'll be that.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Behold the Source

I used to love playing arcade games back in the day, and they --along with the omnipresent Atari 2600-- formed a lot of my early video gaming career.

However, my life changed forever the day my parents bought a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A back in 1982.
This is the box with the real thing. It cost $299
in 1982 from a department store that eventually
merged into what is now Macy's. Yes, you could
buy home computers at department stores back then.

Before you ask, yes, we had game cartridges for the 16-bit computer. My personal favorite was Tunnels of Doom, a procedurally generated multi-level dungeon crawl that you could save your progress on either floppy disk (which we didn't have) or cassette tape (which we did have). I know other people in my family who liked Parsec, a Galaxian/Space Invaders knock off, but I was just introduced to D&D in the Fall of 1981 and Tunnels of Doom was the closest thing we had to a computer RPG in the house.

But what really changed my life was the fact that it truly was a computer, and you could program in TI-BASIC (what the machine was loaded with), TI-Extended BASIC, Assembler, Forth (never knew any computer system that used Forth other than this TI), and PASCAL. I cut my chops on spaghetti code in TI-BASIC, but it was also the springboard that led me to my current job in IT.

I learned to program by typing in lines and lines of TI-BASIC from computer magazines for applications from a cookie recipes database to video games to financial calculators. After typing in lines and lines of code, I then had to debug those lines to correct the inevitable typing errors. Once in a while, I did learn that the magazine's code printout had a flaw in it, and I learned to correct those flaws myself. I also learned to design and build an application based on desired input and output; once I discovered that each computer apparently had it's own version of BASIC, I also learned to translate these other BASIC flavors (such as Radio Shack's TRS-80 BASIC) to TI-BASIC.*

All of this led me to high school, where my high school was one of the first in the city to require a programming class for graduation.

Sure, I learned about the standard programming languages of the day, such as FORTRAN 77 and COBOL, but most of the design structure for programming had already been ingrained in me by those years spent with the TI-99/4A. To be fair, I still use those same lessons when I write scripts on the fly for whatever IT incident I encounter, but I have since learned other methods of software design, such as object oriented programming.
It actually doesn't look in that bad
a shape given that it's 38 years old.
I still have all the cartridges and other
peripherals, too. The cassette player needs
its belt replaced, however.

But I will always look back fondly on those years working on the now ancient TI home computer. It is weird looking at the machine now, and seeing it as about the same size as a laptop with a miniscule amount of computing power compared to even the cheapest smartphone, but it was a launching pad to a field that became a large part of my life.


*I still have a printout of the TRS-80 BASIC code for the old Santa Paravia kingdom building game around somewhere. The spaghetti code in that game is pretty bad.

**Once, when my paternal grandmother asked me that question and I responded "an astrophysicist", my grandmother mouthed to my mom, "What is that?" My mom replied, "I have no idea."

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Research is King

"Rub a dub dub
Three men in a tub
And who do you think they be?
The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker
Turn them out, knaves all three."
--Traditional English Nursery Rhyme*

When I was rummaging around in my head for ideas about the "Getting to Know You" week of Blapril, the line "The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker" kept popping up.

I'd like to think it's because I putter around with hobbies, but I'm not exactly certain about that. I do cook (butcher), and I bake (baker), but the candles part? I seem to recall making candles the way the Colonial Americans did in 1776 as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebration at my school (I was in First Grade at the time), but outside of burning candles in the fireplace** or above the mantle I haven't done much as far as candle making/usage is concerned.

But all three do have something in common: all three are things that people use their hands to work with. Sure, you can mechanize to your heart's content, but at their core all three are physical activities.


A lot of my hobbies require a certain level of manual dexterity. Video gaming is the most obvious example, but in the past my hobbies have included speaker building, homebrewing/winemaking, computer building, shortwave radio***, bread making, gardening, and car repair.**** Obviously, board gaming and pencil-and-paper RPGs don't require any real dexterity --and neither does reading-- but as my career does not require much manual dexterity at all I compensate by attempting to do a lot of other things myself.

At the same time, I also realize my own limitations. I know I'll never be as good as a contractor, and I have an alarming tendency to come close to electrocuting myself, so I farm out projects to contractors as the need arises. But I do have a stubborn streak in me that pushes me into learning as much as possible about a topic before deciding on a course of action. The mini-Reds tease me about my devotion to thoroughly researching a topic before starting a project, and they're not wrong.


Perhaps the reason why that nursery rhyme comes up when I think about my hobbies is that I am always interested in learning something new, researching it as much as I can, and then moving on to something else. There are hobbies that I return to, and ones that stick with me for the long term, but it is the fascination with how things work and why things are that keeps me going. I've told my wife on numerous occasions that when I retire I'd like to move to a town attached to a small liberal arts college or university; where I could simply become a fixture on campus, attending the classes I wanted, hearing talks and concerts, and enjoying the positives of being close to a place of learning. Oh, I don't have any illusions about what small towns are like, but there's something about being close to a university that the suburbs simply doesn't have.


*This is the version that I knew growing up; there are plenty of variations.

**I used to build fires in our fireplace, but after the "Smoke Incident", I stopped making fires. And no, you don't need to know anything else about that other than there were damp logs, a surprise backdraft, and an idiot (me) who had issues getting a proper fire built.

***Before you say that shortwave doesn't require a lot of manual dexterity, you've obviously never built or repaired your own outside antenna.

****Oh, the stories. My first car was a 1976 Plymouth Volare, which was a rust bucket in the truest sense. When I first began working on the car I discovered a bird's nest where the air filter would go, which was just the beginning of my life with what was christened the Silver Bullet. It even had a hole rusted through in the floor of the driver's side where you'd normally place your left foot, so to compensate I'd place my foot at a weird angle. To this day, I still use that angle for my foot which eventually makes my left hip ache if I drive for over a couple of hours.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

When the Well Runs Dry

Another question nobody asks me is "Red, where do you get your ideas?"

That's not because I (sort of) answered the question way back in 2013 when I participated in the Newbie Blogger Initiative (NBI), but because it's not something that anybody ever asks these days. The presumption is that you have a method for coming up with ideas, because otherwise you'd not be blogging in the first place.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not true.

You might not start out with an idea problem, but sooner or later your pile of writing ideas will dry up, and you're staring at the blank page, saying "Now what?"

If you come up with a foolproof method for generating ideas, let me tell you that you could sell that and make a ton of money, because everybody hits dry spots when they can't come up with something new. Even my own method of jotting down whatever comes to mind into a text file or a notepad doesn't help when the ideas are obsolete a short time later.

So, what do you do?

Well, this is a gaming blog, so that means you do two things: play games and read other blogs.

Playing games for inspiration isn't exactly new territory here, but perhaps trying something new, or out of your comfort zone, will result in a few ideas. Or maybe you end up in a particularly memorable instance run. Or, to turn things on their head, you have a completely boring and predictable run; why was it so boring and predictable, and what kept you from dropping from that "boring and predictable" run? Or have you been reading Gen Chat, and watching the conflagration of lunacy over petty topics? Now is your chance to get the entire thing off of your chest.

That last idea leads into the other big source of ideas: other blogs. Those fellow gamer blogs aren't going to all mimic your own; people have different opinions than yours, can you can't tell me that those opinions won't clash to an extent that you'll want to write a "YOU'RE WRONG!!" post.*

Yes, I'm old enough to remember when Saturday
Night Live --and Dana Carvey-- spoofed the
PBS political show The McLaughlin
Group. (From Gfycat.)
Even if you do agree, explaining why you do is worth a post. Or perhaps the post inspires you to delve down a similar matter and approach things from a different angle.


So there are plenty of potential posts out there, you just have to be open to finding them.

Or, if worse comes to worst, have a pic of a cat in a box.

From, ~2014.
Not what you expected, is it?


*Hopefully nicer than that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Advice From Not an Overnight Sensation

If you're old enough to be part of the workforce, you've likely noticed that different companies have a different approach to employee development.

Some companies have shadowing for a couple of weeks, and then you're on your own. Other companies have formal training, but the net result is that once you're finished you're thrown into the deep end of the pool. A lot of service oriented companies take either of these approaches toward training, and I've experienced both. My first job --as a janitor-- was the first example, and a job I had just after I graduated from university* used the second.

Other corporations have a different approach to "employee onboarding", as it is described in corporate speak. Some take the approach of formal training, but in addition to that training they have a "training website" where you can access whatever virtual class you want. Proponents of such an approach talk up the ability of the employee to pick and choose the path of their career.

And finally, there are corporations that assign you a mentor when you're hired, who assists you with your initial training and then periodically meets with you to provide guidance, contacts, and training to progress in your career.

That last approach seems to be losing favor in the corporate world over the "self service" model, and the primary reason why seems to be the bane of all corporations: cost savings. It takes time (and correspondingly costs money) for one to one mentoring in corporations, and by offering a "self-service" model a corporation can say "Hey, here's all the training you could possibly need; go ahead and pick and choose what you want so you have control over your career."

But here's the kicker: that self-service model only works well for some people; it is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution.


Because I've experienced all of these different approaches to employee training and development**, I have definite opinions on what works and what doesn't. And the answer is "it depends".

Yes, I know it's a way of weaseling out of an answer, but there really is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Some people like the full mentoring process, and some people have a clear vision of the road ahead and are fine with picking and choosing which path forward. And still others are happy with some up front training and then just running with it.

And if you can see where I'm heading, then I'll salute you with a beer after hours.


Yes, employee training and development is pretty much the same mentoring in any other activity, including blogging. Some people prefer to dive right in, and others will pepper old hands with lots of questions.

As you can guess by the out of date nature of this website, you should probably not be asking me for design advice, although I will say that if you go the gif route make sure you can customize a gif to your liking. I've never bothered to replace the main graphic here at PC because every attempt I made at making it look more interesting --or timely-- just never came out right. I will say that ease of reading and accessibility to mobile reading are two things that I'd place a high priority on. Apparently Blogger made a change several years ago that prevents people from commenting on Blogger blogs using Safari (especially the iOS version) without requiring that Safari relax some security rules. If you're not fond of that solution***, I'd suggest looking at Wordpress. (PC is too ingrained here in Blogger for me to just up and leave, unless Blogger gets sunset by Google, which is always a distinct possibility. See: Chromecast Audio.)

Okay, that aside, I can't tell you how to write. I can't tell you that "if you write A, you'll get response B". I can't even tell you how to monetize a blog, because I've been bound and determined to never do that. There are friends who read the blog and I don't want to try to monetize their friendship, because I value their friendship too much.

But what I can tell you is that you have to write.

You must write.

A blog thrives on material, and if there isn't any, there's no blog.

Go with what you want to write about. Pour your guts out on the virtual page. You'll get better the longer you actually write posts --hell, I'm proof of that-- and you'll have content that you can point to when you comment on other people's blogs.

Also, don't try to be fake or hipsterish. People see through that shit almost instantly, and unless you're very good, any facade you create will eventually crack, and the real you will shine through.

And finally, don't go into blogging thinking you'll catch lightning in a bottle and become the next Pewdiepie. Just don't. Influencer culture is --effectively-- a way for companies to shill their products without having to pay excessive amounts of money. The most popular influencers out there --including the aforementioned Mr. Pie-- rake in tons of money per year, but their effect on pop culture is pretty damn big as well and more than makes up for whatever money companies through at them. If you really want to become an influencer and wonder how you go about doing it, there is a book out there called Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media by Brittany Hennessy that goes through the details of starting a blog, building a brand, and pretty much a "how to be self-employed" manual without the details about how to report income on taxes. Yes, the book covers fashion for the most part --that's what the author is familiar with-- but the ideas are applicable to influencer culture in general. And yes, I felt somewhat in need of a shower after seeing the details about a career that simply didn't exist 10 years ago.****

So why blog?

You tell me. What do you want to say? Why do you want to say it? And answer those questions when you write.

If that's mentoring, then so be it. But that's the same advice that I'd give to anybody else who is starting a blog: you may not have a voice (yet), but you can write. And through writing, you'll find your voice.


*I worked at Radio Shack for about six months after graduation, before I was fired for lack of sales per hour. Yes, the now defunct (or effectively so) Radio Shack. The sales levels required to maintain your employment pretty much required you to sell a computer per week, and when I worked there the Tandy computers being sold were inferior to the 386 and newly released 486 PCs sold by other companies, and I simply could not recommend Tandy computers over Dell, Gateway, or other custom built machines by small businesses all over town. I could spend lots of time talking about Radio Shack and some of the idiotic decisions they made over the years, but that's definitely another time. But I will say that their audio equipment from the 70s and 80s are worth the investment.

**Sorry, I can't mention other employers other than Radio Shack because reasons. Rat Shack is now gone, so they can't come after me with torches and pitchforks.

***I have friends who read PC but can't comment because of the weird restrictions that Blogger threw up for no good reason. If you google "why can't I comment on blogger with my iPad" you'll find the solution to the issue, but I'm reluctant to tell people to give up some security for the sake of a comment. PC isn't immune from being hacked like any other site, so why risk it? Although I'll also admit loving to hear from friends who have those restrictions.

****I personally don't see how any real influencer worth their salt would accept freebies from another company and try to walk the fine line of promoting said product versus being "objective". I put that in quotes because --from my perspective-- being truly objective means you have to be willing to tell a company that their product sucks if it is warranted. Trying to soften the blow so you can keep the money flowing, in my opinion, compromises your integrity.

EtA: Sometimes I really hate cut and paste on Blogger's toolset. Corrected cut-and-paste issues.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Journey's End

Well, I now have my answer to the question posed in the last post.

Azshandra dinged in the throne room in Blackrock Depths. On trash, no less.

To be honest, it was very touch and go at the end, as our group wiped twice in the room with all of the Dark Iron Reserves, and it was a judicious run down the left side after some of the roaming mobs had wandered away that kept us from wiping a third time.

Well, there was also the bar fight that almost wasn't, because we simply couldn't start a fight by throwing ale at the patrons, so we resorted to stealing ale and turning the entire bar against us. A long time ago I recall myself as Quintalan, Soul's wife, and Soul trying to three man BRD and getting stopped at the bar by wiping on the hordes of angry bar patrons, so this was a bit of a flashback. Still, we persevered through that only to wipe in the next area because an Anvilrage Marshall healed a runner who then aggroed the next mob over, causing a wipe.

But in the end, the BRD run was totally worth it. It was a great group to run with, and I know I had a blast.

I still have a ton of BRD related quests in my queue, but the big overarching question of actually completing the instance is finally over.


Finishing Blackrock Depths, especially after all of my failed attempts in the past couple of weeks, demonstrates the power of persistence in the face of mounting odds.

Speaking of overcoming odds....
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
From 2016, Tommy Shaw of Styx and Damn 
Yankees playing with the Contemporary Youth 
Orchestra of Cleveland.

Oh, I don't think that Az couldn't finish the instance, but I was fighting a headwind where tanks were more interested in other instances than just BRD. Back when Az was attempting to get into Zul'Farrak, I was fighting the crowd where the first wave of players had largely passed Z'F and were no longer interested in running there, so it took me a couple of weeks to get Az into a Z'F run that actually finished.*

But the BRD headwind was completely different. The first wave had already reached L60 and were running end level instances, raids, and battlegrounds. With the exception of slowpokes like me who spent way too much time enjoying the ride, the second wave of alts was passing Az by.** And, it seemed, that there were few tanks willing to step up for a full BRD run.

To add to the frustration, the quality of interactions in LookingForGroup seems to have declined a bit of late. A few players have taken it on themselves to provide commentary on some guilds who host open raids, and that provoked other reactions from even more players, and in true MMO fashion the shit hit the fan. I'm actually surprised that the player made LFG group on the Myzrael-US server hasn't seen more traffic lately, given the lack of drama there.

However, I didn't give up on Az's Blackrock dreams. I deal with enough drama in real life that I wasn't about to let the crap in LookingForGroup --or anywhere else in MMO space, really-- get to me.


And now it's done. Az is at L60, Blackrock Depths is complete, and I can move on in the direction of Scholomance and Stratholme. And from there, Dire Maul and Blackrock Spire.

Leeroy Jenkins, here I come.


*Ironically enough, Cardwyn has experienced no issues getting into Z'F --or any other instance-- for that matter. I suspect the reasons are twofold: Mages are in demand (Rogues not so much), and people are running alts all the time now.

**It's been kind of weird seeing people in Cardwyn's friends list show up in groupings with Az. "Oh hey, [insert name here]. We've run before, but on my Mage alt, Cardwyn." "Oh yeah, I remember Card!"

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Blackrock Blues

The real question for me lately is whether Azshandra will complete a full Blackrock Depths run or hit L60 first. Given my recent luck in BRD runs, I'm betting on L60.

Oh, it's not that the runs devolved into acrimony or something, it's just that they fall apart.

I had one where we simply ran out of time: people had to go to bed to get up for work the next day. There was another that one person said they only wanted an Angerforge run, and after they left the tank left, and that was that. A third stalled at the mobs near Bael'Gar, and a fourth stalled after a wipe near the entryway to Molten Core. In between, there have been a couple of small runs that I knew going in that were going to end fairly quickly, like the Marshall Windsor quests, but I was fine with that.

And in another recent run we wiped in the gnome area, and during the subsequent runback some people had to split.

But Az did ding L59, so at least there's that.


The most memorable run so far has been one that we knew almost immediately that we weren't going to get to the end, but we decided to see how far we were going to get.

You see, the evening began with me wanting to get into a Blackrock Depths run, but the runs that evening only wanted AoE DPS --basically Mages and Warlocks-- so people could farm experience. A single Rogue such as Az was not on people's radar. So, when a Sunken Temple run appeared, I was happy to join.

Once invited to the group, I realized that I'd run with half of the group before*, so I knew this was going to be a solid bunch. We spent a bit of extra time doing a full clear of the entire Sunken Temple complex --as a lot of groups simply skip the sewers portion-- and once done we began to go our separate ways.

However, the healer spoke up about how she wanted to do some more instances tonight, and how does BRD sound?

"That's what I wanted to do this evening," I replied, "but people only wanted Mages in LookingForGroup. So count me in."

One player didn't want to run, so we said goodbye to him and the four of us hearthed out and began the trip to Blackrock Mountain while asking around for a fifth.

A fifth quickly joined us, and it was yet another toon I'd run with before. Surely this meant that the stars were aligning, and I'd finally get that BRD run completed.


One of our group disconnected mid-flight.

"Um...." I said.

"Oh, I bet I know what happened," one of the group said. "He said he was going to check his phone, and because of lag he was using it as a hot spot."

It turned out to be the case, because after he rejoined he told us he'd rebooted his phone as it was slow and had completely forgotten about using it as a hotspot.

Well, since he died mid-flight, his corpse was stuck somewhere near Karazhan, so he had to run all the way back to Darkshire to revive. Once there, he picked up some water for the healer (who'd run out and forgotten to get more) and headed out on the flightpoint once more.

While he was en route, the tank yawned and said that she couldn't keep her eyes open, so she was going to have to call it a night. We tried getting a tank, but no dice. There were two or three BRD/UBRS groups vying for tanks at the same time, and while we said "no reserves" in our call outs the other groups were offering gold as bribes. Things kind of degenerated from there into the other groups getting into a fight with some people who "claimed" to be tanks, saying they weren't offering enough incentives to tank

At that point, the healer basically said "screw it" and said that we should just go with the four of us (Druid Healer, Two DPS Warriors, and Az the Rogue) and see how far we get. The four of us were fine with that, so we figured with some luck we could at least get through the Arena portion and up to Angerforge.

We did a lot of line of sight pulls, and the healer did a great job of keeping the designated Warrior tank upright, particularly since she didn't have any tanking gear at all. We only had one stupid wipe at the beginning where we pulled once too many, but we made it to the Arena. "As long as we don't get something like the bats, we should be okay," the tank said.

We got the bats.

We wiped.

As we ran back, we debated strategy on how to take care of them, but it turned out to be for naught as the event had glitched and the bats had vanished. The way forward lay open.

"Let's see if we can take Angerforge out at least," the tank said, and led the way out.

We made it to Angerforge, waited for all of the Healer's cooldowns to finish, and we pulled Angerforge up the stairs and into a side hallway. Given the lack of that fifth person, we did pretty well in getting to within a hit or two of knocking Angerforge off, but we still wiped.

"Okay," I said as we ran back, "We've got this. just one or two more hits and then we'll have taken him out."

"Maybe we should pull him farther back," the healer suggested. "Like around the bend and close to the door leading to this area."

"That's fine. We'll wait there while the tank pulls. If the tank needs an extra heal, you can run forward a bit as needed."

So we set ourselves up, with Az (me) and the healer near the door, the other DPS Warrior hanging around by some cannons at the end of the hallway, and the tank ran past him and got ready to pull Angerforge.

"Okay, pulling," she called.

Suddenly the healer and I were surrounded by eight fire elementals, who quickly blew us apart.

"AAAAAAAAAHHH!!!" The Warrior DPS yelled.

"What the holy hell was that?" the healer asked.

The tank dropped the pull and ran back to see the fire elementals vanish.

"I was just standing here on the cannons, looking at the two of you, and you were both engulfed by those fire elementals. It was terrifying!"

The healer and I started laughing.

"It had to be triggered by my pull," the tank said. "You screamed as soon as I pulled."

"I'd have given a lot to have seen the look on your face, man," I said as the healer and I started a runback.

"I'd rather have a video of the view he had," the healer added. "It must have been some sight."

"It was, and I don't want to see it again."

During the runback we decided that this was likely a built-in protection that Blizz had to keep a Hunter from kiting Angerforge all the way and past the hallway. "Because Hunters," the healer added.

"Well, we can't kite that far," the tank replied, "so let's redo this and make sure people use their Chained Essence of Eranikus when each mob appears."**

"And if we kill Angerforge, make sure to click on him so we can at least loot him when we run back."

Our strategy in place, and everybody's abilities now completely off cooldown, we tried once more to kill of General Angerforge. And this time, we killed him before his second mob wiped us.

That had to be the happiest bunch of dead people running back to revive in an instance.

We mutually agreed that we weren't going any farther with just the four of us, so we decided to regroup some time later, get a real tank, and finish the instance.

So while Az didn't get that BRD run she wanted, what she got was a totally memorable run nevertheless.


*I had already friended them, which I typically do for players who not only do a good job but also make grouping enjoyable. Basically, they're the people I'd not mind having as guildies.

**The idea was to use one Chained Essence on the first mob, and the other one on the second. I, being a "nice guy", had given up my Chained Essence because I that's not how I roll.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Ya Gotta Have That Something, Kid

When we first started blogging here on PC, Soul performed some outreach to several bloggers that he followed to help us get connected into the WoW blogoverse. We picked up a few views that way, and were added to a few blogs, but that outreach never really amounted to much.

I should also mention that this outreach happened before Twitter blew up and became the Twitter that we all love and hate today, so if you thought Twitter is shouting into the void now, then you haven't seen the "before times".

But what I discovered that in those first few years of blogging was that it wasn't active promotion that garnered regular readers but rather the organic work of reading and responding on other people's blogs. If I had something interesting to say on other blogger's comment sections, people would follow my link back and check out PC. That's how we ended up on what was --at the time-- two of the most important WoW blog sites' blogrolls: Righteous Orbs and the Pink Pigtail Inn.

Times have changed quite a bit, given the rise of Twitter and the fine tuning of self-promotion to an art form. However, one thing that remains is the basic premise that you have to have something interesting to say if you want to keep readers. Being hip or edgy is not required. And all the self-promotion in the world won't keep readers if you don't have that interesting angle.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Have We a Dynamic and Creative Office Environment Yet?

"Tell him sorry but no. Homer, Virgil, and Milton all did it in 12. Big Dave don't break no rules."
--David Eddings, responding to an editor on a fan's request for more books set in the Belgariad universe, after he'd written a dozen books. (Possibly apocryphal)

I am, at heart, an introvert.

That shouldn't be a surprise to people who know me, and that my limit to social media is blogging* fits in with that background.

Of course, you can sit there and point out that I play MMOs, which pretty much require interaction if you want to engage with a decent amount of the content, and I'd agree that yes, you'd think that if I can play MMOs I can handle other things, such as Twitter or Discord.**

But I don't use other forms of social media, and I'm fine with that.

Twitter is too immediate and driven by emotion and the hive mind for me to utilize it well. As I've said before on numerous occasions --both in and outside PC-- Twitter would feed into my worst instincts by allowing me to shoot off a reply without thinking through it first. Whether or not you think positively of my opinions, my posts on PC aren't fired simply off-the-cuff. I write something, set it aside for an hour or more, and then come back and re-read it. I typically make some major changes, because my training and expertise do not lie in writing and grammar, and I also edit the content once my emotions have gotten back into a better state.*** With Twitter, that review period gets thrown out the window and it pretty much becomes "anything goes".

Discord --and related chat/video apps-- are not my friend. I look on the chat apps, including Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business****, as necessary evils in today's world. My actual job requires me to be available 24x7, which means that I have to respond to any texts or other alerts at any time of day or night. And because of that, the dreaded 3 AM text is a part of my life.

I've been on emergency work calls using Skype for Business that lasted 10-12 hours (don't ask), and I've been woken up at 3 AM for an emergency that required me to write code on the fly to fix a problem that was seen once about 10 years ago. So yeah, I tend to associate voice apps with work to an absurd degree.

But on top of that, I dread putting myself out there in an open Discord chat channel. It sounds silly, but I really do get a knot in my stomach when I have to get on Discord (or, in the old days, Ventrillo) for some reason or another. An MMO's party chat doesn't have my Spring sinuses clearly audible*****, and while I can't type as fast as I'd like during an instance, I don't mind that. After all, I'm supposed to be focusing on the task at hand rather than making some random quip after Archaedas says "Who dares the wrath of the Makers??!!" with "Oh, not me. I'll go see myself out now."


I realize that the entire point of the Blapril Discord channel is to provide a fertile breeding ground for creative synergies with fellow content creators, but for me that sounds too much like work. Especially for an introvert.

Besides, I've never promoted PC, and I certainly don't intend to start doing so now.

So, being both the introvert and the contrarian, I'm going to take a pass on joining the Blapril Discord channel. Sure, going outside of my comfort zone can be good in the long term, but I'm not going to break my internal rules concerning voice apps. For the time being, at least.


*And some obligatory Facebook.

**Or guilds in general, for that matter.

***Okay, confession time. I had a really hard time writing certain portions of One Final Lesson because of the emotions I got while writing. This extended into the review/editing period, when I try really hard to step back and properly edit the work for clarity and conciseness. On more than one occasion I said out loud (to an empty house) "This is nuts; I wrote this, dammit! Get a hold of yourself!"

****Teams is, for those who remember it, the Lotus Notes of 2020. Both Teams and Skype for Business, along with other old apps such as Sametime, are the bane of the modern office. I've been working from home for at least 17 years, and I really despise these apps because they frequently get in the way of work and collaboration rather than enhance them. And for people who opine that working in an office enhances collaboration, that only works if your coworkers are also in the same office. In a modern company where people may be located all over the globe, forcing people to come into an office just to then use Teams or Skype is silly, particularly when you can get distracted all the time in an actual office by just casual chatting with coworkers. (See: Office Space.) And on top of it, some companies use these tools to determine if you're slacking off or not, which will only get worse as the shelter-in-place directives spread over the globe.

*****The first time I got on a chat app for WoW, Soul asked me "what's up with your breathing?" And here I thought I sounded normal, until I realized that the microphone will pick up crap like my sinuses because it's a helluva lot closer to my schnoz than another person's ears.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The KISS Principle at Work

For someone who has tinkered with electronics and computers since the early 80s, I'm a bit of a low tech guy when it comes to blogging.

The Blogger suite is one that worked just fine a decade ago, but Google has pretty much abandoned it for no good reason (or at least one that I've heard), so the toolset is --to put it charitably-- lacking in modern conveniences.

You'd think that a company that owns both Blogger and YouTube would find a way to seamlessly integrate YouTube channels into a Blogger Widget so that you can see the latest entry in each channel, but that isn't the case. You don't even have much of an option to easily tinker with designs the way you can with Wordpress; if I'm going to study code at home, it's not going to be to customize my own blog but focus on enhancing my work skillset.

But I will say that Blogger is much more customizable than LiveJournal (or Dreamwidth, which is largely the successor to LJ), so it's not exactly the bottom of the barrel as blogging platforms go.

Regardless, the blog hasn't exactly changed much in terms of design since Cataclysm came out*, and every time I've tinkered with something --such as replacing the leading graphic with a GIF-- I discover that I have to pay in order to get the kind of GIF design I really want.**

Writing for PC is straightforward, too: I utilize the Blogger post page and just write when I can. I used to use Word and then transfer it over the old fashioned way (by cut and paste), but I'd found that Office was a huge resource hog on my laptop and just writing in Blogger itself was simpler. I have occasionally tried scheduling a post, but for some reason that never seems to work properly for me, so I decided that I'll post when I post. And yes, that means I'm really awake on those oddball middle-of-the-night posting times.

Why? Because that's when I get most of my writing done.


Like I mentioned on the 10 year blogoversary post for PC, I prefer to write at night when there's a lot of solitude. I'm a night owl, and doing things when the sun goes down appeals to me, whether it's gaming, writing, or tinkering with various other hobbies.*** A writer acquaintance of mine used to set a timer over his lunch hour at his work and try to see just how many words he could cram into a single session. And there are other writer friends who have chat sessions going through the day --the War Room, they call it-- and set up 5-10 minute challenges to see just how many words they can put onto (virtual) paper during those times.

So my writing approach is threefold: write what you want, when you want to, and edit/publish when you feel like it.

Not a bad gig overall, as long as you keep up with posting.


*Did the graphic give it away?

**The free ones simply don't cut it. There's a specific time limit, and the more images you select the less time those images spend on-screen. And, to be honest, the images would need editing and whatnot, and that inevitably means using Photoshop or one of its competitors/relatives to get what I want.

***I used to work on homework sets while I attended UD during the late evening and overnight hours. I got to know the overnight DJs of the Dayton area radio stations quite well, whether they were a national feed (Peter Van de Graaf for WDPR) or totally local (the DJs for WTUE, WAZU, and WOXY). I always meant to call WTUE up at 3 AM and ask for something obnoxious to keep me awake while doing homework, but when 3 AM hit I was far more interested in just finishing the damn stuff up so I could go to sleep.