Sunday, June 28, 2020

Well, That's That

I've been intrigued by the impending release of Cyberpunk 2077, as I'd spent some time in the past* playing Shadowrun. A cyberpunk game set far enough in the future --but not too far-- to be intriguing? Yes, sign me up. However, I knew it was coming some time in the future, so I shelved my interest until the release date approached.

Then I saw the previews hitting social media, and noticed that it was almost completely in first person perspective.

A short time searching articles later, and I confirmed that the game was going to be only first person, except for a few short set pieces.

Well, scratch that game off of my list.


*Okay, the long past, as it was back in college when I was exposed to Shadowrun.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Charge of the Ram Brigade

WoW Classic's Alterac Valley has been heavily dominated by Horde wins ever since the Alliance was banned from creating premade AV teams. Even then, the map by default favored the Horde so it would take a superior game from the Alliance --combined with poor luck on the Horde side-- to eek out an Alliance victory.

That being said, in all of my AV runs in Classic I'd never seen Ivus the Forest Lord summoned or the Ram Riders charging into the fight.

I got to see both the other night.

I wasn't around to summon Ivus, as I was defending Stormpike Graveyard at the time, but I was around to help get the ram riders ready.

Here's a few pics for those who have never seen it before:

After the last ram turn-in, they appeared.

All that was missing was the theme from
the movie Patton. (Or Rocky, I suppose.)

Back when the commander led
troops into battle.

Cardwyn followed along
as they charged through Dun Baldar...

...across the bridge...

...into the ravine...

...and toward the Field of Strife.
The Horde never knew what hit them.

We ended up losing this match as it turned into a DPS race at the end and we didn't have enough people south to kill Drek before Vann went down. But still, it was an inspiring sight.

EtA: And when I meant the theme from Patton, I meant the march:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Wait a Sec... Just HOW Long?

One thing I've discovered about writing fiction that I've never much thought of before was that it focuses me on just how long it takes to perform certain actions.

I don't mean how long it takes to cast a spell, for instance, or even how long it takes to travel across land or sea. The first is completely arbitrary, and the second is configured this way to make the game practical.* But I mean something a bit different, and the older I get the more ridiculous it sounds.

I mean just how long between events in the Warcraft universe versus what we're seeing in game.


The reason why I'm picking on the Warcraft universe as opposed to other MMOs I've played is because it's the one MMO whose game release schedule matches the MMO world's real time environment. Other MMOs don't try to tie down in game changes from expac to expac to a specific timeline like WoW (and Warcraft before it) does, so that creates issues of believability.

Okay, look, I know we're talking about a fantasy game that includes Orcs, Tauren, Elves, Spellcasting, Undead, Dragons, and Male Humans who look like they're all Arnold Schwarzenegger clones with a steroid problem.

And yes, the Warcraft story frequently devolves into plotlines that would do a soap opera proud. You don't think so? Go read up on the Lo'gosh plotline from the WoW comics, and try to explain to me why the two Varians story doesn't make for a perfect WWE or soap opera plotline.

But the thing is, the more I've delved into timelines the more I look at the game world and say "this is simply NOT possible."


For starters, let's use the 'unofficial' WoW timelines found on various places like WoWWiki and WoWpedia.

Now, there are variances between the unofficial WoW timelines, and the "official" one that used to be on the World of Warcraft website was taken down years ago when Blizz moved to, but there's enough overlap to make it usable.

For starters, let's see the "official" one that WowWiki preserved, and I'll focus on the big items:

0      Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (PC game)
6      Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness (PC game)
8      Warcraft 2X: Beyond the Dark Portal (PC game)

20     Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos (PC game)
21     Warcraft 3X: The Frozen Throne (PC game)
25     World of Warcraft (PC game)
26     World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (PC game)
27     World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (PC game)

Now, the official result of Warcraft 1 was that the Kingdom of Stormwind (and Stormwind itself) was destroyed. It was only at the end of Warcraft 2 were the Kingdom and City of Stormwind re-established and then Stormwind was rebuilt.

I'll be charitable and say that Warcraft 2 ended around year 7.5, giving WC2 about 1.5 years worth of fighting instead of 2. But what that means is that WC2 effectively ended and people could return to Stormwind around Year 7.5.

Putting that into more important terms, the time between Stormwind's reestablishment and the beginning of WoW Classic/Vanilla is 17.5 years, and that's being generous.

So what that means is that if a Human player was 18 years old when they left home and began adventuring, then you were one of the first kids born after Stormwind was reestablished. If a Human character started at 21 years old, then you likely have vague memories of being a refugee. Your older brothers and sisters were all refugees and likely had bad memories of this. Your parents were refugees and/or veterans of the First/Second War, and were likely scarred by the conflict. On top of it, either date is not enough to get Elwynn Forest back to a pristine condition, Redridge to seem so wonderful (as if it were Autumn), or even Westfall or Duskwood to be as alive (or undead as in Western Duskwood) as all that.

However, if you read quest text in the Human areas, you don't get those impressions at all. The area around Elwynn Forest, and even Duskwood and Redridge, are filled with quest text about "normal" things, not "boy, am I glad that we survived the Wars!"

It's as if there's collective amnesia about WC1 and WC2.

And believe me, people in Westfall would absolutely remember the Horde invasion, because based on the timeline they would have just gotten back on their feet when the Defias cut their legs out from under them.

If you thought that timeline might be off, here's the one from WoWpedia**:

0      First War
4      Second War

8      Warcraft 2x: Tides of Darkness
20     Third War

23     Warcraft 3x: The Frozen Throne
25     World of Warcraft
26     The Burning Crusade
27     Wrath of the Lich King

As you can see, the dates are pretty similar except for WoWpedia moving the Second War back two years.


You might look at that timeline and think "yeah, that seems about right."

But you know what I see?

The Thirty Years War.

It was one of the most destructive conflicts in history, went from 1618 - 1648, and was responsible for the death of 1 in every 5 German language speakers*** in Europe. Wikipedia puts the number of European deaths at 8 million, and although I'm not completely certain it's accurate, it's good enough for me.

The sheer brutality of the conflict made the Thirty Years' War one of the first that you could arguably call "total war", where entire regions were laid waste and depopulated, and entire nations mobilized.

You know what I don't see?

Evidence of the Thirty Years War --Warcraft Style-- in WoW Classic.
Bucolic. That's a good word for this, and there's nary
a sign that a short time ago this was supposedly
all devastation. Those certainly don't look like 15-20 year
old trees, even if you have rapidly growing ones such as silver maple.

And before you say Burning Steppes, Searing Gorge, or Desolace, all three happened prior to the timeline above. The only regions that you could safely say fall under the "entire region laid waste" designation are the Blasted Lands (home of Ye Olde Dark Portal), the Plaguelands, Tirisfal Glades, Felwood, and the southernmost part of Winterspring, where the Burning Legion is still present along the border with Hyjal. And of those, only the Blasted Lands stretches back to the Second War; all the others happened only a few years before Classic, in the Third War.

Azshara? Been that way since the War of the Ancients.

Silithus? Been that way for thousands of years, since the Kaldorei and their allies shut the Qiraji inside their prison.

Stonetalon Mountains? It's not so much as laid waste as an ecological disaster brought on by the Venture Company.

I find it hard to believe that the Cataclysm expac had a greater impact on the Eastern Continent than the Wars between Orcs and Humans.


And don't get me started on the buildings.

I knew that castle building was a huge endeavor that drained the coffers of more than one monarchy (Edward I of England for one), so the reconstruction of Stormwind being hugely expensive doesn't shock me. But building a castle in Medieval times took anywhere from 2 to 10 years, depending on the size and complexity of the job.

But an entire city?

A decent comparison is how long it took to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666, and it took about 50 years.****

And that's with mainly wooden structures, not stone.

Compare that with Stormwind's less than 17.5 years --probably more like 10 given it takes time for the Defias afterward to take root-- and you're left scratching your head.
10 years? Yeah, but if you had far larger population
than what the ravaged Human lands --Stormwind +
Lordaeron + the rest-- have.  It took a far larger English
population 50 years to rebuild London after the Great Fire.

And don't forget that on top of that, there's places such as Menethil Harbor, Lakeshire, Goldshire, Darkshire, Sentinel Hill, Theramore, and the (now abandoned) areas of Raven Hill and Moonbrook. Oh, and the towers scattered throughout the area.

Don't forget that Dalaran was rebuilding within its bubble too.

And somewhere in all that Nethergarde Keep was built, manned, and then was the staging area for the invasion of Draenor.


Speaking of buildings, let's talk about the Horde cities too.

The Undercity, well, that was always there underneath Lordaeron, so let's just assume it was made (un)livable with minimal effort.

But Thunder Bluff and Orgrimmar? They just sprang out of the ground within 2 years? Looking like that? And while the Tauren encampments around Kalimdor were built (and designed) for a nomadic, Native American asthetic --which are believable-- but the size and scope of constructing Orgrimmar alone, particularly while the newly reformed Horde with the Frostwolves in charge were constantly under threat, makes me raise my eyebrows.
I don't have an active Horde toon, so this one is from
Blizzard Watch. BTW, if you want info on all things
Blizz, they're the one to to go check out.

I could see this in 2 years, but that's only if Thrall and Co.
weren't constantly fending for their lives.

So yeah, call me skeptical, but I look at that timeline and think "Nah, not happening." Even if you enlist the help of Mages to build all of this, the sheer volume of activity might require every single Mage found in Azeroth to get it done properly in such a short timeline. And believe me, any Mage worth their salt would make sure that YOU NEVER FORGOT THAT.

And remember, all this construction had to be completed early enough so that it feels like all of these buildings have been there for quite a while, because nobody surely talks about the "before times". Hell, there are quests in Elwynn Forest that imply that people grew up and grew old on the farm. (It's the lover's questline.)


The only difference in the timelines that makes any sort of sense is the time between the end of the Third War and WoW Classic/Vanilla. Everything else, well, it doesn't really make sense.

If you extend the time between the end of the 2nd War and the beginning of the 3rd War to about 30 years, that makes the reconstruction and fading memories more realistic, but it then proceeds to throw off the personal timeline of major NPCs, particularly Thrall, Jaina, Vol'jin, Arthas, and others.

I can see why Blizz would want to keep the timeline intact for the NPCs' sake, but they could have easily altered the world they built in WoW to reflect the true state of affairs rather than present a bucolic countryside that they did in the starting zones for Tauren, Orcs, Trolls, Humans, Gnomes, and Dwarves.

And I'll be frank, I'd never have noticed how off the timeline really was until I went and looked up the timeline because I was writing fiction. When I figured out the true timeline based on what was found on the original WoW website, I blurted out "Bullshit! That is not what is presented in game!"

Oh, hey, Kira. Card says 'hi'.

*Movement at the speed of plot and all that.

**I removed every little detail that was provided in the Wowpedia version and instead matched the major events with the "official" version.

***You can't really say Germans, since Germany as a state didn't exist until the 19th Century.

****The Museum of London has a great pdf file on the Great Fire, which I won't link to because of potential security risks. However, if you type in "how long did it take to rebuild london after the great fire" it'll pop up as being one of the first hits.

EtA: Corrected a few grammar issues. That's what I get for changing my mind on how to present something and forgetting about the grammar leading up to those changes.

EtA: Forgot Felwood in the list of regions affected by the WC1 through WC3, but my premise still stands, as Felwood happened during WC3.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

At Long Last

It only took from the beginning of Classic until now, on both co-mains, but this finally happened:

It was one of those epic 3+ hour AV fights that you hear people who used to play in Vanilla brag about. The battleground started like any other, where the Alliance held off the horde for a while but eventually we lost the Stonehearth Graveyard. That usually signals the beginning of the end, because the Horde gradually accelerates their gains from there. But something unusual happened: the Alliance was able to push back and eventually --after an hour-- to retake the Stonehearth Graveyard.

During this time I --on Az-- found myself with only another rogue for support, so we both sent back the Wing Commanders* and then I took the southern mine. That mine capture is typically a love-it-or-hate-it move, with very few people on the Alliance side in the "meh" camp. Luckily this time our side was happy for that, and I quickly gathered the 10 resources, killed off some wolves for the pelts, and made it back up north just in time to become a member of the backcap crew.

And there I spent the vast majority of my time in-game, part or a 2-3 man crew defending the Dun Baldar bunkers and graveyard from Horde who'd outflanked the main force.

During this time the main force continued their unusally strong push and had a breakthrough by capturing the Snowfall Graveyard. We were able to hold both graveyards, and in the process kill off the Horde Wolfriders and their Shamans.

When the Horde lost their Shamans, their morale broke.

We were then able to capture the Iceblood Graveyard, and our gains accelerated rather quickly until we finally downed Drek.

I've been waiting for what felt like forever for this, as this is the typical result we see:

So a victory like this, hard fought from beginning to end, was something to savor.

*Two of them made it back, which was unusual in itself.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Let Me Expand on That

Not too long ago, I mentioned that I'd gotten into my first true raid.


That was a Zul'Gurub run that, looking back on it, was a fairly wipe filled run that lasted almost 4 hours.* However, I will say that the raid leader was a real saint; he kept calm and never raised his voice, as he patiently explained and reexplained how to handle each boss.

In that raid I learned three things:

  • For a raid to be effective, you have to be in a voice app of some sort. You may not have to talk --I saw people reply in raid chat to requests-- but you must be able to respond to the raid leader's (and others) directions. We had one person in the ZG run who was not in chat, and that person was simply not following instructions, even the written ones.

    As a sub point on that, everybody not only has to be in a voice app, but be able to understand the language spoken. Being in a voice app does you almost no good if you don't understand what's being asked of you. And yes, that 4 hour ZG run had at least one person in the raid who didn't understand English, and also didn't know the raid. It made things difficult at times.
  • I like to perform interrupts and stuns on Az as part of my work in regular 5-man instances, and that part of being a Rogue becomes important in ZG. In the ZG run Az was literally the only rogue, and I got assigned the job of interrupting the healer in the Raptor boss when he (it?) splits into three people. Once that boss was burned down enough, I and the off tank were the only ones on that boss for a large part of the fight, with me eschewing anything resembling DPS in favor of watching for the healing action and then delivering a solid kick to stop it. While my job in ZG overall wasn't very taxing --mainly don't stand in the bad, do what the raid leader says to do, and just keep my DPS Slice and Dice ability running-- at this one point I had the big job to make sure we don't make a boss fight that much more difficult. And I was able to do the job because I enjoy those little things about being a Rogue.
  • Raids in Classic take about as long as the longer instances in WoW. If you compare a Classic level raid (Molten Core, Zul'Gurub, etc.) with the longer Classic instances (Blackrock Depths, Maraudon, etc.) the Classic instances are either as long or longer than the Classic raids. So the time commitment by me would be pretty much the same. The only thing that the raids have over instances are the buffs and the consumables, where Mages, Alchemists, and others who handle both items spend considerably more time in preparation than the people who don't have those classes and/or professions.

But despite my initial concern about what to do in ZG, I found the explanations easy to follow. And I learned very quickly that "bat riders go boom" as I put it in guild chat afterwards.



Oh, that.

Yeah, I joined a guild. It's a small one, and not even close to being in the same orbit as some of the huge guilds on Myzrael-US, such as Sunrise or Stance Dance Revolution, both of which have over 400 members. 

More on this another time.


Anyhoo, I went on another ZG run a week later, and that run was as smooth as butter. It clocked in at just under two hours, and we only had one wipe, on the trash leading to Hakkar. We even handled the Jin'do fight without any problems.

So fast forward a couple of weeks, and a friend who I'd run quite a few instances with over the past months whispered me on Friday. One thing led to another, and this was the result.

Yep, still running with that BRD Green drop
for my chestpiece. Still, Card only died once,
the Majordomo teleported her up front. Twice.
It was an alt run put on by two guilds, and they pug the extra people.

The most amazing thing to me was that when I zoned in, I discovered that I knew about 1/3 of the people there. When I mentioned it to my friend, he laughed and said "that's the Vanilla experience for you."

Maybe I can do this raiding thing after all.

*This ZG run was on Az, for clarity's sake.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Well, That was Unexpected

Back in pre-history, when people still loved the live action version of Game of Thrones on HBO, the question arose what would happen when the showrunners ran out of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice as source material. After all, George wasn't known as the speediest of authors, and anybody could see that the series on television was going to finish long before the books were.

Well, it was revealed back in 2014 that the showrunners had met with George and already knew the broad strokes going forward, including how the series would end.

And while Season 7 had its moments --including the Hodor masterstroke that the showrunners confirmed was George's idea-- we all know how Season 8 ended the series.*

I was thinking about that debacle, where there were only broad sketches of what came after the books ended, when I read Kamalia's post about the existential horror surrounding WoW retail's upcoming Shadowlands expac reflecting on Battle for Azeroth. Namely, exactly how much of the Warcraft/WoW story is planned out ahead of time?

And when I mean planned out, I don't mean for an entire expac, but rather years in the future.


As I commented on Kamalia's post, back when I was in college --and even before the red beard itself-- I'd read about how soap operas were plotted out. I was curious about this because I developed an addiction to Days of our Lives my sophomore year in college**

Yes, it was really this cheesy.

and I wondered just how much of the plot was planned in advance and how much was just made up as they went along. In spite of the "bad acting" that goes on in those shows --and when you consider that they film/record them day in and day out with very few outtakes due to the schedule, it's actually pretty good-- the plots, stories, and scripts are written months in advance of actual filming. Add to that the shows frequently had months of filming already "in the can" as the saying goes, the storylines were frequently plotted out about a year or more before airing. While this isn't saying a lot for a regular prime time television show, a soap is broadcast almost without fail, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. At maximum, that's 260 possible episodes, but in reality --due to holiday programming and other factors-- the number is somewhere between 200 and 260. For a 24 episode prime time season, that's 10 years worth of episodes, and for a BBC or cable type of series that's more like 20 years' worth.

To keep everything straight, therefore, long term plotting is essential.

Now, let's translate this into video games.

An MMO such as LOTRO, which is based on a completed series of fantasy novels, has a great advantage over MMOs that are on the Game of Thrones plan. You know the plot, you know the characters, and you even know the geographic locations and the potential for in-zone quests. All you have to do is fill in some of the details and extrapolate based on the author's works (and in Tolkien's case, both finished and unfinished). While I'm not saying it's easy mode, for a developer it's far less stressful to fill in a portion of Middle-earth than it is, say, the Star Wars universe with SWTOR.

Sure, there's a lot of potential reference material out there for SWTOR, but there's also a huge amount of freedom for a developer to change things around. The Old Republic era of the Star Wars universe doesn't have to tiptoe around the old Expanded Universe novels (outside of the Revan ones, obviously), it doesn't have to worry about any of the movies in terms of settings and plot, and it certainly doesn't have to worry about the vast majority of Star Wars fans upset with either the jettisoning of the EU or the direction the prequels and/or sequels took.

But it is under constant scrutiny by everyone and their grandmother for whether SWTOR is "Star Wars enough" to be considered Star Wars.

Between that and the constant pressure SWTOR's development staff is under, courtesy of Bioware executives and EA overall, it's no wonder that the direction of SWTOR's story has swung wildly over the years.


Warcraft and WoW fans may not be as rabid as the Star Wars fanbase***, but they do have definite ideas on how their beloved franchise should progress. However, unlike SWTOR and LOTRO, WoW's fanbase dictates a bit of a different focus than what you'd come to expect.

Remember the maxim "the game starts at max level"? For WoW, that means the focus is on Endgame more than anything else. However, I personally don't think that Endgame itself is Blizz' focus, narratively speaking.

If you look at the expacs for WoW --at least the ones that I've played up until I dropped by subscription-- it seems that Blizz's focus is toward specific set pieces, and plot/narrative is driven in service of those specific set pieces.

From Burning Crusade --with the dramatic conversion of Lady Liadrin prior to taking up the leadership the Shattered Sun offensive-- through Wrath with the Wrathgate event, and even into Mists with its multiple video cut setpieces (and the Siege of Orgrimmar), that seems to be what drives the WoW expac.

But for me, the question is whether there's an overall narrative plan stretching across multiple expacs, or whether their service to the set piece means that the set piece is developed first and then the expac is developed around it.


The reason why Kamalia's post is so important is because she lays bare that the upcoming Shadowlands expac takes all of those dramatic death scenes --or moments of sacrifice/suicide missions-- and makes them horrifying because death isn't the release people thought it was.

And yes, I agree with her completely on her point.

But I don't believe that was a primary objective of the expac; it was merely a side effect of the WoW expac development process.

I find it very hard to believe that all of those raids, starting from Wrath onward, that have bosses who die and exclaim that "[insert end boss here] controls me no longer", would have led to this existential moment where death turned out to be a horrifying alternative. Instead, I believe that Blizz said "Okay, let's do [XXX] set piece. Cool, isn't it? Now, how do we get to there?"

That's the thing about these set pieces: they only work if they are part of a cohesive whole that extends from expac to expac as part of a long term story that Blizz wants to tell. Right now, it certainly seems that Blizz is creating these set pieces without any sort of long term plan.

Why would I say that? Because if the set piece creates some jarring plot holes large enough to fly a zeppelin through, then maybe the set piece is the one that needs to change.

Speaking of set pieces that
drive expacs (or movies)...

For example, in the lead up to Mists there was the "mana bomb destroying Theramore" set piece. On the face of it, a major Alliance city so close to the Horde capital city would naturally be a military target in an Alliance vs Horde war. However, if you played the Horde (post-Cataclysm) questline in Stonetalon Mountains --which made use of another mega-sized bomb-- the total destruction of Theramore makes absolutely no sense, as Garrosh (in an earlier set piece) executed the Stonetalon Horde leader for displaying a lack of honor in slaying non-combatants. And, as everyone knows, there are plenty of non-combatants in a major Alliance city --with a sympathetic Alliance leader-- that had in the past sided with Orgrimmar over their own faction's potential interests.

Because someone decided edgier is better.
Hmm... There's something about that statement
that fits right in with the DC Universe....
(From metacritic, of all places.)

But when set pieces (and to a lesser extent the endgame) rules the decision making process, plot holes happen.

Just ask all those Daenerys fans about Season 8 of Game of Thrones.

From Vanity Fair.

Or maybe not.

*And that's coming from a guy who had no interest in reading or watching either version. George takes maniacal delight in killing off characters, so I took a wide pass on any of his writings.

**I only overcame this addiction when I was watching an episode and blurted out loud after a supposed major reveal "That was incredibly stupid!!" It was then that I realized bad storylines couldn't keep me engaged forever.

***I'd imagine that Blizz employees would beg to differ on this point.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Saturday Morning Amusement

I saw this on Reddit, and I was amused.

"Mommy, where do Druids come from?"

I tried chasing down the original, and this is actually a screenshot of a screenshot. Therefore, I'm not exactly sure who truly created this, but as a pencil and paper RPGer I found it the sort of "D&D legalese" way of getting out of the price of a Fey's pact.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go drive 6 hours each way to get the rest of my son's dorm stuff, as the county in Pennsylvania that his university is located opened up and the university is allowing us on campus to go get his gear.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Hidden Nemesis

I've been pondering something a bit while I've been working on my fiction, and that is how MMOs translate things such as death into a game.

An MMO is a strange beast in its own way: by design it is a multiplayer sandbox where people get to experience all sorts of interactions (such as quests) in their own time. Sure, you can group up, but the multiplayer nature of the game means that death --for both the baddies and you-- isn't permanent.*

You die, you respawn. They die, they eventually respawn.

Items such as phasing as implemented in WoW with the Wrathgate event, as well as other MMOs' version of such phasing, is an attempt to alleviate this. Making it seem like you truly have an impact on the environment is the goal.

But what I've been thinking of is something else entirely: what is the psychological and physical impact of death on people in an MMO? And how did people deal with this in real life when they were drafted, given some basic training, and then shipped out to go kill people?


In an MMO we can make light of death, given that to the player it's an obstacle to overcome. Listen to MMO players talk about wiping in raids or instances, and it's just no big deal. You can even hear bosses express relief at their death, meaning that "Hakkar controls me no longer".**

But nevertheless, "Kill Ten Rats" is just a stone's throw away from "Kill Ten Kobolds" and then "Kill Ten Defias."

I choose the Defias for this because of their origin story, which is something that a lot of people would identify with.

Since there are a few people --including the mini-Reds, who I know occasionally read this blog-- who don't know the Defias origin story, I'm going to put this behind a big ol' cut:

Spoilers ahead