Friday, April 16, 2021

I'm Your Handyman

For the past week I've been perusing peripheral options for my gaming activities. Oh, yes, I've been playing games too*, but my mind has been on other things

Perhaps it's the weather, but I've turned my attention to such projects as what it would take to repair the deck --likely replacing about 10-15 deckboards-- as well as finish the paint job that was so rudely interrupted by my knee injury. Once the decking is repaired, then I can focus on making some stands for the plant containers on the deck as well as getting a replacement gas grill.** 

All of this means spending some money.

Some of it is obvious --wood for the deckboards, etc.-- and some not so obvious: if I want to get a quicker result in replacing the decking, I have to purchase a power miter saw. I have a manual miter box, but it takes much longer to cut. I looked into power miter box rentals last year, and the price of the rental was enough that if I use the saw for more than one trip it is more economical for me to just buy a decent quality inexpensive power miter box.***

There are other projects that require spending some money too, such as getting the carpet cleaned. Last year in late Summer, I discovered that rental places were refusing to rent carpet washers, so if I wanted a carpet cleaner I have to buy one myself. And believe me, our carpets could use a good cleaning.

So yeah, there's a lot of stuff like that on my mind. And that has been creeping into my game playing, too.

***

Before you even think about it, let me make one thing clear: I'm not gonna turn into a streamer. 

Sorry, that's not my thing. And while I'd love to have a nice studio setup, likely combining it with a music practice room in the house, that ain't happening. We don't have the money for it, and if we did we'd get other repairs done first. 

So while the concept of getting an A/V setup going is very tempting, if for nothing else to indulge any music recording I'd like to perform****, that's not possible at this time.

Instead, I've been focusing on what I can do to improve my in-game interactions. 

Yes, I've got a wireless headset that I use. 

The Logitech G933 Artemis Spectrum.
Pic is from PC Magazine, likely
originating from Logitech.

 

And especially when I have to get up and move around a bit from time to time, yeah, it's a lifesaver. Not the greatest sound quality for music, but it'll do for both work and gaming. Build quality is good, and while it doesn't do noise cancelling, I've only had to crack it open to put tuner cleaner in spots once.

However, if people in the house try to talk to me, I'm not likely to hear them. When working, that's not an issue, but if I'm gaming I'd like to hear them. Because for some reason as soon as I put that sucker on in the evening to go play, somebody in the house just has to have a conversation about something. It's like magic, I swear.

So while the oldest mini-Red was around, I borrowed her Blue Snowball Ice microphone to use while I raided. It solved the isolation issue, and in a bizarre way it solved the "hey, I need to ask you something" issue. Apparently when I started using it, people did NOT want to be heard talking to me while the mic was up and running, so they saved their discussions until later.

(Genius!)

The Snowball is a pretty unassuming microphone, but it's not mine, as it follows the oldest mini-Red back and forth from college. So, I thought, I could just buy my own microphone and just do what I need to do without relying upon pestering my daughter for hers.

It's never as easy as it sounds, right?

I have since gone down the rabbit hole of USB microphones.

Indeed. This is just a small portion of
the available microphones. And the article
this is from only highlighted one (!) of
these mics. From Techstunt.

I can honestly state that I have no idea just how much time I've spent researching USB microphones, but I now know enough to realize that the most popular mics out there, the Blue Yetis and Snowballs, may not be the one for me. 

There's a time and a place for tweaking a microphone's gain and whatnot to make things just perfect, but when I want to just get going quickly that can suck. Especially when the software that comes with the mic (like the Blue Yeti Nano or X) deliberately has the gain set too high by default. And while I'd love to take advantage of extra mic patterns, the reality is that I won't need them any time soon. So it kind of boils down to the sound for the get up and go.

I'm not going to pass on the Blue Yeti's just yet, because the main competition in my mind is the Elgato Wave 3, and I cant seem to effing FIND one out in the wild to make a physical comparison. I hate going in blind like that, but if I want to buy a Wave 3, that's likely what I'll end up having to do.

And even then, there are some others out there, such as the Rode NT-USB Mini that's caught my attention as well.

Geez, I hate making a decision here.

***

The mic aside, I've been hoping to fix up our PC desk. The sliding keyboard + mouse part has a laminated fake wood look, and that cheap laminate has been fading away. I figured that now was as good a time as any to get it replaced with a nicer laminate so I didn't have to use a mouse pad when gaming. 

But boy is that going to be annoying to find. 

Kind of like this but without the
wood/MDF. From Cabinetmaker Warehouse.

 

I've already been to a couple of hardware stores and struck out, so I think I may have to go to a woodworking specialty store, such as Woodcraft, to find what I need. 

***

My old backup solution has bit the dust. It was a Seagate Go system, long out of date, and now the hard drive died, and a replacement didn't work at all. Which sucks. 

So.... I might have to invest in a real backup system, like a Synology NAS, because my internet connection isn't good enough for me to consider backing up everything to the cloud. And I scouted the costs of 2-bay and 4-bay NAS devices, and yi-yi-yi.....

Very nice, but the price....
From Synology.

 

***

And, at long last, there's the speakers.

 

   
Back in the day, this was da bomb.
Pic from Amazon.
 

The speakers I'm currently using are the now ancient Altec Lansing ADA-305 woofer and satellite pair. Back in their heyday (circa 1999) they were considered the best speakers for the PC, but 22 years later their age has been showing, particularly in the crispness of the the highs and the overall sound. I've been contemplating making my own pair of speakers with a subwoofer, but I've also been considering just replacing the drivers for the satellites and see how that works. Either way, this is the one area that I refuse to skimp on, because I love listening to my ripped CDs when I sit nearby, working.*****

***

So, there's a lot of other things to consider moving forward, and by comparison my gaming is actually a nice diversion from all this.



*After a week of regressing and not being able to kill K'T, we one shot him this past Monday. And to while away the time, I started yet another game of Stardew Valley. For the record, I always think I'm going to choose someone else, but I typically end up picking between Penny and Leah to romance and marry. Probably because both remind me of my wife.

**While I love using my Weber kettle grill, using charcoal grills on wooden decks is typically not a smart move. And since my primary location for using the charcoal grill is on the driveway (for safety reasons), with the mini-Reds now sharing a third car we don't have as much space as we used to. Hence my interest in gas grills. This time, I'm getting a Weber gas grill; I've had Coleman and Sears/Kenmore gas grills, and I've learned my lesson. If you want a grill that lasts, get a Weber.

***And yes, those exist. Ryobi and Kobalt are two brands that make decent inexpensive models, but you have to check them out to see if they'll work for your situation. Seriously, it's worth it to do some hands on testing.

****I was a radio DJ back in college, and for a span of 5-6 years in the late 90s-early 00s I helped to run the sound at the Cincinnati Celtic Music and Cultural Festival.

*****My work laptop can't access anything in my home network, from printers on down, because of the VPN that the laptop uses. Oh well.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Enriching a Life Well Lived

The arts are what makes life worth living. You’ve got food, you’ve got shelter, yeah. But the things that make you laugh, make you cry, make you connect – make you love are communicated through the arts. They aren’t extras. 

--Barack Obama

The idea of taking up art as a calling, a profession, is a mirage. Art enriches life. It makes life worth living. But to make a living at it—that idea is incompatible with making art.

--John Sloan (Yes, he was an artist. Go figure.)

 

As part of the Vanilla/Classic WoW quest chain for Tirion Fordring, he sends you into Stratholme to find a painting his family sat for years ago. The reason is to remind Tirion's son, who has effectively been turned into a cultist by the Scarlet Crusade, of his family's past life and what honor truly stands for. The questline is a tragic one, but for me it's notable because the focus of one particular quest is on an object of art. 

There are a few quests that require you to fetch and retrieve a book, and there's a notable quest that involves a flute in Felwood, but far and away the arts aren't found in the Azeroth a player interacts with. Sure, there's the background music at inns and other locations, paintings on the walls, and other reference pieces, but almost literally nothing interactive. Unlike LOTRO, a player can't learn a musical instrument --or play a class that uses music as its magic-- and unlike Elder Scrolls Online or SWTOR (or many other MMOs) you can't purchase a house and decorate it as you please. The most you can do is transmog (in Retail) or take up some of your precious bag space for a roleplaying or hangout outfit.*

It is not a controversial statement to say that when WoW was designed, the arts weren't exactly high on everybody's mind.

I completely understand the whys of that, because when you're creating a game of epic fantasy you're more concerned about a lot of other things (like making sure mechanics actually work) than how the arts impact the denizens of the game world. That being said, given the dedicated art department that Blizz has for WoW and its other games, especially for the look and feel of a specific class, race, zone, or whatnot, you'd think that there would be advocates for the art that a player has input on.

***

I hear their passionate music
Read the words that touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures
The secrets that set them apart

When I feel the powerful visions
Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct
I wish I had that drive

--"Mission" by Rush, from Hold Your Fire


The reason why I'm so passionate about the arts and MMOs is because art inspires me. I love to read RPG materials, not just for the game rules/settings/adventures, but because the art inside the books stirs a desire in me to do more and be more than just a character playing a game. I'm one of those people who has to have music on at all times, no matter the genre**, because music is the backdrop of my narrative life. About the only times I don't have music on at work are when things get so serious that I have to devote all of my resources to something. Or, as one of the mini-Reds once told me, "Dad, when you turn off your music, put in earplugs, and hunch over your laptop, that's when we know shit has just hit the fan."

But the arts are what I truly enjoy in life.*** Sure, I love sports, especially college basketball, and I enjoy building things,

I built these last Fall for my wife's old
80's era all-in-one stereo. Replacing the crappy
old speakers that came with the system was
like night and day.

but I don't have the talent or time to devote to the arts. I can wander museums and look at the art, but I can't paint or sculpt. I can immerse myself in music, but I can't play worth a damn. Acting? No thanks; I listen to voice actors and watch plays/shows/movies and think "I can't do that. I can't fake emotions like that. Hell, I get embarrassed role playing in pencil-and-paper RPGs." 

And the Great American Novel this blog ain't. (Just sayin'. Doesn't hurt my feelings any, because I recognize my limitations and work within them.)

***

Art also provides a starting point for a player as well. It presents a new player --who may be uncertain about wanting to play-- with the ability to say "You're welcome at the table; you can play someone who looks like you."

If I'm in a fight, I want this guy on my side.
From the D&D 5e Players Handbook.

Or they can give you a sense of what a player can do.

I never realized it before, but the female
Halfling here bears a vague resemblance to
Anna Kendrick. Or maybe I need more sleep.
From D&D 5e Players Handbook.

And yes, there's the eye candy art as well.

What, you thought I was going to
use Seoni? Geralt works fine, you know.
Besides, Geralt is one of those people who
I think of when I say "I'm not gay, but...."
From The Witcher trilogy.

People draw fan art of their favorite characters, their toons, or even scenes from a gaming session all the time. And if I tried posting some here, I'd have a real problem picking a representative sample from the tons of fan art available. Perusing Deviantart alone can suck hours of your time. But if you ever watch Critical Role, you'll note during their breaks the fan art they post... Oh the fan art.

***

Because of all that, the overall lack of an artistic outlet in some MMOs can be a bit jarring at times. Some work within the limitations and create fantastic work, such as Kamalia of Kamalia et Alia and her fashion sense. Her Sunday on the Promenade series on transmog outfits alone are worth a perusal, even though I play Classic and don't have access to transmog. (Me? I'm happy when I don't select blue shirts and a blue jacket to go with my blue jeans.)

Others work with what they have, saving a set specifically for hanging around an MMO city.****

But there are times when I wish a WoW toon could make music all on their own in the same way that you can in LOTRO. The 5 PM EST band on the Gladden server still plays regularly just inside the western entrance to Bree, and it would be nice if something such as that were available on other MMOs. Or have a space of your own to decorate, like you can find in LOTRO, SWTOR, or ESO (oh boy, the options you have in ESO). 

Such as it is, we have to make do with our own efforts outside of MMOs.

Maybe I should try my hand at painting. I already had a couple of discussions with one of my fellow Mages about watercolors, and he positively geeked out on me and provided me with a ton of info to get started. I know going in I'm going to suck, but if I work at it maybe I can finally draw/paint an image I've had in my head for a while, of Card wearing regular clothing, with her nieces and nephews, heading to the pond close to the farm to go fish. Her face is relaxed; she's grinning at the nephew she has perched on her shoulders, while Carys and the others are cavorting around because they're all excited that Aunt Cardwyn is taking them on "an adventure". And perhaps in the distance, Kit and Kerisa are already there, sitting and fishing, glancing over their shoulders with amused expressions at the ruckus. It's not a "go slay the dragons" image at all, but a simple picture that reflects the humanity of a toon.



*That's not counting the pirate and other costumes people can transform into, courtesy of holiday events.

**Well, I'm not a fan of most country music, and hip hop commands my attention in a way that distracts from anything I'm working on, so I rarely listen to either. Although I will say that Cardwyn's nickname in raids is now primarily "Cardy B". And because of that I now point out that the "B" stands for "battle rez".

***Oh, for pete's sake, I do love my wife and family, so don't go there.

****I have two now: the "Vixen Set" which features the Spider-mage robe, and an "Out Dating" set, which has Card wearing an evening gown. I should make one with a full Tier set, even having helm and cloak on, just so I can look like a Mage and drum up some consumables and/or portals business. I can't remember who said it, but a friend in Classic mentioned to me about a month ago that when they wear a full T2 set they get a lot more business.


Friday, April 2, 2021

So That's How We Looked

Okay, I still haven't figured out how to post the video like you can with YouTube --and I blame poor tools by Blogger here-- but here's a link to our K'T kill, as streamed by Mirsh. 

It's also nice to know I'm not the only one who curses while raiding. Good thing the kids are much older, or I'd go crazy trying to censor myself. But somewhere, I think my Grandfather would be proud of me for cursing as much as I do.*

I've always wondered how I sound in raids in Discord, and now I know. You can hear me at the tail end just before the kill saying "We've got him!! We've got him!!"

I can't help but confess that I was focusing on where I was on the screen, hoping that I don't look too much like an idiot. I can't stream, because if I did you'd see my head was on a swivel, constantly looking for those banshees as they bore down on us. And it's not a lot of fun once you hit Phase 2 and you're trying desperately to conserve as much mana as you can for sheeping while wanding and pacing out your potion consumption. 



*A quick story about my Grandfather. During WW2, he and several other people in his division were promoted to Corporal. As they all stood in line, a Captain marched up and down saying "I made you, and I can break you." My Grandfather, never one for tact, piped up and cracked, "If that's the way you feel about it, you can shove it up your ass!!"

My Grandfather was busted back down to Private quicker than you can say WTF...


EtA: Fixed the link. Whoops.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Give the People What They Want

(If you get a chance, go listen to The Kinks album of the same name as this title. You won't be disappointed.)


MMOs, by necessity, are a limited slice of an invented world.

As much detail a dev team can put into a game world, there are going to be gaps. Some are massive, such as the lack of religion being prominent as a divisive element,* and some are more subtle, such as the lack of music and the arts in people's lives. 

I was thinking of this when I read Bhagpuss' post about how the Guild Wars 2 devs tried to artificially create player hubs when the players had organically established their own hubs. It's a good post and well worth reading, and as you'll see my really short TL;DR doesn't scratch the surface of its detail. I don't play GW2 enough to comment on that specific MMO, but it did give me fuel for thought concerning other MMOs.

The most prominent of MMOs, World of Warcraft, has the recurring theme of conflict between Orcs and Humans at its center. This is artificially propped up by Blizzard, even though the most popular expansions (BC, Legion, Wrath) all center around the two factions joining together against a common threat. Expansions --or portions of them-- that emphasize the conflict tend to not be as well received**. However, Blizz keeps pushing the conflict because.... It's the core of the game. Or something. Although if you asked me what the core of WoW was, it's that "Old Gods are bad and the source of all evil. HP Lovecraft rules."

Still, it also seems that Blizz attempts to do the same thing that GW2 has been guilty of, which is to create a new player hub for each expac. Or, in the case of Cataclysm, an artificial attempt to re-establish the faction capitals as the primary hubs in the game. 

It's not like ArenaNet and Blizzard are the only guilty ones here. Standing Stone has created new hubs with each expac in LOTRO, and Bioware the same in SWTOR. To an extent, I can understand the need to create central hubs in new territories, and they become the hub of activity for each expac. But at the same time there's no reason in a Fantasy or Science Fiction MMO that you can't just have a gamified way of allowing players to simply return to the hub of their choice and bounce back and forth from wherever "the front" is. 

I guess my whole point is that instead of observing what the players are doing and trying to change behavior by artificial means, why not let the players do their own thing? 

***

I do realize that there is a game out there that does just that, and it's called EVE Online, but EVE takes the "give players the latitude to do what they want" and opens up to an "anything goes" environment.

That sort of game isn't for everybody.

EVE is definitely not for the faint of heart.
From giphy.com.

 

And yet, looking over how Blizzard has implemented WoW from expac to expac, I can't help but think that Blizz has lost a lot of what made the original Vanilla (or Classic) implementation of the game so great: you can wander around and make your own way without being railroaded into a specific path. That doesn't mean that people haven't figured out optimal paths for everything --there's a reason why boosting services are so popular in Classic-- but to experience endgame content you aren't limited to a very specfic path. To experience Naxx, you don't have to have gone through AQ40, for example, and vice versa. About the only limitation those two have is that you have to have at least gotten a decent amount of T2 gear from BWL, and even then it's not a strict requirement. I'm living proof of that.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Some games, however, you can't not have various hubs. With the events of the War of the Ring as a backdrop, LOTRO can't avoid having hubs in various locales. And SWTOR has hubs on each planet you visit as a necessity, since traipsing across the galaxy is not a simple thing. But an Azeroth or Tyria? They have no such limitations. It's all up to the devs to observe the players and reinforce their preferences rather than trying to redirect them, because artificial redirection doesn't always go well.



*This is merely an observation, not an indictment. Many of the longest running conflicts over the centuries have been fueled by religion, so the absence of those types of conflicts in MMOs do tend to stand out. And as many conflicts are driven by religion, an equal or greater number use religion as an excuse for something else (such as Albigensian Crusade, which was merely an excuse of the northern French nobles to invade Languedoc in the south of France).

**Battle for Azeroth as the primary example, although the complaints about that expac are much much more than just "artificially creating conflict".

***Besides, you always have your ship to hang out in.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Roll the End Credits

 So, this happened last night....

I am NOT sleepy. Too much adrenaline.
(And my screenshots suck. This one, taken
by a fellow raider, looks much better. Don't know
how you do it, Tany. Seriously.)


I almost missed the raid due to an emergency at work, but I kept the raid lead informed of my situation as raid time approached, and because of that they kept a spot open for me when I finally got off work.

I'm not sure what I expected, but I felt that there should be End Credits scrolling or something. But we were treated to a serenade of Hey There Valhalla by the raid lead.

EtA: replaced the original with a bigger photo.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Say, Wouldn't that Hurt?

To say that gear/clothing found in many video games, particularly those in Fantasy and Science Fiction genres, emphasize form over function is a bit of an understatement. Of course, if you pick up a random pencil and paper RPG splatbook, you're likely to see pictures of PCs/NPCs wearing "impractical" gear/clothing scattered throughout the inside.

For every RPG that has art like this:

I recently acquired this. Makes
for fascinating reading, and it
looks very much like a D&D 3.0/5e lite.


 You have something like this:

A Cyberpunk RPG.


And don't get me started about how some novels depict things:

And this wasn't even the most
obnoxious of the Flandry novels.

And of course if you've ever played video games, there's a lot of fanservice designs too. You know, like the Spider-mage robe.

I'm not here to complain about that, because it is what it is. However, when I saw the artwork for BC Classic, something caught my eye.

From the WoW Classic website.

 I mean, nothing too unusual here: the oversized shoulders for all toons, the hefty bodybuilder look on the male toons, and the bustier look on the female toons...


But for the female Blood Elf, I noticed the pointed end of that bustier settled right. over. the. belly. button.

Even cloth "armor" needs some
form of basic reinforcement
to maintain that form.

It looks nice until said Blood Elf has to lean forward or bend over or something. Then that point goes right into the belly button and the gut. And that's gotta hurt.

By contrast, the female Draenei has a much more practical design (at least what we can tell):

Honestly, they look less like a bustier
and more like American Football
shoulder pads.

I'm not denying that, fashion wise, both look very nice. And comparatively speaking, not so much fan service as just a personal look. But I'd hate to cosplay that Blood Elf look solely for that pointy little reason. Probably rounding the bustier out a bit would work, or just flattening it out like the Draenei version would work too. But Blood Elves gonna Blood Elf, I guess.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Perfection Not Required

A long time ago, several years before this blog came into being, there was a seminar/discussion about writing and publishing at the Downtown library. It was free and open to the public, and hosted by several editors from Writers Digest magazine.* I'd always wanted to write Fantasy and Science Fiction**, but at the same time I didn't want to put myself out on a limb and show up as the clueless noob among a bunch of aspiring --and much younger-- writers.

My wife effectively kicked me out the door, saying that "you might as well show up and listen, because that's what you're passionate about". So I took a short jaunt to the Main Library and sat somewhere in the back while the editors presented and took questions from the audience.

The area the seminar took place in had enough chairs to easily hold 100 people, but I'd say it was about 1/3 full with about 10-20 other library patrons wandering in and out, driven by curiosity to stand in the back and listen for 10 minutes or so. What also immediately stood out was that I was very much a minority, both in gender and age, and most everybody else was more ambitious about writing than I was. Selling to a publisher wasn't my primary goal, although that wouldn't hurt one bit; my desire was to actually write a story I was proud of.

I quickly discovered that I didn't have to talk --or worse, present a writing sample-- so I could just listen and absorb what everybody had to say.

And people certainly weren't shy about the craft of writing.

Several of the women there wanted to write and publish poetry, to which my initial thought was "good luck with that". It's not that I didn't think they weren't good enough to get published, it's that poetry is such a niche market that it'd be harder to break into than publishing in general. I silently wished them luck, because I felt they were certainly going to need it.

Others played it close to the vest, like I did, but they did ask about the publishing process. And still others were interested in finding an agent and how one went about doing that.

The editors were knowledgeable, but some things --like catching lightning in a bottle-- they couldn't answer. I mean, finding the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King is as much a crap shoot as it is an educated guess.

***

But the reason why I bring this up is that one of the editors present, the Fiction Editor for the Writer's Market annual, has since gone on to have a successful writing career of her own. I was reminded of that when I saw an ad from our local independent bookstore about a Zoom interview of her in promotion of her latest novel. Sure, being in the writing industry gave her a leg up in figuring some things out, she still had to break through on her own. Plus, another local author is always a good thing for the local arts community in general.

One piece of advice she did give out to the aspiring writers that day has continued to stick with me: a writer has to write if they want to improve. You can't expect to show up, pound out a few lines, and expect to be hailed a genius. 

For every Mozart or Prince, there are a ton of aspiring musicians who have to work their collective asses off just to be considered "average". 

Okay, I know it's not historically
accurate, but while I admire Mozart
in Amadeus I appreciate Salieri's POV.
Don't approve of his actions, however.
 

And her words have rung true for me. 

Over the years of PC's existence, I've learned a lot about how to write. Or re-write, to be honest. Taking a post and editing it before release is critical to my writing process, and one I had to accept before I could improve past a certain plateau. When I was in high school and college, I used to compose at the typewriter because I hated rewriting. That meant I'd sit there and plot out a paragraph or more ahead of time, working everything out in my head before I would type anything. Yes, I would agonize over every single word I wrote, because I didn't want to rewrite a single thing. It slowed my output down immensely, but (I thought) I didn't have to edit the result. The thing is, while I could pull that sort of feat off in high school and get good grades, in college that simply wasn't happening. My professors ate me alive until I admitted that I couldn't just create a "good enough" result one time through.

Nowadays, I can't just pound out some words and then hit "Publish". I know better. And even then, I still miss things afterward, which explains the "EtA:" on the bottom of a bunch of posts over the years. 

***

This sort of approach --trying something, revising, and trying again-- is also important in gaming. I've been reminded of that in spades on our run through Naxxramas, where the raid team hits a wall, spends time examining data and revising the approach, and eventually finding something that works. Sure, there's a lot of strategies for raid bosses already published, but you still have to tweak it to match your particular raid team and their strengths/weaknesses. Even then, you're not guaranteed victory, only a shot at it. 

But it's not only the approach, but the humility that this approach requires, is what makes or breaks a raid team. We're one of the few raid teams left on our server that is still pushing deep into Naxxramas that hasn't yet killed K'T, and what keeps us going is that we're mature enough to handle setbacks. That doesn't mean we don't get frustrated --oh boy, do we-- but what's important is to not let those frustrations overwhelm you.

I don't drink Jack Daniels, but I still found this funny.




*It's perhaps a little known item, but Writer's Digest is based out of Cincinnati, even though the parent company is located in New York City. 

**I have a copy of Isaac Asimov's Asimov on Science Fiction, a collection of his essays on writing SF, around the house somewhere. I was also inspired by Stephen King's On Writing, which interweaves a bit of his own history of learning to write along with understanding the craft of writing. Both are interesting books, and I highly recommend taking the time to find and read them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

It is Mine Now

When I discovered there was no such thing as Azeroth After Dark as referenced in yesterday's post, I decided to jump on it. 

I am now the proud (?) owner of azerothafterdark.wordpress.com. 

What I intend to do with it I have absolutely no freaking idea, but at least it won't suffer the fate that internet users in the 90s will remember with whitehouse.com. Or that time when Dick's Sporting Goods didn't own the dicks.com website.

***

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day! Now you can go have a good cry first....


And then cheer yourself up with a few happy jigs and reels....



Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Close to the Vest My Ass

 I, uh, made an oopsie last night.

No, I didn't pull aggro*, and we were finally able to down Sapphiron. And I landed the T3 robe as well. (Cost me about all my DKP, though.)

But it was after, when a raid friend and I were chatting back and forth and the talk turned to BC that I slipped up. I'd mentioned that I was thinking about cloning Card so that a version of her could remain on a Vanilla Classic server forever, which my friend was thinking of doing too, but then my friend asked me about mains in BC. 

I admitted that I didn't know for sure what I might do, and that I might even end up switching to Horde as a main, which shocked him. I had to explain that my first two toons I leveled [to completion] in Wrath were Blood Elves, and I do know that I'm likely to create a BC Classic version of them. Whether they'll be just an alt or whether I'll make them my mains remains to be seen, however.

Oh well. If word gets around that Card is "going to the dark side", I'll have earned that.

***

Given that I got the Mage T3 robe, my current robe, the one I've dubbed the Spider-mage robe, isn't going to be on me for that much longer. Still, I really love the look and feel of it:

Azshara was empty the night I was
playing around with the look. I'm not one
to do this sort of thing while there's a crowd.

The official name of the robe is the Crystal Webbed Robe that drops off of Maexxna, and according to sixtyupgrades.com it's the second best Mage robe in Classic at the moment. ** However, the personality of this robe is something that you'd think Spider-woman or Spider-Gwen (both from the Marvel Universe) would wear. 

It just has that awesome look like something
that Ashley Eckstein would design.

 

It was while I was screwing around in Azshara with the look of the robe that I discovered that, much like the superheroes I could see wearing it, the Spider-mage robe has a dual identity.

I was wearing an orange shirt underneath the robe, but since orange looks perfect with the aesthetic I never paid it any mind. However, if you look closely at the chest of the first pic you can see where there are a few cross stitching marks where some lacing is. That got me curious, so I took off the orange shirt, and when I did I blurted out "holy shit!"

Uh.... Card?
When did you grow up so fast?

Card turned into a vixen.

Complete with backless look...

...and matching side boob and
spiderweb / fishnet pantyhose
on the arms.

Even in my dreams I wasn't expecting this.

Now, I'll freely admit that Card looks awesome in both looks, but the Spider-vixen look was truly shocking. And I'm not going to say that Blizz shouldn't have designed it this way, but as was pointed out by another friend who I showed this... transformation... to, Blizz does have a history of presenting female gear very differently than male gear. To her (and me), it was the overall lack of choice on a lot of the gear that annoyed her.***

At least with the Crystal Webbed Robe I had the choice to put an orange shirt on and turn Card into a budding superhero, rather than a femme fatale out of Azeroth After Dark.****

And yes, I'm going to keep the Spider-mage robe in my pack, just so I can put it on from time to time to hang around Stormwind or something. Maybe I should make a "vixen" look too, but I don't think I'm ready for that side of Card yet.



*Thanks to an Ignite I got to the top of the aggro stack on Thaddius, even though I'd stopped casting, and the Mage Lead was calling for a drop of Ignite. Luckily the main tank was able to taunt off me, but I didn't touch my cast bar at all until at least one other tank got past me on threat. That was an anxious 10 seconds there, let me tell you, and that was right after we'd been given a lecture about managing threat by the Raid Lead. I wish I could take credit for the aggro, but I had little to do with it. I wasn't even up high until aggro on the MT got shaky and suddenly it was one person, then a second, and then me atop the aggro stack. But we didn't wipe and we only lost one or two people on Thad total.

**The T3 Mage robe is currently best in slot.

***At least this isn't TERA or some other Korean MMO, where this look would be considered tame.

****Knowing Rule 34, Azeroth After Dark is likely a thing. But I'm stating here for the record that I'm not gonna search for it. Nope nope nope.... Okay, whew. It isn't a thing after all. Actually, I'm quite surprised.


EtA: Fixed a clarity mistake and "shirt", not "robe".

Saturday, March 13, 2021

More Chum in the Water, Please

As life has gone on in a post-Naxx release world, the more I'm struck by how much the last two raids, Naxxramas and Ahn'Qiraq, shook up guilds.* While some guilds have gone on to complete Naxx and are in semi-hiatus while waiting on Burning Crusade to drop, others have gotten oh so close to finishing Naxx only to come up short. And there are those who are still trying to finish content in AQ40 to just get to the point of being able to start running Naxx.

And then there are guilds that simply don't have the personnel to get a 40-person raid on their own and have to work with other guilds to just get a shot at clearing content. 

Even within the guilds that have been raiding Naxx, all is not roses and cream. If the guild has enough personnel to have multiple 40 person raids, great. If a guild only has enough to put together one 40 person raid, then there are issues with having a bench to work with, and also keeping that bench viable. I've watched guilds have a constant level of churn trying to keep a bench at all, much less keep those last 5 spots in a raid team filled.**

All of this has me watching and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

***

When a raid team is forced to reduce from 40 to 25 (and later, from 25 to 10) there's bound to be some hurt feelings. 

I've mentioned this before, but I know that I'm not going to be part of the 25 selected to raid when our team goes through this process. For starters, Fire Mages*** aren't as dominant in raiding in BG as they are in Vanilla/Classic. Most of the 25 person raid compositions I've heard talked about for BC have mentioned about 3 Mages max, and I've even seen some raid compositions with 2 Mages. Assuming either composition, I'd be left off the 25 person raid team. On a good day, I'm 4th of the 6 Mages. Most raid days bounce around from 4th to 5th; some of it is my reaction time isn't what it once was, some of it is my lack of gear compared to the rest, and some of it is that I don't have the killer attitude to start DPS almost immediately, trusting in the tank to hold boss aggro. (I've died too many times due to pulling aggro to do that.)

So I'd be going onto either the bench or a "second" raid. 

But here's where it gets weird. When I read the TBC channels in Discord****, people are all talking about what they want to level and what spec is best, etc. etc. Nobody wants to disturb the excitement by asking the hard question: who's getting cut?

It was briefly broached in last Thursday's Molten Core run when someone (can't remember who) remarked that it was sad that with BC so close now that there are only a limited number of times left where we are all able to raid together. And then just like that, nobody said a peep about it. Maybe it was that the reality of it meant that 40% of a raid was no longer gonna be there, but perhaps people already knew where their pecking order was.

And what I expect is that raid teams will potentially fracture not along where the needs are, but where the cliques are. 

***

I've noticed that if you have people who you hang with regularly in a guild, you're going to stick around even if you may be on a raid's bench. But if you don't have that clique or general reaching out to include you in things, you're much more likely to split for greener pastures. It's only human nature after all to want to go where you're valued. And if you're in a guild but don't really know anybody, and people don't make extra efforts to reach out to you, then yeah, you're going to feel like you're not really there for any reason than to fill out a spot.

Looking back on my time in the guild I'm in --yes, the guild that has me as the only active Classic player-- I think I could have done more to play a couple of lower level alts, so I could participate with the slowly declining guild lists. Perhaps if I'd done more, the guild could have lasted longer. But then again, maybe I'm just kidding myself as I'm not only the only regular player but the only guild officer who logs in as well. Even the GM doesn't log anymore, and that says a lot.

But still, I've seen the unintentional lack of inclusion have an impact on various friends in various guilds. You join, you're excited to meet people, they're happy to see you, and then everybody goes back to their own subgroups. And then you wonder what's next. You get kind of stuck into this middle area, and it's quite easy to be present and yet not be "there".

***

So you've got a lot of dynamics in play coming into BC:

  • Are you actively raiding or on the bench?
  • Are you part of a raid team and/or guild subgroup that hangs out together?
  • Are you part of a class that is not going to be as dominant in BC? (Or the reverse?)
  • Is your guild able to put together a single 40 person raid team? Two? More? None?

All of that feeds into what's going to happen in BC when 25 person raids become the mains, with 10 person raids taking over the old ZG/AQ20 style 20 person raid. 

My belief is that while some raid teams will successfully navigate a reduction from 40 to 25, they're going to lose critical pieces because of the cliques. If your Main Tank also has quite a few friends who are going to be left off the raid team, I could easily see that Main Tank joining their friends in starting up another raid team, and maybe leaving the guild altogether. Suddenly that first raid team is in need of a Main Tank and potentially other people to fill the gaps. Did that original raid team stop raiding Naxx before a player finished Atiesh? How that player handles that disappointment is going to be telling, and could potentially fracture a raid team.

So yeah, this is gonna get crazy real fast, whether people like it or not. 

And me, I'm going to be watching and waiting to see what happens. As much as people want to not talk about it, this is going to definitely affect them, like it or not. 

As for my raid team, well, I think I know how some of this will pan out. I'm not gonna say anything, because I've intentionally kept myself out of the guild, but I've a pretty good idea what's going to happen. The real question I have is whether things will be worked out emotionally or not.




*That's setting aside guild drama the has blown up several previously well known guilds on Myzrael-US, such as Azeroth's Redemption and All Quests Matter (I was told by an ex-guildie that the name is from the Vanilla era, but was unfortunately a casualty of current events). And there are other large guilds that have had some pretty big splintering, even though the main guild has remained viable (such as Indecisive breaking away from Sunrise).

**The Guild Recruiting channel on the Myz Discord is good for watching that sort of thing, as well as the recruitment ads in the in-game LFG channel. I hardly ever --evah!-- see a guild recruitment ad in the actual Guild Recruitment in game channel.

***And Mages in general.

****And boy are there plenty on various guild Discord servers. That's how it goes when you're a pugger; you accumulate guild Discord servers like people collect autographs.


EtA: Fixed a "of" to a "or". Makes a bit more sense now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Short Mid-Week Boost

Courtesy of Shintar of Priest with a Cause (among other blogs).....


She sent it to me with the comment "Everybody who raids Naxx needs to see this..."

And she's absolutely right.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Miscellaneous Musings on a Quiet, Sunny Sunday Morning

I knew this day would come.

Last night I received my usual invite to Blackwing Lair, helped summon people by being a clicker, made and distributed food and water, and organized the Mage Int buffs.*

Then I turned my attention to the reserve listing, and discovered there was nothing Cardwyn needed. Sure, there were a couple of T2 pieces I'd like to get to finish out the set, but as far as gear I could use right now? Not a thing.

One of the pug Mages last night even whispered me, asking what I'd reserved, and I told him that I was good. "I got the Claw last week, and that was the last piece I needed," I replied.

"Oh cool, congrats."

"Thanks. But yeah, I'm just here to help out."

I still could use enchanting recipes out of Molten Core and AQ20, and there's always the need for idols in Zul'Gurub, but Blackwing Lair is the first raid that Card has semi-officially "outgrown". And when I started progression raiding and my gear needs were so great, this moment seemed so far off that I felt Card was never going to get enough DKP to finally finish the task. But in a weird quirk, the opening of Naxxramas helped me out because the official Friday night BWL raid shut down in favor of an extra day of Naxx raiding. Its replacement, the Saturday night BWL run, used a soft reserve system, which meant I could pick and choose the specific pieces of gear to roll on based on who wanted what. And after the people ahead of me in the progression raid finally got the Tear of Neltharion they'd been waiting over half a year for, my turn came with nobody else to roll against. By then, I'd accumulated the other popular BWL Mage pieces, so all I had left were the Tear and the Claw of Chromaggus. And, in two successive weeks, I got both pieces without any other competition in the reserves.**

So here I was, after six months of running BWL, and I finally "finished" it on Card.

It felt... weird, but also freeing. I grew to enjoy running BWL, the goblin packs notwithstanding. There's an ebb and flow to the raid that is comforting in the same way that a well geared MC run simply works. You can make small talk, laugh, joke, make quips about the various methods of dying to goblin packs (my favorite: blinking away from one bomb right into another), and in general just relax. When you have as many regulars as we have, you know the raid is going to be okay. It's only in the details where we have a few anxious moments, like getting a bear tank for said goblin packs, but we somehow manage to work things out.***

And I'm not planning on giving up my spot in BWL for quite a while. I love it too much.

***

In case you haven't noticed, the MMO blogosphere has simply exploded with talk about Valheim, the latest hotness game. Which, I might add, is still in Early Access on Steam.

Yes, a game from a small publisher --that isn't finished-- is getting a ton of exposure in a way that I haven't seen since, oh, No Man's Sky.

The major difference between Valheim and No Man's Sky is that Valheim is complete enough for people to play via Early Access, so you'll know pretty quickly if it's a dud or not.

And by all accounts, Valheim is good enough, and far enough in development, that there's plenty of blog posts discussing it in such a way that the major AAA publishers wished people would talk about their upcoming releases.

That's nice and all, but PC is one place you're not going to see any Valheim posts for quite a while.

The reason? It's in Early Access.

I haven't bought a game in Early Access, and I'm not planning on starting now. I waited until My Time at Portia was officially released before purchasing it. Same with Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and in that case I waited until the final release was on stable ground before purchasing the game. Since that's my policy, I'm going to do the same with Valheim. That's for one really really good reason: I've got a ton of games already purchased that I can play without needing one that isn't finished. And really, I think it more likely that I'll get a PC of my own before I get a chance to play Valheim.

So I salute all of those who took the plunge and are enjoying the game, but I've been George R.R. Martin-ed enough times for me to not jump in.****

***

As long as I live, I will never understand how multiple meters can come up with such disparate results. 

I'm not often one to toot my own horn, but on last Friday's Naxx run I got top DPS. 

Now, to be fair, the top Mage on the raid team lost her buffs on the first pull when an abomination got loose and wandered into the main raid, killing about 8 of the ranged DPS. And if you've ever played a Fire Mage, just whose name ends up on an ignite is a pretty random thing, so the fact that Card showed up there was just luck.

But hey, I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially when I had TinyThreat on the threat meters and wasn't paying attention to the DPS meters until I started getting congrats from the other Mages. When I saw the results, however, I felt that I'd finally gotten something right in the Naxx raid. Until I looked at the Warcraft logs.

When I pulled them up, it claimed that while I was the top Mage, I was more back into the middle of the pack. 

Which got me to thinking just how is it possible for the two to be so far off.

The only thing I could figure is that I was out of range for some of the DPS, but that didn't make sense since I didn't really have to move to get into position to cast (Patch came to us instead of the other way around). Now it is possible that the melee DPS started earlier than the ranged, but not that much earlier to make that much of a difference in the TinyThreat DPS meters. For a fight as long as Patchwerk's is, we'd have had to have held off for 20 seconds or more to make that much of an impact. 

So all I can do is shake my head, shrug, and do my best.

***

With all the talk about BC, I thought about revisiting my past and reviving a toon long since retired:

Time to pay the bar tab and get moving.

Yes, Neve will ride again in BC Classic!



*I'm the only Mage designated "Raid Regular" who attends all of the pug raids put on by Valhalla, so I've simply absorbed the job of organizing which Mage buffs which group. (If a guild member attends, I defer to them, but most of the time they're simply happy to let someone else handle this gig.) Once in a while I'm the sole Mage in a raid, such as Zul'Gurub, and when that happens I like to have fun with my posts in raid chat. Such as the time I posted "Mage Int buffs: Cardwyn Group 1, Jaina Group 2, Khadgar Group 3, Rhonin Group 4."

**A soft reserve system means that you can reserve an item (or two, depending on implementation), but other people can reserve that item too. So, if that item drops, the only people who can roll for that item are those who reserved it. Instead of 20+ people rolling, there are far fewer people to roll against, increasing your odds of winning. But for a new L60, a soft reserve system is a godsend: if you DON'T reserve anything, all the gear that drops that doesn't have a reserve on it means that you have first dibs on that gear. There's also no limit on the number of non-reserved items you can win. We've seen in ZG and BWL runs people who are fresh L60s make out like a bandit and take home 6-7 pieces of gear in one setting. And one more thing of beauty about the system is that even reserved people do have a shot at non-reserved gear: all it takes is the non-reserved people to not roll on that first, non-reserved roll, and then a second open roll takes place where anybody who could use the item is invited to roll. It may sound complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it the soft reserve system is fantastic for people needing to gear up. We've accumulated a LOT of regulars to our soft reserve raids because they work so well, even among the most highly rated guilds on the server. I'm also pretty sure that the progression raid as well as Valhalla as a guild has gained people due to Jes' handling of the soft reserve raids. 

***Or rather Jes does. She's a natural leader, and yet she works hard to pull off a smooth raid. She's also pretty well known around the server as one of the go-to people for enchants, so that helps with name recognition, even when she's on one of her alts.

****Can you believe that Patrick Rothfuss' Wise Man's Fear was published 10 years ago? I didn't even realize that until a month ago.

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Weekly Department Meeting Come to Life

Back when I attended college, Fridays at 3:15 PM were reserved for the weekly Physics Department meeting. Classes on Friday ended at 2:50 PM, so it was only natural that the department would schedule their meeting right after that, and once the meeting ended the professors would "retire" to the on campus pub and drink together for a while.

The students --both Physics majors* and any other interested students from the Science and Engineering fields-- were invited, although not that many students actually attended. Since part of the meeting was put on by the Society of Physics Students --and as I was the chapter President my Junior and Senior years-- it fell to me to go bring the donuts and coffee from the student union to the meeting. I'd have to say a few brief remarks ("Glad to see everybody here, we've remarks from the Department Chair and a presentation from so-and-so") and then the meeting would run itself. 

The main portion of the meeting, however, was the presentation put on by a guest speaker, frequently one of the professors or someone from the research division over at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And to be frank, those presentations were technical.

Highly technical.

Oh, how I wish the equations were
this simple.

 

By my Senior year I could begin to follow along with the presentations, but my Freshman year? Hoo boy, was I lost. I remember one time I left a presentation with a Chemistry major, and as we walked outside the building he turned to me, laughed hysterically, and said "I have no idea what I just saw. Can I buy you a beer instead?"

"Sounds good to me," I replied.

While I enjoyed the meetings, to this day I still can't explain any of the presentations I saw. The fact that they didn't fire my imagination** was likely an indicator that my major wasn't going to pan out for me, but I could appreciate the work that went into them.

***

I was reminded of those department meetings the other day while I read discussions about DPS and Sapphiron on the raid's Guild Discord.*** The more theorycrafting people worked on, the more my eyes glazed over.

Look, I'm not an idiot, and I do want to optimize my DPS for both my own and raiding purposes. But from my perspective, there comes a point of diminishing returns. There's only so much WoW (or any game) that I can take. Shintar put it well in her post about how the more she plays Shadowlands the less likely she is to read fan commentary about Shadowlands.

I completely understand and I agree wholeheartedly. 

***

Like I described in my About Me section several years ago:

He isn't that interested in the intricacies of Theorycrafting --which he likens to his old Boundary Value Problems class-- but appreciates the results that others have provided.

And really, that outlook hasn't changed. 

I thought I'd be more amenable to Theorycrafting and more WoW (or other MMOs) once the mini-Reds grew up, but the reality is that my gaming time is limited by access to the PC. I share the PC with my wife, and given the current budget situation that isn't going to change. Additionally, on days when my wife isn't around in the evenings, I don't spend all evening playing WoW either. After a while I just say "okay, that's enough" and log out. I just can't push myself to do more WoW if I tried. 

I suppose that doesn't make me sweaty enough, and so be it.

And I'm at peace with that reality.

***

The other day I was asked by someone I knew why I go into Zul'Gurub runs if I don't need anything from there. "To support [the raid leader]," I replied. "To help out."

I don't think that quite computed, as he suggested I could be getting another Idol to use for enchanting purposes, and why wasn't I reserving them? (We use a soft reserve system on ZG runs.) I told him that there were a lot of people already reserving idols and I'd won one fairly recently already, so I was fine with waiting a week.

Again, the desire to play things on my own level and give others a shot didn't quite compute, because he wanted to help me improve my DPS.

And I get his desire to help out, really. But I'm not greedy, either. I don't have to be at the top of my game all the time, and when you reach 50 years old your reaction time isn't the same as what it's like in your 30s (or 20s). In terms of maximizing my DPS, should I be chasing down someone on the server to get a Fire Enchant to gloves? Sure. But do I have the time to spend hunting them down --and making sure I have the gold to cover the enchant-- to make the exchange happen? No, not really, not if I have to constantly farm for mats for potions and other items for raiding. 

I don't mind getting a bit sweaty, but there's limits. And in Azeroth I can pretty frequently reach them without trying too hard.

Now, will somebody point me in the direction of the doughnuts and coffee? Before the next presentation starts, I'd like to make sure I stay awake and well fed.



*Yes, my degree is in Physics.

**With the exception of the superconduction presentation. Yes, I'm old enough that superconducting was a brand new thing when I was a college student. I also remember the entire Cold Fusion debacle, and how the papers by Pons and Fleischman spread like wildfire from university to university in a pre-modern internet world, with students and professors frantically cobbling together materials to duplicate the papers' results.

***Before you ask, I've finally decided that I'm not going to join the guild. (If anyone from the guild reads this, sorry. Cajoling won't change my mind.) I'm going to wait and see how the Burning Crusade Classic shakes out with guilds before committing. I know that dropping from 40 to 25 raiders for a team means 15 people have to find another raid, and I also know I will be one of those 15 based purely on numbers: I'm 4/6 mages, and I believe at best they'll take 3 to the main progression raid. I also don't know whether there will be 2 co-equal progression raids (or more, if you count the 10 mans Zul'Aman and Karazhan) or a main team and a farm team. All of these have the potential to fracture guilds, so I'm not going to commit just in time to watch a guild blow up. Again. 

****Ye Gods, I need to update that.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Just What is Needed

I discovered something about raiding on Friday night: it is a drug.

I'm not being facetious, but rather kind of honest. After last Monday's raid, I saw two days of not doing much (work on one day and taking my son back to his university on the other), and then one and a half days of farming to get enough pots for Friday's progression raid. Work had been beating on me day in and day out, and progression raiding felt like a job. And I was tired of the grind.

I was giving serious thought to throwing in the towel and going back to just doing occasional raiding and merely goofing around.

But instead of following through, I decided to give myself a week or two before I pulled the trigger. I don't like doing anything rash, and a rough week is still just a rough week. I've been there for people in game if they ever needed someone to talk to, so I decided to reach out to an in-game friend and ask if she had some time to hear me bitch for a bit.*

It turned out that we both had things on our minds, so we both took a while to discuss them and unburden ourselves. I felt much better after that, and I decided that yes, I should give myself a few weeks before I did anything stupid.

And that Friday, I zoned in and we raided at our usual time.

And after about five minutes, I forgot entirely about quitting.

***

Two hours into the raid, I realized just what it was. Raiding is a helluva drug.

If you're in a good raid team, you pick each other up, you laugh, you joke, you have a cameraderie that helps you get through rough days and rough weeks. And this past week definitely qualified as "rough". I'd miss all of the aspects of progression raiding with this raid team, and in spite of the grind I needed this. It felt good to be part of this raid team.

But even outside of the raid, on the drive back from Pennsylvania, I had 6 hours to myself and a bunch of CDs to listen to.** So I listened and sang.

And sang.

For six hours.

The best part was that it was six hours of uninterrupted singing. Nobody to judge my music selection, my (lack of) tonality, or my volume. Because I was not quiet.

When you wanted to sing loud and you're
from the Cincinnati/Dayton area, there was
always Fannigan's Isle. Even on a ballad like this.

 

It felt good to belt out a lot of songs. Therapeutic. And then, when you combine it with the Friday raid, I realized I did the right thing in waiting. It wasn't the raid itself, but the week, and I couldn't see that clearly.

I reached out again to my friend and thanked her for listening, because I really needed that. It got the ball rolling, and music plus the raid itself finished the job. I wasn't going anywhere.

Regardless of what you think of The Eagles
or Don Henley, Heart of the Matter is a great
song. This version was from 2000.




*Well, read. I wasn't going to say it out loud and have anybody else in the house listen in.

**The car stereo only had an analog AUX input, so I decided to use the "old" method instead.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Rise and Fight Again

:We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again."

--General Nathanael Greene, Continental Army*

 

I believe I'd been spoiled.

My first full raiding experiences --not counting Zul'Gurub-- were for raids that were already effectively on farm. 

Take the Friday night Molten Core run that introduced me to full 40-man raiding. That first run I spent 45 minutes prior to raid time quickly skimming bosses and trying to figure out what to do without looking like a complete idiot. Actually getting into the raid required me to navigate the auto-invite add-on, which until that moment I never encountered. And when I was told "whisper [name] inv" I thought that was the weirdest message to ever send to someone. I was half convinced that I was the butt of an elaborate prank, but as soon as I sent the message I got the invite and away I went.

But the raid itself? I discovered pretty quickly that the raid was designed for alts and the occasional pugger, so lil' ol' me was surrounded by people who knew the raid far better than I ever hoped to. Because of that, I had an easy time slipping into raiding.

My second 40 person raiding experience actually came with AQ40, as it was on a Monday versus the Friday night BWL run. And that first night the raid team finally downed Twin Emps for the first time, so I experienced success without the pain as well. From that point forward, the progression team made steady progress until they finished all of the nine bosses.

Jumping ahead a few months, and Naxx came calling. The progression team made steady progress once more, and I was confident that process would continue.

And then we ran into Four Horsemen.**

***

I'd never experienced this part of a progression raid: the pounding of your head against a concrete wall.

Spending more than half of a raid night trying --and failing-- to make much in the way of progression against a boss was a humbling experience. I realize that there wasn't much me and the rest of the ranged DPS could do until the complex healing and tanking rotations got themselves straightened out, and that was a long and painful process. 

And I'll be honest in the middle of all of this figuring things out I managed to pull aggro and wipe the raid on two separate occasions. I'm not sure why, but I didn't feel bad when it happened, and I don't feel bad about it now. Perhaps because it was a learning experience my brain basically told my conscience to "shake it off and let's go", or maybe it was that the constant stream of raid wipes had dulled my senses, but I'll never know for sure.

It was at that point that I realized that every raid team has to find a way to climb over that hump, to get past the pesky boss, or be at a risk of the boss becoming their own personal Waterloo. When I saw raid teams --and their associated guilds-- fall apart when they couldn't down Arthas in late Wrath, this is what they faced. The mental strain on raid leadership, not to mention the entire raid team, can be considerable. Cracking under pressure is a very real thing, and I've seen it happen at work.



***

After my nuking the raid last night, that very next try we finally broke through and defeated the Four Horsemen. You could feel the relief in the cheers; we downed our bugaboo, and now we could move forward and bash our heads against another boss. 

This time it is Sapphiron, the undead frost wyrm.

And I will never again take for granted our upward progression. Time to put on a crash helmet and pound my head against a stone wall again.




*Okay, get ready for an info dump on one of my favorite people from the American War of Independence.

Nathanael Greene, nicknamed "The Fighting Quaker", was the person originally charged by George Washington with the job of Quartermaster General: in charge of procuring food and supplies for the Continental Army during the American War of Independence. In the countryside there were bumper harvests, yet the fledgling Continental Army had to beg for scraps. Nathanael managed to somehow keep the army fed, even in the dark days of the winter at Valley Forge, by a combination of persuasion and personal loan guarantees. Without his logistics, the Continental Army would have collapsed long before the entry of the French and the Spanish on the American side.

In 1780 he was given command of the Southern Continental Army, which had been practically annihilated by the British. The first half of the Southern Campaign saw Greene's forces spending most of their time being pursued by the British army, led by Lord Charles Cornwallis, across the Carolinas. Nathanael, like George Washington, knew the importance of actually keeping an army in the field. If the Southern Campaign were to devolve strictly into a guerilla style campaign, the British would never accept the legitimacy of an American victory. Therefore, to win meant beating the British on the battlefield itself, and Greene's forces were badly outnumbered and supplied.

Cornwallis fought Greene on several occasions, beating him on the field of battle, but Greene managed to escape each time and keep the Continental Army largely intact. (At the battle of Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis' situation was so dire that he ordered his cannons loaded with shot and fired into his own troops, who were engaged in close combat with Greene's.) Once Greene was able to keep his Continentals in the field and safely make across the Dan River to the Virginia colony, Cornwallis turned east expecting support along the Tidewater coastline. You see, Cornwallis' pursuit of Greene's army came at a huge cost, as Cornwallis was forced to abandon his advantage in supplies to chase Greene's more nimble Continental Army.

Once Cornwallis turned east, Greene split his forces, turning south with the majority of the Continental Army to push the British back to Charleston, and allowing his second-in-command, the Marquis de Lafayette, to command of the troops following Cornwallis. The pursued became the pursuer, as Lafayette's forces harassed Cornwallis all the way to the coast, where Cornwallis made his stand at a small town named Yorktown. General Washington and French Forces commander Rochambeau marched their combined armies south, pinning Cornwallis against the coast. When the French fleet defeated the British and closed an escape by sea, Cornwallis surrendered.

The quote above comes from the depths of the Southern Campaign, when it seemed that even Providence itself wasn't cutting the Southern Continental Army a break.

**For some strange ungodly reason, I keep typing "Four Horsement" instead of "Four Horsemen". Beats me why I do that.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Okay, now that the Town Hall is Over...

Blizzconline 2021 has come and gone, and for a change I paid attention to it.

Being able to watch the livestream for free does help (a lot).

In the past, you could pay to watch the livestream --or you could even pay to watch the activities on DirecTV (honest!)-- but even then, I'd only read the commentary from WoW Insider/Blizzard Watch or from my fellow bloggers. So when the "Do you not have phones?" comment blew up, I wasn't around to watch it live.

So yeah, I was a bit concerned about how this remote oriented con would work out, and whether the con would skew more toward one of Nintendo's quarterly updates, or something straddling an authentic in person con experience.

For the record, I was fine with either, as long as Blizz didn't a) shoot themselves in the foot with another "do you not have phones?" comment, b) shoot themselves in the foot with another "tough gamer moment" comment, or c) shoot themselves in the foot by trying to bow and scrape to the Chinese market.

Basically, don't shoot yourself in the foot.

Oh, I get it about China and the CCP: it's the 2000 lb. elephant that will trample anyone who gets in their way. When they can make one of the richest people in China, Jack Ma, vanish, you know they don't mess around. 

And by comparison, Blizzard --and most other gaming companies-- are the tuna out there for the orcas to feed on. So if you want China's market, you have to play by China's rules. The last BlizzCon, and the events leading up to it, made that abundantly clear. 

This time around, however, a global pandemic took center stage and China receded into the background.*

***

I've been working from home for so long that I've forgotten that it takes some time for people to get used to it. So when Blizz people started talking about how they had to get used to conferencing and collaborating remotely, their issues simply did not compute for me. It was only about a minute or two in when I realized that "jeez, they've never done remote work before!" 

Once you get used to it dealing with work from home becomes second nature, and if you've a boss that is flexible in your work habits then you can take time out to be the kids' taxi or make it to a game and then come home and get more work done.** But using collaborative tools like Teams or WebEx can take some time to get used to, and a graphic designer ready setup in the home is probably a whole other level of complexity that I never had to deal with.

These were the sorts of challenges that Blizz confronted, but it seems that they've gotten used to it.*** I suspect that the transition took longer than Blizz' management expected, particularly in terms of work output, but on the flip side they now have a workforce that isn't tied down to Southern California property values. I'm not exactly sure if they'll take advantage of that, but you never know.

***

Work from home foibles aside, I found the info sessions I watched informative but not overly so. I knew going in that the nature of the con meant that the extra time spent getting dynamic feedback from the crowd as well as the natural give and take wasn't going to be there, so that meant that the info sessions themselves were going to be shorter. That wasn't an indictment of the process, it's more of the way it is when you design a presentation: you have to give enough time for the crowd to react and respond before you can continue, and in a virtual environment you don't have that.

The part I was most interested in was BC Classic, and I wasn't disappointed. I felt that Holly spent extra time reminiscing about the old days in order to establish her bona fides, which given the nature of her coming from Everquest I felt it was necessary to pacify certain parts of the WoW community who still think of her as "the EQ person". Still, the info about items such as bosses, classes, and when you can roll a Draenei/Sindorei were spot on. Among those of us who were watching from the Myzrael-US Discord server, we were all in all very happy with the info provided. Could there have been more? Sure, but I suspect they're still aiming for a May release and don't want to get locked into that timeline if something shakes out in the beta.

The "You are not prepared!" was a wee bit dated, but as someone pointed out in our BWL run Saturday night, Illidan is NOT prepared for US.

***

Now, for an old time gamer like me, it was nice to see the repackaging of the old Blizz games, including The Lost Vikings. And the reworking of Diablo II. 

I realize this is the era of remastering games --see the upcoming Mass Effect Trilogy remaster as an example-- but if it is done well then it is a welcome benefit to gamers around the globe. The PC environment especially has changed so much over the years since ME or D2 were released that even without the graphical remaster the code would have likely required a rework to operate properly in the era of RTX 30 series video cards.**** The real kicker is whether the remaster is redone in such a way as to anger the fanbase (Warcraft 3), a reimagining of the game (Final Fantasy VII), or a a faithful but purely upgraded graphical version of the game (looks like D2 and ME for now). It does look like Blizz learned their lesson on Warcraft 3, but we'll see when the remastered D2 comes out.*****

One thing I do appreciate is that the Diablo IV development team is providing regular updates and details of the game's progress, so you know what's going on. Frequently this is too much of a black box --Schroedinger's Cat aside-- and you have no idea as to the details. But that the D4 team is spending the time to communicate with the fans as well as their thought process behind certain developments is a very very GOOD thing. I understand that some of the items the dev team are working on are going to be hidden --story, for one thing-- but understanding details of where they are in the process without throwing out dates is fantastic. The one thing I hate is when the suits announce a release date, because software development is not like building a widget, there will be major setbacks and reworkings that need to be addressed, and that's just your average Monday morning. Assigning a date and expecting a dev team to meet it is a potential disaster in the making, crunch notwithstanding.

***

So in the end, I enjoyed this Blizzconline. And yes, the RPG player in me enjoyed getting a chance to see Matt Mercer and the Critical Role crew in a Diablo esque game on Saturday. 

I am glad that the con went as well as it did, because I'd argue that a hybrid of the strictly in-person con and the online version is the way of the future. Hell, when Metallica came on my wife wandered over from watching the television and said "Hey, Metallica!" 

"Yeah," I replied. "They're playing for Blizzcon."

"Wait, this is live?"

"Well, at least it was done strictly for Blizzcon, but...."

"But that's so cool!!"

Now, if I can get her to watch the intro about how gamers were impacted by Blizz' games over the years, because that was an advertisement for not strictly Blizz' games, but gaming in general. That could have come straight outta GenCon and not missed a beat.




*But not totally gone from people's minds. Kind of like saying Beetlejuice three times and --voila!!-- Michael Keaton appears.

**Yes, I have been the kids' taxi for a long long time.

***I'm perfectly happy working from home. What I've discovered about working at the office is that I spend a lot of time socializing and a lot less time working, so when I need to get things done I don't go into the office. I know quite a few other people in my neck of the woods who think the same thing, and they're content to work from home too.

****I discovered that when I went to install LOTRO on my oldest's new laptop. It still looks for old DirectX 9.x, which you can't download anymore, and the failure to install was driving me crazy.

*****It just occurred to me that there's likely a certain amount of the Mass Effect fanbase that is going to buy the remastered version primarily because of the upgraded graphics in the sex scenes. Oh well.