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.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Just One Request

Please please please.....






Thursday, February 11, 2021

When Turkeys Fly

I've mentioned before about our informal Turkey Award, handed out to the person with the most deaths in the progression raids.* And until the other week, I'd successfully avoided taking home that honorary turkey leg.

Well.... The other week that streak came to an end.

I died three times at the beginning of the raid in quick succession, to trash leading up to Patchwerk, and that set the tone for the rest of night. When you don't even get off a cast before an abomination takes you and 8 of your closest friends out, you know things aren't gonna go your way.

That was, ironically enough, the last time I both got Dire Maul Tribute buffs and the spellpower Flask for the raid. 

Obviously those deaths meant my DPS took a big hit --the flask notwithstanding-- but it also meant that I reassessed just what the hell I was doing chasing after all those buffs if I wasn't going to live long enough to make much use out of them. That first death was a fluke, as were the second and third deaths**, but I didn't treat them as one. It was then that I realized a pattern had been forming and I'd ignored it until then: when I got extra sweaty and tried picking up all the buffs, I became more aggressive. When I got the bare minimum number of buffs (Heart of Hakkar and Dragonslayer), I became more conservative. 

The reasoning ought to be obvious: the fewer the buffs, the more likely I wanted to hold onto them, and the less likely I was to charge in on a skitterer pack to try to get to the top of the meters. Likewise, the less likely I was do to something stupid during the Cultist/Acolyte trash pulls and bounce around out of healing range.

It's a simple thing, really: play conservative because you don't help the raid when you're eating dirt. At the same time, you have a conflicting motive to prove you belong, and the most obvious way of doing that is to improve your DPS. And that means buffs, enchants, flasks, etc. etc.

But helping the raid also means getting your Frost Resist gear (Glacial Set, in my case), farming your Tubers for Loatheb, babysitting the bodies for spawning scarabs in Anub'Rekhan, and getting your teammates off the wall in Maexxna. None of which, I might add, are going to enhance your DPS.


After a lot of consideration, I decided to step back a bit from my buff pursuits until I could get my survivability back to an acceptable level. I'd still have liked to get flasks for the raid, but the current price of a Flask of Supreme Power is about 180 gold right now, and that's out of my price range.*** I could squeak by at 150 gold, but that was also when everybody and their grandmother wasn't farming Plaguebloom throughout Azeroth.

So, whether I liked it or not, I scaled back my buffing and played it conservatively.

And it worked.

I've not sniffed the top of the leaderboard for the Turkey Award until Monday night, and the only reason I was up there was that I had exactly one death before we started beating our collective heads on Four Horsemen. (We wiped seven times on Four Horsemen, leading to a second place total of eight deaths, shared with 5-6 other people.) And really, death levels outside of Four Horsemen being so low was quite an achievement from my perspective.

I know my DPS suffered as a consequence, but I was fine with that. I was contributing to the raid by being alive, and that was the important part. Now that I've started behaving better, I'm going to start slowing re-adding extra buffs to my pre-raid night routine.

Now if everybody could stop farming Plaguebloom for a for a while, that'd be great....

*We occasionally bring up the Turkey Award for Molten Core and Blackwing Lair raids, but the "formal" Turkey Award is handed out after the progression raids.

**The third in particular was bad because I'd just gotten rezzed up and was drinking when another abomination wandered into aggro range, surprising everybody. The a-bomb hit with an AOE which only dealt a decent amount of damage to everyone. Except me, who didn't have buffs and full health. Alas.

***Spending time and gold getting the Glacial set made sucked up two weeks' worth of farming, not to mention some of the enchants I started farming the mats for. When you run an Undead Set (courtesy of the Scourge Invasion event), a "normal" Fire Mage set, and you start to replace pieces as you get new gear, all those enchants aren't cheap. I can hear the other mages now, saying to not blow your gold on a Flask when you need the enchants, but when you need so much enchanting done (I honestly thought I'd have replaced almost all my gear by now with AQ level gear so I didn't bother enchants then), it's all a bit much.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Wandering in the Dark Wood at Night

Cast your eyes on the ocean.
Cast your soul to the sea.
When the dark night seems endless.
Please, remember me.
--Loreena McKennitt, "Dante's Prayer"*
Yesterday, I spoke with a friend with whom I'd not played MMOs for about a month. He left Classic after an incident** concerning several issues in raid, and he hasn't logged on since.

He had told me immediately before he left the game that the WoW Classic was becoming less and less fun, so I believe that the incident was simply the last straw before going cold turkey. He hadn't given up on MMOs themselves, just Classic, so I felt that the time away was doing him some good. I don't think that he's permanently given up on Classic, but we'll see.

It was a good conversation (via Discord messages), and I hope to continue it in the future. But it also got me to thinking about the constant churn that happens in both MMOs and real life.


Churn is to be expected. People move, change jobs, retire, or even pass away. We change over time too, and what we may have once tolerated or even encouraged is no longer accepted by us. 

My friend's departure from WoW Classic reminded me of others who have come into my (virtual) life and moved on. 

Like the friend who introduced me to the L60 5-mans and encouraged me to explore more of the game than I was content to stay with. Months before the Gates of AQ event, we were in Silithus questing, just kicking around on some quests that he had. At one point we stopped by the Gates, and he told me that he would be here when those gates opened. 

Less than 3 weeks later, he stopped logging in. He'd never joined Discord --he said his computer couldn't handle it and Classic at the same time-- so for all intents he simply vanished. 

Or the other friend I got to know while originally leveling Az; he and I ran several instances together, but eventually work started kicking his ass and he had to cut back on playing as he was constantly working the night shift. He eventually lost his spot in the raiding guild he was in due to lack of attendance, and the last time I spoke with him his wife happened to walk by and she --who he used to play with in Classic-- disparaged the whole MMO genre as a waste of time.

I haven't seen him in months, either.

There are other friends that moved to Retail to check it out --or in one case, return home as it were-- and they've spent by far most of their time in Retail. I see them online, and we occasionally chat, but we never get the chance to group up much any more.


And it hasn't been lost on me that my focus on progression raiding has meant that a lot of my time spent online has been focused on getting the mats/pots/whatever for prog raiding together. When I just want to run solo and not chat or anything else, I simply vanish online: I don't mark myself online on Discord, turn myself invisible in, and unjoin myself from the raid guild chat channels. It's not perfect, of course, since anybody who has marked me as a friend in game will still see me, but its as good as it gets for silent running.

It is very effective, but almost too effective. More than once I've had a casual friend whisper me that they've not seen me in game for a while, and is there anything wrong. No, not wrong; not really. Just.... Well, just unable to do the things I want when I want to do them, I suppose. And that is very much on me.

That's part of the commitment to progression raiding, that you have to give up something in order to keep going at the forefront of raids. But I do miss other aspects of MMOs, such as 5-person instances, questing, leveling alts, and just socializing.
I recognize that the easiest solution to the socializing part is to just switch guilds. At the same time, while I've grown comfortable with the gang, I'm definitely not one of them. And swapping guilds will not change that. After my wife's friend's death --and a lot of soul searching-- I was pretty much ready to pull the trigger and go ahead and join the guild. But then some of them just had to make a very public attempt in Discord to cajol me into joining.

And if there's one way to get me to not do something, it's to lean on me to do that thing. 

I am very much a stoic Midwesterner, and I keep a large portion of myself private. I may be social and chatty --especially for an introvert-- but that is very much a superficial thing. I become emotional and open up with very very few people who have built up a level of trust in me. But I also have a very large contrarian streak in me. One of my previous bosses didn't understand me at first, and an ex-coworker stepped in to explain to her that "Red marches to his own drummer; he has a large amount of pride in doing things his way, and trying to force him into doing something simply won't work." Once she understood that, she changed her approach to managing me and we got along much better.

So, knowing that, you can understand why I saw that Guild push and said "Nope, screw that." You might not agree with it, but now you know where it came from.


So coming back to the original thoughts on this topic, the churn I've seen in MMOs is part normal, and part self-inflicted. Perhaps I can repair the self-inflicted part, but I also need to accept the "normal" part of the churn.

And for pete's sake stop trying to force me into doing things.

*The album Dante's Prayer is from, The Book of Secrets, is my favorite album of Loreena's. It's most well known for the surprise one hit wonder song, "The Mummer's Dance", and to be fair nobody --not even Loreena-- saw that one coming. However, the entire album is full of fantastic songs, from her putting the poem The Highwayman to song to the instrumental Marco Polo to Skellig to Dante's Prayer. This version shown below is from the memorial service for 100th commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in WW1 where many of her fellow Canadians perished.

**That incident I will not comment on; it is not my place to say, and as I've said before, I'm not a member of the guild I raid with.