Friday, April 29, 2011

We Were Left Off The List Too

Fulguralis jumped back as another carriage rumbled by. Its swift passage afforded him only the briefest of glances inside, but it appeared as crowded as all the rest had been. Packed inside were women wearing extremely large and somewhat flamboyant hats alongside stoic men dressed formally in either uniform or tuxedo. But where were they all off to? It seemed that there was some sort of party and the Warlock hadn't been invited.

You'd think with my reputation, I'd be a guest of honor, he thought to himself. He was, after all, exalted with all of the most important factions. They must be afraid that my demons will make a scene again. His mind wandered back to the last party he had attended. A stupid grin spread slowly across his face.

"What are you smiling about?" his wife asked, stepping up beside him.

She had just exited from the smithy, having had her sword sharpened and some dents worked out of her armor. Fresh from the foundry, it positively gleamed in the sunlight, which was a far cry away from the state with which it entered. It had been a rough couple of weeks for their crew.

Another carriage rumbled by. Fuubaar gazed after it wistfully. She'd better not ask me to go. Even if I had been invited, there are things to be killed! We don't have time for a fancy party. The thought of dressing up sent a shudder through the Warlock.

"Nothing at all," Fulguralis answered finally. "Just some pleasant memories."

"You were thinking about that party weren't you?" Fuubaar accused.

Fulguralis grinned sheepishly in reply. "Well, we were the life of the party."

"Only because I had to raise half of them," Fuubaar noted.

The Warlock shrugged. "Whatever works."

The next carriage was drawn by white stallions and was quite ornate. Surely someone important was contained within. Curtains, however, obscured the windows.

"What's the occasion?" Fulguralis wondered aloud.

"I heard something about a royal wedding while I was in the armory."

"You mean Varian is getting hitched again?" Fulguralis's eyebrows shot skyward. "Didn't work out for the poor guy so well the last time."

"Doubt it," Fuubaar said. "Maybe his son or something."

"Isn't he too young?"

Fuubaar shrugged. "Who knows with these royals? They do all sorts of silly things." She paused. "But they do throw a helluva party."

Fulguralis nodded sagely as if a great truth had been spoken.

They both watched another carriage rumbled past. Thoughts of blood and sweat shed on the front rose to the Warlock's mind. As much as he hated parties, there was something to be said about a good mug of ale and a bit of relaxation.

Fuubaar poked him out of his reverie. "Bah, let them have their fancy parties. Let's go grab a pint at the pub and then go kill things."

Fulguralis beamed at his wife. "I love you, honey."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Short Strats: Zul'Aman

Part two of Short Strats, courtesy of Finwe. For Zul'Gurub, see here. Here are the ones for Zul' Aman:

  • Akil'zon (Eagle) - Spread out to minimize damage from Static Disruption. Dispel debuff on tank. Collapse on the tank when he casts Electrical Storm (then stand under cloud). Ranged dps focus on large eagle add when it spawns. Kill some non-elites if you get too many.
  • Nalorakk (Bear) - Charges (Surge) furthest player causing massive damage debuff. If you get this, move toward boss until the debuff drops off. Brutal Strike on tank (80k) in troll form, bleeds and AOE silence in bear form.
  • Jan'alai (Dragonhawk) - Move out of Flame Breath. Don't stand near Fire Bombs (5 yd radius). Let the hatchers break a few eggs, then kill them. AOE the hatchlings. At 35%, remaining eggs break open and must be killed. Enrage at 25%.
  • Halazzi (Lynx) - Phase 1: Green puddles => heal (boss and players), position accordingly. Tranq his Enrage (if possible). Kill lightning totems. Dispel Flame Shock debuff. Phase 2 (66% & 33%): Focus DPS on the lynx, ignore the troll.
  • Hex Lord Malacrass - Kill (or CC) adds first. Boss has occasional soul drain to gain player's powers. Be sure to interrupt heals. Melee watch out for thorns, consecrate, and whirlwind. Dispel debuffs. If you get Mark of Blood (DK), stop attacking.
  • Daakara - Troll: Whirlwind. Grievous Throw debuff must be healed to full to dispel. Bear: Dispel Paralysis. Eagle: If you get Energy Storm, don't cast. Kill lightning totem. Lynx: Attacks random players. Kill adds. Dragonhawk: Spread out. Don't stand in fire.
Remember that these are meant to be quick snapshots of the boss... they're not necessarily full strats. You may need to discuss some of the finer details among your group, but hopefully this gets that conversation started (especially in PuGs!). See any points of improvement?

Short Strats: Zul'Gurub

I mentioned a while ago that a friend of mine, Finwe, has been keeping a collection of copy-and-paste-able strats. These can come in handy, and so he's passed along the ones he's compiled for the new five mans. I'll splitting them into two parts (by instance) and try to get both up today (bonus post!). So here they are (he did the strats, I did the formatting):

  • High Priest Venoxis (Snake) - Troll: Poison maze. Run apart to break Toxic Link. Interrupt Whispers. Snake: Don't stand in poison. No one (including tank) stand in front of boss during Breath of Hethiss. Stage: Run away from poison beams. Repeat until dead.
  • Bloodlord Mandokir (Raptor) - Random Decapitate WILL kill you. Spirits will rez you. Everyone move away from Devastating Slam (frontal cone). After dismount, slow/stun and kill the raptor (and again as needed). Enrage at 20%.
  • Edge of Madness (1) - 1 of 4 random bosses will spawn. Wushoolay: Run away from Lightning Rod. After charge, run away (15 yds). Move out of lightning clouds.
  • Edge of Madness (2) - Renataki: 75%/25%, 100k Ambush on random player. 50%, run away from Thousand Blades. Enrage at 30%. Hazza'rah: Kite and kill adds. Gri'lek: Kite during fixate. Avoid Tremor and dispel Roots.
  • High Priestess Kilnara (Panther) - Interrupt Tears of Blood. Can also interrupt Shadowbolt. Try to dodge the purple wave. Kill the panther packs 1 at a time before the boss hits 50%. Below 50%, run out of cave-ins. Boss gets stacking damage buff.
  • Zanzil (Cauldrons) - Don't stand in fire. Interrupt some Shadowbolts. Zombies (red): use fire cauldron, and AOE them down. Berserkers (blue): use frost cauldron, and kite it (fixate). Graveyard Gas (green): use toxin cauldron.
  • Jin'do the Godbreaker - Phase 1: Keep Jin'do out of deadzone. Group step into it when he casts Shadows of Hakkar. Phase 2: Move away from void crashes. Kill adds as needed. Kill chains. Group up on a chain and tank pulls troll away. Body Slam makes chain attackable
Remember that these are meant to be quick snapshots of the boss... they're not necessarily full strats. You may need to discuss some of the finer details among your group, but hopefully this gets that conversation started (especially in PuGs!). See any points of improvement?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First Impressions of 4.1

Got home, downloaded the patch, and was ready to play in just about an hour. If by smaller and quicker they meant the actual process of patching itself, then I would call it a resounding success (I still hope the increase the tempo of their releases though). Realms seemed pretty stable, though I was faced with the usual deluge of addon errors. Fortunately, with Addon Control Panel, troubleshooting is a breeze.

Once we'd all gotten a good half hour to acclimate ourselves with our new addon-lite reality, we set off on the quests to get to the new five mans (I believe they're optional, and can be started at the "Hero Boards" (in Stormwind for us)). They were pretty fun, if not super exciting. It was a nice chunk of change and an interesting storyline. I won't spoil it for those that still deign to read the quest text (me being one of those). I will say that you get a cute little pet as well as the gold, so it's probably worth doing if you're at all interested. Took us maybe another hour, hour and a half.

After questing, we had five, so we queued up for one of the new dungeons. I get them confused, so I can't really say which one. The big one with the temple in the middle.

There were a smattering of quests, and we took our time basically flying blind (Screw you Ritual Tiki Masks!). I can't really report much about my DPS, as my recount was broken. My Xperl target frame was also broken, so I was using my DoT Timer backup (Fortex). Thus, I was certainly not on my game.

AoE did feel a bit beefier, and I ran with my Felpup (which is normal for me). I found myself slightly frustrated with the longer cooldown on Soul Swap (it just wasn't ready when I was ready, damnit). After looking, I don't think I can spare the points to try and get Mana Feed (I had forgotten it was on the second tier of the Demo Tree). I didn't really notice the nerf to Dark Intent.

Oh yeah, I got to b-rez! A lot. We had a tree Druid, but he was really offspec healing for us, so it always seemed easier for me to interrupt DPS to rez someone instead of him taking his mind off healing. One thing we did notice, that is probably a bug: Despite the notes saying otherwise, SS rez does NOT appear to share a cooldown with the druid b-rez. At one point it rezzed the tree who then rezzed the pally tank. I'm assuming that won't last. Even so, I'm going to make sure to have a Soulstone ready before every fight. It's just easier for a DPS to do it than a healer or tank, though helping someone goes against the shadowy fiber of my being.

We got maybe halfway through the instance before it locked up on us. Currently, our main toons are all stuck in limbo. I think the instance server crashed, but I'm not sure. We had to alt-F4 and could then log into alts. It wasn't a huge deal considering the issues of patches past. So I putzed around on my DK for a short bit.

Love the change with Death Runes. Basically, Blood Strike is now completely gone from consideration as a Frost DK. I'll need to update my guide. It's basically: Apply diseases, alternate between OB and FS depending on what you have available, and watch for procs. Refresh the diseases as needed. Simple and clean, it was fun to play. I can't wait to take it into some BGs, because I can tell I'm a bit more powerful and it just feels smoother. I know it's a total "dumbing down," but I always thought having to use Blood Strike seemed clunky at best as a Frost DK.

And that was it. Bed time crept up on me, so I forced myself to log off. It's been a while since I felt that way.

It was a great night for guild experience too. We took a good chunk out of our next level. We did not, however, peruse any of the guild challenges. I made a halfhearted attempt to try to find where they were listed, but then we pulled so I never found them. Where is that menu supposed to be? It didn't seem immediately intuitive.

All in all, a good patch so far and rolled out in a mostly stable fashion.

Oh yeah, I got an epic wand to drop from one of the bosses, which is awesome because wands are hard to come by. We sharded a couple items as well (didn't have the right classes), but we're definitely happy about having the new 5-mans. It should help us a lot to gear up for the raids (to the extent where I may have to take back my complaints from earlier in the week...). We'll see, but the patch has already alleviated a lot of my angst.

Monday, April 25, 2011

4.1 Patchiness

I'm going to go ahead and assume the patch is hitting today. If not, then I doubt the tidbits I'm going to refer to are going to change all that much, since they're supposedly official. If I end up being completely off? Oh well. I'm past ready for this dang patch to drop anyway, so I figure I can forgive myself for jumping the gun. I'll keep everything together in one post this time, as the notes aren't ridiculously involved. My comments in italics.

  • Dark Intent: The friendly target of this ability now receives 1% (stacking 3 times to 3%) periodic spell damage and healing bonus instead of 3% (stacking 3 times to 9%). The casting Warlock still receives 3% (stacking 3 times to 9%). - Shadowpriests everywhere are crying huge shadowy tears. It's not a huge deal for us, personally.
  • Rain of Fire damage has been increased by 25%. - Yay buff! For the mana cost... it's about time.
  • Seed of Corruption damage has been increased by 20%. - See above.
  • Soulstone can now be used in combat to resurrect a targeted dead player. - Finally! I was horribly sick of my SS being completely useless. We do share a raidwide CD with other b-rezzes now, so be aware of that.
  • Talent Specializations
    • Affliction
      • Haunt damage has been increased by 30%. - Wewt buffage.
      • Shadow Mastery (passive) has been increased to 30%, up from 25%. - Wewt buffage.
      • Unstable Affliction damage done when it is dispelled has been doubled, but this damage can no longer be critical. - Wewt buffage.
    • Demonology
      • Mana Feed now restores more mana (four times as much) when the warlock is using a Felguard or Felhunter. - I may respec to take this and use my Felhunter... testing to follow.
  • Pets
    • Doomguard's damage has been increased by 50%. The Doomguard is intended to be the best guardian for single-target damage, and the Infernal the best when there are multiple targets. - Well, this settles that debate. Though the maths will tell the truth.
    • Lash of Pain (Succubus) damage now scales with level, reducing the damage done at lower levels such that it will deal 50% damage at level 20, and 100% damage at level 80 and above. - Nothing groundbreaking here, except if you're leveling a new 'lock.
    • Shadow Bite (Felhunter) damage and effect has doubled. - Wewt buffage. I never got away from using my pup for personal reasons. I have an inkling the maths may start to back me.
  • Glyphs
    • Glyph of Soul Swap now increases the cooldown of Soul Swap by 15 seconds, up from 10 seconds. - This is going to be a bit of a pain in the ass to get used to. It's hard to use this reliably now with trash. It'll still be useful in most of the same places though, I just may be mashing the button and getting pissed when my character informs me the spell is not ready yet.
Death Knights
  • Dark Simulacrum now works on numerous additional spells in dungeon encounters. - Yes, but which ones... /steeples fingers.
  • Raise Ally has been redesigned to be a battle resurrection, analogous to Rebirth. It is instant cast, but costs 50 Runic Power to use, and has a 10-minute cooldown. It shares the same global battle resurrection cap with Rebirth and Soulstone. - Cool, I went from owning no toons with a brez, to two toons. Yahtzee.
  • Talent Specializations
    • Blood
      • Blood Shield now only works while in Blood Presence.
      • Death Strike self-healing no longer generates threat.
    • Frost
      • Blood of the North (passive) now permanently converts both Blood Runes into Death Runes. There is no longer any proc interaction with Blood Strike required to activate Death Runes. - This is super interesting and I'm anxious to see how it feels. No more Blood Strike?
      • Frost Strike now deals 130% of weapon damage, up from 110%. - Wewt buffage.
      • Howling Blast damage has been increased by 20%. To compensate, the area-of-effect splash now does 50% of the single-target damage, down from 60%. The net result of this change leaves the area-of-effect damage roughly the same as 4.0.6 numbers. In addition, Howling Blast now has a facing requirement. - Wewt? Not Wewt? The facing requirement will be a pain in the ass. I sort of loved being able to AoE slow folks behind me in PvP. I'll have to get better at my jump-turns it seems.
    • Unholy
      • Desecration no longer triggers when an applicable strike hits a snare-immune target. This is primarily to avoid unnecessary spell effect clutter during boss encounters.
      • Rage of Rivendare again applies 15/30/45% additional damage to Plague, Scourge, and Festering Strike, up from 12/24/36%.
  • Glyphs
    • Glyph of Raise Ally is now Glyph of Death Gate, and makes Death Gate cast 60% faster. - Bubble hearth, DK style... or useless.
The rate at which Honor Points are earned has been doubled. - Awesome. For more the PvP changes, see the great post from Cynwise here.

Spells bound to a key now start to be cast when the button is pressed down by default, instead of waiting for the key to go up. This is an option that can be turned off in the Interface menu under Combat. Mouse clicking has not changed and operates on mouse click up. - Huge change for those of us that have learned to depress a button in anticipation of casting a spell. I'm not sure which is actually "better." I may try it both with this on and off to see which works best for me. YMMV.

Players now have a much smaller chance of getting a dig site for a race for which they have completed all rare finds. - If, like me, you still need to cap Arch... this is a great change. It also should help people finish off the rares.

To Summarize
There seems to be justification here for my feelings with the last few patches that Affliction had been nerfed a bit. We should see our base damage go up, which is awesome, plus we'll be a bit more effective at AoE. After some of the research comes out, I'll need to update my pet guide at the very least because I suspect the Felpup will be the new go-to. We also may want to take Mana Feed to reduce the need to Life Tap (DPS gain). It may prove to be worth it. Again I'll be digging out in the fora this week to see what I can see.

My beloved Frost spec for my DK seems to have gotten some love too. That was unexpected, but welcome. And, as always, there were a few important miscellaneous changes thrown in to keep things interesting. Our crew can't wait to get started on some of these Guild Challenges as well. Good stuff. There were a lot of dungeon/raid changes that I haven't really waded through yet, plus the addition of the two new 5-mans, but overall this seems to be a pretty solid patch. It's not very big (no new raid content), so I'm hoping they follow up with another major patch in a few months (keeping their word of "smaller, quicker patches"). I guess we'll see.

A Case of the Mondays: 10 Man Raid Ed.

Fair warning: I'm going to whine today. Whine without offering a solution too. It's like my golden internet rule and Ima break it. I know. Chastise me if you will. Shake your finger at the screen and call me a noob. Whatever. Today I'm gettin' my cranky on.

Any raid leader can vouch for this: sometimes it's just not your night. Such was the case last Thursday when I got called in to lead. Mind you, being the backup raid leader has it's own downsides. Like, you're pretty much always going to be dealing with subs. Otherwise, why would they need the backup? And it isn't that our subs were bad or anything like that. It's simply that subs that haven't regularly been running with you tend to need time to acclimate themselves to the environment. That sword cuts both ways too.

I swear this isn't a complaint about subs. Our people are great. We've been very fortunate in that regard.

What this is a complaint about is the difficulty of 10-man encounters.

Yep, Ima go all noobsauce on you and whinge about how hard 10-mans are. That's fine if you want to berate my lack of skill. That may completely be true. I can handle being the suckz.

What frustrates me is how unforgiving these early ten man encounters are. We've only succeeded on three bosses thus far: Halfus, Double Dragon, and Conclave of Winds. It's been probably two months of raiding, and that's as far as we've gotten. Why? It's freaking hard!

To some extent, you could argue that being hard is a good thing. No more are we concerned with the burnout that plagued the game via Naxx. Yet, I see a different sort of burnout looming on the horizon: the Wipe Burnout. Again I say of Cataclysm, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. I said it of heroics and early gearing, and I say it now of raid tuning. We went from really easy to really hard with no in between. (Though I do feel like being a strict ten man guild in Wrath was challenging.)

My chief complaint about the new raid encounters stems from design choices. To summarize it in a sentence: the bosses are too unforgiving for ten man's. When Blizzard decided to legitimatize ten man raiding in Cataclysm by offering the same rewards, it is my belief that this indicated a verbal contract that they would design the fights with both ten and twenty-five man raids equally in mind (probably a false assumption). What we have gotten are twenty five man fights ported to ten man's, same as Wrath only with a whole lot more to learn as they've consciously tried to make things harder. The end result is that ten man's are too unforgiving.

Everything scales, right? Let's say you get 6 pieces of gear dropping from a 25-man boss, so you get 2 pieces from a 10 man. Or 2 and some fraction. It scales. Makes sense right? Should be easy. Yet, what happens with mechanics? Where in a 25 you can have 3 people to take care of some mechanic, in a 10 man you have 1. And what happens if that one person dies? WIPE!

That is the problem we're running into. We can't lose anyone. To succeed consistently at these bosses, we need to be members of the un-freaking-dying club. It's too hard. Not to mention that they do stupid shit like the drakes change every week, so we can't just get used to one type of fight. We have to memorize 30 versions of the same fight before we're "on farm." I could deal with this for a later boss fight, but for the first fight of the night? Let us at least warm up on something easy first.

(Here's where you could probably suggest we go to Magmaw, which we're going to do. The f-ed up progression path is another complaint of mine, but we are where we are right now. We've done what we've done.)

Then we inevitably discover bugs like we did last Thursday with Conclave of Winds. The nature dude (Anshal) hits 1% (dead), but hits it while in a green healing circle. What happens? Well the 1 minute timer starts meaning we have to focus fire the other bosses down, but, oh yeah, he's still completely active as if he were alive. Leave his platform and he nukes you. Stay and you're struggling to down stuff. What to do, what to do? That is NOT working as intended. The fight is a headache and a half already (and the rewards are shit for the complexity too!)

Oh, how this hurts morale. These are bosses we downed months ago, and we still can't do them consistently. Why? Well if we get one sub, we're screwed. If one person looks away for a second and dies... screwed. We get a random DC... screwed. There is a lag hiccup... screwed. The moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars... the dawning of the Age of Screwed.

A group can only take so much of this before raiding stops being fun and starts simply being tedious. I don't mind a learning curve. I don't mind "hard." What I do mind is the feeling that 10 mans were not given due thought and simply "scaled to" like it would all just work magically. If you're going to put so much pressure on the single person, then maybe we should be getting freaking bribe rewards for raiding 10 mans just like if we were a pugging tank.

[Insert Unintelligible Screaming Here]

That's it. That's my bitch-fest. I had the flu over Easter Weekend and now it's Monday. I'm cranky. 4.1 better drop this week or Ima lose it. They've strung us out long enough, and I consider myself one of the more patient ones. What good is having a policy of smaller, quicker patch drops if that policy is complete BS? Quicker my ass.

So yes, I'm frustrated. No, I'm not going to rage quit because that's silly. There are still far more positives than negatives. It just can't always be rainbows and sunshine here on the blog though. Occasional ranting is healthy. Please disagree (intelligently!) in comments below. I'd love to hear how newbish and hypocritical I'm being.

Ten Man's: The Jon Snow of Azeroth.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Spot

Fulguralis eased the door shut behind him and tiptoed down the stairs and into the kitchen. Weak rays of pre-dawn light filtered through the mage-colored curtains and stained his floors baby blue. The manor was silent; everyone was still asleep.

Once in the kitchen, he arrowed toward the giant Gnomish contraption they'd bought to keep food cold. Decedereful, his engineer sister, called it a refrigerator. Fulguralis called it a gold mine. Not only did it cost the contents of said mine to purchase it, it was worth every penny. So much food... so little time.

Unfortunately, he was not up on this fine spring morning seeking a sneaky snack. As he gently opened the front of the Gnomerator, he took care that the contents inside didn't rattle loudly and wake anyone. His in-laws were tucked back in one room, his sister in another, the Gilnean as far across the manor as possible from her, and various minions were tucked here and there. In fact, a wet nose on his leg alerted him that at least one of the denizens in the house had heard him. He reached down and ruffled the dark hairs on his Felhunter's head.

"Shh, Sparky," Fulguralis whispered. "We need to hide the eggs before everyone else gets up."

With that, he turned back to the Gnomerator and surveyed the contents. It was the head of the household's responsibility to hide the eggs, and Fulguralis was certainly not going to face the ire of his in-laws for doing a poor job of it. Thus, he had to make sure they were all tucked away before anyone was up.

Several cartons of eggs sat inside. He lifted them out carefully and sat them on the table. Flipping up the lids, he mused over the contents. Everyone had decorated a few eggs. Real eggs. None of those fake, plastic ones. In Fulguralis's opinion, Noblegarden should be celebrated with real eggs. He wasn't really sure why he felt that way. Why eggs in the first place? Yet, there was something about a real egg that made it right for him.

Now, they had donated a few well-filled plastic ones to the orphanage for the kids. It was important that hey got their treats and candies as well, but there were no little ones yet in the manor. For them, the real treat was going to be the demoned eggs that Minerva promised to make out of the decorated ones after finding them. It was tradition, that simple. Besides, with a name like demoned eggs, they had to be good.

Scooping up the eggs, he tried to figure out who had decorated each one. The one with the music notes had to be Berry Blue. And the frenzied felchicken scratch would be Spaz. Dusty, his sister's ghoul, had apparently drawn some complex Gnomish equation. Midnight's had stick figures in various compromising positions. Oh, and a whip with some chains.

The adults' eggs were harder to discern. They all had stuck to the boilerplate, making use of a variety of pretty flowers and designs. The more intricate ones were likely the girls, while the Captain's designs were more rigid. The colors absolutely did not run into one another. He guessed Abigora's was the one with complex elven characters interwoven, while his sister's flowers tended to look more like battleaxes. Fulguralis even saw his own. It was all black. Though his wife had apparently drawn a curly purple design on it after he'd finished. Apparently her own sunburst egg hadn't been enough.

Stepping outside, Fulguralis shivered. There was still a touch of winter's chill in the air, though after an extended tour in Northrend, the Warlock wasn't' going to complain. He was happy simply to feel warmth again.

Eggs in tow, Fulguralis began to look for hiding places. There were rules to follow, of course. The eggs had to be reachable, so he couldn't teleport up to the roof and hide them there. They also had to be at least partially visible from at least one angle, so he couldn't bury them out in the graveyard. Instead, his eye was draw to places like the nook behind the rain barrel, though that was always a popular spot and sure to be checked.

Think, Warlock, think! He couldn't make this easy on them. What kind of Warlock would he be if it were easy? A successful hiding would mean that even after a full day of looking, there are one or two missing that even he can't find. It would only be by smell after several weeks that they would be discovered. That was a successful hiding spot.

As he wandered around the house, he placed the eggs in what he deemed "mediocre" locations. Hidden amongst the flowers. In the arms of a bush. Nestled in a corner of the house. Behind a rock. The usual.

But then, when he had only one egg left to hide, he found the spot. It was perfect. There was a depression that was almost egg shaped, and it was obscured by it's surroundings. In fact, you could only even glimpse the spot if you craned your neck just so, and twisted ever so slightly to the side. Upon inspection, Fulguralis wasn't even sure how he'd first noticed the spot. It was like it had called out to him, begging for an egg.

Cackling with glee, he removed the last egg from the carton - the black egg with a purple design - and placed it in the spot. No one was finding his egg this Noblegarden.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Against Depression

Quick non-WoW, public service announcement type post today. If you're only here for WoW, feel free to "mark as read."

A while back (last Mo-vember), Gnomeaggedon made an inspiring series of posts that revolved around the topic of Major Depression Disorder. November is sort of the official month for the disease (Since, you know, all of the important diseases get a month. I'm glaring at you, obesity. For an epidemic, you're curiously devoid of a month. Unless you're a child, and in that case you get September, which isn't a real month anyways, since "sept" of course is Latin for "fake." (Not really, I'm just trying inject a bit of juvenile humor here. Srsly, get those kids to play!)).

Strange punctuation patterns derived from numerous asides aside... um, yeah, Depression.

I really appreciate the postings by Gnomeaggedon and feel sort of guilty that I didn't get on board back then. You see, Depression sort of runs in my family and my wife's family. It's really something I've grown up with. Personally, I'm mostly depression free. That is to say, I would not qualify for an MDD diagnosis, nor do I take medicines. I have a small touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but who doesn't get pissed sometimes during bleak Midwestern Winters? I'm like a flower, give me a bit of a sunlight and I'll perk right up. Pretty simple, unlike my MDD counterparts.

Fuubaar, however, suffers from MDD. It took her more than a decade of dealing with it, two years with me by her side, to finally admit that and seek treatment. That's one of the side effects of the disease: it can be extremely hard for the sufferers to bite the bullet and get help.

As such, we've been fighting our own battle recently: getting started on meds, finding out what is right for her. I've been writing articles about our journey almost weekly, and Gnome's openness hath inspired me to share this with you guys. Some of you may be interested, some not. No big deal, but I'm posting these on my personal "super secret public journal-blog." You can find it here. I've been blogging there for a very long time now, so there is a lot of crap. There are some serious posts, and then there is a lot of just personal stuff. I usually share it with family and friends and it's a way they stay in touch. Thus, it may not be all that interesting in its entirety, but I thought that maybe it would be interesting for those suffering through Depression.

So I hereby cordially invite y'all on over to that neck of the woods, but respectfully caution that your mileage may vary over there. I'm not always writing it to be interesting or informative. I don't necessarily stick to any sort of posting schedule. Sometimes I just like to post about my favorite sports teams and random crap like that (a lot of times to rib family members and friends). The Depression posts should be easy to find as they are more recent (there are only about four of them right now), but I hope that some people will find them helpful, encouraging, and insightful. If one, just one, Depressive is inspired to seek help or takes heart because of what I have written, well then I'll consider this time well wasted.

Otherwise, feel free to simply ignore this and the link. I won't be re-posting on here as I generally keep my gaming and personal spheres separate. (Feel free, however, to email me at this blog's email if you have questions or just want to commiserate about Depression. Fuu and I share this email so it's a good place to reach us.)

I don't want to make a big deal out of it because we consider ourselves rather fortunate. It's something we're well equipped to deal with. For my part, I chose to write about it. It's sort of what I do. It just recently occurred to me that it might be nice to share that with some of you fine folks that lurk around here.

And with that, back to you, Azeroth.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wherein I Pretend to Be Newsworthy

Breaking News here! Read all about it! Warlocks to get trans-gender pet trick.

... Wait. That sounds wrong. Let's try again:

Warlocks pets going bi!

... Nope. Still too shock-jock for me.

Exit Poll Results: Half of Warlocks pets everywhere to undergo sex-change operation! Request equal rights.

... Closer.

Warlocks: Now with Succubi and Incubi.

... Seriously, there is no such thing as a male Succubus. And why does the plural of Incubus trip my spellchecker.

Furthermore, what's a female blueberri going to look like? Voidwalkeress, sorry. My bad.

And how about the Impress? Impressive? HA! Pun!

Doomguard could go both ways. Yep, I always suspected that of the big guy. I mean have you seen him thrust?

Do Felpups have a gender? I mean, where are the... never mind.

The Infernal is going to have to get rid of some stones.

Felguard? Try Felgarter.

Okay, that's enough. Seriously. It's Monday.

If you haven't seen every Warlock blogger ever reporting that we may potentially see male and female version of our demons soon... well I don't know what to tell you. I feel truly blessed to have a such a 'locky lock on your eyes, I guess.

If you need me, I'll be in my Shadow Labs, buying stock in demonic surgical outfits.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Matter of Influence

As the Ramkahen night continues to cool, the situation inside of the nightclub on its outskirts is beginning to heat up. Captain Renault twirls the ends of his thin mustache nervously while walking toward the entrance to greet the newcomer. As Captain of the local expeditionary policing force, it is his duty to see to the comfort of foreign dignitaries. The man whose arrival he was warned about, Major Strasser, happens to be a high ranking member of Schnottz's personal army.

Strasser's short stature and green skin stick out like a sore thumb in the establishment. Not to mention his sandy uniformed, clearly decorated in Schnottz paraphernalia. Every eye in the bar turns to regard him with suspicion. It is likely that each one of them has at some point run afoul of his Commander in one regard or another. Renault groans inwardly as he envisions the reams of paperwork that would be forced upon him should something unfortunate befall the major. For all of his bluster as to Schnottz's lack of influence in Ramkahen proper, the Commander did have long arms. Figuratively speaking, of course. Goblins weren't usually known for their physical reach.

Along the way, Renault snatches up Carl, the headwaiter. Major Strasser would have certain expectations, and it was in his interest to be sure that those were seen to. The more comfortable he could make the major, the better.

"Carl, see that Major Strasser gets a good table," Renault advises. "One close to the ladies."

"I have already reserved for him the best," Carl resplies, "knowing he is a goblin and would take it anyway."

Stepping up to the much shorter dignitary with Carl at his side, Renault does his best to look down in what he hopes is a non-patronizing manner. Never know when someone is touchy about their size, he reflects. Carl, naturally sensing the importance of the situation, sweeps a hand before him.

"Welcome to Rick's, good sirrah," he intones. "Please allow me to seat and serve you. In that order, if you wouldn't mind."

The goblin simple stares at the man with beady eyes.

Renault clears his throat. "Shall we, Major?"

With a sharp nod, the goblin steps around both men and makes a beeline for an empty table near the piano. It is in a prime location of the club, the only one in the vicinity that is not filled. Carl and the Captain follow quickly.

Once they are seated and drinks are ordered, Carl departs. Renault finds himself alone with the Major, though out of the corner of his eye he can see that several of the man's compatriots have also been seated nearby. I'll probably have to pay for their drinks too, the Captain muses.

"Guten Abend, Captain," the Major speaks. "I trust you haff been informed of my mission?"

Renault waves a casual hand. "Of course, Major. We were very concerned when rumors of the deaths of two of your men reached us."

"Zhey are not rumors. Zhey are truth," the Major explains. "And ve are most concerned vith ze papers zhat vere in zheir possession. Zhey vill be of great interest to certain indiwiduals."

"Yes, sir, I understand."

Thankfully, before things could get uncomfortable, Harrison walks up with three drinks. He sets one down in front of each of his patrons and keeps the third for himself. Leaning casually against one of the other two empty seats around the table, he eyes the goblin.

"We are honored tonight, Harrison," Renault speaks up. "Major Strasser is one of the reasons that Schnottz's Third Reich enjoys the reputation it has today."

Strasser turns an unreadable eye to the Captain. "You repeat Third as if you expect zhere to be ozzers!"

"Well, personally Major, I will take what comes." Renault sips his drink.

"And vhat is your nationality?" Strasser inquires of Harrison.

The man smoothly replies, "I'm a drunkard."

"That makes him a citizen of the world," Renault observes. He can't help but notice that the denizens at several of the nearby tables are hiding smirks at the joke, and hides a satisfied one of his own.

The goblin appears nonplussed. "Ve haff a complete dossier on you: Harrison Jones, citizen of Stormvind, age 37. Cannot return to his country. Ze reasons is a little vague. Ve also are avare of vhat you did in ze Lost City, Mr. Jones, and vhy you left." He pulls a thick collection of papers from somewhere within his uniform and slides them across the table toward Harrison, who picks it up casually and begins to scan it. "Don't vorry, ve are not going to broadcast it."

Without lifting his eyes, Harrison responds, "Are my eyes really brown?"

A frown cracks the mask of the goblin. "It vould be vise to vork vith us, Mr. Jones."

Harrison turns to Renault. "I'm on their blacklist, Louie, their roll of honor!" It is Renault's turn to frown. Fortunately, Harrison excuses himself with a long drink and a slight inclination of his head. "You'll excuse me, gentlemen. Your business is politics, mine is running a saloon."

They both watch him go, though whether the dark glint in the goblin's eye is interest or revulsion, Renault does not know. Best not to worry about it and return to the matter at hand. The Captain sets his drink on the table and leans forward, stroking his mustache.

"Realizing the importance of this case," Renault explains, "my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects."

The goblin nods absently, his dark eyes still fixed on the departing form of Harrison Jones.

If only I could read a goblin... Renault sighs to himself. Better watch yourself old friend.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Problem with MMOs

Today, I want to broadcast that I love my guild. Having a good guild makes all the difference in the world, especially when there seems to be a lot of general malaise out there right now. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I really lucked into my current situation. We started out with a big guild, and just happened to be able to find 10-15 people that share our goals and outlook on life and gaming.

It's nice when you get that group of people that play "the same." There are minor differences, sure, but sharing goals helps that. We all want to "get there," and there is the same place. We go about it different ways, and we respect that about each other. Like any family, we sometimes have scuffles or complain about each other to each other, but I don't think any of us ever really seriously contemplate leaving. We know we've got it good, in the grand scheme of things. We've been around enough to know what else is out there.

And what a difference that makes! If you're willing to sacrifice things like progression speed or guild perks. If you're okay with being part of a family and having to sometimes put your selfish desires into a group perspective. If, in short, playing with people you care about is more important than what exactly you're playing. Well, then you too can find a home in MMO gaming.

I don't angst about leaving the game, or quitting, or the Next Big Thing, precisely because I know that here, I'm home. I'll go where these people, my friends, go. I have the freedom to try things on my own, and I've done that. I don't feel like I'm missing out. I can also step back and do things outside of the virtual world for a while. If they need me, they'll call me. And I'll be there.

In my eyes, our group represents the idea MMO experience. We don't really have "balance" issues with real life. We make the most of our hobby time. We don't have a lot of drama. Certainly not any more than any RL group of friends (and often less). At some point, if you truly want to have a "group of friends," you have to let go of selfish things and be an adult. I don't care if you're paying $15/mo for the pleasure, or $5/beer at the bar, or $40/person to be on the bowling team. People have paid to be a part of things for decades and it hasn't ever before entitled you to a good experience.

It has, however, entitled you to think like there actually being pins at the bowling alley, or that the beer isn't completely stale... but that's a different point in the analogy that I'm not going to touch here. I'm talking more about the social aspect of MMO's, and how I feel like a lot of people have really lost sight of what being "social" entails. Being a good friend, being successful in social circles... it's not simple. It's not something you can just "log onto" whenever you feel like it and expect to work for you.

MMOs aren't broken. People are broken. I really enjoy the writing of Dean Koontz, and one of my favorite excepts from his Odd Thomas series includes the following:
While Carla brought another chair out of the restaurant, put it next to mine, sat down, and fussed over me, Wyatt used the Police Ban radio to order an ambulance. When he returned I said, “Sir? You know what’s wrong with humanity?”

“Plenty,” he said.

“The greatest gift we were given was our free will and we keep misusing it.”

“Don’t worry your self with that now,” Carla advised me.

“You know what’s wrong with nature,” I asked her “with all its poisoned plants, predatory animals, earthquakes, and floods?”

“You’re upsetting yourself, sweetie.”

“When we envied—when we killed for what we envied, we fell. And when we fell, we broke the whole shebang; nature, too.”

A kitchen worker whom I knew who had worked part time at the grill, Manuel Nunez, arrived with a fresh beer.

“I don’t think he should have that,” Carla worried.

Taking the beer from him I said, “Manuel, how you doing?”

“Looks like better than you.”

“I was just dead for a while, that’s all. Manuel, do you know what’s wrong with cosmic time as we know it, which steals everything from us?”

“Isn’t it spring forward and fall back?” Manuel asked, thinking we were talking about Daylight savings time.

“When we fell and broke,” I said, “we broke nature, too. And when we broke nature, we broke time.”

“Is that from Star Trek?” Manuel asked.

“Probably, but it’s true.”

“I like that show. It helped me learn English.”

“You speak it well,” I told him.

“I had a brogue for a while because I got so into Scotty’s character,” Manuel said.

“Once there were no predators, no prey, only harmony. There were no quakes, no storms: everything in balance. In the beginning time was all at once and forever; no past, present, and future; no death. We broke it all.”

Chief Porter tried to take the Heineken from me. I held on to it.

“Sir, do you know what sucks the worst about the human condition?”

Bill Burton said, “Taxes?”

“It’s even worse than that,” I told him.

Manuel said, “Gasoline costs too much, and low mortgage rates are gone.”

“What sucks the worst is this world was a gift to us and we broke it. And part of the deal is that if we want things right, we have to fix it ourselves. But we can’t. We try, but we can’t.”

I started to cry. The tears surprised me. I thought I was done with tears for the duration.

Manuel put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Maybe we can fix it, Odd. You know, maybe.”

I shook my head, “No. We’re broken. A broken thing can’t fix itself.”
(From Forever Odd by Dean Koontz; Full Disclaimer: I'm not associated with Mr. Koontz in any way, shape or form, nor do I get anything from relating this excerpt.)

I love that batch of dialog. To me it neatly summarizes a part of the human condition with some clever humor thrown in. It's sad, yet at the same time highlights a struggle that I believe can be found at the very core of any group of people. We're all, essentially, broken. We have faults and failings. To err is human. And no amount of effort on our part is ever going to fix all of what is wrong with us (nor, in my opinion, should we strive for that).

The magic, then, is in the fact that we can try. We're only ever as good as the attempts we make at creating bonds and connections. Any MMO is inherently bound by this simple fact. Any guild is bound by this fact. Any social group or activity is bound by this fact.

We can decry the failings of MMOs and the internet a thousand times over, but what it all boils down to is that they are run and populated by humans. And humans are flawed beings by nature. Both our bane and our brilliance can be found in our dissatisfaction with simply being. We are always going to want more, bigger, better.

The cool part is that, if we only apply ourselves enough, we can get there.

Elitism, entitlement, trolling. These are are exhibits of our human nature. No developer is going to be able to overcome it. We can only hope to offset it by doing enough in the other direction.

So, next time you find yourself frustrated, you might want to ask yourself: Are you striving to find a solution, or are you simply contributing to the problem?

MMOs will first and foremost be about the people. Always. Find a group that strives, and you've found a home. You will, however, have to put yourself second from time to time. That's just sort of how this whole social thing works.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I've Already Been Bribed

I know I'm late to the party here. Tank bribing has been the story du jour for several jours now.  I just had already written a lovely article about botting that was wicked interesting before, you know, actual shit hit an actual fan.  And then there was IC Friday, and no way am I going to post about srs bzns on Friday.  I had an Inception joke to make.  (Side note: I'm still waiting for my top to stop spinning... is this all a dream?).

As such, I figured Monday was a good day to rehash the hash, so to speak, and sling my own mud.  It's not really going to be all that epic since pretty much everything has already been said that can be said about the topic.  There are so many links, I haven't read them all and don't plan to link them because they make my head hurt with their sheer volume.  However, I do feel like I have something to add in my typical "offer up a half-ass solution or stop your whining" mindset. 

Quick recap in case you've been living under a rock like the dudes in the Geico commerical: Blizz is going to bribe the "lowest common denominator (LCD)" (wrt to group make up (math minor much? :-p)) with extra lootz and phat mounts and stuff like that.  Riches and fame... that old story.  In probably 98% of the cases, that will mean tanks.  A healer may pick up a loot bag or two.  DPS are likely shit out of luck.  People are raising Holy Fel about it for a variety or reasons.  I think that, in general, the complaints can be boiled down to "this doesn't really solve the problem, IMHO."  (YHMV - Your humbleness may vary).

Personally, I don't care too much.  Yeah, it sort of seems a bit short sighted and unfair when seen through the eyes of a DPS.  After all, no amount of magic is going to bring my tank/healing spec up to heroic par as a Warlock.  Likely, I'll never had a random shot at the sweet extras they're offering.  From the angle, it is a bit unbalanced, but it is not the first time the game has been unbalanced.  I think Blizz can do better and, in all fairness, they probably will.  At least I hope so.

So what about my potential solutions?  Well, they both stem from the same perception of the problem.  In my mind, the reason for the shortage of tanks in a PuG environment is because tanking in a pure pick up group is a lesson in patience at best.  That is to say, as the disparity in gear widens (which it always does as the game trends away from the last reset/expansion), tanking almost becomes harder (instead of easier, as one might expect).  The reason is that, though we start to "over gear" things, new problems just replace old ones.  You'll still have it where lowbie tanks die, but then aggro also becomes a problem as they just can't hold threat in the face of uber-geared DPS.  With tricky, long dungeons, groups still have to "play well" when they just want to "play mindlessly."

Not that there's anything wrong with playing mindlessly.  A lot of folks would have you believe that we should always have to use CC and every trick in our toolbox or it's bad design.  I would argue that it is perfectly valid to want to have some content that is "easy."  That is, if you would like to choose to AoE rolfstomp a dungeon instead of really having to dial in and pay attention, that is no less "playing."  Games don't have to be challenging to be fun.  Sometimes that helps, but not always.  Let's not get stuck on suffering for the sake of suffering.  The tricky part is how to balance the two extremes.  How to keep enough things challenging and provide some easier avenues without ruining either side of the game.  Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks.  This is no trivial matter.

So let's assume that in Cataclysm, Blizz attempted to originally cater to the base that wanted more of a challenge.  I think we could say they succeeded fairly well in a lot of those goals.  Heroics were hard right off the bat.  Ironically, the challenge sort of ruined the former success of the dungeon finder.  Where before a bit of asshatery was tolerable because runs were quick and finishing them was pretty much a foregone conclusion, now you're stuck spending longer with those same people and potentially not getting any reward for it when the group atrophies.  Sort of lose-lose.   Thus, what we want to do is make it easier to tolerate poor play without completely ruining the challenge for those who want it.

Enter my two suggestions.  First, what if "pure PuG" tanks got a Superman Buff to threat.  Only to threat.  That is, they hit something once, it stays on them.  In this way, you still might have to use CC to limit incoming damage (until sufficient gear levels).  Healers might still have to work a bit at lower levels, but not work saving that damn rogue.  It gives tanks an ultimate level of control without really changing the difficulty.  Sure, you could argue that watching your threat is an added challenge, but really, how much of one?  Good players will do it second nature, poor players just won't do it, and it's the latter that drive tanks nuts.  With a simple, no rewards solution, we could potentially ease a lot of the stress on tanks.  They could focus more on using cooldowns and stuff like that, instead of OMG WHERE IS THAT MOB GOING?!  I could see this as a sort of "playground" for newer tanks getting used to abilities without failing at threat. 

My second suggestion is that, instead of rewarding mounts and monies in these loot bags, why not stuff them with role specific gear?  Reward tanks with tanking items, not generic items the rest of us would covet.  Make it trivial to "gear" a tank.  If you have a hybrid, make getting a "dungeon" set so quick and easy that there is no reason NOT to be geared.  (This could apply to any role that we're globally short on, but just happens to likely be tanks at this point).  I think we could agree that gear makes things easier.  It should lead to more success and less headache.  I think would go further toward alleviated the problems than getting pets and mounts and such.  What good do those do anyone else?

Finally, we could always bring up the age-old idea of implementing some sort of rating/reputation system, whereby people get voted up or down based on behavior.  The like have been used in certain forums for a while now, and seem to be generally effective.  This would require a whole new design though and probably more manpower than Blizz would want to spend combating asshats.  I think the other two are a bit more elegant in their simplicity.  They use things like temporary buffs (that you could click off, mind you) for threat or filling already offered bags with specific items.  No new infrastructure. 

Anyway, this has gone on long enough for a Monday musing.  I just wanted to offer up a couple ideas that I hadn't seen yet in the flurry of postings.  I'll leave you with this: Hasn't it occurred to anyone that the decrease in effectiveness of the LFD tool may simply be due to the new guild perks working as intended?  An increased emphasis on guild activity would lead to a shortage of random "pick ups," would it not?  Should Blizzard, perhaps, simply respond to queue complaints with "join a guild then, since that's how we've designed the game....?"    

Friday, April 8, 2011


Fulguralis woke up.  He labored for breath even as his eyes squinted against the bright lights.  Furiously blinking, his pupils slowly shrunk down to the size necessary for sight.  When he could see more than pain and colorful splotches, he took inventory.

To his left, several Gnomes clustered around a sputtering piece of equipment.  They were alternatively kicking it and cursing at it, taking turns when their companions stepped back to rub mustache or beard.  The Warlock realized he was sitting, partially reclined, in a seat that seemed to be attached to the mechanism by a number of long cables.

"What is this?" he asked.

A rather cute Gnome with pink pigtails came around daubed his forehead with a damp cloth.  Fulguralis squinted at her.  She garbed all in white, with a name tag that read: Larisa.

"Do you not recall?" she said sweetly.  "You did, after all, sign the release forms."

Fulguralis blinked, "I did?"

Larisa giggled.  "Give it a moment, it will come back to you.  Spend too much time in the simulator and you're memories are liable to be a mess."

"A simulation?" the Warlock clarified.  His breathing began to slow.  "You mean that was all just a simulation?"

"Silly Warlock," the Gnome chuckled.  "How else to show you the dangers of consorting with demons?  We're Mages, not... well.... Warlocks.  We wouldn't just throw you to the hounds, figuratively speaking of course."

"Mages?" Fulguralis replied.  His eyes narrowed.  "What sort of game are you playing?  What is this really?  Why would I have come to you to learn about demons?  Just what do you think you're trying to pull here."

Larisa smiled sweetly.  "We're just trying to show you the error of your ways, dear.  Here, have a beverage.  I promise it will ease your mind."

Fulguralis cast a dubious glance at the mug she was holding.  She stood on her tip toes to offer it, her face awash in innocence.  The smell of ale wafted to his nostrils.  She's offering me an ale?  Never one to turn down a drink, the Warlock accepted.

He brought the mug to his nose and smelled it cautiously.  All the while he watched the pink pigtailed Gnome for signs of malevolence.  Fulguralis prided himself on being an expert at reading faces, and this one seemed to hold nothing but sincerity.  Surely if the the beverage were poisoned, he would catch some hint of it in her eyes.  Besides, that was a Rogue thing to do, and these were Mages.

He took a swig.

"There's a good lad," she cooed.  "Now, hand that back to me and lay back.  We'll start up again in just a moment."

"Wait," Fulguralis started, but then everything seemed to slow down.  "Wait," he continued.

He laughed.  His voice sounded so deep.  What was this?  The colors all around him were beginning to slide into one another, and they all centered around the face of the sweet Gnome who was smiling warmly.

"Wait," he tried again.  "I'm not sure... I just... You're cute.  I like you, but... you're a Mage."

Darkness was seeping into the colors now.

"There there, dear one, just relax."

* * *

Fulguralis woke up.  He labored for breath even as his eyes squinted against the bright lights.  Except there were no bright lights.  It was dark.  Crickets played a melody nearby.  He could barely make out the canvas walls of the tent in the still night.  A gentle breeze brushed the home away from home, pressing in gently at the material.

Sitting up, the Warlock rubbed his head and looked around.  A lump of hair protruded from the blankets next to him.  Another lump was curled up at the foot of the bed.  The familiar presence of felpup and wife reassured him.  It seemed like he was back to reality now.  Fuubaar stirred, turning over and blinking a bit.

"Is everything all right, hun?" she asked.

"Yeah," he replied.  "Just had a crazy dream."

She cocked her head.  "A dream?  From the way you're breathing it sounds like you just got done running from something.  Must have been a helluva dream."

Fulguralis nodded.  "It was.  It was like two dreams too.  Like I dreamed of having a dream."

"A dream within a dream?" Fuubaar asked, rising a bit in her bed.

"Well, actually, it was a simulation within a dream," Fulguralis clarified.

"Is that even possible?  Has anyone even done that before?"

"I don't know," the Warlock admitted.

"Man, that's messed up," Fuubaar observed.  Then she turned over and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Botting

Rivs over at High Latency Life wrote an interesting, if brief, article regarding his feelings about bots in video games. He ends it with a question for our feelings about bots, and I feel inclined to take the bait and turn it into a post.

Personally, "bot" to me in any video game is a dirty word. It's not exactly rational either. Rivs makes some good points about the pros and cons of bots being allowed to exist in virtual worlds, but at the end of the day what does it for me is a simple Rage Against the Machine. Games are for playing. Therefore, anyone not "playing" is Doing it Wrong.

Things are rarely so black and white, though. I'll be the first to admit that the opinion expressed above is based more on prejudice than actual rational thought and due consideration for the problem. In other words, it's ill-formed.

So here's my attempt to rectify my mistake, remove my blinders, and think outside the box. If we toss aside the notion, even if just for the length of a post, that "bots" are inherently bad because they're non-human, what do we have left? I think most of us can agree with the sentiment expressed by Rivs that "PvP bots are where to draw the line." His analogy is an apt one. If I'm engaged in sport of any kind (say football), and one of my teammates goes AFK, or worse, runs around jumping randomly, slamming into obstacles and not contributing at all to the goal of the game... well, I'd be pretty pissed and rightly so. Too bad we don't have a coach that can sit your PvP-botting ass on the bench.

However, in the case of gathering, there is a bit of a different paradigm. To some extent, you could argue that allowing bots to collect items is beneficial to other players. It drives down costs and makes things plentiful that otherwise might not be. In the end, it only negatively effects you if you were trying to make money off of said items. For people that don't play the AH game, it's predominantly win. The only downside I can see then is that it may be hard to find a node if you find yourself in need of one.

It also might be useful to know how much time and energy Blizzard (or any game company for that matter) spends combating bots. How much more content would we have if they did not exist in the first place? Would the game potentially be better off if they just ignored bots and concentrated on other things?

Or, if we'd like to get even more radical: What if Blizz just gave us all the ability to have our characters "forage" when we're not online?

Yeah, I'm asking what would happen if they made "botting" part of the game. What good, then, would third party bots be? Wouldn't this give them more control over the problem? And might this benefit everyone in the form of cheaper mats, etc? It's sort of like taking a page out of EVE's book and morphing it to WoW.

They could even still encourage and support "normal" gathering by limiting how afk-gathering works. Say you can only get volatiles from real gathers. Also, maybe our characters don't afk-gather from nodes, but from where ever in the nether they go when we're not giving them life. Thus, node competition could be negated. There could be some really clever ways to implement this that help people and still support an economy and what have you. I suppose the downside is that the more you limit it, the more bots would come back. It might be wasted effort as well.

At the same time, I've always wondered what my characters do in my absence. Why not be able to pad the bank or something? Maybe you could set choices where they "gamble" or "invest" or do other things besides gather, based on your personal needs and goals. Maybe they actively try to "hone their skills" so that you get a slow trickle of VP (if you're max level) or experience. It would have to been terribly slow compared to actually doing the activity, but it would provide another hook to keep paying, and maybe encourage people to take time off at the same time.

I don't know, maybe it's an awful idea. Maybe we should just keep doing what we're doing to limit bots. Like I said, I was just trying to think outside of the prejudice. What do you think?

Swan Song, Close.

I got a comment from an anonymous reader today that read thus:

"Is this your swan song? Are you leaving WoW behind? It read like a goodbye story; a very very gory goodbye but a goodbye all the same."

I started to respond in the comments. It got long. I decided to make an honest post of it. So here it goes...

A good bye post? That was sort of the intent... I didn't have the heart to do a "real" April 1st joke where I say "Peace out, girl scout. And by the way your parents just died in a car accident. " I figured the gory RP was more fun. There was a comment on twitter basically suggesting that I "George RR Martinized" my story. Funny stuff, and I'll /blush at the comparison (undeserved though it may be).

(Random aside: anyone else see the Game of Thrones sneak peak? It's going to be an HBO series, but I'm actually contemplating a subscription for the duration of the series. It looks pretty rockin'.)

I actually intended to write a reassurance, but this week has been hectic and prevented me from posting so far. I may just string it out until Friday, you know, to sell the joke. (Aka to be lazy, though I've ruined that now).

Since you asked though, and I don't like to leave people hanging: No, I don't plan on leaving. I'm still raiding on Thursdays, but that's about it right now. I'm anxiously awaiting 4.1, when I plan to re-immerse myself for another month or whatever in order to experience the new content. Short naps do wonders for your energy.

Right now I'm playing a lot of Civ V. I didn't want to ramble on about it because I wasn't sure anyone out there was interested in it. My current project is to try to get a culture victory. I can do points, science, domination... those are easy. Diplomacy isn't too terrible either, though I don't usually prefer to cater to the other psychotic, immortal rulers. For reference, I generally play on "Prince," which declares itself as "normal" mode. I generally try to play games on normal until I master them (then I might try "super insane awesomesauce" or whatever).

The problem I keep running into is that everyone "covets" my land, and thus I get drawn into a whole bunch of wars. Generally, when you're focused on culture, that also means that I'm struggling to field and maintain an army. Bad news bears.

If you haven't played the game, but enjoyed previous Civ versions, I have to say that this iteration took a bit to grow on me. At first I was sort of "meh" and felt a little like I had wasted $60 or whatever I spent on it several moons ago. I'm happy to say that I'm feeling a lot more fond of it now. Perhaps the biggest change from my perspective is the inability to stack units in Civ V. In IV, stacking was a huge part of the game. I'd get attacked by super giant mega stacks of enemy units and it sort of sucked. I'd have to go through about 25 battles a turn as the AI tossed their outdated units against my poor garrisoned tank unit. It just started to get a bit ridiculous late in the game.

Removing the stacking component of the game was pure genius, IMO. At first, I had my doubts, like I said, but it has really grown on me. I feel like it emphasizes the strategy of battle as opposed to just making a ridiculous stack. Placing cities becomes even more important to think about from a defensive stand point. How many tiles is it possible for an enemy to assault from? How easy is it for you to set up choke points and take advantage of the AI? That's pretty neat to me, and it works reasonably well.

There are a lot of other positive changes (and some negative ones), but I'm not going to has them all out. This isn't a review. Just an observation. Any other Civvies out there ready to cop to it? Or is this completely wasted upon you, dear reader?

Friday, April 1, 2011

The First Day of Spring

The sun shone brightly upon the swaying grass, bathing it in nature's warm glow. Small spots of color bloomed hither and fro. Fulguralis pranced alongside his beloved, arms spread wide happily. It was a perfect day.

Winter had been long and hard. Toiling in the perpetual snows of Northrend had taken its toll. Then, they had come back to find their very homes under assault by a dragon aspect. Yes, it had seemed a long winter indeed.

But the threat was ended. For some adventurers it might still live on, but in the mind of the Warlock, it was finished. His part in the tale had come to an end. He had his Fuubaar, and all was well. The only burden they carried currently was that of a wicker basket. It was a great day for a picnic.

They chose a spot beneath the boughs of a majestic tree, where the sun's strong rays were mostly impeded by the foliage above. There, with bits of light dappling their faces, a blanket was spread out on the ground. Food was unpacked, and they began to feed one another bits of cheese.

A swirling portal suddenly appeared to Fulguralis's left. The Warlock smiled warmly. That would be the rest of the family. He'd invited them to stop by to celebrate. His sister, Decedereful, and her boyfriend Valentis stepped out. Abigora, the priest, and Fuubaar's parents, Melvin and Minerva followed.

Each carried part of the celebratory meal. They set the various dishes down and settled into a circle around the Warlock and his wife. Food was passed out, drinks were poured, and in short order the meal was consumed.

Contented with a full stomach, Fulguralis stood up and spoke. "My dear family. We gather today to celebrate the end of an era. A string of epic adventures that shall be sung about in ages hence. We made many new friends, for which we are thankful, and we have left our mark on Azeroth. I have learned many things from you, as I hope you have learned from me. Where we go from here, I cannot say, but I hope-"

He cut off when a dark object sprang up before them. It slid vertically from the ground, and then snapped open to reveal a red, shimmering portal. Fulguralis regarded it with a raised eyebrow. It looked very much like something he used to call upon.

Familiar faces spilled out. Spaz was the first, of course, followed by the rest of the crew. What were his minions doing here, though? They weren't invited. In fact, he hadn't given them much thought in a while.

Midnight was the first to strike. She let loose a sultry laugh as her whip snaked out to snatch Valentis. Once he was pulled in close, her lips latched onto his. Her mouth opened wide and her tongue quested outward. Is she going to eat his face?

And she did. As Fulguralis watched in horror, she sucked the skin right off of his skull. The Gilnean's cries were muffled by the demonic mouth that smothered his. The attack was both sudden and brutal, and everyone else had risen to simply stare in astonishment.

The minions didn't stop though. Tim the Felguard side-armed his ax and gave it a heave. It whistled through the air and sheared through Melvin's neck. The much larger demon charged swiftly in and caught the ax in midair. He turned and sliced down through the rest of the Undead Captain's body. And then he continued. Hacking and hacking.

A ball of fire struck Abigora in the chest, charring a hole in her pristine robes. The hole continued through her body, and she pitched forward to fall face first on the ground. The imp that had lobbed the lethal flame danced atop the body with unrestrained glee.

From the air, a flaming meteor streaked toward the earth. Directly in its path stood Minerva the Mage. She had time only to glance upward and raise her hands before the big rock slammed into her. Bits of blood and gore hit Fulguralis in the face as he struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. The big rock sprouted arms and legs and stood up. It was Pablo, his Infernal. They were all his minions, yet he couldn't sense them; he couldn't order them to stop.

He'd lost control. It was the first rule of Warlockery: keep control at all times. He'd grown complacent. He had treated them as friends instead of tools of destruction, and now they had broken free. Fulguralis stood rooted in place because he realized there was nothing he could do. He derived his powers from demons. Demons that he had lost. Which meant he was powerless. Helpless to do anything but watch as his loved ones were devoured.

Barry Blue bounced from the portal and lifted his hands to the sky. A wave of misery radiated out from him, further sapping the will of the adventurers in the glade. Those that were left, anyway. Decedereful had her weapons in hand, but she dropped them down as a terrified look invaded her face. She stood in place, her hands raised above her head, shaking, as the Voidwalker glided over and leeched the very life from her. Her skin shriveled up and the blue light winked out of her eyes. In the span of a few seconds, she was reduced to nothing but ash.

That quickly, all that was left of the party was husband and wife. Fulguralis turned to Fuubaar. She was radiant. Her enormous sword was drawn and her shining shield hefted at her side. The Paladin appeared ready to take on an entire legion of demons. Light radiated from her skin as she lifted her weapon high. Judgment was coming.

"Who dares summon me?" a deep voice boomed behind them.

Fulguralis spun to see DeeGee there, in all his crimson glory, wings spread wide like an angel of death. His massive hands shot out before him, burning through Fuubaar's plate armor as if it were butter. With a geyser of blood, they burst out of her chest plate and then twisted to grip the sides of the cavity they had made. What had blazed with the power of the Light before, now shone only with surprise. In a grotesque imitation of the opening of the portal, DeeGee ripped his arms to the sides as if tearing a curtain. The two pieces of the Paladin's lifeless body fell opposite each other.

And then there was one. Fulguralis fell to his knees. He was surrounded by the very minions that had once served him, the blood of his loved ones running in rivers down the virgin hillside. His eyes stared blankly before him. Unseeing. Uncaring.

The last thing he saw before the darkness took him were the spreading jaws of a Felhunter.

"Sparky," were his last thoughts. "Why?"