Monday, October 31, 2011

Are You Not Entertained?

I went ahead and signed on for the Annual Plan this weekend. It was pretty simple. Reminded me a lot of signing that stupid two-year agreement with my cell phone carrier. You still pay however you want (per 6 months for me), you're just "obligated" to continue paying until the end of the contract period.

The concept has never really bit me in the arena of cellular devices, and I don't really expect it to in WoW.  Even with SW:TOR, Skyrim, and AC: Revelations (to name the three games I'm most interested in this holiday season), I will still likely being logging into WoW a couple times a week for raiding and PvP stuffs.  I'll also probably run the occasional holiday boss. 

Really, if you figure I play WoW 2-3 hours a week at worst (which isn't very much), it's about equivalent to going on a cinematic adventure (see a movie).  Those cost what, $10-$12 now?  That's about what WoW runs me per month, so I'd still say it's an entertainment deal.  Incidentally, books run me about the same as WoW.  I'll consume the latest George R.R. Martin novel in about a month.  Game of Dragons (I call them all Game of x, because I find it humorous to do so) cost me $15 in ebook form.

My value judgement is always going to be firmly based in "hours of entertainment per dollar."  Gaming has generally been a great investment.  Books as well.  Movies... well, we usually wait for HBO to pick them up and the sub there is worth it too.  I would only contemplate leaving WoW of the hE/$ falls below my persoanl threshold.  And I'm still well above it, even during my most casual periods.  Throw in a content patch, expansion, or fun even... that time goes up.

Speaking of Martin's Game of Games Series (Song of Fire and Ice), you fans out there may be interested to hear about our Halloween costumes.  Fuu and I went as the Lannister twins.  She even got a blond wig (my hair was Jaime-like enough as-is... though I did grow it out for the month).  Pretty hilarious if you ask me.

We'll probably scare the parents more than the kids...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween

Hallow's Eve. The most warlocky holiday. I think I'll put on Valentis's top hat and go as a Gilnean. I'll fly around on my magical broomstick, spooky lamp in tow, and yell: "'Ello Gov'ner!" And I'll kill some mages. I don't care what they say... Sheep is NOT a costume.

Watch your back or I'll throw a pumpkin on your head.  Or turn you into a ninja.  Or a pirate.  And my pet will eat your pet.  But it's all in good fun, right?

(Besides, this is the one holiday where I have a good excuse to get my wife to dress up like one of those Silvermoon elves. /wink.)

Have a great holiday, everyone.  Don't beat up on the Headless Horseman too much.  He's really a good guy after you shard his soul a couple hundred times.

On second thought, who needs a top hat?  I look fellin good already.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

QotD: Are You Taking The Year Sub?

There have been some good comments on my initial thoughts post the other day, some of them regarding the "Year Sub" deal Blizz is offering.  Mostly, I've seen folks talking about the motivations behind the deal, what it means, why they're doing it, etc... but not whether or not the writers are going to actually take it.  So I wanted to open it up... irregardless of the reasons behind the deal, are you taking the sub?

I probably will.  I've not interrupted my WoW service for, what, four years now?  What's one more.  And I get a free game to boot.  I wasn't planning to play Diablo (just have never really gotten into the series), but why not?  I've paid my way through content lulls before, so that doesn't really scare me.  I mean, how would it be any worse than any other summer right before an expansion?  Besides, there's still plenty that my guild has left to do.

On the flip side, if I wasn't able to play with all my friends, I might have second thoughts.  I suppose I could analyze it and worry that this means Blizz is going to completely ignore WoW until the xpac comes out, effectively creating the worst lull we've ever weathered.  It could well mean that I'm paying for sub-par customer service.

Let's be honest, though.  Hasn't Blizz always sort of set the standard.  Haven't they been above average consistently?  So even if they were to drop, might it be merely to "average," which is still pretty decent.  I guess my overriding feeling is: How bad could it get?  Seriously.  Toss the ethics or theories aside for a moment.  How bad would it be for you, personally, in your chosen game-play style.

I would wager there are two sorts of folks.  The kind that will cancel and re-sub as they feel the content merits, and the kind that simply pay another monthly bill and don't think of it too much.  I'm more of the latter.  Does this really affect my type of player?  Is it really enough of an enticement for the former type to give up their autonomy?  I wonder how many people it will swing.

Let me know what you think... not about why they're doing this, but rather, if taken on face value, who this is for.  Who will it sway?  Who will it remain unmoved?

Monday, October 24, 2011

#Blizzcon - Initial Thoughts

Yep, I'll jump on the bandwagon here and give my thoughts. Why not? I will offer one disclaimer: since I neither attended Blizzcon nor have access to the official sites at work (where I'm writing this), I'm depending on secondhand sources for my information. If it's wrong, feel free to tell me about it in email. I'll likely be delighted to know better.  That being said, here we go.

On the Annual Pass
As I understand it, you get perks for paying for a full year of WoW.  One of those perks is a free Diablo 3 copy.  I've heard some call this "desperation."  I don't agree.  I see it as rewarding loyal customers.  I didn't plan to play Diablo 3 (I've never been into the Diablo series), but I probably will now.  And maybe I'll fall in love with the series and play future/past iterations.  Sounds like a win-win.  Plus it gives you more value for your money.  Always a good decision.

On PvE Arenas
I'm sorry.  I mean challenge dungeons and scenarios.  I already wished for this here.  My big desire is to have something that can be completed in a half hour to progress bit by bit.  Dungeon length is to variable to be enjoyable.  I want to be able to sit down with a half hour of play time and accomplish something that can help me in my casual raiding.  It seems Blizz has heard this cry.  Awesome.  Maybe they read me. :-P

On the Talent Re-revamp
Didn't we just do this?  Oh, you want a do-over, Blizz.  I get it.  Ah, hell.  Go for it.  I hear you're going to do some funny shit to warlocks.  Like making soul shards interesting (where have we heard that before).  Best of luck.  I won't say I'm overly excited.  What's to say you don't botch it again?  Still, if you get it right, it should be pretty cool.  I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt here, Blizz.  Just don't hang yourself with the rope.

Want a good look at the proposed Warlock changes?  Check out Poneria here.  I'll reserve judgement until we actually get closer.  Also, there's apparently a talent calculator already.  I'm somewhat impressed that they have this much of the next expansions already developed. 

On Pandas
I wonder how silly they'll look.  If done well... could be fun.  I love the idea of a race where you get to choose which faction to join.  People are sort of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here when it comes to Pandaria.  There are a lot of good ideas tied up in this cute and cuddly proposal.  Monk class?  Yes, please.  I don't see how pandas are any worse/better than space goats, and we got used to those.  Or at least I did. 

On Pokemon, WoW Edition
The Pokemon games remain insanely popular among some circles.  This is just another example of Blizz taking the good parts of other games and making it their own.  It's not really for me, and I'll probably never get into it... but why not?  I'm sure there will be some hardcore collectors out there.  The only issue I see: what happens during orphan week?  Orphan Thunderdome?  Or if you have two chickens?  Are we really talking Blizz sanctioned cock fights?  There's some awkwardness here, though I don't have an issue with the idea.

In something completely unrelated (and non-WoW), but I feel I want to pass on, here is a pretty controversial subject that John Patricelli (BBB) wrote about recently.  Incidentally, I'm in exactly the same position as he is.  I'm a church-going Catholic Christian.  That's my label.  But that label does not adequately reflect my beliefs.  John does a better job of that.  Just sayin'.  View at your own peril, but I thought it worth passing on.  Sometimes we all need to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture, which is what John has always been great at doing; putting it in perspective.

But enough about that.  Enjoy your Panda Party.  I'll hold my e-tongue until some more of these details get solidified.  For now, these are my thoughts.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Like The Warlocky Crate

Fulguralis and Fuubaar lounged on the back porch of the manor. They sipped large mugs of dwarven stout, while watching the sun bronze over, and then bleed down into the horizon. Long shadows chased a myriad of critters around the yard. The warlock had taken great pains enticing all the squirrels, rabbits, and other cute woodland creatures with delicious nuts and berries scattered around the property.

Next to Fuubaar hovered a black feline, bobbing on a levitating broomstick.  The paladin gazed at her familiar, and smiled warmly.  "Isn't it so cute?" she asked.

Fulguralis nodded with a smile of his own.  "It is, honey."

She tossed it a treat, and it purred loudly.

"What a wonderful evening," Fuubaar announced, gazing contentedly on the scene.  "It's so peaceful.  So many of the adventurers are away at a 'con' - whatever that is - that it's up to use to feed and nurture the critters."

"Mmmhmm," Fulguralis agreed.  "All of the cute little critters."

"I'm so glad I was able to get this pet, too.  And to think, all that nice vendor wanted was a bagful of candy."

"I got a pet, too," Fulguralis said suddenly.

"You did, honey?" Fuubaar turned to her husband.  "That's great!"

"Yeah, I had to solve a murder-robbery in order to recover a powerful artifact, but forensic evidence - and a little old-fashion sleuthing - led me right to it."  The warlock shrugged.  "It was pretty easy."

"Wow, that sounds intense.  What was the artifact?"

"A crate."

Fuubaar scrunched up her face in disbelief.  "A crate?"

"Yeah, pretty silly to hatch a huge, involved plot in order to retrieve a simple crate."

"I'll say,  So who was behind it?"

"Some insane mage."

"Did you return it to him?"

Fulguralis laughed.  "Help a mage?"

"Yeah, you're right.  Stupid question," Fuubaar replied.  "So what did you do with it?"

Fulguralis smiled.  "Well, I was going to return it to this archaelogy dude, but it appears the thing has taken a liking to me."  The warlock turned around.  There was a small crate sitting behind his chair.  "Haven't you, buddy?" he cooed.

The crate rattled in reply.

"All right.  Dinner time," Fulguralis announced.

Fuubaar gave a startled cry as the crate bounded off the porch.  It settled near a bush.  Eventually, curiosity got the better of a squirrel, and it approached to sniff warily at the box.  The critter was there one moment, and gone the next, snatched into the box by a long, pink tongue.  They heard a muffled squeak from inside, and then, silence.

Fuubaar turned to her husband.  "Gee, I can't imagine why," she said dryly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

PvP for PvEers: Get Out Of The MUCK

Cynwise left a comment on Monday, encouraging a list of the things I've noticed from mingling with players newer to the PvP scene.  At first, I thought I was going to be able to put together a simple list of concrete "moves."  The problem I quickly ran into, and one veteran PvPers can attest to, is that there really aren't a set of moves that always work.  More accurately, PvP might be described as having "seasons."

Yeah, I know, Blizzard already does the season thing.  But I'm not talking about those seasons.  I'm talking about the way the balance of PvP ebbs and flows.  Like the tide.  Or, like our seasons.  We have a spring, summer, fall, winter... and then get right back around to spring.  Certain moves that are good in the spring will net you death in the fall.  And you don't want to be wearing your summer armor in the midst of winter.  Brrr!

PvP is all about adaptation.  More than anything else, you have to be flexible.  You can't really hone in on a rotation, because as soon as you do, someone will figure out a way to counter it.  Sure, certain combinations work, but the better they work, the more quickly we'll devise a counter-strategy.  Such is the way of PvP life that I think is totally different from PvE.  After all, in PvE, the only thing that alters playstyle is the changes made by the Devs.  In PvP, you have that still, sure, but you also have the adaptation of the playerbase.

Look no further than resilience as a prime example of this.  Originally, it was a very good stat (spring).  Then, it got too good (summer), so they nerfed it (fall).  Finally, resilience gear started being eschewed for raid gear, since it wasn't such a great stat.  It got buffed, and we're right back around in spring.

Some of that is due to Blizzard's manipulations, but some of it is also due to the player base.  Originally, when resilience didn't really affect DoTs, what did we do?  Bring on the DoTs!  Blizz, said "hey, wait a minute" and changed things.  A large number of Blizzard's decisions in PvP can probably be traced back to a group of people "exploiting" weaknesses.  And I don't mean exploit like "cheating," but rather, it's simply part of PvP.  You should always be looking for an edge.  That's just good competition.

So, really, knowing a set of "moves" is a passing advantage.  If you've PvPed for years, chances are you use completely different moves now than you did a year ago, and not all of them are because something is "better."  More likely, it's simply "different."  There are, however, strategies that you pick up through the course of PvP that separate a veteran from a newbie.  They just aren't as concrete as you might think.  So after giving this a lot of thought, I've attempted to condense my feelings on PvP Lessons, or "stuff you pick up," into four neat categories... with an easy to remember acronym: MUCK.  As in, you won't muck up your RBG group if you have learned these things.  Otherwise, you make me pull out my mucking hair.
  • Make Your Life Count - Or, if you prefer: Give it Meaning.  Perhaps the biggest frame of mind tick I find from PvE folks dabbling in PvP is an overemphasis on living.  Dying in PvP is Not A Big Deal.  Let me say that again.  Dying in PvP is No Biggy.  Sometimes, dying can even be strategic.  Use death as a teleport.  Make your life count.   Charge into that group of 5 guys, AoE CC them in some way, plop an AoE on the flag... and then bite it.  If you do it right, you can buy precious seconds for your team to respond.  Or maybe they hit somewhere else while the enemy is distracted.  Very simply, you have infinite lives.  Use them!  Make them count!
  • Use the Terrain - In PvE, I know those rocks are, at best, a pretty piece of scenery.  At worst, and annoyance.  In PvP... they're a shield!  The can block casts and/or hide your from unfriendly eyes.  Duck behind the shack.  Avoid peaks of hills and return the flag through the valleys.  Terrain can be you friend in PvP, pay attention to what works, and try to see it from your enemies point of view.  If you don't use the terrain, I guarantee your enemy will.
  • Cast Control - (Cue up a certain Prince song).  But seriously, don't blow everything you've got right up front.  Then you're left, well, impotent, and no one wants that.  A big part of PvP is knowing when to use your spells.  Do we back load our CC?  Should we go for a cleave?  In PvE, as a DPSer especially, you grow used to going all out ALL THE TIME.  The only choice is when to pop heroism or that one really long cooldown your class has.  In PvP, you'll be using a lot of utility spells that are on shorter cooldowns.  Make sure you control yourself.  Use them at the correct time and save us all a lot of embarrassment.
  • Know the Big Picture - One of the first things I try to get newbie PvPers to do is turn on the battlefield mini-map.  That's the on you get by pressing shift-m (if you haven't changed the default keybind for it).  I don't know how people PvP without this.  It's like being blind.  The BMM shows you all the objectives, who holds them, and where all your team members are.  It will also show you the flag carriers, though the EFC only if you can actually see them (if they're following "U" above, then they may not show up right away).  You will take your game to the next level with this one simple step.  When we started our RBG, I had people wonder "how does he know where I am?"  I was, after all, across the map fighting at a different node.  It was like, "Duh, battlefield map... oh you don't even know about it? B'whaa?"  It is absolutely crucial that you know not only what's going in your neck of the woods, but also in the entire forest.  That is, if you want to be a woodsmen.  Terrible metaphor aside... Know what the muck is going on!
That's it.  Those are my four.  They represent a larger view of some of the most glaring things I've seen.  I would call these things "the basics."  Yet, for PvE players, I don't think a lot of this comes naturally.  To some extent, they're things I've taken for granted after years of PvP.  When I encounter someone mucking up, my initial reaction is one of bewilderment and anger.  How could you not know these basic concepts?  But that's probably not fair.  If you've not PvPed regularly, you've probably not picked up this stuff.  They're just not all that important in PvE.

PvE folks, you know how to gear.  You know how to press buttons in a semi-sequential order for maximum effect.  You even know how to avoid the bad.  There are a lot of transferable skills.  These four, however, I think you need to learn.  At least, if you don't want to annoy a muck-head like me.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cyn's Tips: Corpse Running

Quick one this Monday.  Cynwise talks briefly (for him) about corpse running in battlegrounds.  Since we've put together our own fledgling Rated BG team, I've been on the lookout for the little things that differentiate a PvP player from a PvE player.  The majority of our team is PvE players that are trying out PvP (some for the first time).  It's something I've done for a long time now, and I'm realizing there are a lot of small things that you just don't learn in PvE.

Off hand, things like when to use CC and how to use terrain to your advantage come to mind.  A lot of these are things I do naturally now, that I never really realized I picked up.  When one of my guildies doesn't do it, I have a mini-WTF moment before I realize: they just don't know.  It's amazing sometimes to step back and reflect how different the two aspects of the same game can really be.  They honestly require a whole different skill-set, IMO.

Anyway, Cyn's explanation of corpse running is a good one.  It's something I could use to get better at as well.  I've only really done it in randoms in order to avoid someone GY camping.  It's never really occurred to me in the RBG's, though it should because the rez timer is so much longer there.  Also, with the return to GY button, there's really not a downside.  Tick off the timer in your head as you run, and return if it looks like you're not going to gain an advantage.  I mean, why not?

So check it out.  Share it with your team.  Go forth, and prosper.  (And all that junk.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Warlocky Dream

A quiet meow drifted on the cool, fall breeze that stirred Fulguralis's robe.   He lifted his head and gazed off toward the sound.  The streets of Stormwind were empty, the only dancing in the street performed by fallen leaves.  Overhead, the moon burned bright, making the scattered street lamps redundant.

Another meow answered the first, tickling the warlock's ear.  He turned toward it, eyes glinting from deep within his hood.  A shadow darted across the alley.  Fulguralis loosened his blade in its sheath.


The sound seemed almost sensual now, with a little growl at the end.  Several more like it came from behind piles of trash in the street.  Fulguralis took a step forward.


"Don't toy with me, cat," the warlock growled.

But the cat only answered: meow.

His sword was in his hand now, pulsing with the power enchanted into the steel.  He held a magical tome in the other.  He supposed the book was more for comfort than anything else.  He certainly didn't read it in the midst of battle, though it did seem to help his spell casting.  Perhaps holding ancient words made one say them more crisply.


It was a chorus now.  A gang of cats, just around the corner ahead.  He could see the shadows coalescing beneath the street lamp.  The feline silhouette arched, elongated in its reflection on the stones as it spoke.  A dozen answered.


The warlock took a step backward.  There were too many.  Too many cats.  But it was too late.

They sensed his hesitance and surged forward, a sea of fur breaking around the bend.  Except they weren't cats, but kittens.  Achingly cute kittens, with large eyes capturing the moonlight and holding it hostage.  Eerily, they had stopped meowing, and a kind of silence clutched the alley.  Only the padding of little feet, the click of claws on stone, and a rumble upset the stillness.

What is that? Fulguralis asked.  Then it dawned on him.  They're purring.

The first set of claws gouged his boots.  The next set tore his robe.  The warlock flailed about him with sword and book, knocking the furry fiends away.  They screeched as they slammed into the walls, slid down, and rejoined the throng.  The horde kept coming.

"Get. Off. Me," Fulguralis yelled in between swipes.  "Enough!"

The air flexed around him.  A shadow passed over the moon.  And there, in the alleyway, stood a purple demon. 

Claws met claws.  The demon's wings flapped wildly as it threw cats from its back.  It began to make progress when it burst into flames.  Great bursts of fire pulsed out from the purple monstrosity.  The stink of burning fur filled the night.

The demon leaped into the air.  It took one flap of wings and then landed with both feet.  Hard.  On top of the kittens.  They burst beneath him like overripe pumpkins.  Instead of the the gore the demon expected, however, coins clattered to the pavement.  Suddenly, the night was filled with clinking.

One kitten after another was destroyed, bursting into metallic currency.  The demon hopped about with glee, stomping on anything with a wagging tail.  Behind him, a trail of gold.

~ * ~

Fulguralis woke in the morning feeling refreshed.  He hopped down the stairs to find his wife sipping warm tea that table in the manor's kitchen.  He kissed her on the forehead before filling his own mug.

"Sleep well last night, dear?" she asked.

He shrugged.  "Well enough."

"You certainly seemed to be having one fel of a dream.  First you were yelling, thrashing at the covers.  Then you disintegrated into maniacal cackling."

He smiled and nodded.  "It was good."

Fuubaar leveled a gaze at her husband.  "Were you killing baby mages again?"

The warlock shook his head.  "Kittens."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Killing the Kittens

All right. I'll chime in on Kittengate (thanks Hugh).  I've seen enough e-words written to classify this as a hot topic.  How hot?  That's your call.

Personally, I'm pretty "meh" about it.  For anyone who's been living under a rock (Or apparently reads only me... and for that I am extremely grateful and apologize for the whole rock thing.  Rocks are nice this time of year, I hear.), the long story short is this: Soon, Blizz will sell an uber-cute kitten pet for cash.  This is not a new step.  The new step is that the kitten will be not be bound until you use it, thus making it AH-able.

There was a lot of noise from the peanut galleries.  Most were saying how this is a move to "legitimize" Real Money Trading.  I guess the theory is that you'd buy a crate of kittens for, like, $60 (that's a half dozen kittens, for those of you keeping score) and then proceed to market them on the AH, swimming in Scrooge McDuck-like mounds of gold.  Or at least a nice profit.  

So, Ima go ahead and try to kill the kitten here.  That's what I do.  I'm a warlock.

First of all, I want to point out that the "cute" factor does nothing for me.  +100 immunity to charms, I guess.  Now, if it was an instant-cast-warlock-sprouting-demonic-wings-and-being-able-to-behave-like-a-flying-mount--like ability... then we'd be talking.  But a kitten?  C'mon.  What's the market going to be like for these things?

Seriously, how many of these things do you think people are going to buy?  Are people really going to want it on all of their toons?  Or just one?  And for the people that ZOMG MUST HAVE... dontcha think they might just fork over the $10 to begin with?  I guess I have huge doubts about the re-sale market here.  I would think it too unreliable to really, truly provide an avenue of RMT.  It's going to saturate, and fast.  Then what?  You're sitting on a stack of kittens with no way to move them.  Might as well get a couple hundred plastic bags, hang them from your rusted bike, and invest in cardboard housing solutions.  You're on a one-way road to crazy-catlady-ville.

(Today is, apparently, the day of the hyphen.)

Maybe I'm wrong though.  Perhaps my immunity to cuteness is blinding me.

So let's say it is a RMT solution.  That people can use it to get an extra big of cash.  I guess I'm going to go out on a limb and say "who cares?"  There was a time when I was strongly against being able to buy extra game items for cash.  But, really, it hasn't harmed the game.  (This is separate from unsupported gold selling, which supports hacking, which I'm firmly against.  I'm talking only legit, Blizz stuff here).

Since that time, I've tried out some free-to-play games.  I've done some LOTRO, several simple iPhone games, and even dabbled in the Facebook gaming scene.  My reversal of feeling has come around in tandem with my own foray into independent publishing.  And here's why...

As an aspiring anything, we rely on our fans to support us.  If you want to see more games from a small company or more books from a small author, you need to spend money to support them.  As consumers, we vote with our dollar very loudly when it comes to small-timers like myself.  Every purchase matters to me.  And the Internet is making this possible in a big way that it never was before.  Small companies with great ideas can get the cash to execute them.  Look at Portal.  Look at Angry Birds. 

Now, Blizz is hardly a small-timer.  Still, purchases add up.  I'm sure the revenue isn't anything to scoff at.  We may not matter as individuals to Blizzard as much, but collectively it's still in their best interest to please us.

Lately, I've become a big fan of the Heroes of Neverwinter Facebook game.  It's completely F2P.  So far, I've not found anything in the game that I can't get with enough in-game patience and currency.  Even so, I spent $5 recently on a bundle of all-purpose "crystals."  They let me buy a whole lot of things in the game, separate from my "gold."  What's more, I felt really good about my purchase.  I may spend another $5 soon.  I really like what they're doing.  I wanted to give them some money, and five bucks is totally cheap for the entertainment I've gotten out of their product.

I would love to see more companies move to this sort of model.  Let people choose to pay and choose to support you.  It makes me feel all marchy.  You know, like I could go out and enact social change or something.

How does this apply to Blizz and WoW?  Well, what if they're learning from all these transactions that they can offer their next MMO as F2P, supported solely by pet and mount sales?  What if they eventually get rid of the WoW sub, and simply ask you to pay a bit for each expansion, and subsidize based on cash items?  Or what if they simply take the buy-in as a sign to continue to produce uber-cute pets because we apparently love them?

I think there is a "right" way to use the emerging business model of F2P.  Sure, it can go horribly wrong and make people feel nickle and dimed... but it can also be done right so that you feel good about supporting a game.  I'm a cheap ass engineer.  I generally never feel good about spending money.  Yet, I did with Heroes of Neverwinter.  I appreciate things done well to the extent that throwing in $5 is No Big Deal.

So maybe we shouldn't kill the kitten.  Maybe it could prove to be a good thing for us in the larger scheme of things.  It's hard to say.  I mean, that path is not without its dangers.  It wouldn't be good to limit content or things like that... but to offer real, honest-to-the-Light value for your money and move away from subs?  What's not to like there?

Monday, October 10, 2011

And Now, For Something A Little Different

One of the decisions that has percolated out of our guild due to the 4.3 rumblings is that our Sunday gearing runs are on hold until the patch drops.  We've all felt significantly frustrated with PvE gearing this expansion, and see the random dungeon finder as a small sliver of hope.  Sundays had been rough for us.  Since it was a "bonus" day (our progression day is Monday), we'd been having trouble filling out our ten.  Some of that was scheduling, but I believe a lot of it was a general lack of motivation to run this stuff.  And, while we could 9 or 8 (or even 7) man most of the old bosses, it starts to become a challenge.  Well, we don't want a challenge on farm nights.  That's what Monday is for.

In swoops the raid finder.  It'll not only help us fill out, but should also ratchet down the difficulty so that we can keep Sundays firmly in the fun and easy "farm" zone.  We'll see if it proves out.

As such, my play time has been diminished.  I raid Mondays, cap my CP with Fuu in 2v2 arenas on Tuesdays, and run rated BG's with the guild on Thursdays.  Otherwise I'm not logging in.

I'm pretty busy right now outside of gaming, but I always feel the urge to have a game "be there" when free time unexpectedly crops up.  Since I've distilled WoW down to a few easily achievable weekly goals, I wanted something else.  The new Assassin's Creed game isn't out yet.  Neither is Skyrim.  I got my pre-order for SW:TOR. (I'm pumped about it, but refraining from relaying the hype on here as there is probably already too much hype.  I'm keeping my expectations low.  So long as there are light-sabers in it, I'll be a happy fanboi.  I realize that probably makes me part of the problem).

So I went old-school.  There exists out there a somewhat fringe, cult game that I have secretly loved for many years now.  The simple, addicting gameplay has stuck with me over the years, and from time to time the memories pop back up and I think: Why didn't they make more games like this?

The game, my secret pleasure, is Ogre Battle 64.  If you've not played it, it's a simple little real time strategy J-RPG.  I guess you could say it plays sort of like a Final Fantasy with phased, turn-based combat, but it's all automated.  You're not choosing spells from menus or anything.  You simply gear your pawns, give them a strategy, and watch how it plays out.  The meat of the decisions are made in how you disperse your troops and where you send them to capture the various objectives.  It's actually pretty simple, and fairly easy.  I definitely wouldn't say it's super challenging.

Yet, it has stayed with me.  I love how it plays.  It's one of those games where I look up and... oops an hour has gone by.  Still.

So, I'm playing through it again.  There are six endings.  I've probably seen them all.  I like the story, though.  It's been long enough that I don't remember it all.  It can be cheesy at times, but I like the characters.  It's fun.

What I wanted to know is if any of you have played this game?  And no, I didn't bust out the 64 (mine is long gone... sold at a garage sale for some much-needed upgrade cash as a kid).  I have an emulator on my PC.  You can find them for free and they're pretty solid.  I'm not sure if they're strictly legal or not, but I don't see how else you do it.

If you're someone that has played the game... have you found any subsequent games that are like this one?  I'm talking everything about the gameplay.  The game-board like feel.  The long-ass cutscenes of story between missions (that actually tell a story, even if on-rails).  The fully automated combat (I'm not looking for menu driven Final Fantasy clones here).  If you've played, you'll understand the minute differences I'm talking about.  Is there anything else out there like this?  It's so hard to find, I think, because it's just atypical of the genre.  J-RPG's are dominated by controlling a character and running through towns and BAM... battle.  I really like the whole mission to mission thing in Ogre Battle 64.

Anyway, hit me up in comments if you know of something good.  I don't mind spending a bit of money either (so long as I don't have to buy an entire antiquated system).  I can already tell that this game isn't going to hold me until those new releases drop.

Friday, October 7, 2011

To Wrap Up The Week

No fiction today, sorry. I've been sick all week, plus work has been busy. Amazing how that happens, right? It's like they wait until I feel like crap to all show up at my desk and want stuff done.  In any case, the day's already flying by and it's not looking like I'm going to have the appropriate time to dedicate to a good bit of fiction.

On that front, though, I'll pass along some news.  I've compiled a short story based on the posts I made for the Fall of the Lich King that we're planning to submit for the Blizzard Fan Fic contest.  It's short at around 3,500 words, but represents some good memories from what I consider the pinnacle of the game.  (Right now, anyway.  I reserve the right to have the future change my judgement, but killing Arthas was truly a great moment in gaming).

It'll be prettied up, and I added a new little bit at the end to tie it all together.  When it gets done, I want to try to offer it around here for your e-reading devices.  I'm not sure if I'm allowed to go through like Amazon or B&N or any of those places, but at the very least we're going to try to set up a little download mirror that will let you download it for free.  I'll be open to suggestions when we get it up.  We're also working on getting the rest of the fiction in a single, coherent format so you don't have to comb through archives and such around here... making it more of a novella than a collection of posts.  We'll see how it turns out.

Apart from that, I've been thinking about gearing all week, and wanted to wrap up the hot topic with a few last thoughts.  Cynwise wrote a great article today sort of tying things together and hashing out the basics for each gear path.  As he says, there is not really one thing you can point to as a good solution, and each PvE and PvP path has its problems.

My final thought on the whole thing is that, reading Cyn's bullet points, I can't help but feel like the PvP system is better suited for PvE players, and the PvE system would appeal to PvP'ers more.  That sounds crazy, but look at it this way.  If PvP seems more suited for a gradual build-up over time, a steady progression to gearing with periodic resets... isn't that what we want in PvE?  We want to make steady progress, and if stuff resets along the way, that makes the entry barrier to raiding that much shorter.

Then you have PvE, where gear seems to retain its value for longer and the player base gets more stratified (borrowing Cyn's word, a good one) over time.  Aren't those things that appeal to your typical PvP player?  They want to be rewarded for being beating another player, and then to have that reward mean something.  It's almost like Blizz has it backward.

At the same time, though, one has to acknowledge that, to some extent, each of these paths are products of their respective environments.  For instance, how would gear resets work in PvE with each tier?  Or in PvP how could you maintain a stratified player-base without ruining competitiveness?  There's simply no easy solution.  At the end of they day, all we can really say is that they each have their own problems.  And those problems may be more or less annoying depending completely on the person. 

What drives Cyn bonkers, I may take comfort in.  What I can't stand, he sees as a ray of hope.  Yet, we both play Warlocks and love our class/the game enough to blog about it (ad nauseum, for years).  It's really two sides of the same coin. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wherein I Get Angrier And Less Constructive About Gear

Coming on the heels of yesterday's attempt at offering a rational solution for what I perceive to be a problem, I've now seen the Blue Post regarding clarifications for the Valor Point changes in 4.3.  For a good summary of the information, check out WoW Insider here.

My initial reaction is to throw things.  It's a joke that the raid finder's limit on VP is 500 per week.  Can you even get anything for 500?

For the record, a new piece of gear PER WEEK is not fast.  I understand the need to cap VP gains so that people don't chain run and replace all their gear in a short amount of time.  What I do not understand is why the devs feel the need to force us into a breadth of activities to achieve these Valor Points.  You can't just pick the path you enjoy the most, because the limits on each are set low.  You have to do multiple things if you want to gear SLOWLY.  As in, one piece of gear per week slowly. 

That is bollocks.  How can they get this right with PvP, yet bone it up so hard in PvE.  Slap an overall VP limit that is right around the average cost of a piece of gear.  Then, simply let folks decide what they want to do to get there.  It's fine if you put a slightly lower limit to encourage people to try a different path each week... but 500 is far too low for that.  Heck, 1000 is too low. 

I'm okay with big items like tier pieces and/or weapons costing double.  But in my opinion, the goal should be to make it possible for people to gear up, on average, one piece per week.  At that pace, content will be cleared, and you don't have to worry so much about when to nerf.  They've already admitted that we're behind, in general, where they want us to be... why impose more limits on VP?  Open it up for Light's sake!

The problem I see, the disconnect, hinges directly from the statement that the "aim is to return to the days of valor points being a consolation prize rather than being central to the gearing process."  Aka - we want you to gear through raiding.  Then fix your damn drop system!  It's awful.  The loot tables are awful.  What drops is awful.  The things people need don't drop, and the items people can't use always drop.  Who are these tuned for?  I've not seen one post ever where someone has said: "Wow, I seem to get all the drops I need through raiding."

VP is a necessary part of the gearing process because Blizz has MADE IT SO.  EGADS!  It's working as felling designed (if not intended).  How the fel do any of these VP changes help make it easier to get gear through raid drops?  All I see is a bunch of restrictions as if they're afraid to make VP "too good" and to limit the number of drops you can get to make sure people don't "overfarm" or something.

Here's a thought: GETTING GEAR IS FUNBy placing all these ridiculous limits on gearing, not only do you make it harder to understand, but you are restricting THE FUN.  You wouldn't have to nerf the fel out of the raids if you'd simply let us gear a bit faster. 

The base problem I see is this: The gear you get per hour spent doing PvE things is horrible right now.  As I said yesterday, for PvP it seems tuned correctly... and CP/HP is an integral part of the process (you don't have drops).  So either fix the drops in PvE to be more effective, or embrace that fact that token points really aren't that bad when tuned correctly.  I don't think a new piece of gear per week is too much to ask.  Especially at this new, faster release rate.  If you want us to burn through content, you're going to have to speed up the gear.  Instead, we seem to be going the other way with it.  Why?

I've seen the "gearing up" malaise strike a lot more people this expansion.  It takes the form of "why even try when the gear is going to be obsolete in a month or two."  It's pretty simple to understand why.  If you spend a whole lot of time and effort getting something, then you want it to last.  Seems at direct odds with pushing people through content faster.  Make up your mind, Blizz.  What do you want?  Valuable gear spread out over time, or fast paced adventures through quick-released content?  You can't have both.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Crazy Dream: PvE Arenas

The more that I play 2v2 arenas, the more my issues with the current PvE gearing solidify.  It seems strange to find PvE clarity through PvP, but I suppose it simply serves to highlight that Blizz can still do things completely right.  And make no mistake, I think the current gearing path for PvP is completely right.  Sure we had that slight snafu during the transition from season 9 to season 10.  But if you throw that bit of confusion out (which we were probably over-compensated for anyway), it's really proven to be a pretty good system.

I wish I could say the same for PvE.  The word painful comes to mind, and that's it.  What I think Blizzard forgot is that we enjoy getting new gear.  That's part of the... what's that word?  Oh yeah.  Fun.  Gearing is fun.  Yet, the whole expansion has been focused on limiting the speed of gearing.  We've been forced to throttle our fun, lest we exhaust it too soon.

I understand why they slowed us down, but I'm not sure that it's been done evenly.  The more I play arenas, the more I believe that PvP has hit the nail on the head, while PvE has missed the mark... by about a week.  I would conjecture that what takes me one night of casual play to accomplish in PvP, takes me a week in PvE.

I guess my main complaint is simply that PvE gearing is too slow and arduous.  That is to say, I don't feel like I'm adequately rewarded for my time and effort spent.  Spend two hours playing arenas, and you can cap your CP for the week.  Spend two hours running dungeons, and you can get two done... if you're lucky.  And what is that?  ~300 VP on a good day?  Compared to ~1200 CP.  And we're not even "killing it" in arenas.  We lose as much as we win.  I'm sure we could cap a lot faster.

The difference, as I see it, is that I can put in a good two hours of playing, cap out for the week, and net myself a gear upgrade (Or significantly closer to one.  Some are more expensive.  Like weapons.  And I'm totally okay with that).  To get the same treatment from PvE, I basically need to run each day of the week for two hours.  Hardly equivalent.

And I know, we're supposed to be raiding to get gear upgrades.  But the VP isn't exactly falling from the sky there either.  Also, the loot tables seem horribly tuned.  We routinely get drops we can't use.  Or the same drops we got last night.  Or the same slot that dropped from the last boss.  I mean I'm sure it's not "by design," but it certainly feels that way a lot more, doesn't it?

In Wrath, there were always one or two slots (I would argue now there are like 4 or 5, but let's throw that one out for the moment) that were hard to get.  And you could chain run the super-quick heroics, be rewarded with a good (it seemed) number of token points, and fill a lot of your slots with purchased gear.  Now, I can agree that it led to some crazy patterns of running and gearing out super quick.  So I'm fine with capping.  I just want a fun way to reach the cap, and the current answer of heroics are not it.  Raids aren't really cutting either, though maybe they're working on that with all the nerfs.

Here's what I know.  As a player and long time customer, I'm really looking forward to arenas tonight.  I've been capped all week, and that has simply built my anticipation.  They're getting the same money from me whether I log on Tuesday excited, or log on Saturday frustrated with the same troll-roics I've been running each day.  Wouldn't you rather have an excited customer?  And I have to believe a lot of that is simply due to the feeling that I can get somewhere in PvP.  It has been tuned correctly, in my opinion (as far as gearing goes... class balance is a whole 'nother post).

So what would I like to see?  I do have an idea.  I always try to have an idea when I whine.  Try this one on for size...

While we all hated the idea of a one room raid (ToC), I don't think we similarly hated the idea of one room dungeons (think Violet Hold, but there really hasn't been one of these in each expansion).  Let's take that assumption and run with it.  Arena-ize it, if you will.  Arenas are fun because you can queue up, be thrown right in to the mix, be done in 10-15 with a moderate reward.  They're a quick fix, balanced nicely with other, longer options.

I think we need that option on the PvE side.  We need a PvE arena.  Want to be radical?  Make it 2vB, or 3vB, or 5vB options.  Throw in a random boss.  Scale the health depending on the players, but don't change the mechanics.  Part of the fun might be: do we go in with two DPS and try to burn and kite?  Do we need a tank?  How about a healer?  It breaks away from the holy trinity... and that's what I love about this idea.

Now, I grant that that would be a pretty ambitious projects so deep into an MMO's life-cycle.  It may not be worth it, from a business sense, to commit so many resources to a project.  So here's the lazy version: One random dungeon (maybe even a scaled raid?) boss, 5 players enter.  You get one shot.  If you wipe, you are awarded no points and my the Light have mercy on your soul.  Otherwise, you get a nice little hit of points.  No gold.  No drops.  Simply VP.  Maybe like 50 with a ~1200 cap.  It'd still be somewhat slower than arenas, but boy would I think that'd be fun.  And it'd give us a quick fix option that it seems we're lacking.

Is this a horrible idea?  Would it ruin some aspect that I'm not thinking off?  Let me know what you think.