Friday, October 31, 2008

The cheats I can’t resist take away the fun from questing

Tobold’s, the grand old master of MMO blogging, made an interesting post last week about goals and activities in the game. He puts into words what I’ve felt but haven’t quite been able vocalise - why I find raiding and taking part in group activities so much more fun than questing and grinding for achievements.

It’s all about predictability. If you’re doing quest at the appropriate level they won’t be hard, unless you’re completely new to your class and haven’t got a clue what to do.
As Tobold’s writes:

The sad truth is that the fight of a solo player against monsters in a MMORPG involves little or no skill. The outcome of such a fight is to a large extent determined by your level and gear, and to a very small extent to your ability to play your class well. There are many monsters you can easily kill by just mashing buttons randomly or in always the same sequence.

And as if the solo playing wasn’t predictable enough as it is, we make it even worse by using tools which helps us. They’re all allowed, so maybe “cheating” is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. I’ve been doing it for a long time myself. It didn’t take long after I’d taken my first clueless steps into Azeroth before I heard about Thottbot, giving the information you needed to make quests smoother and quicker. And then I started to follow James levelling guides. I deserted them entering Outlands, where quests weren’t spread all over the place. But I kept going to Wowhead and other databases to get coordinates and ideas how to execute quests whenever in doubt.

Nowadays levelling my alt, I’ve got the addon Lightheaded activated whenever I plan to go questing. If I’m in doubt where to go I click on the given coordinates and oops the TomTom addon will provide me with an arrow so I know where to head and even inform me exactly how far away it is. Off I go, mashing my buttons randomly, knowing that the basilisks, pigs or talbuks will go down no matter what errors I make….
Knowing myself
Of course this is all voluntary. I choose to use those tools. I could as well refrain from them and let the world come to me. I could read nothing but the quest texts and then wonder around trying to figure out where to find the right mob and exactly what to do. Some quests would be easily made anyway. Like if you pick up the quest outside the mine at Honor Hold and the questgiver tells you to go into the mine and kill stuff you find there. You don’t need any addon or webpage to get the picture. But some quests would definitely become harder and more time consuming if I did it the vanillia way.

But I know myself. I’ll take whatever help I can find to get the quests done as quickly and easily as possible. And I’m sure I’ll keep doing this in Northrend, even though I know that I hereby deprive myself from the fun in discovering things by myself. And I’m not alone in this. This, according to Tobold is how most players act. If we can do a quest a smooth and safe way we do it.
It doesn't matter that virtual death doesn't hurt, and only costs us a bit of time to reverse, we still are doing our best to achieve our goals without taking much risk.
An unpleasant thought comes into my head reading this: my behaviour seems to be as predictable as the one of rats in animal experiments. I’ll be running with the ratrace crowd in Northrend, not thinking a second for myself, in the rush to 80.
Unpredictability in raids
I honestly see the upcoming levelling of Larísa most of all as an annoying obstacle that lies between me and the new raid instances at level 80. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that questing as such lacks the magical ingredient that Tobald points out. The ingredient that raiding has.

It doesn’t matter how many addons you have, how many videos you see or how many strategies you read. Every single raid you go to is unique. It will always be a little bit different due to the setup and above all the interaction between the players. There’s no way you can’t cheat that and turn the raid into a mechanic mindless smashing of buttons (well maybe if you’ve had it on farm for a very long time, but definitely not to begin with).

The unpredictability. That’s one of the things that keep me hooked to raiding. And the lack of it is what makes me look at questing as a necessary evil I’d rather get done with quickly, than something that could be entertaining on its own.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

200 posts and 20 questions with Larísa

The Pink Pigtail Inn has reached another milestone today. This is post number 200 since the start in February. I must admit that I’m pretty surprised when I think about the amount of rants I’ve put together. If you printed it out it would be enough to make a smaller book.

You can wonder why I give any attention at all to it. Isn’t this just another number? Isn’t celebrating the birthday of a blog once a year enough? Do you really have to tell the world about whenever you’ve made an even number of posts? Isn’t this kind of self-centred?

Honestly I don’t have any good reason for it. But I think it’s got something to do with the needs to orient yourself a bit in this constant flow of thoughts and words. It gives me a reason to stop up for a moment and reflect a bit on my own blogging. Why am I doing it, what have I done so far and where am I going? Those milestones give me something to hold on to.

On similar occasions earlier, I’ve made overviews over earlier posts, referring some of my previous posts briefly to get new readers the chance to get some history without having to browse the whole archive.

This time I’ve decided to make it a bit differently. I interviewed myself, shamelessly stealing the format from Matticus famous series. Some of my answers are probably known if you’ve been reading PPI for some time. Some of it may be new. Anyway: here you are, the biggest wall of text ever published on The Pink Pigtail Inn:

20 questions with Larísa, asked by Larísa

1. We know that you’re a gnomish mage with pink pigtails and a big apetite for raiding. But who are you in real life?
If you look at the hard, superficial facts I’m a 40 year old Swedish woman with family including two teenage daughters. Professionally I'm an ex journalist who turned into PR and information. Currently I'm studying though.

The softer aspects of me, my personality and inner life, are harder to describe. I guess it shows in the posts.

2. When did you start playing World of Warcraft and why?
I was introduced to it by my younger sister, who told me I should try it since she thought I’d love it. “I don’t have time for such a thing”, I told her. “There’s ALWAYS time for WoW”, she replied. So I bought the game in the Christmas 2006 and installed it a month later. That was a pain – it was basically my first computer game ever if you don’t count a few sessions of Lemmings and a little bit of Civilization. I was very proud when I finally entered the world.

I the beginning the idea was to have it as a project together with my teenage daughter. But she soon lost interest in it, while I got more and more caught. My sister who made me start in the first place stopped playing long ago.

3. Are you a geek?
A little bit, I guess. I feel at home in this kind of environment. Many years ago I used to be a science fiction fan, publishing fanzines of my own and attending conventions. I remember joining that movement felt like coming home. Suddenly being a nerd was pretty normal. Now I haven’t been active in the science fiction fandom for many years, but I got a sort of flashback when I joined the WoW community. There are definitely resemblances. I’m back to where I belong.

4. What keeps you playing?
I don’t think I would have been so addicted to the game if it wasn’t for the social side of it and the raiding. Levelling, gathering and doing stuff on your own can be relaxing for a while but honestly if that was all there was, I’d never have been caught by it.

I’m fascinated by the team work and the leadership it takes to beat the new challenges they put up to us. No matter how stupid it sounds – I like wiping. As long as everyone is doing their best and you see that you take millimetre steps forward, a wipe night can be totally OK. If it wasn’t for the wipe nights the first kills wouldn’t be as sweet as they are. But of course there are social activities outside of raiding as well. Those online friendships you develop are amazing. When you’re not stopped by prejudices about age, gender and looks, you can get to know awesome people you never would have considered saying hi to in real life. That’s one of the coolest things about the game.

5. What made you start blogging?
I got the idea to blog about the game from a Swedish blogger, Consentire, who now has left WoW for Warhammer. I stumbled upon his blog via a Swedish WoW forum and I thought it was cool and fun to read, and so the idea came into my head to start a blog of my own, not having any clear idea at all about what it would be like.

After that I’ve developed the blog in steps. One big step was decision to turn it into English. Translating all of the written posts from Swedish was a huge grind, but well worth it, looking back. Another big step was to change platform, to Blogger, to get rid of the annoying Google gold ads. I’ve glad I did that too.

6. What keeps you blogging?
Blogging has given me back the fun of writing. I’ve been writing professionally so long that it had lost some of its lustre. But this is done out of pleasure, without any pressure. It’s free and it’s fun and I can combine writing with my favourite hobby – WoW. But I also appreciate the social side of blogging, as well as I like the social side of the game. I didn’t have any knowledge about the Blogosphere when I started. Now I’ve grown into it and it feels like an extra guild to me. I love how we comment on each others blogs. It’s a wonderful network.

And of course I love my guests. The comments you give me, the support, the link love… It gives me daily inspiration to keep going. Lately I’ve got a few letters from people who say that I’ve inspired them to start blogs of their own. I can't understand in what way, perhaps it's that I'm an example of that you can blog even if you're quite an ordinary player and not an expert in any sense. Anyway, it's amazing to hear and makes me very happy.

Another great bonus of blogging is that it improves my English. I’m aware of that my readers have to put up with a lot of errors, but I feel that I’m developing. When I began I sort of translated my thoughts from Swedish. Now I switch over to thinking in English while writing right from the beginning. That’s a huge step forward.

7. What’s your blog focus?
If I only knew! I’ve never been able to find a special niche of my own. I guess it’s because I know the game to little in depth to have any valuable information to provide that you can’t find better on other blogs and websites.

I blog about things that I come to think about, about my everyday life and about the game from the perspective of a somewhat newbie mage who’s lost her heart to raiding. I refuse to put any restrictions on myself only to blog about gold making or pets or crafting, even though I know that specializing is advisable if you want to succeed as a blogger.

8. How important are the visitor numbers to you?
When I started to blog I thought I didn’t care at all about it. I told myself that I only blogged for myself, which is what most new bloggers think. Now I can admit that I care to some extent. I don’t think I’d be happy if no one cared about what I wrote. Then I could as well write a diary on paper for myself. If you publish something on the net you mean something by doing it. It’s like you’re starting a conversation, hoping that someone will find it.

On the other hand, visitor numbers aren’t so important to me that I’d change the blog in order to attract more readers or start to advertise it a lot. Since I don’t have any ads or aspirations on making money on my blog, I don’t have that kind of pressure on me.

I’m happy with the small but loyal audience I’ve got. Lately it’s been growing quite a bit and that's nice of course. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the number of subscriptions broke the 100 limit, they're now about 120. And there are some 100-140 daily unique visitors. That’s peanuts if you compare it to the Big Name Blogs, but it’s enough for me to feel that the inn is inhabited, that it’s appreciated and alive.

9. Have you any advice for a fresh blogger?
I repeat what I’ve said before and what Matticus always preaches: keep writing. A blogger who doesn’t blog isn’t a blogger. Don’t get paralyzed by your own ambitions when it comes to advanced layout or writing The Most Awesome Theorycrafting Post of Your Class Ever. Don’t put ALL of your energy into one incredible post and then get so exhausted that you can’t think about writing anything more. Keep it small and simple and keep the blog posts coming. It pays off in the long run. Comment a lot on other blogs. That helps you grow into the Blogosphere naturally.

10. Tell me about your plans for future development of The Pink Pigtail Inn.
Honestly I don’t have any. Of course there are things that could be improved. The layout isn’t exactly what I’d call fancy and there are no fancy widgets at all. It would be cool to have a real .com address instead of having a domain under Blogspot. But I don’t have the time and knowledge or the commitment to do such changes. I think this level is OK for me.

What I would like is a few more guest posts. It gives variation and it gives me a little break. Zakesh has been a bit lazy lately. I’ll see if I may come up with someone else to help out a bit. Otherwise I’ll keep it up on my own. But I should probably try to cut down a little on the writing. Writing five posts a week is a little bit too much to me, considering my real life commitments.

11. Does your guild know about your blog?
They definitly do. I’ve never tried to hide it, on the contrary I advertise it in my signature on the guild forum. I honestly don’t know how many of them that read it – I think most WoW players prefer to spend their WoW time actually playing the game rather than reading blogs.

But to me it’s an important principle that I never ever write anything on the blog that I couldn’t tell my guild. I don’t go behind backs. If you ask me I think bloggers who do that are taking huge risks. Sooner or later someone will find out and people will be hurt.

Luckily enough I’ve got a great guild, so I don’t feel restricted at all. There are no meaty guild drama stories to vent, so my policy of openness doesn’t change the content of the blog.

12. Which are your favourite WoW blogs?
Oh dear, that was the question I feared would come…. It’s really hard to answer. Look at my blogroll. It’s huge. And there are a bunch of other blogs I read as well, following links from other blogs, I’ve just been to lazy to add them to my own. How can I mention someone and not someone else? It doesn’t feel right. But OK. I must give a little extra love to my mage colleagues, the participants of the Great Battle of the Mages. Gnomeaggedon, Krizzlybear and Zupa (the latest hopefully coming back from the dead soon, I never stop hoping). You all entered the blogging scene a little later than I did and something happened at that point. Blogging suddenly went much more fun and inspiring.

13. What are you up to in WoW right now?
I’m still raiding two times a week, even though it’s different to what it used to be after the nerf. We try out our specs, we make sure everyone can see bosses they have missed and we pick up gear that is nice to have, even though it will be replaced before we start raiding in WotLK. Apart from that I’m levelling my first alt, a rogue, which is great fun. I particularly love her moves and her rogue tricks like vanish, pick pocketing and lock picking. Recently I trained Cloak of Shadows, a spell that any mage definitly would envy the rogues. It's fantastic.

I’m not a part of the Achievement Circus. I don’t feel I have time to engage into that.

14. What real life consumables do you bring to a raiding night?
A glass of orange juice and a banana mid-raid.

15. What was the last movie you saw?
The new one by Woody Allen, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona".

16. What’s your favourite addon?
Cryolysis, the number 1 action bar slot saver for mages. They've finally released a new version, Cryolysis 3, which seems to work for me. Yay!

17. What are you looking forward to in WoLK?
I’m looking forward to seeing all the new sceneries. Entering a new area has always been like opening a Christmas gift to me. And I long for the new instances, everything from 5 man to 25 man.

18. What are you NOT looking forward to?
I’m NOT looking forward to the process of installing it – I’m not skilled at the technical stuff and if anything goes wrong I’m lost. I’m also a bit worried if my computer will be able to handle all the new stuff without lagging too much.

19. What’s your happiest WoW memory?
That’s a difficult question and memories are tricky – often the latest event comes into your mind. But I must say that the killing of Archimonde was very memorable. We finally did it after all those wipe nights! And I was proud to still be alive when he died.

20. Shoutouts to:?
  • All of my friends at my former server Kul Tiras (EU), no one mentioned, no one forgotten.
  • My guild Adrenaline, home of awesomeness and great spirit.
  • My co-innkeeper Zakesh. Stop being so lazy. Write me some more evil posts please!

Further questions?
This interview has come to it's end. Is there anything else you're wondering about Larísa that didn't get answered? Ask me in a comment and I promise I'll make a follow-up!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lag stole my Illidan experience

Sunday night I saw Illidan die for the first time. Or rather: I almost did, because I dc:d when he had his little end rant. It was the end of a miserable fight from my perspective.

Now I probably sound like a grumpy old lady. Shouldn’t I be jumping with joy, killing the end boss of the original TBC? It wasn’t the guild first kill, (I missed it since it was my turn to sit out the raid), but it was my first encounter with him and he went down on second try, so what’s my problem? After all I could log in again and the loot was still there, even though I decided to save my dkp since the things I’d hoped for didn’t drop.

I’ll tell you about the problem. It has three letters. F, p and s. The whole fight is full of cool fiery effects of all kinds and my pc went nuts as it does on those occasions. It was like watching pictures one and one instead of seeing things actually moving. And moving is pretty necessary if you want to get rid of parasites and get away from fiery stuff.

Patch made it worse
My fps has never been very impressive, but I’ve been able to live with it. When it’s at it’s best, questing on my own in a lonely spot, it’s up to 60 fps. In Shattrath it drops to 25. And in 25 man raids it’s been about 20 during the fights, which isn’t good but acceptable.

After the latest patch however, things have gone from so-and-so to really bad. It doesn’t help that I’ve turned the video settings to a minimum, saying goodbye to all the new cool stuff like beautiful shadows. I still lag horribly, in spite of the fact that my PC by far exceeds the required standard.

I’ve lost track of all the hours I’ve spent googling, searching forums, looking for a clue what to do. It seems that there may be an issue with my “dual core processor”. But I can’t say I get any information that will clearly tell me what to do about it. One thing is clear to me: if I don’t get any improvement I won’t be able to raid in WotLK. And the very thought of it breaks my heart.

I’m not alone
The only comfort I get out of all of this research is that I’m far from alone in my misery. Did you know that all over the world there are thousands of other players, sitting with pretty new, good computers, still not being able to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played? If you have a machine that works properly you’re probably not aware of it. But all of you out there who are in the same situation as I am know what I’m talking about. If you happen to read my blog, I send you my biggest warming hug and my best buffs whatsoever. I know how you’re feeling (it's just like having a bad toothache or like when your car has broken down, if anyone's wondering). I know about your frustrations. I can’t help you but you’ve got my full sympathy.

So what am I going to do for my own part? I really want to get Illidan killed again, being able to enjoy it. So I’ve decided to turn over the computer to a computer service and reparations company, hoping that they’ll find a solution. It could be as easy as upgrading some drive routines, changing graphic card or simply cleaning the whole thing (never done). I know turning in the pc is always a huge risk. It could end up in a complete wipe. From previous experiences I don’t fully trust technicians. But as things are now I can’t see any alternative.

Keep your fingers crossed it will work out. To me being able to raid in a fluid manner would beat any kind of epic gear upgrade or achievement in the game you could think of.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Can WoW build your character?

The criticism against MMO games is old and seems to never end. Now Dr Phil has joined the gaming hating forces, according to a post at WoW-Insider last week.

The general picture of gaming is that it’s a sign of a weak character. You fall for the temptation of having fun and entertaining yourself with useless stuff in stead of doing good stuff like helping old ladies across the street, pulling up weeds in your garden, ironing curtains, pulling weights at a gym or whatever.

But recently I’ve become to think that you can actually look at WoW-playing in the opposite way. It helps you to build your character, not only the drawn toon, with her talents, abilities, skills, gear and stats. It builds your personal character as well.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of the virtues you need to train.

To be patient
All time high these days, with all the pain it’s caused us with server downtimes and general errors, making the playing far from easy and fluent. Patiently we wait, hoping it will become better.

To accept disappointments
This is a game full of hope and expectations, but because of that also full of failures and disappointments. We train ourselves daily in the art of handling it with maturity and dignity. We loose important rolls or the loot we hoped for won’t drop at all. We sign up for raids and are benched and miss out the guild first kill we so much would have been a part of. We put up high goals and we fly and we fall and we recover.

To be a good team player
In WoW we meet so many different sorts of people. Some of them we like instantly. Some of them aren’t exactly the people we’d choose to play with in the first place. But you can’t be too picky in a game that is based on cooperation and interaction between the players. You won’t come long in this game if you don’t learn the noble art of being a good team player, handling all sorts of people – even the ones that aren’t so easy to love at first sight.

What is grinding, whether it’s for gear or reputation, but a long training session in endurance? In WoW we train ourselves in putting up long term goals and sticking to them, whatever other temptations may show up in our path.

To acknowledge our weaknesses and work to improve
At least if you’re a part of a raiding team it pretty quickly shows what you’re capable of and not. In WoW you get trained to receive feedback – which sometimes can be pretty harsh – and to deal with it in a constructive way – starting to work to improve yourself rather than sulking.

I know there are many more, these were the one’s that first came into my mind. The question is: do you think Dr Phil would listen?

Friday, October 24, 2008

A pubround in Azeroth

Dear guests, to begin with I apologize for not having any candy to treat you with. I’ve only got the usual supply of lagers, ales and stout and some cakes and pies to go with it. But the chairs are comfortable, the fire is cosy and we’ve got the special PPI atmosphere, so I hope you won’t feel too disappointed.

If you look at my inn colleagues in Azeroth they seem all have gone crazy, giving away candybuffs, toys, XP or even real gold to get people to come visit them. Market competition is hard these days, especially since rumours say that most of the inhabitants of our kingdom soon expect to emigrate to the distant Northrend. What’s a poor innkeeper expected to do? Will we end up serving murlocs and gnolls when decent people have moved on?

Going for a pubround
Anyway I decided that this was the right time to re-visit the other inns and see how they stand in the competition. Larísa, my mage, is a bit lazy. A reward of 3 gold coins per visit isn’t enough to get her out of her armchair. When she’s not raiding she prefers to relax these days, saving her energy for the levelling task that lies ahead of her.

Her younger sister Arisal on the other hand - this careless, foolish little rogue who loves to put herself into trouble - immediately volunteered for a world tour. She saw the opportunity to at least get some 5.5 k free xp per visited inn (at level 65), uncounted the other quests around you can do and the xp reward that comes with exploring new areas.

Of course she got an appropriate hangover after trying the beer of the house at some 25 inns (assuming that half of the visited inns serve drinks with alcohol), but she assured it was well worth it.

Here are a few impressions from the pub round:

1. Tradition rocks!
You come a long way with tradition. I may be a bit conservative but I prefer the original style. I want my inn to have a real fireplace, plenty of chairs places in nice groups, perhaps a chef dwelling in the background and an upper floor with comfortable beds where you can rest. And of course they should have beer on their menu! There are several inns that meet those requirements. I’d like to give a special mentioning to two traditional styled inns.

The first one is The Scarlet Raven Tavern in Darkshire. The spooky setting with wolves and ghosts sneaking around the corner adds to the atmosphere.

The second mentioning goes to Salty Sailor Tavern in Booty Bay. This inn with entrances at several floor and several ramps hidden in the very dark interior may be a bit confusing at the first look, but it’s a pure winner. This is a place where you really want to spend a few nights, listening to the tales of adventures from other far away travellers stopping bye.

2. The inns that are spas
I can’t help but getting a little disappointed at some inns. Most of them are run by draenei or nightelfs. What’s wrong with those people? Are they all absolutists? There’s nothing to buy there but fruit, bread, milk and such. That’s fine to bring in the bag for an outing, but if you want to relax after a day at work, slaughtering dragons and orcs, most of us would prefer something stronger.

The nightelfs are crazy about fresh air and I must say I feel sorry for their guests when the autumn storms are bout to arrive soon. And the draenei mostly seem to think that beds are an unnecessary luxury, at least if you look at the inn at Azuremyst island. What do they expect us to do in those inns? Should we sit on the floor, meditating and drinking fruit cocktails? When I think closely about it the draenei and nightelf premises aren’t really inns in any normal sense. They should rather be called spas and are only recommended to people who’re looking for some kind of purifying treatment.

By the way goblins seem to dislike alcoholic brews as well. I would have expected them to be a bit more market oriented.

3. Other inns worth special mentioning
While most inns choose to target either the publovers – like me – or spa and health freaks, there are a few inns that compete by their uniqueness. They stick out from the crowd so you sure won’t forget about them, even though their services may be a bit substandard. An extreme example of this is the inn in Westfall, situated in an old barn. Cosy is the last thing you would call it. But it’s got a niche of its own and it somehow fits pretty well into the military camp.

The worst service whatsoever you get at the inn of Telredor in Zangarmarsh. There are no food vendors there! According to Wowwiki, this is for a lore-based reason:
Many of the quests relate to food gathering, and because they are close to starving, food is shared among their own people and they would not sell it to outsiders.
The smallest in must be the new one in Mudsprocket, Theramore. It’s not much bigger than a tent and most of the room is occupied by a gigantic ogre standing in the middle of it. OK, I like inns to be somewhat crowded, but that was too much for me.

Best named inn: World’s Ends Tavern (with references to Douglas Adams as well the Sandman graphic novels.) I like that name. And I like the mixture of creatures in there. It makes me think about Star Wars. It feels like a nice place for adventurers of all sorts to gather and share experiences before heading out for their next heroic task. I miss a fireplace though. The bluish braziers really aren’t the same thing.

4. A request for renovation
Finally I saw a couple of inns that would deserve some more love from Blizzard. I’m thinking about the two inns that are probably the most frequented ones in the whole game: The Gilded Rose in Stormwind and Stonefire Tavern in Ironforge.

I can’t understand why they’re both built in such a small and minimalist style. There are no fireplaces for instance. How come? Is it because the land price is too high at those central places of the major cities? It may be realistic, but I really wouldn’t have minded a little bit of unrealism in this area. After a busy afternoon doing errands in the city you wish for something little more comfortable.

What about Northrend?
It was nice to get those reports from Arisal and I received a lot of greetings from the other innkeepers, which warmed my heart. But one question will remain unanswered for a few more weeks: what are the inns like in Northrend? Not being in the Beta, I haven’t got a clue. But considering the climate I certainly hope that they haven’t put the nightelfs in charge of the architecture this time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A little bit of excitement for alchemists

I’ve always felt like a looser picking alchemy for a profession. Selling drugs at AH has never made me rich – and not only because I’m such a heavy consumer and drinks it all by myself – but also because the herb ingredients many times sell at higher price than the prepared elixir.

People specializing in transmutes seem to earn a little more on their profession, but on the other hand, if you like me are into raiding you consume a lot, so that doesn’t seem the right way to go.

Alchemy turned slightly better with the introduction of Mad alchemist potions and the wonderful trinket, the potions giving back both mana and health at the same cooldown, but at a much lower cost of herbs than the non alchemist equivalence super rejuvenication potion, and the trinket carrying a great damage boost as well as adding effect to the mad alchemist potions.

Those additions made me hang on to the profession a little bit longer. Now in the 3.02 patch there are two new small surprises for al of us who are in the drug business.

The first one, not-to-be-missed, is that all of you alchemists should go right away to your alchmeist trainer and learn mixology, to get additional effects to any elixir or flask you can make yourself. According to WoWinsider, the effect is estimated to about 25 percent while comments on Wowhead are talking about up to 50 percent effect. It makes the flasks last longer and give better effect.

The second one is that you can try out some WotLK elixirs today! I found it out myself the other day when I drank a Mad Alchemist Potion. Suddenly I noticed that I was buffed with Elixir of Spellpower, adding 58 spelldamage for one hour. Not that it make such a big difference now that we’re so overpowered anyway, but you know… any little change makes you smile a bit.

With this new fancy inscription profession coming up it’s easy to think that old ones like alchemy are out of fashion and boring. But the little excitement they gave us with this patch will definitely make me hang on to alchemy a bit longer until I know more about what else will come in the expansion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why you should open the achievement window even if you hate achievements

First of all I must confess that I haven’t been caught by the achievement fever, which currently seems to affect most of the server population.

When I first open the achievement window I got pretty disappointed. For all the work I’ve put into Larísa, concentrating on my main as long as I’ve played, I only got 105 achievements out of 750, adding up to 1050 achievement points. I hadn’t even explored one single area decently. And all those instances I had completed that suddenly seemed to be unknown territory. If I would get anywhere at all with this stuff I would have to put endless of hours into redoing things and I couldn’t bare the thought of it.

It’s like having an album of stamps or pictures of movie stars that is mostly empty. It’s no fun to go on collecting if you see that your chances to make it at least half full are infinite small.
So for now I’ve given up entirely about achievements; I’ve put the album away and I won’t look at it again until I’m 80 and overgeared and have run out of content. But to be honest I think the chances that that day will ever come are rather small. Right now I’m busy doing other stuff, as levelling my rogue to 70.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I don’t question the existence of the achievement system. It seems to be a huge success and loads of players think it’s fun and that’s OK with me. I don’t even mind the frequent announcements in the guild chat. I’m a curious gnome and I think it’s nice to know what my guildies are up to. (Though I must admit it currently is almost all about one thing: exploring every single little distant corner of the world.)

Look at the statistics
But even if you like me have decided to stay out of the achievement industry, there may be a reason why you should open the achievement window anyway. I don’t suggest that you look at the achievements (or lack thereof). What you should do is to click on the tab that is hidden behind: statistics. There you’ll find an amazing bunch of figures about your character.

Unfortunately it seems like this feature can’t trace events earlier than the patch, which is a bit sad. It would have been interesting to see how many mob’s Larísa has killed in her lifetime. She’s had 765 kills just in a few days, and then I’ve spent most of my gaming time on my rogue alt or messing around with the UI. She’s been resurrected 4 times, she’s eaten food 18 times and used only a couple of mana potions.

Socially I really need to improve. 1 hug and 1 wave is way too little, considering that Larísa supposed to be a kind and friendly gnome. If you want to keep track of your crit records you don’t have to use special addons for that anymore. It’s all in the statistics (13 617 is my record so far).

And if you’re a goblin minded businessman you can also have a deeper look into how much gold you earn and from what sources and where your expenses are.
A thing that made me a bit curious was that I according to this statistic already had entered 1 25 man raid instance and 2 5 man dungeons in WotLK. I wonder how I managed to do that and why I don't recall it at all? Spooky. A case for the X-files perhaps? The truth is out there.

Larísa's birthday?
With the patch only a few days old this statistics is yet rather empty, but it surely will become more and more fun to look at as time goes by. And to anyone who’s starting a new toon: congrats! You’ll get all the statistics right from the beginning.

Now the only thing I miss about Larísa is her birthday. It would have been nice to know exactly what day she was created. It surely must be somewhere in the records of Blizzard. Why can’t they provide is with that piece information? It would mean a lot more to me to know so I could treat her with a birthday cake, than the surplus information about how many times she’s played the world’s smallest violin.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A lesson in guild gardening

A little while ago I attended a seminar about leadership, where a CEO was sharing his experiences from his career. He didn’t present any extraordinary new ideas; he rather talked about common sense. But there was something in it that appealed to me. Maybe it was the humble appearance he did, not quite what you expected from the young executive manager of one of the largest online gambling companies in Europe.

The funny thing was that throughout his lecture I couldn’t stop applying his ideas to guild management. (I guess I’ve really played too much WoW.)

Above all I liked the way compared leadership to being a gardener. I think it fits exactly with the role of a GM. So I thought I’d share a few of his lines with my own added WoW-related comments.

1.You are the sun! Good leaders give out energy.
Applied to WoW:
Of course a GM can’t and couldn’t be the only source of energy in a guild. After all it’s a team work. But in times of struggle and despair you can’t deny that the courage and persistence of the leader is important for the outcome. You need to be able to shine. And if you can’t anymore, if you’re burned out or sick and tired with it all – then you should move aside and let someone else shine.

2. You must like flowers! You must want the flowers to grow and give them water regularly.

Applied to WoW:
If you’re going to succeed as a leader in the game, it isn’t enough to master your class, the game mechanisms or the boss strategies. You must have a solid interest and curiosity about other people. You must enjoy seeing – and even helping them to grow and progress – in knowledge, maturity or gearwise. You should find it just is good – or even better – as if you were doing the progress yourself.

3. You should be willing to take out the weed, to protect the good flowers from the bad one.

Applied to WoW:
This is the not-so-pleasant side of being a guild gardener. You need to take out some weed from time to time. People like you and me who aren’t leaders can afford to be nice to everyone and avoid unpleasant events as they turn up. But being a leader you can’t always go the easy way. In the end it’s your bloody duty to take some pretty uncomfortable decisions or you’ll ruin the whole garden. I’ve seen those decisions a couple of times in my own guild – when new players for some reason haven’t passed their trial, and been denied membership. Or when an underperforming player has been removed from a raid. At those occasions I’m so glad I’m not the one who’s supposed to hand over the news. Potential conflicts are another kind of weed. It needs to be dealt with and sorted out before it spreads and take over the garden. As a gardener you haven’t got to personally sort those things out but you have to make sure some does it.

4. You must do it every day, over and over again. If you turn your back at the garden and don’t give it attention the flowers will soon dry and die.

Applied to WoW:
I think a GM needs to be present and take part of the everyday life of the guild. There’s no way around it. I don’t say that I expect a GM to play constantly – but you really need to be present regularly, playing at peek hours, taking part in guild chat, instance runs, pvp and other activities that the members are into. Of course it happens that a GM needs to be away from the game for a week or so when real life interferes. And that can be dealt with, provided that you have a solid back-up system and some active officers with good judgement and authority to deal with whatever comes up. But in the long run a GM needs to visit his garden almost every day. Weed can grow amazingly quickly. And the flowers need their dose of sunshine and water to thrive. Many of the problems I’ve seen in guilds have originally emanated from a not-so-present guild master.

A few words to the gardeners
The workload for a GM certainly is heavy. You’re expected to let the sun shine, to love and water the flowers, to take out the weeds and to tend to the garden every day. How do you prevent a burnout?

I think you need to ensure that the gardener gets sun and water as well. See to that you have people around you who can help you to refill your mana pool so that you won’t run dry. Have officers help you to deal with the weeds. And listen if they tell you that you’ve spent too much time in the garden and rather should go out for a walk. Your gardening style must be sustainable; you can’t tend to a garden in small outbursts and then grow tired. If you one day realize that you’re sick and tired at the thought of flowers and gardens – don’t clinch to your position. It won’t work in the long run. Go find another gardener.

Finally: to all of you guild gardeners out there: don’t forget that you’re just as important to the game as any Blizzard developer. Managing a guild and organizing guild events is so challenging that it’s a miracle that it works at all. You make it happen. Every day. From the deep of my heart, on behalf of all the flowers, I just want to say: Thank You.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Successful night – and yet I’m disappointed

We did it. The night after the patch last week we went to Black Temple for our ordinary Thursday raid. And that was quite an achievement when you think about the amount of broken addons and the problems some people had to download the patch and make everything work decently.

Looking at the number of bosses killed the raid was a success. We killed 7/9 bosses in a few hours. Previously the same bosses have taken us three nights. They were nerfed until stupidity, that’s all I can say. I hardly used any potion at all during the night. I never once looked at my mana gem. We didn’t have any warlock stone and I never missed it either. And of course I never thought about using evocation, even though I had got the glyph for it. There was no need.

“This is like Deadmines heroic” someone said. Every single boss was oneshotted. And the trash went down so quickly that you had to be pretty quick if you wanted to take part in the killing at all.

Considering how easy it went I’d be surprised if we didn’t kill Illidan pretty soon. Which of course is fun and nice in one way, but still I can’t help feeling slightly disappointed. Will we get any more epic raiding experience at all before the expansion? Maybe in Sunwell. That’s my hope. Because if Sunwell isn’t better, this patch was the end to raiding in TBC the way that we knew it. Now it’s not the real stuff. It’s badge and gear farming. That’s the sad truth.
I miss the wipe nights already.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cravings for Cryolysis

There’s a lot of talk about addons these days. And no wonder. We’ve all got our favourites that we’ve become so accustomed to that the game seems weird and broken once they aren’t there for us.

I got some essential mods like Bartender, Omen and Bigwigs to work decently pretty fast, so I guess I could be worse off. I also found a new one, MSBT, a scrolling combat text, which gives me warnings when Hot Streak’s proccing, which is a great help for a fire mage (yes, I joined the pyromaniac forces, at least for a try).

But one addon is still missing and it breaks my little mage heart every time I log in and it isn’t there for me. It’s a companion as faithful and essential as pet is to its hunter or an element to a frostmage. I’m thinking about Cryolysis 2.

Saves buttons
If you’re a mage and you’ve ever tried it out you know what I’m talking about. Being a mage you’re supposed to find space for quite a lot of buttons if you don’t want to have to mess around with your spellbook every now and then. You have numbers of buffs to handle, you conjure gems, bread and water in different forms. You have portals and teleports to many cities. And you have several mounts, like everyone else.

With Cryolysis you bring all those things into one sphere with some small round buttons around it where you can left-, right- or middle-click. This will save you loads of slots on your actionbars. Of course you could achieve the same effect by making a number of macros, but in Cryolysis you get it all done for you.

Time after other I find myself moving the cursor in the direction of the place where Cryolysis used to be. And then I realize it’s gone and I sigh and open my spellbook and try to figure out how I’ll squeeze it into my actionbars.

Cryolysis 3
Now, I’ve finally found out that there is a project going on to replace it. Belazor is working on Cryolysis 3. You can follow his work at Wowace. There's a Beta version up but it weems to seem so bugged that I don't dare to pick it up yet.

Some bloggers have installed applications counting the hours, minutes and seconds until the WotLK release. If there was a countdown timer for the Cryolysis 3 release I’d rather be staring at that one, waiting for it to turn to zero.

So dear Belazor: I hope you’ll sort things out and release the ready shiny new Cryolysis as soon as possible! I’m craving and crying for it and I know I’m not the only one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The lines we’ll never hear again

Time is running out and I’m bidding my farewell to the instances of TBC. It feels a bit strange when I think about that I’ll probably never see them again, at least not for a very long time, until the nostalgia factor has grown strong enough.

I especially think about the voices, those lines you’ve heard so many times that they triggers automatic reactions.

Some of them are so familiar that I don’t have to watch the messages from DBM anymore. My fingers know what buttons to use when they here the shouts from the bosses.

Take for instance my favorite mage of TBC, Shade of Aran.

"Burn you hellish fiends!" means that I freeze at spot like a statue.

"Yes, yes, my son is quite powerful... but I have powers of my own!" means blink to the walls, an arcane explosion is upcoming.

"I'll freeze you all!" makes me start the slow dancing around the blizzard.

Those sayings have become so much a part of my own vocabulary that I have to be alert not to drop them in real life with non WoW players.

“Time for fun!”, said in that special tone, will sound a bit misplaced for anyone who hasn’t dated Blackheart the Inciter.

Oh, I’ll miss you, dear voices. Never more will I hear Maiden, sounding like an insulted school teacher: “This behavior will NOT be tolerated” (Unless some raid leader takes inspiration from her, spanking and yelling at a sloppy, slacking raid in a maiden manner.)

Never again will I hear the charming quarrelling of Dalliah and Soccothrates or the famous gnome Millhouse Manastorm in Arcatraz.

Hard to find
When you think about it it’s a bit strange. There are no lines you hear read by an actor as often as those, and yet we don’t know who’re performing them, while we often can name actors with even very insignificant side roles in a movie we only see once.

Who are the people behind the voices? I’ve been doing some research trying to figure it out, and to see if for instance the actor who makes Aran is the same one who you meet in Hellfire Ramparts (I think they sound a bit alike.) But so far I haven’t found much. A few actors are mentioned at Wowwiki, such as Jeff Bennett, doing the voice of Illidan (which I haven’t heard so far, it remains to see if I will before November 13).

At IMDB there’s a list of WoW actors, but you don’t see which character every actor does.
I was excited to see that I now know that Michael Dorn, the wonderful Star Trek Actor (Lt Commander Worf), is appearing in WoW. But what voices does he make? “Additional voices” is all they say, does anyone know?

Of course I’ve searched the official Blizzard site, expecting them to give credit to those who have participated in making the game – but if there is something they’ve hidden it well.

I wonder why. I guess reading lines in a game it isn’t the most spectacular thing to do as an actor? You probably won’t put it on top of your CV.

On the other hand we shouldn’t pity those guys too much. Even if you won’t gain fame by playing a raid boss in WoW, at least you’ll get decent payment, according to this article from Reuters, published earlier this year.

Will you miss them?
It’s time to say goodbye to the familiar voices of TBC. Will you miss some of them? Or maybe you feel the opposite? Are there voices that make you sick, voices you’re happy are muted forever? Please, tell us about it!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One pebble less in my shoes!

While we’re waiting for the European servers to go up I’m thinking about what I will face once I’m able to get online again. There are lots of huge changes of course. And there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t been covered much better at other blogs. For mages I highly recommend Critical QQ and Spicytuna for some decent theorycrafting.

But do you know what makes me happy about the patch? It’s not the hairdresser (hey, who needs a hairdresser if you’ve got beautiful pink pigtails?), it’s not the achievement window (still raiding and really haven’t got time or energy to care) or the new profession (another great expense, not looking forward to grind mats or gold to get those glyphs).
No, what I’m looking forward to are the details, those gems hidden in the wall of text of patch notes. I’m talking about the small fixes of stuff that annoys you. Those changes won’t make the world turn upside down. It’s rather like when you finally get rid of a pebble hat have slipped into your shoes and has been annoying you for a while. It’s been a part of your life so long that you hardly notice it anymore, but at a subconscious level it lowers your mood.

The gem fix
For mages I’ve found one sweet little gem that will make our lives a little bit simpler. Yes, I’m talking about the gem issue in a double sense.

Non mage readers probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but mages do. You see, a while ago mages got some improvements to our mana gems, so that the biggest one didn’t only have one, but three charges. Wohoo! That was sweet. The only problem is that when you’ve used one charge you’ve got to trash the gem and make a new one to have it fully charged, for instance before a boss fight.

You can imagine how annoying this is after a wipe, when the raid leader is expecting a quick recovery. You’re already in a hurry, dealing with the mana issues when you get drained after self buffing and buffing the raid with intellect, desperately trying to get back to 100 percent quickly. You also have to mess around with your bags, trashing an almost working mana gem, making a new one, while everyone else is wondering what takes you so long.

I know some people made a macro to make the procedure go a bit quicker – I never got around to that myself. But this will soon be a distant memory. We don’t have to litter the floor around with half-used mana gems anymore! We’ll recharge the ones we already have by conjuring it!
And as if that wasn’t enough: the gems won’t disappear from our bags when we log out. This too means a little less time spent on drinking to compensate for mana losses. We still have to start every gaming session with conjuring bread and water, but the gems will already be there in our bags, ready to be used.

Rogue pebble
So there’s one pebble less in the shoes of my mage. And the rogue will get rid of one too – no more mixing of poison, yay! I always managed to buy the wrong vials or reagents, ending up with bags filled with rogue stuff but never the poison I needed. Now the risk for mistakes is smaller.

Is everything fine, now that the pebbles are gone? Well, to be honest I expect to find some new stones in my shoes pretty soon. That’s what happens when new features are brought into the game. Everything isn’t perfectly polished and smoothly working from start.

But right now I choose not to think about it. I’m looking forward to meet my new gem-trashing free existence in Azeroth.

Oh, happy patch day!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don’t get fooled by the additional stress demon

Do you ever feel that everybody seem to accomplish so much so quickly in the game?

They don’t only have one level 70 character, but a bunch of them; god knows where they came from. They’ve got cool titles from pvp and raid instance attunements. Their professions are perfectly well thought out, and of course maximized. The order in their bank and bags would please any tax auditor. They seem to have a huge network of friends all over the server and they’ve got a pet collection big enough to run a zoo. And on top of it they run the most awesome WoW blogs, which you could never compete with.

Everybody but you. You’re not particularly good at anything at all. You’re stuck at grinding the same bloody old nagas, you’re messing around at AH, never doing those bargains like “everyone else” does, always ending up as one of the losers, just as you would if you gambled at the real life stock market. You’re levelling and progressing at the pace of a turtle, getting nowhere at all.

Occasional attacks
Now don’t misunderstand me. Most of the time Larísa is a very happy little gnome. When I think closely about it I’ve seen and done more in the game than I ever could dream of. I guess a lot of it won’t be viewable as “accomplishments” as WotlK hits. But that doesn’t matter. I still know that I’ve learned a lot, experienced a lot, met so many cool people and had loads of fun. Whatever more could you wish for?

So thankfully I don’t constantly suffer from this feeling of inferiority. It only comes over me occasionally. Still those moments are painful as they are and I wish I could get rid of them. It’s like if there’s a little evil demon coming crawling, whispering stupid stuff in my ear just to make me feel like a failure.

Examples from the blogs
The other day I read that Part Time Druid had attended a successful ZA Bear run and I felt a little envious for a second. I never did that, and now it’s only hours before no one will be interested in giving it a try. It’s all gone.

Then Krizzlybear wrote that he’s grinding for a Frostsaber Tiger and I thought: “hey, that’s a mount that I know Larísa would be very happy with, why am I so undisciplined that I never come around to get one for myself”.

Or take Matticus who let us have a peek into his beautiful, well organized bankvault, teaming with herbs in preparation of the expansion. And I felt even more ashamed with my mess than I already am.

Not to talk about Greedy Goblin, getting richer and richer for every day, seemingly without too much trouble.

But now comes my point: the stories about the ZA bear run, the frostsaber grind, the perfect bank and the fortunate business come from four different bloggers! And so is the case with most of those achievements of others that I look at with some envy.

The perfect player who has a bunch of level 70s, cool titles, perfect professions, order in bank, network, pet collection and an awesome blog doesn’t exist in reality, only in my fantasy. I make it up when I see those things in the game I’d like to do and add it up to something totally unrealistic, unreachable.

By comparing myself to that non-existing person I make myself suffering from additional stress. It’s a stupid behaviour that comes from real life, where it’s way to common that we pick the “perfect marriage”, looking at one friend who has that, “perfect living” looking at another one, “perfect job” from a third, “perfect travelling”, “perfect body” from others until we’ve put up so high expectations that it could be enough for anyone to have a nervous breakdown.

How to fight it
So how do you fight this additional stress, if you ever get an attack from it? Well, since it’s totally irrational and emotional, it isn’t always easy. But when it comes to me I try to remind myself every now and then that WoW is a HUGE game with tons of possibilities. It’s impossible to explore all of them. We make choices all the time.

My choices aren’t the same as PTRs choices or Krizzlybear’s or Matticus’ or Gevlon’s. But that doesn’t necessarily make me a failure.

And who knows, there may be people out there who think that some of the things I’ve done in the game are pretty cool and would like to do the same.

Rejoice at the progress and accomplishments of other players. Then look at what you’ve done yourself– it probably adds up to quite a lot when you think about it. Be proud and happy! Remember that this were the choices you made, the goals you put up, and that you actually reached at least most of them.

Stop listening to the demons. They’re evil and most of all – they’re wrong.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The real living bomb puts an end to the war

TBC is soon going to end and so is the Battle of the Mages. Gnomeaggedon has finally hurled his huge pyroblast ball and is now spamming little blast wave fires where we can warm up and treat ourselves with some grilled marshmallows before entering the tundra.

The mage fireworks are coming to its crescendo and I’m no worse: I’ll join with my lovely arcane explosions.

The living bombs
I must admit it right away: I love spamming arcane explosions. You all know there’s a new spell upcoming, “Living bomb”. I think they’ve got it all wrong there. The living bomb already exists. It’s exactly what arcane mages are when we go full out aoe:ing. We’re the living bombs.

It doesn’t only look awesome, especially on a little gnomish girl, exploding over and over again. It also hurts – a lot and many at a time, no matter if you’re boosting someone in Stockades, taking out dozens of mobs in a couple of key strokes, or if you’re dealing with the trash waves in Mount Hyjal. Just make sure to have a plan for mana recovery, off you go and enjoy!

Whenever an arcane mage is about to start another of those crazy bombing aoe-sessions he gets a happy glimpse in his eye, knowing that he’ll give the locks a decent fight about the first place on the dps chart. Watching the scrolling combat text, with the damage numbers falling like a heavy rain in November, all over the screen is pure pleasure.

Now, it happens occasionally that fire mages cheat in the arcane arts. After futile efforts to place flamestrike in the right spot, only to see the mobs running away in another direction, they may want to copy our bomb trick. But Gnomeaggedon and his colleagues fail! Why? Because they’ve neglected the wonderful talent, reinforcing Arcane Explosion: Arcane Impact, which increases the critical strike chance with 6 percent.

And they lack a bunch of other lovely damage increasing talents in the arcane tree, such as arcane instability, which increases spelldamage as well as critical strike chance by 3 percent. It takes an arcane mage to have a real bomb.

The last mage standing
With this post I’m afraid we’re coming close to the end of The Battle of the Mages. The enemies seem to have fled the field. Gnomeaggedon is already in India in his mind and soon enough physically too. I don’t doubt he’ll do some arcane meditation over there, but we probably won’t see the result from it before next year. Zupa hasn’t posted in over a month. He could be preparing a Very Impressive Last Frost Post, but I’m afraid I believe the silence is rather because he’s having a break from blogging. Krizzlybear has turned his back to us, devoting himself entirely into novel writing and frostsaber grinding, waiting for the expansion.

So the last remaining mage standing on the battleground is Larísa, doing another round of beautiful arcane explosions as homage to her beloved spec until she’s completely out of mana.

I’ve enjoyed playing arcane mage immensely. I don’t yet know if I’ll keep doing it in the expansion – or even after the patch coming in a few days.

I bet will start another war once we’ve got the hang of our specs in WotLK and Gnomeaggedon’s back from his journey. Maybe the roles have switched there. I could end up as a pyromaniac once again and perhaps Gnome has chilled down and turned frost. You never know, do you?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blizzard employees – how we love them, hate them and fear them

Deep inside I know that working at Blizzard is just like working at any other kind of office. Only a little bit less paid, like jobs in media/entertainment companies tend to be. (There are tons of people who want this kind of positions; some of them are probably prepared to work for free, so all in all it’s the buyers market.)

Deep inside I know that Blizzard employees are just as bored at work as we all are from time to time. They probably attend long, pointless meetings where people talk just to talk, not because they have any new ideas to share. And I guess they face a bunch of very annoying people every day, which they have to try to go along with as well as possibly. They get tons of e-mail like we all do and make futile efforts to organize it. They have unrealistic deadline to fight against, they have budgets to stick to and they make plans and follow-ups and from time to time they probably feel utterly unproductive, overwhelmed with administrative burdens.

In short, in reality I think working at Blizzard is just another job, nothing more, nothing less.

The gods of our universe
But in spite of this insight I can’t free myself the mystic glow surrounding them. It’s not rational, it’s just a feeling, but I think I share it with many other players. You only have to look at the official forums to get the picture.

Blizzard employees. We love them. We hate them. And we fear them.

Why? Because they’re the gods and the devils in our universe. They’re the one in charge. Always. Overnight they can make changes that will drastically change your gameplay – your raiding build can suddenly get buffed to heaven – or nerfed to hell. They can wipe your honor points, they can change the looks of your face or your gear. We're all depending on them and you never know what’s on their mind, no matter how much we try to figure it out.

When you look at the forums and blog posts these days, with the expansion soon to come, it’s fascinating to watch how every single blue word uttered, no matter if it carries no more information than a “burp”, is interpreted and analyzed infinitely. What does the “burp” mean? Has the developer a bad stomach and how will it affect his decisions?

Sometimes I’m fantasizing that somewhere there’s a Blizzard employee monitoring the game, hiding somewhere, secretly watching what’s going on in Axeroth. I picture it a bit like the supervisors in the wonderful picture The Truman Show, the one where Jim Carrey is living what he thinks is a normal life, but what in fact is just a TV show, with him as the only unknowing participant.

Has it ever happened in the game that someone has been looking at my stupid mistakes, laughing at me or studying me like a rat I an experiment? Probably not. As I said, the Blizzard people are busy reading e-mails, attending meetings or, if they’re productive, doing a bit of programming or clearing out billing issues with customers. They don’t have time to spend on watching people play. So it doesn’t make sense in any way, but the image is stuck in my head.

A magic meeting
It happened once that I actually did meet a Blizzard employee in the game. It took place after I had made one of the very few tickets I’ve ever made. I had done some stupid mistake, picking the wrong kind of gem when I traded some spirit shards in Terokkar. Now I wanted to change it. A game master contacted me and promised to do it for me. Towards the end of the conversation I thanked him thoroughly and told him that I sent him my very best buffs.

“Well then!”, the GM replied – and suddenly he appeared in front of me in the shape of a level 1 gnome in a simple robe. I would have been just as surprised if Peter Pan suddenly had come flying through my living room. So I buffed him and gave him a hug before he vanished again, as quickly as he had arrived. The game god had come from the machinery, stepping down to the mortal people of Earth, just like in the ancient Greek dramas. Now he was gone.

The experience was so unexpected and surprising that it never occurred to me to take screenshots. You have to trust me. It happened! It was magic and I’ll never forget it.

In touch with the customers
Normally I don’t think the Blizzard people have time to randomly walk around in Azeroth just observing, I guess they must try to keep in touch with the customers in some way, By Beta testing and by other means.

I can’t help wondering much they spend on monitoring what’s going on in the WoW community. I guess they do read the official forums, but do they read it for inspiration or just to make sure posters follow the guidelines?

Do the ideas and views that are brought up in thousands and thousands of posts ever reach the eyes of the developers? Sometimes Blizzard ask for feedback about a certain class or build and I hope they reed the responses they get that way. But what about the other posts? It seems like an overwhelming task to handle all those suggestions in an effective way, to find the gems in the heaps of crap.

And what about the blogs? Do they follow what’s up in the think tank and how the discussions currently are going? Maybe at least they throw a glance at a few of the leading blogs from time to time? I hope so.

Welcome to the inn!
Has any Blizzard employee ever entered the premises of The Pink Pigtail Inn? Seriously I doubt it. But who knows?

Maybe we have a game god in disguise, hiding in one of the shady corners? Maybe he’s secretly listening to the conversation in this very moment?

If that is the case, feel welcome and have a seat in front of the fire! I’ll treat you with the best ale we can offer, hoping that it will inspire you to take some really wise decisions about the game.

No matter if you’re a god or an officer slave – you need to relax a bit from time to time. Your secret will stay safe with us.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Have you recognized Jhordy Lapforge?

Sometimes it seems as if I’m playing WoW wearing an eye bindle. How else comes that I miss out all the cool features that are there just in front of me if I only other to look?

Even though I’m a dedicated Star Trek fan, I never noticed until now that there are two engineers in Booty Bay and Tanaris manning the teleporters named Jhordy Lapforge and Scooty, a homage to two prominent ST characters.

And that’s only one example among many. The game is literarily swamped with references to all sorts of culture – from classic theatre to pop music and celebrities.

As usual it’s Wowwiki, the eternal spring of knowledge that has come to my help. The other day I accidentally found the list that tells you all those things you didn’t know or see until now. It opens the window to a huge part of the game that I’ve missed.

Some of the references are beyond my comprehension, for instance those that are pointing to other games, since WoW is the only one I’ve played. But there are so many different sorts of associations, that there will be something “for everyone” in there.

Scooby Doo marks
I’ll just give you a few more samples from my new insights:

I always thought there was something familiar about the Alterac Valley Mark of Honors, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now I know. It’s identical to the collar of Scooby Doo! If you look closely you even see the initials SD.

I’ve done the Triage Quest for Artisan First Aid a couple of times at Theramore. And I’ve heard the sad farewell of the soldiers I’ve failed to heal: "Goodbye cruel world...I'm leavin' you today...goodbye, goodbye, goodbye..." I feel like a fool not recognizing this as the opening lines from one of the songs at Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. My only excuse is that I’m sort of death and blind for everything, concentrating on completing that annoying quest.

Many of the references are in form of NPCs. A few of them are so obvious that even I have have managed to recognize them, like Harrison Jones, Dirty Larry and Haris Pilton. But I never realized that Farmer Kent, standing on the docks of Southshore, is a reference to 'Clark Kent' and his childhood of growing up on a farm with his adopted Earth parents, Ma and Pa Kent.

Classic authors
Now every thing isn’t about pop music, movies and comics. There are plenty of references to classic authors such as Shakespeare. Often they’re just small details, which only the true fans will notice.

I don’t think many will understand that when the butcher Dirge Quickcleave in Tanaris says “"Get thee to a cheesery!" when sending you on a quest to gather cheese and other cooking ingredients, it’s a reference to "Get thee to a nunnery", a line from Hamlet to Ophelia.

Those few who do see it will on the other hand get a nice feeling of being enlightened, better educated than others, sharing a little secret with the developers.

How many of the references have you kept track of and how many did you miss? Go and check out for yourself at the Wowwiki list!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The missing spice

Can you take down a boss too easily? No matter how strange it sounds, I think the answer is: yes.

Yesterday we did our debut run on Reliquary of Souls in Black Temple. As usually before a raid I prepared myself mentally, visualising our success. But to be honest I was prepared for a learning wipe night – and I think everybody else was as well. Even the strategy guide at Bosskillers claimed the same.

“For phase 3, you will need a Cauldron of Major Nature Protection for each serious attempt. Phases 1 and 2 are pretty tough, so you won’t need it on your first visit.”

The raid started unfortunate with people randomly dc:ing and I couldn’t help wondering if this was to be one of those cursed raids, when everything has a slight twitch of misfortune. But it turned out it wasn’t. Actually the boss went down on our 5th try. (And we didn’t have any cauldron.)

Of course we were happy and proud, no doubt about that. But you didn’t have to take off your headset not to get deafened by the joyful outcries on TS. It was pretty silent. Was this… it?

If you compare it to the relief we felt after the killing of Archimonde last week, this was nothing. A faint smile compared to a hysterical laughter.

Now, wiping isn’t anything to strive or wish for, but it certainly adds a special flavour. It builds up that craving for blood, which makes you feel the bosskill in every cell of your body. I guess to fully appreciate heaven you must have spent some time in hell.

After a moment of confusion we went on to say hello to Mother Shahraz, even though we didn’t have the shadow resist gear we needed. After all the trashmobs gave us a bunch of HoD, which we definitely need for next week.

After she had whipped us badly once half of the raid switched to their alts that wanted Magtheridon for various reasons. Don’t you think we wiped on the first try? Her swing knocked me for 14k and I spent the whole fight on my back. Then we killed her on the next try of course.

But it was a good reminder. Don’t get too cocky. Raiding means to stay alert at any time. Especially nights when the wipe spice is missing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It’s time to shake the kaleidoscope

Even Larísa has had her share of the expansion blues. I’ve been struggling for a while to handle the fact that the game is about to change, no matter what I think about it or what I do.

For a long time I simply denied what was about to happen. I refused to admit that the game as I knew it was coming to an end. While some players have been counting the seconds until they may enter Northrend, I did the opposite. I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t ready.

Why denial?
I think one of the reasons for my denial that I’ve finally managed to climb a bit higher on the learning curve. Since I started playing in the beginning of 2007, it has been very steep and seemingly endless. It’s taken me hard work to reach, if not the highest tops, at least the middle high hills of raiding:

  • I’ve found a spec that I understand and like to play
  • I have gear that is good enough to raid any kind of content I could wish for and there’s no need for another grind for reputation or mats to enchant or gem it. It’s OK for now.
  • I have a decent knowledge about the tactics for the encounters we’re up to.
  • My interface is, if not perfect, at least OK, with a setup of appropriate addons, macros and keybindings.
  • I don’t see myself as a stranger who accidentally ended up Azeroth. Most of the time I know what I’m doing and I enjoy the feeling of confidence.

Maybe it’s no wonder that I want to clinch to this state of the art as long as possible.

Fear of constant dying
Within a little more than a month I’ll step into the coldness and darkness in Northrend, into the unknown, where I once more will have to hesitate about what gear and stats to strive for, what strategic choices to make, where to go, what to do.

Larísa fears it, no doubt. But she’s wrong and I’ll tell you why.

I think that I’m unconsciously picturing that levelling in Northrend will resemble to my levelling in Outlands in the spring 2007.

I remember the beginning of it as a non-stop corpse run. When Larísa entered it at level 58 she was utterly badly geared, squishy and as good as powerless. The boars used me as a tooth picker and the first quest mobs I was supposed to take down (some elements and demons if I remember it right) resisted my fireballs. It was utterly depressing and I seriously doubted my ability to play this game at all. Maybe it wasn’t for me.

It certainly wouldn’t be fun to endure those hardships again in Northrend. The thing is though, that those pictures I have in my head are utterly nonsense. I will enter Northrend in full epic gear. Of course it will be replaced further on, but not for the first levels. And since they tune the place so that players can level 1-80, without gearing up at 70, at least the beginning should be smooth.

And there’s another huge difference: I’ve played the game for another year now. I’m not half as noobish as I was then. I’m surrounded by awesome fellow players in my guild who surely can give me advice if I’m looking for it. And I have access to a wealth of knowledge through forums and blogs, things I didn’t know existed a year ago.

This time I AM prepared.

Fear of being left behind
Another of then mental hang-ups I’m suffering from is that I’m afraid to be left behind when the race towards 80 starts. I can’t devote as much time to the game as some of my guildies, and I definitely won’t be able to take a week off to play 24/7 a week in November. I want to reach endgame as bad as any other raider, but it may take me a little longer than others.
Will there be a raid spot for me once I reach 80?

Of course this is nonsense too. There will be plenty of time for me to raid in WotLK. This time I’ll start from 70 in good gear, knowing the game. When I started to play in TBC I became from scratch at level 1. And still I could end up making T6 raids!

So I tell you Larísa: have no fear! There will be a place for you. You will raid again.

Moving forward
Now the 3.0 patch is approaching quickly, and I’m still clueless about what talent build to pick. But I think I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve left the phase of denial, moving into chaos. And I know I’ll come out pretty soon in a state of acceptance and new orientation. It’s no different to how I would deal with any kind of major change or crises.

One of the toys that fascinated me most as a child was the kaleidoscope – you know that tube with mirrors and little plastic pieces that you look through and whenever you give it a shake you get new patterns.

That’s how we should look upon the expansion. The kaleidoscope wouldn’t be any fun if the pieces were glued and couldn’t move. The whole point of it is the changes. Now Blizzard is giving us a great shake-up; they may even put in a few coloured bits into the tube. We will recognize the game, no doubt. It will still be World of Warcraft. But with a twist.

It’s a new beginning and I’m finally looking forward to it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Should you feel betrayed when a goblin leaves your guild?

When is it time to leave a guild? This question never seems to get out of fashion. Have a look at the guild relationship forums and I bet half of the posts are written by players asking for advice: “I don’t feel good about xx… Should I leave the guild?”

Sooner or later I think everyone in the game who has ever belonged to a guild will be confronted with the issue. How should you value friendship towards your personal goals of progression and other aspects of the game that makes it worth playing?

And there is no right or wrong answer, no universal truth that will fit everyone. We all have to find our own balance and take the responsibility our choices, with the pros and cons that come with them. There’s no way around it.

The Goblin way
The last few days I’ve seen two blogs touching on this issue, from different points of view.

First Gevlon of Greedy Goblin wrote an honest post about “how I missed the whole BC endgame raiding by not knowing the goblin philosophy”.

He has spend loads of time and effort learning others how to play their characters, only to see them guild quit and join a more progressed guild. The result is that even though he considers himself a serious and skilled player, he’s never gone any further than to the second boss in Mount Hyjal. Gevlon blames nobody but himself. He thinks he hang on too long to guilds that didn’t have the ability to progress. In the expansion he will follow the goblin way, cutting the endgame progress into smaller objectives.
“There are guilds working on the same objective. Join them, reach your objective! For example if your current objective is getting Kara gear, a Kara-guild is your place. When objective completed, move on! Don't blame them for not being able to kill anything behind Gruul, it's not your place to lecture them. Just /qguit, go to the next phase. Things won't get any better in your current guild! They will never-ever reach higher level content as a guild. Of course some of the current members will, but under a different name. The guild: never!”
The betrayed guildie
The day after, there was a post written from the other perspective, the guild that lost it’s goblin minded member. Mae of Electronic Escape wrote a post about anger, bitterness and friendship, sharing her pain and disappointment seeing a guildie leave for another guild at another server, in order to raid more frequently.
“When we join a guild, we put in the hands of our fellow guildies our raiding future. We put faith in others that they’ll pull through for us. Tonight, it’s never been more obvious to me that that faith is too easily given and too easily thrown away. We can’t make friends with people in game because tomorrow they could decide that purple is more important to them than your friendship. It’s bittersweet for me, especially because of the amount of time and effort I put into this game. It’s more than a game, the people I’ve met are more than pixels, but it may not go both ways.”
She thinks that the guildie that left, knowing that he’s putting the guild in a worse situation, missing their off-tank, should have stayed out of loyalty.

A little bit of both
So where does Larísa stand in this? Well, I can feel strongly with both writers.

I agree with the goblin. I think there are too many players who have stayed too long in their guilds, growing bitter and bored, and it’s a mystery to me why they don’t leave. Perhaps they’re too lazy or comfortable, since switching guilds or even servers takes an amount of courage.

Several bloggers have written about this in the past – one of them myself. It isn’t long since I took the chance to find new challenges and raiding of higher quality by switching guilds, rather than trying to change the one I was in. At that point I thought a lot about what Lassirra earlier wrote – that you shouldn’t hang around, waiting for your guild to change, since it won’t. The goblin philosophy.

Since I started playing I’ve been in five different guilds. The first one was small and didn’t raid at all; it barely made one five man instance a week. The second one was huge and did instances but couldn’t organize a Karazhan run. The third guild I cleared Kara with. The fourth guild I cleared Gruul, Mag and parts of SSC and TK with. And now in my fifth guild I’m raiding MH and BT. So I guess I’ve done exactly the kind of career Gevlon is talking about. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a guild hopper. But yes, I’ve been a bit goblinish.

On the other hand, in opposition to Gevlon, I still believe progressing within a guild is doable, though it’s difficult and heavily depending on a huge effort from the officers. And I think there are advantages about it. By switching guilds every 4 or 5 months I’ve never got to know people the same way as you do in a guild that’s been raiding together since vanilla WoW and will keep raiding in WotLK. I’ll never get access to a huge chunk of the bank vault of shared memories and fun stories. I’m missing an aspect of the game that is about something else than collecting trophies.

My honest intention is to stay in my current guild as long as it lives and keeps raiding. I’m pretty sure we’ll all about to be shaken up a bit now, with the expansion upcoming. Heck, you even don’t know who’ll play the game at all and who’ll jump for Warhammer. Perhaps someone wishes to see a PvP server, others will want to switch mains. It will sure be a trial for everyone and a bit chaotic. But I sincerely hope that I’ll be one of those who stick around, even when things get a bit tough.

The compromise
So are the perspectives of the goblin and of Mae possible to unite? Yes I think they are. Krizzlybear did it in a comment:

It's possible to progress pretty far, but it's an inevitability that people will come and go in a guild, depending on the needs and wants of its members. But the guild that actually does progress does so because of a very strong core. That core is the sole factor in a guild's progression, not the goblins who stay for only a little while, but are a great help when they were there.
He’s right on the spot. We need the core players who ensure that the guild will live on. If it will progress or not depends entirely on the actions of those players. And their cause isn’t hopeless. There are guilds that manage to progress beyond Kara, under the same guild tag.

On the other hand we shouldn’t think about the goblin players as evil. We need them and they’re a valuable addition to any guild! They provide flesh blood, energy and ideas from other guilds. They prevent stagnation and a slow guild death.

Should you feel betrayed when the goblin leaves? If he steals the guildbank you should, but else – no. Let him go without any hard feelings. Be happy about what he gave you. Respect the choice he's made - probably it wasn't easy. And start looking for another goblin. Who knows, perhaps this one will eventually settle down and join your core. But don’t count on it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

WTB WoW cleaning service!

People are trying to make real life money on WoW in a few ways (all of them illegal). They sell gold for real money. They sell powerlevelling. And they sell accounts with toons they’ve lost their love for. Nothing of this attracts me the slightest, and I think those service providers seriously lack imagination and understanding of the customers.

They haven’t any idea about the real needs of the dedicated but disorganized WoW player. I can level the toons for myself and I can gather the gold I need. That’s part of what’s fun in the game. What a really hate though is cleaning up. That’s just a huge and boring grind to me. Give me a hand, please!

Reflects real life
The lack of order in my bags and bank is no coincidence. It reflects my real life perfectly; you just have to throw a glance at my desk or into my hand bag to get it confirmed. I hate sorting things, no matter if it concerns documents, computer files or newly washed clothes. So it’s no wonder I’ve brought this attitude into the game.

Of course I know cleaning up would make my playing a lot easier – but pure knowledge doesn’t help. I procrastinate it to the next day – and then to the next and the next, endlessly. Time passes and nothing happens. And the worst thing is that while the mess is growing I remember less and less about the items, which will make it harder to do anything about it. I don’t know anymore what’s junk that should be vendored and what things that could come handy one day. I would need to do some research to make sure I won’t throw away the wrong things.

Misusing ArkInventory
I’m a bit embarrassed about this evident flaw in my character. It gave me some comfort though to see that I’m not the only one to have problems with bank order. Pike of Aspect of the hare brought up the subject, urging us to post our banks a while ago, and Gnomeaggeddon followed.

So here I go myself, sharing my bank with you, following the Pink Pigtail Philosophy to never pretend to be any better than you are. We're here to be honest and relaxed, OK?

As you can see at my screenshot, I have done a small effort to sort things out by using the addon ArkInventory. I guess it would look a bit better if I had used it more properly, doing all of the necessary settings. Now I think it only makes it worse than if I had individual bags, assigned to different sorts of items. ArkInventory can help you sort things out, but it won’t take the decisions about vendoring or selling at AH. Those decisions you have to make for yourself.

My dream
I have a dream. One day when I logged into the game all the junk would be gone. Everything would be logically organized and I’d have some bank alts to help me out, all specialized in storing materials for different kind of tradeskills. I would have plenty of space not only in the bank, but in my bags. I wouldn’t have to refrain from taking four stocks of manna biscuits before the raid out of lack of space.

If I once for all could get it sorted out, I can’t help imagining I’d be so inspired that I’d keep that order for ever. Just give me a solid first-time-clean up, and then I’d continue doing it on my own. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself , I don’t deny there’s a risk I’m lying.)

I don’t know if this is legal to hire a cleaner or not. Probably it isn’t. But what if that person came to my home and sat by my side doing the organizing, while I still was the one logging into the game?

And while he was still at the organizing, he could help me sorting the mess on my action bars as well, making the UI a bit cleaner and more logical. It surely would need some polishing, as much as my bank does.

The other day my younger brother revealed to me that he paid a cleaning service company to keep his house tidy. It’s not a common thing to do in Sweden, and he almost seemed a bit ashamed about it. I didn’t say anything, but I thought: I wonder if you could ask them to clean your WoW bags, as well as the floor?

WTB WoW cleaning service.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The endgame hasn’t ended yet

There’s no better cure for the expansion blues than a guild first boss kill. Tuesday night this week Archimonde went down after months of trials. And the energy injection it gave us could have enlightened a metropolis, I swear.

The only thing I regret is that I can’t share the joy with someone outside of the game. To my family this was just another of those two nights a week when mom is online, speaking in a headset, staring into the multicoloured screen, refusing to watch TV like any normal woman at her age, hardly even replying if you say something to her.

How could I ever explain it to them?

“You see we have spent a number of nights in this place, and every one of those nights we have died like 25 times without killing the bad guy we wanted to kill. And now we finally did it”.

They’d stare at me with blank faces, wondering what’s so fun about dying 25 times a night in the first place, considering if they should book a time with a psychiatrist on my behalf.

So I don’t even try. Instead I share the joy with the guests of the inn, knowing you know what I’m talking about.

Lost in time and space
I’m afraid haven’t got any screenshot of my own of the event. The remains of the guy didn’t look too impressive, rather like a heap of junk than a trophy. And besides I still had a stupid diamond mark above my head, being one of the decursers in the raid. Not pretty. But there's a pic on our our website. Yeah, the tiny little gnome in the front is me, you can't miss the pigtails, can you? It will be an eternal reminder that it wasn’t a dream.

I was there and I’ll never forget it. It was the most intense fight I’ve done so far in the game. Always looking for people to decurse. Always looking out for fires and running away from them. Fast. Always being ready to make sure you land softly if you’re tossed up into the air. Always looking out for where you are when you can soon expect a fear and stay FAR away from the fires if the trinket is on cooldown.

I was completely lost in time and space, the world outside ceased to exist – it was so demanding that it swallowed me up completely. I’ve never ever experienced a fight in the game taking so much of concentration and putting so much pressure on every individual player not to make any mistake. We sure lived up to our guild name this night – Adrenaline.

I probably could have done a lot of things much better. I did die first of all in the raid once, because of a stupid mistake. And I’m pretty sure that I took some bad ways away from the fires a few times, putting my raid mates in awkward positions.

But still, I did what is most important of all – I managed to stay alive in the last, successful try. There’s no way to describe how happy and proud I was, standing on my feet as he entered the famous 10 % state, when he’s a sure kill, and we were realizing that this actually was going to happen.

More epic nights
The reactions after the kill have been mixed. I and a few other fellows thought: “Wow, this was fun, let’s do it again!”. But I think the majority, who’ve enjoyed a few more wipe nights than I have, feel that they need a break from Mount Hyjal. “I’m afraid I’ll get little red spots all over if I have to do any more waves”, as one of the mage veterans put it. So in the next few weeks we’ll probably focus on Black Temple again and see how far we can progress there before the 13th November.

There are yet another 16 scheduled raids to take off, the last one of them planned to November 11. I bet we’ll run every single one of them, according to plan. We should be able to do some more first kills before there’s a new game to deal with. There’s no reason why we couldn’t have any more epic nights this autumn.

My conclusion is that the endgame of The Burning Crusade doesn’t end unless you decide you’ve had enough. The thrill and adventure is still there, waiting for us.