Friday, January 30, 2009

The war is upon us again

The mage battleground of Azeroth has rested in peace for a couple of months. With the nerf of the arcane blast towards the end of TBC and the introduction of frostfire bolts at level 75 in WotLK, all mages suddenly seemed to agree upon playing frostfire. The standard spec became so common that it wouldn’t have surprised to see even locks or shadowpriests suddenly casting those melting slushy bolts. Rogues too, whatever. Was there ANYONE in Azeroth not playing frostfire? I doubt it.

But that's all history now. Order has been restored. Once again there is diversity among the mages. Those Halflings of fire mages (what else can you call the slush casters) will meet competition – from pure pyromaniacs, from snowmen in ice shields and – above all – from the mages with the biggest intellect, those who stick to the original, true arcane powers in its pure form – the arcanists.

Back to my roots
The drums of war are once again playing in the distance. In the famous first battle of the mages, Gnomeaggedon was the starting ignite. This time Gnome seems to be occupied burning his face (and probably the barbeque meat as well). So in his place, Krizzlybear at Frost is the New Black has challenged his former friends and colleagues, soon to be sworn enemies. He claims he’s merciless. Well so am I! I’m back, I’m as arcane as you can be and I’m ready to fight.

Yesterday night I turned back to the light after those months dwelling in the darkness of fire. (eh, well :)) Following an evil plan the opponents of the arcane force had already managed to persuade Blizzard to nerf the Arcane spec once again.

But have no fear! They won’t succeed in keeping me away from the spec of my heart once again. It was love at first sight. There were those beautiful, glimmering spells flying through the air once again. And it was much better than it used to be. Frankly, pushing one single Arcane Blast button for a whole raid could get a little monotonous. Now the rotations between Arcane Blast, Arcane barrage and Arcane Missiles, whenever Missile Barrage procs. You soon get the feeling for it. It’s like music. Arcane powers flowing through my veins.

Once again do I need to watch not only my threat and my procs, but also my mana bar and the cooldowns for mana gems and other goodies. And it rocks! I felt only as a half mage when I ended fights with almost full mana bar in my former spec. Making the most out of your mana fuel, that’s what magic is all about.

Cute elemental pet
Following the tradition of our former battles, Krizzlybear throws of a missile in the form of a talent he considers awesome. Since we all know he’s got a very special feeling for his pet it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the first thing he mentions is “Improved Water Elemental”. It’s quite touching, this affection of his. Perhaps I should counter with the awesome abilities of Peanuts? The enemies flee whenever he sneezes. It’s cute Krizzly, but seriously, you must have some better tricks than that in your pocket if frost is going to be really competitive.

So what do I counter with this time? I’ll start with the newest and maybe dearest acquisition in my spellbook. The brand new 51 point spell Arcane Barrage. It’s instant! It hurts! A lot. The range is decent, 30 yards. And the cooldown isn’t more than 3 seconds. Finally we’ve got a spell worth the name in fights where we have to move around a bit. Don’t be decived by this “causing 936-1144 damage” description of it. As far as I saw this first night as arcane in WotLK it did many times more, with all the additions you get from gear, buffs and whatever. Any theorycrafter out there (real one, not fake like me) can surely tell you why. To me it’s enough to know that it does its job.

Sisters and brothers! I urge you all to join the battle. Help me to make Krizzly, Gnome and the other poor mislead mages out there see the light! The time has come to let the arcane tree rule the world, as it was meant to do from the beginning.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pet decision making

Playing WoW is all about decision making, isn’t it? Some are micro decisions, preferably taken in the split of a second. Which spell should I cast at what target? Where should I position myself? Other decisions are huge and will affect your gaming experience for months or even years. Which class should I play? Which server will be my home? And then there are all those mid-term decisions in between: talent builds, gear optimization, choice of guild, long-term goals and short-term goals.

Becoming a better WoW player is essentially about becoming better at decision making. As you get more experience and understand the game better you’ll know which decisions you should focus on, the ones that make a big difference, and which ones that are insignificant and not worth the effort.

It sure looks fine in theory, doesn’t it? But in reality I sometimes find myself scratching my head, bothering about the smallest, most silly details, which lack any kind of importance.

From easy to hard
The pet decision is a perfect example. There was a time when the decision was easy. I had my Bombay cat and that was it. She was my only companion for a long time. I had stumbled upon her exploring Elwynn Forest in my happy age of noobness. I bought her for a few silver coins, which was a fortune at that point. Later she had company with the Ancona Chicken from Shimmering Flats. But that was it. I could alter between the chicken and the cat and they were both happy, since they got equally attention from me.

Slowly my pet collection grew. I got some as quest rewards and some as gifts from friends, but it was self regulating. Since they required bag space I couldn’t afford to have a big menagerie. But as you all know this has changed. There’s nothing that stops you from hamstring pets, on the contrary, they’re trying to motivate you to do it by handing out achievements.

So my menagerie is steadily getting bigger, today consisting of some 49 pets, soon to be 50. (Yes, I admit it - I’m going for a totally pointless vanity achievement, /blush. I blame Zakesh who brought the infection to me). And this is where decisions are starting to get tough. Every time I log on I face the question: which pet should get the privilege of seeing the boss fights today and get the love and affection from his owner? There can only be one and there will be 48 other pets that will be doomed to dwell in darkness.

The rareness criteria
Every time we assemble for a raiding night I get an opportunity to study the pet choice of my fellow guildies. Many seem to pick either the one that is hardest to get. However, since several others think the same way, the effect will not always be quite as impressive that they had wished. One Kirin Tor Familiar (reward from the horrible achievement Higher learning) is really cool. But as soon as they duplicate they will fall into the inflation trap. Suddenly they’re pretty plain and you won’t get many of those admiring whispers as you got if you were the first one to get it.

A special case is the pets from the Collectors edition. I’ve got mixed feelings for them. On one hand I adore the older ones, like the murloc, but that’s probably because I’ll never be able to get it. On the other hand I don’t always show my own Frosty miniature dragon. It’s not that I don’t like it – I think it looks awesome, even though it’s unexpectedly big. But I feel a little bit ashamed of being so stupid that I waster real life money just to get a pet. People will probably think I’m a bit nuts.

The news criteria
Another natural choice is to display the pet you acquired most recently - the one you haven’t grown tired of yet. I got my spider from Blackrock Spire the other day, and I must admit that I’m tempted to bring her out, even though I’d beware of doing it in the Spiderwing of Naxx – I think it may become rather confusing. Then I’m likely to bring out my Tickbird Hatchling, which I found in an Oracle egg the other day.

The matching criteria
If you’ve got a sense for aesthetics and fashion maybe you prefer to show pets that go well with your appearance. The best matching pet I’ve ever had was my miniature Phoenix. I can’t possibly think of anything more beautiful to go with a fire mage.

The nostalgia criteria
Vanity pets make perfect gifts to fellow players. I have a few that I’ve got from people I’ve met, players I’ve left behind me on my former server or who have left the game. Through the pets I got from them they stay alive in my memory in a way. (Yeah, I know this sounds silly). The Snowshoe rabbit is one of those. It will never been looked upon as cool, but it reminds me of some fun and silly instance runs I had when I was new to the game.

The fun-and-sweet criteria
Finally there are pets which aren’t rare, new, who don’t match anything and weren’t gifts from friends. They’re just fun and sweet to look at. I just adore my little Elekk. Every time I see him I’d like to give him a hug. The Spirit of Competition that you got at the Olympic games was another beauty. Not to speak of the Baby Blizzard Bear. I don’t care about if there’s a zillion of them out there, it still is the cutest pet in game.

Show them all
So where do I end up? Will I go for the unusual, the new, the matching, nostalgic or the fun and sweet pet? All of them, I think, I end up switching pets after every wipe (if there’s time for such trivial thing as to bring out pets, sometimes there isn’t.) So all in all I think most of them aren’t too disappointed. Sooner or later they’ll all have their time when they’re brought out to see the daylight.

But this indecisiveness is a little worrying. If I can’t make up my mind about a stupid pet, how am I supposed to find a position about things that really matter?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why you should write your guild farewell letter today

The last few days we’ve lost a couple of veteran players from the guild. One went to another server since he felt he needed a change. Two left because they’re quitting the game altogether. (This makes me wonder a bit if WoW is starting to lose players after all? The queues when you’re logging in a Sunday night speak against it, as well as the lists over the top selling games. But still I can’t completely rid myself of the feeling that the top peak has been passed. Tobold put a finger on it yesterday in a post which left me a bit uneasy. This is another issue though.)

Each of those leavings has been followed by a beautifully written farewell letter, making my eyes go a little bit wet. My ex-guildies are talking about how the guild is the best they’ve ever been in since they started to play years ago, how excellent players we all are, and how much they’ll miss us. They express their appreciation for our guild master as well as for other officers in a personal way. A typical example:

“Never before had I been in a guild of such a high standard, with such a great mix of characters and with such dedication and drive for raiding … I wanna thank [GM] and the officers for putting up with my faggotry and tomfoolery - it must take a lot of patience to deal with a character like myself. I'd like to thank the healer team for keeping me alive during all the crazy stuff me and the rest of the tank team have done (I think we had a triple overpull somewhere in BT once...), and I want to thank the tank team we have here, for being the best community of tanks I've been a part of, and for showing such maturity, friendliness, respect and fairness to myself and each other.”

Now, reading a farewell post is never fun. They’re all written by great players who will be deeply missed. Not because they’re irreplaceable in their raiding roles - frankly no one is, you can always recruit someone else, even though some classes will take you a bit longer to find – but because they’ve been a part of our community.

At the same time I can't help thinking that this kind of posts actually boosts the morale in the guild and make us stronger. The farewells remind us about all the things we appreciate but so rarely say aloud. They also make me wonder: why do we have to wait until we leave the game before we tell our fellow players how much we like them?

We run all over Azeroth, doing /love to silly critters or /hug to enemy players just to get an achievement. But for some strange reason we forget or don’t dare to hug the players we see everyday and let them know they’re wonderful unless we’re about to say our last goodbyes.

A thought experiment
I have a suggestion: Make up a farewell letter to your guild in your mind, even if you have no plans of leaving it. What would you write in such a letter? Who would you thank especially? What epic moments would you recall and how would you sum your time in the guild?

This thought experiment will help you to remember and value important aspects of the game that sometimes are blurred by trivial everyday annoyances such as server lag, gold spamming or bad loot luck.

Maybe you’ll realize that there are people around you who make the whole difference for your game experience – people who you’ve never actually thanked properly. If that is the case – do something about it. There isn’t any law against showing some love for each other.

Of course you can also come to a very different conclusion. It may dawn upon you that you’re not entirely happy in your guild as things are now. Then you should certainly act accordingly. Either you try to help the guild change and go in the direction you’d like to see. A good start is to express your thoughts and wishes to the officers. Communication ftw! Or if it seems like a lost cause, maybe it’s about time that you started looking for another guild?

“Begin with the end in mind”, says one of my favourite authors when it comes to leadership, motivation and self improvement, Steven Covey. Visualizing what you would say about your guild if you left it – and what your guildies would say about you is a great tool to help you make your own choices and priorities in the game.

Another sort of goodbye
A few final words about farewell letters. You can’t help getting a bit let down by them. The real farewell letters are generally only written about players who cared about the guild and who the guild cared about (unless they’re bitter and the final of some kind of guild drama of course.) If you have a couple of them in a short time it’s inevitable that you feel a little depressed. Yesterday morning when I logged in on the website and saw another post titled “bye all”, this time by one of our officers, I let out a sad sigh and thought “not one more!” Then I opened the post and read the rest of it: “I’m off to work now :)”

In spite of the losses and some really bad recent raiding nights where we’ve had to call the raid due to the insane lagging in Naxx, we’re still capable of joking about it. That’s the best sign of a healthy guild. I’m so lucky to be where I am. And hopefully my real farewell letter won’t be written anytime soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Yes Sir, I Can Boogie!

As you know by now, I’ve had an issue with mr Heigan (with the obscure nickname “the Unclean”, does it refer to dirty thoughts or is they guy actually out of soap?). Or “Heineken” as he was renamed by Fimlys of Twisted Nether in their last show, even though I think beer is the last thing you want to load yourself with if you want to participate in his step show.

Anyway, surviving a dance session with this Heigan guy has been one of my long term goals, one of my resolutions about what to accomplish in the game during 2009. Up until now I had noticed small progress – going from one run over the floor to one and a half, making one turn alright. But to be honest succeeding felt pretty distant.

Do you notice the grammar? It’s all written in a historical tempus. Because my Heigan Issue is no more! Larísa has danced with Heigan until he gave up! I don’t know if it was because his feet hurt or if he had any other problem, but he sure didn’t look healthy as he was laying on the floor.

Friday night raid
It all happened last Friday at an off-night 10-man Naxx guild run. It was an awesome raid in every way you can think of: relaxed and fun with a “Friday at midnight atmosphere” – all of you who have tried raiding at that peculiar time of the week know what I mean. It was also very successful – we cleared the whole place in a few hours. Most of our drops could be used by someone and the big winner of the night was a fellow mage who dinged 80 pretty recently and got loads of upgrades in her first Naxx run. I got a head myself, Cowl of Sheet Lightning, with the meta socket I’ve been longing for such a long time, so I was very glad too.

But what made me most happy in this raid was that I didn’t suffer from the terrible lag that keeps driving me nuts in the 25 man raids. I don’t know if it was because it was just 10 man or if it helped that I had just downloaded a new drive routine for my graphic card and tweaked a couple of settings, but this run I could actually move my character, if not always lag free, at least sufficiently well to be able to go where I wanted to go.

And suddenly the Heigan dance wasn’t half as hard at it had been before. It was doable and even pretty fun. I was almost disappointed we only had two rounds of him. It was a very special feeling to not watch the dancing from the floor position, but to be one in the running crowd.

One of the dancers
The Heigan Dance experience made my thoughts wander back in time, 30 years ago, when the song Yes Sir I Can Boogie (which this post title refers to – younger readers who have no idea of what I’m referring to can listen to it here) had its all time high. Whenever it was played at a school party, I used to watch the other kids as they were dancing, me sticking to the walls, pretending I didn’t want to dance. But Heigan was different. This magical night I wasn’t a watcher anymore. I was a dancer.

I heard my fellow mage complaining – she died pretty early in the fight. “I was moving, I can swear!” Oh, how familiar wasn’t it? I could completely understand as her frustration and I’m quite likely to go back to seeing the fight from a dead perspective next time I do it in a 25 man raid – I have no big hope that the fps improvement was for real.

But still, after this experience I won’t be as depressed about it at I was before.

Now I know I can boogie!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Will people notice your actions?

“Most people don't remember you. Your fears about getting bad rep or hopes to be liked for being nice are vein. People only care about his in-group members, like friends and family. The others are not treated as individual humans, but as stereotypic figures like "the barmaid", "the taxi driver", "the CoH priest". Unless they see you every day, you are not more than an object for them. So don't bother trying to impress them. It won't work”

This cynical statement came by Gevlon caught my attention. His post was about the fact that most people that you interact with temporarily, for instance in a PUG, won’t remember you afterwards. Neither good Samaritans, nor evil ninjas, will be recalled by name, unless you really make an effort, using the friends- and ignore lists.

And it’s possible that Gevlon is right from one point of view – I for one have a terrible memory for names and faces. I will often reward good deeds from players I meet with a spot on my friends list. There’s a reservation though; if I don’t remember to put a note about the reason for it, I’m pretty likely to forget and eventually I’ll remove the name since I have no idea of who this person is and what he has done to impress me. In theory bad deeds should equally be recognized by a membership on my ignore list. That list is strangely empty however – I tend only to see the good things in people I meet.

I have actually experienced more than once in the game though that I’ve met people who have made such an impression on me at our first meeting that we’ve ended up as long-term game friends. (Well since I don’t know ANY people in the game from real life, that’s the situation with all of my friends in the game.) I don’t say that the friendship is built just out of your behavour in a single meeting, but I’m pretty sure that if either of us had given a bad impression that friendship would never have evolved.

All in all I agree that we probably sometimes think that others put more attention to us than they actually do, and that causes us unnecessary worries. People probably won’t notice half of our mistakes – or the good stuff we do – and if they do notice, they will have forgotten it as soon as the PUG is done and dissolved.

Still I disagree about the conclusion – that you shouldn’t bother trying to impress them. At least I bother a lot about making a good impression. Even though people may not remember my name, they will certainly notice my guild tag and I definitely don’t want to be the one who spoils our good reputation on the server.

But even if I wasn’t in a guild, it still would matter how I behaved and performed. It would matter to me. I will remember very clearly the things I have done – good as well as bad. And I can’t be fooled. If I do good things I get a nice warm feeling in my stomach. If I don’t, it will hurt. And I tell you I’m not nice to deal with when I’m displeased with myself. You don’t want to expose yourself to the self-hatred of Larísa.

So yes, actions will be noticed. Somehow. You can count on that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bloggers I’d like to see at Twisted Nether Blogcast

The other day I listened to the 30th episode of the Twisted Nether Blogcast, still going strong and increasing show by show in popularity as well as in size. The last one was well over two hours, which is pretty impressive.

In the end of the programme our hosts Breana and Fimleys did what they always do: asked for feedback, letters and some spread-the-word promotion on the blogs. So I thought I’d do all of it at once, by making up this post, which in fact is a letter to the show, only that it’s published publicly.

After 30 shows there have been quite a few bloggers who have either been presented by an in depth interview, “Twisted blog of the week”, or have participated in a round table panel. It should be more than 30 bloggers by now, probably rather around 40. But there still are some faces (or should I rather say voices?) who I miss. And since it seemed as if there wasn’t any particular guest planned for the next few shows to come, I thought I should grab the chance and make a wish list, in the hope that at least a couple of my suggestions will catch your interest.

So here are some bloggers that I’m curious about and would like to listen to as guests in your show. The order is pretty much random, except for the first one, which is a fantasy of mine more than a serious suggestion.

  1. Ghostcrawler. Yeah, I know, this is cheating. He isn’t a blogger, as far as I know of. But he should be! He’s got brains, talent for writing, skills of communication and interesting perspectives and points of views. Wouldn’t it be the most interesting interview ever? I know it isn’t likely he’d accept a request, but how do you know unless you ask him?
  2. Jame, the guybehind the superb free levelling guides. He nowadays has a blog of his own. I’d really like to hear more about the process of making such guides.
  3. Tim Howgego, who made up the map of the Warcraft Online Community, which intrigued me when I first saw it and still comes out as one of the most interesting blog posts I ever saw in 2008. He’s also the creator of El’s Extreme Anglin’, the ultimate guide to fishing in WoW. Perhaps he could once for all change my attitude towards fishing so it became fun.
  4. Tobold. That guy really knows how to blog. If he’s half as intelligent and interesting in real life as his blog suggests, this interview will definitely be a hit.
  5. Rohan. Same reason as for Tobold. To keep producing interesting posts at an even pace year after year is quite an achievement. He’s highly respected among bloggers and I think we’re many that would like to hear the voice of one of our idols.
  6. Lume the Mad. The perspective in TN is often pretty casual. I’d like to hear what’s in the mind of a hardcore raider. Now Lume hasn’t posted much recently, so I don’t know if he’s still active. Probably he is, just having to much to deal with in the game to have time to blog about it? Anyway if you could squeeze in an interview in his raiding schedule it would be great.
  7. Cynra. She hasn’t posted much lately either, but she’s a brilliant writer with a great sense of humour. I think her perspectives on role playing would be a great inspiration to many of us to try it out.
  8. Gnomeaggedon. I know I’m a bit biased – he’s a gnome and he’s a mage, so I’ve got a weak spot for him. But I’m seriously convinced he’d be a great guest. He’s got a lovely sense of humour and in spite of his quite limited time available for playing, he manages to gather a lot of useful information as well as interesting perspectives on the game. I also think it’s about time that you break the total dominance of guests from US/Canada. The WoW Community is spread over many continents, don’t forget that. It’s about time you let an aussi shine.
  9. Gevlon. You don’t have to agree with his ideas (I often don’t), but admit that he’s pretty interesting. Is he as selfish in real life as in his posts? I bet some pretty interesting discussions could come up.

So there’s my list. It’s all yours. Be inspired or just trash it, whatever. Anyway: you’ve got your letter, your feedback and your blogpost about your show. Mission completed.



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dealing with the pain of being a bad player

One of the favourite themes among bloggers is the discussion about what makes a “good player” and what makes a “bad” one. How should we look upon the players who perform sub-par, who die too easily or deliver less damage/healing/threat than expected, the once who consistently fail to move out of fire? Are they lazy bums, looking for a free ride, people who deserve to be called “slackers” and “morons” and should be ignored since they’re wasting our time?

Here are just a few samples of posts which recently have caught my attention. Green Armadillo at Player Versus Developer wrote an interesting post about incentives and explained why more advanced players don’t have much patience with players further down on the learning curve.

Klepsacovic at Troll Racials are Overpowered wrote a follow up, pointing out that there’s unfortunately no gear reward from teaching other players, which will lead to a behaviour where we overgear instead of learning and where we replace players instead of helping the new ones to improve.

While those two posts are very reasonable and written in a soft manner, some aren’t. Gevlon isn’t alone making blunt judgements about people, putting etiquettes on them as “morons” and “slackers”. Tobold made an effort to argue against that kind of vocabulary, but in fact it’s pretty commonly used, not only by forum trolls, but by bloggers. Probably it’s often done without much thinking. For instance David, who is an intelligent, well mannered and low profiled blogger, who rarely goes aggressive in his posts, wrote something in this direction in a comment at Ixobelle:
“I would say Heroic HoL is not hard - Heroic Loken is. He is a so-so gear check and the ultimate noob check. Can you shift between 2 predetermined locations immediately after each thunder nova emote? If the answer is yes, you win. If the answer is no, go to jail, do not pass GO, and go practice on normal HoL, which is meant for level 78 players and the legally blind.”
It isn’t ill meant it any way, but still I can’t help feeling a bit hit by comments like this. I haven’t yet survived a Loken encounter (though I must admit I’ve only done the instance a couple of times, for some reason it doesn’t come up as “top of mind” when it comes to picking an instance”. Am I a noob? Yes, maybe I am.

Doubting myself
All those posts about “skill”, “being good” and “being bad” have one thing in common: for some reason they make me feel a little bit uneasy, and for a while I’ve been trying to figure out why. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it is because they make me think about which category I belong to myself.

Somehow the authors always seam to assume that their readers all belong to the pool of “good players”. But what if some of us don’t? What if some of us in fact are pretty crappy? There are moments when I think I suck so much that I wouldn’t blame other players for becoming annoyed with me. Maybe I just haven’t got what it takes, no matter how much I want to, how motivated I am, how much effort I put into learning, trying to make it all right?

Deep inside I know that Hafrot was spot on in a comment he wrote at a post at Rawrbitchrawr :
“Ultimately, play is about execution. You may have the right spec, and the right gear and the right macro's and know the strategy and loot table for every boss in Naxx... but if you can't stay out of a Shadow Fissure then all that knowledge is for naught.”
It’s painful to hear but it’s absolutely true. And I guess that’s the reason for the constant stream of self criticism that keeps running through my head. Every time I die at Heigan I feel like a complete idiot. Every time I fail at Loken, running either too far or to short away from him, I feel like hitting myself hard in the head. Every time I’m too slow to make a sheep or a decurse in a raid I cry a little bit inside, wondering how long it will take before my guildmates run out of patience and nicely and politely will ask if I shouldn’t rather join a guild of players at my own skilllevel instead of plaguing this guild.

It has happened more than once that I’ve thought that I’m a hoax, just waiting to be exposed. I probably don’t deserve to be in the semi-hardcore environment where I am. Do I really carry my own weight in a raid or am I rather a burden? Maybe people are just too nice to tell me?

I’m pretty old for this game and that’s probably one of the reasons why my situation awareness and my speed of reaction isn’t the best. Sometimes I think I maybe shouldn’t play the game at all. Or at least I maybe shouldn’t aim for higher raids. Perhaps I should go play some game intended for small kinds and elderly and let the good players enjoy the company of each other?

Thoughts of comfort
Now, this sounds pretty black, and it is how I feel, but don’t jump into the conclusion that I’m giving up. No way I will, at least not for now being. I’ve got a few thoughts of comfort in my pocket to help me keep up the spirits.

After all I do improve. It doesn’t always come as quickly as I wish, but I actually do. The frogger game in Naxx is just an example. The first time I was supposed to cross the slime highway I died a lot. Now I probably won’t, even though I’m not confident enough to make it a bet. That annoying thrusting-the-spear-quest in Stormpeaks is another example. No, I haven’t completed it yet, and I’m a bit ashamed about that, but at least I’ll hang around a lot longer now than the first try. It’s just a matter of time before I make it. And I last a bit longer at Heagan and I’m convinced I’ll make it eventually, depending on how long we will keep raiding Naxx when other raid instances are released.

I do believe that some of my problems are caused by the insane lag I get in 25 man raiding. Some of the fights in Naxx are more like slide shows than as movies, which makes just surviving a challenge and doing good dps on top of that even worse. I hope that I one day will manage to find a computer solution at home which will change this, and that will probably have some impact on my performance.

Another comforting thought is that even if some players consider people like me “noobs” and “idiots“, they actually probably enjoy the game more than they would otherwise, even though they don’t realize it. You see, thanks to my inferiority when it comes to Heagan dancing and other basics, those players can enjoy feeling good about their own skills, feeling superior. How dull wouldn’t the game be to them if everyone else was at the same skill level as themselves?

Finally I’d just like to cite Euripides at Critical QQ, who made a post on the “good player” topic, which really made my day and gave me some courage and hope. Among other things he wrote:

“A good player doesn’t need to have any skills. A good player doesn’t need to know anything. A good player can enter the game, play a hunter, and get all the way to level 43 petless and using Raptor Strike as their primary attack. What defines a good player is their capability to better themselves. If they are willing to learn, willing to research, willing to become better at everything they do, then they are a good player.”
Thank you Euripides for pointing this out. I’ll keep it in mind the next time my self confidence is dipping to critical low levels.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The brilliant solution to the game difficulty dilemma

What level of difficulty should WoW ideally be tuned at? How do you balance the game?

On one hand we don’t want the not-(yet, or ever)-so-skilled players to run their head into a wall, hitting it so hard that they decide to leave the game, putting their real life gold somewhere else and leaving Blizzard with less money available to pay employees to develop new content. You can say or think whatever you want about them, but we all need the casual players, we even need the “noobs” and the annoying PUG-villains and general chat spammers, since we want their subscription fees to our common pool of resources.

On the other hand we don’t want the top-notch players, that little tiny percent which already has run out of content, to get too bored with the easy mode (according to them) not giving them the challenge of whole-grain, but only easy-to-chew bread that lacks taste. They may be elitist, they may be annoying, egoistic and arrogant from time to time but, but no one can deny that they actually provide a lot of useful information and inspiration for the mortal players players. They’re needed, not for their subscription fees, but for the services they make. Gevlon wrote a post about this a couple of weeks ago, which I suggest you read if you haven’t already.

The Disney metaphor
This question of balancing has been the subject for a number of interesting, thought provoking posts the last few weeks. One that will remain in my memory is Tobold’s lovely metaphor, where he compared WoW to a Disney theme park, with some visitors thinking they’re entitled to exclusive content on their own. He got a very eloquent response to this by Rohan at Blessing of Kings, who pointed out how boring the same park would be if you only provided attractions that every single visitor to the park would be able to attend.

I could definitely see the points of both perspectives. It’s like we’re all struggling to find a solution for an equation which is doomed to remain unsolved. What benefits one group of players goes against the wishes of another, so no matter of what Blizzard does, someone will get pissed. Or is it really so?

The achievement solution
Recently I’ve started to believe more and more that Blizzard actually has found the model to deal with the built in conflict. Maybe it isn’t perfect in the eyes of everyone – there are some people whose mission in life seems to be to find faults and they’ll be perfectly able to criticize it from casual as well as from hardcore perspectives. But it definitely is a huge improvement.

The solution from Blizzard is spelled achievements.

I don’t expect you to go “wow” as I point this out to you; the system has been around for months and everyone knows about it. But for me it has taken a while to see the geniality of the concept. I think I was a bit blinded to begin with by the fact that they didn’t manage to catch up with things you had done on the character before, and that some of the achievements are pretty silly or extremely boring, pointless grinds, which doesn’t say anything about your skill, only about your life situation, how much time you can spend in game.

But forget about that for a while and look only at the achievements for heroics and raid instances. The more I think about it, the more brilliant does it seem to me. The difficulty level for the easiest mode has been lowered, making more content available to more people, which hopefully gives a lot of happy customers who feel that they’ve got a lot of things to see and experience in the game. Thus the gold for development is secured. But at the same time the developing guys are throwing gloves at the most skilled players, making up all sorts of challenges for them. “OK, you’ve killed the boss and that was easy, but what if we throw in another three drakes, do you think you’ll still able to make it?”

If you’re a dedicated raider you won’t frown on such a challenge. You’ll go for it, like any hungry fish will go for the bite. There has been some discussion about the rewards, where some argue that they aren’t big enough. And I do agree that players doing difficult things should get rewarded by better gear, titles or mounts which bear witness of what you’ve done.
But even so, I don’t think that the drops are the biggest reason to spend nights wiping to figure out how to beat the achievements.

The biggest reward
The biggest reward doesn’t come from loot. The biggest reward is to see the dragon dead, to feel the thrill that you actually beat him – maybe not the whole game, but a part of it. Just think about it. What causes the biggest cheers on vent, what makes your heart beat, what makes you smile and feel extremely pleased and satisfied? Is it the guild first kill of a boss? Or is it the 10th kill when the boss drops something interesting that you may get? Maybe not all, but probably many raiders get their biggest kicks and highest motivation from the killing experience itself. At least as long as it’s new content, an en encounter you haven’t managed before and you’ve still got the glove that Blizzard threw at you in your hand. (As the instance switch to farm status, loot probably becomes a bigger motivator.)

Of course guilds have always been able to make things harder for themselves without the achievement system. There’s nothing that stops you from trying to beat instances with fewer players, making up strategies more difficult to execute, giving up things that could have helped you in the game and so on. But that would take a lot of imagination and it would be hard to communicate to people outside of the guild, it since there was no accepted standard of what was a true challenge. That’s why home made challenges mostly have stayed theoretical (except for a few dedicated movie makers). The achievement system gives us the ideas about different ways to do the instances and helps us to keep records of it, open, honest and accepted. In practice it becomes like a third or even fourth and fifth level of difficulty (referring to OS). How much closer can you get to please the players that come in so many different varieties of skill, experience, gear and dedication? Blizzard offer us several alternatives, just the same way as they do at good miniature golf parks or if you go bowling and can choose whether to use fences at tha sides or not. This is market adaptation at its best!

Is there any drawback in the new system? Well, maybe a little bit of the feeling of exclusivity will be gone. Even though I’ve never been at that level of raiding myself, I can imagine that you get a special feeling entering an instance which most players can’t get into no matter how much they want to, which was the case in the old attunement system. You feel exclusive staring a boss in the face that most players will only see at You Tube. There was a time when you thought “oh, shit” if you looked at your friends list and saw that someone was in Black Temple. You won’t say the same thing now, when everyone you know apparently is in Naxx. The friends list won’t show you if they’re doing a normal 10 man or if they’re going for the achievement that requires you not to have a single death on the boss fights, which is at quite a different skill level. But still the achievements provide enough of ego boosting effects to satisfy your vanity. Like minded players will notice and know what you’ve done and what effort it took you.

Another drawback is that going for harder achievements more or less requires you to be guilded or at least have a solid friends list. Pugging a group for achievements, be it in five man dungeons or in raid, seems demanding, so say the least. On the other hand, that’s nothing new really, people wouldn’t really pug BT either, until they nerfed it to the ground.

Now I’m just waiting for more achievements to be launched. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blizzard would do that if it turns out that the raid instance will be delayed and hardcore raiders will become increasingly bored, in fact leaving the game. Giving out more achievements certainly must be cheaper than to construct brand new boss encounters.

Time will show if its fun enough in the long run. Right now though I think it’s an excellent solution.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The DKP mystery

In real life I never ever gamble. A year ago I spent three days in Las Vegas without pulling the arm of one of those gambling machines even once. Beat that if you can! The idea to play poker or other games where you actually can benefit not only from being fortunate, but also from having some skill, being able to make calculations and making judgements about the expected behaviour of your co-players, never crossed my mind. I feel like I was born to become a loser. So why give the winners the pleasure of seeing me fail?

I think this reluctance towards gambling is one of the reasons too why I’d never do like some businessmen among WoW bloggers and speculate in material that might become more valuable in the future. I haven’t got the nerves, the self confidence, the knowledge or built-in calculator in my head to do it.

Supporting the DKP idea
But lately I’ve realized I’m already involved in a sort of gambling, either I like it or not. I’m thinking about DKP. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not against DKP as a way of distributing loot. On the contrary. I’ve experienced loot council in my former guild, and even though there were good things about it, it took an awful lot of time, time we would rather have spent on making more bosskills. The DKP bidding is infinitely much quicker and smoother.
Another drawback if you use loot council is that players who gather good gear outside of raids will sort of be punished for it. In a DKP system they’ll pass and save their DKP and then be the first ones to get upgrades when it’s time to move up to the next level of difficulty. You’ll be less likely to get into the situation with the paladin who wanted a break from raiding, which was discussed so intensely among bloggers the other week.
All in all I think DKP systems lower the risk of people feeling that they don’t get loot according to how they contribute. And it smoothens out the randomness of plain greed/needrolling.

People saving up
But even though I’m a supporter of DKP I definitely don’t master it. I never seem to grasp the tactics of how to manage my points to get the best possible value out of them.

In our guild we have a system where we gain 4dkp per hour and extra points for first kills. In the bidding we have a minimum amount at 15 for normal items and 20 for tokens. If you’re the highest bidder on an item you’ll get it for the amount that the next highest bidder wanted it for + 1.

Lately we’ve had an intense discussion on our forums about how people bid – or rather how they don’t bid. Everyone seems to be saving up – not for Ulduar or other future endeavours, but to have enough points available to be able to get the most attractive items, such as heads. Such drops have lately gone at 100 + DKP, which is quite a lot when you think about it. To me it will mean four weeks of raiding, since I can’t raid more than two times a week.

So If I want an item like that I’ll need every single point for it and I can’t bid on anything else, or at least not more than a minimum. Since so many players are doing the same, this leads to another phenomenon. The drops end up in the hands of the players with the highest amount of DKP. Those are the only ones who have guts and DKP to put real bids on them. The rest of us tend to bid 15, if we bid at all. The result is that those players, will get their upgrades at an insanely low DKP cost. More than once an exclusive item has gone at 16 dkp, since it’s the bid of number 2 + 1. So they get all the upgrades – AND they still have their dkp left so they can put those 100+ bids and get the heads or other very attractive items they wanted as well. The smart will get richer and the dumb will get poorer, as Gevlon would have put it. And I’ve definitely been one of the dumb guys, so far.

Hurting the guild progress
Now, you could ask: what’s the big deal? After all, we’ve all agreed about the system, joining the guild, and the system is fair, everyone has had their chance to bid. Well, the problem is if gear that could have been used will get sharded. And I’m not only talking about gear in raid getting sharded, which happens, though rarely – many times someone will pick it up for off-spec. But gear will also get sharded if a person for instance gets an upgrade for a slot which he has earlier upgraded in Naxx. Then the first drop he had will get disenchanted, vendored or at least isn’t used any more.This can be an item which someone else could have benefited from. But since he was so cheap about his DKP, the DKP spender got both of the items, the first and the second. And thus the first one will be “wasted”.

You can’t expect a guild to gear up absolutely evenly, but I think it’s good for the guild if the differences in gear standard aren’t enormous. If the gear level varies too much it will put a strain on the guild and it will increase the risk that the best geared people will cast an eye on alternative guilds which are more progressed and will offer bigger chances to upgrades.

Eye-opening discussion
The discussion in the guild forum, with some 50 posts so far, has been very interesting and an eye-opener to me. I’ve realized that I by saving DKP to the head I long for, I sort of undermine the DKP system. It won’t work as intended. It would probably have been smarter by me to forget about the head (or rather let they guys who had saved DKP from TBC get their heads and patently wait for my turn in a couple of months) and instead go for a bunch of smaller upgrades, each of them nothing too special, but together pretty good. And what I’ve understood a good head will be available soon anyway, for Wintergrasp badges, so there’s no need to be hypnotized by the tier drop. There will be other ways.

The mechanisms of DKP are a mystery to me, but as long as I raid I can’t turn my back to it. I’ve got to figure out how to play this game in the game. I’m glad though that loot isn’t my biggest motivator when it comes to raiding. If that was the case I would really be into trouble.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If I could change class for one day

Some of the Google Searches that lead the readers to my blog intrigue me. Not to the extent that I’d make a never-ending series about it as my dear colleague at Armageddon’s coming. But it happens that something triggers my thoughts. This one did:

fire mage for a day”
I really don’t know what the reader was looking for, but I like the idea that this sentence suggests. It makes me associate to old fairy tales. If I remember it right there was one in the Oriental collection Thousand and One Nights, where a boy was turned into the emperor for one day. If I remember it right it wasn’t quite as he had expected it, but he managed to do quite a few good things during that day.

The more I think about it the more I like the idea. What if Larísa could turn into another class just for one day? How cool, challenging and interesting wouldn’t that be? I bet I’d learn a ton of things from it.

I know that one of my weak spots as a player is my lack of experience from other classes and other roles. Of course that could be helped out a bit pretty easily. There’s nothing that stops me from rolling a little priest alt or a warrior any day. The problem is that it takes quite a while of levelling before you get the basic spells of the class. How much would I understand about how it is to heal as a priest at level 80 by levelling one from 1 to 10? Not very much I think.

Imagine instead that I somehow got access to a change-class-elixir, with duration of 24 hours. It would turn my char into a class and spec of my choice – at the same level, which means 80 for Larísa. My gear would change accordingly to something fitting for the class (I’m sure people wouldn’t be too picky about it).

Since everything would be new to me I doubt that I’d be available for normal PUGing or raiding. But doing it with likeminded guildies would be fun. Let the healer dps, the dps tank and the tank heal for a change. I’m pretty sure we’d have a big laugh at our failures, while trying to give each other crash courses about how to play our ordinary classes. It would be like trading characters with each other, with the difference that this would be legal.

What would be your first choice if you could change class for a day? I’m leaning towards a druid. I really would like to try out the shapeskifting for myself, and I can’t help it, but I think I’ve got a bit of a night elf within me.

To the one guy did this Google search: I must admit that I can’t really see the point of being fire mage for a day. If you’re a non-mage wanting to try out the arcane powers for one day I’d rather recommend a frost spec. With that you could do extremely cool things, as breaking records in aoeing or soloing old-raid bosses. Fire mages are good for raiding purposes, but hardly spectacular for a one-day-shot.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Case of the Lost Paladin

Once upon a time there was a paladin who thought he needed a break from raiding. He was geared enough to run Ulduar, and that was one of the reasons why he didn’t feel any motivation to keep running Naxx. He wrote a small note about it to his guild leader, and this letter ended up engaging not only his guild, but thousands of WoW-players all over the world. (Which probably didn’t come as a complete surprise to him – after all he should know that his GL was blogger at heart and this was definitely blogging material.)

There are currently three major posts discussing The Case of the Paladin: World of Matticus, Greedy Goblin and Tobold’s, and each one of them has caused a major debate. Most readers condemn the behaviour of the paladin, considering it egoistic, while a few think that he was in his full right and didn’t have any obligation whatsoever to help out his guild once he had got the gear he needed. (Gevlon has now come up with another post, where he has slightly changed his opinion, but he still think he doesn't own his guild anything.)

Different perspectives
I’ve thought a great deal about the issue, trying to sort out my own thoughts and feelings. However, I’ve found it pretty hard to take a position. I can neither criticise, nor defend him vehemently.

In the end it’s all about different perspectives on raiding, different mindsets. Like Map writes in his comment: “This runs into a central division of types of raiders. You have people like Wayne who raid to get gear. You have others who gear to raid.”

I belong to the later category, but who am I to condemn people with a different approach to the game? They pay subscription fees like me, they invest time, and they’re entitled to decide for themselves how to play it, as long as they don’t lie and take advantage of others.

A question that comes into my head is how this paladin looks upon the purpose of his guild. Is the guild most of all a business operation, something a group of people agrees to run together as a mean to get access to things in the game (gear or achievements)? Or is it a social institution, a bunch of friends or even a family, who enjoy spending time and doing things together (in this case raiding)?

It isn’t necessarily wrong to see raiding and membership in a guild as tools that you use to reach goals for your character progression. It’s fine with me – as long as the player is honest about his intentions right from the beginning. Let the greedy goblins play make guilds of their own. As long as the rules are clear and everyone knows what to expect, it will work. It will be a bit like a PUG, although better organized. It’s a bunch of loosely connected strangers who agree to cooperate to get the job done, without any emotional involvment whatsoever. End of story.

I wouldn’t want to be a part of it though. You see I expect my raiding guild to have a soul, and I know it sounds very vague and irrational to Gevlon, who doesn't believe in spirits whatsoever. But I'm human rather than a machine, and I you want to laugh at me for this childish notion, so be it.
To me raiding is hardly at all about enhancing my character. Of course I rejoice at upgrades as anyone else, but it’s not my motivator, it’s a side effect and most of a way to help to improve the overall raid performance. No, raiding to me is best described as entering a different state of mind. When I raid I lose myself in time and space and I become a part of something bigger – an organism of its own. I raid because I love the activity of raiding in itself, not to get a salary.

If you ask be.imba I don’t need to run Naxx 25 man since I’m geared for more difficult tasks. And yet I wouldn’t dream of “taking a break” from it like the paladin. As a matter of fact I hate the nights when I miss a raid – not because I can’t bid on possible drops – but because I’m cut off from the raiding body where I belong.

Growing together
When we raid we grow together as a group. The glue is trust and the bricks are our common experiences. They’re our glorious first kills, the magic nights when everything worked and everyone played a bit beyond our limits. But they’re those horrid wipe nights when nothing worked and everyone sucked and the RL finally freaked out and yelled at us. They’re our solved conflicts, our mishaps and cryouts, our laughter and our silliness. The soul of the group is built out of everything we encounter in the raid.

This is why I keep listening to TS if the raid is oversubscribed and it’s my turn to sit it out. It’s not only about keeping me updated on our current boss strategies. It’s about being in touch with what’s happening to the guild and staying connected.

If you’re on a longer break it’s inevitable that you’ll be a bit lost if you come back. A guild changes and develops a little with every new raiding experience it gets, with every new members that comes or old member that leaves the raiding team. If you’re not a part of it you’ll come back to a different guild than the one you took a break from. It will take a long time to find your way back into the organism. And if the trust is lost I doubt it's even possible.

So what’s my final judgement about the paladin? Well, most of all I feel sorry for him. I think he misses an important aspect of raiding. It's not about the epic loot, but about the epic experience of being a part of a tightly knit group, step by step exploring Azeroth while growing in skill, maturity and coordination. Perhaps it isn’t his cup of tea. But it definitely is mine.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The extra boss in the DK wing

The tanks in our guild has established the nice habit to write posts in our guild forum after every raid, evaluating the encounters from a tank’s point of view, discussing lessons learned and things to think about for the next raid.

Normally this is pretty serious business, however there was a few lines in a recent posting about our first 25 man raid in Naxx which made me giggle:

We moved onto to the secret final boss of the DK wing - the 4 horsemen chest. Simple tactic, just hard to execute. Basically, everyone has to loot their badges and gtfo before the raid leader enrages. I think we finished just within the enrage timer.

How true isn’t this? Normally we don’t use many curses in the Pink Pigtail Inn (this is a non-combat zone, mind you), but honestly, I don’t get the idea about those bloody chests. Everyone opening them to loot badges at Chess in Karazhan was time consuming and annoying as it was. And that’s nothing compared to doing the same thing in a 25 man raid.

As we were looting it you could hear the frustration and annoyance grow on TS. And this was only our FIRST time opening that chest. I can imagine how we’ll feel about it once we get to the stadium that we try to make Naxx into a one-night-clear-event.

“I’m sure they’re going to fix this in an upcoming patch”, someone said, hopefully.

Well, you can always hope. But the patch notes for 3.08 doesn’t say anything about it, as far as I’ve read them.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why I’m still a horde virgin

Recently I wrote a response in a comment, which shocked one of my readers more than I could have imagined. I mentioned the fact that I’ve never ever played a horde toon (well I once levelled a little bloodelf mage to 9, but that doesn’t really count, does it?). I’ve never explored the horde capitals, more than the glimpses you get from the recent quest The Battle for the Undercity.

How can I just skip more or less half of the game? It’s quite incomprehensible if you ask David at Alt Fanatic.

And of course he’s quite right. I had a look at my statistics tab the other day (which I actually find much more intriguing than the achievement records) and noticed that I’ve already done 77 5-man instances in Lich King. I’ve killed Cyanigosa on heroic nine times. Since the statistics feature was introduced I’ve completed 267 daily quests, most of them definitely in the expansion, since I hardly did any dailies towards the end of TBC.

I could argue the way I usually do, that every instance run is slightly different, depending on the group composition (especially the players, not the classes so much). But the dailies are definitely very repetitive. It’s their nature.

When you think about it, much of my game play is about repeating content over and over again, while a big part of the content, maybe even the majority of it, still is unknown territory to me. Isn’t this a bit of a waste?

Supporting raiding
Now there’s a difference between David and me. He has played the game since 2005. I started two years later, which means that I’ve had essentially less time than he to explore the content. And while David loves to level alts, I’m caught by the raiding bug, which is nothing less than a curse since it is so time consuming. Most of my limited gaming time has to be spent on things that directly or indirectly support my raiding. Levelling an alt would be OK, as long as it gives me access to another profession. For instance my upcoming herbalist rogue will provide Larísa with mats so she can make the necessary flasks for raiding.

Levelling a horde character just to see the content “on the other side” won’t support raiding in any way. It’s a side project, which could compare to playing another game altogether or playing on another server. It wouldn’t connect to the rest of my playing and it would feel like a bit of “a waste of time”.

You could argue that this is a silly way of thinking. There isn’t such a thing as a “productive” way of playing WoW – it is all about entertainment and leisure and if we start to think about it as a job we’re getting it wrong.

On the other hand – if I didn’t think this way – if I mindlessly fell for every idea I got into my head and started alts of every class and race on every kind of server – I would see a lot of the newbie zone content, but not so much of endgame raiding. So maybe I’m not totally wrong after all. I’m constantly struggling to balance real life with gaming, finding ways to reach my goals in the game, even though circumstances suggest that I should be playing on a more casual level than I am. This means that I have to sacrifice content and make priorities.

Where everybody knows my name
However I think that my main reason for staying on the alliance side is the social one. How lonely wouldn’t it be to start a horde character and not knowing anyone at all? It isn’t only the Barrens and Ogrimmar that would feel alien to me. The general chat would. The unknown guild tags would. And the totally empty friends list and the “you’re not in a guild” message would. I can hardly think of anything lonelier. I would have to start from scratch to get into some kind of social context. Why would I do that when I know that I’ve got a bunch of friends who are online at the alliance side?

I guess most of my readers are old enough to remember Cheers? One of the best things about that series is actually the signature melody. The lyrics describe pretty well what my guild and my friends list means to me, and why I hesitate to try a horde character just to see the content. (By the way it also describes my vision for this blog, but that’s another story.)

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Slowly poisoned by achievements

I thought I could resist it, since it’s pointless and a huge time sink, but lately I seem to have been pulled into the achievement business. It’s like if I’ve been dotted. I won’t go down instantly, but it’s infecting me and putting silly ideas into my head.

The Merrymaker
The first step on my road of surrender was the arrival of the title Merrymaker, which had some odd attraction to me. I never cared about the Hollowed title only a month ago, but this one was obviously meant for Larísa. Suddenly I found myself doing some stupid rescue reindeer quest in Searing Gorge, something that would never have crossed my mind before.

Having a goal, I could suddenly feel the pleasure of seeing the greyish achievements in the log turning colour into a brighter shade as I completed them. The message that I’d done it made me smile. It wasn’t as big as dining, but it was definitely more fun than just completing a quest.

Another step towards achievement illness was that I started to take an interest in the challenges offered in the heroic instances. There’s no doubt that those little twists to the fights, the risen difficulty, the special strategies you have to figure out, make it more challenging and fun. Killing the boss isn’t enough anymore. I want to kill him with finesse.

Old Kingdom
I’ve got a couple of guildies who are achievers on an entirely different level than me. They’re on good way of completing all the heroic instance achievements, getting a red proto drake for the Glory of the hero achievement. I doubt that I’ll ever reach that far. But I’ve done enough of them to get a taste for it.

A few nights ago I joined them in the hunt for Volazj's Quick Demise in Old Kingdom , and it turned into the most fun achievement experience I’ve had so far.

I can’t say that I love that boss on heroic – that part when you have to nuke down yourself and your party members during insanity always causes me trouble to survive. My friends assured me that I probably wouldn’t have to go through those struggles. There was supposed to be some kind of easy mode. If you made the boss into a focus target you could keep nuking him even during insanity and he would go down quickly.

It only took us one try to find out that this information either was wrong or outdated after a hot fix. There were no shortcuts anymore – this boss had to be done the proper way, which meant insane nuking from the beginning to the end. And I would have to deal with the adds, no matter what I thought about it.

The kick of killing
We did a couple of tries and I felt ashamed – I thought it took me way too long to deal with the adds and I didn’t take down all of them on my own. I was convinced that it was my lack of speed that slowed us down and I even offered to leave my spot to some more skilled player than me. But the other party members assured me it wasn’t just me that was struggling – everyone else was too. We just have to improve and dps the best we could. So we had a big feast, making sure everyone (me on my mage, a druid tank and three dps-ing shammies, no healer) was buffed up to a maximum. And off we went, nuking like insane to get him down as far as possible before the first insanity.

This time for some reason I took down my first load of adds a bit quicker than before, and so did probably the others. I don’t know if it was the feast or just that we had practiced a few times. A second insanity arrived and I felt like if I was affected by slow as I slaughtered my mates. But at least I survived. Finally back to the boss – about 10 percent of his life remained and the same amount of seconds. And behold! We grabbed the achievement with the amazing margin on one single second!

The kick of that kill was definitely on par with any first kill on raid bosses! This was an achievement in its true sense.

Merrymaker and defeater of Volazj – those dots seem to be enough to make Larísa fall into the achievement trap. I keep fighting it, but I must admit that I’ve already run Deadmines and Stockades without having any good reason for it except the achievements. And why on earth was I completing the exploration of Northrend the other night? There was no logical reason for it. Only those stupid, pointless achievements.

I’m dotted. How long will I resist? Will I end up doing tedious things as exploring Barrens and Durotar by my ground mount? Is there any rescue from this curse?

Time will show. I suspect that my best defence will be the upcoming raiding season. When I’m not raiding I’ll be gathering money and consumables for raids and I won’t have time for this nonsense. Hopefully.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Feeling at home with the rats

Finally I gave in and moved my hearthstone to Dalaran, which doesn’t make sense since I’m a mage and can teleport there anytime I feel like it anyway. It would be more natural to put my stone either in Wyrmrest Temple or Wintergarde Keep, for quick and easy access to the raid instances, or possibly in one of the far away corners of the world where I go to make dailies, such as Howling Fjord, Borean Tundra or Sholazar Basin.

But I followed my heart and put it where I currently feel most at home in the game, which is in Underbelly, the underground city in the sewers of Dalaran.

Cooking quests
When I first visited the place I mostly saw it as a spot where you could pick mushrooms for one of the daily cooking quests. Then I found out that this also was a good spot for another of the dailies, where you’re supposed to collect a piece of cheese and six glasses of wine. This quest is very annoying if you try to complete it on the surface, since there are way more players doing the quest than there are glasses around. But if you go to the inn of Underbelly you’ll get your glasses in no time at all. And there's even a third cooking quest which is supposed to be delivered to the inn keeper in the sewer.

It turned out that I had a reason to visit the sewers more or less every day for the cooking stuff, and little by little I got to know the place better. From being confused and pretty annoyed since I found it hard to orient myself, I started to change. I found myself looking forward to those visits – I was even falling in love with the place.

Those are the things which appeal to me in Underbelly:
  • The lack of lag. Dalaran on the surface will mostly show itself in 10-15 fps to me, which isn’t exactly enjoyable. Down in the sewer it’s more like a normal questing area.
  • All services in one spot. Well there isn’t any AH, but on the other hand there isn’t anyone in the regular Dalaran either. I suspect Blizzard will never ever make another one, since they need to give us a reason to go back to the old world. Or maybe they will, it certainly would brighten up the rather empty and dead Shattrath. But Dalaran won’t get one for sure. But if you count out AH you'll find more facilities in the sewers than you may think of when you first see it. There’s a bank right next to the inn. You may repair and buy any reagent you need, even vials. You may even cook for free by the stove in the nice little bedroom.
  • The atmosphere. In spite of the darkness, the stench and the sewer rats running around, I find the sewers very cosy. There are just enough other players to keep you from feeling alone, but not more than that you can relax and enjoy the tranquillity when you’re in mood for that.

Fishing achievement
So what can you actually do in Underbelly, except for cooking quests, repairing and sorting out your bank? Well, one great thing you can do is fishing. If you’re waiting for a Wintergrasp battle to start, or looking for a PUG, you could as well fish in the sewer on your own as standing in the crowd by the fountain on the surface. The catches aren’t amazing, but at least you can level your fishing, and if you’re addicted to achievements you can try to catch a Giant Sewer Rat.

And one you’re done and want to get out and get some fresh air and sunlight, you don’t have to make your way through Dalaran to the flight point to be able to mount. No, Underbelly has a sweet take off ramp of its own, if you prefer your own mount to the public transportation systems. Just follow one of the pipes downwards, watching your step so you don’t go too far and fall (if you’re a mage you could put on slow fall, just as a precaution). When you reach the end, mount up and enjoy.

The only complaint I have about Underbelly is that it seems as though the Postman is afraid to wet his feet and refuses to go down there to deliver the mail. At least I haven’t been able to find any mail box yet – you have to get to the entrance to find one. But even if it’s a bit annoying, it doesn’t take away the grandness of Underbelly – the hidden jewel of Dalaran where I’ve found my home among sewer rats and shady dealers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Pink Pigtail Inn list of 2008

A new year has arrived, but I’m not quite finished with 2008 yet. Before letting it go I thought I should make one of those lists to help us remember a few of the WoW and WoW blogging higlights of 2008. Here we go:

Best raid instance: Zul Aman
OK, technically ZA was realeased in the patch 2.3, but not many players were geared enough to run it until 2008. I really loved that instance. Being outdoors was nice for a change, the trash wasn’t overwhelming or boring, they had their own little gimmicks, like that hill you ran with all the birds or the annoying scouts that you had to grab really quickly or you would wipe soon. The bosses were varied and challenging in different ways, and as we geared up we could still get a thrill in there, running against the timer. It was easy to forgive that some gear that dropped there looked stupid.

Least successful raid instance: Sunwell
With the risk of being accused of not knowing what I talk about (I never did one single boss there myself) I’ve got the feeling that this instance never became a favourite with anyone. Very few players did it before the nerf and from the ones who did it I never heard any enthusiasm. Blood elf style was never a hit.

Silliest gold sink: Gold Eterium Band sold by Haris Pilton.
Have you ever heard of anyone buying it? If I had that gold I’d rather hand it out to begging newbies in Goldshire. Seriously.

Most longed for instance: Magisters Terrace
At the point that this one was launched we were all pretty starved for new 5-man instances. We could do Mechanar, Slave Pens and Botanica asleep. It was nice and Priestess Delrissa was a challenge to begin with . But it only lasted a few weeks. Then we started to crave for more.

Most juicy guild drama: The merging of SK and Nihilum into Ensidia and the fuss that followed.
This blog post from a former member is full of accusations and I don’t know if there is even an inch of truth in it. But no doubt it qualifies for this title.

Biggest addition to the game: Achievements
There have been a lot of new ideas and content brought to the game. The expansion brought a new class, the phasing technology, vehicles and a lot of other nifty stuff. But the most game-changing invention in 2008 was the achievements. It brought life back to a lot of the game that has been dead and deserted.

Best quest: The Wratgate questchain incluiding the video we’ll never forget and The Battle for Undercity.
This brought our expectations about what questing can be like to a new level.

Ugliest tabard: Competitor's Tabard, offered during the Olympic Games.
The Olympic circles have nothing to do in Azeroth, they just don’t belong. I trashed it immediately after getting the pet, which on the other hand was very handsome.

Favourite non combat pet: The Phoenix Hatchling from MgT
A real beauty which brightened up some rather gloomy runs in the darkness of the lair of Gruul.

Most charming Blizzard employee: Ghostcrawler
Not always telling the news players wanted to hear, he still managed to gain the respect and love from the WoW community. Honesty, humour and a talent for communication was the recipe for his success.

Best podcast: Twisted Nether
Bre and Fimley brought the community to a new level of intimacy. Together with The Twisted Nether Wiki and BlogAzeroth it has become the power center of the WoW blogging community.

Biggest blog facelift: World of Matticus
It’s amazing how much development one blogger can manage to do in one year, while still keeping up his own raiding and real life duties. Good job!

Most memorable blog post: Noob world reorder and the follow-ups.
In a series of posts James Wallis explained Azeroth from a scientific point of view combining wittiness, intelligence, game knowledge and a slight amount of insanity to a very entertaining stew.

Most noticed breakthrough: Chick GM
She took the Blogosphere by storm, entering almost every single blogroll within a few weeks of her debut.

Most solid content provider: Tobold’s
He proved once for all that content >looks when it comes to blogging. With a simple, not to say non-existing layout, he’s got subscriber numbers that few other bloggers can dream of.

Most hugged blogger: Big Bear Butt was more or less lynched when he dared to question some aspects of PvP. The Blogging community reacted strongly, giving him the biggest collective hug ever seen. Don’t touch our bear!

I could go on like this forever. One year in WoW provides quite a lot of content when you think about it. What have I forgotten? Who deserves a mentioning on the PPI list of 2008? Please feel free to nominate candidates for new categories you come to think of or make up your own lists!

Friday, January 2, 2009

The easier it gets the pickier we become

Lately there have been a couple of posts about pugging which have caught my attention.

Keen at Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog wrote a post about a new and increasing phenomenon in the game, that people ask you about your stats before joining an heroic five-man PUG. In spite of the fact that he had sufficient gear and had completed the instance before he has been denied more and more often, since the PUG leader won’t settle with less than “imba” gear.

He finds this attitude quite frustrating, since he needs to do those instances in order to upgrade his gear. This is a new approach, according to Keen. You would never have seen it in Old school WoW – or in any other game.

A few suggestions
WyldKard at Mendax wrote another post, commenting on Keen’s complaints. He shares Keens objections, and points out that it resembles to how people play their alts. You’ll rarely find a player doing instances in the “normal” way, at the appropriate level in an equally levelled and not overgeared party, making it a challenge. If players levelling alts bother to run instances at all, they’ll be likely to get help from guildies or other friends with higher levelled toons, more or less boosting them. They want a smooth run and get over with it quickly, and they think they’ve had their share of wipes and struggling when they did the instances “for real” levelling their mains.

WyldKard things this attitude is quite harmful to WoW and has a few suggestions what Blizzard should do about it. One of his more wild ideas is to disallow two characters on the same account on the same server. Hmm… Alts forbidden… No I don’t think that would be a hit, to be honest.

His second idea is more interesting, though I don’t think it’s flawless. He suggests that you gimp characters so that their characters will be reduced in power if they’re running a low level instance. I can see a point in it – it would allow friends with characters at different levels to play together and have good, entertaining instance experiences, in spite of the level gap. They won’t be referred into the pretty boring boosting industry.

His third idea doesn’t make sense to me, especially not with the achievement system alive: he says that players should be locked out from endgame instances way below their gear level.

Being spoiled
Now over to my take on this. Where does this pickiness come from? It’s hard to say, but I’ve got the feeling that we’ve become a bit spoiled. It wasn’t too long time ago when a run in Shadow Lab heroic was a whole-night venture, which you could expect would take at least two hours and a number of corpse runs. But we seem to forget about that quickly. Towards the end of TBC pretty much everyone was overgeared for the instances and we ran through them in no time at all. In the expansion the instances have turned out to be fairly easy and above all short. If you get a spot in a party for an instance it’s quite common that you’ll end up doing two or three in a row, since they’re so short.

You could think that since the instances are quite easy and short, players should need to be LESS picky about the other PUG members then they used to be in TBC. But the effect has become the opposite. The easier it gets the pickier we become, starting to ask for stats as if we were about to make a try on the hardest 25 man raid boss in stead of just running a simple dungeon.

Honestly, I can’t help thinking that we’ve become a bit lazy. Do we expect everything in the game to be a free ride those days? Where is our appetite for challenges? Have we forgotten that a few wipes in the beginning makes the killing of the boss so much sweeter in the end?
And when did we become so obsessed with gear? If we want guarantees for an easy PUG, good gear definitely won’t give the whole story. You may found extremely lousy players dressed up in the shiniest purples if you’re unlucky.

Reasons for being picky
Do I ever ask for gear stats myself when I’m about to start a PUG? Normally I don’t. But I must admit that I’ll throw a glance and inspect my fellow players before starting. I only remember once when I’ve had objections. But that actually was in a PUG raid in Zul Aman, before the last nerf patch. We were supposed to do a timer run for mounts and I noticed that one of the healers was all in green and blue quest rewards. It was obvious that he would be a big burden to the raid so I informed the raid leader and he removed him.

If I’m doing a heroic PUG just for badges and rep I won’t be picky about gear. But if I was going for a certain achievement it would be a different matter. There are achievements which are designed as dps races, where a certain level is required, no matter of the skill of the player.
A little while ago I did a half pugged timer run in Stratholme. It was late at night and we formed the group with a couple of guildies and a couple of pick-ups. It turned out that one of the outsiders was a hunter with terrible gear. His poor dps slowed us down and we didn’t make it against the timer. If we had only remembered to check him a bit better before I’m sure he’d never have been invited; we would have waited another ten minutes, found another one and reached our goal.

My conclusion is that there are times when asking for stats for a PUG makes sense. But unless you’re going for achievements it’s often overkill.
After I wrote this Gevlon came up with a post on this topic, sharing his goblin PUG rules. They seem pretty harsh to the softhearted merrymaker Larísa, though I must admit most of it makes sense. And I must credit him for not demanding overgeared players in all purples. Blue gear will do according to him. Non-performing players won't do though.