Sunday, October 31, 2010

Someone just became an internet hero

One sentence from Boubouille said it all "Someone just became an internet hero".

You've probably heard the story already, but OK, in case you've been living under a rock I'll write it down here anyway, just because I too want to bring out a toast for our hero.

The Red Shirt Guy got his name as he spoke up in one of the panels at Blizzcon, asking Chris Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi why the NPC Falstad Wildhammer wasn't in the beta for Cataclysm, which he should have been, according to their own lore, as presented in novels and earlier game. Metzen obviously didn't have any good reply at this and promised to look into it.

It didn't take long before a video of the Red Shirt Guy had spread over Internet, with millions of views. Some players approved of his question, but many - too many - mocked his slightly slow, a little bit peculiar way of putting his question, and tossed out all the usual insults about how this guy was a loser who should crawl out of his basement and get a life.

So what did the Red Shirt Guy do? Did he let himself be discouraged? Did he let those morons get to him? No. He put up his own answer on YouTube, where tells the world about why he sounded a little strange - which had to do with a combination of being nervous (and who wouldn't be in that situation?) and a light version Asperger's syndrome. And knowing what an attention his person has gotten, he didn't miss the opportunity to make some PR for his guild.

It's obvious this guy has more guts than the haters ever could dream of and after seeing his video, it's easy to join his fanclub. Red Shirt Guy rocks!

And obviously this view is shared by the people at Blizzard, so much that they've even decided to make him into an NPC, "Wildhammer Fact checker". Dressed as he should be, of course: in a red shirt.

When the first picture of it came up, there were some voices raised that it might be a fake. But blue poster Valnot has put a stop to the debate with a simple statement: "It's real".

Sometimes we accuse Blizzard of being too goddamn slow about things. I do it too. They were slow with fixing the Halloween bugs, they were slow about informing about the change to the Insane title, well, there are many examples.

But then there are those moments when they suddenly show a fingertip sense of how to interact with the community, and they're on their toes, taking action. I have no idea of the standard procedures for naming NPCs. How many committees do you have to go through before a suggestion is approved? I could vividly imagine that the flowchart is a nightmare.

Not in this case though. They just DID it. And they did it the right way.

Red Shirt Guy, you just became immortal. Here's a toast for you!


Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Shade of Deathwing - about those things we normally try not to think about

We’ve reached the end of this post-Blizzcon week and I’ve noticed a couple of pieces of news that I could have reflected over together with our Friday night pint here at the inn.

The announced arrival of Deathwing, for instance. Lucky those who will get fried in his fire! One commenter at MMO-Champion figured out that the chances to be on the right spot in the right time could be as low as 2 percent. I hope he didn’t have a clue about what he was talking about.

But I’ll leave this and the other potential topics for now, because something else came up, namely a blog post by Aurdon. It brought tears into my eyes when I read it and I couldn't get it out of my head ever since. So I'll deal with it the way that bloggers do it: I write. It usually helps.

I'll tell you right from the start that this post will on the serious side, so if you have a problem with this kind of discussions and prefer your WoW blog experience to be lighthearted and merry, since you're here to escape the crap in your RL rather than talk about it, I suggest that you take your pint and move over to the other corner of the inn. Why don't you read an old post or visit my neighbour blogs? I can hear the happy banter and there's laughter and silliness in the air. It's totally OK to leave and I don't blame you if you don't want to go serious tonight.

For you who choose to stay though, I'm going to talk a bit about Aurdon's post even if it might bring up some sad or even painful emotions, thoughts and memories. Be warned. This will be a post about things that we normally try not to think about, and if we do it, we keep it to ourselves.

The death of a guild member
Aurdon tells the story about what recently happened to his guild, as they lost one of their long time guild members. When they logged on after the weekend, it turned out that he had died, all of a sudden.

It's quite rare that you hear about players dying, but it happens. Of course it does; with 12 million players over the world, it's to be expected, even if I suppose that the community is fairly young compared to the entire population. Sometimes the dead players get honoured with memorial posts in the official forums, or there will even be special arrangements on their home servers, like this memorial walk that Pike wrote about a couple of years ago.

Occasionally as I see those stories, a thought flies through my head: what if it was me that died? Or as I put the question in a blog post from 2008: If I die for real, will anyone notice?, where I wrote about the rift that goes between my life in Azeroth and my real life. No one but me knows my password to WoW, no one in my family knows how to get in touch with my guild, and if they did I doubt they'd care about it anyway, since "it's just a game". No one outside of the WoW/MMO community knows about this blog. Some game and blogger friends know my real name, but unless I died in such a very spectacular way that it would become news, I can't see how the people I see in WoW ever would learn about that I've died.

They would notice that I suddenly was gone, without giving any notice, and a few might be a bit concerned, knowing that it's very much unlike me. But would they be worried enough to actually take action and try to contact my family? Or would they be reluctant to break into my private sphere?

From a logical point of view I suppose it wouldn't matter to me either way, after all I'd be dead and wouldn't know. Still: somehow it bothers me a little to leave people hanging; it's as if someone had tore away the final pages of a novel. We want to know how it ended.

Not thinking about death
Aurdon's guild learned about what had happened, but I wonder if that is the normal case. Probably I'm not the only one to keep my lives apart. Could it be that players and bloggers who have vanished from my horizon without any apparent reason, actually have died?

We prefer to find up other explanations. We assume they've just quit playing WoW, maybe they've uninstalled the game and quit cold turkey style since that was the only way they could do it? Maybe they just wanted a fresh start, so the named changed and moved to another server? That's what we tell ourselves, since we don't like the idea that something bad could have happened. Because if our fellow players turn out to be mortal, it implies the same about us and that's something we'd rather not think about.

But in the end I think that avoidance and refusal to acknowledge the existence of death is a bad strategy. I come to think of a story about the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. As she grew old, it's been told that she used to begin her telephone calls to her sister with the words: "The Death, The Death, The Death". And with that topic out of the way they were ready to talk about other things.

Call the ghosts by their names, look them right into their eyes, and they'll be less scary.

And that's why I find myself talking about death on a Friday night rather than about raids instances and class nerfs, and you'll have to excuse me if I'm rambling a bit. It's not an easy topic to write about and now comes the part when it gets even more difficult.

A guild in shock
I'll go back to where I started, with Aurdon. His guild member didn't die from an accident. He committed suicide, and in his post Aurdon describes how deeply this has affected him as well as the guild. None of them had seen it coming.

"He was just as active in the guild as I and he participated in our voice chat like anyone else. In fact he was on the day before with no signs that would suggest anything was wrong. It’s an odd feeling knowing that he’ll never log in again. None of us knew he was feeling this way."
I can imagine the shock, the loss, the disorientation, the confusion you can feel in such a situation. And maybe some guilt too, even if it's not justified at all. In this way it's probably not much different to lose a guild member this way than it is to lose a real life friend or colleague. All those questions, hanging in the air. Why didn't we see this coming? Why didn't he talk to us, confide himself? We would have been there for him. Could we have done something to prevent this?

What makes it a bit different to a guild than to a circle of real life friends is the distance barrier, the fact that most of us never meet in real life. When you need to hug someone, you'll will have to settle with an emote. And even if a virtual emote can carry a lot of meaning, it doesn't bring you the physical feeling of another warm body and you can't help someone else wipe their tears. At the most you'll hear them over vent. It's not an easy situation to deal with.

How to handle it
Sometimes Azeroth becomes a shelter or a bubble, a place where we can relax and regenerate or simply kill our pain for a while; it can help us to cope better with issues we have in real life. But when the bubble bursts and the pain is right where you are, in the middle of the game, where else can you go?

There are ever so many brilliant guides out there, covering almost any aspect of WoW you could think of. But I've never heard of any guide to what a guildmaster should do in this situation. I suppose there just isn't any "correct" way of doing this. It's one of those things you have to improvise, letting your gut feeling take the lead.

Aurdon's guild decided to honor his memory by restructuring the ranks. The player and his alt were set to the highest awarded rank of "Rest in peace".

Another thing they did was to not shy away from talking about what had happened. Aurdon was informed immediatley about it by his guild master, as soon as he logged on. And then he blogged about it, and even if it mostly was for his own sake, I'm sure it helps the entire guild in this situation. Not everyone is capable of putting their feelings into words. It can be a relief when someone else does it so you can recognize yourself and maybe get a release for your own tears.

Aurdon ends his post turning directly to his guildie:
“I don’t know if you felt you would be missed or not but you are. I didn’t know you as well as I could have and I’m sure you could say the same about me. I can’t help but imagine that you might have felt your action would not have impacted those that didn’t know you so well. If so you were wrong. I am saddened by your choice and wish I had the chance to know you better. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those you left behind. You are missed.”
Aurdon decided to disable comments on his post, since he felt that all had been said. So before I wrote this post, I contacted him and told him about my plans.

He wrote back to me:

"You have my full permission to send anyone who might benefit from my post on over. Part of the post was simply for me to get it off my chest what I would have said to him and the other part was to reach out to others who might be struggling with the same issues. I barely knew the guy beyond his avatar and voice on voice chat but his decision impacted me quite deeply. That's the message I want people to know. You may feel small, unloved, insignificant, etc but there is always people who care about you."
Not scared of the abyss
People decide to end their lives for various reasons. Sometimes they know very well that there are other people around who care about them deeply, people who would do anything in their power to help if they could, but they go through with their decision anyway. "All you need is love" is a wonderful line, but unfortunately it's not entirely true, not for everyone.

Knowing all this, I will still second Aurdon. If someone around me, in the game and the blogosphere, carries this kind of thoughts and feelings and wants to share it, this pink pigtailed gnome is old and strong enough to listen. I can't guarantee that I'll say something incredibly wise that will make you change your mind - probably I won't. I'm as lost at the question of life and universe and everything as everyone else. But at least, know this: I don't shy away from darkness. The abyss doesn't scare me. And that's why I'm writing this post in the first place.

It's close to midnight and it's been raining for so long that I've forgotten when it started. Was it today or the day before? And where did this post begin? Oh yes, Deathwing. I made a silly remark and thought I wouldn't talk about him, but thinking closer about it, haven't I been doing that all night, talking about Deathwing?

He's coming for us, sweeping in over our lands the minute we last expect it. We can live many years, never seeing him closer than as a shadow in the distance, and we tell ourselves it was just a bird, or he's in the next village, and who cares about those people? Not our problem. If we even mention him, we laugh him away. But he's lurking in the shadows and he won't disappear no matter how much we pretend and when he grabs our friends, our families, our guildies, they won't come running back from the graveyard like they do in the game, as if nothing had happened. Death is death is death.

I'm running out of words, at last. So I'll just move a bit closer to the fire and sit here for a while in the silence, alone and yet in company.

This is for all of you who have lost someone you cared about as he or she decided to put an end to life. For all the thoughts and words in this post, for all my effort, I don't think I ever fully can understand what you've gone through. But I'm trying to. I'm not afraid of the darkness. Not a bit.

I've got candles.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

So my worgen will be a guy after all

My resto druid Arasil is probably going to get through a major surgery in Cataclysm. She has no idea about it now, but I bet it will be a bit of a shock to her as she wakes up from her digital coma once I've put the order to Blizzard.

She’ll go to bed as a pretty night elf woman, with bluish skin and bouncing breasts. And as she looks into the mirror, she’ll find that she hasn’t only switched race. She’ll be turned into a furry beast. A male worgen.

First time male
If I go through with my decision (I might actually bail out and stay night elf in the end), this will my debut. Believe it or not, but over my 3.5 years in WoW, I’ve never ever come around to play a male character.

I’m not sure what’s been holding me back, but somehow I reckon I’m putting a bit of myself into the toons I play. Maybe I’m just not enough of a roleplayer to break the boundaries. For whatever reason there is, I’ve always felt uncomfortable at the thought of rolling a guy with a neck that is thicker than his head.

It was the recent pictures of the female worgen dance that settled it to me. There just isn’t any way that I can make those moves go together with the image I have of what a worgen should be like. I’m not going to analyze why, or argue whether the dance is too much of a sex show or not. The point is that it doesn't click, because it looks like a senseless and unnatural thing for a worgen to do. Too artificial to fit.

No reason for dancing
“Big deal”, someone might say. “If you don’t like the dance, well, then, don’t dance! Dancing is a pointless activity for socials and it doesn’t affect your performance. As a matter of fact it’s more of a distraction than anything else, so there really isn’t any logical reason to ever do it!”

However I’m not a robot. It happens that I feel like dancing in the game, in the same way as I jump when there’s no reason to jump apart from getting a moral boost, or hug someone nearby that looks as if he needs one, or lit a camp fire because it’s cosy or put up a vanity pet because it amuses me. It’s not the main focus of my game play, but it adds a little something to it that I don’t want to be without.

I want to dance sometimes, but the female worgen dance doesn’t make it for me, so as it stands now, I can't see myself playing one. The male worgen dance isn’t splendid either, but at least it I don’t get embarrassed every time I see it.

The thought of playing a male character feels a bit weird, but hey, it might be an interesting experience. It’s really about time I try it.

By the way, did you notice that the female worgen dances in her bikini in the video from the beta, while the male worgen is fully dressed? You may wonder why.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why removing the Insane title is OK but screwing up players isn’t

So it looks as if we can’t go insane in Cataclysm. Or at least we’ll have to find another way to show it to the world than by putting a title above our heads.

Blizzard representative Bashiok recently wrote the following:

“Insane in the Membrane is a feat of strength, not an achievement. Feats are things that you can't be guaranteed to complete, which is why they're feats and not achievements. Most of them are actually now impossible to complete, and this feat will join a long list of "you had to be there" moments in WoW time.

The feat isn't being removed of course, those who have it will retain it, however; some of the requirements are, so it will no longer be able to be completed by anyone who has not already done so.

It's possible that in some very specific situations where someone has completed the reputations which are being removed, but not others that will still be in the game, that it can still be completed. But it's something we're waiting for clarity on, and will
let you know as soon as we do.”
And this was confirmed in one of the panels at Blizzcon, where they explained why you won’t be able to get the title in Cataclysm:

”The biggest problem are the changes to the bloodsail buccaneers, that kinda put a bullet in that feat of strength for now. It's fun to do painful things in WoW. If there's a huge outcry for it we'll try to put something equally brute in the game.”
Feats of strength
If you ask me, I’m totally fine with them moving this feat out of my reach. There are already a lot of others that I’ll never be able to get and you know what: I can live with it. I don’t cry myself to sleep for not being a Scarab Lord either. Why would I?

The thing is: feats of strength aren’t that important. They don’t have any impact whatsoever on your character’s stats or abilities to perform. And the sad truth is that I think we’re heavily overestimating the e-peen impact it has. People don’t care that much about those things anymore. We’re all so preoccupied polishing our own achievements and epics that we don’t bother about what anyone else has.

If you’re a completionist at heart, the feats of strength might mean something, but for most of us it’s just a little bit of flavour added to your character. Nothing more.

I think it’s only natural – or actually even good – that they update the feats of strength every now and then, removing the possibility to get them, for instance when they have been trivialized due to a higher level cap. Sure, it sucked a little that I never got the bear mount in Zul Aman, but on the other hand, I’m glad for those who got it. It was absolutely the right thing to do to remove it from the game. Those who got it had to really perform to get it and they deserve to stand out and show off a bit. If I ran through this now, it would feel totally wrong if it gave me that mount.

The game moves on. Some mount drops are removed – but there will be new ones, I assure you. There will always be new feats of strength to strive for, new worthy goals to aim for. If you’re stupid enough to grind for the Insane in the membrane achievement, I’m positive you can keep grinding for something equally insane in Cataclysm. Have no fear.

How Blizzard screwed up
However. This isn’t all there is to this story, which was brought to me by Khaas at the blog Srsbusiness, who sent me an e-mail and asked for my take on this. There are other circumstances, which he talks about in his own blogpost, and here comes the part where I think Blizzard screwed up the players.

You see, it wasn’t until very recently that they said that this was going to happen to the Insane title. As a matter of fact, they’ve assured the players exactly the opposite! One year ago, blue poster Ancilorn wrote the following in the EU forums:

"Just for clarity, Insane in the Membrane will not be removed in Cataclysm. We can only confirm this one for you, but since it's undoubtedly one of the most brain-melting achievements, we thought it nice to let you know that you don't have to rush to have this done before the expansion. ;) "
Apparently they hadn’t thought this through properly when he came up with this "clarification", but the consequences are unfortunate. This title is special in the manner that it is the most extremely grindy achievement you could think of. There’s absolutely nothing that would stand a comparison to it.

If they would remove some other achievement with a month of notice, such as a meta-achievement mount from one of the raid instances, you could argue that it would give plenty of time to complete the achievements you were missing out.

For the Insane title however, a little more than a month is a fairly short time. If you want that title and you’ve only begun your grinding, you’ll be pretty busy the next few weeks to finish it in time. Players who have put their trust into Ancilorn's statement and planned accordingly have every right in the world to feel deceived.

Blizzard has screwed up on this one. They didn’t mean to, but it happened.

And I think this is a good example to explain why they normally are so annoyingly vague as they reply to player questions, why they don’t want to give exact answers about their plans and upcoming changes in the game. They don’t want to accidentally make promises that they later will have to break because things took another turn than they had anticipated.

Ancilorn slipped and now there will be qq.

And this is my third post this week. My slowing down is going badly. I blame Khaas.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An unfortunate meet-up with the pumpkin leechers

I have a confession to make. I'm a pumpkin leecher. This means that I refuse to click the pumpkin, no matter what.

While I don't go on date with the headless horseman on a daily basis, I've been there a couple of times to see if I would be lucky and grab his mount; the drop rate seems to have increased, judging from the happy reports from other bloggers who have looted it recently. But not once have I clicked the infamous cog wheel. Not me, Sir, oh noes! I know too well what fate awaits the daring clickers. You won't trick me into that!

Game freezes
As a matter of fact I was scared away from it the first night as the event started. I didn't have to even touch the pumpkin at that point. Just entering the instance was enough to freeze the game completely and I had to shut it down in the most brutal way. I did this three or four times before giving it up completely. I don't want to go through that again. Been there, done, that, OK?

It took me a couple of days before I was convinced that they had fixed the worst bug and I was safe to even set my foot in SM without expecting an instant DC. But I didn't want to push my luck. So I left the clicking to someone else. And this strategy worked perfectly well until the other night.

It began as all those seasonal boss PUGs do: with a silent buffing session. For some reason most parties bother enough to buff, but they won't say "hi", because it feels a little pointless for such a short meeting. Little did we know that this PUG would end up as a veritable time sink and that we'd get to know each other pretty well.

You see: after the buffing was done, nothing more happened. Everyone just stood there, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Finally someone got impatient and spoke up, "hey, can someone start the event?", followed by a "gogogo!". This was followed by silence. No one moved as much as an inch and I wondered if they all had DC:d, like I did back in my first runs.

A chicken race
After a couple of minutes of awkward silence someone finally spoke up and said: "I can't start it, I'll just DC". And one by one we chimed in. It turned out that we all had survived in SM, using the same successful leeching "let someone else do it" strategy. Until now. Finally all the leechers had ended up in the same party, and here we were, stuck.

"This is apparently a chicken race", I said merrily. "We'll see who gives in first". And then I calmly lit a campfire and sat down by it, as to show them that if anyone was in a hurry, it certainly wasn't me. I could sit there all night if that was what it would take. This gnome may look cute, but she's tough inside and there was no way that I would click that pumpkin.

No one else moved. "Gogogo!" begged the impatient rogue.

"Well, you certainly don't want ME to click it, since I'm the tank. Just think of what will happen if I'll DC".

The healer tried the same trick, all in vain. You're kidding me? Who cares about tanks or healers when everyone's dressed up in T10 epics and the seasonal boss is a joke anyway?

The first one to give in was the gogo-rogue. He suddenly left the party and we queued for a new member

"Let's hope we'll get a clicker this time!"

But alas, we had yet another leecher to join our group and we were back where we were before: waiting.

The available solutions
Now this had been going on for a ridiculous long time and I was starting to get second thoughts about it. After all I was an enlightened, although a little bit lazy blogger. There was a solution available. All I needed to do was to tab out and copy that anti-cog-DC-macro that I've seen in a couple of places. I hadn't bothered so far, not just because I was slacking, but also because I thought it basically was Blizzard's business to fix this bug. We shouldn't have to make macros and install addons (I've heard there is one around) just to make the game work at a basic level.

I considered doing something about the situation, but at the same time, the chicken-race competition had grabbed my interest. I wanted to see who would give in first. As it turned out, it was a healer. He gave up a little sigh "OK - I'll do it" and then he approached the pumpkin. We waited. And waited. Nothing happened, nothing moved - especially not the healer. And in a minute we saw what we had already suspected. Yep. He had DC:d.

It was at this moment that I asked myself the question I should have asked from the beginning: is it really worth it? Is that mount important enough for me to risk to freeze up the entire game? Is it worth this waiting time, this hassle? And I realized that it wasn't. So I left the party.

It was at this point that I noticed that I didn't get any deserter debuff. I don't know if this was because seasonal events are excluded from this mechanism or if we had spent so much time running our leeching competition in there, that the time for the dungeon debuff had expired. But the fact remained: I could queue up for another group if I wanted to.

So I waited a minute, giving the leeching party the chance to grab two other players than me. Chances were that at least one of them wouldn't shy away from pumpkin clicking.

The end of the leeching
My next group was uneventful. We buffed. We didn't say a word. I held my breath as I waited for someone to click. Someone did. Larísa, The pumpkin leecher had gotten away with her trick once again!

At least the voluntary clicker didn't DC. Silently I hoped his unselfish sacrifice would pay off with a mount reward. I certainly didn't get one. It was just another pumpkin pet, the one I already had, and the vendors wouldn't offer me as much as a copper coin for it.

Thinking about it closer, I thought it served me right. For all the benefit you can get from it, leeching always leaves me with a somewhat bad taste in the mouth.

If I don't dare to share the risk of DC:ing, I don't deserve any award. Deep down I don't want to be a leecher. I'm not George in Seinfeld. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.

From now on the headless horseman will go safe from me. There's always "next year" and hopefully they've solved the cogwheel issues by then.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Do female characters come from underwear catalogues? Musings over Blizzcon

I think we can agree on that there wasn't much at Blizzcon 2010 that stuck out. Here's my quick summary out of my memory:

  • Arthas has been killed 489 000 times. Is the content accessible for everyone these days? I'd dare say so. And I'm not miffed. The fact that I see Kingslayer titles everywhere doesn't take away the fact that it was a fun fight and that I was insanely happy as we beat it the first time back in the spring.
  • Cataclysm will be available for downloading on beforehand for those who buy the digital online version. Count me in! Sweden at midnight in the beginning of December is freaking cold.
  • Chances are that I've gotten lost in Sunken Temple for the last time. They're not only finally offering maps for the old instances, but also rebuilding the ones who suck most badly. Yay!
  • They're adding information about the abilities of the bosses to the maps, giving us less reasons to tab out and look at out-of-game resources for hints. I've got mixed feelings about this. A little voice inside me reminds me of how fun we had during our blind raids when we refrained from looking at the strategy videos in advance. Once again they're taking away a bit of the mystery and challenge in the game, assuming that players don't want to find out things for themselves. But then the more pragmatic part of me says: so what, don't lie to yourself - everyone checks out the resources anyway. Thy're just making us a good service as they integrate it into the game.
  • The new login screen is pretty. Some players apparently don't like the sound of Deathwing, following the debate at MMO-Champion. I bother more about his underbite.
  • Mike Morhaime isn't as charismatic as we'd like him to be.
  • Another pet that looks like a miniature druid will be on sale soon. There's something compelling about having a miniture version of your own character. WTB mini gnome! With pink pigtails!
  • Some poor guy managed to break his own leg as he was participating in the dance competition. That's what I'd call dedication! I hope he got a special prize.
  • And talking about dances, they're still working on that dance studio. At least they claim they do. But no promises about when we'll see it. I don't think they'll make that mistake twice. I wonder though how outdated the dances will be once they're launched. They're often based on some popular music video. Will anyone remember the original?

Bringing in the trolls
I might come back those topics and a few other tidbits from Blizzcon in the following weeks, but the fact remains that the overall competition for our attention is underwhelming. This means that even the slightest slip of the tongue from someone could render a mentioning in a Blizzcon commentary blog post. There's so little else to talk about. Bare this in mind as I'm approaching the next part of this post of this post. I'm going to ponder a bit over a very small thing, and I know already as I'm writing this that it might annoy a couple of readers.

This is as good as to ask for trolls. Any post that touches the slightest on the gender topic will lure them out from their caves. Actually I could as well give the word to them right away, they'll speak up eventually anyway. I think I'll go for a lovely piece of work that turned up on another recent post:

"You rage because you don't like how pixels of a female model look in a computer game?? You're either intolerant/discriminatory or it's just subconscious envy, which is even worse. You make smart women, naturally born with big boobs, feel bad. Then, I guess you're one of those persons who wear tight turtle-necks in RL don't take this literally). May I suggest that you go outside, walk in the park or talk to real people more? Blogs written out of rage are always failures. Always."

It's good, isn't it? No, don't thank me. All credits to "Derrek" for this one!

So now, that we've established that I've probably got a turtle neck and carry a subconscious envy of big breasted girls and need a walk, I'd like to talk about a statement from Blizzard that rubbed me a little the wrong way. I'm thinking about how they chose to answer one of the questions that came up in the open Q&A panel:

"I love what you guys have done with WoW, I love that there's a lot of strong female chars, though I wonder if we can have some that didnt look like they came out of a Victoria's Secrets catalogue? "

"Which catalogue would you like them step out of then? We feel ya, we want to vary our female chars more in the future. So yeah we'll pick different catalogues. "

So. What kind of an answer is this? I'm not sure what they're trying to do here. I suppose it's intended to be somehow funny, but I don't think it is. Actually I don't think it would have been that hard to give a proper answer. There's no reason for Blizzard to fall flat on the floor, unconditionally apologizing for the stereotyped female bodies. Even if we bash them sometimes for their shortcomings in this area, they're actually far better in this aspect than many other games I've seen.

What they could have said
Rather than answering in a snotty, dismissing manner, they could have discussed the question properly. Let's say I would have been a Blizzard employee, sitting in that panel, how would I have replied?

I think I first would have talked enthusiastically about how important the strong presence of women is in the game, maybe mentioning that a large part of the player base is female, and what a great change this is to how it used to be back in time. I would have said something about how Blizzard takes those questions seriously and how they listen carefully to the input they get from players - women as well as men. Then I would probably have questioned the claim that all female characters look as if they came from an underwear catalogue. Some do it, no doubt, but far from all. I would have highlighted the huge variety there is, and said that there are many options that are pretty far from the traditional photo model.

You can make your female warrior into a mighty tauren, you can create a badass dwarf chick who looks like most women do, with broader hips than they have in any catalogue, or you can make an wrinkled gnome lady with a face that is grim rather than cute. Unfortunately very few players do. For some reason the "pretty" female models are way more popular. Regardless of this, I would have said, Blizzard will keep creating a variety of looks, keeping them available. But in the end it's up to the player to choose.

But they didn't say any of this. Instead they said that they'll add some more catalogues apart from Victoria's Secret. I don't think it was even remotely funny. It's possible that it was honest, but most of all it was lazy. I would have expected Blizzard employees to be a little bit more polished and PR minded. They're big business now, not a basement company and they should have the resources to get some proper training.

It's not as if I'm raging. I'm not overly upset and it's not the end of the world; it's just a minor detail that popped up in the Blizzcon flood of pseudo news. But after all those years in the spotlight, Blizzard should know how to answer a standard question such as this one in a proper manner.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Friday Pint of Ponderings for all of you who stayed at home

It’s Friday night, but the inn is somewhat quiet, like the rest of the blogosphere, as Blizzcon 2010 is at full swing and that’s the bar where everyone’s gathering at the moment.

I’m still here though, and maybe there are a few more poor fellows, especially Europeans, who couldn’t find a good enough reason to toss up thousands of Euros just to attend a marketing event.

So if you’re still around, please come closer to the fire, slip into your favourite armchair end let us end this week as we always do – sipping a pint of ponderings over the state of the game, sharing what’s up in our gaming lives.

Ponderings over Blizzcon
To be honest I’m not that heartbroken by not attending Blizzcon. Sure, it would have been great to meet up with some of my fellow bloggers, to see the faces and hear the voices of those people who I somehow feel that I know personally after sharing thoughts with them for so long.

But as far as the official convention is concerned, it’s probably too commercial and big scale to suit me; after attending SF fan driven conventions, I’m used to something completely different to what Blizzcon can offer. Earlier this year I wrote a post about why I wished I could go to Blizzcon, but some of the comments made me change my mind.

Besides, if you’re mostly interested in the news that will be presented at Blizzcon, I honestly believe that you’re better off following them from your home. You don’t even have to buy the broadcast stream from the panels to get access to the content. The opening ceremony will be streamed for free(!). MMO-Champion will be live blogging, and considering how quick they normally are with news, I doubt they will fail us. Íf you want to see the happenings from different points of view, there are a bunch of other blogs and podcasts, such as Twisted Nether and Wowhead, who also will be posting and broadcasting live during the weekend.

Those media will not only give you an excellent overview, they will also add commentary to it, and you’re guaranteed not to find yourself stuck in a queue somewhere as they’re closing the doors to a panel you had planned to attend. Actually I think you'll be more informed in your armchair than most of the participants on spot.

So don’t be sad if you’re sitting at home right now, enjoying your pint with this pigtailed gnome as your only company. You should rather congratulate yourself to all the money and effort you’ve saved. Enjoy the free reports online – or do like me: ignore them and wait a few hours until someone has made a good summary for you.

I can guarantee you one thing: you won’t miss out ANY important piece of information just because you didn’t attend Blizzcon. Every inch of the premises, every second of the event will be covered.

A buggy week
Apart from Blizzcon, what’s up in the game? Well, I say like Syl: Bugs, bugs and more bugs. They clearly outnumber the ones who dwell outside Putricide's laboratory.

I suppose we could expect and should accept a few issues with such a huge patch as 4.01, but isn't this a little bit too much, especially since the amount of bugs rather seems to have been increasing than decreasing after the release? At least the EU realms have been plagued with dc:s, and flying from the graveyard in slowmotion after wipes became painful after a while.

As we've seen before in this kind of situations, Blizzard hasn't been too impressive in terms of communications. I've said it before and I say it again: it takes so little to keep the players in a better mood. A blue acknowledgement that they've noticed what's going on, that they're working on a solution and estimation about how long this might take. If it isn't possible to say when you can expect things to be fixed - well, you can at least give a time for when you will update the information.

It's all very basic, it doesn't cost much and they should totally be able to do this - if nothing else because it would save them some work, dealing with multiple posts from costumers who all put the same questions over and over again. I don't know what prevents them from doing this. Shall we blame the upcoming Blizzcon, pulling their attention elsewhere?

Relearning how to play
Despite the situation, I’ve tried to learn to play my characters again with mixed, or to be honest, pretty bad results.

First out was my mage, of course, and I'm afraid that the new version of the arcane spec was a disappointment. It wasn't fun or interesting or exciting at all, only difficult, confusing and frustrating. I just don’t get it. The mana juggling is counter intuitive; beyond my comprehension and not enjoyable at all. But who enjoys sucking?

Currently I'm trying out the fiery side instead. While it feels rather unfamiliar for one who has played arcane for ages, it's still got potential as "fun", and who can resist a free instant pyroblast? So I reckon I'll give this a chance and do it some more, before I'll consider sending my mage to retirement.

An overall issue, regardless of spec, is the new system, where any button you push will make you put that cast in a queue, from where there is no return, as far as I know of. The only way to maintain control is to break the habit of spam smashing buttons. You're not supposed to push anything until you're ready to cast.

This has turned out to be a way bigger issue to me than I imagined as I read about it. You don't mess around with your muscle memories that easily. It will take time to adapt. I'm glad we have the entire levelling in Cataclysm for practice. As we reach end game the next time, I should have learned the new manners.

Loving the green
Apart from struggling with my mage, I’ve also sneaked away into instances and battlegrounds with my resto druid, which has been a way more pleasant experience. The new "good green" goo effect is fun, even if certainly is a challenge for us to learn to love it, embrace it, stand in it and inhale it, rather than run away from it. Kae provided a guide, but I’m afraid that backbone reactions are strong, and it will take some time to change this pattern.

It will also take me a while to learn to remember to turn into a tree once in a while. Most of the time, I'm oblivious of the fact that I can do it, which is odd considering that I most of all wants to stay in tree form all the time. You would expect me to use the cd as soon as it was up. Once again it’s about learning new patterns and habits.

I try not to be too harsh with myself though. We have to give ourselves a bit of slack and have some patience with our own shortcomings as we slowly let the new stuff sink in.

A blind Kingslayer
I'll end this week with sharing a story about someone who really knows how to overcome difficulties. I stumbled upon this story about Hexu, an enhancement shaman at Dreanor, EU who recently earned his Kingslayer title. What makes him different to many other Kingslayers is the fact that his blind, after being injured as he served in the military. Here's a quote from the forum post, written by one of his guildies:

"Hexu tonight just killed the final Icecrown Citadel boss tonight with the aid of various mods, excellent Ventrilo comunication and the lovely function of Auto-Follow. He made it through all 3 phases without dying, even out lasting one of the tanks (/hate ardent defender not being passive).

So i would like to congratulate Hexu on a remarkable achievement which would seem so out of reach even for people with functional eyes! (no offence to people with
functional eyes!)

Kudos Hexu, he did awsome! and i really mean that, he wasn't carried nor boosted, he did all the hard work himself! (well and 9 others)"
Of course there's no way for me to verify the story, but it sounds credible enough, so I'll join the Polaris guild in their celebrations. It's an impressive achievement, not only by Hexu, but by the entire raid group. It's something to take inspiration from next time we're about to feel sorry for ourselves over something insignificant.

So big congratulations from The Pink Pigtail Inn! This toast is for you.


Now if you excuse me I'll retire to my seat by the fireplace, finishing my drink and waiting for the gossip from Blizzcon to eventually reach our little corner of the world. Hopefully we'll have something to talk about next week too. See you then!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why they won’t announce the new MMO at Blizzcon – and a flashback to 2001

Wolfshead wrote a pretty convincing post about why we should expect an announcement about Blizzard’s new MMO at Blizzcon. But just as he pushed the “publish” button, Blizzard’s chief operating officer Paul Sam spoke up in an article in Forbes, where he denied that there will be such an announcement.

Even if it wasn’t for that quote, I must say that I doubt that Blizzard would pick Blizzcon as their arena for such an announcement.

I can totally understand the speculation from a fan point of view. You wish they would do this, that they would put such a huge value into their fan community that they would give them first hand VIP access, telling their friends before tehy told anyone else.

Imagine yourself being in the audience at the opening cerimony. Imagine how they turn down the lights and BAM the screen lits up and you’re thrown into a cinematic that blows you away, and you are the first one to experience it and people will stand up and gasp and applause and…..

OK, stop. That’s enough. Realize: it’s just the wet dream of a fan boy. It's not the way those things normally work.

I know I’m sticking out my neck, and that I might be proven wrong in just a few days, and if I am, please, please go ahead and mock me as much as I deserve.

But, if you ask me, Blizzard will rather make there announcement in a different setting, probably at some important international game expo/convention, which will attract a wide range of media coverage from all over the world – not only the gaming press, but also investors. Just because fans like put a huge importance to Blizzcon, it doesn’t mean that the entire gaming industry is circling around it.

Wolfshead’s article made me curious about what it looked like the last time Blizzard made an announcement like this, more precisely on September 2, 2001, as they first revealed their plans for World of Warcraft. Apparently they did it at a press conference at the European Computer Trade Show, taking place in London, which is something different from a convention directed at Blizzard fans.

Development in full swing
But let’s leave the place for announcement for a moment and ponder a little bit more about what their next MMO could be like. There are a couple of tickling lines in the Forbes interview. According to Sam, the size of the team working on the game is close to the size of the team working on WoW, more than 140 employees, and the project development is in “full swing”:

“The product is something we think is going to redesign the way these type of games are looked at”.

Is this just a cliché that game producers say about just any crap they’re about to launch just because it’s expected from them? Is this a hype, some empty promises, nothing we should pay attention to? The answer would probably be “yes” if it wasn’t for the fact that WoW is what it is. For all the bashing Blizzard gets for dumbing down, for selling out the potential of the MMO genre and whatnot, I still think they have a reputation that is solid enough to create huge expecations.

I’m trying hard to imagine what new aspect they’re going to bring to the table, but I must admit that I fail badly, probably due to lack of overall gaming knowledge.

I reckon we’re still talking about something you’re playing with a computer, in front of a screen, using a mouse and a keyboard, being connected to other players by some world wide servers? Sure, I dream about playing the holo deck for real one day, but we aren’t quite there yet, are we?

A look at the announcement 2001
In my search for the circumstances around the first announcement I stumbled upon an article, written in September 2001 by the signature “Rushter”, published at the website Incgamers, which gives a perspective on what kind of "revolution" we possibly could expect.

It contains an in-depth coverage from the crowded press conference, which was given for specially invited reporters. Rushter gives a detailed eyewitness report, including details like the “poor sods had to be content with pressing their faces against the windows to catch a glimpse” The quotes by the Blizzard manager, Bill Roper is an interesting read, as a documentation of what was on their mind at that time.

What I find most fascinating though, is to see how the author enthusiastically highlights certain features of WoW, which were great improvements at that time, but we take for granted now. Reading this, I ask myself: will the new secret MMO do the same thing again, but at a higher level? In what way? Is there something in the current game that I hate, possibly without even knowing it, that the new game will “fix?

And: will I be as pumped up about the secret MMO as it’s announced as Rushter was when he got his first glimpse of WoW?

Below, I’ll give you a bunch of samples from the article from 2001 just to give you an idea, but if you’re as intrigued by it as I am, I suggest you read it in its full length.

About the environment

“Our characters started in an area called Westfall, a devastated farmland that was once part of the Human Kingdom and has become run-down and over-run by thieves. We stood in the middle of a wheat field looking out onto an absolutely stunning ocean. (You may have seen the impressive lighthouse in the gameplay video that was released). We noticed the sun was rising and were pointed to the little clock in top right of the interface that shows the current time in the world. You could see the movement on the water with the waves as the sun beams streamed across it. The sky looked stunning.

As we stood in the World of Warcraft for a few moments and soaked up the breathtaking scenery, it was evident that Blizzard wants gamers to feel they have been transported to a completely new fantasy world. A place that is full of rich vibrant colours where buildings and trees are exaggerated and not photo-realistic.”

About combat

"We marched through the field until we came across our first enemy in the world, a Harvest Golum which was patrolling the field. These burly mechanical creatures plod round the farmlands, guarding the crop. When we held the mouse over the Golum our cursor icon changed red which meant our option was to attack. The Golum approached and we engaged in combat. The status of combat is all shown on screen so if you hit a small tag will rise indicating how much damage you have inflicted or indeed if you missed. What this means is that combat status won’t be spamming the chat window and the actual combat is easier to follow.

When you attack you click once and your character will continue attacking until the target is dead, or your character of course. This allows you time to cast spells and even change equipment. "

About travelling

"It was time to move on to a new area with the use of teleport scrolls from our inventory where each one would take you to a different location. Teleport scrolls were created for the purpose of the demo and may not appear in the final game. We asked if there would be other modes of transport other than foot. At the start of the game when the character is low level, on foot will be the main way of getting around. Bill Roper then said that there will be other ways to get around the game world but these have yet to be decided. Now wouldn’t a horse be cool we suggested?:) "

About zone transitions

"We approached a trader who issued a quest to find the Treebeast and assemble a weapon called the Firestar, a mythical sword. You can then accept the quest and begin your journey. We were close to a new area called Darkshire and it was here we saw the transition between two very different areas of the game. As we moved towards and over a bridge Darkshire loomed ahead. Our hero crossed the threshold into Darkshire and our world changed dynamically. The trees became thicker and the sky ominous and overcast. This was one of the most impressive moments in the game. The transition was seamless, as were the environmental changes, the light, textures and clouds. All this changed with the help of Blizzard’s procedural skies and procedural lighting to great effect. We stopped just inside the Darkshire boundary and looked back. Beyond the edge of the murky forest we looked back from where we came and could see the sun hitting the ground, it was like looking into another world."

About item management

"A feature that we really liked was the ability to move an item, whether it be armour or a weapon, into your inventory and the game will automatically move it onto the correct spot on the body as long as it’s not already occupied. In other words you don’t have to place armour directly on the body, the game is intelligent enough to know that it’s armour so it will place it directly in the correct body slot, so it’s easy to ‘throw’ items on, making it quicker to change on the fly to suit your situation.

The backpack inventory can also be accessed without blocking the gaming environment which allows you the freedom to utilise items in your backpack without having to stop playing. "

About weapons

"We talked to one the NPC character who had issued us the quest to find the Firestar Sword. To complete the sword quest we handed over the pieces to have it assembled. Duly assembled, we took the sword and replaced the standard one we had been using. As the name suggests, subtle flames licked the edges of this gigantic blade as we stood defiant with our new toy. It was about 3 times the size of our previous sword, positively massive Blizzard is promising something rather special as far as weapon effects go. They want players to feel they have really achieved something when they complete a quest by having impressive looking items that will allow you to show off to other players in the game. "

A new standard
The author’s demo session ends in a place called “Stranglethon Jungle”:

“Again this area was very different to previous. More of a jungle with murky swamps and giant trees with overgrown foliage. We were placed new a small lake with a waterfall to the rear and paused for a moment to marvel at the realistic cascading waters. We stepped closer to the lake to watch the wee fish dart about just below the surface. There is a possibility that the final game will see characters with a swim ability, walking through shallow waters is also a possibility.”

And he concludes:

“As short as it felt, we saw three very different areas, all rich and packed with incredible detail. It is a world you will have no problem losing yourself in. It’s fantastical and exactly where Warcraft should be heading. If the character development, quest content, guild support, PvP aspect are nailed down then this will be the new standard for MMORPGs.”

It certainly did become a new standard. The question is: can Blizzard do the trick again, and if so, what will the new standard look like?

Hopefully we’ll get some answers in a not too far distant future. But probably not at Blizzcon, if you ask me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cataclysm cinematic: I’m not as floored as I’d like to be

Blizzard took me a little by surprise, releasing the Cataclysm cinematic one week before Blizzcon. Considering how thin the program looks on the WoW side, you would have expected them to keep whatever suspension they could find. But since they’ve decided to run a TV commercial this week during a football game I suppose they came to the conclusion that they could release the entire cinematic as well.

So what do I think about it? Well, to begin with I think it’s not entirely easy to make a fair and “objective” evaluation of this little piece of art. Most commenters at WoW-Insider and MMO Champion are super excited, and I can’t help wondering if this excitement isn’t as much about the movie as such, as it is about the fact that the expansion finally is approaching. After spending over a year in the chains of ICC we’re about to break free from the frozen throne and see something else. The very thought of it is cataclysmic.

We WANT this expansion to be everything we dream of so badly, that I think it might affect our judgment a little bit. And you know… there’s no spice in the world that can be compared to hunger. Even something as plain and unsophisticated as a hot dog will taste like heaven when you’re walking home from the movies at 11 pm in the evening.

I’m no different to anyone else in this aspect. A part of me just wants to join the choir of enthusiasm, singing the praise of the new badass dragon and the world that is falling apart. I can’t wait to see the new Stormwind, I can’t wait to see what terror Deathwing will bring over the world. This is a fantastic teaser and I want more!

Not floored
But if I try to beyond this and look at the cinematic as a piece of movie, I’m not quite as floored as I’d like to be. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think it’s bad, on the contrary. Blizzard has the muscles to maintain a standard that few other game producers – if any – can dream of. On a scale from 1 to 6, with 6 as the top grade, I’d give it a 5. So keep this in mind now that I’m about to talk about what I think they could have done better.

I appreciate the glimpses from zones that are redone, the bursting dams, the water flowing, the fall of the goblin statue. I especially like the end where the fire dragon comes cruising in over Stormwind, spreading death and destruction.

However, I don’t feel it in my stomach. I feel distanced as my mind calmly notices that this will be yet another advertising campaign with a male whiskey-dark deep-in-the-throat voice, like in 99 percent of the other commercials. I know people like to hear those voices. It sells for some reason. But doesn’t it get just a little bit old?

As I see the fire dragon flying up and down from the sky, I find my mind wandering away to the Lord of the Rings balrog at the bridge scene in Moria. I suppose there are only so many ways you can illustrate the concept of an evil fire creature? His gap was scarier though and more convincing. For some reason they’ve given Deathwing a severe form of underbite, which makes it a little bit hard to take him seriously. Maybe he should se a dentist?

Lack of people
I think the main problem with the cinematic, the reason why it fails to shake me up properly, is the lack of characters in it, apart from Deathwing. There are falling towers and exploding ships and statues blown into pieces. But where are the inhabitants of Azeroth? Even if the heroes were gone to Northrend, there sure must be some civilians around who will suffer from this terror?

They did a fantastic job creating and showing those landscapes, no doubt about that. But the question is: why would you care about them if they’re apparently empty? For all we know the dragon could roam about in a nature reserve for endangered species after everyone had evacuated the space.

Where are the victims? Where are the people who return to pick up the fight? What’s my role in this?

I want to be touched, and I’m not. I want to be scared, angry, upset, challenged, urged to bring out my dagger and my wand and join the good forces, trying to save this world once again, because there are people and creatures there who I care about.

It takes more than badass effects to make a good movie. You need to tell a story as well. And in order to do that you need some people, not just buildings and rocks.

So 5 out of 6 will be my grade for this movie.

Once again: Blizzard is great at doing this kind of things and I really appreciate the effort they’ve put into the cinematic. However, there’s always room for improvement, reasons to stretch ourselves and look for ways to become better. They’ve still got some things to work on in their storytelling, and I’m sure they will in their next cinematic and in the coming motion picture. Otherwise they wouldn’t be Blizzard.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A horribly long post about the week that was: Patch confusion, Mage goodness, Paragon glimpses and Earthquakes

Have you settled in the new Post Patch Landscape? Is your gear re-forged and re-gemmed, have you re-familiarized yourself with your class and successfully restored your UI?

To be truthful I'll answer "no" on all questions. But it’s Friday night and I refuse to panic about anything. It’s time for a pint and some ponderings over the past week. So expect one of those posts where I defy the idea about a red thread, letting my thoughts wonder freely as they come.

Ups and downs
There have been downs and ups. Mostly ups, actually. For all the annoyances and frustrations it causes, a major patch tends to have a revitalizing effect on the game. It may be broken, but at least it's a change.

Take Dalaran for instance. It’s lagging again. And I salute you, lag! It means that the players are back, running around, apparently busy and slightly clueless, trying not to get too badly tricked by the goblins that automatically will appear on those occasions.

People are coming back and I’ve greeted guildies who I haven’t seen for months, since they’ve been away playing in the beta or dabbling with other games. It’s really heart-warming, like an appetizer for Cataclysm. If it’s like this now, can you imagine the crowds and the lag once we get the real expansion?

I must admit though that even if I’ve been online a couple of hours after the patch, I haven’t really played my characters very much, in the sense of killing stuff. And no, I haven't harvested anything at all in the terms of gold, since I'm a moron and a slacker when it comes to those things. Sue me.

I’ve had my hands full trying to bring some kind of order into my house that the torrent storm smashed into pieces. My to-do list appears to be endless.

The specs have to be settled – two for my mage and two for my druid (the rest of my alts are left in the dust for now being.) The new talent interface feels a bit unfamiliar, but I say: “yay!” for not having to pay 15 gold as a punishment fee if you happen to set one point in the wrong spot. It’s wonderful that you can mess up as much as you like before confirming your new spec.

I’ve been glyphing (thank you my wonderful guild, providing free glyphs for all mains!), switching gems and going on a desperate hunt for hit rating. In case you didn't notice: the new requirement of 17 percent for everyone is brutal, at least if you're a spoiled arcane mage until now.

I’ve tried to restore my action bars back to something that resembles a little bit to what they used to be – but I keep failing as I use them. My muscle memory won't comply with the new conditions. Like Tobold I have to relearn how to heal.

And then there’s the new mechanism for spells queuing up that confuses me completely. I keep telling my finger to stop spamming the buttons, but alas, it's in vain. Spells keep going off, and not necessarily the ones I wanted. And is there anyone else who keeps pressing “O” , wondering why there isn’t any guild list?

Another issue: what’s with this new thing that buttons suddenly will flash up and keep blinking angrily until you press them? I can’t help wondering what happens if I’ll disobey. Will the computer explode? Will the Blizzard Gods put a note in the records: “Noobish gnome that refuse to follow the UI advice. Beware!”?

A smooth patch
All in all, most things have worked as intended and it has been a very smooth patch.

Sure, there are some broken addons and it was frustrating to enter a battleground just to find that I didn’t have any raid frames at all. Kind of hard to heal then. Lucky for me, I have a personal UI builder, who has promised to help me out in my distress, so I have hope for the future.

On the whole, I’ve been OK. I didn’t experience any unexpected critical errors during the download. I didn't have to visit the technical forums begging the blues for their attention to my problem, expecting no help but the harsh standard reply "wipe it and reinstall the game from the beginning".

There have been a couple of weird things. Like the Polymorph Monkey glyph that appeared out of nothing. I’m completely certain I’ve never bought or installed it. And why do I suddenly every now and then find myself wearing our hideous guild tabard, which I never use voluntarily? I swear I didn’t put it on and yet it shows!

But isn’t that what’s so charming with those major patches? Expect to encounter the unexpected!

Talking about the unexpected I believe I’m not the only one to freak out every time I start the game. Zarhym does too, according to a blue post.

“I jumped out of my chair yesterday when I hit the Play button to check on something in the game. This isn't an intended heart-rate check and we're looking to get it fixed in an upcoming patch”

I look forward to that too. Even if I can see the benefit of being alert and awake once I start playing, I prefer to get my adrenaline rushes in other ways.

New mage dresses
Enough about the patch though. I’m sure I’ll come back to it in the next couple of months.

There has been some other stuff going on this week, worth a mentioning. MMO Champion presented the new tier 11 armor set for mages, and I just have to talk a little bit about it because with one exception it looks absolutely amazing.

What isn’t there to love with the fire themed dress with the glowing shoulders? The thought of wearing this if you’re fire specced is irresistible. There are two other versions as well, one purple and one blue, and it's still a little bit unclear what they represent. Maybe it's about heroic and non-heroic versions? Or could it be that they show how the dress will look in different specs, the blue one being the natural choice for a frost mage? Probably not, but I like the idea.

And now to the exception from the awesomeness. Of course I'm talking about the head, which displays a glowing skull mask. And I just don't get it. Do they think mages enjoy running around like some kids begging for Halloween candy - all year round? It could have been a fun seasonal trick where you temporarily could get your head turning into something more festive. Like the mounts at Christmas. But this?

Oh well. I know where to find the checkbox to not display the head. I’ve used it so many times before. There just isn’t such a thing as a good looking head for mages.

Paragon interview
This post is running awfully long, but it’s my Friday night when I’m talking about whatever comes to my mind and there’s no way you could stop me.

So now I’ll just mention something completely different that I stumbled upon this week, namely a podcast called Nordrassil Radio. They did a mega-long interview with Totalbiscuit, which was entertaining in the way you could expect. If you like his style of ranting, I suggest you listen to it.
They also did a 1,5 hour long interview with the Finnish guild Paragon, which currently is considered the best raiding guild in the world. They talked to four of their members and the conversation gives some interesting glimpses into a world of competitive raiding that is very different from what most of us ever experience in the game.

Did you know that it's a normal procedure for this kind of guilds to take fake screenshots from first kills with guild members who weren't even in the raid at all? The reason is that they don't want to give out information to their competitors about what setup they've used. And if you’re curious about what specs the players in Paragon use, maybe wanting to copy it, you shouldn’t trust what you see in Armory. In order to not reveal their tactics, players will deliberately switch to some random spec before logging out! Wow. That’s what I call a competitive mindset.

It was also intriguing to hear that they regularly use Meyers Briggs tests as they’re evaluating potential new players. They have found that one personality type was dominant within the guild, even though they didn’t say which one in this interview. However it might be worth keeping an eye on their website. Apparently they’re planning to give some more information about their testing, possibly also letting visitors test themselves.

The weekly toast
It’s time to wrap this up I think. This gnome has been babbling long enough.

Have you felt the earthquakes? Every time I do, I smile to myself, and my heart trembles a little in anticipation. The shivers tell me that we ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come. Much, much more.

Let’s bring out a toast for the earthquakes and whatever adventures they’ll bring us.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yet another angry post from a disappointed ex-tree

I have a confession to make. A confession that probably will insult some of you. But the truth is that I hate night elfs.

I never realized it until today, when Blizzard snatched my treeform disguise, leaving me all but naked, staring in disbelief at my bouncing boobs from the outer space.

Suddenly it dawned upon me that this is how my resto druid will look from now on. Gone is the soulful, androgynous tree with the air of old wisdom and mystery. Instead I’m looking at a freaking bimbo with pointy ears and purple hair. Yak. A night elf. That’s what I am, that’s what I’ve been beneath the surface all this time wehen I thought I was a tree.

I hate my night elf form so much that I have to rail and shout about it in this unplanned for blog post, written on the fly in a state of rage. My excuse for defying my non-posting policy is that if I didn’t post, I’d probably smash something coming in my way.

The farewell procession
Just like Shintar, I participated in our realm farewell celebrations to the tree form last night. We did a beautiful slow procession through Dalaran at walk speed, lining up around Krasus landing and filling the air with a sparkling tranquillity rain. We danced and we cried. I believe most of us were tauren, but that didn’t matter. In the tree form we’re all brothers and sisters.

Today I woke up to see the next strike against us: the new tree forms displayed at MMO-Champion – so ugly that I don’t know what to say. They look very aggressive and extremely masculine. I can vividly imagine them in some kind of treeslapping melee fight. One commenter compared them to Quasimodo, adding “I’m a druid, not a hunchback football player”. And I can’t but agree.

Tree of life will be on a cooldown from now on. Well, they wouldn’t have needed tu put that restriction on us. The new form is so depressing that you’ll only shape into it reluctantly, in a case of emergency. Maybe that's why they're doing it. So we won't miss our tree form so badly.

Zelmaru at Murloc Parliament is taking the consequences, going cat on her druid rather than tree, since she can’t stand the changes.

For my own part I wouldn’t go that far, but it certainly feels as a setback and it will probably take me some time to get used to the changes.

Better in battlegrounds
The battlegrounds is a different case though. I’ve spent some time in those lately (shocking, isn’t it!), and noticed that the treeform isn’t optimal in that setting. You could as well run around yelling to everyone: “Look here! I am a healer! So you’d better take out me before anyone else! I’m even a bit bigger so you can target me more easily! Just come over and kill me!”

As a night elf I think it will be easier to find a good hidden spot to heal from without being noticed. Despite your purple hair and bouncing boobs. (By the way if you’re wondering where Blizzard found those breasts, a guildie provided me with a link to their source of inspiration. Can you blame me for thinking night elfs look stupid after seeing that?)

So for PvP purposes I can even I even welcome the changes to druids. But for anything else I mourn the day when they took away our treeform and replaced it with a temporary Quasimodo buff.

End of angry rant. Back to blogging slow mode. I promise.

How you can turn a terribad BG into a valuable leadership training ground

Gevlon is on strike.

Some bitter losses in WG crushed whatever remained of his fighting spirit, so from now on he refuses to leave another order to the entire raid group. He'll only act in small teams that are doing things on their own. And the objectives, to actually win the BG, will have to take a second place. No more leading of ungrateful M & S (his label for "morons and slackers" in case someone has missed it.)

This means that Gevlon takes the same path as the Superior People in Atlas Shrugged, if I remember it correctly. They went on strike, leaving the rest of the world citizens to handle whatever challenges that awaits them, without using the services of the elite anymore.

I'm not sure of Gevlon's motives for his decision not to lead. Maybe he's just very Randian in his view on life, following in her footsteps. Mostly it seems that he judges that the M&S are beyond the reach of any leadership, so there's no point in even trying. It's just not possible to direct them and help them to become useful. And it's also apparent that it's about his own enjoyment of the game. He has noticed that he simply doesn't like to lead other people. Fair enough.There's no reason to burn out yourself on a game activity that you don't enjoy. Better leave it to those who are natural leaders and can't stay away from it.

Missing the opportunity
However I think Gevlon is missing an opportunity here, namely to develop his ability in this area, which I'd argue is the most best and most useful longterm benefit you can get from spending a lot of time playing WoW.

While the usefulness of increased hand-eye coordination can be discussed, as well as the value and longevity of virtual friendships, the leadership training that players get as they run guilds and premades, is pretty solid.

I wouldn't recommend you to put it on your CV yet (maybe in a few years, when gaming has become more socially accepted). But if you're really interested in those perspectives, you can easily go from min-maxing your gear stats to min-maxing your management skills.

Azeroth is nothing but a huge sandbox, where you try out your own ideas of how to lead a group to a common goal. You can learn to become better at leading by trial and error in longlasting guilds or short-lasting BG:s. I'd dare say there's a lesson to learn in every situation. Even when you're starting from a bad position, having a sub-optimal group of "M&S"ers, you can learn from it.

Riding the M&S horse
If we go outside of WoW for a moment, the art of taking command in a BG or a pug reminds me a little bit of horse riding. If you're taking riding lessons, it's a normal thing to change horses every week. Inevitably there are horses in a stable that are considered "better" and "worse". Sometimes you'll get THAT horse, which is hard to get started and isn't easily motivated to jump or to gallop. It's a slacker who'd rather stay in the stable, munching on his oats. When this happens you know from the start that you'll have to work twice as hard as anyone else during that lesson.

But if you put in the effort, if you do it right, you will succeed, and what a triumph isn't that! The horse was never on autopilot; it was you who made it happen thanks to your leadership skills. You made the difference!

It's all a matter of perspective. Running a BG or a raid instance doesn't have to equal maximizing the amount of XP or honor points per hour. You could as well see it as a training ground for yourself to work on your confidence, to become better at giving orders, organizing other people, adjusting to the situation and motivating them to cooperate towards a common goal. And with those eyes, a crappy random group can be as good as a premade guild run.

It's the same thing in real life. Sometimes you are asked to do something with the odds to succeed against you. Sometimes you have to lead a group of average - or below average people - who you wouldn't have picked in the first place if you were given a choice. It' s a normal thing, really. Most grownups have to learn to cooperate with and lead suboptimal groups.

What is special in the case of random BG:s is that you have to be quick in everything. You haven't got more than a minute or two to establish yourself as a leader, to catch the attention and trust of the group, to figure out a strategy depending on the group composition and to assign players to different tasks. It resembles a bit of management in a real life crisis situation, where you also have to grasp the situation quickly, being clear and confident in everything you communicate.

An M&S leader
There are tons of management books, but in the end, a good leadership isn't just something you can study in theory. You learn it by doing, and I can't see why you shouldn't practice in WoW when the chances appear. By resigning from the leading role, Gevlon is missing out a chance to try out one of the most challenging, interesting and meaningful roles in WoW.

One of his commenters goes further, accusing Gevlon of being an M&S in his leadership.

"The best guild on your realm and the worst guild on your realm had access to the ***exact same people.*** Just because most of the people could be dramatically better, does not mean that leadership doesn't matter. A leader can't change human nature or gravity or the speed of light. But good leaders can accomplish more than bad leaders with the same people. It is not easy and it is not a science. But some people hire engineers and make an iPod; others make Zunes."

I liked this part, where the same Anonymous talks about what constitutes the optimal strategy for AV:

"I remember TBC AV and people were talking about the optimal strategy. The optimal strategy is what is the most that can be accomplished with the players in the BG. Not a guild premade; Not what some M&S leader wished they were, not what they could be or should be but what they are."
That's my philosophy too. A good leader has the ability to detect and the best use of the talents and abilities of a given group. They look for the gems.

Less random groups in the future
As you know, things are subject for changes right now. Come Cataclysm, there will be more incentives to run content within the frames of a guild - be it in raids, dungeons or rated battlegrounds. The content is also supposed to be much harder, which probably is a good reason to avoid pug groups as far as possible.

With this in mind, it's not a daring prophecy to say that we're likely to spend less time in randomly assembled groups in the future. So if you want a real challenge to see how far your talent for management might take you, you'd better do it now. See if you can bring that terribad battleground group to a win! See if you can make people listen to you!

If you succeed you'll be rewarded with a sweet sense of accomplishment, which is way better than any title or loot drop in my opinion.

Unless you prefer to be on strike of course and would rather lose a WG than to take command over it. The choice is yours.

Friday, October 8, 2010

One week of shutting up (or at least trying to)

My timeout apparently timed out after a week. A little bit too quickly if you ask Dwism:

“Here is the deal, you are only allowed to stay away until you feel that hunger to write and contribute again. Then you wait a week. Then you return.”
And yet here I am, ranting again, because after all, it’s Friday night and where’s a better place to wind down and start the weekend but here among my friends by the barside?

Back to SF fandom
So how has this week of non-blogging been? Well, actually pretty good.

I haven’t been completely silent and absent from the blogosphere, as some of you have noticed. I’ve been reading blogs and I’ve been commenting a bit, possibly more than I normally do, and I've written a number of e-mails to friends and fellow bloggers. You could call it a bit of a cheat I suppose, but even so, the fact that I haven’t written any real blog posts has had a clear impact on my life as a whole.

The week has given me a taste for what it could look like if I didn’t spend a huge chunk of it either playing or blogging about WoW. No, I haven't Saved the World and I haven't written that Magnificent Novel. Not even paid it a thought. I suppose mr Anonymous who loves to point out what a waste of time WoW playing is would consider my week utterly improductive. So many hours wasted on nothing! However: for me it was as if I had rebooted the machine and got Larísa back to work as intended.

I’ve taken up reading and I’m training more regularely again (to the dismay of my aching muscles). I’ve also reconnected to my geeky origins, the Science Fiction fandom as I went to one of the monthly pub meet-ups in my hometown. I don't say think that this form of geekery in any way is superior to my gaming activities (to refer to the discussion Tamarind had about geek hierarchies). Seeing friends IRL isn't necessarily "better" than seeing them on vent or in a chat. However, it felt like a homecoming to hug some people I've known for 25 years, but havent met for a very long time, picking up our weird, all-out nerd discussions as if no time had passed.

I may appear as a gamer these days, but deep down I can't help thinking that it's more of a temporary disguise as I'm visiting my neighbours in the World of geeks. Even 20 years after publishing my last fanzine, I'm still an SF fan at heart, even if my approach rather is FIJAGDH than FIAWOL (and long live the acronym!).

I’ve slept. Not five hours a night, but seven, which is what I need if I stop lying to myself.

My conclusion from this blogless week is that I want to get back to and maintain this balance in life. This means that there's a definitive stop to pushing out some four or five lenghty posts a week. Period. If I ever get the urge to blog with that frenzy again, I’ll do everything I can to resist it, trying to direct my energy and creativity somewhere else.

Posts I didn't write
Funny enough restricting myself is probably the best way to increase my lust for blogging. I figure it’s a bit like what the therapists usually ordinate people who need to improve their sex life. The theory is that if you explicitly prohibit them from doing it, this is suddenly all they want to do and they’ll go just crazy.

I've experienced this myself during the timeout, as I've had a number of impulses to write blog posts about all sorts of things. Posts that I normally would have written, but never saw the day as it was.

Like the 600 account cap for guilds – is it a fair measure to make sure that the servers aren’t transformed into mega zerg guilds or an unjustified act against great communities such as Alea Iacta Est?

There was also the intense discussion over at Keeva’s place about exactly how bad it is to use words like “rape”, “retard” and “gay” in the guild chat.

You’d be surprised how liberal and laissez-fair this little polite, kindhearted pink pigtailed gnome is compared to many of the voices that have been raised in the post and the comment thread!

I can definitely sign on the intention of Keeva's post and I wrote her a letter of support, which you can need when you get a ton of comments, of which all aren't that nice. My heart beats for her. And I'm all for fighting prejudices and discrimination of people with various sexual preferences and I wouldn't hesitate to speak up if someone said something obviously racist or sexist in our guild chat (not that I think it ever would happen).

But. Here comes the but. I don't think that a thoughtless use of those words, with no intention to hurt anyone, motivates warfare. I'm not convinced that hunting down certain words is the way to go if you want things to change. Or at least it's not top priority. Is it really so that the best way to disarm a word is to not use it and make a huge drama about it every time it comes up? At least in Sweden the label "gay" has been conquered by the gay people themselves, and made into a pretty much neutral word, which gives food for thought.

Maybe it was just as good that I resisted posting about it, apart from this little remark and that can't really count as a post, can it? I probably saved myself a shitstorm of serioulsy negative comments by remaining silent.

Then we've heard the news about the upcoming Blizzcon. Is it only I who find the announced program extremely underwhelming? The announcement of the release of Cataclysm could have been worth a post; after all we've waited for that piece of news for a year, ever since Blizzcon 2009. And if that wasn't blog worthy, I could have written a rant about how messy the new raid lockout system appears to me.

As If I didn't have enough of potential topics, Gnomeaggedon, the cunning mage, sent me an e-mail, giving me some clues for an easy-to-make post, as some kind of test I suppose, to see how serious I was about my timeout.

But I stuck to my decision and didn’t act on those ideas! Yay me! Very few topics will go away and if they do, there will always come new stuff to form yourself an opinion about.

Tobold wrote in a comment to my Timeout post that he felt an urge to ride off with me in the sunset. In the end he didn’t, but he has announced that he’ll blog way less than he used to, and I’ve set my mind on following his example. Perhaps we can take inspiration from each other to stay on this path and find the sweet spot of blogging, where it remains inspiring and fun and won't consume our mana?

Less posting
My decision after my timeout and a chat to myself is that The Pink Pigtail Inn will remain open for now, but that your innkeeper will be speaking up far less often than she used to. Maybe once a week, maybe even less. There won't be any set schedule whatsoever. No promises, no expecations on myself or anyone else.

I don't nourish any ambitions to be around and up-to-date with things, to take part of the most relevant discussions. Many times I'll remain silent, when I would have spoken up if it wasn't for my second thoughts on blogging, the fact that I only want to spend a certain portion of my life on it.

If this means less readers, less comments, less interaction with the community, a spot in a shady alley where few people ever go, so be it! As a matter of fact it might be for the good.

Until now I’ve had a policy where I've tried to write individual replies to at least 90 percent of the comments I get, and this self imposed goal is probably one of those things that have made me feel a bit stretched. I’ve had several good reasons – it’s a matter of politeness, it’s my way to connect to the readers, it’s my way of showing in action how much I appreciate every voice and it’s also something I enjoy.

I also prefer having a good conversation that just listen to my own voice. Many times the comments are far better than the posts in themselves and I think they deserve this acknowledgement. I've been very reluctant to let go of this habit. But it comes with a cost; it's insanely time consuming.

Maybe a slower posting will solve the issue naturally. PPI might turn into a low profiled place where just a handful of people stick to their habit, having an occasional Friday night pint, listening to the rants of an old lady and her mostly cheerful and occasionally grumpy customers. At least I’m willing to try that road and see how it works out.

And if it doesn’t, well, then I’ll write that final chapter in the story of this inn. I already have a fair idea about how it will end.

This has been a quiet week. I'm glad to be back for the time being, especially since it seems as if you've saved a drink for me. Can you please pass that one over?

And oh yes, Frosty, I haven't forgotten the note you left in the bar. This one is on you!


Friday, October 1, 2010


My blog is not a job.

I’m not paid to do it. I do it for pleasure and enjoyment, since it combines my passion for writing interest for WoW in such a nice way. And on the top of that, there's this lovely community of bloggers and blog readers that comes with it. All those discussions bring me new perspectives, ideas and views that I wouldn't have thought of otherwise. Some of the people I've met here at the inn have even turned into friends, which was nothing I expected when I started back in time.

And suddenly I realize that this sounds more and more like a farewell post. Which it isn't. But yeah, recently the thought has crossed my mind that I might be approaching the end of The Pink Pigtail Inn. I'm not quite sure yet and that's why I've put this header. I'm thinking it over. That's what I'm doing.

I want to figure out if what I'm sensing is only the general pre-Cataclysm blues, a little dip in my mood that can be cured with a little break or so, or if it's actually time to turn my gaze to something different.

All I can say is that I've seen some signs lately. To quote Bilbo: "I feel thin...sort of stretched, like butter spread over too much bread."

I've always claimed that you should develop a thick skin if you want to blog. You need it. You will get comments and people will have views about you and all of it won't be nice. But recently I've found it harder and harder to follow my own advice. It feels as if my skin is getting thinner rather than thicker. Even if I don't want to care I do, and sometimes I take something that the writer thought was a fair point as a personal attack on me. I should know better. And that's why I think it's time for me to stop for a moment and think over what I'm doing.

Is it really worth it? Does it take more than it gives me? And do I really want to spend such a huge part of my free time on WoW, not only playing it, but constantly reading about it, thinking about it, writing about it? Isn't it about time that I get a better balance in my life? If I'm honest with myself, I don't spend as much time training, reading and walking in the forrest (the real one, not Felwood), as I used to before I started blogging. And that's something I'd like to change.

Who knows what I could do if I directed my creative energy in another direction? In those years I’ve written over 600 blogposts about WoW. The amount of text is probably equivalent to a couple of novels, especially if you include all the replies to the almost 10 000 comments. I don’t mean it’s been a waste of time and effort. But looking forward I might want to something else with my writing.

I'm positive that WoW can be a part of my life in the future without taking over. It's just that I'm not so sure there's room for WoW blogging in the way I've been doing it so far.

On the other hand I can't help asking myself: will WoW be as fun and enjoyable if I don't blog about it? It's been an essential part of my gameplay for more than 2.5 years. The fact that I blog has changed the game to me. I think it helps me to see things I might not have noticed otherwise. It gives me an incentive for reflection and observation. And if I'm ever in doubt about anything - the game, my guild, myself, I have the entire blogging community to discuss with. The PPI has been my hideaway, my lookout and my outlet for so long. I can't even imagine how it would be to play WoW without it.

Making up my mind
My blog was always a day-to-day project. I've also given my promise to my guests that I won't just disappear without telling you or giving any previous warning. Some of you have been here ever since the start, when there were 20 people hanging out here rather than 1 700. I owe it to you.

That's why I share what's in my mind right now, so it won't come as a complete surprise if I quit. Mind you, I haven't made up my mind yet. So please - if you want to comment on this, save your potential farewell comments to The Real Farewell post. Don't waste them here. When it's settled there will be no doubt about it. As it is now, nothing is set in stone.

However I'll definitely take a break from blogging for at least a week. After that I'll see how I feel about it.

I've got some unfinished work. Psychochild I know I promised you a post about how LOTRO looks through the eyes of a WoW player who tries it for the first time. It's a shame I haven't done it yet, but I can assure you that if I wrote it, it would be a positive review. I doubt it will replace WoW to me, but it's pretty, the Shire makes me relax, it's free from trolls as far as I can see and it's somehow refreshing to see a game that takes itself and the world a tad more seriously, not cramped with real life pop culture references. However I doubt that there's room for more than one MMO project in my life.

Maybe I'll write that post after all. Maybe I'll write many more posts, only not as often. The pub could open be open just one night a week - or less. On the other hand, taking things in moderation has never been my natural pace. I tend to want to have "all or nothing". So perhaps my next post will be my goodbye, the post where I wrap it all up and close the door for good.

I just don't know yet. The question is open and I need some space to think it over. That's all I can say for now being.

Even writing about this doesn't feel easy. It brings tears into my eyes. Which probably is yet another sign that it's time to turn over the ring to someone else.

I love this virtual pub to pieces. I love all of you who come here. And I love to stand here, serving, shouting, crying, talking, listening, arguing, giggling, whispering and ranting my heart out about whatever comes to my mind. It's just that sometimes love isn't enough to fix it.

Don't worry. In the end I think I'll be fine. I just need this little private chat wtih myself to sort those things out in my head and my heart. In the meantime: have another pint! It's all on the house tonight and for the nextcoming weeks.



PS This post wasn't quite finished yet when it accidentally was published for a couple of minutes a few days ago, with the result that my first draft turned up in some feedreaders. I tried to put it back into the box again, without any success. Because of this I received several worried letters from readers asking about my whereabouts. And to all of you, I want to say that I'm really touched by your concerns and that I'm so sorry if I've kept you hanging during the week. It wasn't my intention. I just wanted to get a couple of almost-done-posts out of my system before taking my timeout. Hence the delay.