Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Strategies of Fun for the Frequent Flyer

So the portals are currently gone for everyone but mages. I’m one of those who applaud this. Admittedly my main happens to be a mage, but I’ve got alts so I know what it’s like to travel without magical devices.

If you ask me, I think it’s about time that we looked around in the stunningly beautiful world that Blizzard has made for us, rather than just running from one theme park attraction to the next without even throwing a glance to the sides. Journeys help to give the game a better rhythm, where periods of intense action are contrasted with slower paced activities.

Player complaints
Most reactions I’ve seen to it have been fairly negative. While I think many players agree about the reasons for removing the portals, they can’t refrain from complaining about the consequences.

And can you really blame them? The portal hubs in Shattrath and Dalaran have been around for years, making us accustomed to instant travelling around the world.

Some players are so upset that they’re taking action. The other day I read a post by a blogger who cancelled her subscription out of rage and frustration over something she considered just a waste of time: “I don’t like being forced into sightseeing and I hate being forced into waiting without even an option of doing something else in game”.

I’m not going to link to the blog in question, because it’s very small and there’s no need to point fingers or help trolls to find their way to it. She never asked for that kind of attention.

Instead I’m going to give a helping hand for the frustrated blogger and other frequent flyers in need of something meaningful to do while on a gryphon. The idea with this guide is to find out what kind of player you are and spend your time accordingly.

Hereby I present you the Pink Pigtail Inn List of Suggested Strategies of Fun to get more out of your travelling time:
1. The Blogger
Grab the opportunity to tab out and throw down a few ideas for future posts, comment on other blogs or to work on the growing pile of unread blogposts in your feedreader! It’s better to do it while travelling than to wait until you’ve stopped playing for the night and you’re too tired anyway.

2. The Explorer
There's a reason why Blizzard wants us to travel! Have you really noticed all the changes to the world? Use your camera options, zoom in and out, look around and don't forget to take some screenshots while you're at it. Notice all those hidden places you've never been to and make sure you remember to go back to them on a ground mount for a closer look.

3. The Family Guy
This is the moment when you can make up and show your family that you you're not chained to your computer. Even if you assume that you’ve already you’re your share of the household work, helped the kids with their schoolwork and kissed them goodnight properly, there’s surely something more you could do to give them your attention. Make that phone call you've postponed too long. Pat your dog. Or give your loved one a kiss, who knows what else it might lead to? If this means that you'll miss out the arrival at your destination because you were afk or even disconnected for low activity - well, you probably had a good reason.

4. The Entertained
If you're main reason for playing WoW is to be constantly entertained you might want to play another game while you're on a bird. Try one of those addon miniature games that are around. Or multitask with something you have on another platform. Or in case of emergency: feed your tamagotchi. Whatever keeps you happy.

5. The Gourmet
The gourmet won't miss a chance to make a raid to the kitchen and grab a snack. If you need suggestions for what to do, go ahead and check out the comment section of my post about the perfect raid snack. You'll find a recipe for a three-minute chocolate cake, which you'll easily put together during one of the longer flight trips. For journeys by boat or zeppelin I recommend you to stick to something simpler; they're rather quick compared to what they used to be (the turtle tour in Northrend the exception).

6. The Health Seeker
OK, you're facing the consequences of being too much of a gourmet? Had a little too many of those perfect raid snacks? Let's turn it around then. Make a habit out of doing push-ups and sit-ups whenever you travel. Count how many you can do and compete with yourself or your guildies. Or try to beat the gryphon! If you give up before you arrive at the destination, the vehicle has won. If you could make a few more after arriving, you’re the winner.

7. The Organizer
Are your bags in perfect order? If you're the kind of player who likes a tidy desk, they probably are, but in the world of a true organizer there's always something more to do. Adjust the settings in your bag addon to sort your stuff even smarter. Cleanse your action bars from old garbage, such as quest items you've returned to the quest giver long time ago. If you feel rich and your bags are too full to be practical - toss away a few gray useless items. (I won't tell on you.) Or open some clams, now that Blizzard has made the effort to let you do that mounted. If you really can't find anything more to organize, offer to help to clean up in your old, messy guild forum.

8. The Philosopher
The philosopher doesn't see the travelling as something bad; rather the opposite. Life isn't about arriving at the destination; it's about enjoying the journey, right? All day long our minds are constantly occupied with a stream of activities. Rather than trying to productive in a conventional sense, the philosopher will let the journey be a protected enclave in time when he lets go of everything. Enjoy a few minutes of complete relaxation. Observe how the thoughts come and pass by like the landscape below your mount. Listen to your breathing and feel your heartbeat. Arrive energized and relaxed (or possibly asleep).

9. The Researcher
Researchers come in a wide variety. The Number Cruncher will use this moment to polish his personal spread sheet or give his two cents in the latest EJ discussion. The Last-Minute Researcher will browse TankSpot in a futile last-minute effort to cover the fact that he hasn't prepared for the instance he has signed up for. The Materialist Researcher will drool over Atlas Loot and think about how to obtain them. Whatever sort you are - take pride in the fact that you're doing your research while playing WoW in your free time rather than while pretending to do something useful at your job. ;)

10. The Social
If you're like me and find it a little bit difficult to chat with people at the same time as you're actually playing the game, you know, killing stuff - the moments of travel will come to your rescue! Now you can finally show your guild that you're not this strange creepy guy who just logs in and out and never speaks! Scroll back and catch up on the guild chat and add something of your own. If you're known as "that quiet" guy you might want to take it a little careful to begin with or they'll think your account has been hijacked. By all means, go through your friends list. Is there someone you'd like to catch up with? Go ahead and do so, but remember to check out the location of your friend before you whisper them. There's a time and place for everything and if he or she's in a raid instance they might not appreciate your attention.

Further ideas
I've presented a few examples of player types and ideas on what they can do during their journeys. Which strategy do you use? Or maybe you have some further suggestions on how to spend your time on a flight or a boat? Feel free to share with the readers of PPI!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Shattered thoughts on the Shattering

Dwism did a brief post, linking to a Calvin & Hobbs cartoon, which also nails my current feelings for WoW.

It's as if I've woken up one morning and now I'm looking out at the world with an unbroken coat of recently fallen snow. (Actually I am in real life as well; winter came early to Sweden this year.) It's a clean start, full of possibilities.

I probably look most of all like an overenergized puppy, running around in circles, back and forward, too happy and excited to settle for a certain activity. I want it all - now, at the same time!

My reaction is actually somewhat expected. As far back as in May 2008, I did some test of gamer personalities and came to the conclusion that I was an ESAK, 73,33 percent Explorer, an average Socializer and Achiever but only 13.33 percent Killer. No wonder I've felt a bit imprisoned after spending one year in Icecrown citadel, alternated with jumping in and out of various portals in Dalaran.

It's such a freaking good feeling to let out the explorer in me!

The sheer joy I feel is only shaded by the fact that it's "this time of the year" when my game time is about as abundant as my wallet will be after Christmas. The timing for this patch and expansion is simply horrible, but I talk to myself with my wisest, most parental voice, saying that the game isn't going anywhere and that there will be plenty of time for me to explore every corner of the new old world.

A changed world
I can't quite settle for what's best about Azeroth post Shattering.

Take all those brand new quests for instance. I've never been that much into questing and I've got some big parts of Northrend only half done. But just bringing up a gnome priest a few levels in the new starting area raised my appetite and I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up making an army of alts for the first time ever, just for the fun of it.

I also love all those details, the changes to the world - small as big. It was a bit of a pain not to be in the beta; especially since everyone else seemed to be there. But I resisted the impulse to watch TB:s videos, regardless of their quality And now it's harvest time for me! I'm having a blast as I'm riding around, picking up new flight paths and just taking in everything I see.

Sometimes the changes are subtle and I'm not entirely sure of what it is. "Hm... something's different about this inn. The fireplace, isn't it? And the music isn't exactly the same?" It's like one of those "find five errors games" where you compare two pictures and are supposed to find what's been changed from one to the other. Other times it's pretty obvious what has changed, like that huge chasm suddenly appearing in Westfall, cyclones roaming about.

But what I think I love most is the general freshness of the world. It's the same feeling as after a summer rain, the ground and the air cleaned from dust. Suddenly the colors are vibrant, the grass is emerald green, the pavement in Stormwind is shining, the trees have come alive and there's a depth and intensity to the world that wasn't there before. I can almost sense the after-rain smell in my nostrils.

My jaws dropped a little the first night after the shattering as I noticed the announcements in the trade chat. "LFM ICC, link ach for first 4 bosses or no invite".

"Are you serious?" I thought. We've been stuck in that freaking castle for a year and now there's a shiny new world and thousands of quests and this is what you want to do?

But on second thought, why should I blame them and what do I know? They might have been in the Beta for months and just don't care? Or maybe they've returned after a long hiatus and want to catch up on some bosses before it's too late and literally no one will care about ICC?
Or maybe they just don't give a damn about the world at any time, because they're only in the game for the raids, period. They surely have their reasons, and they're just as entitled to their way of playing the game as anyone else - even if it looks a bit mind boggling through the eyes of an enthusiastic explorer like me.

Returning players
In the spirit of the season I suggest that we also show some tolerance and acceptance all those bitter ex-WoW players who reluctantly are returning to the game. I find them slightly amusing as they stress that they're only here temporarily for a month or two at the most and that they no doubt will be bored out of their mind after that, since WoW sucks so badly. They have NOT changed their mind about WoW, but it's just expected that they want to have a look at the revamped world, right?

I'm not sure what it reminds me most of. Is it a "no, I'm not a real smoker; I just do it at parties?" Or is it the teenager who makes very clear that she's too old to see THAT childish TV-series, but yet somehow hangs around to see it "since you're forcing me"? Or is it the guy who buys Playboy, "just because of this article you see, I don't read that kind of crappy magazines"?

Anyway - regardless of their motives - be nice to them! If anything they deserve our pity, forever locked out from the wonderland as they are.

And this will end the Friday night post for this week. For being a shattered world Azeroth looks pretty awesome right now. The first half of the expansion has been released and here's to the hope that the second half of it will be just as good.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mist's Edge revisited

There was never any doubt about where I would take my farewell of this expansion. Mist's Edge, by the deserted coast of Darkshore, the same place where I spent the last night before Wrath arrived. Not once had I visited this beech since that moment. It's not a place where you go to seek out adventures or company. It's a place for solitude and contemplation.

I always knew where to go for this ceremony, but I wasn't certain on how to schedule it.

For the longest I imagined that I'd go there the night before the launch of Cataclysm, on December 6. This was until the blogosphere exploded with posts where bloggers took a fond farewell of the old world, soon to be washed away by the tides of time, and I realized that my timing was wrong. If I wanted to come back to the same spot where TBC ended to me and Wrath took off, I had better do it at this point, before the Shattering had shaken up the world forever. Who knew if this piece of coast will even exist tomorrow? Maybe it had been replaced by a murloc heaven or a new quest hub?

I for sure didn't have a clue, since I miraculously not only had stayed out of the beta, but also managed to stay fairly oblivious about the incoming changes. I had been told that Thousand Needles would be flooded and I thought that I might have caught a glimpse of some new holiday resort looking place, probably operated by goblins. Considering the cinematic trailer I assumed that Stormwind would change. But I certainly had no idea about the whereabouts of Darkshore.

One thing was clear: If I wanted to take a proper goodbye of Wrath at Mist's Edge, I'd better hurry up.

Steady progression
There is a saying that once is a trend and twice makes a tradition, and since rituals is something to hold onto in times of change, I kept it. First I lit a campfire. Then I used it to cook a Delicious Chocolate Cake with the ingredients I had brought, including some small eggs I just had farmed from the crazy owls in the camp nearby.

Two years! How quickly hadn't they passed? It felt like yesterday I was here, thinking back on my journey which had brought me from Zul Farrak to Black Temple. It had been quite a career, with a lot of bumps and jumps on the way, including server change and guild changes a couple of times.

Wrath had been different and way more stable. Adrenaline had steadily progressed through the tiers, week after week, boss after boss until we got our Lich King 25 man kill this spring. Sure, we had had some raiders joining us in Northrend and others leaving us on the way. But we were basically a well oiled raiding machine. While many guilds on our server succumbed, split up, stopped, departed, disbanded, we kept going on. We were never in the very top of the progression chart, but always right below it. Our raiding team for Cataclysm was already set, and it was pretty much the same team as had participated in the last official 25 man raids in June. A few of us have switched classes, but the people are the same.

The good stuff
But what about the game play? I asked myself if I had enjoyed Wrath. Was it a good expansion? Yes, definitely. There was so much good stuff when I thought about it. The landscape. I really had learned to love that continent at the other side of the sea. Outland had some nice places, especially Zangarmarsh, but in comparison to Northrend it didn't stand a chance. I loved the snow theme, the wilderness, the mountains and the Scandinavian influences. It all held nicely together and it felt appropriate for a fantasy themed game where you fight with swords and spells rather than lasers.

And then there was the questing - far superior to anything we had seen before in WoW. Phasing, vehicles, nicely put together questlines, even cinematics, you name it. Gone were the days of kill-ten-pigs! And they assembled them together so nicely in quest hubs and a logical order, which made levelling guides unnecessary.

Then I thought about the raiding. It hadn't gone free from criticism in the community. According to some it had been way too easy. A faceroll. And what about the hardmodes, did they really offer variety and options for the players, or was it just lazy design, giving Blizzard an excuse not to provide more content?

For my own part I actually thought the raiding in Wrath was pretty good. I can understand if Naxx had been a disappointment for those who had done it in the original, but for me those encounters were new and fun, even if they could have been slightly more challenging. They certainly didn't feel like a step up from Black Temple.

Ulduar on the other hand was brilliant, probably on par with Karazhan in quality, and with the teleport devices which made it a much more enjoyable experience than most of the 25 man instances in TBC. ToC... well what to say of ToC? The bosses weren't that bad, but it showed clearly that for all our complaints and grumbles about trash, it fills a purpose. To only fight boss after boss in the one and same room doesn't make a good raid experience.

Finally ICC. It was a good instance and I think the LK fight beats most other encounters in the game, but one year is way too long time to spend in the same place. We were burned out on it and yet we kept going, since there was no alternative.

If anything should be criticized about Wrath it was the fact that we only did one instance at a time until the next tier was released and we finally could move on. We never had much of a choice, if you don't count the single-bosses such as Malygos and Sartharion. The menu was too short to satisfy our appetite. But I think Blizzard has listened and learned their lesson, and Cataclysm will fix it. Amen.

Goodbye and hello
I took a bite of my chocolate cake and saw the fireworks light up the sky. I smiled to myself in anticipation.

Goodbye old world! Hello new world!

I can’t wait to see what awaits us on the other side of the reset.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's the End of the World and I'm searching for the Secrets of Kalimag

There I was, in the dark tent of the fortuneteller of Darkmoon Faire. Hesitatingly I pointed at three cards, not daring to look into her eyes as she would reveal my destiny. Her verdict was short, just two words, which she spitted out with a hissing voice. "Learn Kalimag". And then she made it clear to me that there was no room for me to ask any question. There was a long queue of Azerothian adventurers waiting outside. My time was over.

I nodded and gave her a faint smile before I fled, anxious to not reveal that I didn't have a clue about what she just had told me.

Kalimag? WTF?

It sounded vaguely Japanese to me. Could it be some kind of ancient martial art form, officially lost in the tide of history, but in fact kept alive within a small circle of chosen knowledge keepers who pass it on from generation to generation until the End of the World when it will be needed again? It might come handy considering the current situation in Azeroth.

On the other hand I'm a mage, not a warrior. The oracle if anyone should know that. So maybe this was in fact a school of magic - the next upcoming level in my climbing in the ranks of mages. Even someone who is exalted with Kirin Tor hasn't learned all of their secrets. For all I knew I might be nothing more than an initiate in their eyes. Perhaps the power of Kalimag was awaiting me, if I only could find the path to it.

What Kalimag is
So what is a gnome looking for the Truth and Knowledge to do? I did what anyone else of you would have done. I consulted Wowpedia (the new home of Wowwiki, in case anyone has missed it.) And it turned out that Kalimag is neither about fighting or magic. It's the standard language for all elementals.

I nodded to myself. It made sense. There had been a lot of elementals around recently. They sure seemed to be aggravated for some reason. But all my efforts to make them come to their senses had been blatantly ignored until now. The only answer for my invites to a friendly discussion had only been met by yet another angry whirl and a knockback. If I only could get my hand on a book of Kalimag, perhaps I could make a breakthrough in our communications. Or, if my peace invites were ignored, I could secretly spy on them, learning about their plans on beforehand.

So far I must admit that my mission to learn Kalimag has been far from succesful, It's not as if there's an abundance of resources to consult. While Klingon has its own academia, with published books such as a translation of Hamlet, I couldn't find a single translated word from Kalimag to English. According to Wowpedia, it's only spoken by "a few scholars", since the natives speakers "are rarely encountered in any sort of friendly capacity". And obviously those few scholars have kept their secrets well.

Kalimag in game
So what do we see of Kalimag in WoW? Most of the time we encounter elementals in WoW they don't say a thing. They just whirl. There is one quest though, Escape from Coilskar Cistern, where you help Earthmender Wilda to get out of a cave. After a while you're joined by five friendly elementals, who all will tell you: "Kranu sto aer'rohgmar", but what this means remains a mystery.

There has been a speculation that the Living Fire who on one occasion says: "Reth reth reth" in fact says: "Burn burn burn". However, in another quest, there's a manifestation of water who says: "Ma reth bromo zoln kilagrin dra ma zoern tu ko fraht ko kadrom Ma krin drinor zoln drinor Ma krin kan aasrugel korsul", using the word "reth" again. Why would a water elemental talk about burning stuff?

Things are complicated by the fact that there are several different dialects of Kalimag, one for each type of elements. So it's possible that words could have different meanings depending on the context.

From Wowpedia can also learn that Kalimag occurs in an inscription on the pedestal of Frostmourne. The writing read: "Whomsoever takes up this blade shall wield power eternal. Just as the blade rends flesh, so must power scar the spirit". Since Muradin Bronzebeard can read the text on the dais, you can draw the conclusion that he's one of those scholars who knows Kalimag. Now if we only could find a way to persuade him to share this knowledge?

The odds are against it, since Kalimag actually doesn't exist in the game files as a real language, at least not in the sense you would hope. There is an in-game "translator" which uses an algorithm to make words "look like" Kalimag. For instance a four letter word will come out as "drom", "drae", "fmer" or a bunch of other examples and a word with nine letters would be transformed to for instance "ahn'torunt", "brud'remek" or "dor'dra'tor". But algorithm mechanisms is not the same thing as a real translation if you ask me.

Continuing research
I have to be honest with you. From the research I've done so far, you can all see that learning Kalimag isn't an easy task. This doesn't mean that I've given up on it though. Hereby I invite everyone to join me in the search for the secret language of the elementals!

You know what to do. Let's go back to Karazhan and check out those books scattered all over the floors! Maybe we missed some? Let's examine every inch of the library in Scarlet Monastery; perhaps there was a hidden room where they kept the only existing copy of the Lexicon of Kalimag? Keep your eyes open at all hours; before you'll know it, the book will spawn right in front of your eyes.

I don't see that we have any choice. We have to follow our destiny and listen to the advice of the mighty fortuneteller. Who knows what curses she might put on anyone who dares to defy her?

PS. On a more serious note it made me a surprised and happy gnome to see that they made use of the Darkmoon Faire concept in the marketing campaign of Cataclysm. I haven't seen anything about it but it has brought back my hope that they'll finally come around and give it the revamp it has needed for a long time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ghostcrawler The Blogger

I've whined a lot in the past about Blizzard's lacking communication with the community.

I've talked at length about how their former website sucked and I've criticized their fumbling attempts to talk to the playerbase through fragmented, pointless chat sessions. In July I questioned the strategy where Blizzard's lead systems designer Greg Street, a.k.a Ghostcrawler, answers forum posts, more or less randomly. I suggested they rather should make him write proper columns, where he could pick an current topic and share his views on it from a more general perspective. And lo and behold! Now Blizzard is doing exactly this!

Ghostcrawler made his blogging debut the other day in the post "Why Does Blizzard Hate Healers?" where he explains how healing is changing in Cataclysm and the reasons for those changes. Here's a sample from his wrap-up:
"To be clear, we don’t want healers to constantly run out of mana. We want them to run out of mana when they don’t play well. And we don’t want them to always fail. But we do want them to feel good when they are challenged, and overcome those challenges to succeed. When someone is wounded, we want healers to consider whether to use a slow, efficient heal (because they aren’t in immediate threat of dying) or a fast, expensive heal (because they are). That’s called triage, and it was notably missing from the Lich King healing environment. We think triage will make healing more fun. We’re making this change not to make healers sad by nerfing them, but to make healers happy by making the game more fun for them."
It's a good blog post, not the least thanks to his honest approach. Ghostcrawler sounds pretty relaxed as he mentions critique from the community as well as his own doubts about the healing design in Wrath. This isn't just a text with empty marketing phrases. GC knows how to balance between his own ideas and integrity and a genuine interest for what the players have to say. And that's why we trust him and want to hear what he has to say.

A success
Looking at the reception of this post; I would call Ghostcrawler's blogging nothing but a success. I don't think the news about Blizzard's new fansite has reached more than a fraction of the playerbase, but as I'm writing this, there are already over 1200 comments on Ghostcrawler's post and more incoming. And it's a pretty good read. Most of them are decent and reasoning, even in the cases where they don't agree. Overall they're far less aggressive than what we've seen previously on the forums.

This post has also been translated into the other major languages that Blizzard supports, such as Spanish, French and German, which also is an improvement. Now it's not only the US players who get first hand information and can comment on his writings.

It's also worth mentioning that Ghostcrawler isn't the only one to write proper blog posts. Blue poster Lylirra came up with a little piece about what to bring in an Elemental Invasion Survival Kit, which was a fun read, something you could have seen at one of the fan WoW blogs, and it also got a lot of comments. I hope more will follow.

What remains on my wish-list is a little bit more of interaction with the blogosphere, now that Blizzard's staff has joined our ranks. Until now they've had us more or less on ignore, and maybe it's too much to hope for that to change. But considering the general overhaul they're going through in their communications I wouldn't rule it out completely.

In any case it's nice to see that they're making use of Ghostcrawler's potential as a popular and trustworthy spokesman. The new community site has got a good start, so let's hope they can keep it up and expand it in the future.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Feats of Strength – the real version

Let's talk about Feats of Strength again. I admit it's the third time this week that I mention them, and that's a little odd considering that I'm not that much of an achievement junkie in the first place. Not more than the average at least. But I’ve got some kind of hangup on this at the moment, so I’ll blog on and hopefully it will ease my mind. Here we go: time for this week's ponderings from the bar.

My Feats of Strength
This post takes off with the announcement from Blizzard that we’ll get yet another ”Feat of strength” if we only can be bothered to log in once during a three week period.

Reading about it I asked myself what other feats I had in my bags. Since I've never paid any attention to them, I had no idea. A quick check in armory revealed that I had acquired 18 until this day, and to be honest most of them were less than overwhelming:

  • Getting myself a Collector's Edition for Wrath, well done, pat on shoulder?
  • Getting a Crashin' Thrashin' Racer as a Winter veil gift like everyone else in 2008. Wohoo?
  • Obtaining one emblem of any kind, really? I'd rather consider it a Feat of Strenth to manage to avoid them altogether.
The Champion of the Naaru and Hand of Adal titles admittedly took a bit of effort, and so did the Winterspring Frostsaber mount - even though that grind had been heavily nerfed by the time I got around to do it, and the process of getting it was more of a pleasure than a pain. So getting it didn’t really involve any particular need of being strong.

However, most of the Feats of Strength won’t fill me with a sense of pride. The list consists of a number of randomly picked events during my lifespan as a WoW player, which happen to have been documented this way. as a matter of fact some of the feats are so cheap that they inevitably dilute the concept of feats as being special and desirable.

This is a bit of a pity, since there actually is some potential in this feature. Just like the rest of the achievement system, Feats of strength could be a tool for players to make their characters stand out from every one else.

Even if your lvl 80 mage looks exactly the same as the one next to you at AH, wearing identical gear but a slightly different hair style, your individual experiences and areas of interest in the game will differ. The Feats of strength list could offer an opportunity to put this at display.

In the current form, the system is automatized. When you do certain things in the game, a note is added to your armory profile, armory either you like it or not. There’s no way to undo an achievement; those lists are forever (or as long as the game lasts).

But let's play with the thought that the Feats of Strength worked in a different way. What if it was the player who chose them? You could pick the ten achievements you were most proud over, as a declaration to the world: “Look at what I’ve done! Those are the top performances I have done!” A die hard PvP:er would of course display his best PvP achievements, a raider would highlight the most prestigious boss kills and the dedicated grinders would made no secret of their Loremaster or Insane titles.

Picking the best achievements would be a bit tricky and I’m not sure how my own list would look, but I know it would be different to what it is today. My Twilight Vanquisher title from April 2009 required far more strength than logging into WoW for the five year anniversary, that's for sure.

True Feats of Strength
Since it's my Friday night post, I'm letting my mind wander best it likes as we're enjoying our after-work pint. So now I'll stroll away and talk a bit about what I would consider to be the True Feats of Strength, which is someting quite different to the stuff that Blizzard rewards.

If you think about it: aren't there ever so many game related activities that will require patience, effort and courage? Those deeds will never be documented in a log, never flashed out as a guild message - and yet they are what will stick to our memories as we one day in the future will recall our years of WoW playing.

What's the bravest thing you ever did in Azeroth? When did you find yourself at a turning point, taking a hard decision that took you in an entirely new direction in the game? Which are the deeds that required all strength you could ever come up with? When did you challenge yourself with a task that seemed way out of your reach, taking the risk of a bitter and embarrassing failure?

When I think back at my own time in Azeroth I believe one of the bravest things I ever did was to take the plunge into the unknown, switching to a server where I didn't know a single soul, to join a guild that was raiding 25 man T5, while all I knew was how to Karazhan. A true feat of strength. Or the moment when I pressed the cubes in Magtheridon for the first time in the spring 2008. Looking back it seems as a fairly simple thing to do, but to me - it was huge!

Joining Adrenaline, taking a leap in difficulty and expectations was another one. I knew that I would be on trial for weeks; There was no guarantee I would pass it and if I didn’t it would pretty terrible in my records. "Why did you leave your former guild?" "Ahem. They thought I sucked so I was asked to leave..." But somehow I overcame my fears and took the chance, aware, regardless of the risks.

The fact that I've stuck to my guild ever since, being there through ups and downs, no matter what, is also something I feel good about, even I most of all think that I'm just privileged and lucky to have found such a good home. So probably it's not a true feat of strength. But it's important to me. The guild anniversaries outlast Blizzard's anniversaries by far!

And then there are the offline, but still WoW related activities. The very idea to start to blog in English took me a bit of courage, and to keep doing it for such a long time and with such intensity is probably Feat of strength material, (even if it’s also bordering to being a candicate for the Insane in the Membrane title. 600 blog posts, all about one single video game? Am I out of my mind?).

I won’t ever be able to write into my Feat of Strength log: "This mage is a dedicated WoW blogger since February 2008." But it sure would tell more about me as a player than the fact that I once got a Green Brewfest Stein more or less by accident.

Real Life Feats of Strength
This post is going towards its end, but before you head off for another pint in the bar or a nightly conversation in front of the fireplace, I'll ponder a little over the next level of Feats of Strength.

Have you ever thought about how your Real Life Feat of Strength list would look?

Taking the risk to be a little boring and predictable, I believe that my Mother title would top my list. The fact that I've given birth to and raised two children never ceases to amaze me. My list would also include some radical changes my life direction. Moving to a new place to live, switching jobs and career. Daring to step up when the situation required it - even if I didn't think I was fit to do it.

Then there are some feats of strength that are more on the sad side, feats I would rather have been without. Experiences such as dealing with deaths in the family, situations where I’ve been forced to act more like a “grown-up” than I had asked for, taking responsibility not only for myself, but for others. You know. The crap we all will encounter sooner or later in our lives, either we're prepared for it or not.

My conclusion - what I’m really trying to say with this post - is that I think we give ourselves too little credit for what we achieve in life.

We're so quick to identify our shortcomings and - the job we didn't get, the so-and-so grades, the GF/BF that dumped us, the friend we let down, the competition we lost, the opportunities we missed because we took the wrong decision. We love to dwell on it, calling ourselves all sorts of names. Fail mother. Fail friend. Fail lover. Fail student. Fail, fail, fail. But how we think back of our success stories, how often do we even notice them? How often do we recongize that we that we make a difference?

We have so much to be proud of, even if it doesn't show in a feed or will be celebrated with a flash message on a screen. Don't ever forget that.

It’s time to finish and bring out a Friday night toast. This one is for all our real Feats of strength - in the past and in the future.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the issue of celebrating an anniversary

One of the mysteries as I grew up was the lack of interest the grown-ups showed for their birthdays. The older they got, the less presents did they get, and the more reluctant were they to even acknowledge the event. And I could never figure out why. Who doesn’t like to get presents and cake?

Companies on the other hand tend to make a big fuss about their birthday these days, and it usually grows the elder they get. While they normally don’t expect gifts and congratulations from their customers, it’s a natural opportunity to come up with a PR event.

Free pets
Blizzard is no exception from this. The last couple of years, they’ve handed out things such as free combat pets to anyone logging in during a period around the “birthday” of WoW. For the five-year WoW and 15 year Warcraft anniversary they went far bigger. Among other things there were a lot of competitions, and that huge mosaic image consisting of photos that fans all over the world had sent to them. For my own part I appreciated the video interviews made with high profile members of the staff for this occasion.

This might be the reason why I can sense a bit of disappointment in the reactions to the announcement of the upcoming six year anniversary on November 23. There won’t be any cute pet gift this time. If you want that sugar sweet moonkin hatchling, you’d better be prepared to open your wallet. All you get is a “feat of strength” if you log in at some point between November 30 and December 14.

This is a mind boggling for two reasons:

  1. In what way is logging into a game a feat, something that is worthwhile noticing in your records to remember afterwards and show off to the world?
  2. If you assume that it IS worth recognizing, why isn’t it about logging in on the actual birthday, November 23? Why do you get this feat of strength if you log in three weeks afterwards?

It’s not that I’m against celebrating this birthday. I think it’s a great opportunity to do something “extra”. And I don’t complain about the lack of pets. I can’t help it, but I find it hard to value a pet that I get in the mail for doing nothing more than logging in as high as I value a pet that I’ve had to work for to get. My current count on pets is at 94, so I have a great menagerie as it is.

But this “feat of strength” looks honestly a little bit pointless to me. Does it even make the most dedicated achievement hunters any happier? After all it won’t award you any points. And the bragging worth of it is minimal.

Alternative events
So what could they have done instead if they wanted to celebrate their birthday in style?

If I could wish anything I wanted, I’d love to see some Blizzard employees come online on our realm. What if the GM:s could appear and either arrange something in the game (I’ve heard that this kind of events exist in other games) or at least participate somehow. What if you could run into them in a battleground or a PUG group?

And if this is just too much to ask for, due to the proportion how many GM:s and realms there are, they could have settled for something smaller. How about a silly little one-day event on the lines of the Pirate Day?

Or what about doing something outside of game, such as putting up a nice behind-the-scenes video about Blizzcon from the perspective of the staff or a brand new in-depth interview with one of their more entertaining developers or artists on their website? That would definitely feel more like a treat than this ridiculous “feat of strength”.

Come to think of it: maybe there's a reason for them to tune down the celebrations as the years pass, just like my parents did. After all, is it really only a merit for a game to grow older?

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Any FoS for killing them?"

Maybe I'm a bit grumpy. But I cringed inside as I read this comment at MMO-Champion's news report about elementals attacking the capital cities:
"Any FoS for killing them, tabard, etc? If not what the point?"
Is this how far the stimuli-response training has taken us? Are we nothing but trained animals, performing acts on command, but only as long as we can expect a proper reward? Have we lost the idea of what's it like to roam about in the playground just for fun?

I see this player in front of me as he passively stands there, looking at the invasion, doing nothing as the elementals rip the citizens into pieces. What does he care? He won't move a finger unless Ghostcrawler gives him a Feat of Strength. Or at least a shiny tabard. It's a minimum!

I keep reminding myself that it's just one voice in a forum. A whiner. There have always been whiners around, so what's new? There are probably thousands, even millions of players who happily will defend the cities, not to get achievements or to get access to epics from mini bosses, but because they're playing a game in an imaginary world, which they care about. I try to stay positive.

However I can't quite get the worrying thought out of my head: he might not represent the entire community, but he represents something - a mindset that has stuck. How and when did this happen to the player mentality? It surely wasn't like this as I started to play in 2007.

And what will the future hold for WoW and the MMOs that will follow? Is there any way back? Can Blizzard find an alternative in their next MMO or will they continue on this path, since the rats - sorry - players want it so badly?

Friday, November 12, 2010

In places where one sleeps but once

Where's your home in Azeroth? This was asked in a shared topic at Blog Azeroth a little while ago.

I didn't participate in it, mostly since I don't have any particular home. Sure, there are some places that I like more than others. As a matter of fact there are quite a few, such as the twilight zones of Zangar and Duskwood, the happy greenery in Elwynn or the hill just behind the inn in Westfall, which happens to be a wonderful hideout for nightly meditations under the starry sky. But I couldn't point out one certain spot, claiming it to be my home, and as a matter of fact it doesn't bother me. My home is in Azeroth and that's enough to me.

I'm not playing WoW to furniture a house. If I did, I could as well play Sims or build myself a real life doll house. I play WoW to kill dragons, explore strange new worlds and hang around with other geeks. Besides, if I ever feel that I need a steady point in the WoW universe, I beleave that I already have it. It's called The Pink Pigtail Inn.

Player housing
Wolfshead takes a different position in a recent post, where he once again argues strongly for player housing. He talks at length about the importance of player ownership, putting up Farmville and similar social network based games as an example to follow for the MMO industry if they want to remain successful.

He points at the benefits of allowing player ownership, claiming that it helps the players to bond with the virtual world, which will give a deeper more meaningful game experience for the players and more loyal subscribers for the game company. He also claims that it will contribute to create a better community, since players who don't own anything are mere guests and tourists and behave as such.

This isn't exactly news: Wolfshead has talked about player on many occasions before, like in the spring 2009. My conclusion after pondering upon this issue for a while and asking other players with experience from games with player housing, was that it certainly sounded like something that could be "nice to have" but not necessary, which I wrote in a reply post.

Now that Wolfshead brings up the topic once again, I looked back at my post to see if I had changed my mind, and I found that I really hadn't. So with the risk for repeating myself, I'll follow Wolfshead's example and talk about it one more time.

What to do
My major objection with the house idea is that I don't see what you would do in there. I'm afraid it would grow old fairly quickly, unless you put features into it, such as storage services, vendors, mail and AH. But on the other hand: if you did this, you would risk draining the cities from the players who make them come alive.

Is it really all that fun to be a house owner that you want to do it when you're gaming as well? You know what? I don't even own the real life house I'm living in - I rent it. Yes, I know it might sounds shocking - at my age you're expected to have paid your mortgages for years. But our family has decided to live a fairly modest life style, free from such things as a second car, fancy furniture or a summer house. We haven't invested in property. At all. We eat simple; we live simple, but we invest in experiences. My daughters may not have big and beautiful rooms like their friends have, but on the other hand, they've been on safari in Tanzania, they've done an unforgettble road trip in California and soon they're about to make a journey to India. And actually they don't complain. Not a bit.

I probably should blame Thoreau for this. I read Walden as I was young and even if I can't sign on all of his ideas today, he has had an infuence on my perspective on life.

Among other things, he made me realize that you won't automatically become happy just because you own a big property. All the work that comes with it, all the obligations and the need to maintain it, can become such a burden that it enslaves you.

It's not about you owning the house anymore. It's the house that owns you. I've seen it happening in real life a number of times, to friends at the same age as I who have prioritized the creation of their home to other activities in life. Even if they're not even remotely interested in crafting and building, they end up spending all their leisure time on different sorts of house renovation projects. There isn't any end to it.

Let the players decide
My thoughts are wandering too far away from the topic, as they tend to do on Friday nights. Let's go back to the issue on player houses. I don't look for them for my own part, because I think I'll have more fun exploring the world. However, I'm not the only player in WoW, and if Blizzard decided to go through with this idea I wouldn't rage against it.

If Wolfshead speaks the truth and there's a big enough interest for this among the players, I can't see any reason not to go ahead with it. It's definitely more interesting to me than projects such as remote AH access or Battle Net communications over game boundaries.

All I ask for is that they find a way to deal with the logistical issues, making sure that neither the houses, nor the public space areas in the cities, will end up as deserted ghost towns.

For my own part I'm not sure if I'll ever bother to settle in one of those virtual houses. I'll end this post, quoting a couple of lines from poem "In motion" by the Swedish poet Karin Boye.

The best goal is a night-long rest,
fire lit, and bread broken in haste.
In places where one sleeps but once,
sleep is secure, dreams full of songs.

Friday night toast
My Friday night toast this week goes to all of you wanderers stopping by at this inn on your journey through life. Please make yourself comfortable by the fire. There's room for everyone. May your sleep be secure and your dreams full of songs!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

When bloggers go PvP

Some players like to PvP in the battlegrounds. Others do it in their blogs, like Tobold and Wolfshead in a recent exchange. Here’s a sample from it.

Wolfshead about Tobold

“when you become a drooling fanboy you risk losing all sense of perspective and objectivity and you become a cheerleader for the status quo.

He doesn’t like me because I don’t like WoW and I can accept that. Truth be told, I don’t particularly like him either. We’ve had a long running feud for many years. I stopped reading Tobold a few years ago, although he does send this blog a lot of traffic when he runs out of original ideas to blog about."

Tobold about Wolfshead:
"The man has to decide whether he loves or hates World of Warcraft. On the one side he is writing a constant stream of invectives against WoW and its players, on the other side he complains that he didn't get invited to the Cataclysm beta, or about some minor missing feature.”
Tobold and Wolfshead are both well established bloggers, each one with a following, who now are cheering from the sidelines. Not everyone approve of the tone of conversation though. Nils for instance says that while Tobold is in the perfect right to write whatever he wants, a less social drama approach to issues would be a lot more enjoyable to read. He thinks it doesn’t make a lot of sense to fight fire with fire. Hugh on the other hand worries over culture of zero criticism that he sees developing in parts of the blogosphere.

Need more rage
I have called for peace in the blogosphere on one occasion. That particular conflict smelled a bit like an office e-mail war spreading all over the blogosphere, taking such proportions that I thought it had gone too far.

But this doesn’t mean that I think all conflicts in the blogosphere are of evil. Actually a little bit of rage adds energy, life and eloquence to our writing.

A blog that never ever infuriates anyone, where you never get anything but facts that as well could have been written by an emotionless AI or harmless la-di-da tales about the blogger’s latest companion pet acquisition, would become incredibly boring to read after a while. It’s nice and cosy, but finally I get to the point where I agree with Ratshag: Need more rage!

I think it’s in the nature of fans to argue or even to feud. We’re opinionated – that’s why we blog in the first place. Because we just can’t shut up. To put a restraint on ourselves, to avoid threading on anyone’s toes at any price, goes against what made us start in the first place. Some of the best, most enjoyable rants I’ve ever seen on a blog have been written in a state of righteous fury.

I’ve seen – and participated – in many fanfeuds long before I became a blogger, back in my days as a fanzine editor in SF fandom. Some of the “wars” were entirely fictional, something we did in agreement for our own amusement, in the same way as I, Gnomeaggedon and Krizzlybear ran a fake mage battle a couple of years ago, arguing for which mage spec was the best one.

On other occasions, there was a real disagreement, different views colliding, but most of the time kept the “feud” on a level where we did it as an exercise of thought and a way to flex our writing muscles. The strongest weapon we would get was to boycott each other’s fanzine, in the sense that we wouldn’t send it to each other for free, which was the normal practice. (I guess it was the equivalence of removal from your blogroll, although the effect actual was the opposite: “You’re views are so stupid that you don’t even deserve to read what I write”.)

However, when we met at the conventions and fan gatherings, we didn’t hold the previous hard words against each other. We fell into each others arms and had a pint together, chatting as the friends we were, because in the end we knew that we were the same kind: geeks with a passion for reading, thinking and writing.

Knowing the boundaries
The key to good blog PvPing is to know the boundaries. Don’t hesitate to call out an opinion as stupid, but try to avoid calling out the person behind it for being an idiot. Be as sharp, poignant and poisonous as you like, but stay civilized and try to not make it too personal.

Among all the bloggers out there, there might be a couple who are complete fuggheads (another useful fanslang term, in case you’re wondering.) And those can be dealt with mercilessly. But neither Tobold, nor Wolfshead are fuggheads. They’re just PvP:ers who like to go a match once in a while. And I actually kind of enjoy looking at it, because they’re both damned good writers.

If anything, I’d like to see more, not less PvP:ing between bloggers.

Who do you want to be today?

Imagine that you could turn your appearance temporarily into any living creature in WoW - a beast, an NPC or a player. Who would you like to be?

I came to think about it as I threw a glance at MMO-Champion's overview of the changes to the alchemy profession in Cataclysm. Apparently we're going to get not only a beautiful mount (more or less a flight form available for non-druids, as far as I can see it). We'll also get a for-fun brew called "Potion of Illusion".

According to the description this potion can "transform the imbiber to look like someone else". This made my imagination go wild.

What if I did a retro raid in Black Temple? Could I put on an Illidan disguise, take a quick teleport to Stormwind and then roam about in the green pastures of Elwynn for a while, scaring the children and paying a visit to the lady with the cats? (I think he secretly admires her.)

Or what about Millhouse Manastorm? Such a handsome gnome, the world would be merrier if there were more of him in the streets!

But then on the other side, why not aim bigger when I'm given the option? Way bigger. Like Onyxia?

I got pretty much carried away by my imagination until I search a little for some further information. As far as I can see from the forum comments of Beta testers, you can only look like players and player pets that you have targeted. Not mobs or other NPCs. Damn.

Still - even with this restriction you can probably get yourself some entertainment drinking this potion. Totalbiscuit made a rather amusing video, where a player was turned into a dinosaur. It appears as if the spell was bugged at the moment this was recorded; the guy didn't just change shape; he grew into a crazy big size, looking more like Godzilla than anything else. Deathwing wouldn't be any match to him.

I can imagine that there are some situations where a bit of impersonating of other players can give you a laugh. The entire 25 man raid gives their raid leader a surprise as they all decide to impersonate him at a given signal. You confuse your enemies in the battleground, pretending to be a different class. Or why not flirt a bit with someone you like under influence of this potion? (Just don't pull it too far; it might be perceived as stalking.)

It's easy to dismiss this sort of fluff details. What's the point? They won't improve your performance, that's for sure. In worst case you'll cause damage if you confuse your healers by changing appearance and you'll screw up your raid.

For my own part though, I must admit that I've got a weak spot for things such as trinkets and offhands that summon adds or put a disguise on you as you use it. And actually the illusion potion is better than those items, since you don't have to swap out your real gear for it.

The critter bites
Nevertheless, it smells to me a little bit like the case of the critter bites, if you remember those. You don't? To be honest, I'm not all that surprised. I'll remind you. The critter bites is a form of buff food that allows you to temporarily tame a critter, in order to use it as your companion pet. But there's one drawback, a rather big one: the effect will only last a couple of minutes. This made those snacks fairly expensive to make, since one of the ingredients was northern spices, which you only can get from doing the daily cooking quest. Even for someone who likes fluff, it was too exclusive to use on a daily basis.

We don't know yet what cost will be for the ingredients to the illusion potion. Probably we can expect them to be very expensive at start, just like the rest of the mats you need to level your professions. (I remember frostweave cloth selling at 50 g a stack at my server, which effectively prevented me from levelling first aid for a long time. Those were the days and believe me - we'll see it again.)

But once they'll get within my reach, I'll try out some potions of illusion for myself.

Even if they sadly enough won't let me turn into Onyxia.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

WoW is...

Syncaine at Hardcore Casual loves to hate WoW.

He hasn't played the game for quite a while (as far as I understand it), but this doesn't prevent him from showing his disdain for it every once in a while. Most recently he did it in a post where he compared WoW of today to Ultima Online of 1997. It's yet another rant written by a jaded veteran who thinks WoW is too easy, doesn't require any skill, doesn't challenge the players and lacks a proper risk/reward balance. To be honest I think you've read it before.

He calls the game predictable, where almost everything, with just a few minor exceptions, is based on time spent in the game.
"The near-zero challenge of it all is a deal-breaker, as nothing stands out and going in, you already know the outcome. To me it’s similar to ‘playing’ a game like Candyland. When you are young, you still believe you are actually playing it, but at some point you realize that since you have zero control over anything, the ‘game’ is little more than a colorful visual representation of random dice rolls. That to me is what WoW has become; the only ‘skill’ needed to progress or to reach the next ‘ding’ is simply time."
Alice in Wonderland
It's apparent that WoW has lost its magic to Syncaine long time ago, and probably he won't ever be able to be enchanted by it again. I imagine that once the veil has fallen to the floor, you can't think it back. It's like a magician showing his tricks to the audience. Suddenly you see the mechanisms behind, the numbers that are put in a certain pattern, with a little bit of added randomness. It's all numbers, and what's the point, really?

Reading it I came to think of Alice in Wonderland, as she suddenly decides that she's done with the wonderland, unlashing her fury on the queen and her likings:

"‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face."
Syncaine noticed it was just a bunch of cards, and now he has left the Wonderland and the way back to it is closed to him.

But the Wonderland is still available. We have lands to explore, we have stories to be told and we have experiences awaiting us.

WoW is...
Following the form of a recent presentation, I'd like to give a few reminders about what WoW is.

WoW is
Red Shirt Guy standing up for himself and the consistency of the lore.

WoW is
to suddenly find yourself in the middle of an absurde game of pumpkin leeching.

WoW is
a magic night with an unforgettable, non-scripted, non-repeatable guild anniversary.

WoW is
to discover Black Temple, eyes sparkling and legs weak from the pressure and nervousness.

WoW is
to throw yourself into a Gnome Pride Parade under the glorious leadership of General Maxmilian Twinspark.

WoW is
to finally down Moby Dick, and enjoy your well deserved jammy dodger afterwards.

WoW is
to light a fire at the deserted beach at Mist's Edge and eat a Delicious Chocolate cake, looking at the stars, thinking back at absent friends.

WoW is
the unvarnished, unadulterated memoirs of Gerald the Articulate Kobold.

WoW is
to build yourself a sandcastle, with open eyes about how long it will last.

Remembering what it was

WoW is... I could go on doing those snapshots forever, and I'd yet fail in capturing the soul of WoW because it's so different to each one of us and it changes over time. It's like color in water, swirling, emerging, separating, evading our efforts to describe it and define it.

Maybe I too will toss it all around one day, like Syncaine, yelling: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’

But even as I do so, I hope I'll be honest enough to acknowledge that there was a point in my life when WoW was a hell lot more to me than just a simple, predictable time-reward equation.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What makes a weapon look awesome?

Some of my guildies have this thing about weapons. Every once in a while they start drooling in the forums when they've spotted a new weapon that is about to be introduced to the game. It’s not necessarily about the stats – even though it might help. Every so often it seems to be purely a matter of esthetics.

It’s hard to understand exactly what they find so attractive in a certain model. I can’t rid myself of the suspicion that it’s mostly about the size. And possibly something else connected to this. Go figure.

Big is beautiful?
The latest object for their affection, which made those guys go “oooh” and “awww” and “me wants” and “I’m so going to use my dkp on this”, was the Reclaimed Ashkkandi Greatsword of the Brotherhood.

To me it looks just like another sword: broad, long, heavy and clumsy, a little bit like The Sun Eater from TBC.

What those weapons have in common is that they really don’t appear to be made for a melee fight the way I think of it. Mind you, I’m not any expert in martial arts, but aren’t they just way too big to make sense?

They certainly don’t make me think of sword dueling or fencing as we see it in the movies: quick and elegant as a dance, just a bit more violent. The swords look more like something you could use for making bread or pizza in an old fashioned stone oven. The best use you probably could make of them in a fight would be to treat them as a piece of wood to hit people hard in the head. Brutal, but not very cool.

I don't sign unconditionally on that “Big is beautiful”. There must be other criteria for what constitutes a good looking weapon. But then, what else are we looking for?

Of course this boils down to personal taste and I don’t claim to be any more enlightened in this area than anyone else. But nevertheless I’ll share a couple of features that I appreciate.

Visual identity
First, I want it to have a distinct visual identity, something that makes it different from all the others. The best looking weapons can be identified at a distance, without using the character inspection.

For instance I love Will of Arlokk, with its distinct snake head. It looks cool and sticks, but is still somehow discrete. Not at all like Nibelung, whose attached flying creatures I find pretty annoying. I don't think it ever will stuck with me that it's pointless to try to kill them.

And while we're into weapons that are easy to recognize I have to mention Cookie's Tenderizer, which is the cutest mace ever with its rolling pin shape, in case you've missed it. It's not what I'd call "good looking", but it makes me smile every time I see it, even if I never could figure out why the icon looks like a thread roll.

Class matching
Secondly, I want the weapon to naturally match to the class I’m playing. My mage for instance, uses her brain as she's fighting the monsters. She doesn't physically stick her dagger into the enemies; she attacks them with her intellect and her spells.

I like any feature in the weapon that associates to wizardry – such as powerful rune inscriptions, mystical light surrounding the weapon, or a hypnotizing moving part, like the good old Staff of Jordan.

In any case, it should go without any doubt that Larísa is neither a warrior, nor a rogue.

Well scaled
Next, I want the weapon to be well scaled adjusted to my chosen race. Daggers and swords cutting a hole in the flying carpet is an abomination, and so are other weapons that keep hitting the ground just because a gnome is wearing them. I think a weapon should look just as appropriate on a gnome as on a tauren.

A holster
Moving ahead, I’d give an extra bonus to any dagger or sword that came with a holster or some other carrying device. When you don't use your weapon you should be able to attach it to your armor, and preferably not using glue, magnetism or "magic". Why can't it hang properly in the belt for a change?

I read an article about this a while ago, where Anjin Anhut discusses the issue of human magnets as an example of details that matters for immersion reasons. Anjin compares how different games have approached it, and sadly enough WoW ends up in the category “The ugly”. (I should add though that in the end, the author decides to give WoW some break “for already being some years around and having a wide arrangement of weapons available.)

Invisible values
Finally I think there are other, invisible values that also will affect the way we perceive a weapon. Even if they belong to the category "silly big" weapons, I can't help thinking that someone who is dressed with a pair of Warglaives of Azzintoh or sports a Thunderfury looks badass.

The question is: do they really look that gorgeous, or could it be that I'm under influence of the circumstances around it - by the lore attached to it, the rarity of it and the effort I know it has taken to get it? Would those weapons look just as pretty if I know that any scrub could get them doing a level 20 quest in Wetlands? Maybe, maybe not. My views are filtered through a layer of knowledge that it's hard to think away. Iconic weapon is iconic.

More weapon talk
Talking about weapons - I hope you remembered to leave any of those you were wearing as you entered the inn in the wardrobe room by the entrance? I try to keep this place as a neutral zone, a sanctuary where we don't make any difference between allies and horde. You're basically a peaceful bunch of people, but we all know that discussions might get a bit heated after a couple of pints, so let's stay on the safe side.

However, just because you can't bring your weapons to the table, it doesn't mean you're not allowed to talk about them. What makes a weapon look good? Which weapons in the game would you put on a top 10 list? Have you ever owned a weapon that looked so well that you couldn't stop admiring your toon? Please go ahead and share with us!

Friday night toast
It's Friday night and I'll end this post accordingly, bringing out a toast.

This week I want to send a special nod to one of our regular visitors, Syrien, who recently sent me a gift in game: an Elwynn Lamb pet. Syrien doesn't even play on my server, but created an alt to make some business and be able to buy it for me as a gift. Apparently Syrien thought it seemed as if I needed a little bit of appreciation and encouragement. Needless to tell, I was surprised, humbled and touched by this kindness and generosity in equal proportions. Thank you! I will keep the ingame letter in one of my precious bank slots for the reminder of my days as a WoW player. That says something about how much it meant to me.

Another nod goes to my guildie Gurraberra, who once upon the time created the header of The Pink Pigtail Inn, you know - the image of the pink pigtailed gnome and the fire. He took the screenshot at one of my favorite spots in the game, the inn in Darkshire. Gurraberra is also one of the major actors at the AH at our server, and he made a fortune selling glyphs in the 4.01 craziness. When he found out that I didn't have any Traveler's Tundra Mammoth, he promptly gave me one. This will no doubt make my levelling in Cataclysm a bit easier, with a vendor and a repair guy never further than a click away. Thanks a ton, Gurraberra!

My third nod for the evening goes to the new website Eat sleep breathe wow, which makes short videos on WoW related topics, such as guides and commentary on the game. Steve, who is a blogger from the beginning, has high ambitions for those video procuctions and the ones we've seen so far look, if not perfect, at least promising. I think he deserves a bit of attention and a free drink in the bar. Keep it up Steve!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to raise our glasses. Here's to a wonderful weekend.


A cataclysm is coming to the official WoW website

It’s still just a preview and all functions aren’t in place. But from what we’ve seen so far, you could summarize my first reaction to Blizzard’s incoming new official community site with one word: Squee!

It’s not one day too early that they make something about it. As a matter of fact Blizzard’s community site has been more or less useless as a source of information for years.

It’s not only that it’s messy, with an incomprehensible logic for navigation, which makes your eyes bleed; it’s also pretty badly maintained. Blizzard has had a hard time to keep up with the changes to the game and there’s quite a bit of information that became incorrect years ago. New players who want to figure out how to find a party will be advised to use the LFG and LFM tools, since the dungeon finder hasn’t been invented yet.

Lore section
A quick glance at the incoming site tells me that this will be something entirely different. It’s not only that it’s less clotted. Apparently they’re also remaking the content. They won’t lazily move over thousands of pages into the new format without looking at it. They’re reworking it from the ground.

One area that has been particularly neglected in the past is the lore. The current information is pitiful, consisting of an encyclopaedia, which they obviously put in the trash bin after TBC but forgot to remove from the website, and handful of random texts, like the one about murlocs. There's nothing wrong with the article as such, but there isn't any context. And as the cream on the top it’s ugly as hell.

Now they’re announcing that there will be an entire section dedicated to warcraft lore, where we among other things will find out whatever happened to Falstad Wildhammer. Did we just see another wink to the Red Shirt Guy? (On a side note, he just got his Invincible thanks to Blacksen's guild Imperative - his fame is still spreading!)

Forum changes
Apart from the website, they're also making changes to the forums, even if the Real ID requirement for posting was ditched (thanks God for that!)

I’m not quite sure yet how the changes will pan out. Maybe it’s for the good. I’m just a little bit sceptical to the vote system where you can up- and down-rank posts from others. I’ve seen it in action at WoWinsider and I haven’t been too impressed. Good comments tend to be downranked until you can’t read them since they’re all black, while horrible comments will be highlighted. Perhaps I’m just a cynic; perhaps I’m underestimating the maturity and intelligence of the forum visitors. But I tell you: the majority isn’t always right.

All in all, I see a lot of potential in the new community site. It's not only that it looks better; I think the new format also will be easier to work with and more inspiring to the community managers. News will be produced in the form of blog posts, which players can comment on. This is an improvement from now, where the news on the website will disappear in the general mess, while the blue announcements drown in the forums.

We're going to see a more communicative Blizzard come Cataclysm. Way to go!

I can't wait to see this come alive!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My days of geek queuing has come to a end

Spinksville asked a few days ago if the availability of a digital download version of Cataclysm will put an end to the pc retail market.

While I don't think the end will be as brutal and dramatic, hanging on the distribution on one single game, I do agree that we're in the middle of a shift. The bulk of the sales of books, music and videos has already moved to the Internet and it's just a matter of time before the remaining game shops will go the same way.

Even if the narrow margins probably keeps WoW from being a huge cash cow for the game stores, it's still important for their own marketing. Blizzard's decision to bypass the retailers won't wipe them out, but it might speed up a process that already has started.

Waiting for a signal
Until now I've been on a fence about what to do, if I would download it from Blizzard or buy a traditional box in the shop.

Yesterday Blizzard made a statement, saying that the online version definitely would include the in-game cinematics, which they previously had been unclear about.

This was the signal I had been waiting for. It was time to buy my Cataclysm upgrade. But for a short moment I hesitated, asking myself: exactly what would I miss by picking the download version of Cataclysm rather than the box from the game store?

One more time I went through the things that were at stake:

1. The collector's edition
The collector's edition is only available in stores, so I couldn’t get that, unless I decided to buy the game twice. This meant that I wouldn't have any art book, behind-the-scenes cd, mouse pad, music record or special pet this time.

I recalled the collector's edition I had bought for Wrath. How many of the items had I ever used? Well, certainly not the mouse pad; I stick to the single coloured one that works best for my mouse. I had watched the behind-the-scenes movie but couldn't recall a thing from it; as far as I could remember it was just the ordinary super-short cut scene style, like any promotion video they make when they release new movies. I had browsed the art book once. I hadn't listened to the music. Ever. And while I had equipped the pet on all my characters, dutifully, I normally preferred other pets to display. The item I had used most in the box was probably the loot card that gave me the 100 pet cookies. I had only a few left now.

Was it worth hours in a queue and an essentially more expensive game? Probably not. I could live without it.

2. The geek gathering
I didn't go to Blizzcon and I don't know any WoW players from real life. As a matter of fact it has only been a couple of times over the years that I've met another player face to face. The release night provides us with a natural opportunity to meet up with other geeks in the midnight queue.

In theory this could be quite an event. I could make some new acquaintances, getting to know other players from where I live, talking about the passion we have in common for hours without anyone frowning at it or not getting what we're all over about. A homecoming. What could possibly be more fun?

But then I thought back at the two hours I spent in a queue waiting to buy WotLK, which I wrote about in a post. I was clearly underwhelmed at the experience.

Sure, there were a lot of geeks around, but most of them were so young that I probably was about the same age as their mothers. I never saw any spontaneous small talk going on in the queue. I overheard some conversations but the festive mood and the sense of belonging to a bunch of enthusiastic geeks just wouldn't appear. It was freezing cold and all the time I just wished that the queuing would be over soon so I could come home and get a cup of hot tea and install the game.

This year, the queuing would even be colder, since it would be one month later into the year. And when I came home with my copy, I would still have the work left to do to install it, while I could have logged in at midnight sharp if I just had bought it digitally.

No, the geek queuing was overrated.

3. My money
Then I looked at the price tag for the download. It certainly wouldn't be any cheaper than the retail box version. Blizzard must have made quite a profit, cutting out the distribution chain, not producing any physical objects that needed to be transported and handled. All of this went into their own pockets. If anything, the download might even be a little bit more expensive than the box, depending on what price my local store eventually would settle for.

On the other side, how much wouldn't it cost in time and effort to head into the city, wasting two hours waiting in the queue?

If you agree on that time is money, the download version is probably a better bargain.

4. The future of the local game shop
Finally there was the issue brought up by Spinks: the effect that my choice will have on the market.

Do I want there to be a shop in the city where I live where I can buy pc games? Would I miss it if it wasn’t there?

In theory: yes, I want it to be there and I’d miss it if it wasn’t. I like the idea of a place where I physically can hold the boxes and look at them, not just read about them on a computer screen. If I one day would get the impulse to try out some other game, it would be wonderful to have somewhere to go where there are knowledgeable people around, who can give me advice on what to buy and answer any questions I have.

But again: this is all in my dreams. In reality I don’t even think about going there. If I’ll grow tired of WoW one day, I already have LOTRO (digital download ftw). The last time I put my foot in the store was at the release of WotLK and once I had gotten inside, I don’t think I spent more than 30 seconds in the room, the time it took for me to get out my wallet and the girl to hand over the box and give me my change.

It isn’t as if my shop is small and independent, run by a handful of enthusiasts, giving it a personal touch or even a soul, if a store can have such a thing.
My shop is just another GameStop, one out of thousands all over the world. I don’t know the people who run it and they don’t know me. And for all I know of they might even be better off working somewhere else, at least judging from the four part series “Confessions of a GameStop Employee”, which I’ve recently been following over at The Escapist.

In case you’ve missed it I recommend you to check it out. It’s quite amusing and revealing, full of observations like this one on the topic of manuals:
“99.999999 percent of our stock of used games no longer had their instruction manuals. Let's take a moment for a brief digression here. What exactly are people doing with these missing game manuals? What happens to them? Where do they go? Why is it so fucking hard for people to hang onto them? Like elephants, is there some kind of mysterious game manual graveyard, a place that none of us knows about, where they all go to die? And is the game manual graveyard the same place where the missing dryer socks go?”

But to get back to the topic, the author at The Escapist concludes that the shops are bound to die and that they won’t be missed:

“Being a gamer, I still have to go into GameStop once in awhile. I hate it. I try to avoid it at all costs. But the end is near for GameStop. Digital distribution is already chipping away at their business model. A day will come when the lights go out on GameStops everywhere. It will happen. It's inevitable. Might be next year. Might be in 10 years. But make no mistake, it's coming.

And, as strange as it is for us to imagine using a Telegram to send a message to someone, a hundred years from now people will recall a quaint time when we used to have to actually get off our couches and go to a place to purchase actual physical copies of our videogames.”
Even if I would care about my game shop, which I don't, it seems to be a lost cause.

Whispering “I’m sorry”, I clicked the “buy” button. Then I launched the game and began the download.

I might find another geek queue to join one day. But it won’t lead to a game shop.