Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lazy and Pointless

I was talking to a guy who mentioned that he likes the new 5-man instance, Trial of Champions (ToC), because it is short and sweet. He is happy with Blizzard's decision to implement it this way because he can get in, get his loot, and get out.

I couldn't disagree more. Two words come to my mind regarding ToC: the first is "lazy", and the second is "pointless".

I'll start with "lazy". Call me a cynic -- and you wouldn't be the first to do so -- but my gut tells me that the whole reason it is implemented the way it is (as a single room with a handful of bosses and no trash worth mentioning), is because it was easier and cheaper for Blizzard to implement. In other words, they got lazy.

Imagine the man-hours that must've gone into creating an instance like The Nexus, with all the flashy colors and moving lights, long winding halls, and varied trash mobs and bosses. It had to have kept a whole team of graphic artists, animators, sound designers, etc., busy for a very long period of time.

Now imagine the work that must have gone into ToC. Some kid sat down at his Mac, and two hours later had the finished arena artwork. It took another couple of hours for an animator to add the two moving pieces (the big gate). Throw in a couple of bosses, and you're done. Voila, the cheapest instance on record (except maybe for VH). Grats Blizzard.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt, for now, and hope that they were just diverting every possible resource to the 3.3 instances, which are going to blow us all away with their detailed beauty and intricacy. But I'm not holding my breath.

And then there's "pointless". If your sole purpose in playing the game is to get better loot, why are you playing at all? This was the subject of my last post. The only reason for getting better loot is to make stuff easier. If your sole purpose in playing is to make the game less challenging, stop playing, because that's the least challenging of all.

You should run an instance because it is an immersive and fun experience. It should be something that grabs your attention, excites your imagination, and gets your heart pounding.

I can understand if you like the abbreviated nature of ToC because you simply don't have that much time to play. But if you like it because "I gets faster lootz"… you need a life. (And that's saying a lot coming from me.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Enough with the gear upgrades already

I like -- or at least don't mind -- most of the changes that Blizzard introduced in patch 3.2. But there is one thing I don't get, and I haven't been able to get a decent answer out of anyone on why it works this way. At least, not one that makes sense to me (which is my definition of a good answer).

Blizzard went through all the trouble to change all the existing Northrend instances and raids so that they ALL drop Emblems of Conquest. The upshot of this is that now everyone can get iLvl 226 gear. "Great!" I say. "Now we'll all be on a level playing field, and it will be purely playing skill and style that separates us." Which, imo, is as it should be.

But wait, not so fast… because in this very same patch Blizzard also introduced the next tier of gear, in the form of iLvl 239 and 245 gear! This gear can be crafted by people who spend too much time on the auction house – err, I mean, by people who have enough gold to afford it. Or it can be gotten from the new Argent Tournament raids.

So here's my question: WHY? You just went through all the trouble to make sure we all have the latest gear, and then at the same time made it all obsolete. What is the sick, twisted logic behind this decision?

Moreover, why did we need a new tier of gear in the first place?

The whole gear tiering system is just kind of stupid and drives me nuts anyway. My feeling is that you should raid because the experience is fun, and because it is challenging. Rewards ought to be in the form of achievements, titles, and such. If you raid solely to get new and better gear that will make the raid easier... why raid at all? Just stop playing, that is the absolute easiest it gets!

The big problem I see with continually introducing newer, better gear is that it essentially nerfs all of the other content. I spent all weekend running heroics with guildies, and it wasn't challenging so much as it was mindless. We are all in a mix of 213-232 epics, which are already much higher than the original 200's for which those dungeons were designed. The only real challenge was how fast we could clear each instance, not if we could clear them.

Which brings me to the next point. The closest thing I got to an answer on why they introduced a new tier of gear is because they plan on making the final Lich King raids much more difficult. But that makes no sense at all! If you make the content harder while simultaneously improving the gear, it's a zero-sum change. "We're going to make the raid content harder, so we are going to give you better gear so that the raid content is easier!" Huh what?

Who is the moron who came up with this system… and who are the morons who continue to perpetuate it?

If you want to make the raids harder, it's very simple: give the bosses more health, or make them do more damage. Give them ever newer and stranger abilities. Make more adds. Just don't go so far so that it requires new gear to do it; because then you've gone too far. Let people enjoy the game without introducing gear that essentially ruins all previous content because it is now too easy.

New gear is just a way for the content developers (in this case, Blizzard) to be lazy. Rather than creating content that is more challenging because it is different, they can create content that is harder simply because it requires slightly more powerful gear to do the same thing you've done in every other raid since first entering the Dead Mines at level 15.

Enough with the upgrades already.

Fix my add-ons, please

After the patch, a friend sent me note asking two questions about add-ons. He apparently thinks that, being a software developer by trade, I might have some insight into this topic. I've never created any add-ons myself, but here is my take on his questsions:

1) What is the incentive for someone to maintain extensive add-ons like Deadly Boss Mods, Auctioneer and X-Perl? There can't be a lot of money in it.

I suspect these started off a lot smaller than they are now. Some guy playing WoW had a need and decided to do something about it for himself. He's in a raid one day thinking, "I sure wish I could see everyone in the raid at once." So he sat down and hacked out an add-on that would do this for him. Then he sent it to a few friends, and they started using it, and started requesting that he add new features here and there. And he kept slowly tweaking it, adding things that he wanted or that someone else requested. Now five years later it is a gigantic behemoth with 7000 different configuration settings (give or take).

As to why he continues to maintain it… my guess is that it's just something he enjoys doing. It's just a hobby. People who can paint don't do it if they are only going to make money off of it. Amateur sculpters do so on their own time. Writing add-ons is just another type of hobby; it's a very creative process that can be personally rewarding for the right person. The fact there may also be thousands or even millions of people who use their work makes it that much more rewarding.

Not everything is about the money. (Just don't tell Gevlon.)

2) Why does so much stuff break every time Blizzard releases a new patch?

Let's see, how can I put this nicely? Blizzard has what we refer to in the software industry as "shitty development processes", "piss poor quality-assurance and testing", and an attitude of "we don't give a fuck regarding third-party developers".

As far as add-ons are concerned, there is absolutely no reason why Blizzard shouldn't be able to maintain backwards compatibility with 99.9% of the add-ons with each patch. But this would require actual planning and effort on Blizzard's part; which is apparently more than they are willing to invest in the development process. So instead, they just let everything break and leave it up to the independent developers to fix their own stuff, leaving everyone miserable in the interim.

From Blizzard's point of view, this is a smart business decision because (A) it costs them less money, and (B) they don't have to worry about customer satisfaction because we are all hopeless addicts and couldn't leave if we wanted to.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tuesday Redux

7:30 PM -- still no sign of the Dawnbringer server. Literally, it's gone. Not even showing up as "offline", just... vanished. I thought this would be a good day to link to an earlier post of mine:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Moron's Guide to Money Making in WoW

Having recently compared Gevlon's social commentary to watching a train wreck, I do have to give him props on one thing: the dude knows how to make money. And he is correct in that it seems to be a skill that is lost on a large number of the people who play WoW.

I recently maxed out my enchanting skill, and decided to dabble a little bit in the market of selling enchanting scrolls on the auction house. This experience has led me to reinforce my belief (which I think Gevlon and I share) that the world is full of morons. Allow me to share my experiences, and hopefully educate a few morons along the way.

For those of you with short attention spans and/or lukewarm IQ's, here is the good news: there is only a single rule you have to understand to maximize your profit.

RULE # 1: If you are selling an item for less than the market price of the materials used to craft that item, you are an idiot. Period.

Maybe you farm your own materials rather than buying them off the AH. And maybe you think that this allows you to sell the crafted item at a reduced rate, because your materials were "free". Clearly you are not a Rhodes scholar, and you probably even lack some very basic mathematical skills. So allow me to help you out with an example.

Let's take the example of "Chest Enchant #1". Let's pretend that this hypothetical enchant requires 10 Infinite Dust (ID) and 5 Greater Cosmic Essence (GCE) to craft.

Let's further assume that the current market cost of ID is 4G each, and the market cost of GCE is 8G each. (Results may vary on your server and at differing times, folks! This is just an example! Don't use my numbers to go out and calculate all of your costs!)

This means that the cost of making "Chest Enchant #1" is:

10x4G + 5x8G = 80G

So the absolute minimum you should be selling this enchant for is 80G and 1 copper. This is true EVEN IF YOU FARMED YOUR OWN MATERIALS! Why? Well let's say you, the enterprising young gnome, went out and disenchanted a bunch of world drops or quest items in order to get your 10 Infinite Dust. These essentially cost you nothing to acquire. So you have recalculated your base cost as follows:

10x0G + 5x8G = 40G

Now you think to yourself, "WOW! I can sell Chest Enchant #1 for 60G, vastly undercutting the other sellers, and still make a 20G profit!"

And if you think this, here is why you are a moron. Because you could've simply sold the raw materials and made 40G profit with less effort! That stack of 10 ID that cost you nothing will sell for 40G! And you don't have to craft a single thing!

This is why it never, ever makes sense to sell something for less than the current market price of the raw materials. You're doing more work for less money.

Maybe you didn't farm your materials. Maybe you just caught the market on a low day, and you bought a boatload of infinite dusts for only 1G each. The same theory still applies. If you sell a crafted item for less than the current market cost, just because your cost was lower, you are cheating yourself out of free money. You'd be much better off just relisting the materials you acquired cheaply at the current (higher) market rate.

Of the 20 enchants that I am currently trying to sell on my server, fully half of them are now selling below the materials cost... and in some cases, substantially below; like 50% - 75% less. And yet I feel powerless to stem the tide of stupidity that has invaded this market... and that I suspect pervades most markets on the AH.

I understand that not everyone plays the game to make money (I sure don't), but why would you go through the trouble of doing more work by producing enchants just so you can earn 50-75% less than if you had done nothing at all, and simply resold the raw materials?

Wake up people!

[Note that for simplicity, I've purposely ignored several variables that I think would just make people's minds explode, like including the cost of the AH fees, or the enchanting vellum. If this additional calculation is beyond your grasp, you should definitely stick to farming and selling raw materials, rather than crafting.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The day the music died

And they were singing, "Bye, bye, miss American pie,"
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry,
And good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
singing, "This'll be the day that I die..."

A big part of the WoW experience, in my mind, is created by the music and sound effects. The music does a great job of setting the mood for each of the different zones. The sound effects really make you feel like you are part of the action.

Yet I'm occasionally amazed and confused to hear people in my guild talk about how they do everything with the sound completely muted. Maybe they are listening to iTunes or Vent, or watching TV (another head-scratcher) instead. Like, OMG, what's the point in playing WoW with no sound? It would be like watching a Star Wars movie with the sound turned off. George Lucas may not be much of a story teller, but he definitely knows how to hire good composers and sound effects people. The same could be said for Blizzard.

Not only do you have to have the sound turned on, you have to have a good quality set of speakers with a decent subwoofer so that the bass is properly handled. How are you supposed to immerse yourself in the WoW experience if you aren't engulfed in sound? For my part, I play mostly on my laptop with headphones on, which serves the same purpose as having a giant set of speakers. I occasionally unplug the headphones, but I can't do it for long because hearing all that wonderful sound being stifled by those tinny-sounding laptop speakers is just too painful.

But the music in Azeroth comes in two varieties:

1) The really well done, background-ish music that does a great job of setting the mood for each zone. You hear it, but you don't think about it really. It's almost like another part of the landscape. Sometimes it's spooky (Duskwood), sometimes melancholy (Westfall), sometimes happy (the Inn music).

2) And then there's the the music in Stormwind.

I have to turn off the music when I go into Stormwind. I even have a hotkey set up (Ctrl+M; I can't remember if that's the default or not) to do it. It starts off well enough, just like in every zone, kind of pleasant, a bit majestic. But then it starts to build, and then it gets a little crazy, and eventually goes completely over the top: they start singing. That horrible choral music that I can't understand a word they are saying. "Por qui se re" is all I ever get out of it, though I suspect that isn't what they are actually saying. (I think that means something in Spanish, but alas, I don't speak Spanish.) The chorus is so totally over-the-top, and it will stick in your head until the end of time, eventually driving you completely insane, if you don't turn it off.

But for the Stormwind music, I really can't imagine playing WoW with the sound turned off. Am I the only one who feels this way? Do you turn the music and sound on or off when you play? Does it add or detract from the experience for you?

Monday, July 27, 2009

A few of my (least) favorite quests

Cooking with peacebloom and sunfish in cauldrons
Slaughtering Vykrul to earn some new pauldrons
Killing a dragon to get a locked chest
These are a few of my favorite quests

I read a post over at this blog about people's least favorite quests, and just had to share my noob's perspective.

I sort of like questing. When I was playing my first character, questing was just a means to an end (I wanted to join my friends who were all 80s), and as such it was something of a nuisance. But now that I have a couple of toons at 80 that I can raid and do end-game stuff with, I like to go back on alts and quest just for the sake of questing. And most of the time I rather I enjoy it. It can also be good "alone time", or time spent with one or two friends. There's no rush, and I get to see different places and do different things that I didn't do the first time around, or that I did but forgot to take the time to enjoy.

But not all quests are created equal. I tend not to remember specific quests, but there are a few different quest genres that I really dislike. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Anything involving murlocs. I hate murlocs. I hear that gurgling noise in my nightmares. Murlocs have an aggro range of about 1000 yards, and it is almost impossible to pull one without pulling five more standing near him. Then when they are almost dead... they run away and aggro some more of their friends. And you get three beating on you from up close and two casters standing at 50 yards in opposite directions shooting fireballs at you. I've probably died more often in murloc encounters than I have in encounters with all other creature-types combined.

Sometimes when I'm feeling frustrated and need cheering up, I pull one of my level 80's out and go randomly slaughter huge groups of low-level murlocs... you know, just for fun.

2) Collection quests with pathetic drop rates. Don't tell me that I "only" need to collect 5 of an item, only to realize later that it has a 10% drop rate. Just tell me to go kill 50 of them from the start and I'll be much happier. At least then I know how close I am to being done with this nonsense. It would also allow me to make an informed decision as to whether the quest reward is worth the time, or if I can just abandon it and move on to something more interesting.

3) Collection quests that require you to get a body part that, for some unknown reason, not every creature has. This was mentioned quite often on the other blog as being people's least favorite. ("Who knew that not every Hillsbrad farmer has a skull?") But here was my noobishness coming through: I can't remember how many times I struggled on my first toon to figure out what I was doing wrong. Need to collect "10 pristine goretusk livers"? I must've tried 10 different ways of killing them so that I would stop ruining their livers! But nothing seemed to work. Don't use the sword, because you'll just tear them up! Try bopping them on the head with your fist. Same with "unblemished pelts", "perfect skulls", "intact fangs", etc. Don't throw a fire spell, because clearly you'll never get an unblemished pelt after you barbeque that bear.

It wasn't until much later that I realized it wasn't my slaughtering technique that was causing the failure, it was just a stupid game mechanic. There was some percentage on a loot table in some unseen piece of WoW code. This is why I'm certain that the office building that houses the Blizzard developers must be heavily armed and fortified. Otherwise someone like me might go off my nut and wander into the building dual-wielding an Uzi and a 9mm yelling, "Higher drop rates, damn you all to hell!"

4) Vehicle quests. I wouldn't mind these... if I got to KEEP the vehicle and use it later on at the time of my choosing, sort of like a mount. It might be useful to be able to ride a tank around to slaughter a bunch of murlocs. But having to learn some stupid set of arbitrary abilities just for a single quest? Pain in the ass.

5) Escort quests. "Walk faster, asshole." 'Nuff said.

No that isn't enough said about escorts. What's the deal with the NPC running forward to help you battle the next monster, then running BACK to their previous position, only to start meandering forward again at their original glacial pace? I have purposely let more than one NPC die just because I was tired of his bullshit. "Stop complaining about your injured leg! I KNOW you can run, fuckwad. I just saw you run up and start beating on that last monster! Not going to walk faster? Fine. You can fight those cave trolls by yourself, thank you very much."

Ah, I feel better now. Thanks for letting me vent.

Don't let me be that way

Please kill me if I ever start to act like someone who actually knows what I'm talking about. My blog, as with most blogs, ought to come with a disclaimer: "The ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the blog owner, and may or may not reflect any actual reality or facts."

I'm going to single out another blogger today, which is probably a bad idea especially considering his blog is perhaps 100 times more popular than mine, but what the hell. I'm crazy like that.

Humans seem to be strangely drawn to violent, carnage-filled events such as a train wreck or multi-car pile-up on the highway. Some may go their whole lives without witnessing such events, but when we do, we all become gawkers and rubber-neckers. "Ooh! Look at all the blood and the dead bodies and the twisted wreckage of metal upon metal!" We find it curiously fascinating, despite (or perhaps because of ) its gruesome nature.

Now, imagine if you knew that every day you could go to a certain place at a certain time and be guaranteed to witness a train wreck! You'd be there every day like clockwork, would you not? That is why, every day, I tune in to read the Greedy Goblin. I sit back with my virtual popcorn-and-soda and stare in wide-eyed, morbid fascination as the carnage unfolds in front of me.

I think I happened across Gevlon's blog one day while searching for gold making tips. And while there certainly were a few good ones, at least in the beginning, the blog has since devolved into one sociopathic rant after another. It has gotten to the point that it is difficult to tell half the time if he is serious about this stuff, or if he is just trying to either (A) Use hyberbole to make a point, or (B) Get a rise out of his readership. In either case, he always assumes a tone of both complete seriousness and total authoritativeness, as though his opinion isn't opinion... it's absolute fact.

On part (B) he is always successful, and that's where the real fun starts. Just reading through the comments, watching the people who start picking apart his failed logic and meaningless analogies... and then some of the back-and-forths that ensue between commenters and author.

Gevlon has grouped all humans into two primary groups, those who are worthwhile members of society, and the "M&S" (morons and slackers). He occasionally breaks these down into further subgroups, but everyone generally fits one of this labels in his worldview. Many of Gevlon's posts are of the social commentary variety; some are even completely unrelated to WoW. But when you have a person who seems to understand very little about human social interactions and motivations attempting to paint others into specific social groups, only hilarity can ensue... and it often does.

Gevlon is very clear that that he has no use for "social" interactions. He interacts with others only when it benefits his own personal goals in a direct "goblinish" manner. To him, being social is a waste of time and energy. When presented with this opinion, most people would think, "To each his own." If being social isn't your thing, so be it. Gevlon, on the other hand, seems to believe that all socially-inclined people (i.e. most of us) are naturally inferior to him.

What's funniest about this point of view... well actually there are several things. The one that always comes first to my mind though is, "WHY ARE YOU PLAYING WORLD OF WARCRAFT??" Seriously. It's "massively multi-player". In other words, social interaction is a primary facet of the game! If you don't want to deal with "morons and slacker", go find a good first-person shooter or some other single-player game. Online chess is a great choice: it requires tremendous mental acuity, and little to no social interaction with your opponent.

Another humorous notion is that Gevlon continually draws distinctions between in-game activities that he deems to be a waste of time, and those that are useful. News flash: everything you do in-game is a waste of time! Unless you are a gold seller, nothing you do in-game translates into real-world value in any meaningful way. Wait, I take that back: if you are willing to be social, you might pick up valuable people skills or leadership skills that could benefit you in other aspects of life. But crafting glyphs and selling them on the auction house is exactly as much of a waste of time as mining ore, farming elementals, or dancing on the mailbox while yelling, "Can sum1 give me 5 gold plz?" (If you fail to understand why, I'm sorry, I can't help you.)

So if you enjoy a good train wreck, I highly recommend Gevlon's blog. I don't however recommend that you let yourself get sucked into the discussions... unless you like trolling, in which case it is a perfect place to do it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How WoW is like Las Vegas

I just returned from a long weekend in Las Vegas, and it also constitutes the longest period I've spent away from World of Warcraft since I started playing in the Spring of this year. The weirdest part: I didn't really crave it at all. By the end of the trip I was thinking to myself, "Maybe I'm over WoW?" Is it possible all I needed was a brief separation? Could my love for it really have faded that quickly?


Got home, flipped on the laptop, and boom! I was hooked again. Or still. Whatever. The point is, like any good addiction, all it takes is one brief moment of weakness to fall off the wagon and become addicted all over again.

So what was it about Las Vegas that served as a surrogate for WoW over that period? How did I go four whole days (and change) without even a craving? Or was it simply that I needed a short break and was ready to take it?

Well, like WoW, Vegas is a bit of a fantasy world. I mean hell, even their motto tells you it's all make-believe: "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." The same could be said about WoW. I do all sorts of things in WoW that I would never discuss with my RL friends, lest they look at me like I'm a crazy person. Also like WoW, you can do things in Vegas that you just can't do anywhere else or at any other time, at least not without running the risk of being arrested.

Like WoW, Vegas is filled with all sorts of weird characters and creatures. And roughly half of them speak a foreign language, so the only way to communicate is through emotes and hand gestures.

Like WoW, you can spend a lot of gold in a very short amount of time on some very stupid and frivolous items. You can't buy a tundra mammoth, but you can drop a boatload of cash on an epic ground mount that will carry you all over town. And just like the mammoth, these epic mounts serve very little purpose except to impress those around you at the size of your mount... although the more expensive ones do have vendors (aka mini bars). You can even get a flying mount if you are so inclined (though I guess it's more akin to taking a gryphon).

Like WoW, as long as you keep playing, all of the alcohol is free! Though I discovered that real alcohol is a bit more intoxicating than the virtual stuff served in WoW. Just sit at a table in a casino and play as long as you want; they'll keep shoving free drinks in front of you. ("Free" is something of a misnomer in this case, but at least you can pretend, since there was no direct fee involved.)

Walk around the streets of town at any time of day and you will see lots of people spamming trade chat: "WTS vacation timeshare", "WTB show tickets", "LF2M high-priced hookers for group sex then gtg", etc.

During the day, each hotel has it's own Battleground, also known as a "pool area". Just like WoW battlegrounds, people run around with little or no team coordination, fighting over limited resources (deck chairs, towels, and cocktail waitresses). Everyone willingly takes severe AoE damage from the 115°F (46°C) direct sunlight -- essentially standing in the fire on purpose.

Like to raid? There are plenty of establishments called "ultra lounges" that you can hit up after 10pm that simulate a raid environment. The raid leaders (i.e. doormen) will make you stand in a long queue (LFG) if you are not properly geared. A group of really hot female Night Elves will be selected to join the raid long before the male Taurens and Orcs; the latter should expect to spend an inordinate amount of time in LFG. (The Night Elves will often get in free, whereas the Taurens can expect to be required to pay a steep fee just to get into the raid.)

Once inside the raid instance, you will be expected to take a number of potions and elixirs which can only be purchased inside, so don't bother bringing your own. Most of the raid bosses take the form of 21- to 25-year-old women who will shoot you down before you can even get within shouting distance. However, if you /dance and /flirt better than a Draenei Death Knight, you might just stand a chance of lowering their defenses and scoring a victory. But don't unsheath your weapon too soon, or one of the level 82 elites (also called bouncers) will send you straight to the graveyard.

Like WoW, when it gets very late at night you'll find people running around town in various states of undress.

I think I could go on all day, but suffice it to say that Las Vegas is the real-life counterpart to WoW. Except that a typical weekend of playing WoW costs about US$2, whereas even a cheap weekend in Vegas will probably start at about $1000. And unfortunately, the one thing Vegas won't let you do is kill mobs and loot them for their money and vendor-able items.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why I Boost

I saw a post over at Spinksville asking the question why do people boost. In other words, why do high-level characters agree to help low-level characters, expecially running them through instances?

I thought about simply posting a reply, but as a noob who was recently boosted and who now does it to others with alarming frequency, I have a more than a few words to share on the subject.

Leveling 101

When I started WoW, I joined a guild with some real-life friends who had been playing WoW for years. But everyone in the guild was already 80, and already raiding. I wanted to get there as quickly as possible so that I could join in the fun with them.

I did most of the solo questing myself (is that redundant?), but I occasionally got a boost through instances, or help with a group quest from one of my guildmates.

If you are trying to power-level a character like I was, boosting in this manner accomplishes several things:
  • You get the best loot out of the low-level instances. You get new gear that makes your character stronger and ultimately helps you when you are solo-questing (which is still 99% of the time).
  • It can be great XP. Especially if you have several quests saved up for a particular instance, a quick 30 minute run can net you anywhere from half a level to more than a full level in XP.
  • Trying to put together a 5-man group at lower levels can be painful. There just aren't that many people leveling. It isn't like doing heroics at level 80, where I can usually put a decent group together in 5-15 minutes if I try hard enough. Even trying to find just one or two people to do a group quest with can be difficult. Ultimately you waste an hour trying to put the group together, then two hours running the instance... at the end of which you would have been better off just solo questing; the XP rewards would have been better.

I would also occasionally get help with solo quests, as much for the social aspect as anything else. When you've spent 10 hours (or more) grinding out levels on a Saturday, it can be refreshing to have your level 80 friend come in and just blow up a shitload of mobs to help you knock out a few quests. Especially the ones that are like, "Get 30 pristine bear hides, 20 unbent wolf fangs, 10 intact goretusk livers, and a partridge in a pear tree." Doing that quest at-level will take you an hour. An 80 can blow through it in about 5 minutes.

Why I Boost Others

Actually there are several reasons. One is that I'm happy to help friends trying to accomplish any or all of the above goals. But I also occasionally help complete strangers!

First, it definitely is NOT a money thing. I always laugh when I see a message come across trade chat saying, "Will pay 2g for a run through instance X." Two gold, really? In the time that it is going to take me to get there and run you through, I could probably earn 100-250 gold through any number of other methods, such as dailies, farming, auction house, etc.

So why do I do it?

Well first of all, I'm a vindictive person. There were a lot of NPCs who beat me up real bad while I was leveling. I kept telling them, "Someday I'm going to be big and powerful, and you're going to regret treating me this way!" They never seemed to listen, but I remembered...

Murlocs were the worst. Any time I can go back and kill murlocs is a real treat. They suck while questing because they have an aggro radius of about a mile, and you always end up being ambushed by five at a time. Gnolls too. If you see me in Redridge Mountains, you can be pretty sure I'm taking out some pent up frustration on some hapless level 20 mobs.

I figure if I'm going to go beat up on all those asshole miners and sailors in Dead Mines, I might as well take some people with me who will benefit from it. This usually happens in the wee hours of the morning, long after I feel I should have gone to bed but for some reason I'm still playing WoW. I'll head to the zone and send a message out over general chat: "Bored level 80 doing a run-thru DM. No charge. PST for invite."

The "no charge" part is necessary because I've found that for some reason most people expect there to be a charge involved. But as I said earlier... why? If I needed the money, there are a LOT better ways I could earn it. No, this is simply for the power and the glory! I get a morbid sense of satisfaction from pulling 40 mobs, then clicking one or two buttons to blow them all up in a big pile.

Hey, I didn't say I was proud of this behavior. Sometimes the truth is ugly. :)

Finally, I do get a sense of satisfaction from helping others. Sometimes its a good social release, and sometimes it feels like giving to charity by "helping the little people." I know Gevlon wouldn't approve of this most decidely social and un-goblinish behavior, but that's one way I derive my pleasure in life: actually being kind to and helping others. Sue me.

Raiders are cheaters

I'm in a raiding guild... strictly on my own merits of course, it had nothing to do with the fact that I was dating a girl who happened to be neighbors with two of the guild members (including one officer). And then that guild got eaten up by a larger guild because another of our members happened to be married to one of their officers. No, I'm only in this guild because of my mad raiding skillz, and all that other stuff is inconsequential. At least that's what I keep telling myself when I cry myself to sleep every night.

So anyway...

When we raid, we cheat... a lot. I know this sounds bad, but I honestly don't think we are any different from 99.9% of other raiding guilds. I think cheating is the norm. In fact, in the "better" guilds (of which we aspire to be one), it seems that cheating is expected.

What do I mean by that? Well when you are in a raiding guild, before you come to a raid, you are expected to have already read up on all the boss encounters, have watched videos of others doing the encounter, understand all the strategies and nuances, and also have an add-on installed (Deadly Boss Mods) that will actually tell you to stop standing in the fire.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit cockeyed? Back in MY day, part of the enjoyment of playing video games, especially adventure / role-playing games, was to figure out the tricky parts for yourself; to see new things for the first time; to piece together how an encounter was supposed to function. You learned by doing; you won through intuition, deduction, reasoning, and generally paying attention. It was not unlike piecing together a puzzle.

There was a game I played as a very young kid (here we go, I'm going to date myself now) called Zork. Zork was a text-only game. (Stick with me here kids... "text-only" as in no graphics... you actually had to read everything and use your imagination. I know, bizarre. You would type in commands like "kill troll with sword" and the game would tell you the result of that action.) In Zork you would explore new areas, piece together clues and puzzles, and figure out how shit worked. And the satisfaction you got from actually solving the problem yourself was beyond compare! Now, it was possible to find cheats and cluebooks that would tell you how to solve everything, but no self-respecting gamer would ever do this. What would be the point? To prove that you can follow instructions?

This is kind of the same feeling I get in raiding. Last night we downed one of the Ulduar bosses for the first time (I forget her name; Areola or something like that). But there was very little challenge in actually figuring it out. It was just a matter of learning to execute the pre-planned strategy correctly. We had to change a few things around here and there before we got it right, but by and large we already knew what we were doing. We had already seen it done. We had ready about all the different boss abilities, the adds, the things to watch out for. We already knew all the tricks.

Somewhere along the way, someone came up with a unique suggestion that apparently wasn't in any of the strategies we had seen. (Something about stunning Feral Defenders; I wasn't paying close enough attention.) And not shockingly, everyone thought that was really cool that we came up with a strategy all our own, and it actually worked! That might have been the biggest sense of accomplishment for the whole night... because it was the one thing we actually earned ourselves.

In WoW, people are so wipe-averse that they completely miss the point of playing an RPG. The point is to explore, to learn, to use your mind and your imagination! But raiding is largely an exercise in how well you can follow instructions. There isn't any real challenge to it.

I mean, I'm still going to keep doing it. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I am NOT an achievement whore! (yet)

I'm wondering how bored I will have to be with WoW before the primary focus of my playtime becomes achievements.

I mean, I seriously don't get it.

I have earned many achievements, and I'm proud to say, almost every single one of them was done completely by accident. I'll just be wandering around killing stuff, when suddenly out of nowhere...Shazam! Up pops the achievement window with its flashy little graphic and sound effect! "5000 honorable kills", or "Loot 1000 gold", or whatever. It's a neat feeling, for about two seconds, at which point I completely forget about it and go on with the business of killing and looting.

Occasionally I'll be in an instance when someone suggests, "Should we go for the achievement?" Yeah sure, why not. We're here, right? But I've never gone into an instance (or done anything else) for the primary goal of getting an achievement.

I have two 80's now, a DK and a warlock. When I get bored of them I will continue to level my other two alts, a paladin and a priest. Then I'll probably go for a rogue. And I've been pretty fixated on humans; I want to try out the other alliance races and starting zones. And I REALLY want a couple of Horde toons so I can actually win in battlegrounds every so often. I'm sorry, Alliance people are just idiots in battlegrounds. But that's a post for another day.

Of course during primetime I am raiding. When I'm not raiding I enjoy PUGing heroics, doing Wintergrasp, the occasional arena match, or the aforementioned battlegrounds. And once in a while I try to make money.

I gather that there are some folks who play WoW just to be social, and who will sit and talk in chat (trade, general, guild, or otherwise) all day long. More power to them. If that's your bag, then fine.

Some people are totally into the money-making aspect of WoW. They want to see how much wealth they can amass. A few sociopaths like Gevlon have made quite a name for themselves doing this almost exclusively. If that's what you enjoy, by all means, go for it. I personally would be bored to tears spending hours a day crafting and auctioning, but I can see how it would appeal to certain personalities. (I would argue that Gevlon takes it much too far and complains about others wasting time while failing to see the complete lack of worth in his efforts, but I digress.... that's a post for another day.)

And then there are the achievement whores. I don't know why, but this is one part of the game I just really have not been able to get excited about. It's bugged me a bit lately because I've been wanting to get people (guildies in particular) to go run some stuff with me -- you know, actual fun stuff where you kill shit -- and they are all busy with whatever goofy achievement they are currently trying to complete.

Not to mention, you can get achievements in WoW for the stupidest stuff. "Zaphind has just earned the [Pissing into the Wind] achievement." I got an achievement for purchasing epic flying. How is spending 5000 gold an achievement!? It ought to come up and say, "Ha ha, dork, thanks for using our money sink. The WoW economy thanks you too." Ditto for purchasing a dual spec.

Exploration achievements are another good example. When you completely explore a zone, it's indicative of one (or both) of two things: Either you've been questing there too long, or you get lost a lot and don't know how to use a map (or Questhelper). But neither of these should qualify as achievements.

At least with the epic flying and dual spec examples, you have something to show for your "achievement". Most achievements leave you with nothing to show for it. Most people will probably never know you earned the achievement, unless they happen to see the message flash by in guild chat when you earn it. But how many of them are going to remember it (or care) an hour later?

Of course there are the title achievements: the ones that allow you to put some cute phrase before or after your name. Except that there are very few that are actually unique and require any amount of effort to get. As a result, most people have the same 3 or 4 titles. During my first month of playing I was wondering why everyone on my server had the last name "Jenkins". Did the Jenkins family all start playing on my server together? Is it some sort of cult?

Of course now I'm in Northrend, so everyone is either a "Champion of the Frozen Wastes", or more plainly just "of [insert capital city name here]".

Do you do achievements? Please explain to me the joy or satisfaction you get out of it... because I sure don't get it. Or are you just really bored with WoW and this is about the last thing for you to do before giving up the game forever?

[By the way, it turns out "achievement" is a really difficult word to have to type over and over. I will never do another blog post on this topic, I promise.]


I don't remember the day of the week that I started playing WoW, but I do know that I played about 18 hours a day for the rest of that week. I occasionally took breaks to do bothersome things like eat, go to the bathroom, and feed my cats, but otherwise it was all WoW, all the time. That continued right up until the following Tuesday morning when I tried to log in, and stared at my screen in abject horror as it told me that the servers were all down for maintenance and would be back up sometime later that day.


Don't tell me that! I need my fix now! WTF am I supposed to do... go to work? Clean my apartment? Pay attention to RL friends?? I'm not some sort of human being, I'm a War-crack addict! Maintenance is completely unacceptable.

It wasn't until the following week when the horrific incident repeated itself that I started to notice a pattern. I mentioned it to one of my new online friends and they were all like, "Oh yeah, Tuesday is maintenance and patch day."


You mean to tell me that once a week, Blizzard denies every single addict their fix? Are you shitting me?

Five months later, it still mystifies me quite a bit. I mean, I was under the impression that Blizzard is in fact a large company of sorts. Usually, large companies are pretty good about running and maintaining systems that are available 24/7. Large companies that aren't named Blizzard, apparently.

Like everyone else who plays (or is addicted to) WoW, I have since resigned myself to the fact that there will be no play on the first half of most Tuesdays... and if the maintenance goes badly, there may not be any play on the second half of Tuesday either. But this is crazy! I'm an IT geek by trade, and know quite well that people expect their systems to have 99.999% availability. This is 2009 for Pete's sake! (I don't know who Pete is, but I do know that in 1979 or 1989 he might have expected some downtime; not so much in 2009.) I myself have been in charge of numerous systems, and somehow we miraculously find ways to do maintenance and install updates that require little or no system downtime.

Why can't Blizzard figure this out? And more importantly, why do we let Blizzard get away with lower standards? I'll tell you why: BECAUSE WE'RE FRIGGIN ADDICTS, that's why. We're just so happy when it comes back up, and we can stick that virtual needle in our arms, we instantly forget their past transgressions and instead bless the ground they walk on. "Oh, thank you Mr. Drug Pusher, I'm happy to get my fix! So sorry for seeming angry, just please don't deny me my stuff and I promise I won't complain!"

But taking advantage of the socially disadvantaged is not something that Blizzard should be proud of. Now if I worked for that company, there'd be a few changes in the maintenance department. Here's just two for example:

1) Rolling restarts, when required, happen at 4 AM realm time... not 9 AM, or god forbid, 9 PM right in the middle of peak usage. You know all those guys farming gold in China while those of us in the U.S. are asleep? Let's put them to work doing something useful.

2) Patch rollouts would actually be tested in advance. No more messages like: "The following 52 realms are undergoing extended maintenance. We will update you in one hour with further details." Of course, that message gets updated 10 hours in a row sometimes...

Yeah, when Zaphind runs WoW, there'll be a new sherriff in town.

In the meantime, can I please just get my fix now? I need it reeeaal bad...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The sky is falling on WoW!!!

Ok well really it isn't, but to read some blog posters you would sure think it is. Having just recently fallen in love with WoW myself, I was very distraught when I started reading certain WoW blogs and found so many writers and commenters talking about how WoW was dead, and that people are leaving in droves, and that it is a mere shadow of its former self.

I admit that some of this is probably true. A lot of people who once played have probably left for other games or pursuits. I mean, the game is something like 5 or 6 years old, right? This is to be expected. Most games aren't capable of holding someone's attention for such a length of time. But I see new players like me coming on all the time, as well as plenty of "old-timers" who still find the game very enjoyable. It may not be as orgasmically popular as it was at its peak, but I don't see it falling off the cliff any time soon either.

What I've come to realize is that most of these doom-sayers are people who have fallen out of love with the game for one reason or another, and now (for reasons that are only clear to them) want to convince everyone else that they should leave too and come play whatever game they've now chosen as their preferred MMO. Misery loves company. In this way, they remind me of people that go through a bad breakup and then do nothing but talk shit about their ex: "That WoW, she's a dirty old whore. I don't know why anyone would waste their time with her. She's all broken down and nasty."

You know what, grow up and have some dignity. Just because she wasn't the right girl for you any more, doesn't mean that there is any problem with her, and that others might not be perfectly happy with her now or in the future. (Maybe, just maybe, YOU are the problem, and not her.)

The chief shit I hear, in no particular order:

"WoW sucks." Thank you for the erudite, well thought-out criticism.

"Blizzard only cares about making money." Well, duh. Blizzard is a business, not a charity. So they will do things to make their game more appealing to a larger audience, without actually killing it. This will lead them to do things that will cause people to say...

"WoW has been totally nerfed." Yes, I gather the old-world content has been made easier. It continues to get easier to level new characters. And I was the guy they did it for. When I started playing, I had several RL friends who were already level 80. I didn't want to spend a year solo questing just so I could play with them.

I read a post today about someone addressing the Emblems of Conquest issue in 3.2 (the fact that everyone will be able to get them). My thoughts exactly.

Also, Tamarind has made several good points about how most of the complaining about content being nerfed is just a way for people to proclaim their superiority, or as he refers to it, "showing off their WoWcock." I agree.

If you like making alts, you too are the one the content has been nerfed for. One of the fun parts of WoW is being able to create totally new characters of different classes and races, because it can be a very different experience. But would you really want to do it if it took years to get up to max level so you could re-join your guild for raid nights? Hell no.


The most appropriate part of this "falling out of love" analogy is that people remember how they felt about the game in the beginning when it was all brand new and very exciting to them. You couldn't wait to log on, spend hours playing, exploring new content, learning new skills, etc. In that way it is JUST like falling in love. But eventually the initial excitement wears off and you settle into more of a comfort zone in the relationship. Hopefully you can find things to keep the relationship interesting, though it is unlikely that you'll ever get back to the sparks-flying times of the first few months. And at worst, you totally lose interest and you break up. But there is no need to try and drag everyone else down with you just because you no longer find your relationship exciting.

The sky is not falling on WoW. Despite the fact that bloggers like Tobold and his readers no longer hold any love for WoW, there are still plenty of us who find it quite enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Arena Rewards are Backwards

I've played just enough arena to realize two things:

  • I like it a lot.
  • I'm not very good at it.

The second point has two main causes. One is that my technique could use some work. I still need to learn exactly what to cast and when, and to be quicker on the trigger, so to speak. I sometimes have trouble finding and targeting the correct opponent, don't use my CC abilities at exactly the right time, etc. This will come with practice.

But just as big of a problem is that my gear isn't quite up to snuff to play with the Arena Big Boys. I don't have 1300 resilience, 40% crit, and a weapon that has a base dps rating of 300.

As it happens, there is gear available that will get you these stats (or something approaching it, at least). But unfortunately the system that Blizzard has devised to give out this gear is completely ass-backwards. You can only earn better gear by improving your team rating. That sounds sensible on the surface. But unfortunately the only way to improve your team rating is to get better gear.

This is one of the things that has bugged me about WoW in general, and about PvP in particular. Your ability to succeed in any given encounter is far more dependent on your gear than it is on any actual skill of playing the game. Take two players who are identically geared, and the better player will win out. But more often than not you have one player who's gear is drastically better than the other. Unless the one with the great gear is a complete facerolling moron, he's going to win. Player skill is almost inconsequential.

As far as rewards go, at least most of the other parts of the game reward you for participation, so it is possible to eventually get the better gear you need. You can earn Badges of Heroism/Valor/Conquest by participating in instances and raids, you can earn honor points and marks of honor by participating in various battlegrounds and in Wintergrasp. If you play enough and put in your time getting pwned, you will eventually earn the gear that will put you on a level playing field with the big boys.

But not arena. Arena is the capitalist system gone awry: the rich keep getting richer, and the poor... well they don't get poorer, but they can't really improve because the rich now have all the advantages.

Can someone please tell me if my QQ'ing about this is warranted?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Making a Successful PUG Raid

Immediately following each successful capture or defense of the Wintergrasp fortress, a number of 10 and 25 man VOA groups start to form. I've been a involved in quite a few of these, and they have the highest failure rate of any PUG, anywhere.

The following are some general guidelines I've come up with on how to increase the chances of a successful PUG.

  1. Before each boss, explain the fight. Don't ask if anyone needs it explained, just do it. In any large PUG there are bound to be a few people who don't know the fights, but who are unwilling to admit to it lest they appear to be a noob. (I've never had that problem, but I'm less shy that way.)
  2. Remind people that this is a PUG, and to expect a few wipes, and to be patient. Ask people to commit to a minimum of four attempts. If at that point the group is clearly not getting it, is not improving on each attempt, doesn't have high enough DPS, or generally appears doomed to failure, then go. But don't be such an impatient and arrogant fool to expect that your PUG is going to be the magical one that manages to down the boss on the very first try.
  3. Keep it moving! One of the largest attrition factors I've found is the delay between attempts. Get everybody right back in, get rebuffed, and go. Maybe take a minute to discuss what went wrong, and to change assignments if necessary, but make it quick. Don't debate endlessly. Take too long and it will appear that you simply have no idea what you're doing. People will get bored and start to leave.

Got any others you can think of? Please share them in the comments!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Keeping it all in perspective

I want to take this opporunity to address two completely different groups of people who don't quite have things in the proper perspective.

Group 1

Since discovering WoW earlier this year, I've spent an inordinate amount of my free time playing the game, reading about the game, talking about the game, and most recently, writing about the game. I occasionally hear or read things from non-players saying that people like me need to "get a life", or something along those lines. They are quick to point out how nothing in the game "means" anything, and claim that I am just wasting my time.

"So," I ask, "what do you think I should be doing with my time?"

"Oh any number of things. You could be playing a sport like golf or volleyball, or reading a book, watching a favorite TV show or going to the movies, going out to the bars or nightclubs with friends."

This causes me to chuckle a bit, and it is around this point that I have to stop them. I point out that none of those activities "mean" anything either, any more than playing a pointless video game. They are all just different ways we choose to spend our leisure time. Neither I nor the avid golfer are likely to find the cure for cancer. The guy at the nightclub, notwithstanding any deep conversations he might have after half a dozen beers, is not going to bring about world peace.

The whole concept of "meaning" is completely arbitrary anyway. What is important to one person is not necessarily important to others, nor does it have to be. You get all these people looking for meaning in everything, or searching for meaning in their lives. To them I say this: Life is what you make of it, and it means whatever you want it to mean. Do what makes you happy (just don't be a dick to others in the process).

[BTW, this is not intended to address the separate issue of WoW addiction, where your excessive playtime is a detriment to other aspects of your life, be it health, family, job, schoolwork, etc.]

Group 2

On the opposite end of this spectrum is another group of people who has lost perspective. They are the hardcore and/or addicted WoW players.

The people in group # 1 above have a point: playing WoW doesn't really mean anything. It isn't going to cure cancer, or even hemorrhoids for that matter (though it may cause the latter depending on where you are sitting while you play). Getting a new chest piece or an enchant for your bracers isn't going to make you better looking. Killing the newest boss isn't going to get you laid or find you a prettier girlfriend. Farming mats, doing dailies, and playing the auction house aren't going to make money to pay your rent and your utility and food bills.

And since that is the case, I don't understand why some people take the game sooo seriously. If you wipe a couple of times on a raid boss, so what?? Geez you'd think that people were suffering actual physical injuries or monetary losses the way some of them react in these situations.

What's so bad about wiping a few times during a raid? I'll tell you what: People are stupid and lazy. They want everything given to them, they don't want to have to work hard for it, and they want it right now. If you wipe, it means it isn't just going to be given to you, you are going to have to work for it, and you won't get it right now.

A wipe should not be seen as a failure; it is an opporunity to learn and/or to teach... and to actually play the game. It is an opportunity for improvement. The real satisfaction from any game comes from overcoming challenges. Having something handed to you on a silver platter is boring. Having an 80 run your low-level alt through Dead Mines is boring for both of you, because there is nothing challenging about it.

Want to show what a great player you are? Don't start whining and complaining, and then leave the raid after the first or second wipe. Instead, try explaining to others what they are doing wrong, and show them the right way to do it. This impresses me a lot more than calling another raid member an insufferable moron (even if it's true).

And above all else, keep it in persective: it's just a game. You aren't actually being injured, and those repair bills aren't costing you real money. Try to have fun, damn it!

How boring would life be without PUGs?

I do a LOT of pickup groups. I like to run lots of instances, do lots of heroics, earn lots of badges. I also like to participate in a lot of battlegrounds (as you can see from my battleground guides), which are almost nothing but PUGs. (Hmmm, that phrase comes dangerously close to "butt plug", which wouldn't be an entirely inappropriate analogy.)

Even with a fairly active guild, I find it difficult to regularly find 5 people who want to do these activities with me. When we aren't raiding, they are all busy farming and cooking and crafting, which mystifies me a bit. I mean, I can do all of those things in real life. If I wanted to fish, I'd grab a pole and walk down to the local pond. Why would I play a game to do something that I can do better and get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of doing in real life? On the other hand, when (in real life) am I ever going to get the chance to kill trolls and dragons, strangulate a magic user, cast chains of ice on a fleeing target, infect a group of giant spiders with diseases? Never. To me it makes much more sense to play the game to escape reality, not to emulate it!

Because of this inability to find "regulars" to group with, I end up in a fairly large number of PUGs. I have a few people that I group with on regular occasions that I know and trust, but usually have to fill out at least one or two spots with random unknowns. And sometimes its the entire group.

When I mention PUGs to most people, they do whatever the digitial equivalent is of groaning loudly and rolling their eyes, and act like it is the bane of their existence. I may mention to a guildie that I need one more for a group. "Guild-run or PUG?" he asks. When I tell him it's a PUG, he invariably says no thanks, he'd rather continue farming mining nodes... or put a sharp stick in his eye, for that matter.

But why the utter prejudice against PUGs? All PUGs follow one of three variations:

1) Best case: it turns out to be a really good group, we all really "click", and we plow through the content with little or no problem. You get people with good senses of humor, and who are good players without taking either themselves or the game too seriously.

2) Maybe there are one or two bad apples in the group who we all secretly laugh at. There's a couple of wipes or near-wipes, and the bad apple starts making off-the-wall comments. Or maybe he's just bossing people around indiscriminately, despite the fact that he clearly is not as great as he seems to think he is. Sure we could let him make life miserable for the rest of us, but this IS just a game after all. No sense getting too upset or letting him ruin it for the rest of us. It's more comical how serious he's getting.

3) Maybe the whole group is a disaster. Lots of conflicting personalities, people complaining about who did or didn't do what, finger-pointing, and just general stupidity all around. One idiot standing in the fire, the DPS DK death-gripping everything, the warrior tank who can't manage rage. In these cases, I try to remain quiet and just soak it all in in a state of bemused horror. A wise man once said: "Never argue with a fool, people might not be able to tell the difference." This is never truer than in a bad PUG.

But in any of the above cases, I still enjoy it. Is that so strange? If you didn't have the occasional number 3, there is no way that you can seriously appreciate the number 1's. And it's those two's and three's that give us great stories to tell and jokes to make, and it gives people like me things to blog about!

If you are refusing to join PUGs, you are really missing out on the good times! You should go and join a PUG right now. Just commit yourself to having fun, since that's what playing WoW should be all about in the first place. Even if the encounter turns into an unmitigated disaster, you'll still come away with good stories to tell and lessons learned (i.e. how NOT to do something in the future!).

One final piece of advice: Save your sanity; don't stick around in group #3 any longer than absolutely necessary. Know when to cut and run. :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If you're an idiot, try not to flaunt it

I'm a noob. I freely admit it. I've only been playing WoW for a few months. When I go into an encounter I haven't experienced before, I tell people up front, and I ask to have the fight explained to me. People who know me tolerate this quite well, because I have spent the time learning to play my class well, and I'm usually in the top 3rd in DPS in raids. (Almost always 1 or 2 in 5-mans.) I'm a quick learner as long as I'm given good information. I'll only stand in the fire or poison cloud once before I learn my lesson. :)

I take constructive criticism well, and I try to be helpful to others who are even noob-ier (new word!) than me. I seek out the new players in the group, and explain to them all the things I wish someone had told me the first time I experienced something new.

What really bugs me is idiots who don't understand something, and yet act all elitist. Seriously, some people need to heed the old adage: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

Case in point: the other day I'm in Wintergrasp, on my Warlock alt who was then at level 76 (and who will hit 80 at about 6:00 PM today). I started doing WG battles early so I could get a head start on the marks and honor points I'll need to buy gear when I'm 80.

As everyone does upon entering WG, I ask for an invite to a raid group. I get in... and about 10 seconds later I get kicked. Maybe it was a mistake, I think, so I ask for another invite. I get in... and get kicked again.

I ask unpolitely who the jerk is who keeps kicking me. It turns out it is the raid leader who has determined that only 80's can be in the raid.

Come again? "Dude, this is Wintergrasp, not Ulduar," I tell him.

"We want to save the raid spots for 80s."

I briefly tried to explain to him how silly this was, but he was having none of it. "We want to save the raid spots for 80s because they need the Wintergrasp marks." I explained that I would be 80 in a few days, and his response was that I should come back then when I can actually use the marks. Before I could explain to him what an idiot he was, he put me on ignore. Just as well, because it would have taken too long in game-chat to explain the depths of his stupidity:

  1. Wintergrasp battles are not limited to a single raid group. There are often two or more raids. Everyone who wants to play can get in; it isn't like someone is going to be left out.
  2. Everyone who participates gets their marks, regardless of whether they are in a raid group or not. Being a member of a raid simply makes it easier to coordinate (and makes you more likely to get healed). But on the extremely rare occasion that someone couldn't get a raid invitiation, they would still earn the same marks and honor.
  3. Wintergrasp is not nor is it intended to be limited to 80's. In fact, the more people, the better. You get three marks for a win, and only one for a loss, so you want as many people in the battle as possible regardless of level. Especially in a defensive battle, as this was.

Made worse by the fact that the player in question was a Death Knight, just furthering the bad reputation of Death Knights that I am constantly struggling to overcome.

And one more thing...

What is it with people with special characters in their names? Bôb, Annă, Jímmy, etc. I've found that, by and large, they tend to be the biggest dickwads in the game. The only good reason I can see for putting non-standard characters in your name is to make it harder for other people to contact you. But why anybody would choose to have contact with these asses in the first place is a mystery to me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

PvP Servers: Why they suck and how to fix them

I spent my first few months in WoW playing several Alliance characters on a "normal" (non-PvP) server. Then one day I decided to try playing a Horde toon (Death Knight, of course) on a PvP server, just to see what it was like.

It sucked. I played for less than a week before I paid Blizzard $25 to transfer my character to a normal realm. (Yes, I could've just started again from scratch, but at that point I had invested enough playing time that starting over would have seemed painful, and a week of my time is worth a lot more than $25.)

A PvP server is an interesting idea, but Blizzard has totally screwed up the implementation. If you aren't familiar with PvP servers, essentially you are flagged for PvP at all times and can be attacked by players of the opposing faction at all times. There are a few "sanctuaries", such as the major cities and low-level starter zones, but go anywhere else and you are fair game.

On my normal server, I generally enjoyed the PvP aspects of the game. So the idea that I might fall into a PvP battle at any time sounded like fun, and I thought it would make for a more exciting experience. That was until I realized that this allows level 80s to attack level 30s, and suddenly the stupidity of it shines through.

Trying to do quests and level a character on a PvP server is simply ridiculous. There are far too many a--holes and morons who for some reason get great joy in ganking players way below their level. I did the normal DK starter zone stuff in a few hours without trouble. Then I went to Hellfire Peninsula. I can't count the number of times a level 70-80 character came and killed my 59. I can only assume that they all had small penises that they were trying to compensate for, because I can't think of any other logical reason for attacking a player 20 levels lower than you. These are probably the same idiots who cause their groups to wipe on trash pulls in heroic dungeons. So they need to find some other way to make themselves feel less stupid than they actually are, and attacking low-level players is the easiest way for them to do it.

There is a reason the WoW battlegrounds group players in the same 10-level range: because PvP between players with greater separation is just stupid. I would even argue that beyond about 5 levels, the higher player is so OP'd that he's going to win a PvP encounter 99% of the time.

How to Fix PvP Servers

A couple of very simple changes would make PvP servers palatable:

  1. You can't attack a player more than 3 levels below you unless they attack you first. You can still request a "duel", in case someone really really wants to fight you. (You can attack any player that is above your level. If you think your 60 can take out that 75, go for it. And good luck.)
  2. 80's can only attack other 80's (again, unless attacked first). This rule is needed because a well-geared 80 is so vastly superior to even a 79
  3. You can't attack the same player more than once a day, or at least once an hour. This would solve the problem I kept running into where I would run back, rez, and get killed again by the same asshole. Several times I either just had to take the rez sickness, or log out for an hour and hope the person got bored and went away. Either way I couldn't continue on the quests I was doing, which was beyond annoying.

Additionally or alternately, you could have a "questing" mode. This would be sort of like the ability to turn your PvP flag on and off on normal servers, except that it would be more restrictive. When in questing mode:

  • A) You can't be attacked.
  • B) You cannot attack other players, regardless of their level or PvP status.
  • C) If you turn off questing mode (entering PvP mode), you can't turn it back on again for at least an hour... maybe a full day.

I would never ever recommend a PvP server unless some of these changes got implemented. Unless of course you enjoy running from graveyard to corpse, which is probably how I spent about 50% of my time on the PvP server.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Bad Rep of Death Knights

I hear a lot of complaints about how awful most Death Knights are, and I share your pain. My main is a DK. But unlike a lot of other DKs, I spent a lot of time learning how to play the class correctly, read a lot of web sites, and picked the brains of a few of the good DKs I know.

One of the biggest causes of this problem is the fact that DKs are extremely over-powered at the lower-levels (55-78). This means that there is little reason for people to learn how to get the most out of their DK. When you are questing, you can just mash a few keys and down any mob in a matter of seconds. If you haven't chosen talents like a complete moron, you can kill 3 or more mobs at once and be at or near full health after the encounter.

However, when it comes to more advanced play (instances and raids), a Death Knight is actually one of the more complicated classes to play correctly. It's not like some classes where you can just spam two or three keys repeatedly. I have no fewer than ten abilities that I use in my regular rotation, and it requires a lot of planning and attention to detail to know exactly what to cast and when. You have to know which of your spells require runic power, blood runes, frost runes, or unholy runes, and you have to know when each will be available.

A typical AoE attack with my unholy Death Knight goes something like this:

  • Death and Decay: Open a can of whoop-ass on the entire group. It must be noted though that you can only use this ability if you have a good tank and you give him a couple of seconds head-start to grab and hold aggro. This is a high-threat ability and will immediately draw aggro if you have a mediocre (or worse) tank. If you are unsure, better to forego it.
  • Plague Strike, Icy Touch: Get your diseases up and running on the main target. Each one is a 20 second DoT.
  • Pestilence: Spread the diseases to all other targets in the group.
  • Unholy Blight: burn some runic power with another AoE attack.
  • Scourge Strike, Heart Strike: Kick some butt on your primary target, using up any remaining runes and building more runic power.
  • Death Coil: cast repeatedly until runic power drops below the necessary 40.

That's eight different abilities, and that's just the initial part of the attack. Now comes the ongoing attack:

  • From that point I go into a rotation of Scourge Strike (1 Unholy, 1 Frost), Heart Strike (1 Blood), and Death Coil (40 runic power) as each one comes available.
  • I keep an eye on the disease durations. When they are getting low, it is time to cast Pestilence again, which means you'll need a blood rune available at the proper time. (Thanks to a glyph, Pestilence will re-infect both the main target and all others in the group back to full duration on all diseases. Without the glyph, you would actually need to recast Plague Strike, Icy Touch, and Pestilence.)
  • I have a ghoul up all the time (via talents). If he dies, I make sure to bring him back as soon as possible. He doesn't do a ton of damage, but every little bit helps.
  • I have a trinket that gives me additional attack power for 20 seconds, and has a 2 minute cooldown. I try to use this as often as possible to increase my DPS output.

Now we get into other abilities that get used on an as-needed basis:

  • I can Summon Gargoyle once every three minutes. I usually save him for bosses or other high-HP targets. To get the most out of the Gargoyle, I need to let my runic power build to 90 before casting.
  • Death Grip: It is usually a bad idea to cast this in a raid, as it will immediately draw aggro. However it might be needed in very limited circumstances, such as to pull a caster in range of the tank, or if there is a mob attacking your healer.
  • Army of the Dead: This normally has a 20 minute cooldown, though I have talents that lower it to 10. Even so, you definitely want to save it for special occasions. And there are certain boss encounters that will go haywire from AotD, since they taunt everything. But it can be useful in the right circumstances.
  • Chains of Ice: Will stop a mob in its tracks for 5 seconds, with slowed movement for an additional 10 seconds. Doesn't do any damage (unless you have a particular glyph), so it is usually useless in a raid except in rare circumstances. Much more of a PvP skill.
  • Mind Freeze, Strangulate: These can each prevent casting of spells for a short duration. Again I rarely use them in raids; I find them more useful in PvP.

In summary, playing a Death Knight is not for the lazy, stupid, or faint of heart. If you want to excel at playing this class, you really need to work at it. The problem is that since the class starts at level 55, it appeals specifically to the lazy and stupid. And any facerolling moron can lumber through all the quests in Outland and Northrend with no problem whatsoever. Its not until the Deathtard finds himself in an instance with a group for the first time that the stupidity becomes readily apparent... usually to everyone but the person playing the character. All he knows is the group wiped; he doesn't realize its because he kept pulling aggro off the tank and had the damage output of a band of level 20 gnolls.

For my benefit and the benefit of those around you, I implore you to STOP playing your Death Knight if you aren't willing to spend the time and effort to learn to play it correctly. Go back to your hunter or paladin instead.

And for God's sake, stop using Death Grip in raids, or I'll kill you myself.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Zaphind's Guide to Eye of the Storm


Eye of the Storm has two 15-person teams. The battleground consists of four towers, one located at each of the four corners, and a flag in the very center. The battleground itself is located up in the sky; don't fall off the edges or you will die.

Each team starts at 0 points, and the first team to reach 2000 wins. Points are gained in one of two ways: controlling the towers, and capturing the flag. Capturing the flag earns roughly 100 points. Controlling towers earns points based on the number of towers controlled and length of time you've controlled them.

Each team starts the game on an elevated platform at opposite ends of the battleground. It requires some care to jump down from this platform with no damage; it requires no care if you don't mind a damage hit up to 50%.

Hint: Learn the tower names and locations relative to one another so it will be easier to know where to go when someone calls for help. When in doubt, use the map to determine which tower is which. When communicating with in-game chat, players will usually abbreviate the tower names. The two towers closest to the Alliance players are called the Mage Tower (MT) and the Draenei Ruins (DR). The two towers closest to the Horde players are called the Blood Elf Tower (BE) and the Fel Reaver Ruins (FR).

In-Game Mechanics

To control a tower, you simply have to have more of your players present at that tower. When you arrive at a tower, there is a slider bar that appears under the mini-map. The slider indicates whether the tower is horde-controlled or alliance-controlled, and to what percentage. The more time players from a faction spend at the tower, the further over the slider will go.

There is a gray area in the middle of the bar that represents "uncontrolled". Uncontrolled towers are not earning points for either team, nor can they be used for flag captures. Tower statuses can also be seen on the map.

Players pick up the flag in the center of the battleground by right-clicking it. When the flag is returned to a controlled tower, it automatically "captures" as soon as the player runs over the flag drop area. (It is located at the top of the steps for each tower, and looks like a gear embedded in the ground.) After the flag is captured, it is automatically reset in the center position, where it can be captured again.

You can only cause a player to drop the flag by killing him. Once he is dead, the flag drops at that location. The first player to right-click on the flag (from either team) will become the new flag carrier.

When you die, you resurrect at the nearest tower controlled by your team. If your team doesn't control any towers, you resurrect back on the starting platform.

Strategies and Tactics

Controlling the towers is considerably more important than capturing flags. For one thing, if you don't control any of the towers, you can't capture the flag at all, because the flag must be returned to a tower that your team controls.

Additionally, you will gain victory points far faster by dominating control of the towers. In fact, if you manage to control all four towers, you will win by simply maintaining that control for about a minute. Continuous control of three towers is also usually sufficient for victory, regardless of what happens with the flag. (The logic is simple: you are earning points at a rate of 3:1 over your opponents.)

The best strategy is to go for three towers right at the start. Bad teams/players will run directly into the center and capture the flag, which is pointless for the reasons mentioned above. An early flag capture may give a team an early lead at the expense of long-term strategic control of the towers, and probably won't last.

When the game starts, it should be sufficient to send two players to each of the two closest towers and complete their capture. (To clarify: that's four total players, two per tower.) Those players should then remain in defense of those towers, and call for help as needed. The remaining players should descend on one of the towers that will no doubt be occupied by players from the opposing team. In a well-coordinated effort, this shouldn't be difficult to do… unless the other team is also well-coordinated.

Having controlled a third tower, you'll have a choice to make. If the enemy is showing poor offensive capabilities, get greedy and go for the fourth tower. Leave two defenders at tower number three. The remaining nine can head to tower number four. Again, this will most likely be an overwhelming force, except in the case of an opposing team that is equally well-coordinated.

If the opponents are showing good coordination or are simply more powerful, it may be impossible to retain control over all four towers. In that case, do everything you can to retain at least three, then send a group in to capture the flag. Repeated flag captures at this point will do two things: get you closer to victory, and keep some percentage of the enemy forces busy trying to stop you.

Above all else, keep in mind that retaining control of the towers is the single most important goal.

Alternate Strategies

You may want to send a couple of people in to capture the flag sooner, if for no other reason than to give the opposing team something else to deal with. Bad teams (i.e. most of them) will be very upset and send a lot of forces to stop the flag carrier, thus leaving their towers wide open for attack. A couple players can essentially sacrifice themselves with the knowledge that it is furthering the cause of the team. (Luckily battlegrounds don't cause durability damage on your gear, so you can die as often as is necessary.)