Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas! (and Ghostcrawler)

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope your gatherings with friends and family are going well. Our two-year old has finally got the hang of opening presents after her birthday and so it was amazing to watch her tear open things and have trouble putting any new presents down to open more. The best present...a slinky. Amen to the simple pleasures in life. It's a shame many people miss out on the pure joy that the simple things can bring, especially in this season of excess. But to avoid sounding like the sermon I heard last night, I'll move on!

Ghostcrawler Greg Street is the Lead Systems Designer for World of Warcraft, and basically has become the public face of the developers over the past couple of years. Ghostcrawler can be abrasive at times, but he has a great sense of humor and brings a dose of good perspective to the community, which typically wonders at large what in the world the developers are thinking.

In order to open another avenue of regular communication with the players, the developers have decided to start blogging on battle.net. Of course, the first developer posting blog entries is Ghostcrawler. His first entry was about 4 weeks ago, and it focused directly on healers. More specifically, why healing is becoming more difficult in Cataclysm. Now that the entire playerbase is hitting 85 and trying out heroics and perhaps even starting raids, the calls for "why is this content so hard" have come out in full swing. Yet if these masses paid attention to this Ghostcrawler blog, they might have some insight on why Cataclysm is different.

In reality, Cataclysm is a return to the difficulty levels or play style of vanilla and The Burning Crusade:
As a blanket statement, healer mana wasn’t a big concern in Wrath of the Lich King. You could run out of mana sometimes, but it really didn’t affect your spell choice in the way it did prior to Lich King. We think resources should be important, though. A lot of gameplay in a wide variety of games comes down to managing a limited resource, whether it's Vespene Gas in an RTS, ammo in an FPS, or even time in a puzzle game. Managing your resources well makes you a better player.
Obviously the resource that all healers manage is mana, and there were absolutely no mana problems in Wrath of the Lich King. Ghostcrawler explains all the ways this damaged the game by taking half the possible dimensions out of decision-making for healers. When overhealing and mana resources are not a problem, why wouldn't you cast your fastest heals over and over, even if they are inefficient?

In other words, Cataclysm will bring back the concept that healing is a triage operation. You must save who you can with the right heal for the job because if you do not choose the right heal, you will eventually run out of mana and everyone will die. On occasion, this will mean you have to let someone die because they are beyond the point at which you can help them.

For example, think about the marks that Saurfang put on raid members when he reached 100 blood power in Icecrown Citadel. The marks put out a continuous stream of heavy damage on whomever received the mark. In Wrath mode, raids assigned a healer or two to do nothing but counteract the first couple of marks. While the healer would be fully occupied or nearly fully occupied keeping up with the mark damage, mana was not a problem so this was a way to circumvent the penalty for playing poorly (because marks and blood power were a result of not taking care of blood beasts, mainly). In a 25 man raid, I witnessed a raid survive five marks with only losing a couple of players. That should not happen.

So Ghostcrawler says resource management will make healers become better players. However, the tools like Saurfang's mark are there to also force other players to also play better or else they will doom their healers to failure. This is no different than the DPS and healers needing to help the tanks with threat by killing things in order and using crowd control. Everyone has more to do in instances now, but the biggest change is for healers.

But here's the thing: that's just how it should be! A good healer should be able to use all the tools and spells at their disposal like a grandmaster in chess or a conductor of a symphony. Anybody who has ever watched a really good tank manage all of their abilities understands just how challenging and how rewarding this game can be for healers. That's the game I want to play, and that's the magic I want to bring to my guilds and my raids.

Yes, the first few months of Cataclysm will be an adjustment period and will be difficult. However, the payoff for the players who enjoy healing will be so worth it, and the developers should be applauded for looking this problem right in the eye and fixing it the best way they know how.

------------

In December, Ghostcrawler has issued three more blog entries. Two have focused primarily on threat and tanking, and thus are not terribly pertinent here. However, Ghostcrawler does acknowledge that if a tank is using area of effect threat generation abilities, healing should not pull aggro on a non-focused mob. This is not rocket science though, it is what we expect as a baseline.

The other entry explains the design philosophy behind primary and secondary stats on gear. The game is currently designed so that every progressive piece of gear is designed to give increasing stamina and increasing strength/agility/intellect depending on your type of character. Those statistics are now clearly not intermixed with the secondary stats: haste, dodge, crit, mastery, hit, expertise, and spirit. The developers currently intend these secondary stats to be another way to customize your character, as haste, crit, and mastery all have very different effects if you stack them.

Hopefully this means that there will be multiple ways to have a properly talented and geared character, making socketing gems and choosing enchants fun as opposed to brainless based on what wow-popular and Elitist Jerks say. More on this later, but character customization may have a golden age in the future post-Cataclysm because the developers are thinking about mixing the primary stats into the customization and gearing mix. That would be exciting, and would make gearing nearly as fun as healing!

On that note, have a great Christmas and a happy holiday season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The PPI Awards of 2010 - My Nominations

Happy holidays everyone! I hope the Cataclysm is continuing to be fun for you and all your friends in the game. This is the time of year when Larisa over at Pink Pigtail Inn takes a look back with her readers and the blogosphere at large as to the biggest happenings in Azeroth in 2010. Without further ado, here is the Healer Trek vote for the 2010 PPI awards.

1. Best Raid Instance - Icecrown Citadel. Since the Cataclysm first tier raids are not eligible and only Ruby Sanctum came out during calendar year 2010, the only remaining choice is ICC. However, that should not take away from one of the better designed raid instances in the game's history. ICC was a nice capstone for the scourge storylines in WOTLK, and the Lich King fight at 80 was a real challenge even at the 30% buff. Defeating Lich King may be my most memorable raid experience ever in World of Warcraft because you really felt like you earned the Kingslayer title. The first bosses were nice and easy but the difficulty ramped up appropriately all the way to Arthas.

2. Least Successful Raid Instance - Ruby Sanctum. I did throw ToC back into the mix here, but Ruby Sanctum was largely played for a week or two and then completely ignored by the playerbase. Considering ICC had been out for 8 or 9 months and nothing else was going on in the game, this instance was a complete flop. I made one attempt on Halion with my guild, but even the mini-bosses were relatively glitchy and difficult to handle. People have no patience for that, especially when the gear is a waste of time late in an expansion. The raid should have given more unique rewards, and then it might have succeeded.

3. Most Longed For Instance - Icecrown Citadel. For over a year, all we saw were short cutscenes and one large Wrathgate story movie featuring Arthas, the whole reason we were in Northrend. Especially after the flop of Trial of the Crusader, an instance with lots of challenging trash and 13 diverse bosses on varying difficulty was just what the doctor ordered. The downfall of the Lich King was certainly the thing everyone looked forward to in 2010.

4. Silliest Gold Sink - Dual Spec (at 1000 gold). One of the worst feelings in the world is paying one price for a product or service and then seeing that same product go on sale shortly thereafter with no way for you to pay less. In 2010, I spent 4000 gold on dual spec for four characters. This happened because I like to heal, but leveling in healer spec is not always a good idea. However, right after buying it on my druid and my paladin, the price dropped to 100 gold. Then again to 10 gold! For those of us who got in at the going rate of 1000 gold, it was money well spent but a gold sink compared to how it is given away today.

5. Biggest Addition to the Game - Looking For Group (LFG) Interface. The runner-up in 2009 still resonates as just as important as Dual Spec. LFG has changed the way we play, allowing instant grouping across servers and basically killing the trade chat groupings PUG'gers had to deal with previously. There's still no replacement for a good guild-based instance group, but when in doubt or during down hours, LFG allows you to play the game you want to rather than be forced to do something else.

6. Best Quest - The Twilight Cultist Pre-Cataclysm Quest Chains. In the final days before The Shattering of Azeroth, the first taste of Cataclysm arrived in some quirky quest chains around Orgrimmar and Stormwind for about a month. In addition to random elemental attacks all over the world, you got to infiltrate the Twilight Cultists and try to undermine their efforts to bring on the end of the world and destruction of the major cities. It was a compelling and different take on telling a story, and a job well done by Blizzard for a one-time event.

7. Ugliest Tabard - Kirin Tor. Maybe purple is attractive to mages and other Dalaran lovers, but it just looks awful with most serious gear. By the time you got good gear, the last thing you wanted to do was cover it up with a big ugly eye. Yet that's just what the Kirin Tor offered. Better than Wyrmrest Accord, but not by much.

8. Favorite Non-Combat Pet - Pandaren Monk. While I personally would never pay real money for an in-game pet, the cash-based offerings have not been disappointing for those who want to give their characters something a bit more special. Perhaps my minor infatuation with Kung Fu Panda colors my judgment here, but seeing that little Pandaren bust out some kung fu kicks always makes me giggle and smile. And that is precisely what a non-combat pet is for!

9. Biggest Community Controversy - Real ID snafus. I really should say the guild cap, but that only affected my guild Alea Iacta Est and a small handful of others. A much bigges issue was the release of Real ID without control over "friends of friends list" and other features, followed by the near disaster that was requiring Real ID's to be used on the official blizzard forums. Real ID is a great tool, but like Facebook, you have to enable users to maintain their privacy and Blizzard just did not consider these items well enough, especially when it came to forum posts. Blizzard employees get hate mail and harassed by forum trolls, so why would they expect the rest of the world to subject themselves willingly to that harassment? Blizzard underestimated the potential downside to Real ID, and the community outcry was just enough to save the day.

10. Most Charming Blizzard Employee - Russell Brower. Sorry if that's misspelled, but Brower is the musical director for World of Warcraft and has done a great series of interviews on The Instance podcast in 2010. Brower always seems more than happy to share as much as he can about musical direction of the game and upcoming patches or expansions. It is great to see someone so proficient and so passionate working behind the scenes to make a critical aspect of our beloved game better. If you are playing Cataclysm without the music on, you are missing something great.

11. Best Podcast - The Instance. Randy and Scott hit 200 episodes a couple months ago, which is simply astounding for a world of warcraft podcast. This is usually the first WoW podcast people run into and it remains one of the best. Special kudos go to Randy Jordan, who must write two hours worth of good discussion content for the show every week or nearly every week. Passion for the game is what makes a podcast great and these two guys managed to keep passion going during a rough summer and autumn downtime for nearly everyone else in the community of bloggers and podcasters. The oldest podcast is the best for 2010.

12. Biggest Blog Facelift - Other than Matticus, who has already won, I cannot think of a real notable facelift of any of the bloggers I follow. I am certain some out there did better than what I did with modifying the header, so I'll leave this category to those who know better. Besides, when pink is available, why pick anything else. Honorable mention goes to arkslaw for an updated banner, even though he updates about as much as me which is to say not often!

13. Most memorable blog post - The PuG and the following entries from Gevlon. Just when it looked like Gevlon had blown all out of steam with his economic take on the world of warcraft, he decided to take on a new project with a bold announcement. Following his success in taking down Ulduar in blues, he thought up a PuG guild where his anti-socialist ways and super efficiency are valued above all else. If you want to see raiding treated like a business, this is a fascinating set of entries to follow that continues to this day. In fact, this is really the entry that spawned a whole new Gevlon.

14. Most Noticed Blogger Breakthrough - Lathere and Cassandri at HoTs and DoTs. Although the sisters from Australia had more entries in six months of 2009 than they had in all of 2010, their fun style has put them on many blogrolls of others I follow. That's as good an indication as any that this blog is having a major breakthrough. And how could you not appreciate the name?

15. Most Solid Content Provider - Matt Low both at World of Matticus and wow Insider. Matt Low is probably the face of the healing wow community, and although he does get some assistance from co-writers at WOM, he still manages to produce multiple quality articles every month. Plus, his perspective on raiding and leading a raiding guild provide valuable insights to other guild officers and even the regular guild members of other guilds who wonder what goes on behind the scenes.

16. Most Hugged Blogger - Tobold. One of the most solid content providers of the past two years has gotten into some battles but keeps blogging and coming back strong because his community supports him well. There's nobody that stands out like Phaelia and BRK from a year ago, but Tobold deserves all his hugs as well!

17. Hottest Blogosphere Topic - Real ID. Not only does it count as the most controversial happening in the community at large, but Real ID set the blogging community on fire more than any Cataclysmic announcements. Whether you were for or against the changes, everybody had something to say.

18. Best Writer - John Patricelli at Big Bear Butt. I'm not a tank, this I accept. Sure I find it fun on the Death Knight from time to time, but my attempt to tank with my druid have been fail fail fail. However, Patricelli explains things so well about tanking that even I feel like I can get it (as a healer). That's a great achievement, and he's entertaining to read to boot. Definitely my favorite read of 2010.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Week of Cataclysm

As I read the blogosphere and watch many of my guildmates race their main characters to 85 within 5 days of the expansion release, I wonder if the leveling curve was too short for this expansion. Don't get me wrong, I think it's perfectly fine to lower requirements for getting through non-current levels 1-80, but this expansion seems even faster than Wrath leveling was. In my own personal experience, I received about 20% of a level for doing daily SW cooking and fishing dailies, 50% more for a first run through Blackrock Caverns with all the quests that pop up, and another 30% quickly gained in maybe an hour of questing in Hyjal.  I barely scratched the surface of Hyjal, with 20 quests out of 125+ done. Yet there I sit at 81 already. Of course Ekat is my loremaster and will come back, but she's off the Vash'jir to see the sea zone before she outlevels it...which just seems sad. Most people don't go back and see the quest content like I do, and that's so much game that Blizzard leaves on the table by enabling such quick leveling via dailies and 5-man instances.

Also, as much as I enjoy reading World of Matticus, I cannot fathom having a raiding guild where it is normal and expected for everyone to be 85 and ready to raid by the Monday following an expansion. Didn't you guys just clear ICC 7 days ago? I know I'm also jaded by the fact that here we sit on the 12th day of December and I have worked more than 8 hours 11 of those days.  So even if I wanted to geek out for hours on end, it's just not going to happen right now. Kind of sucks, but my take on the expansion is to sort of take my time and enjoy it. Who knows, I might change my mind if I feel guilty about being the last raider at 85!

The conversion to AIE sub-guilds was incredibly seamless, as a side note. The officers did an amazing job getting programming ready to both make a green wall of chat across guilds automatic and division into subguilds also simple and easy. Two quick steps and you were in! I still eagerly await the opening for alts as do many others, as my main is still stuck in a AIE alt holidng guild until they open alt applications again. Looks like my subguild at the moment has about 200 fewer characters than The Illuminati, but that number will probably equalize with alts and raid teams moving around soon. Kudos once more to AIE.

My initial take on Hyjal is that the zone clearly has a story I want to follow. You've got a forest at risk and big bad elementals all over the place, but druids from the Earthen Ring to help you out and make you powerful enough to make a difference. So far, the mobs respawn a bit quickly but perhaps that will be tuned back down once people quickly move through the content. My ICC gear more than has Ekat easily surviving encounters in these zones, but I'm close to replacing gear already with greens in the initial quests. It will not be very long at all, and I replaced my cloak and my wand already in BRC, but at least those are blue items!

My really preliminary initial take on Vash'jir is that I wish there were an easier way to transport to and from the zone at least at the beginning like the hearthstone portal trick in SW to Hyjal. The underwater zone is not bad after the first quest thanks to the permanent swim speed boost and underwater breathing you get as a reward for the first quest. In fact, the three-dimensional nature of the zone is incredibly well managed nearby the initial ship you start at. Hopefully that design continues as I explore farther into the zone. And I know there's a seahorse on the way!

I do have to commend Blizzard on improving from their past two expansions for starter zones. Hellfire is hell on the eyes for as long as you spend there and the mobs are still so closely packed that it is difficult years later. No alternatives there. In Wrath the two zones were so similarly drab and alike at points that the choices were not compelling. At least Borean Tundra had a fair amount of variety in backgrounds, but the zone felt totally disjointed and the story of both zones was totally not interesting. Now we have two zones that grab you with a story right away and thanks to Vash'jir being underwater, they are so vastly different that you can thoroughly enjoy your options. So far, so good.

Blackrock Caverns was nothing special, although the fight with the lava flow in the center is a fun mechanic (stay in as long as you dare...). A solid instance but not one I'm jumping for joy about. We'll see how the next ones pan out.

so what did you do first in Cataclysm? I haven't even touched my old world alts or the goblin/worgen starting zones. So much to do, and in my case, so little time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Whole New World


We are now just over two days away from the release date of World of Warcraft Cataclysm. Deathwing has been killing entire zones of characters and the world has been shattered. Indeed, this is a whole new world, at least except for Northrend. It is invigorating exploring zones that are nothing like what you remember. In order to explore a bit with purpose, I took Biancae around to up her mining skill to an appropriate level before heading to Outland. There are definitely things that will keep surprising me for a long time as these zones are nothing like they used to be. Of course there will be a lot of time spent in the new 80-85 zones over the next few weeks, but for now taking a swim across Thousand Needles and mining nodes well underneath the water is a highlight I won't soon forget.

I debated the issue with some friends, never got the chance to bring it up with some guild members, and finally came to the decision that it was stupid to not faction transfer a character I would gladly make my Horde main over paladin. Holy power is awesome, but for a healer nothing seems to beat Druid and Priest for varied gameplay (at least for me, although I know I will love paladin and shaman more at endgame). Plus this allows me to set up the uber-team of professions right away on both sides of the Horde-Alliance ledger and participate more fully with my AIE sub-guild and The Illuminati. I briefly thought about naming my main Ekaterin and making her a male troll, but the female troll hairstyles are too funny to pass up. So the button was pressed, Ariel went to sleep in Stormwind with bags full of bags (for Biancae and goblin bank alt to be), ore for jewelcrafting, and some northrend herbs just in case.


*She wakes up in a whole different place...the smells, the sounds, everything is unfamiliar. Her hair stands on end as she realizes she is surrounded by trolls, and as she grabs her staff to fight, she realizes that these hands are a much different shade than before. Instead of pink, the fingers are a shade of emerald green. And what are these tusks? It is at this point that Arielae realizes something life-changing has happened. At that point, a blood elf walks up and offers her a hand. She introduces herself as Biancae of Alea Iacta Est, and welcomes Arielae to the family. Perhaps things will not be so bad after all...*

So just like that, the AE Team has also undergone a dramatic change for the better. I know some of my guild mates in The Illuminati will not be happy to see me pull a level 80 out of the guild, but Ekat and Navar will be joined at endgame in a few months by Clara, and things will be about how they were before. Speaking of, I now have some guild business to take care of as Clara was kicked for inactivity a while back and Ariel will need to join Bianca after the new sub guilds are split up Sunday evening and Monday in AIE.


So what's left "for the Horde" going into cataclysm?
Main - Arielae, 80 druid, alchemy/herbalism/fishing/cooking/archaeology
Alt - Biancae, 54 paladin, jewelcrafting/mining


And "for the Alliance" in Cataclysm?

Main - Ekaterinae, 80 priest, enchanting/tailoring/fishing/cooking/archaeology
Alt - Clarissae, 31 shaman, alchemy/herbalism
Alt - Navarionae, 80 death knight, jewelcrafting/mining

So now I will hit the ground running for Garrosh and for Varian. It will be exciting to see all of the new content right away instead of waiting months or years or never seeing it at all. I look forward to building lots of guild rep with The Illuminati and the AIE subguild I get placed into. Now, I am officially ready for Cataclysm. Tick tick tick...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

GeekyLeaks - Not Nearly As Compelling as WikiLeaks

So Larisa found someone who called the leaked Blizzard document from this week a "Geeky Leak." Nice. But the internal memorandum for officers of Activision (in all likelihood) really only said three things of note. Absolutely none of them are a surprise to anyone who has followed either Blizzard or Activision for some period of time. Reviewing them in order of interest...

3. World of Warcraft will be released in Portugese - There is a budding market for video games and similar consumables in Brazil and surrounding countries, so why wouldn't a company get more of the action? If you view Activision as a company that cares about the bottom line more than anything else in the world, then this decision is a no-brainer. The game is at all time highs for subscriptions and the cash cow must grow to new markets to continue growing in the long term.

2. The next two WoW expansions are set for release in 1.5 year intervals from Cataclysm. Anybody who has followed Blizzard since the release of vanilla knows that they repeatedly say their goal is one expansion a year. While I think the quality would suffer in the face of the bottom line, the fact that the level cap only goes up 5 in Cataclysm is perhaps a sign that new expansions will be a little smaller on the whole and come in quicker intervals. One year is the goal, two years is where they are at, so of course 1.5 years is a reasonable goal if they are serious about getting this done. With Cataclysm revamping the game entirely, perhaps new continents and new revamped zones will not be necessary to enjoy the game for the next few years, which frees up development time.

1. The new MMO is slated for a late 2013 release. Again, this makes perfect sense coupled with the announcement that the next two expansions are supposed to be at 1.5 year intervals. WoW will likely be in decline no matter what Activision and Blizzard do after two more full expansions, so before the tide stems too much, better give the playerbase something better. Everything at Blizzard gets pushed back, so targeting late 2013 is really a signal that 2014 is the goal, allowing the fifth expansion to wow to have some "last hurrah" moments before a lot of the playerbase moves or splits time with the new intellectual property. WoW will not die, but it will not always pay the bills as well as it does. Activision again is all about the bottom line, so a new cash cow has to be made in a few years.

So all things told, there is absolutely nothing surprising about this leak other than it happened. As an attorney working in intellectual property every day, sometimes my livelihood depends on how good our NDA (non-disclosure agreements) are. Businesses can be gutted if patent protection is lost due to a leak, and so this violation of the Blizzard employee policies is not something I am happy to see. What if we learned something more shocking or important? Let's hope the loops close and the leaks stop.

I have the same opinion about WikiLeaks. While the people do have a right to know some things their government is doing, nobody needs to see internal e-mails and memos between friends and coworkers where people always tend to say things they never would publicly. It's the same in every work force, but when you are a representative of the United States government, your words can carry a lot of weight as far as radicals around the world are concerned. With instability in Korea reaching levels that are similar to the 1960's and China forcing its way into a top world power, these are uncomfortable times and such careless comments seeing the light of day may only pour fuel on a fire that is not necessary.

We are now t-minus 6 days until Cataclysm. Get ready, there's a real nasty dragon to slay!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Conundrum



Happy Thanksgiving to everyone (at least in America where it is celebrated this month)! I hope there is a turkey or ham and other feast items cooking up for all of you on this fine day, along with some football and family. This morning I've got a conundrum on my hands (see below), and despite taking a minor break from most things WoW, we are now two weeks away from the cataclysm content opening up in full glory. This week we received the shattering with all the old zone changes, and wow are Stormwind and Orgrimmar different (and beautiful). I have not even done much exploring outside of flying over Thousand Needles on my way to the revamped Ungoro Crater and the capital cities. There will be plenty of time to enjoy all the new zones though, so I'm not rushing through it.

So for a while I've been planning on either rerolling shaman as an Orc to have two healing classes on either side of the ledger. One main and one alt on each side for cataclysm, that was the goal. Right now I have the following setup including professions which are important:

Human Priest, 80, tailoring/enchanting/fishing/cooking (Alliance main)
Night Elf Druid, 80, alchemy/herbalism
Night Elf Death Knight, 80, jewelcrafting/mining
Blood Elf Paladin, 52, jewelcrafting/mining
Draenei Shaman, 31, herbalism/alchemy

I've tread this ground before, but my best moneymaking in the easiest way possible is bag making and transmuting/cutting gems. These markets never go away, nor would I expect them to. So my little slow money making group of three level 80's has made enough money for me to have a nice bankroll heading into cataclysm. Although there will not be a bag maker on the Horde side, I had always planned to stick with the self-sustaining JC/herbalism/mining/alchemy combo on both sides. I have really fallen in love with paladin as a leveling character, but I have started to heal some instances post 4.0.1 and all I have to say is, meh. I know there are a few more tools at endgame, but it definitely feels like I am a priest packing only greater heal and flash heal and a couple oh crap buttons with nothing else. No heal over time, no diversity, no real excitement. And while the character is a blast to play, I'm beginning to realize it is just not a main.

At the same time, I'd fallen completely in love with druid healing. The class does not have as many tools as priest, but it is very close. Plus the healing is just simply fun. I actually briefly considered making Ariel my main for cataclysm.

And then this morning it struck me straight in the face. Why be stuck with two classes that heal so similarly on both sides of the ledger? If I move the druid to be my Horde main instead of shaman, there are numerous benefits. For starters, I will have a character I am truly passionate about on both sides so I can really fire up my relationships with the guildies in both The Illuminati and AIE. I will also have a Horde 80 at cataclysm launch which means I can see all of the new 80-85 content on both factions, while I have still never even seen Outland or Northrend on the Horde side. And then there's the picture above. That's the troll druid flight form. How epic is that? Troll druids have awesome forms that outshine the night elf counterparts, although as a healer the night elf looks slightly better. Troll druids will be all over the place, but that's because they really are fresh and new and awesome. I would not want to be a tauren main, so this new race possibility is way more exciting than the orc shaman I was planning.

The downside is of course that I never want to spend actual cash on something I could avoid. However, I think the $30 investment will make cataclysm a way better game for me than it would be otherwise. I can then continue at my own pace with the paladin and shaman alts on their way to 85, and the teams will have the same professions I planned before. Plus Biancae can get a huge boost to her pursuit of jewelcrafting once Ariel comes over with bookoo bucks (probably would transfer with lots of ore, gems, and 15k gold). I am not rolling a worgen or goblin to be a main or a primary alt, so this could be how I maximize the value of cataclysm. What do you think?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Good, Bad, and Ugly: Halloween Edition

Some changes were announced and implemented in the Cataclysm beta, and some late week happenings in both of my pursuits of relaxation highlight an interesting week in the life. As it turns out, it fits as the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good - Although beta changes are never for sure, they at least show what direction the developers are willing to experiment or go back to. Battle resurrection (Rebirth) for druids was increased to a 30 minute cooldown without a reagent needed in Patch 4.0.1. This has been terribly annoying to those of us used to having it as an option every 1-2 attempts on a boss depending on fight length. It definitely stinks to have to wait 30 minutes if you pick an inopportune Lich King attempt to use the battle rez. Well now it looks like the cooldown is going back to 10 minutes. A welcome and good change for Ariel and all druids out there.

The Bad - And beta changes are not always nice. The only form of Chakra I have found terribly useful on Ekat is renew, which ups the HoT effects by 10% and can be extended another 3 seconds nearly indefinitely for every renew cast. While I have not played with the damage version too much, I am not impressed by the Prayer of Healing version, even for Holy. At best, it means you get one more Circle of Healing off in 30 seconds and improve your AoE heals slightly, but AoE spells are not supposed to be the huge focus in cataclysm fights. So I do not know what is meant by removing Chakra Renew, but it does not look good for Chakra.

The Ugly - Although I'm not connected in any meaningful way with either young man, a guild member of fellow blogger Aurdon committed suicide, leaving behind two kids and a wife. Meanwhile the college football world reels from the death of a Notre Dame student who was taping football practice up on a hydraulic scissor lift in high winds despite not thinking it was safe and not wanting to go up. Both of these stories rip my heart out as there's just no excuse for either death. A young man who was passionate about football and passionate about film is gone forever because someone made poor judgment and ordered him to go up on that lift in unsafe conditions. No matter how hard life gets, abandoning two little innocent children you brought into the world by taking your own life is completely senseless, no matter how hopeless you think you are. I know these words ring hollow to those actually dealing with depression and poor work environments, but there's just no reason for these deaths and the long weeks, months, years of suffering that the families will now go through. I have nothing to offer but my thoughts and prayers to both families, but remember when you are having fun raiding or watching college football this weekend...you have it a lot better than a lot of folks in the world and you shouldn't lose sight of that.

Whether you are partying, staying at home, or trick or treating this weekend, I hope it is a good one.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kingslayer and Other Goodies

Sorry for the infrequent posting friends, but what can you do? Life is busy and fun! The days are ticking down towards Cataclysm, and I've managed to get a lot of stuff done in game that I was hoping for. Navarionae got his What a Long Strange Trip achievement done for the 310% speed drake (now granting Master Flying). Doubt I'll do the grind on any other alliance characters, but I've had fun running Headless Horseman the past week on all characters. On the whole, the holidays have been redesigned to be a lot better than they used to be. The RNG nature of Hallow's End and especially Love is in The Air have been pretty much removed, and there really is no excuse to not have that faster flying speed if you put the time into it. Of course with that much time, you could farm 5000 gold, but that probably would not be as fun and varied as the time you spend on holidays.

The last entry I had was the breaking news of the guild size limit. Well Patch 4.0.1 dropped and the guild interface has not broken AIE. Thankfully that gives the guild a few weeks to get the addons and workarounds going. Alea Iacta Est, Taint, and Goon Squad are working together on addon software to allow guild alliance gchat basically so that when we split into 6, 10, however many sub guilds, we still have the community of gchat. This will be slightly more difficult to manage on the wow side, but the guild leadership took it in stride like everything else and are moving forward gracefully. AIE will not die in the face of Blizzard, and that's a good thing!

A while back I had a goal list for Cataclysm. Now that we have a solid release date a few weeks away, now is a good time to check in on how we are doing. Here's the bucket list...
1. Finish It's Been A Long Strange Journey on Navarionae (FINISHED)
2. Defeat Algalon the Observer in Ulduar-10 (not attempted)
3. Defeat Yogg-Saron in Ulduar-10 (failed twice more)
4. Defeat The Lich King in Icecrown Citadel (FINISHED - see below)
5. Reach level 80 on Arielae the druid (FINISHED)
6. Reach level 75 on Biancae the paladin (level 48)
7. Reach level 70 on Clarissae the shaman (level 30)
8. Buy epic flight on the final three leveling characters and have about 10k gold left (FINISHED, although Biancae needs it. 24k gold in bank)
9. Do the Linken Nintendo homage quest chain in case it goes away (FINISHED)
10. Classic Raider (FINISHED)

So all things considered, I have really hammered on that bucket list, especially recently. Last weekend, Ariel hit 80, Navar finished Long Strange Trip, and Ekat finished 3 raids for Classic Raider as well as Kingslayer. Probably the best weekend of wow I've ever played. I realize the more I play shamans, the more I feel "meh" about it. And I don't pay and spend all this time to feel meh. I love druid healing and priest healing and adore my leveling paladin, so I'll stick with them and Navar for the time being. Thus, other than downing the Ulduar final boss and getting Biancae into Northrend, my goals have been met. I hope your bucket list is progressing well too, but it's not too late!

Speaking of Arielae, like I said, she hit 80 last weekend. I already have ground up a 264 idol and 3 pieces of tier 10, plus the rest of the slots filled with ilvl 200 healing gear from heroics. It is incredibly easy to run through heroics for quick justice points now, and druid healing at 80 is incredibly fun. They almost have as many toys as priests, although only one talent spec to choose. I don't know how it will work with mana shortages, but right now, I keep 3 stacks of Lifebloom up on the tank and ticking, maybe add a Rejuvenation, and Wild Growth when the group needs healing. Healers are very overpowered right now, and mana is unlimited so it is hard to tell how things are going to work in Cataclysm. All that said, Arielae has come a long way in the week since hitting 80 and 2-healed Trial of the Crusader today. Therefore, if I have time to get her in ICC before Cataclysm, I might try it out just to see it.

And then there's Ekaterinae. On day one of last weekend's ICC raids, both of the guild groups got 11 bosses down, leaving Sunday night for Lich King only. The top raid team got him down quickly, but I was in group 2. Three of us had never seen the fight before and 3 more did not have their Kingslayer title. We started the night with a disc priest, a holy priest (me), and a resto shaman on heals. We found that we were really struggling with getting the val'kyr down in phase 2, so we swapped to a 6 DPS and 2 priest configuration. I stayed holy for a couple attempts and then I realized...having one disco priest waste all his mana bubbling everyone to negate infest was not good while I sat around with mana...and chakra was not doing much for us, as well as Guardian Spirit being useless pretty much. So I went disco to give us the double disco priest party. And all of a sudden, the attempts got into phase 3. Our closest attempt yet had us wipe at 14% (Lich King dies at 10%, for those not in the know) to Defile, the first time all night the "stupid" on the floor wiped us. We then had a couple of wipes in phase 1, showing our disgust with the near miss. Although we had reached the end of the raid period, we knew we could do it and we knew we were close. So we tried again...and sure enough, everything went right and we earned Kingslayer! I know I'm late to this proverbial party, but I'm happy to show off my own main sporting the Kingslayer title and defeating the last boss of an expansion before the new expansion!

Congrats to all of "team two" who persevered for over four hours and got Arthas down. This is either the first or second time we've had two Lich King kills as a guild in one week, so a momentous time. Cheers again to the guild and bring on Cataclysm!










Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guild Achievement System Brings the Ban-Hammer on AIE



As you will recall from my earlier series of articles on how to build a successful guild, I am a member of two very large guilds on Earthen Ring - US. My first guild on Alliance side is The Illuminati, which has 396 characters as of this writing. A very big guild, to be sure. But The Illuminati is dwarfed of course by Alea Iacta Est, my horde side guild better known as the largest guild in the game across all servers. AIE has 6792 characters right now and is a fantastic community of gamers who are a great resource for leveling, professions, grouping, and anything else you want to do in the game. There has always been some problems with AIE and the guild interface, which is only designed to handle 500 characters. Nevertheless, AIE got along just fine and nicely asked Blizzard to fix the problem if they could, despite it being very low priority.

However, a blue post yesterday shattered AIE and fellow mega-guilds like Taint, Goon Squad, and others. As of patch 4.0.1, which looks like it will be next Tuesday, all guilds will have a hard cap of 600 members. You will not be able to add more characters unless you are below 600. Which means AIE, as of next week, will not add another new character ever again. No alts, no rerolls, no friends and no players that have been removed for being inactive for a few months. Not one more player, unless AIE gets below 600 members, which will not happen until the servers stop running in all likelihood. So while AIE and other mega-guilds will not have their rosters fractured or culled through at this time, they also will stagnate from here on out in the existence of Azeroth.

While I disagree with blizzard on disallowing mega guilds after 6 years of setting a precedent with them in the game, the real problem is how they've brought this change about. There was literally no warning, and AIE is thrown into absolute chaos right now as the officers deal with another big challenge. I'm sure they will step up to the task and keep the guild moving on, but that's no excuse. The stated reason is actually that Blizzard cannot or does not want to handle the additional work of tracking individual statistics for more than 600 characters when figuring out guild achievements. Reading between the lines, they don't want to make people flock to mega-guilds who will earn guild achievements faster. Or if you take a pessimistic view, this is just a lame excuse for them to do something they have wanted to do for years, which is kill the mega guild.

However, AIE is one of the most active communities of WoW players because many of them listen to The Instance and talk actively about wow to their friends, more so probably than non-listeners of the major wow podcasts. While they throw around server load like it is a major concern, they are allowing AIE and other mega guilds to continue existing while fixing the guild interface and achievement problems for everyone, mega guilds included. So they fixed the problem, but undercut our guild at the same time. And make no mistake about it, there will be some kind of backlash, whether it be at Blizzcon where 300 AIE guildies or more are planning to attend, or in public forums such as blogs and podcasts. There will be public comment on this, even if it does only affect 0.1% of guilds (a misleading number because there are a massive amount of players in those guilds compared to the many bankalt guilds and personal guilds).

The real fix to the problem is good game design, and specifically good achievement and guild perk design. Guild perks from achievements should not be major draws for people to a guild, they should just be time savers and nifty other benefits that allow you to make the game slightly easier. Think of these like heirlooms, not talents that must be had by everyone. The achievements should be designed so all serious guilds including small raiding guilds can get all the available perks within a few months of cataclysm's release. Sure, the large guilds will get these perks a bit quicker, but that will not matter as long as the perks are not must-have items. The simple solution would have been to remove all mega guilds (defined as guilds with more than 600 members) from getting any realm-first type guild achievements. This levels the playing field for those with fewer members, and stops the world from becoming a bunch of mega guilds.

In reality, Blizzard has the power to make the guild interface work, as proven by their assertion that it will now work for guilds of all sizes post-cataclysm. However, this decision is a result of plain lazy achievement design. Remember, achievements were added to the game in WOTLK to give people something else to play for, something else to enjoy. Now achievements are being used as a pitiful excuse to slam some of the best communities in Azeroth. AIE has recently transcended warcraft and is moving into other games such as Eve online, and it's all because the community is supportive and great. Taint is a wonderful community of gay, lesbian, transgender players who support each other in game and out. And all the new players who come into cataclysm as wow 2.0 will never get to experience either of these communities. Now I understand there will be sister guilds and networked chat and people will prevail with workarounds, but it will not be the same as having one guild for all your members.

So lazy design in a relatively unimportant aspect of the game (achievements) now leads to the death of growth forever in AIE and other mega guilds. I was planning to move either my shaman or my druid over to Horde side with the paladin to join AIE and have two main healers on either side of the fence in cataclysm. However, I wanted to wait for the new race/class combos to make the switch and it is easier to level on the alliance side with the sugar momma Ekat and the sugar Daddy Navar paying for everything the alts need. However, if I cannot join AIE, I will not transfer that character. So that's $25 out of Blizzard's bank account. And who knows, my limited interaction with AIE may eventually drive me away from the game. I know I'm not alone in that sentiment, and this comes at a terrible time as people come back for cataclysm after the usual doldrums breaks and they will not have that community to return to. In fact, most people server transfer or faction transfer to get into AIe with their favorite characters, but that will not happen anymore. That's money out of the bank account for Blizzard. Plus, even guilds like The Illuminati will likely start putting limits on people to 1-2 characters maximum, which stinks when you want to participate in a lively guild chat.

In fact, that brings up another possibility. Perhaps Blizzard wants to limit guild size to limit the usefulness of guild chat access in the mobile auction house application. Perhaps they do not want to enable a facebook-or-AIM like instant messaging service for the mega guilds most likely to use the service for that purpose alone. Again, this looks like they are willing to give up moderate cash gains to remove the major users from loading a service and making them design servers and systems well.

Again, I do not want to paint this like they are making AIE shatter immediately. But this is a ridiculous and unwarranted decision that has been made for all the wrong reasons, and Blizzard is simply not being honest with their consumers. That's just not right. And while we may be a small percentage of the playerbase, hopefully we are vocal enough to let Blizzard know that this action is in poor judgment, much like the idea to force forum users to use only real ID's was. Life will go on, but this blindside tactic by Blizzard is shocking to those of us affected and will not be forgotten when we are making the all-important decision on whether the good outweighs the bad in this game to keep on paying that monthly subscription.

If I'm in a particularly grumpy mood, my apologies. My favorite guild member in my alliance guild quit the guild for reasons I'm none too thrilled with. I'm certainly not going to take it out on guild leadership because they are not slighting me at this point, but my sense of community in that guild has also been seriously shaken this week. So it's a real shame, but both my guilds are currently leaving me disappointed, despite all that is good about them. Until next time, don't let bad judgment happen to you, at least not without a fight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Portals Gone!

Wow.com is reporting tonight that in the beta, the portals in Dalaran and Shattrath have been removed and replaced by class trainers. While it will be nice to have a trainer readily available, this puts the focus back on the old world and may encourage you to actually set your hearthstone somewhere outside of Dalaran. While the portal system is much more convenient, I think I like this change as it will force new players to gain flightpaths instead of get a portal to Dalaran and have the world as their oyster. Plus it makes warlock summoning and mage portals relevant again outside of holidays.

Make no mistake about it, there will be plenty of gnashing of teeth over this change. But it is for the better, if you want the world to feel more like a world and not just a portal jump. I'm not asking for Eve-sized travel here, just more realistic travel. And yes, there will still be some portals to the blasted lands for Outland and to caverns of time from dalaran, which will enable crafty players to learn new portal jumping tricks of the trade.

Ariel has hit 75 this week and continues to grind some battlegrounds and some instances for the xp. It is fun to heal your way through the levels, although it can be a bit repetitive at certain levels. I forgot that Coren is level 78 and up only, which sucks when you are level 75 and have all the other brewfest achievements done! Ahh well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great Emblem and Badge Trade-Up

The huge announcement last week from Blizzard regarding cataclysm was that the currency tab will be cleaned up significantly in Patch 4.0. All of your badges from TBC and emblems from WOTLK, as wel as Stone Keepers Shards and battleground marks will be converted over to the new points system. Basically Emblems of Triumph and Frost will be converted at respcective ratios to the lower level of dungeon points, while all the PvP currency will be converted to the lower level of PvP gear points. Everything lower level will be converted to some amount of gold. While the payoff may not be significant in the long run, the change will finally remove all those confusing levels of emblems and useless badges and so on.

This move fits in with cataclysm's overall reboot theme where things are simplified and streamlined. We already knew that all points in the "lower tier" would already just be marked up to the new lower tier whenever a new raid instance or PvP patch comes out. No longer will you be forced to trade down points or emblems or badges from level to level just to make them useful. For instance, if you have all the triumph gear you can buy, then you have to trade down every emblem 3 times to get to heroism emblems, which can buy heirlooms and epic gems. That will no longer be the case, and thank goodness.

Two things interest me in this scenario. First, will the mounts from WOTLK that were buyable with emblems stay in the game at an oldschool vendor who sells things that now get converted to a point value? The 200 emblem mammoth is not worth the effort to some, but perhaps there will still be an opportunity to buy it later when you have used up all your point purchases and have extra left over.

Second, is it worth it to stock up on your emblems now to buy some heroic-level gear to start cataclysm off with (once you hit level 85)? I wonder if the point conversion rate will be so minimal that even the biggest stockpilers can only get 2-3 pieces of gear at the end of the day. While this means very little market value for people like me that are not bothering to start stockpiling emblems, I kind of hope this is the case. I do not think you should be able to sandbag resources such as emblems and frozen orbs and get unexpected benefits in a later expansion. Frozen Orb vendor was a nice change because it was within the same expansion. I doubt that I feel the same way about grinding your way to cataclysm gear now in WOTLK.

My apologies for not updating more regularly, but it is football season and you know I'm over on Southern College Sports doing my best. So I'm enjoying the doldrums and waitign eagerly for Cataclysm, just like you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Doldrums and Rampant Speculation



Well these are officially the summer doldrums of WoW. While there are still a ton of people around during weekend hours, you can tell we're in the end of an expansion with very little pugging overall and not much excitement. However, that may change as we have Harvest Festival coming up this week followed immediately by Brewfest. Not much longer and we'll be back into Hallow's End. Furthermore, the 4.0 events have begun with Operation Gnomeregan and the Saving Echo Isles world events beginning. I have not had a chance to do the Horde event but I will soon and then I will report back some thoughts. The short of it is...I hope this is not it. I want to have this story be entertaining and updated every 2-3 weeks leading up to release date.

Guild rosters have also been taking a hit, including my Alliance side guild. My real life work finally slowed down a bit but my hobbies ramp up a bit in the fall thanks to sportswriting (www.scstrek.blogspot.com and www.southerncollegesports.com if you happen to be interested). This weekend for instance I spent all day Saturday driving to and from and in South Bend for the Michigan-ND game. Then Sunday the family was out so I got a chance to play WoW for a few hours. It was a great little reload and I'm close to getting Old World Raider. The druid is at 74, the paladin at 45, and the shaman hit 30 yesterday. I'd like to say they would all still get into Northrend with the druid at 80 by cata launch, but it's likely not going to happen. Ahh well, seeing the old world revamped is not such a bad thing for players like me.

Speaking of Cataclysm release dates, the buzz in the community is huge now that the Gnomeregan and Echo Isles events went up with 4.0 on the public test realms. Everyone is speculating on whether these events mean we are a month away or a few months away. Blizzard certainly appears to be on track for the 2010 release they promised, and I can't help but imagine they will have the game out prior to Black Friday. In fact, their usual second or third week of November release seems to work well and that's when I think you will see the game. Should be some exciting times even if it comes out closer to Christmas, but I'd hate to see the families dealing with missing folks on that week!

Where's Jimmy?

Oh don't bother him, Cataclysm came out. :-)

But doesn't he want his Christmas gifts??

He said Santa ended the world and he's in heaven.

And so on. In other gaming news, our Pathfinder group finally made it into the crypt, which is really more of a tower, which is really more of a big number puzzle. I like number puzzles, but I believe the GM being a mathematician will have me outclassed on this one. Time to start begging for hints next month! It's so interesting playing an RPG after being only RP'ing in WoW for so long. And very little at that. It's too bad the game does not connote more of that feeling, but there's nothing like sitting at a table, even if it is a digital table, with a group of people and hammering out battles with imagination.

So that's what is going on in the game. AIE is growing as usual and I have to commend the guys on The Instance and the AIE Podcast, both of which have put out fantastic content during the doldrums. If you are not listening, you really should check them out. Every other WoW podcast I've ever heard pales in comparison to Scott and Randy, but maybe there are some recommendations of things I have not heard out there yet. You can never have too many podcasts!

Cataclysm - November 16, 2010.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy Second Anniversary to The Illuminati!

Hello again everyone. Well it's that time of year again, when both my guilds celebrate their anniversaries with big events. The AIE crew did their Summer of Love week last week with tons of great events I may get into next time. On the Illuminati side, you may recall that I came up just short in the running for the officer position to run these events, but I threw in my thoughts and my hat with the wonderful person who did get the job, Soph. I could go into details about the planning, but needless to say Soph put a ton of work into her first event and our guild leader as well as two of us who volunteered to be commanders had many comments on her drafts and hopefully guided her correctly to improve the event.

Phase one of the event was a meeting in Shattrath where we sent pairs of two members off to a new server to level to 5, catch some fish or kill some creatures, and then turn in their gold winnings to Soph to buy a pet for her, when they could move on in teams of 4 back on our server to phase 2. Here's some kickoff pictures in Shatt.


Our unflappable leader and her commander, both in wedding dresses.


About half the group, maybe more of the 35 participants.

Phase 2 of the competition sent teams of 3-5 back and forth from commander to commander in various locations in Azeroth (Zangarmarsh, Elwynn Forest, and Ungoro Crater) with riddles to solve to go get items from low-level instance bosses in about 5 instances. Then the finish line was in Twilight Grove in Duskwood where our fearless leader had set herself up again. I drew the best location in Azeroth, the crystal cave in Ungoro...but probably the worst RP role for me, the war general commander. Get down maggot and give me 20! Anyway,...here's my view of most of the evening, and it is very pleasant.


Pretty colors...


And your friendly commander in the back.

So here are four of the riddles, see for yourself if you can figure them out! These are fantastic nuggets and all the credit goes to Soph on these, as the rest of us had nothing to do with them as far as I know. The idea was to gear up one of your toons for a big battle to come (level up, gear up, profit!)

QUEST 1
Flower Power:
A message from Soph:

I know this might come as a shock, but there is another with my name.
To her shop many do not flock in a land of the past near Festival Lane

Get your guildfrond a lily held-in-the-off-hand.
Similar to a Darkmoon bloom, but of a different brand.

Make sure not to let Arthas talk or back through the inn you will walk.
The instance you must not activate, do not hasten the plagued citizen's fates.
----------------------------------------------------------
QUEST 2
Neck Respect:

Provide yourself with an amulet that suites your mood
Are you lonely, compassionate, hungry, or is your scent just plain rude?

Find the troll that can help you with your Tikbalang and get any item that'll set you apart from the gang.
He claims his Amulets are "Amazing", but do pay attention to his phrasing.

Should you go to the upper city I will look upon you with pity.
------------------------------------------------------------------
QUEST 3
Robe Probe:

There is a Fanglord out there
With such beautiful blue hair.
His robes of deer hair
I wish he would share.

He dwells in a land near the shore
Of plants and water it is poor
go to the place where few have been
and get yourself some moccasin.

Find him where the caverns wail
take a wrong turn and you might fail.
---------------------------------------------------------
QUEST 4
Obscene Machine:

Though triathlons are all brawn I find physical activity to be quite a yawn.
Here is a mini-equation with just enough information.
Hope you aced all your courses, if not feel free to use outside sources!

A= the symbol for the 16th element of the periodic table
B= the opposite roll of greed
C= the 19th letter of the alphabet
D= Oruko Saki is his real name; Splinter's enemy

A=C

(A+B)'C + (D)=
Provide yourself with something Buzzworthy from him... it?

You'll discover this being where you'd find Van Cleef
Go get 'em and give 'em some grief.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

So then once a team found their way to Duskwood they had to locate Soph, who like I said was hanging out with the world dragon spawn point in Twilight Grove. Once everyone finished the quests we all gathered for a party and prizes. Thansk to all the generous donors of the guild once again for giving very valuable gifts for everyone to share!


It's like a hot tub time machine moonwell!


More hot tub fun while we waited for the grand finale.


Prizes and fireworks! What could be better?

Then once all the prizes were handed out for good costumes, good RP commanders (not me), good RP teams, and winning racers, it was time for our semiannual knighting ceremony. While the first two of these ceremonies took place in Feralas on the Twin Spires, we had a star-wars ending type setting with everyone lined up on opposite sides of the ramp up to the portal to the emerald dream. Then the officers stood up top amongst all the flares and called up our newest knights, also known as the grump club and the veteran members of the The Illuminati. Here are some pictures from some of the knighting ceremony, although the flares do make it hard to see a bit!











Congratulations to all our newest Knights. I did not vote on you guys, but I believe the decisions were all correct and warranted. And congratulations to Soph for having such a well-received first event. Now that the big hitter is done, Ekat has a little something up her sleeve pre-Cataclysm. More on that later, but needless to say, just because I'm not an officer doesn't mean it will stop me from running some fun stuff floating about in the old noggin. Stay tuned...

Or as a proper Illuminati "Trials of the Illuminated" participant would say in Ungoro Crater, /salute and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Team Update July 2010

Well it has been some time since I did a team update, and I have managed a bit of playtime recently so some movement has occurred. The main Ekaterinae has one more weekly quest to go for her tier 10 shoulders, which will fully equip her in 251 and higher gear in every slot but wand. I actually missed the weekly this week so ahh well. Navarionae has continued gem cutting epics that Ariel transmutes and he has pushed the team over 20k gold. Although a big chunk of that is soon to be eaten because...

The Tree is in Northrend! Oh noes! I have healed probably 7 PUG Utgarde Keep thus far and I've seen everything from groups outright rude to healers to a Kingslayer tanking for a friend. I think I cast 4 heals that mattered the whole time. And by four I mean zero. Anyway, Ariel is grinding those instances and is mostly through 70 which means epic flight is coming soon and will perhaps cause some questing to be done too. However, I really like grinding one instance a day for xp.

Biancae has also been burning through rested time and has cleared most of STV out finally. She is working in Dustwallow for a bit longer although at level 43, she is really starting to think about Tanaris. So the horde main is moving on up and wow is retribution hard to die with. She's never out of mana to heal and she does a lot of damage. It's wonderful.

Clarissae is still parked in the late 20's. No movement there.

I also got to see Ruby Sanctum for 20 minutes last night. I thought the first mini boss was a nice challenge and I want to see the rest of it even though it seems the overall reaction is blah. That just might be the summertime, which is keeping me busy. Plus another business trip next week on top of Grand Prix Columbus (my one MTG tournament this year) and I won't be online much. However, check out my sports site (linked in the blogroll) for new college football articles starting up last week. Woot!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Do You Believe in Precognition?

Precognition (from the Latin præ-, “prior to,” + cognitio, “acquiring knowledge”), also called future sight,[1] refers to perception that involves the acquisition of future information that cannot be deduced from presently available and normally acquired sense-based information.

So a little non-wow entry today, although I will briefly report that Ariel has hit 69 and discovered what everyone probably goes through once. I had not discovered that when you dual spec at 40, your spells for the non-active spec DO NOT UPDATE when you train like normal. I had no clue but I always trained in Feral so instances seemed pretty hard but not out of the questions in TBC. Then my first forays into UK were failures and the second tank was nice enough to point out that my rejuv was not ticking for enough. So I check and sure enough, I'm 5 ranks behind schedule on Rejuvenation and even more/less ranks behind in every healing spell. This turned me from terrible into overpowered, so please note this when you dual spec early!

Now going back to the definition above, I'm a person who has beliefs and all but I've never really considered precognition seriously. But sometimes coincidence is so strong that you really have to wonder if sometimes you just get sent a message somehow. So last night I wake up in a cold sweat at 5 AM after a lengthy dream about losing my wallet and having my identity and my money stolen. I had trouble shaking it but I managed to get back to sleep. I even told my friends online about it this morning when I went into work.

I get a call from my wife later in the day that says her bank card was declined. This is terribly embarrassing, especially for people who have some money in the bank in savings like we do. So while we run at about $500-700 in the banking account at our low point each month, we never get so close to overdraft. But sure enough, I log onto online banking and we are overdrafted for like $250. I start to look at the transactions and starting last night around 1 AM in the morning, there were some suspicious transactions that happened with my wife's bank card. These escalated today when the account was overdrafted. So we obviously called the bank and she'll be getting a new card, I'll dispute the charges and the bank assures me we'll get the money back. However, as I find out this news I'm half-pissed and half-creeped-out because of my dream. Could that have somehow been precognition?

I indeed had absolutely no reasonable way to know the events that were happening to our bank account. Even had I logged onto online banking at that hour, I would have not realized the first transactions were bogus. I'm the kind of skeptic that would just chalk this up to random coincidence, but the dream was so strong. I have woken up in a sweat from a dream only about 4-5 times in the last decade. It's not pleasant. And it is unbelievably rare for me to remember a dream so vividly like I did this time, so perhaps there's just something in the brain synapses that makes connections and has some level of future sight. It certainly is creepy if that is true, I mean imagine the power of the human brain if we could harness that.

So while I may be in a bad mood about this banking trouble for the next few days, I will forget about this aspect of the incident far before I forget the strange coincidence that makes me wonder: Is Precognition Real?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Good and the Bad

It seems like since the Blizzard HQ has lifted the veil on the Beta information in Cataclysm, all hell has broken loose like the stock market. Every other day there is good news and then every other day there's bad news. This week the good and bad has been notable, so I got drawn out for a midweek entry! We'll start with the bad news doc...

Blizzard decided that the next step in the Real ID revolution is to force all posters on the official forums to use their Real ID's and thus their real names! Now take a moment to think about all the forums that have been on the internet for two decades, and think about why people are so drawn to them. It's the anonymity within a community, and making a name for yourself outside your real identity. I'm sure there are some professional community forums with real name ID's, but the vast overwhelming majority is anonymous user names. And that's how it should be because discussing things on a hotbed like Blizzard official forums opens yourself up to stalkers and attackers and general douche-bags.

So it begs the question as Larisa so elonquently put it...did Blizzard forget to do a reality check before announcing this change? Despite one day of overwhelming negative reaction from the blogging community, they are still not backpedaling much in the blue posts today. And then, in the most ironic twist, Blizzard has tried to decide that the blue posters will not use their real names "because it will be detrimental to our employee's security." Oh really? Maybe you think it's not just the blue posters that have hate mail and psychos coming their way?

As Larisa and most others concluded, this is a terrible idea. When real identities are forced, the forums will slowly die if they are not truly dead already. One hopes that Blizzard's infatuation with Real ID does not taint them so much that they make moves that will definitely make people run away from the community. Although there will likely be more traffic and comments in blogs then, which is a good thing! Silver lining...

Time to turn to the good news. The talent system is being overhauled after Blizzard listened to alpha and beta players who let them know that the talent overhauls were not good enough. And truly, looking at the proposed changes, they were not. The problem was that no matter how much you try to do, with 51 point top line talents, the talent trees were unnecessarily bloated and always would be. So now the revamp has been announced. I'd link the blue post but it is way to long to quote here. The overview is that you will be locked into a talent tree at level 10 by your choice until you put 31 talent points into it, which will happen at level 70 because talents are coming every other level instead of every level. The mastery bonuses are coming in a little quicker including at level 10 since you are locked to what you want to specialize in. I agree with this change considering the new LFG system, and assuming you can still switch specs at level 40. All the crappy talents can finally go away and the system can be simplified to be much better and more streamlined.

With the overall additions over time to the game, sometimes you have to pare away to make it better. And this is a good choice here. It sounds like Mastery will be it's own separate stat on gear as well which converts to something useful to you once you have Mastery trained at level 78 or beyond. So while Blizzard has made one crazy decision, they have made one great decision. One would hope the way they listened to their customers in the talent tree paring will be the same way they eventually approach the Real ID forum issue. Making your customers safe and happy is the primary goal in any business, and that's where the focus at Blizzard needs to be right now.

PostNote - I was not selected for the officer position in my guild. While I was disappointed, I was apparently second place behind someone who is far more connected and social, and she is such a sweet person that I know the position will succeed. Additionally, the guild leader gave me full authority to join forces with her and help her make things great, so I've chosen to pitch in that way and I'll obviously report on our big fun events as they come along. The first one is August 15, but no details allowed! there might be guildies around you know.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Public Service Announcement - Real ID

So Real ID has been live for a couple of weeks now, and the controversy has hit a fever pitch in some areas while other people rejoice at lost connections coming back into touch. For me personally, I saw the system as a good opportunity to keep in touch with the real life friends I joined the game to keep in touch with. Nothing more, nothing less. So when one of my two close friends (who plays either on other servers/factions a lot or other Blizzard games) who the system would be best for me to use it with refused initially to use the system, I balked. Well needless to say that someone accepted a friend request this weekend and then while nobody else was online went through three hours of trying to use parental controls and such, freaking out over the features of Real ID.

The entire problem appears to be what is called "friends of friends." Basically if you've ever been on Facebook you will understand that you can set up your facebook profile to be shown only to friends or to friends of friends (default). Most people do not understand this default and so get freaked out when a boss or employer can look up your information despite not being friends with you. So the facebook controversy has spread through the web and while they fixed their system to allow more control, Blizzard still has this Real ID system in its infancy. Hence my buddy freaks out because his account and all his toons are exposed to "10 million people."

That's not how the system works. All you can see in the friends of friends list (and that's only if you click twice to get into that information for a particular player) is a list of real names in no particular order. No identifiers, no toon names, no email addresses, no nothing else. Just a list of names. Hence, if you have a friends list of maybe 5-10 people, they are all pretty anonymous. There's no real privacy risk here, unless you don't want your friends to bother you when you are on a toon that is your getaway from it all. But that being said, there's one simple rule I have to share with all of you using Real ID.

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR FRIENDS LIST AND MAKE SURE YOU HAVEN'T ADDED ANYONE STUPID!!!

In the example I just gave you, if you don't want to be bothered when on a getaway toon, do not give your Real ID to guild members or people you will likely be getting away from. If they are your true friends, you should be able to tell them that you are not wantign to chat or group at the moment and they would respect your wishes. Obviously if they do not respect those simple wishes, then they shouldn't be your Real ID friend. Arguably they shouldn't be your facebook friend either, but that's a whole different can of worms that I do not regulate well myself.

There's already one horror story out there for Real ID about stalking just 10 days after the system goes live. You can read it for yourself by Googling the Real ID stalker incident, but here's the short version. Girl adds boyfriend and a couple other people on her Real ID list. Her boyfriend is a moron who adds every guildie who will accept him even though he knows few of them in real life. One of such guildies is a little teenager who has been basically separated from grouping with the girlfriend because he's a harassing jerk. Teenager sees boyfriend's friends of friends list has only one female name on it, he googles this name, and calls the girlfriend at work. Oh the horror! What can we do to stop this crazy train?

OK snap out of it, chicken little. First off, the girlfriend should immediately drop the boyfriend from her Real ID friends list because he is not keeping a responsible friends list. You'll be able to tell by monitoring your friends' lists every once in a while, as if one balloons up dramatically you should drop them. Especially if there's some reason you can be identified in a plain old list of names and you have reason (like a guild stalker) to not be known, then be careful! Second off, if this story is true, and with 10 million people it probably is, the girl should call the cops on this dumbass. He wants to be a general stalking douchebag, let him learn a valuable life lesson about respecting authority and the rule of law. Don't go write a big internet story telling people Real ID is broken because you made bad decisions and then did not handle the consequences as effectively as you could have.

So to my readers who may want to add me as a Real ID friend, I say nay nay. It's nothing personal, but I keep my friends list to a select few real life friends. People who have reason to know my email address and people who will be responsible with their own friends list. If you wanted to look me up and you had my name, fair enough go ahead and call. But be prepared to face the consequences. And that's the end of the story.

So while I'm unhappy with a friend for buying into the internet freak out about the latest way Blizzard is invading our privacy and ruining the game, life moves on. Keep yourself safe out there, but realize everyone is not out to get you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

WOW is Dying?

My apologies for not hitting my usual one entry per weekend routine, but as I said last week Origins was going on and I got my game on for four days in real life. It was a fantastic break from work and well needed. I thought about writing an entry yesterday for the benefit of my server called "what to do with 24 hours of WoW downtime" but I figure if you need to be told to go outside, maybe you should stop playing the Wii.

Larisa brings up a good topic today: WoW is dying. To summarize:

"Is there any existing game that has received as many death sentences as WoW? I doubt it. WoW has been "dying" almost since it was launched, if you would listen to the community."

Unlike her conclusion that WoW is not dying, I actually think it is. Now this is not the doom and gloom that the posters on their way out with a ragequit on the forums allude to, but World of Warcraft is back on the decline. I suspect with Cataclysm that Activision-Blizzard will be able to get a slight bump in subscription numbers again for a while, but WoW 2.0 is basically a pretty rehash of a game many have been playing for 4-5 years at this point. While it is true that many players like me who came in late to the party will be sticking around for the foreseeable future, on the whole I almost guarantee blizzard will have trouble ever reaching their peak subscription numbers again.

Every two years this topic becomes in vogue because players run out of things to do and walk away because it is summertime at the end of an expansion. The sheer fact of the matter is many people will go away to Starcraft II and Diablo III, but Blizzard is keeping our community aspect of their games together by enacting Real ID chat across realms and games. That is the real reason most of us pay $15 a month: the community of friends. Last night I tried out Real ID chat while I was on a horde character speaking to an alliance character. This is a fantastic addition to the game and will bring together our group of four real life friends again. Plus if there's any more deep relationships I end up with on the horde side, I can talk to them while spending most of my time alliance side.

So Blizzard is essentially acknowledging that people are drifting away as they must after this long in a game. There's only so many hours you can do the same thing, even if you are doing different raid bosses or different battlegrounds. Console game developers would give their souls to hold a player's interest for one-tenth the amount of time the average wow players spends in Azeroth. The players will slowly move out of the game and the subscriber numbers will decline, but very slowly over the next 2-3 expansions of the game. Then I suspect the game will be replaced and support will disappear. But to Blizzard it will not matter as their profit machine will shift to the next MMO, and so will the playerbase (even if it is not to the legendary extent of World of Warcraft).

The real reason WoW will die is that Blizzard wants it to die. They may not want it to die anytime soon, but eventually they will want to support their new IP. If Blizzard maintained the same level of support and advertising for the game as they have now, the game would probably stabilize around 3-4 million subscribers just like Magic the Gathering stabilized in the CCG market by being consistently the best product out there. MTG does not have peak numbers, but they have a steady playerbase and that works for a game that does not need replaced with card sets moving in and out every few months. But while cards stay at the same level of coolness over 20 years, computer games age quickly and need to be wholesale replaced. Cataclysm is a stopgap, and WoW will die.

Nevertheless, that should not stop us from enjoying the game at its peak or near its peak. This is a beautiful game that will only get better in the coming year, and we are blessed to see Blizzard resetting the deck and not letting things go stagnant at this point. While Larisa is wrong, so are all the ragequitters on the forums that think everyone should follow them like little lambs. No sir. People come and go, but the community will stay as long as Blizzard wants them to. There may just be a few more barseats available at the Legerdemain Lounge next year, and anybody who lags in Dalaran can agree that's OK.

Sidenote - no word on the officer decision, but it sounds like a tough one. I suspect I'm out of the real running because of my real life obligations keeping me away from game some nights, but you never know. Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day



Well I think I had one of the better father's days I will ever have today. It all started with waking up and sitting at the computer for a bit of WoW time. Now it was nothing special, just leveling my horde paladin in Stranglethorn Vale some more, but it's like my weekend coffee. So I'm already off to a good start when my daughter comes in wearing a shirt that says...

Big Sister

We only have one child, so this was our long awaited word that my wife is pregnant again. So I'll be a dad once again here in about 8 months. My daughter helps me bang on the keyboard in STV for a few minutes, just hanging with dad. Then we finally got out to King's Island with my in-laws and Kelley and my father in law head off to the waterpark with the little ones while my mother in law, brother in law, and his girlfriend all went on some rides for the morning. Now last summer I let myself get mighty down about not fitting on a couple of rides including the new Diamondback supercoaster (the walk of shame out of the coaster car is sad, for sure). But I have been working out since February and I know I'm seeing some minor results in the health department.

So we get to the first of the rides I could not fit on last year and while the thing has the most awkward seats you'll ever sit in, I had little issue. Then we grabbed lunch and spent some time in the waterpark, hanging out with my daughter in the wave pool. After that it was time for a couple kiddy rides and we capped the night with Diamondback. It's definitely a close fit as I cannot have anything in my pockets thanks to the contoured seats, but I can get on! And the supercoaster is definitely a good one even if it doesn't live up to the super-hype it gets. However, it is definitely one of the best rides in the park (I also tried another unique coaster where you hang belly down and face first like Superman). But all in all, as silly as it may seem, this is the first time I know I'm seeing results with the gym. Getting healthy means I can enjoy many more father's days.

So finding out we're having another baby, spending time with the daughter without giving a hoot about work for a day, and seeing some results on my health regime. What a great day. I hope all the fathers out there had just as prosperous of a father's day. Cheers!

By the way, don't know if I'll have much to say next week wow related as I am headed to Origins Game Fair again. This will be my 8th Origins in 9 years, missing one for my wedding. Looking forward to seeing my favorite kind of games and their latest developments. Also will be shaking down my Goblin Charbelcher deck in MTG Legacy in preparation for the Grand Prix pro-level tournament coming through Ohio next month. So lots of good times, even if they are not in Azeroth. I applied for a leadership position in my alliance guild, so perhaps I'll have good news in game regarding that next week (and even if not, I'm sure we'll find someone great to fill the officer opening).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Fall of Archaeology



A very interesting Cataclysm Press Release came out to the public this week and there are some huge changes to the next expansion. Instead of a full ten levels with new talents at the end and such, a new secondary profession archaeology was supposed to be linked with Path of the Titans, a new way to customize and improve your characters. The whole gist, if you did not know about it beforehand, was that you go dig up some lore artifacts and such all over Azeroth and benefit by getting additional skills to customize your character. But Path of the Titans has been nixed for Cataclysm, which means archaeology is completely optional (Blizzard said so themselves).

And just like that, one of the nifty selling points of Cataclysm is gone. While I appreciate that the new secondary profession will be a nifty way to learn some more lore, it basically comes into the game as the new fishing, which is to say, completely useless. At least cooking and first aid have uses from time to time (cooking moreso than anything). I like fishing as a timewaster, and without any motivation to take on another secondary profession, I'll maybe just ignore it completely. Which is bad because not only did Blizzard plan big things for it, they spent countless hours of development dollars on this profession which will immediately be useless.

To "make up" for this cutting off the new profession at the knees, the announcement also said Inscription will be getting a makeover to some extent because it did not work out as well as planned. It's hard to match the success of Jewelcrafting, it really is. So now there will be medium level glyphs, which sounds profitable for scribes. But then they also announced that once you know a glyph, it will go into a list like a spell list and be reusable after every respec. Just like that, the profitability of Inscription just died a painful death. Sure, new glyphs will be marketable for a couple weeks, but it's just not going to matter anymore if you buy them once and forget about them. As a non-scribe, I'm OK with these changes but feel bad for those who expected more out of the profession and leveled it.

The other major news is also not good, as the guild leveling process stays in the game but without guild talents and guild currency. While this could have caused some serious issues for both my guilds as the largest guilds on each faction of Earthen Ring, I thought it was a brilliant move to add a way to really customize yourself for PvP or raiding or whatever it is you do. It appears between starcraft II and the beginning of diablo III, Azeroth just could not get enough development time for Blizzard to keep all their expectations.

This will certainly worry the Chicken Little mentalities out there who think the sky is falling because Blizzard is moving in more and more ways to monetize WoW (highlighted recently by the $3/month remote auction house going live). However, people must realize that Cataclysm is not dead and the game is not dead because of these changes. It would have been nice to have archaeology better, but you have to focus on the important things and that's developing good PvP and raiding content as well as really sparkling new zones and changes to the base world of Azeroth. That's a massive undertaking, and I hope by cutting these admittedly fringe benefits out of Cataclysm, it means what blizzard does deliver will be outstanding. The game is on the downslide, but that does not mean that blizzard is looking to ruin their reputation with bad product.

So all in all, I'm a bit disappointed in the news, but life goes on. The fanatics over the stupid dance studio are still bickering, but there's more important things in the game than professions and more important things in life than features in a video game. So complain today, but look ahead to tomorrow, when the content hopefully is as good as we've come to expect.