Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oh, gee!

Another leaf has been turned in my WoW endeavours: for the first time since I joined the browser based game community years yonder (and when that group entered WoW in US server) I have filled a proper application for a guild. In the US server guild it was much more generic, this one was... intriguing to put it mildly. It must be a very effective way to keep the guildhoppers, epic hunters and lazy slackers away from even applying, as it goes through your gaming history pretty neatly.

Then again it serves dual purpose: weeds out the raid applicants very neatly and in a nice way if there is competition for a raid position in the guild, and it gives the casual applicant (aka moi) the sense of importance and seriousness of the application. And of course, it gives out the business card of the guild.

I made this decision only after having a lengthy and nice chat with the guildmaster: it only proved what the website and the guild description had given me to understand. The decision was easy after that convo, thanks to that!

For the time being I won't go into details of the guild, but it's sufficient to say that the guild has long history on the server, it's mentality is that of "humble superiority" which I have grown to appreciate over the years in games and it caters both casuals and raiders: one growing to another, the other making way to another.

I'm pretty excited about this. Really.

It's like the saying: "When the pupil is ready, a mentor will show." In my case it's that as I'm ready to change my way, everything just snapped to place. First my rant about how it's impossible to get into anything 'meaningfull' in the game anymore, Azariel's deep and wise (as always) comment and my visit to the realm forum where this particular guild had just posted it's announcement for more players for their raid team. It was way too easy and way too straightforward. Just like my life in general.

There are only two issues left: to get the Three Stooges in together (as my brothers haven't done their applications as of yet) and the fact that I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks at the end of this month/beginning of the next due to our dogs competing in European Masters Lure-Coursing...

But still, I just noticed I've been given green light by the recruiting officer.

Oh, Gee!!

Obsolete endgame content

Just read an older post from Tobold, in which he proposes a form of horizontal expansion model to keep the whole content of the game more alive: Instead of adding more content to the level cap -thus making the old level cap content obsolete- he suggests that the players at the cap could get more beginning class options opened. Like in a racing game, you open up more car options after winning certain amount of races. From basic four (mage, warrior, priest, rogue) you advance to hybrids (paladin, warlock, druid, shaman) from which you advance to heroic classes (dk and so on), which you would start from the level 1 and keep the old content alive for the newcomers to come and enjoy the populated MMO environment.

(Side note: It's funny, but when I wrote my Learning to Play text, both syncaine at Hardcore Casual and Spinks in Spinksville wrote about the same issues which boggle my mind. Great minds and so on.)

What I had bobbing in my mind was the reason why the former end game has gotten forgotten. Why the reputation grind for factions goes completely unnoticed (in WoW), why the instances get forgotten and passed on the premise of a new expansion and how come the designers forget to tie in the expansions (at least in WoW... In EQ2 I saw some pretty neat quest line tie ins leading from one content to another...).

It seems that the vertical expansion route deliberately forgets and abandons the former -"farmed to death"- content in favour of the new one: the entry level to TBC was lv58 (56 if you had a mage to teleport you to Shattrath), and for the WotLK it's lv68 (which is IMO still too OP for properly geared toon...). What especially bothers me is that Pike's example I linked to earlier: Sunwell and Kael'Thas has been neglected by a huge amount of people, and still it's bound to be a great experience -even as nerfed one.

Let alone Mnt Hyjal and Black Temple...

To turn obsolete 'end game content' into something else... you have to device some twists into the former end game rewards and/or add some levels to the reputation rewards which incite the need to visit and do more for the earlier factions in order to advance in the new ones. Currently you can easily advance through the game and forget the faction reputations, and grind only the level cap ones you want to.

What if this wasn't so?

You couldn't gain the much fabled reward enchantment without an earlier faction rep at certain level: the fastest way to gain this would be a mentoring run through an earlier (heroic) instance. Old World endgame instances should be cut into smaller pieces and designed to work the same way as the Outlands and Northrend ones, being fairly easy one shots in normal and challenging at the heroic. The instances granting extra amount of reputation could be even harder than Heroic, scaling to the level of the party attending to it.

The options are there: it's all about the willingness of the design team to tackle this 800lb gorilla monster and make some tweaks in the basics. The game has been dumbed down enough now.

We casual players have brains, too, so the challenges could be something else than just adding twitch into the boss fights.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Belated first impressions

Sure. I made the unimaginable thing.

I activated the WotLK trial. Without my brothers, I entered Northrend, trying to fight the expectations posed to me throughout the months the expansion itself has been around.

First of all, I have to say that the downloading and updating of the game client sucks. Big time. The game client took about 4-5 hours to download: not due to my connection, but because the downloader just couldn't get enough data to deliver. Secondly, after this was through, the updates from 3.00.00 till 3.1.9XX took 3 hours and 38 minutes (that's what the downloader told me). PLUS the installation/initialisation of the install.

So, it took almost 10 hours from the beginning of the download to the final, playable game.

Purchased game would have cut that in half, because the 3+ hours of patches would have been there, still.

Enough technicalities. Off to Stormwind and Northrend.

Valiance Keep. The entry to the city-castle is impressive: the icebergs floating in the sea, the flashes of the cannons and the occasional trembling of the ground. The game-not-to-be-named had a slogan which suits here exceptionally well, and is in fact the carrying theme of the Borean Tundra: The War is Everywhere.

The recruiting queue, the mission briefings, everything in the Valiance Keep points to the fact that this keep is doing it's best to keep the foothold of the Alliance in the area. And as you move outside of the keep, the war hits you in the face: the marauding troops of the Nerubians keep pushing the human defenders to the brink of falling.

What really pleased me to see was the fact that your character was greeted as a hero by all the people in Valiance Keep. The initial questgiver giving the directions to the keep's master especially stated so and thus the initial storyline was started.

But then started the congestion of storylines and all of a sudden -even though I read all the story texts- I was swamped with a notion that I don't know what story this specific quest belongs to!

My first impressions can be summed up in one sentence: Outlands, but more of the same.

Ok, have to have something positive to say. The initial quests give gear rewards which improve the easily acquired Outlands blue gear pretty nicely, which was to be expected. The way how the gear is handed out is just plain slap on the face though: every quest gives you a choice of all basic types and the initial plate is geared towards warriors... protection warriors especially, being +STA gear. With odds and ends of other bonuses.

The loot, on the other hand, has proven to be a bit disappointing. Where in Outlands you could hope for an easy blue or good green as a drop, here in the six+ hours I played I got only three adequate greens. A couple of recipes were a plus, but otherwise the drops have been disappointing.

Like I said, there is too much to get oneself immersed into the problems and difficulties of the human settlers and Tuskarr/Kvaldir-conflicts, and the amount of factions poured over my poor head was way too much.

There is no coherrence in the area, all is just a jumbled mess.

What I realized was that the way to steer a character on a 'route' in this kind of a world would have been the Fighting Fantasy gamebook approach: at the questgiver you can decline or approve the quest, and either choice would open different opportunities at the next quest. In this 'every quest is open to everyone right away' approach the stories in the game get lost and I have to say that I enjoyed more the few hours I hunted down a couple of elites in Netherstorm with my brother, than the jumbled mess of stories in the Borean Tundra.

I can only wish it gets more interesting later on.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Learning to play

I read this Tobold's post with somewhat mixed feelings: Mind you, I'm viewing the situation from the point of view of lv70 prot warrior and lv55 holy priest disc priest, with no raiding experience.

In general terms, if there was a new game in which to incorporate this feature, I would suggest that the levelling game should be taken away and replaced with an interactive and interesting tutorial. However, in WoW the situation is already such that the levelling game is being effectively killed by Blizzard itself. In a way, the Old World is void, empty and full of unused questgivers, and the whole development is focused in making more candy for the end game raiding scene.

Which itself is already splitting in different sub-classes which are served with a) new, harder content and b) nerfing the previous harder content. Oh, yes, and c)by making the gear progression easier to move from one to another, even if you do not want to cannot play up to the standards of the raiding guilds. Like Gevlon so nicely put it. And I fully agree on his opinion in that post.

However, in terms of learning to play the class, the current situation in the raiding scene is unbearable. Like I have earlier posted, the /2 -trade channel that is- is filled with the LFM-announcements for people with the achievements for the instance they are going into. It's a Catch-22-esque situation: you have to have the instance completed to get to complete the instance. So the PUG way of learning to play the raiding game is effectively closed and as such the door to the reasonably progressive raid guilds is closed.

My question actually is, how can you learn to play the end game, if there is no way to learn to play the end game as such? And how can you apply for a raiding guild without having the proper (achievement proven) raiding experience, which you cannot get without being able to raid in meaningful way?

I liked Tobold's idea of having a raiding tutorial to teach the people entering the end game the basics of raiding. The problem with that idea, however, is the fact that most of the current mid- and high-level raiding guilds are already so far in the progression that there is neigh possibility for the newcomer to get into that game anymore.

The game is already separated into three classes of players: those still levelling (and probably never entering the raiding game), those who have entered the raiding end game (and are putting time and effort to it) and those who are in the high end of the raiding (raiding the hardest content Blizzard can toss to the players). These three are separated by /played, time available for playing and -like it or not- earlier progression in the end game content.

The guides on how to break into the raiding game released pre-WotLK are already outdated.

There is no way anymore, because there is no way to learn to play the game.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big decisions

Had some duo fun with Bishopgeorge last night with my Laiskajaakko: Disc Priest and Prot Warrior, both lv70 (stuck at BC cap) taking on Skettis missions. downing all lv71 elites in a breeze, but getting our butt handed to us on a platter by select few lv72 elites. How sad is that.

What we gained for the hours of work? Reputation for the Netherray mount, but not quite enough to get it. Some gold (which I gain more from AH). Some odd gear to disenchant. No real updates. Only one blue during the whole time, which was a disappointment.

However, we made a council decision: we decided to close down The Order of the Fist. Meaning that the guild we started as fun experiment and gathering place for ourselves is now exactly that: gathering place for us brothers and select few who have been invited in there. Invitation only, and that's all. (Solaire, you and alts are safe with us... :P)

I kind of feel sad about it. But then again, to run a guild, casual social and blah-blah, is a real job for one person. The players come into guilds looking for someone else to arrange things for them and are not willing to do anything by themselves. The good ones move on, which is great, but the ones who remain... I hate to say this, but Gevlon the Greedy Goblin is correct: Morons and Slackers. They just rule the average WoW-playing Joe/Jane category completely.

This doesn't mean I'm quitting, though: in fact, I've gotten a new direction and inspiration in the game, so I may even start posting more often in here, too.

Dang. That sounds like a promise...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Impossible situation?

I've taken my priest, Pupunen, out of the storage again. Respecced her to Discipline, only to discover how much more efficient Disc is in damage dealing compared to Holy. Truly, Discipline suits better to the soloing up and occasional grouping, with it's lacks in healing side and all.

The server I'm playing in is a peculiar one. Especially the Alliance side: all the epic gear prices plummet within few days way, way below Allakhazam values. And at the same time, I'm selling pre-BC scrolls with huge profit, practically without competition. Epic which Allakhazam gives the price of 2500g is left unsold at 700g: this cannot be a sign of a healthy AH or end game farming. Phaelia's Vestments: last price I saw was around 2000g, when it's being reported being sold for 5000-6000g on other servers.

Is this server over farmed at the moment?

The requirements in the LFM announcements in the trade channel tell the same: LFM for Naxx10, must have achievements for bosses. Must have epics to prove. Every announcement requires achievements to make certain you have done it and accomplished the deed. I bet Greedy Goblin would love this situation. No more M&S's ruining the day, right?

Then again, I'm way too casual to pay any heed on this. I want to experience the game, and I want to experience the content. If it requires me to gain achievement before I can experience it (dilemma?!), then I think I won't experience the content as it is. If the only way to enter the raiding scene is to buy myself the gear to fulfill the requirements to be able to enter the raid from which the gear drops, then there has to be something very awry about the whole end game concept.

The more I think of this, the more I'm trying to stay away from the WotLK. The more I postpone the purchase of it.

Well, with Pupunen I have found new joy in the lower level grind and questing, and I most probably will be pretty happy with that.

Oh, by the way. My middle son, age 11, plays on another server. He has a draenai shaman, and he's just entered the Ashenvale. On the way there he created a minigame for himself: Azeroth racing. You see, there are these trees and roots which arc so that you can run underneath them. Obvious lap arcs you can see in racing games... We had loads of giggles about this as he ran through Darkshore to Ashenvale, skidding all over the road to find the lap gate...

What's your minigame Blizzard doesn't reward you about?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Newfound interest

Holy macaroni!

After I found out how to make scrolls with my enchanter (Pupunen), my ventures in the AH have gotten a new twist. The market potential is enormous, as no-one is really providing the lower level scrolls! The majority of the scrolls in AH are aimed for the end game people, the raid enchants being at the top of the list. But very, very few twink enchants or 'generic' levelling enchants are available.

I've made decent profit already from disenchanting and scroll making, almost paid back my flying and three mounts I got for Laiskajaakko last week.

Which reminds me of the next patch, in which the travelling is even more dumbed down. I have finally gotten the flying skill and mount, and now they nerf the flying in Outlands completely: fly right away when you come in! What is this!?

Thank you Blizzard for making MY personal achievement feel like stolen treat. Next I suppose they will nerf the Heroics so that you can enter them right away when you enter Outlands and complete the normal version. And make them soloable for the proper level toons.

Nerf the whole game, then.

Till that, I'm going to reap the benefits from my newly found interest in AH: disenchanting for scroll enchanting...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Newbie moments

Ok. I consider myself a newbie in the sense that I don't read Tankspot, Elitist Jerks and such to improve my performance: instead I want to learn myself... In a way, I don't believe that there is electricity in the fence, I have to pee on it myself.

But still sometimes I find myself smacking myself on the forehead for my own stupidity.

I have told, boldly, that I'm mostly checking AH currently. Mainly I'm hoping for the good deals to come up, and I haven't paid too much heed on the crafting side. Still, I have enchanter/tailor with both skills at around 280, sitting idle. My newbie moment considering this: I hadn't realized that the scrolls are made by enchanting.

My AH ballgame just got a new turn. Hello disenchanting and scroll manufacturing!

Before anyone comments that the lowbie scrolls are not worth it, I just checked the market: the only scrolls beside the ones coming from vendors and loot in AH are only for raiding people. The whole level area from 1 to 79 is being largely neglected in my server! So, I'm buying the vellums from Bishopgeorge (who is a scribe) and selling the enchants at the price I can make profit. Simple, eh?

The only problem is the vast amount of readers who will copy this... Crap. :P

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I achieved something

I sat down by my computer yesterday and got an achievement I hadn't even thought about. It said something like "Level 70" and all of a sudden I noticed that Laiskajaakko could fly! Well, being a warrior, he required a mount and skill, but that 800 g for the skill and 100 g for each mount was pebbles for the ability to explore the areas in the Outland without setting a foot on the ground.

So I also got Nagrand and Shadowmoon Valley explored and I was feeling pretty spiffy about it. But then I thought how easy it is to get the exploration done in Outlands compared to the same in the Old World and it made me cringe. Also the quest achievements are way easier in Outlands than in Old World, even if you take the total needed to cover the whole area. I bet I'll be having Loremaster of Outlands way before either Loremaster of Kalimdor or Loremaster of Eastern Kingdoms due to the fact that the Outlands seem to be so much more achievable, both time and effort wise.

Next stop... well, I don't know! It'd take 5000g to gain the Artisan Flying skill, and at this level the money making possibilities seem a bit limited. I guess I'm sticking to the exploration achievements till I get enough time and courage to step into Northrend.

That will be a completely another story...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weekend in games

Whereas in real life people lay back and relax during the weekend, in MMORPG's the characters are the most active during the weekend. The economy must be a bit screwed. The economy of the MMO's reflect this perfectly by going from the low sales in the beginning and mid-week to the high sales of Friday night and Saturday only to succumb into slumber before the new weeks beginning.

Unbelievable, I took the time to sit by the computer during the weekend. The weather was cold, so the 'best' option was to play inside... And so I did.

Which brought me back to the basic questions: why do I play WoW? Sure, there have been changes in the atmosphere lately, as I noticed that people are looking for PUG's to complete achievements in the Old World raid instances. "LFM anyone 60+lv for [insert old world raid instance]" was a common call all the way from early Friday evening till morning (!?) of Sunday. At least for that time it seemed that people were trying to group for the instances: I didn't have the time to commit to 2-3 hours at a time for those foolishness'.

So, why do I play WoW? I've been advocating the grouping and social gaming for the whole time I've blogged, so I should be rejoicing for this change. At the same time I'm cringing with disgust for the total atmosphere of the game community: at least in my server it's appalling. LFM for Achievement this, LF raid guild, recruiting 80lv only... the competitiveness in a game where competition shouldn't be the issue, but co-operation.

I noticed something while I played. Actually several things. WoW is -or actually most MMO's are- extremely time demanding hobby when compared to other hobbies competing with it. For example I'm having my Shorinji Kempo trainings two times a week during the summer, two hours at a time. In addition to that, I'm doing my best to have decent walkies (about 1.5-2 hours at a time) with our dogs at least three times a week (my wife does it even more, so they have their long walkies at least 5-6 times a week, in addition to the normal backyard visits). If I compare this to the time expectation of WoW (or EQ2 which I know of), to be successful in the game both socially and game wise, I'd have to devote at least a couple of hours almost daily to the game, and even more on weekends. That is if I want to make a difference.

And it would be my sole hobby by then, with no time for anything else except mandatory family things.

So I came to the conclusion that WoW isn't much of a casual gaming, at least not in the level I would want it to be.

The second issue is the fun part: is it really fun, amusing and relaxing to beat the pixels? For some it must be, but what I found out is that soloing the content is really more of a burden and strain than relaxing past time. Heck, I enjoy currently more of mowing of our lawn than doing the Hemet Nesingwary missions in the Outlands! Pointless killing of pixel monsters just sucks.

On the other hand, I've called for meaningfull questlines and wondered why the storytelling isn't working. Well, guess what: I think that all the killing and running around is splintering the stories into series' of combats and mayhem, during which you forget the reason why you are killing these foozles (which makes the Nesingwary missions in Old World and Outlands even more absurd...)! I noticed this as I was working on the Loremaster of Kalimdor achievement in Darkshore, and found several very nice questlines which I have done several times earlier but didn't remember the stories at all! And I read the stories!

Then again, the most interesting starter quest line, The Absentminded Prospector, was cut short just as it was beginning to get interesting. This was one of the low level questlines I had never even started, because it's a group quest (suggested players (2)) and remains such till the end in Menethil harbour, where it just... ends in to the thin air. I stayed there to see if the exclamation mark would light up on the questgiver, but no. A great, enticing storytelling tossed out of the window. With animations and all, in the Old World content!

I noticed that I enjoy more of the game and the stories when I'm doing the quests with obscenely overlevelled character rather than experiencing the content at the level it's been designed for. Why? The stories advance faster and it's like the story really develops in front of your eyes. Would you bother with a story after the third wipe? Most probably you'd be so crossed that you'd just snuff the opposition just to revenge the wipes, without any thought to the story itself.

Oh, yes, and the Nesingwary rewards are all mutt for a Warrior. My first instance loots from Hellfire Citadel are still better than the crap those quests offer, except maybe for armour value. Otherwise the quest rewards are aimed for other classes, shaman's seem to be especially remembered.

All for now. I got Laiskajaakko the title of Ambassador for getting 5 exalted reputations (Alliance capitals) and 421/700 in Loremaster of Kalimdor (it's 520 in the Eastern Kingdoms...). So I'm off to 'grind' some more lowbie areas next time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Browser playing for a change

We are being 'blessed' by a heat wave:the temperature is easily above 25 deg.C, and has been so over the weekend. This naturally has somehow diminished the interest in sitting by the computer and playing time consuming games like WoW.

What I have been playing, though, are pretty simple browser based games like MyBrute and Legends of Zork in addition to the Mafia Wars over at Facebook. Especially the first ones mentioned have been life savers in the way that they require just a few clicks, are fun and recharge till tomorrow.

I've also played some quick games of Pandemic-2, a java based game in which you play the part of a disease, with the sole intention to infect and kill all the people in the world. The curse of Madagascar however prevents me from killing everyone, as that one island is neigh impossible to infect... It just comes too much down to luck, I guess.

In WoW, because that's what you are interested in anyway, I've been doing some nice AH deals. It seems that there are some people who are selling Overcast Belts at outrageously low prices on the server I'm in, and I'm reaping some nice 200g profit from reselling them. Not that I have anything to complain, it just makes my AH game more enjoyable, but only shows how little some people follow the ways of the AH. It also shows how careful and cautious I am, as there are few of the Ulduar Epics readily available at reasonable prices, only waiting for flipping: however, due to my cautiousness I'm not willing to put 3000g into a stuff I might sell for 5000g on Friday. Only because I might get burned with it and the money doesn't exactly grow in trees for the low level people like me.

Next weekend is cold and rainy. We'll see how that goes in the gaming front then.