Friday, January 29, 2010

Three rode again

The nights like last one are too far and too apart: you see, the Three Stooges went together to mess things up and ... well, messy...

As it happens, my brother Förgelös (rogue, lv74) has very little time to devote to the game, so I and my other brother, Bishopgeorge (Shadow/disc priest), have overlevelled him already. Quite badly, as you can see. But that did slow down our bad humor, disgraceful dying and making fools of ourselves.

Due to the level difference it's quite possible for us to three man almost any of the normal pre-80 5 man instances. Due to the possible drops we settled for the Azjol Nerub and Ahn'Kahet. Well, part of the reason was also that in running heroics there is never time to look around and admire the scenery. Like Bishop so cleverly put it: "Random heroic runs are like you had a tunnel vision: faster, faster, where's the next mob". And in most cases you don't even get the time to really 'learn' the mobs.

So we did AN first. Cool runnings, time to see the scenery and show Förgelös the bosses and their specialities. I wonder why Blizzard has put so much effort in making the unreachable areas of this instance (the levels you see while dropping from Hadronox's lair down to the bottom) so extremely beautiful? Because I had seen the slow motion version (some paladin buffed me with the slow falling buff once), we took the priestly way of descending by levitation, and the brothers shared my thoughts: the sights are beautiful, the graphics outstandingly alien and compelling.

I as the tank didn't tell anything about the bosses except what the rogue dps should concentrate on. Too much information would have spoiled the fun in Anub already, let alone in the OK we hit next. By the way, this was the first time I used the 'right' exit from AN, which I was surprised to find out there?!

Ahn'Kahet: The Old Kingdom was the mess it always is. I think the place is something in which the developers have wanted to recreate something similar as -say- Wailing Caverns, but in a bit more condensed format. The result? Messy, sprawling place with no red line. With loads of extremely intriguing details and places out there, where you cannot reach in any ways.

This was the third run I've had in OK where the moss boss was missing: Is it a bug or has that boss been removed? I'm inclined to believe that it's a bug, as the outline and figure of the boss was hovering over several of the blue bonfires around the instance, reminding that there has been such a creature. But the boss was nowhere to find.

Herald Volazj was the encounter I was referring to when I stated that I gave as little information as possible of the bosses: I remember my initial surprise when he cast the nightmare vision on me for the first time and the disgust of having to fight myself there, so I wanted Förgelös to experience the thing himself. And it was a shock: when I had downed my opponents I 'woke up' to see Förgelös running away from his counterparts at the rim of the room, obviously not noticing how weak they were!

The instances were fun to three man, and netted pretty decent gear for the newly dinged lv74 rogue. It gave us level capped, but instance overlevelled players the possibility to look around, learn and see the fights at a lot slower pace, making it easier later on to take the challenges on higher level.

Then again, the challenge in heroics is more to cope with the rest of the group than with the instance bosses themself. Sad, isn't it?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

WoW challenge

Tobold has taken the discussion of WoW being too easy to a new level with his made up letter from Ghostcrawler. Granted, that discussion has been around at least as long as I've blogged, most probably for as long as WoW has been around. 

Some have taken that as a challenge, especially lately. Gevlon has initiated the Undergeared challenge on the end content, with the intention to raid the current end game content in blue gear and with people playing toons of which they do not have very good experience. Thus far they have cleared the IC 5man normal content without problems. I know there is another similar project going on in the US servers (Gevlon's undergeared guild in on EU-server Arathor).

Tobold posted some days ago a post about the issue and pointed out that the game has gotten even easier for the players who use addons. I admit, I use addons quite extensively, all the way from Tankmaster to DBM, from Elitist Group to Omen and Recount. 

I think there is a way for Blizzard to recognize the raiders running with addons from those who are not. Why don't they just add an challenging achievement to the lot. 

Raid completed without the use of addons.

The challenge would be to run the game without using any addons at all, only the Blizzard issue standard UI (I admit that Tobold proposed this, too).

I would like to see that video in which the raid party runs through the content from zero to hero, from starter area to Arthas, without any addons at the same speed as people do currently with the addons. Only in that case you could really say that the game has gotten too easy.

You see, the addons are a kind of a cheat I wrote earlier about: they change the playing experience and make it easier than the game was intended by the designers.

So, is there anyone out there to take the challenge to run the end content without the use of addons?

PS. I already know I will get smack on my face for posting this. So bring it on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Then a cheat, now a norm

I was watching the TV-show "FlashForward" the other day, and as the story of the show opens up in little pieces I noticed myself thinking about going to some website to see what's going to happen and what the mystery of the 137 seconds is all about. In this case I decided against it, maybe because the story has the kind of mystery to it which I have learned to enjoy in shows like Babylon 5 (during which I adamantly resisted looking the spoilers), Life on Mars (still haven't peeked how the US version ended) and Ashes to Ashes.

So a thought came to me.

Earlier in computer games, there were sites which had walkthroughs to different games. I bet there still are. In my book the use of those walkthroughs equalled cheating, admitting that the game is too hard for you or that your imagination isn't enough to solve the problems by yourself. The same as with different "god mode codes" which have been available to console games. I admit on checking them on some games, sure. In those cases, however, the games had a bug which was making the advancement impossible without a proper patch, which at that time was something I couldn't do. You see, I didn't have an internet connection back then.

The walkthroughs were guides on how to pass the game as effectively as possible. Or how to overcome that devious plot twist or final confrontation. Or how to pass the questlines faster.

Or how to kill the boss in the end.

In a way you could think that the strategy guides through the difficult and multi-phased end boss fights are walkthroughs in MMO's. The same as the use of questing addons, which take away the actual adventure and exploration away from the game. What was earlier considered cheating in single player games is in MMO's a gaming community norm. Now you are faced with the fact that you have to learn the boss fights -at least in principle- before you actually engage in the actual confrontation. And to reach that point in the game, you have to level as fast as possible to the level cap, because "that is where the game begins".

I'll ponder more on the issue of instance or raid bosses, though. Considering the fact that the MMO game experience is a group activity, it isn't any wonder that these strategy guides exist, though. In single player game it's all about you, yourself and your capabilities to overcome the opposition, but in MMO group content you have to rely on your team in addition to your own capabilities. In the heat of a boss fight with 10, 25 or even 40 fellow players the overall picture may well become shrouded in the fury of playing your own game the best you can, leaving the raid leader into a difficult micro management position of strengthening the strengths of the team by giving guidance to it. Even the most capable raid leader cannot be expected to be able to convey all the special tasks of the classes to everyone in the party, let alone decipher and comment on each individual's task and performance between the wipes. Even if this was possible, it's not realistic to expect the group spend the time discussing or learning the strategy there and then. The time spent on learning the strategy outside the game gives the party more time to actually play the encounter and find better solutions more suited to the party itself. In the end, it's better for all in the group have at least the broad overview of the fight, rather than know their own part of it only.

What was earlier considered a cheat is now the way the game is played. In fact, it has become more a necessity to use the off game resources to overcome the ultimately very complex boss encounters properly, and gain the feeling of progress in the game. Even though the game's publisher hands out the datasheet for the current bosses special abilities, these can only serve as the 'strategy guidance' a boxer might receive from his trainer before the crucial fight. It doesn't change the fact that it all comes down to the execution: the boxer has to overcome the upper left hook of the opponent by himself. In a raid its the same: even if all the group would know the boss' special abilities and their counter moves, even if they knew the strategies before engaging, there is the apparent margin of failure which comes from actually playing and reacting to the real fight happening on the screen. The strategy only gives the possibility of a solution, to which the party must find a way to actually do it.

In fact, the actual execution of the strategy in timely and proper manner in a team may be too much for some, even with the knowledge of the strategy. And that's the reason why it still feels good to kill the boss!

I wonder what would happen if the boss fights were not scripted and there was no 'best strategy' to win? What do you think about the cheats being the common norm in the MMO's?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Az revealed

Not that much to tell about me to be honest, but as I will be posting in our dear Copra's blog from time to time, I will write a little story about me, myself and I.

I have been playing WoW for about 3,5 half years now (atleast, thats how far the payment history got me). I've been an avid gamer for about 12 years and have always been an absolute sucker for a great storyline. Games I absolutely loved playing where the Baldurs Gate series, the Neverwinter Nights games, and the KotOR series (to name a few). I've always been a big fantasy fan and actually managed to fight the urge to buy WoW for quite some time...and then a few of my RL friends started playing and I was lost...

During my time at the University I got hooked on browser based online games where I met up with Copra at some time or another. We lead a clan together which at its highest point had a member-base of around 200 active players. From my time in that clan I learned quite a few things. Not just about playing games and managing a group of that size, but also about how people act, how people react and general behavior of the anonymous.

Back to WoW! From the start I've been playing my Warlock (Azariell, Thunderhorn for those who hadn't guessed). I did the first 40 levels completely solo (in a bank-alt guild of a friend where nobody ever was online, so to not get the 'wanna join my guild plxthx'). I intentionally did not join a 'real' guild as I first wanted to learn the game and wanted to know what I was talking about. Anyway, I joined a casual but raiding guild, and by the time TBC hit the shelves I had gotten to lvl 56. In TBC I got to 70 a bit slower than most, but compared to the average WoW player, I did not play that much. Sure I had times that I spend countless hours in WoW, but other months where I did much less. Overall I never really raided in TBC, I did the occasional Kara guild farming run, but that was about it. I enjoyed myself with my own personal quests be it leveling tailoring 0-375 in one go, or getting enough money to buy that amazing epic flyer (seems to be so easy these days). Ow, and I even got Copra to switch from the US servers to the EU ones (something he still regrets I think)

WotLK somehow was a different story for some reason. I leveled my lock (with a small break in between) and got it geared to a decent level pretty fast. Still was not raiding as I couldn't commit myself to a single night of free time. Instead I leveled a second toon (something I hadn't ever taken the time for before) which is my tanking druid, Aerun. Also got that one geared up, and having an absolute blast with it (did my first ICC 10-man run as OT today). It also greatly enhanced my scope of WoW, and the view on other roles than DPS.

Lately I have been thinking about raiding again. I say again because I thought about it once before, but got rejected as the raiding coalition my guild is in got 3 Lock applications at the same time, of which the one with the most raid experience was chosen (me having zero experience).
Anyway,I think the blood got flowing again from being dragged into ICC a few times by my guildies during the first weeks of 3.3. I got to experience what it was like to step into an instance the first time anybody entered it. Progress raiding at its finest. Together with another friend we are now discussing a 'casual' raid. Not progress oriented, but maybe just to do the weekly raid together or something. But if that ever happends, you'll be hearing about it.

Anyway, thats about it, me and my gaming in a nutshell.

Ow and just a warning, when I start typing, its a bit hard for me to stop...This one also got too long again...ah well, you'll get used to it if you stick around long enough to read some of my posts.

So to end of with a little question. Copra got me to write a few pieces now and then and got me started, how or why did you start blogging?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Two extremes in one weekend (yawp)

What a weekend. First some 'old instances', like Shadow Labs with Bishop for the Karazhan attunement chain. Just duoing that for the heck of it and having fun. Even wiped on Murmur again, this time just out of spite and for the heck of it. After that we took on a random, only to find ourselves in Ahn'Kahet: The Old Kingdom.

The group was a mishmash in both gearing, gemming and enchanting. To the point that one of the dps left before the first boss. The healer druid left after the first wipe. The dps mage, who couldn't contain his aggro generation shouted "NOOOOOOB TANK" after dying despite of me spamming taunt and devastate on the Guardian he was shooting at. After the third try the whole team broke. The only sane comment was from a paladin who came to the last try: "If you do not know the boss, do have the decency to say so before the pull." Agree. Then again, I've been there enough times to say that the whole group screw it up, and it wasn't the tank's fault. I had the guardians on me as soon as I could get within the taunt range, even if the dps/healer ran away from me (thanks to the minor speed buff of Tuskarr's Vitality!), and even as I was a tank, I was dpsing at the top of the group. I mean groups. Sure, that mage had over 3k dps, but dps without aggro management is suicide.

It just was a failpug. That's all. No excuses, I was part of it.

The other extreme came on Sunday. We had a couple of hours electric blackout and I wasn't sure if I would make it to the guild weekly raid. However, I made it and I got into the Icecrown Citadel for the first time: the weekly was Marrowgar.

The fight is very simple, at least on the tanks: tank, spank and stay away from the cold flames.

The group, however, was a mix of alts and newcomers (like me). Most of the people hadn't encountered this boss earlier. Never the less, we did it on the 8th run, when everyone had learned their lesson on their own part.

Did it feel good? Damn right it did. Got a nice mace to replace my trusty old Peacekeeper Blade, which I will keep in my bag still. Just for the sake of Sword Specialization...

This week starts a new era in the blog: Azariell has 'joined' as an author and I may have to come up with a new punchline. He'll post an introduction at some point when it suits him: I know he has at least one post in the list already. The way I have thought this is that we'll have one post per day on the weekdays and weekends are 'free' of posts. That's the first time I've put on any schedule in the blog, so it's bound to be changed or broken right away.

Straight ahead towards new disappointments!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Comic relief

I feel so stupid.

No. I have been stupid.

Well, maybe I still am, but I have been shown to be extremely stupid.

I've been sitting in Dalaran, using my emblems on the vendors and wondering how come I cannot unlock the T9 gear at all. Due to my hate towards the Argent Tournament I haven't visited the area since the LFD launched, and I have visited the vendors there way back when the Tournament was opened, only to make a mental note that their gear requires something I don't have.

I have changed that mental note later to tell me that they require tokens for the gear, and there is no emblem gear available from the Argent Tournament vendors.

Stupid me. /smack in the head

As if there were any pointers to them in-game, anywhere... I wonder how many players even 'need' to visit Argent Tournament area now, as you can enter the Trial of the Champion through the LFD...?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Class mastery

What measures your mastery of your class? Just read a blog post complaining about people on raids who haven't mastered their class. I wonder how can you tell you have mastered your class, because in my case I try my best to learn from each encounter I enter. My view of the mastery is subjective and it's not necessarily equal with someone who has a)played longer, b)mastered more content, c)mastered more classes or d)spends more time reading the off-game resources for tweaking.

How do you rate your own mastery of the class? For me the rating is pretty straightforward: either I can or I cannot. Either my gear/stats are acceptable compared to the requirements, or not. Either I understand the concept/fight/fault or not. In short, I don't have reasonable expectations on my own performance.

After all, as a sort of a perfectionist in nature, I'm my own worst critic and enemy, and I'm very seldom satisfied with myself.

Including my class mastery.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rant, vent, poof

I wasn't going to post anything today, due to a huge amount of inner rage for several reasons. However, I decided to post a few links.

Without WoWHead, WoW Wiki, or Thottbot, how was I supposed to figure out all the different choices for the emblems?

The standard motto for MMO questing became ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’.

One of the functions of the community was to teach new players.

Whatever way you look at it, MMO's are a team effort in more ways than one.

In condensed form: New player hits the lv80, and has been running the LFD for the last 10 levels. He has visited all the instances a couple of times at least, knows to handle them at least reasonably and starts gearing up with emblems from the heroics. There is no primer in-game to tell him what to concentrate on, how to improve and how to gear, really.

Gear gets up to raid levels, even though the 'low tier' raiding is going further away in every content patch. Naxx and Ulduar have been voided for either being 'too boring' or 'not of any value in gearing'. There is no in-game primer whatsoever to tell the the newcomer anything about the raiding part. No information about raids and raiding at all.

Being the casual slacker-moron, playing only now and then, this feller wants to experience the content. Funnily enough he wants to spend his time in the game rather than going through the off game material required to participate the group functions. Being as casual as he is, or as hardcore as he can, he is seriously deprived from the information which might make his playing more enjoyable.

So he takes his stand, plays whenever he likes and cares Jack about the raiding which is as mysterious to him as the finesses of the Algalon fight. It's just a myth.

Until he miraculously encounters another fellow, who has been playing for a long time and is willing to teach the poor time deprived gamer the ropes of the finer things in the game. The game gets new face and new lease in his life. And an extended subscription.

Can the game companies really rely on the off game information in making the game more accessible to the players with no -or limited- understanding of the game mechanics?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It's a bloody team effort

Whatever way you look at it, MMO's are a team effort in more ways than one. In the most basic level, the single character's growth from zero to hero is a single experience both to the toon and to the player, but everything else is involving co-operation with other toons and players.

Dungeons. Group quests. Raids. Guilds. Trading.

The difficulties in maintaining these functions boils always down to the communication and understanding on the personal level.

That's why I'm pretty much bothered by the silent 5man runs the LFD is providing. In fact, I'm pretty much bothered by the silence in all the areas of the game: even the /2 trade and 1/ general are pretty silent when you take the excessive spam off the channels.

Proper communication is key to success in team effort. Assuming that others understand you perfectly leads to disaster. If you are leading a party, take that few sentences in that PUG group to explain in few words the bosses, do not assume others know and execute it the way you want to.

Do not assume I know what you mean with your silence.

Communication is the key thing to success in team effort. Make it count.

Sure, not all of us can type while we're bashing the trash. Wait for the more quiet moment (mana break?) to state your mind. You may not ever see the rest of the group again, but they may rank you in something like Elitist Group for others to see. That one helpful sentence may help you later on in your runs.

Not all of us are as vocal with their concerns: never the less, the concerns are not any less than those of the vocal minority. After all, it's a team effort and the team is just as strong as it's weakest link. The failrun has it's weakest link, and if you are there for the first time without saying anything about it, it's your fault. By stating that you are there for the first time, do not understand or do not know the stuff you may well get advice on how to proceed.

Might even get congratulated for your honesty.

MMORPG, Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game, is a team effort in it's multi-player part. Behind each and every player controlled toon is a player, a person, with different values, knowledge and experience of the game. To convey your thoughts and information to those other players with whom you play ensures that they understand your position and point of view, and in the end, makes your life a bit easier in the MMO world of your choice.

In the group content -5mans and raids- you are nothing without the team. The team can replace you, but you cannot experience the content without a team. The same goes with a guild: the guild can easily replace you, but without the guild you are deprived from a lot of things in the game.

In team effort, communication is everything. Even more than skills.

Open up and share your thoughts.

Stoopid computer

My computer has been acting lately. At first I have taken the blame on my kids, who have been surfing and playing whatever flash based games where ever they have found them. Granted, that has been the easiest thing to do with all the malware and spybots I've removed from the machine after each of their game sessions. But the situation has gotten worse over the last few months when their time on computer has been restricted and that made me worry.

So I've ran some programs to tweak, clean and repair my old XP installation. Only to make things worse.

Until I resorted to the thing I should have done way earlier. I removed my old F-Secure antivirus program and replaced it with Avast.

Holy Guacamole!

Goodbye sloppiness, goodbye stalling screens in WoW. That old rusty resource hog was eating up the memory more than anything!

The funniest part is that no memory checking program noticed anything unusual and the control panel didn't show any strange memory usage. The antivirus just has slowed down the processes in some ways I don't understand, making the machine go slower and slower over time.

Anyhow, my worries on that area are over. WoW loaded up faster than ever, the buttons and bars which had been missing from time to time loaded immediately and even the AH and mailbox worked faster.

I love it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

They put the fun back into my game

Just when I thought that all the fun lies in the levelling, I got a surprise and a note that my whining hasn't been just my problem.

Recently I've been doing my random heroics pretty quietly and slowed down on my guild chat due to the fact that I've had this nagging feeling that the guild is too much achievement oriented and rushing everything to be the #1. Well, this is true, the guild is at the top spot in ICC raid bosses, congratulation and hooray for that, but this has caused the fact that the social and relaxed fun aspects have been suffering a bit. It's all natural and it most certainly isn't my spot as a newcomer to the guild (which has been around since the beginning of the game) to whine and nag about this, when most of the guild -especially the raiding core- is doing fine and dandy.

So I took up the tanking spot in IC 5man normal for some alts with both some enthusiasm (finally a chance to learn the fights PROPERLY) and doubt (alts of the raiders...).

To begin with, it all started by me changing to dps: a pally had been given the tanking spot. Good and dandy. Tought my UI was a mess only to notice that I was doing dps in defensive stance... I had changed my gear and my spec, but forgot to check my stance, which I do not change too often, if ever...

All the merrier. It was all fun and jokes and a epic wipe: DK took out his Army of the Dead on Devourer of Souls and we went down in a few seconds.That mirrored soul isn't too cool with the Army, I say. Sadly the tank had to leave for their raid right after we downed the Devourer on our second try, without the Army. So we got another dps to cover my loss (bah, it was a gain to get me off the dps meters... :P), so enter my brother Bishopgeorge, in his spiffy shadowpriest gear.

Needless to say, I ran PoS for the first time as a tank, all went well except those transition mobs from Ick and Crick to the tunnel gauntlet (hate them!). And as we were going to HoR... Bish hadn't done the q to enter. Nevertheless, we called it a night and promised to do the same later.

Next evening. Me and three of the former team grouped for FoS and PoS and wanted to see if we could get further. All fun and laughter and from the newcomer -our resident healer then- came a surprising comment after we had wiped four times on the Devourer of Souls (this time we had a shammy who unleashed his wolf pack and didn't understand the fault before we told about the Army of the Dead incident... with hysterical laughter). It was simply:"This is what I've been missing in the game. Fun and laughter, not worrying about dying."

It was just that for the whole run. In which we didn't get to the HoR at all: to the door and then everyone had to leave.

These few guildies put the fun back into my game. Thanks for that.

They also reminded me about the fact that I've been too much trying to reach the hc content: Normal IC 5mans are still challenging and rewarding enough for a social slacker like me, even though my gear would give me the keys to run the harder content.

After all, the game should be all relaxed and fun. Not a chore.

Friday, January 15, 2010

To Tank or not to Tank: that is the question

Here is another guest post from my good friend Azariell, who approached me with this text as his view on how tanking and as a continuation to his earlier guest post about the behaviour of the anonymous LFD PUG. As it happens, this post is very closely related to the post I linked yesterday, which I would like to push up once again.

This Shakespearian reference might seem very cheesy at first, but when reading the rest of the Hamlet scene it actually covers the content of the following combination of thoughts pretty well (Literary fanatics may shoot me now for such a ‘disrespectful’ comparison).

I am not going to talk about how tanks (and healers) are blamed for everything, and that they are the most underappreciated classes. What I want to talk about is what should tanks accept as demands from their party members and to which extent this is related to the new ‘Looking for Dungeon tool’ (combined with the rather unique position tank are placed in when using the tool).

So for the next 4 lines of the Scene (for those who care Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1)

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; 

Being a tank, you have certain advantages; one of the most important ones these days is that you can find a group using the LFD-tool within seconds of pressing the ‘join’ button. DPS can often wait up to 15-20 minutes before they get a group. Nowadays, a complete heroic instance can be ran in 20 minutes, effectively doubling the amount of heroics that a tank is able to do compared to a DPS. This of course comes with the extra emblems which can be used for those all important gear pieces, or just to make a quick buck by selling the raw gems that you can buy.

However, to be a tank in the LFD-tool, you get ‘forced’ into a certain mindset. The GOGOGO mentality by now could almost be a word in the dictionary. The DPS cannot continue without the tank taking the lead, but the only thing holding them back is the sky high repair bills. So instead they start to put pressure on the tank (and healer) “GOGOGO” “What are you waiting for” and so on. And for some reason, I tend to oblige those requests, even though I am not comfortable racing through an instance at such pace. Sure, I can do it, but do I want to? I know it’s just the power of the group (or single individual often) and as a tank you just want to be liked and not be told that you are a crappy tank.

But to whom are we catering when we fulfill the request of that DPS-er? My best guess is that only the fully geared players, who can blow through an entire instance without mana shortage might like it. To be honest, on my fully geared Warlock I have no problems taking things a bit more slow. Actually having some fun with the people in the group counts for something too right?

But the people duped by this are the tank himself, who is pressured into a pace which might not suit his play style. The healer who is strained even more by not only the constant healing on the tank, but also the healing on the group. And finally the not so well geared players. Players who have mana problems, underperform because the pace is way to fast for them to catch a breath (mana breaks have become a phenomenon of the past).

The strangest thing is that tanks are in short supply. The fact that tanks have a group within seconds of joining says it all. So, why do tanks feel pressured into doing things they do not want? They are the ones holding the best cards right? Taking this out into the open and acting like you hold those cards, is also not the solution as it would only be seen as arrogant behavior.

So to go back to my Shakespeare reference: Do we just keep taking the blows in order to rake in the easy cash? Or do we make a stand and say ‘screw you guys, I’m going home’. The second, however, results in becoming a disliked tank with all consequences attached.

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; 

Now a follow up question would be, what demands should healers accept from their group? Should they accept a tank who’s personal mission it is to chain pull as many mobs as possible without thinking about the healer?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blog snippets

First of all, I've joined as a guest writer in a blog called the Nomadic Gamer, and volunteered to post some posts into that blog. So if I'm not posting in here, you may as well go and see if I have done something there. The tone of those posts will be -hopefully- different but recognizable me.

The other thing I wanted to share in this quick snippet is the -so far- best post to the know-it-all selfish jerks in the LFD heroics, written by Karatheya from Cold Comfort (which is an excellent blog!). I would say that even though it's longish and rantish, it's about the kind of post you would want everyone participating the end game heroics grind to read.

Really read and think.

Off now.

Lore tricks

The more I play, the more I'm amazed by some ingenious tricks Blizzard writers have done.

I started the Deathknight I had been postponing for a long time. In fact, ever since I got Laiskajaakko to Northrend I have been working on the idea of doing a DK for myself. The only thing that has kept me from taking the step has been the fact that there are so many DKs everywhere and mostly they are total... dung. And the fact that DK's game mechanics seem strange to me has been keeping me off. If it took me so long to understand the basics of tanking a prot warrior, how long will it take to understand the basics of DK tanking?

Which is why I took on DPS route for levelling. Unholy.

Back to the topic.

I had been wondering about the stories in Northrend which started more or less out of thin air, and involve the disappointed, cheated and cross Deathknight heroes. They have nice tie-up quests leading to them, which provide some insight on the story at hand, but in many cases the reason to the DK is left unexplained.

Until you start playing a DK. Thessarian, who is the first DK you encounter when you start questing in the Borean Tundra, is also one of your leaders in Ebon Hold quests, showing his disrespect for the fellow Deathknights even before the revelation of the Lich Kings betrayal. He shows the backbone and honor not seen in most of the other DK's leading the operations.

After playing the DK starter area, several of the stories I had experienced with DK's in the Northrend with both my warrior and my priest got a completely new meaning.

What a devious trick to extend the game, story wise.

Now I have to play the DK up to cap to see what else he can experience what is hidden from the other ally classes.

This makes me wonder... What haven't I seen, as I haven't played the Horde?

What a dirty lore trick to do, to make me play more.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not excited at the moment

When I don't play WoW, I have nothing to write about. Yesterday I visited the game just to check my AH and do one fishing daily on my priestess. RL pushed on and next thing I knew was that I was fast a sleep in my own bed.

However, the thing is that Star Trek Online -or STO among friends and foes- has entered Open Beta, and more or less the majority of the MMO bloggers are commenting on their adventures in the "final frontier" where they have "boldly gone" with a huge lot of people.

For me Star Trek has never been a big thing. No, it was when I was a little boy and it was shown in TV for the first time over here early 70's. It was great, cool and all only because of the space ships and aliens and all, and it enticed the imagination of the young and bright boy.

For me it was Star Wars which broke the dam. My dad took me to see the original movie -later known as Episode IV: The New Hope- in the opening night and I was sold.

Taking this all into account, I'm not so excited about the next big MMO launch as one might suppose. I'm not even sorry about it: the last 'big thing' I got excited about -WAR- proved to be one of the big flops of last year and I passed that because I didn't rush in, but waited the few months after the launch to see how it goes. Now I'm not even waiting for the launch to pass.

I just let it pass (like @VanHemlock so cleverly responded to my tweet about this: "can take it or leave it here.")

WoW is my first real MMO I've gotten myself into. I've tried EQ2 and loved it, but something alienated me from the world. I've tried some other minor games, too, but they all lack something in the spirit and performance, something I cannot always pinpoint properly (like The Chronicles of the Spellborn). I think Mike Schramm said it best in his recent blog post:
I used to play EVE Online and World of Warcraft (and D&D Online, and a couple of other MMOs) back when I worked on, but I found out pretty quickly that I never ended up playing either one enough to justify two subscriptions. And I’m not really that much of a Star Trek fan — I am much more of a Star Wars guy. I like the rough and tumble better than the diplomatic teleporting. If STO gets amazing reviews, I may do a free trial, but no, I don’t have any plans to pick up another MMO very soon.
I'm a miser and I'm paying for one monthly sub at the moment. The trial of the next game -or the setting- has to be something that really tickles my fancy to take up on another subscription, even more so to make me drop the 3-4 years of 'history' I'm still living and loving, despite the whining and ranting about the mishandling and lack of innovation in the game I'm committed to.

Which still is WoW.

PS. Now that I've stated that, I'm pretty sure that something drastic happens and I end up abandoning WoW. I have a history of such things: I make a promise and make it public only to notice after a while that I've ended up doing exactly the opposite. But in this case, it will not be STO.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What was I thinking?!

Gearing game in WoW, especially in the connection to the level cap end game, is frustrating at best. There is always a way to get your scores higher: a nip here, an enchant there, another gem change if possible. It's a rat chase to reach the unreachable, something Blizzard makes impossible to achieve.

The perfect stats to win the game.

Now here I have to take a step back. WoW is a MMO, not a game per se. Nothing to win in there, except the encounters and the end bosses. Nothing to gain from getting the best in slot gear to each and every possible place with the best enchants and gems. Except that it makes the end game easier, that is.

And for the raiders its something that makes the latest end boss more achievable.

I just spent 25 Emblems of Valor for a Platinum Mesh Cloak and 56 Emblems of Conquest for new belt and gloves. That's 81 Emblems of Triumph which I had earned from the heroics I've run over the weeks. As I was gemming and enchanting them I was consulting our helpful guild about the stats, something hit me. Yes, I capped def way back when with the help of Kadomi's list. And I capped hit with the few pieces of gear I got, making my hit 300. And I got my Expertise up to 19 from 15.

Why the heck am I doing this?! I'm not even raiding, and I'm already overgearing the heroics severely?

What am I thinking?

I could have used the emblems to purchase nice Heirloom items for my alts instead. I could have used them to purchase new pieces of gear to my DPS set, which is glaringly lacking the punch needed.

And I could have spared the 6k+ gold which I used in gemming the set up to the point it is for something useful on my alts.

What the heck was I thinking?

Of course, it would be nice to get myself into a shape to get an entry to any raid. The weekly I was in was fun, but obviously the group over geared it so severely that it wasn't a challenge as such.Despite the wipes, which were due to poor execution.

It's funny to think that people -and the LFD tool- think that people are ready for heroics right away when they ding 80. Well, IMO they shouldn't be ready. And with the current rate of LFD matching people to over geared instances they definitely shouldn't be ready for the more challenging content. Someone posted about this and suggested at leasts a mandatory normal run for each instance before being allowed to run the heroics: if not else but to show the mechanics of the instance.

That's how the raid progression works, I think. The raid instances have evolved and developed from the old Vanilla era raids through The Burning Crusade raids, Sunwell and finally through the Wrath of the Lich King instances to the Icecrown Citadel. There is a continuity in there, which the raiding veterans describe in terms of old instance bosses. "This is like [enter Vanilla boss] with the abilities from [enter TBC boss] and this special attack" is pretty normal description about the bosses the raids are encountering at the moment. Even the Icecrown 5 mans have been described with similar terms.

So are we been fed with too easy content up to the Icecrown, where the difficulty should ramp up considerably?

And why the heck would I prepare my toon to encounter the hardest content in the game, when I have passed the former training grounds -Naxx, Ulduar, ToC 10/25- completely?

What was I thinking?!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sad sight at low levels

I've been trying to get as much mileage under my n52te as possible over the weekend, and I've been doing it mostly on my non-guilded low level toons. The reason is this: the less I have crucial skills, the easier it is for me to hardwire the new movement system I'm implementing. I got rid of the idea of using keys to move: instead, I'm using the dpad to move front-back and strafe, turning with mouse. This frees up the keypad for binds, which I have taken to the 'typical' binding route: leftmost buttons (01, 06, 11) are modifiers (alt, ctrl and shift, respectively) and the keys are for binds.

Works miracles at the moment on lowbie druid, especially for a caster. As a melee, it's still a mess due to the movement combined to the skill use.

It's very hard to get any real action besides the normal questing, though. It seems that while the random Dungeon Finder (LFD) is a bliss and haven of anonymous heroic grinding at level cap, its awfully silent -and defunct- at lower levels. Even at lv73 its pretty hard even for a healer to get a group, it seems. And at even lower levels the group takes forever to form and when its formed, it disappears at the first sign of trouble. Really!

I was in three groups which formed at the low levels (below lv30) and they all fell apart before the first boss. As I discussed about this with my brother who has a drood (?!) at a bit higher level, he said the same: it's neigh impossible to get the group to go beyond the first sign of trouble, let alone to have the persistence to go through a wipe. Either it is the uncomfortable feeling of being social or the illusion that the questing would be more faster way to experience than the instance.

I doubt it, though.

Or maybe people have already noticed that the Satchet of Helpfull Goods is actually a bag of crap, giving you a caster belt when you are a tank or something alike. A gear which is useful for another class completely, giving you neigh advantage at all.

While LFD is a great pass time at level cap, at lower levels it fails miserably. I guess it won't get any better before Outlands. I doubt it will get any better there, either.

The rewards just are not enough for the low level instances. The instances are too long, too time consuming and just too much compared to the heroics of the capped, so your anonymity starts wear off. The grouping becomes awkward and the failures too personal.

Would it be time to write a guide to newcomers about levelling properly and enjoying the low level instances?

Because currently the low level LFD is a sad sight to see.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Got myself a new toy

Aye. Belkin n52te Speed Pad.

As if my playing wesn't difficult enough without distractions.

Now, if anyone has any good suggestions on how to arrange the buttons, I would very much like to hear about them. My initial plan is to have the direction buttons so that I will turn with mouse, and the buttons would be forward, back and strafe. This opens up 2 buttons around the forward button for use.

I'm also planning on setting the action bar keys 1-8 under my thumb, on the dpad. The dpad is a bit touchy and the feel isn't too accurate, so I'm not 100% sure of this yet.

It's yet another steep learning curve to overcome. I think I may be able to move while using the instant cast actions, which I wasn't too sure about on the keyboard only. Then again, subjecting my casts -for the most part- under my thumb should bring a bit more intuitivity into the gameplay.

Only time will tell. What is your configuration, if you use this monster?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Learning experience

Two weeks around the Christmas and I played several times. With several toons on several servers.

And I learned a lot of myself and my playing.

First of all, I participated the Weekly Raid with our guild. It was the Ignis the Furnace Master in Ulduar. First of all, I thought I could make it as an off tank. I knew the encounter, I had read the strategies, watched the Tankspot movies several times, even dug out some odd ones from Youtube.

And I failed as the off tank. I just couldn't gather up the adds fast enough and -honestly speaking- I caused the wipe. Twice, as I got more even more confused on the second time. I think the raid leader did the wisest thing ever at that point: took up the adds and made me do Ignis.

We one shotted it this way.

Lesson learned: my skill to tank multiple mobs in a fast moving, action packed surroundings is neigh. I just cannot target and catch up the adds/mobs the speed they come. This came even more profound the other day when I volunteered to tank for a guild group stuck in the ToC: they had hunter, rogue and warrior in there, and I just couldn't keep the mobs interested in me long enough. (Though I'm not sure if everything else was quite at place in there, as I seemed to bit the bullet a bit too fast for anything...)

I got bored to changing group from instance to another. Then again, my poor performance in the earlier Icecrown 5-mans keeps me away from joining guild run 5-mans for some peculiar reason: Like I've stated earlier, I don't want to make others suffer from me being not up to date, so I rather try to learn as much as possible before trying to ruin their day again. I'm not there, yet, and as I just run out of steam for running any more LFD PUG's, I don't know when I will be. It seems that it took me less than five nights of Random Dungeons in Dungeon Finder to wear me out. I just don't have the persistence to run for the few Emblems for my next piece of Emblem gear to make my gear score just a bit better... There just is no story in that, now is there?

So I did some levelling with Pupunen, my priest, now clad in Shadow.

What can I say. I love questing when it's 'meaningful' to the character. When it advances the story, level or gearing of the character. Got her from lv69 to lv73 in three sessions, did quests which I had neglected with my warrior. I did some of the quests with my warrior, too, earning the Borean Tundra and Sholazar Basin achievements. Which was nice, of course!

I also started Inscription on my banker toon, who is a low level druid. Specced him at the tender level of 21 to Balance, and struggled him up to lv25 in that spec: learned to love fast quests, learned to hate the running around the world at low levels. Got my inscription from 0 to 181 in few hours, and it seems that the whole profession has netted me more than cost, even though I have bought a lot of the herbs I used. Then again, this druid has also herbalism, so he brings money home after every run in the wilds.

Lesson learned: I love to do quests. Much more than the chaing PUGging in Dungeon Finder with anonymous groups. I love to see the progress in tangible measures. And as I can choose my challenge level in levelling, I find the levelling game more challenging than the random dungeons at best (I did some with Pupunen, too, with very different outcomes).

These two combined has confirmed me that if I have 2 hours time to play every now and then, I much rather play a levelling toon and chat with the people in the guild than run the mindless groups through the random dungeons through Dungeon Finder.

In short, I found out what I really like in the game. It's much more than what I suspected.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New thoughts about LFD

Linedan at Achtung Panzercow wrote about his experiences in using the LFD tool for Random Dungeons. This post struck my chord, because it was something I was about to write myself.

As stated in the post - and as I have stated myself earlier, and so many others have said - LFD is easy, simple enough and effective. Especially if you are of tanking or healing persuasion. For a DPS kind of person it might be a bit more on the waiting side (not the nanosecond instancing like for a tank), but still it's fast enough to keep you going.

That is it's main attraction. It's fast and you get the much coveted Emblems of Triumph for the gear. Loads of them, if you're lucky with the instance you enter.

The catch is the randomness, both in the instance and in the group you are tossed in. If you are lucky, the group is full of professionals and the instance is through without a word from anyone. If you are unlucky, you scramble with a vocal and self-centered bunch wiping every other encounter and get rolled in Oculus three times in a row. With a forementioned wipe-group.

Because it's random over servers, the actual social connecting isn't there. You are running with a computer generated group with a bit better AI than in a current solo game and with as much chatting and connecting as within a solo game. Or even less.

I actually wondered whether the others are really living players and not some good AI constructs in one or two runs...

The other thing, which people seem to forget is that instead of running blindly from one group to another, it would be faster and more efficient to stick with a good group and run randoms in succession. The leader just puts the whole group into the LFD (Join as Party) and off you go to the next instance. Instead, people are leaving the group right after the final boss in the instance is killed, as if they were ashamed of the way they had chosen their loot or how they had done in the instance.

Both of the earlier things bothered me in the last Oculus random which I ran with Bishopgeorge (he's currently in shadow spec, as he just couldn't perform up to the standards he set himself up to in healing). There were two who had been there once (me and a warlock), one who hadn't been there ever (Bishopgeorge) and two who had been there several times. I started by saying that I don't know the instance well enough and I would welcome any hints on how to do things. Bishop and the 'lock stated their inexperience, too, but the two veterans just said hi and off we went. Everything went ok till we had to choose the drakes: I still have no idea what to choose and why, but I tend to fly on Amber one. The bosses didn't cause any problems at all, no deaths before Ley Guardian Eregos. Where we wiped because we three out of five didn't have a clue what was going on.

There was no co-ordination, no planning, no communication on what to do and how. As I mentioned that I do not have a clue on how to encounter Eregos, the paladin -one of the veterans- stepped down and told how he wants to see it done. The other veteran stated that he appreciated my directness in the issue and gave even more pointers.

Result: Eregos died and we missed the counter with one wipe only by few seconds.

I learned from this. As Eregos was dead and the loot cache was distributed the group dispersed before I could say a word. We took another random with Bishop and -to my surprise- ended up in Old Kingdom. I had been there two or three times at this point, and as the group leader I took the helm. I shortly recounted the specialities of the bosses before the encounter started, kept telling the group what I expected to see from them, guided the group through the instance. We made our speed records in two of the bosses. We cleaned the place in a breeze, even though Bishop was there for the first full run and another dps for the first time ever. And I didn't get a single negative remark on my guidance and leading, even though the healer and the rogue wore all purples.

The group disappeared into their own servers right after the run. Before I could suggest another one.

What the LFD doesn't teach you is to act civilized and to act socially. Some word here and there might make the run more fun or enjoyable. A guiding sentence every now and then might save the group from wipe, because you never know how the other players have played the encounter or have they ever been in the instance.

LFD is just like the game itself: you get from it exactly what you put into it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Greater separation

Random Dungeon Finder is a remarkable system. You can earn tons of Emblems of Triumph in very short time, and if you're lucky with the heroics at lv80, you can net even more as each boss drops one in a heroic. But what has this done to the content which I so much love in the game?

It has created even greater separation between the questing and instancing. Or in fact, it has created a gap between the two, a separation which wasn't there earlier.

Formerly, when I levelled up my toons, it was a rare and satisfying instance to get into an instance: usually it was something a quest required you to do. You actively seeked group or company to finish the quest. Now the rewards from the random dungeon overweight the reward from the dungeon quests, and takes away the mysticism of certain dungeons in the game. For example, in our static group we have a warlock, who has been a hardcore alliance player. He had never visited the Ragefire Chasm, not even for the achievement. Now the instance is readily available to both factions and the only difference is the fact that only one faction has quests to it. I guess the same is with the Stockades for the hc Horde players.

The other thing is the fact that it seems that the levelling instances have been made way easier than they were: I had a run with my static group gnome warrior in Wailing Caverns, and at lv18 he was invincible. The group, consisting of levels 17-20 breezed through the whole instance without breaking a sweat, everyone who had been there earlier wondering how much easier it was now than before. The same happened to us in Shadowfang Keep, where the ones who had never been there complained how easy it was.

Yet the rewards and the experience were as they should have been. Plus the bonus sack and extra experience in completing the instances.

There seems to be no real reason to quest anymore, other than just fill in time between getting a new random group. We'll see what happens later on, when we hit the 50-60 range.

Another separation has happened in the level cap in heroics: people are farming the LFD for Emblems of Triumph in such a fervour that they rather plunge through the instance the fastest way possible than kill all the bosses in the instance. For example, the Old Kingdom which I have tanked a couple of times, has been ran at least twice without the two 'side' bosses: instead jumping directly to the end boss. It saves time as you don't have to deal with the unnecessary trash and you can get into another hc as fast as possible without the cooldown.

The separation I mean is the fact that the gear gap between the newly arrived lv80 and the 'geared' is even bigger than it ever has been, and the newcomers are beginning to feel it. I've seen abuse, hear about more and even witnessed some 'wipe-groups' disappear after the first sign of trouble (in this case a tank mostly in blues, but with almost 30k HP and obviously no clue on what he was doing. He was willing to learn, but the healer and dps decided to leave. "L2P, nooob", was the comment...)

So the newcomers are having even more trouble to break through, even though the overall gear level of the playerbase is getting higher and higher. My priest, whom I dual specced as shadow/holy (shadow mostly), is around lv73 now and the gear I'm aiming for before breaking 80 isn't anywhere near the gear I know I need for hc's, let alone anything in the IC.

We'll see what comes out of this. The more the people who have time to run the heroics in the end gain all the gear they can through Emblems and instances, the more people are ready to raid in the Icecrown. Ulduar is already forgotten area, except for the Weekly Raids, and the Trial of the Champion/Crusader is used as a stepping stone if needed for a piece of gear or another.

Even though the LFD opened up the instances to faster grouping and more population, it voided even more of the raid content with completely insocial and anonymous instancing. Why succumb to bothersome arrangements of a raid -which is even harder than the LFD PUGging- when you can get more action and more benefits from anonymous LFD groups?

Monday, January 4, 2010

First of the year

Long Christmas and New Year's vacation is over and it's time to focus on the pristine year at hand. Sure, I played some during the vacation, and I'll be commenting that later on in more detail.

What a year it will be: first the Icecrown will be opened one wing at a time till the raiding community sees Arthas Lich King bit the dust and then the Cataclysm will come and change the Old World as we know it. The end of the World of Warcraft, for sure... I mean Old Azeroth, of course.

I learned some good lessons on both the game and my skills during the vacation, which has confirmed me even more that I am truly a casual player with no chance of getting into the higher tier of playing without sacrificing my casual status. Then again, there are other aspects within WoW which can -and most probably will- keep me interested, perhaps to the point to try again at more concentrated and focused way at the cap.

When I opened my feed reader this morning, I found 887 unread posts. I read about 20 of them and marked the rest as read: nothing much has happened in the blogosphere as far as I can tell.

I wish you all a great year 2010: may it be more successful, prosperous and happy than the earlier ones, if possible!