Friday, December 24, 2010

The Short Break

If you're one of the three people that follows this space, or one of the (and I kid, I kid) thousands that follows me without Following Me, you know that since the beginning of this blog the one thing I've been is inconsistent. My posting schedule has been all over the map, with the quality of my posts being even further afield than that. I realize that the only surefire way to lose readers is to not post. There's ample evidence from the blogosphere, radio and TVland, movies, etc., that support the fact that you can churn out utter crap and still be popular, but if you stop and lose momentum it's harder to get that audience to come back when you get back to producing crap.

Back in November I participated in NaNoWriMo. If you're unfamiliar with it and don't want to follow the link, the long and the short of it is it's a challenge to write a 50,000+ word novel between November 1 and November 30. Not only did I participate, but I 'won', managing to crank out a prodigious amount of...well, something that was semi-coherent, anyway. It put a fair amount of pressure on me and there was many a day where I sat at this keyboard frustrated with the lack of progress. It was also a lot of fun and ultimately rewarding. If anyone reading this has a writing bug and can't seem to get started, I recommend NaNo.

Somehow during the month of November I also managed to produce approximately a post per week for this blog, which carried through into the first week of December. Maybe, after all this time, I had finally found my blogging groove. I even was starting to think posts ahead, something I've never been good at. Maybe, just maybe, this would be a new era for 'Looking for More.'

Apparently not. Cataclysm hit, which sucked up a lot of time. I was going to do a first impressions post after hitting 85 (which occurred Sunday after release, while turning in Grim Batol quests) but that got sidetracked. Another week went by, then another, and now we find ourselves on Christmas eve, with only this post that really won't tell you much by the time that it's over. What's going on?

In the last week or so, my desire to read and write about WoW has dropped almost off the table. I've been skipping my favorite blogs and forums. More surprising, my desire to actually play the game has waned considerably. Normally when things get a little stale on my main I jump to my warlock, or roll a new alt -- I've got a mage at level 30 that I started after The Shattering. A perfect time, maybe, to roll Worgen or Goblin and see what all the fuss is about, you say? Normally, yes. Yet I just don't feel like it.

There are WoW reasons for this, which I will hopefully recount in another post on the other side of the New Year. I will throw some of the blame on Christmas, but the biggest, non-WoW reason for my apathy towards the game right now is because I'm writing. NaNoWriMo helped unplug a bit of a creative block and now I've got words fairly flowing out of my brain onto the screen. It's a story that I've really sunk my teeth into, one that has very personal elements in it. I find myself chewing over this story, composing it in my head when I've driving, or showering or washing the dishes. When I've sat down to play WoW, part of me is thinking 'I could be writing.' It's been a lot of fun, and the story is almost 'finished'. Where it will or can go from here is beyond me; I can dream about publication and best-sellers, etc. All I know is that it's an itch that has to be scratched. When it is then maybe I'll find that I enjoy WoW more again.

In a way I feel a little bit like Hal from this excellent Malcolm in the Middle episode (one of the greatest comedy series ever, in my opinion. If you've got 22 minutes to spare, give it a watch). It's almost like an obsession, and it's a little scary. Hopefully it won't end in quite the same way.

At any rate, just wanted to give you a heads up on where I've been. Happy Christmas and New Year to all! Thanks for spending some time with me on this blog.

Monday, December 6, 2010

No Portals? No Problem!

The Shattering gave us lots of great things: new quests for low levels, some new dailies, the ability to level up for picking flowers (hmm, I actually think that should go; my wife was getting 5K for picking flowers the other day). It’s given us rifts and lava flows, ruins in Stormwind, new construction almost everywhere else, and green – actual green – in Western Plaguelands. There’s also been one of the funniest quest lines in the game (The Day that Deathwing Came) and a lot of hullabaloo about getting roasted by the mighty dragon himself (note that the thread I quoted in my last post has been deleted by Blizz. Not sure if they object to people helping each other that much, or are embarrassed by the notion of people spending close to 60 hours of continuous camping in an effort to die).

Of course, probably the biggest hullabaloo since the Shattering has been over the removal of portals from Dalaran and Shattrath. Apparently a large portion of the player base either fails to read about the game or has very bad retention, for it seemed to catch a ton of people by surprise. Trade chat was filled to the brim with variations of ‘Can someone port me to…’ and ‘WTF happened to the portals?’, along with all manner of complaining about how rotten Blizzard is for removing them. No one seemed to mention that you can’t swing a dead cat without running into a gryphon master or bat handler, or the fact that said aerial transportation definitely seems faster than it used to. Even mages, who stand to make a killing porting people, are irritated over the constant interruptions and rude behavior of people either demanding portals or not tipping/paying once they get one.

Yet it really isn’t all bad. I spent several hours riding, flying and boating around the world to see the changes that Deathwing wrought with his 'Renovation Breath', as my daughter calls it, and enjoyed the hell out of it. It wasn’t just because it was fun to see changes; in fact, some of the changes are downright startling and upsetting (see the Furlbrows and Old Blanchy in Westfall, for example). No, it has been fun to be actually in the world again, to be a part of it. For too long my WoW world had been Dalaran (Stormwind as of Patch 4.0.1); occasional forays to Icecrown glacier for tournament dailies to make some extra cash; and the summoning stone of whatever raid we were doing that night, which have been relatively few in November (though we did finally go back and kill Yogg Saron, hooray!). Even when I flew around Northrend in search of some extra herbs I really wasn’t part of the world – I was above it, cruising around and only descending upon the appearance of a yellow dot.

Don’t get me wrong, I love flying, and tomorrow morning I will make straight for the flight trainer in Stormwind in order to learn ‘Old Weather Flying’. Still, there’s something about riding through the land that makes you feel more a part of it than flying above it. It’s been an enjoyable couple of weeks.

I also had an interesting bit of déjà vu the other day, an experience that sort of bookends the beginning and end of Wrath rather nicely. We were heading off to Icecrown Citadel’s five mans to help my wife get her latest 80 some gear, and the Dungeon Finder wouldn’t let her queue for them, due to her poor gear. We had to actually go to the instance entrance itself. Normally from Stormwind I would use my Argent Crusader’s Tabard to go to the Tournament and fly over; for some reason I opted to take the boat from Stormwind to Valiance Keep and fly (I’m not sure why – I guess I was in no hurry or my tabard was already on cooldown). I got on the boat to find two of my guildies already there, as well as about 10 or so other people heading off to Northrend. It reminded me of opening day of Wrath, when the boats were jammed and the excitement was high. It’s good to have that excitement back again. Enjoy it while it lasts, and have a great time tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You Have *Got* to be Kidding Me!

The Cataclysm achievement (soon to be a Feat of Strength) Stood in the Fire has caused the World of the World of Warcraft to sink to an all-time low. I really can't comment at this point, so I'll let everyone speak for themselves. These are all actual quotes from this thread on the official forums. I'm leaving out names, you can go and read them all if you're that interested. They are pulled in chronological order.

So the best bet to getting this would be to just watch the video linked earlier in the thread, try to figure out his path in wetlands, and sit there for hours?

In response to this:

thats what I have been doing for about 4 hours now

These posts appeared on November 25, two days after the patch hit the servers. As the week progressed, so did the madness.

I wasted all of today sitting around wetlands on Malygos and not a sighting

I camped Tanaris on Malorne for over 6 hours and never saw DW =(

9 hours of waiting in the wetlands

And a fun little exchange:

I'm on hour 14...
Shoot me...

when u get to day 4 then call me i'll come shoot u. That's how long it took me.

Allow me to beat the dead horse some more:

Stood in wetlands for about 14 hours yesterday,

Going on 26 hours of camping one spot in the wetlands.

54 hours in the wetlands since the time I missed him by an inch.

i was there for almost 48 hours straight.

Am I the only person in the world who hasn't completely lost his mind?

Moving forward, Blizzard is clearly going to have to be careful with achievements and feats of strength. It's clear to that there's still a large segment of the WoW playberbase that has no self control when it comes to the game. Consider this comment from a player very early in the thread:

Sigh, this achievement is going to be awful. Wish there wasn't an achievement for it.

Folks, just because there's an achievement doesn't mean you have to try to get it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wow for WoW

I have seen the cinematic before, several times.

I watched it when it first came out. And then I watched it several more times with my wife, who was quite taken with it. I didn't go out of my way to watch it over and over again, but when she put it on her computer, I tended to stop what I was doing and take a look.

So I'm quite familiar with it, to say the least.

And yet, when I clicked 'Play' on my launcher and, instead of the normal log-in I got the big blue Blizzard logo, and the cinematic started -- I felt an undeniable thrill, and I watched it again.

I have to hand it to Blizzard, they really know how to do these things right.

I'll also pat myself on the back. Watching guild chat and city chat explode with 'WTF? Where are the portals?' over and over again, I was glad that I had moved to Stormwind three weeks ago.

And speaking of Stormwind, it's beautiful. Except for the charred parts, of course. And maybe I could do without the super-enormous Varian statue in front of the Keep -- that's a bit over the top.

I was delighted to see the boys continuing to fish in the canals, but I am a bit worried. So far I have not seen any signs of Brom and Christoph, and Karlee, Paige and Gil are missing, too. I hope that I've just not run across them yet. The city feels bigger now.

'Bigger' also applies to Tirion Fordring's ego, apparently. I love the guy as much as anyone, and respect the fact that he brought Alliance and Horde together to help defeat Arthas, but come on: Not one but TWO giant-sized Tirion statues? Is that really necessary? One is in Hearthglen, the other by Light's Hope chapel. I stopped by his old house along in Eastern Plaguelands and found it abandoned. After seeing the two statues, I have expected to find it restored, with historic marker signs and volunteers in costumes telling us about the life and times of the World's Greatest (living) Paladin.

Back in Stormwind I noticed there's a monument of sorts behind the Cathedral that bears a striking resemblance to Uther's tomb, but there's no statue. I wonder who that's for. Also a nice monument to Varian's wife.

Anduin got a makeover. I understand three or four years have passed, but it sure looks like more. Anduin must have gone to one of those boarding schools that kids on soap operas go to. They leave as a first grader and come back two years later as a teen. He has a normal voice now, too. Only two days ago he sounded like Charlie Brown.

My wife got roasted alive by Deathwing in Wetlands. She had gone afk to watch some TV. I heard a strange sound behind me followed by the 'Augh!' death sound. When I turned around she was dead and her screen was in flames. No achievement of Feat of Strength for it and, unfortunately, I didn't have the pleasure of seeing the mighty dragon fly by.

I was disappointed to discover that my Keymaster achievement is no more, and a lot of the keys (Scholomance, Stratholme, the Scarlet key) are just plain gone. I don't know if that means there's a new Keymaster achievement lurking out there somewhere or what, but it was rather disappointing. I finished that achievement in Gnomeragon, where I also got my Knuckle Sandwich and Four weapon skills to 400 achievements by punching leper gnomes to death. Maybe they'll bring it back.

Gosh, I sure hope Karlee, Paige and Gil are alright...

Why the hell am I writing like Mike Lupica today?

Happy Thanksgiving!

ADDENDUM: As of this morning I have located the boys still fishing, Christoph and Brom are still sucking down ale at the Pig & Whistle, and Donna has turned the tables on William, wondering if she can throw his Grindgear Gorilla completely across the hole formerly known as 'The Park.' Still no sign of Karlee and Paige Chaddis, and Gil. I was hoping maybe they'd found a nice home back by Stormwind Lake or Olivia's Pond, but I have yet to find them. The search continues....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

People Watching in Stormwind

I am gifted with foresight. Shortly after 4.0.1 dropped, I read the writing on the wall and reset my hearthstone to Stormwind, where I am a guest at the Gilded Rose Tavern (conveniently located in the heart of the Trade District! Great Rates!). There I could wait for the coming Cataclysm and not get stuck in Dalaran when the portals are replaced with profession trainers. My tabard of the Argent Crusade allows me to teleport quickly to the Tournament grounds in Icecrown so that I can still be the first one to the Citadel summoning stone on raid nights, even though everyone else starts out much closer (grumble).

I admit it, I am a bit smug about it all. When Phase I of the elemental invasion began, there I was, spitting distance from the Earthen Ring questgiver – not that I would spit on him, mind you, but I could if I wanted to. Not that I wanted to.

It’s been a while since I last spent any appreciable time in Stormwind. My largely abandoned (and soon to be deleted to make room for a worgen) bank alt was only online for seconds at a time; in fact, I was on him so infrequently that the Jack O’Lantern head he got last year at Hallows’ End stayed in place for over a month! My Warlock alt has lately been spending more time in Ironforge, which provides slightly more convenient access to Stratholme where he’s been trying to land Baron Rivendare’s goat horse (unsuccessfully, though he did get exalted with the Argent Dawn). Even my Paladin tends to go to Ironforge when the Auction House calls, I’m not quite sure why.

What I had forgotten in my absence is how rich Stormwind; how much stuff is happening in the background. There’s people everywhere and, unlike Ironforge and Darnassus, they’re actually doing things (I confess I haven’t been to Exodar enough to observe the folks there; Exodar gives me a headache, and I get lost every year during Children’s Week). The things that people say and do make it worth your while to watch them and listen – err, read their chat bubbles – to them while you’re going about your business. Instead of sitting on a mammoth in the center of the Trade District while waiting for the next invasion to begin, I suggest you walk around a bit and find them. Here are some of my favorites:

Lisa Pierce, Janey Anship and Suzanne. These ladies are frequently found sitting at the foot of the tower or roaming around between the mage quarter and the Cathredral District. They have a wide-ranging discussion on matters of the arcane which includes a Ghostbusters reference. Apparently they’re attempting to concoct a love potion.

Roman, Brandon and Justin. These kids fish in the canals and have some amusing conversations about monsters, orcs, crocolisks and worm guts.

William and Donna are a little more obnoxious than most. William steals Donna’s dolly and they run all around the city. Energetic little buggers, but a little tiresome.

Aedis Brom and Christoph Faral. You’ve got to love two guys who walk around the city with tankards in hand. These two fast friends and drinking buddies have some hilarious conversations about past military campaigns, war wounds, and the Glustewelt twins. They frequent the trade district before bellying up to the bar in the Pig and Whistle in Old Town. I happened to notice them for the first time shortly after stalking my current personal favorites: Karlee and Paige Chaddis, and Gil.

I ran into this trio quite by accident, noticing first Karlee’s eye-catching red and blue ensemble (Yeah, it sounds a little weird, I know). Paige Chaddis and Gil are rather ordinary children: Paige skips along like the little girl in Grizzly Hills that you have to escort to the Westfall Brigade, and Gil looks like my squire. Or the Prince. Gil is the only one who talks, and when he asked ‘Where we going?’, I found myself wondering right along with him, so I followed them. From Old Town, through the Trade District, a quick swing past the Cathedral district and on into the Mage Quarter. All the while, Gil keeps up a running commentary (‘My feet hurt’, ‘Why do we always go the same way?’, ‘Are we there yet?’). Paige and Karlee are silent. Eventually they arrive at their final destination: Ancient Curios, in the mage district, where Karlee asks for everything on the list, ‘especially the last ingredient.’ Hmmm, the last time I looked, the 'last ingredient' that Charys Yserian, the proprietor of the shop, had was either Corpse Dust or, more ominously, this.

By this time, I was quite curious, and my kids were actually wondering what was going on. I had already noticed something odd: Karlee and Paige are both identified as ‘Chaddis’, as in ‘Karlee Chaddis’ and ‘Paige Chaddis.’ Gil is just…Gil. Was he just some random boy tagging along? An illegitimate son? An orphan of Stormwind? And what is that last ingredient? Interestingly enough, in the shop, Karlee talks to Paige – but not to Gil. When business is finished, they walk out and continue their journey, looping around Stormwind and back to Old Town, while Gil's comments and complaints are ignored.

Very mysterious, all of it, and something I hope to get to the bottom of someday. Following Karlee, Paige and Gil inspired me to follow Aedis and Christoph. I’ve also started peeking in and following other NPC’s around Stormwind, and have to say I feel a bit like a creepy stalker. I’m sure there’s more of them out there that will provide some amusement, that I’ve never noticed before, and I hope to find them.

I do have to say I’m concerned, though. What happens when Deathwing comes along and wrecks half of Stormwind? Will Karlee, Paige and Gil still be able to get to Ancient Curios? Will Janey, Suzanne and Lisa have someplace to discuss love potions? What about Christoph and Aedis? Will they still enjoy drinking, and will they have a new story to add to the repertoire? ‘Deathwing burned me all over my body!’ ‘Hehe, wimp’, perhaps?

It’s been fun watching and listening to these folks, one of the nice touches that Blizzard has put into the game. Time may be running out for some of them, however. Here’s hoping Blizzard finds a way to keep them in the game and entertaining. And maybe throws some more of them into the other cities.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Week of QQ Will Get a Buff

The Paladin tugged off his plate gauntlet, and placed his hand gently on the shoulder of the sobbing priest.

‘There, there,’ he soothed comfortingly. ‘You did great. And besides, we all know that meters don’t matter.’

The priest looked up, tears streaking her face. She sniffed. ‘They – they don’t?’

‘Of course not,’ cooed the Paladin.

The priest bowed her head, drying her eyes on the hem of her cloak, cheered by his words. The Paladin caught the eye of another Holydin standing off to the side. He winked. The other Paladin laid a knowing figure along the side of his nose, nodding.

Of course they matter, said the look they exchanged. We just like to pretend that they don't.

Almost exactly one month ago the first shots of Cataclysm were fired: Patch 4.0.1 went live, and our world was turned upside down. Apparently, nobody’s world was turned upside down as much as Holy Paladins, and the forum threads reflected this. Quite possibly the very first QQ thread of the patch came from Paladin Yoshimoto, who launched a tirade at 12:27 AM on October 13:

I did love my holy pally.(did). After the patch for cata came out and my class was hit by the nuclear bomb of nerf i decided to try it out and i did i used to be good and top charts on healing my tanks. I liked to be the one making the raid possible with my tank healing that had been going on for years and years.

First, I wasn’t aware that raids weren’t possible without Holy Paladins -- how did anyone survive before I came along? But wait! There’s more:

So i went into a raid on my 80 holy pally and guess wat the tanks died. and died. and died. until the grp. well apart saying that they really hit the wrong class the class that made raids possible with large healz that cost a fair amount of mana,

Apparently the spelling errors were the results of typing in an apoplectic rage; later on in the thread he said:

…I'll try my best to keep the raid up, its just the healing meters are depressing me.

And so we come to the crux of the problem. We can tell everyone that meters don’t matter. We take the high horse and say it all the time, and bash raid leaders when they toss someone for not ‘doing better on the meters’. But when push comes to shove, and the world (of logs) is turned upside down, the truth comes out.

This theme was repeated over and over again in the week following Patch 4.0.1. For any post that thoughtfully examined the state of the Paladin (or, shockingly, praised the changes), there were 2, 3 or 4 posts that went along the following lines:

I've topped meters on pretty much every fight pre-4.0.1 and now I'm at the bottom doing 3k HPS , straining my brain and my fingers, I'm pretty much full 277…The 'mastery' is completely bugged because the absorb isnt getting registered by my meters…while the rest of the healing team are doing 7-8k hps im sitting down with my 3k HPS feeling like im not even contributing to the raid.

Just did a voa 25 with my holy pally, there was another holy pally in there. Both of us were bottom of the heal chart as well as top of the over healing chart.

We have gone from being top healers to bottom healers in one fell swoop.

Have to spam FoL outside of the HS rotation in order to pull half decent HpS.

We may of deserved a little nerf, but we got pushed to the bottom of the healing charts. I use to be able to do 30k crits. Now my highest is 24k if I am lucky.

These are all comments pulled from the Official Healer forum in the week following the launch of 4.0.1. The forums ran deep in Paladin tears, and the Paladin Class forum was even worse, given that it was filled by three specs of Paladins, all crying rivers at the patch and what it wrought. Paladins were ruined. We were the worst of the worst. There were lots of locked threads, and no doubt Ghostcrawler wielded the banhammer quite a bit in that time period.

Well, Blizzard was apparently paying some attention, and some of the signal must have cut through the noise, because after one week, intelligent observers noticed a change, and Ghostcrawler confirmed: Holy Paladins got a buff. The effect was immediate.

In-game, I noticed right away that my heals were hitting harder. My Holy Lights were landing for about 2200 per heal more than patch day, a substantial increase. That type of change went across the board, and with it, I saw my own place on the meters rise. Now, I will say that I believe Paladins did indeed need a buff. The simple truth is, healing just didn’t feel right, and it wasn’t simply a matter of getting used to some new spells, working with an incomplete UI, or dealing with tanks who suddenly seemed to be taking more damage. In truth, I’m OK with the notion that people will have to exist at less than full health, that I won’t be able to carpet bomb the raid with my biggest, most expensive heal, that Beacon is no longer an ability that I can lean on like Tiny Tim and his crutch. But in fact it felt like a struggle at times to even keep people at half health. We’re in farm content, killing bosses that we outgear by a large margin. We shouldn’t be struggling with it, especially when the raid is blowing these things to absolute smithereens (we killed some bosses last night in about half the time it took to kill them on 10/14). But we were struggling, and Blizzard listened.

I also noticed a change in the forums following the 10/18 patch. Suddenly, Paladin QQ was now largely coming from priests, including this particular favorite (that I believe drew a ban from the mighty crabman):

Proposed new Paladin ability:
Whining Wave = The collective force of the Paladin community's complaining smashes into your enemy knocking him back 60 yards and forcing him to throw buffs at you in a vain attempt to make it stop. Player force emotes /beg and screams, "Torment me no more!"

The good news about this change is that now the intelligent Paladin posters, the ones that can analyze what we need and talk about it rationally, now have the ability to do so, without being drowned out by posters like Snakux. We can focus now on how we’re going to fit into Catacontent when it comes out, and discuss whether or not you should reforge your crit into mastery or haste. As Kurn put it in her blog
it allows me to worry less about whether or not I CAN keep a target up, which lets me acclimate to the new ways of keeping my target up.
And that’s a Good Thing.

However, I can’t help but wonder about the Paladin community, and healers in general. Are we getting so competitive that we’ll be happy with anything, so long as it puts as at the top of the charts? What are we healing for? And if meters truly don’t matter, why do so many people get so upset when they find themselves at the bottom? Gutbukit, a level 1 warrior, may have had the most insightful post in Yoshimoto’s thread:

Holy paladins are fine, nothing wrong with them other than being dead last on healing meters.

In the end, all that matters is that we have fun and down content. The meters don't matter. Or is that just what we tell people so they'll feel better?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wrath of the Lich King: Hits and Misses

I'm always thrilled when I see a new post from Rohan. Blessing of Kings was the first WoW blog I ever read, back when I was looking for some good Holy Paladin information. Today, Rohan asked ‘How was your Wrath?’ I was going to answer her over there, but it would take up too much space. And I was due for another post, anyway, so here we go, with my own personal Hits and Misses.

Hit: The Scourge Invasion

Much as we started playing Cataclysm about three weeks ago, Wrath began around October 15, 2008 with patch 3.0.2. New talents, revamped specs, achievements – and major nerfs to BC content. The first patch effectively killed my interest in raiding; content that was still challenging for us as a guild became trivial after the patch. And so I began exploring, and playing with my new abilities.

The real start to Wrath began with a bang with the arrival of mysterious crates that touched off the highly-controversial Scourge invasion. The ensuing ghoul-fest was the highlight of the pre-Wrath period for me: Cleansing infected souls (at first by request only. Later I cleansed anyone whether they asked for it or not), killing those that transformed, and attempting to eat others when I found myself zombified. After a few days I decided to do my best to stay ‘clean’ and did not deliberately try to transform. All this while running the Hallows’ End quests.

Miss: The End of the Scourge Invasion

The simple truth was, as much as I loved the event, a lot more people hated it even more, and were very vocal about it. Blizzard has said they didn’t end the event early, but it sure felt that way to me. Once the cure for the plague was found, the remainder of the pre-expansion period was anti-climatic. I did globetrot in pursuit of Scourge necropoleis, or ziggurats, or whatever they were, but that scene was far less fun to me than the chaos of the ghoul invasion.

Hit: Leveling

As much as I enjoyed Wrath leveling and how it was done, it really wasn’t until I recently started pursuing (albeit halfheartedly) Loremaster that I truly appreciated how greatly Blizzard improved things for Wrath. Quest hubs are better designed – I think the pinnacle may be Zul’Drak in terms of hub design. And the stories – on the whole it was wonderfully done. I’m not a role player or a so-called lore nerd, but story is important to me. I read quest text, I watch cut scenes, I like to know what’s going on and why I’m doing it. There was a feeling of urgency about much of the questing, especially early on, and I felt like I was part of something bigger.

Drop rates for quest items improved (for an understanding of how truly bad old drop rates could be, go quest in the Blasted Lands before it changes), the Lich King was everywhere, and there were some epic questlines involving the major players in the game: Tirion, Bolvar, Thrall, Saurfang. Yes, there were some sidetracking (*cough*Nesingwary*cough*), but as a whole there was a tight theme running throughout.

Hit: Vehicle quests/combat

Ride an elephant and trample the bad guys! Drive a siege engine around Wintergarde Keep! Fire Chain guns to let the good guys get away! Wrath gave us vehicles up the wazoo, and it mostly worked. Some were a little clumsy to work, others nice and easy. By and large vehicles were fun, a nice diversion to smashing with maces and firing spells. But…

Miss: Eye of Eternity

In my view EoE misfired because of the design that had you fighting as yourself for the first six or seven minutes before mounting up and fighting as a dragon. With a completely different set of abilities. In an environment that was hard to ‘see’ in (I’ll note that I have some issues with depth perception in-game. Vile Spirits on LK are tough for me, too). I actually love phase 2 of that fight, where you’re frantically running around trying to stay in anti-magic bubbles while trying to knock floating blood elves out of the air. I don’t mind vehicle fights in general, and Blizz got it right for Ulduar and Oculus, where you can get used to your vehicles before fighting the boss. It was not well-executed for Malygos. Little wonder that we pretty much stopped going after we killed him for the first time.

Miss: The Argent Tournament and ToC

I’ll admit that I ground my way up to exalted with the five families of the Alliance and earned my Argent Crusader title, tabard and mounted squire. I’ll admit that I made a lot of gold doing so, and that the heroic ToC 5 man was a challenge on release. I’ll admit that I liked fighting Jaraxxus, the Twins, and Anub’arak. I can admit these things.

On the whole the Argent Tournament was a miss. The raid itself, while providing some challenge, was dull and lifeless. I like trash, I like movement in my raids, I like feeling like I’m going somewhere. On top of that, the whole tournament felt like a terrible diversion. Shouldn’t we have had this tournament before embarking to Northrend? The whole expansion has been about fighting Arthas, hurry, hurry, hurry. Now we’re taking a break for the Olympics? Sorry, didn’t work for me.

Hit: Ulduar, OS, Naxx

Some say Naxx was too easy. It sure kicked our butt initially. I found the size of both Ulduar and Naxx to be appropriately epic. As someone who had only been in Naxx once (and that was the night before 3.0 dropped) the fights were fresh for me. And I love fighting undead.

Ulduar just felt epic all the way. It looked great, there was lots to do, and a lot of interesting fights. I think Blizzard scored big-time on this one.

Hit: Icecrown Citadel

I think Blizzard really hit the mark well here. The instance is big, with plenty of trash (although you get to fight three bosses – LDW, Gunship, and Saurfang – with only three trashpacks in between) and some really interesting and entertaining fights. The encounters really showcase a breadth of skills that required good teamwork and communication from the raid. You might be able to crank out the dps and healing required to down Festergut, and then find yourself utterly unable to master dodging slime spray on Rotface. Extremely well done on Blizzard’s part.

Hit: The Strength of Wrynn/Song of Hellscream

I’ve covered this one before. I think this was a very elegant way for Blizzard to allow guilds like mine to progress without straight-up nerfing. Yes, while increasing damage output equates to a nerf of the boss’s health, it’s not the same as increasing the cooldown on Defile, for example. There is a bit of a miss in here, though; as the buff increased, it did encourage sloppy play. At lower buff levels you still had to get out of Death and Decay. At 30%? Not so much.

Hit: Gunship

As much as this was decried as ‘Lootship’ right from the get-go, I found this one to be amazingly taxing on my supposedly limitless mana pool. This fight was so different from the others, and a lot of fun. And now I can’t listen to Muradin without thinking of this gem of a video:

Miss: Gear inflation

Simply put, I feel that our gear escalated far too fast. At the risk of trotting out this old BC argument again, it felt like BC heroics remained a challenge far longer than Wrath heroics. It could be that I never geared up far enough in BC (attaining T4/5/BoJ levels) to trivialize the heroics, but even the ‘easy’ BC heroics like Ramparts and Slave Pens could put a big hurt on you if you weren’t careful. By the time we had cleared Naxxramas for the first time pretty much all the on-release heroics were easy.

Hit and Miss: Achievements

Yes, there’s something fun about falling off a zeppelin, surviving, and seeing an ‘achievement’ pop up. Or riding around the world and trying to get into the enemy’s capital city for a world explorer title. Yet achievements have a downside. First it was ‘LFM link achievement’. While I understand group leaders want to be successful, this sort of thinking led to the exclusion of capable players from groups. Next, I think that Achievements encourage a more selfish playstyle, which is not something you want in a group game. Fun overall, but sometimes annoying.

Miss: Emblem of What?

Back in Burning Crusade, we had Badges of Justice. In Wrath we’ve had Emblems of Valor, Heroism, Triumph, Conquest and Frost. I think Blizzard maybe even confused themselves with this one. Instead of having different badges for each level of gear, I think it would have been better to stick with one type of badge, have less gear available for those badges, and simply make higher-level gear more expensive.

Hit: The Lich King

What a great fight. And what a feeling to beat him. I hope the Deathwing fight is as good.

On the whole, Wrath was a big hit for me. I loved it on the overall. I had a blast. I know I’m missing some things from this list, but it’s already too long and I’ve taken too much time to write this. What about you? What are your hits and misses from Wrath?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Follow the Gourd!

Fans of Monty Python may recognize the title from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. As a quick summary, Brian is mistakenly thought to be the messiah. In this scene he’s being chased by his followers, one of whom holds aloft a gourd that Brian had held earlier. As he’s running, one of his sandals flies off his feet. With the crowd hot on his heels, Brian is forced to abandon the sandal, and runs on. The shoe is held up: “Follow the shoe!” they exclaim. Soon most of the followers are running around with one shoe held up in the air (or tied to the end of a stick), looking fairly ridiculous.

In the world of the World of Warcraft there is a cult that is every bit as rabid as the followers of the shoe. They stay quiet and out of sight most of the time; sometimes there’s not a peeop out of them for weeks or even months; sooner or later, they come back. They always do. You’ll be minding your own business in one of the cities when they appear, unbidden. It is the cult of [Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker].

The Thunderfury cult had been pretty much underground on my server for quite some time, until last week. I’ve seen them pop up several times in the last week, probably due to boredom. With 4.0.1 being deployed even as I type this, it’s likely that the Thunderfury cult will be too busy relearning the game (and asking ‘Why can’t I roll a Worgen?’) to link the legendary for some time. But when they do, I’ll be ready for them. And I think I’ve got help in toppling the legend.

It started simply enough. Following a raid I found myself in Ironforge, when someone started it:

[Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker]

[Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker]?

[Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker]!

Did you say [Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker]]?

I rolled my eyes at first, but then realized I had something in my bags…something that had somehow hidden amongst the flasks and extra trinkets and fish feasts and, in so doing, had avoided getting sold off along with the detritus of low-level drops. I looked, and there it was: Chipped Timber Axe.

Having discovered this marvelous weapon in my bags, I was ready. When the next fan boi posted ‘I think he said [Thunderfury]’ I was there:

[Me]: No, he said [Chipped Timber Axe]. (and yes, I really do use commas, periods and capitals in-game).

I was a bit disappointed that first time. The only acknowledgement I got from anyone was one of my guildies, who still happened to be in vent with me. He got a kick out of it.

A few days later, it happened again. The Chipped Timber Axe, now safe from vending, was ready at the first sign of Thunderfury spam. And this time, it was noticed.

[Randomguy]: [Thunderfury]!
[Me]: [Chipped Timber Axe]
[Another random guy]: I’ll have the [Chipped Timber Axe].

There’s also my guildie, who linked [The Stoppable Force] (an excellent choice, by the way, and one of my favorites), prefers the [Chipped Timber Axe] and is going to join my crusade against [Thunderfury] spam. And with that, I think it’s entirely appropriate to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie and part of his epic Alice’s Restaurant:

You know, if
one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and
they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people linking [Chipped Timber Axe]. They may think it's an
organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
fifty people a day linking Chipped Timber Axe. And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

And that's what it is , the Chipped Timber Axe Movement, and
all you got to do to join is link [Chipped Timber Axe] the next time someone says [Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker]

Cast off the shoes! Follow the gourd!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blogging John Malkovich

Malkovich malkovich malkovich, malkovich malkovich malkovich Malkovich malkovich; malkovich Malkovich malkovich. Malkovich malkovich Malkovich malkovich, Malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich. Malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovichMalkovich .

Malkovich, malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich? Malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich (malkovich Malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich). Malkovich malkovich.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's in a Name, revisited

I’m not good-looking like Indiana Jones. I don’t swashbuckler my way across all seven continents, hitch rides on U-boats, or solve the mysteries of the past. I can’t use a whip to swing across a gaping chasm or knock a pistol out of a bad guys’ hand. And I don’t look good in a fedora.

I do, however, have one thing in common with Indiana Jones:

For the record, I don’t hate Nazis because of personal loss or injury. I can’t count anyone in my family who died in concentration camps. I had relatives (uncles and great uncles) who fought in the war – an uncle who flew a P-38 in Europe, two uncles who were in the Navy – but none that died in it. One friend’s father came back from the Battle of the Bulge seriously messed up, while another came back and picked up as if nothing was wrong. So it’s not personal in that sense. I hate what the Nazis – past and present – stand for, and I find it reprehensible when I see Nazis parading around on TV, baring swastika tattoos, carrying flags and spouting hatred. When it comes down to it, I guess you could say that I hate hatred (not just Nazis – there’s plenty of hate groups out there to hate). Rather ironic, I suppose.

What does this have to do with WoW?

Last week my wife and two friends jumped into the dungeon finder. Tank/healer combination = instant queue and she found herself in a group with…Hitler. She had to heal Hitler. She was not happy about it, she did not like it, and I know she debated whether to stay or not. I suggested she not heal him, and not rez him when he died (which he did, once). As far as I know, Hitler was not Sieg, Heil!-ing around Gundrak, nor spouting off any kind of Nazi crap. It was probably a typical, silent LFD run, and she was quite happy when it was over.

It made me wonder about this guy, and I tried to find him, so I started searching the armory, and the results were surprising. Did you know…

There are 3 arena teams and one guild named ‘Hitler’ (actually, one is named HITLER – guess they felt the need to shout). No players on the armory (US) currently have the name Hitler. I haven’t tried naming a character ‘Hitler’. I wonder if I could.

So I decided to start playing with special characters. There are 8 Hitlërs, 6 Hìtlers, 3 Hítlers, 11 Hîtlers, 9 Hìtlêrs. The big winner was Hïtler, with 12 entries. Somehow I never found the one that my wife ran with; I guess I didn’t hit the right combination of special characters.

So right off the bat we have 49 assholes in the World of the World of Warcraft.

But now my curiosity was piqued, and I decided to start searching for other big Nazis in the WoW-niverse. I came up with 64 Himmlers. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Himmler was in charge of the SS (more on that in a bit), While poking around some of the guilds associated with one of the Himmlers, I came across a toon named Göring. There were 20 Görings, and 60 Goerings. Herman Göring (frequently spelled Goering in history books) was commander of the German Air Force and was designated as Hitler’s successor by Hitler himself in 1941 (In fact, Göring likely would have taken power in 1945 while Hitler was trapped in his bunker in Berlin if not for the subterfuge of Martin Borman. The tricky Borman outmaneuvered Göring, resulting in Göring being kicked out of the Nazi party). He profited greatly by plundering the wealth of conquered nations and German Jews who were stripped of their possessions. Göring was executed for war crimes.

The guild that I found Himmler and Göring in together was called Der Deutschen Orden, on Cho’gall. And speaking of guilds, how about this? I came across a guild called Nazì Storm Troopers on Gurubashi. Göring was the GM. I guess he managed to come to power after all.

Speaking of guilds, I found a whole lot of Nazi-themed guild out there. There are 18 guilds named Totenkopf (Death’s Head, in German). That was the name of the SS division who’s founding member served as Inspector General of Concentration Camps. The original cadre of the division was made up of camp guards (to be totally fair, this was before they became extermination camps, but the tradition of brutality and dehumanization began on their watch), and SS Totenkopf committed one of the first war crimes on the Western front, when they gunned down 97 British POWs in France in May of 1940. No coincidence, by the way, that most of the Totenkopf guilds sport a skull and crossbones on their tabards according to my informal survey.

There are 126 characters named Totenkopf. One of them sits in a guild all by himself: Der Schutzstaffel. Do you know what Der Schutzstaffel is? It’s the SS, gang. The SS was responsible for overseeing concentration and extermination camps, the secret police, and security in Nazi Germany. The SS also administered units known as ‘Einsatzgruppen’, ad hoc units that were responsible for the massacres of thousands, particularly in Poland and the Soviet Union. There are four guilds that carry this tag. Feeling queasy yet?

Do I believe that there are hundreds or thousands of Nazis running around World of Warcraft? Probably not in the thousands, but certainly plenty. At least in the United States hate group activity is on the rise, which includes racist skinheads and neo-Nazis, among others. With 11 million players world-wide you’d be naïve to think at least some of those people aren’t Nazis or similar. Who knows, I might even have one or two in my guild. IF so, they’ve kept their nasty thoughts to themselves.

At the same time, I don’t believe that most of these people, even with names like Hìtler and Göring, and guild names like Totenkopf and The SS (7 guilds, by the way) are Nazis. Some of them, yes. I don’t believe it’s any accident that one of the Hïtlers is in a guild called Brotherhood of Hatred with an asshole named Coontakinta. This name is a racist spoof on the name Kunta Kinte, who is a central character in Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’, a book that chronicles the lives of several generations of slave in the American South.

No, I think that most of the 200 or so Nazi types I found in this search are simply guilty of stupidity, ignorance and, perhaps most of all, insensitivity. It’s a bit different than the stupidity, ignorance and insensitivity displayed by real Nazis. Some of these folks may just be undereducated: They may know who Hitler is, and shy away from that name, but do they know Göring or Himmler? Maybe it’s a family name, or something that sounded cool, I don’t know. I suspect that most of the WoW-Nazis are likely kids doing some of the silly stuff that kids do – trying to be cool, thinking that a guild tag like ‘Blitzkrieger’, ‘The Panzer Korp’ or even ‘Totenkopf’ looks bad-ass. They’re really not all that different than I was when, in ninth grade or so, I sang John Valby songs with my friends on the school bus going home. A lot of things I did back then make me cringe when I think about it; I certainly never thought that I might be hurting anyone by singing ‘Bang, Bang, Lulu’ or ‘The EatBite Song’.

I grew out of that stage, without getting thrown off the bus, suspended from school, or having my ass kicked. In my informal survey, I see some encouraging signs. Most of the blatantly Nazi-named players are low-level and show very limited activity (e.g., Totenkopf in Der Schutzstaffel shows his last activity of December, 2008). A lot of the toons that come up on name searches can’t be found, and many of the guilds are empty shells. I’ll also add that most people show good sense and steer away from these players. Most guild with a Hitler have 10 members or less, and the 2 Der Schutzstaffel guilds have three players between them. A large number of these toons are unguilded. You’re known by the company you keep, and it seems most people don’t want to be known in this manner.

At least there’s hope for the misinformed, undereducated and the offensive for offensive’s sake. Misinformation and undereducated can be corrected. The deliberately offensive can grow out of it, like I did. I don’t know how much hope there is for the hopefully few who really believe in Hitler and the shit that he stood for. I don’t like seeing it in the real world, and I don’t like seeing it in the game world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Time for Fun

One of the bosses I loved to hate back in the Burning Crusade era was Blackheart the Inciter, second boss in Shadow Labyrinth. One thing I loved about him was that he was an ogre, and ogres are always so good-natured when they decide to kill you that it's almost charming. I also hated him because he was, at the time, damn hard to kill, in what was one of the most annoying and difficult instances of its day.

Blackheart has a little ability that he casts once each minute called 'Incite Chaos'. When he casts this you lose all control of your character and run around madly for 15 seconds, beating on your party members, healing, blowing cooldowns, all while Blackheart stands in the room laughing his ass off at you. You then spend the next forty seconds trying to undo the damage you did to each other while under his control, hoping you can mange to damage him in those forty seconds before the next time he starts Incite Chaos, with his signature call: 'Time for Fun!'

‘Fun’ has been getting quite a workout in a number of WoW-related places lately, particularly as it relates to the healing game. A poster by the name of Carbonic started a thread on Plus Heal that expressed concern about healing -- especially the changes coming down the pike for Holy Paladins. This discussion spilled into a second thread in which Carbonic asked ‘is it fun?’ And this also spilled further into Kurn’s Corner a few days later. Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the healing game in Wrath for just a second.

For most of Wrath (i.e., the part we don’t outgear) healing has been like a white-knuckled ride on an amusement park thrill ride. We basically need to cast as much as we can, almost constantly using our biggest heals, knowing that a single missed GCD can cause a wipe. I shudder to think of the number of times I lost a tank because I tossed what I thought was a spare Flash of Light or even Holy Shock on someone not named 'tank' or 'off-tank', or because I let Beacon fall off during the ‘now we run around and scream a lot’ phase. At this point nobody’s really sure whether Big Boss Damage came before Bottomless Mana Pools or vice versa, and it doesn’t really matter. The two have been chasing each other around and around, getting bigger and bigger with each tier.

If you look at people on a roller coater, most of them don’t actually look like they’re having fun, do they? They look and sound pretty damn terrified, in fact. The fun of a roller coaster is often found when it stops, and everyone gets off on wobbly legs, laughing – with more than a touch of hysteria – and staggering off to the next ride. THAT’S when they talk about how fun it is. I think this applies pretty well to healing in a raid, except that much of the terror comes from not wanting to let your raid team down.

Is it fun? Ghostcrawler and the Blizzard development team don’t seem to think so. Our favorite crab spends a lot of his time on the forums talking about fun, and what he thinks fun is. I wish I had some direct quotes to throw in here, as this would give me a bit more credibility, but here’s where I paraphrase what I’ve learned from GC over the last two years of his forum involvement:

- Passive abilities are not fun. So, things like Divine Intellect and Holy Guidance are not really fun. We’ve seen a lot of passives swept away in the Cataclysm trees.
- Stacking one stat to the exclusion of all others is not fun. Holy Paladins loading on Intellect gems, this is aimed right at you.
- Mindlessly spamming one spell almost exclusively -- whether it’s because you can or because you have to – is not fun. Wrath for Paladins has been a bit of both at times.

The last two items in particular relate to choice. Ghostcrawler wants us to have to choose more than we do now. Most Holy Paladins in Wrath will choose to stack up on Intellect; many will choose to spam one spell, be it Holy Light or Flash of Light, as a playstyle (I personally stack Int, but I’ve always been a multi-spell guy). This philosophy is leading to the following changes in Cataclysm healing:

- Mana will matter, as will its management.
- Damage will continue to be big, but will be less spiky
- All healers will have more spells to use but, given the first two points, will need to choose heals more carefully than we’ve had to in Wrath.
- Due to the first two items on the list, people will have to get used to life with an only partly-full health bar.

‘Choice is fun’ says Ghostcrawler. So we have reforging to allow us to screw around a bit with our gear to get it to work ‘just so’. Holy Paladins will essentially have four direct, single-target heals available at any given time: two big hitters that cost a metric ton of mana, and two lightweights that are pretty cheap but borderline ineffective. I believe this is roughly similar to what other healers are getting.

The problem for this vision is that Wrath has taught many of us to be roller coaster riding adrenaline junkies. Telling people that the pace of healing is going to be slower, that our heals are going to be smaller (right now on the PTR this is definitely the case) is a bitter pill for many to swallow. It doesn’t jibe with their sense of fun. Consider Carbonic (remember him from the first paragraph?) and what he had to say:

[DPS and tanks] have enough health that you as a healer make much less of a difference.

Lets face facts, someone that has little chance of death for a healer is not very nerve racking.

Fun is not being weak and slow.

I play games to feel heroic or super or god like. If I wanted to feel normal I would play SIMS.

I want to make a difference everytime I cast a spell and feel like it.

Despite his claims elsewhere in that thread to the contrary, I think it’s pretty clear that Carbonic WANTS to be overpowered. And why not? It’s fun to be OP once in a while. Who doesn’t like to pull all of Scarlet Monastery once in a while, or lay waste to the murloc village on the edge of Eastvale Logging Camp (those little bastards made my life miserable at level 9! DIE!)? As a Paladin healer, I often feel overpowered. Yet at the same time, bludgeoning every encounter with a sledgehammer can be unsatisfying. It might be time for finesse.

The new healing model often draws comparisons to vanilla or BC era healing. What I remember about 25 man healing in BC was the often very complicated instructions for healers (‘these guys are on the tanks’, ‘heal your group’, ‘so and so is on melee’); I can’t remember the last time I got anything more complicated than ‘Paladins work out your Beacon targets, Disco priest shield, everyone else is on raid.’ And it works! Is it fun? Carbonic doesn’t think so. He wants to heal, dammit! He doesn’t want to talk about it, or have to think about it:

My idea of fun is fast paced with little time to think
I really hated Vanilla healing, it was like chess. You talked for more time doing nothing but planning[sic]

In the end, there’s no way for the developers to win, and I don't envy Ghostcrawler. What’s fun for Carbonic is not necessarily fun for me, or you. I’ve greatly enjoyed Wrath healing for the most part (and I really don’t like roller coasters in general!), yet I also look forward to a return to the more strategic, team-oriented style that the changes might force us to adopt (one thing I think Wrath has done is erode the team ideal to a great extent). As much as I will be sad to be knocked off the throne of King of the Tank Healers, I think the changes will breathe new life into the class, the role, and the game as a whole. Unless Blizzard has missed the mark completely, it should be fun learning to play a Paladin all over again. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Friday, September 10, 2010

What’s in YOUR Wallet?

(Author’s note: this is part of the Blog Azeroth ‘Shared Topic’ for the week of September 6-12. I expect to complete the ‘Confidence Game’ series next week)

The life of a hoarder is a continual balance of good news, bad news. The bad news for hoarders is that you find yourself running out of space as the continued build-up of things from your life eats away at open space and storage. It's especially bad for disorganized hoarders. We have to deal with a mess and general clutter, and a decreasing ability to find things when you need them (on the other hand, you can Amaze your Friends and Baffle your Enemies when you somehow, someway, pull that critical piece of paper out from underneath a mountain of paper, files and unopened mail. It’s quite fun, really.). The positive side for a hoarder is coming across something from the great past that triggers happy memories of an event and days gone by.

I can imagine my Paladin sitting in his vault in Ironforge, looking around in equal parts disgust and resignation at the piles of junk accumulated over 80 levels, countless dungeons and raids, and thousands of quests in the last 2-1/2 years. Since the Lich King is finally dead, this would seem to be a perfect time to clear the vault, right? And so he starts to sort things out into piles. Perhaps there are two piles initially. The 'Serves a current purpose' pile includes things like the infinite dust and cosmic essences, herbs and eternals, gems and the like. They serve a current purpose, and are kept. The rest of it goes in a 'Serves no current purpose' pile. As he sorts through that pile, maybe he subdivides them something like this:

Things That Aren’t Going Away…Ever

There are a few things that immediately get put into this box. He will not throw them away, or donate them to charity (maybe for display in a hometown museum, like Bilbo’s things went to Michel Delving). They will not be disenchanted or vendored, no matter what.

Verigan’s Fist. I think every Paladin with any sense of lore or sentimentality likely still has this. This 2-handed mace is the end result of the first epic questline in a Paladin’s life gained at level 20. For better or worse (worse, in my opinion) Blizzard has moved away from Class quests. This particular questline took you all across the world, from Blackfathom Deeps (which you didn’t actually have to go into), to Shadowfang Keep and Deadmines, with side trips to Loch Modan. By far my favorite part of the quest (besides actually having Jordan Stillwell hand me my completed mace) was defending Daphne Stillwell from waves of Defias thugs that were trying to drive her out of her little patch of ground in the remotest of remote areas in Westfall (must have been because it was so close to the exit of Deadmines). It was a source of pride for me to defend the lady’s honor, though I have to say she kicked butt. If Blizzard ever decides to implement player housing (and I have to say, I really can’t understand why so many people really seem to want this so badly; whatever floats your boat), this item would be hung over the mantelpiece.

Verigan’s Fist at least got some use. The next item in my Paladin's 'Keep Forever' box is one that has never been used, as it is consumed on use. Of course I’m talking about that other famed Class item, the Holy Mightstone. This nifty little trinket was the result of the level 50 Class quest – the one that sent you to Sunken Temple. As I recall I had to run ST a second time because I missed one of the voodoo feathers the first time through. Oy. As far as epic questlines, this one wasn’t on a par with the Verigan’s Fist chain OR the Charger quest, but look again at that trinket: 300 attack power, 400 spellpower against undead – for 10 minutes! Even by today’s standards, that’s a pretty fine buff.

The Mightstone is unused because I could never quite figure out where or when I wanted to use it. It might have come in handy against Araj the Summoner, but we got a special item for fighting him. Maybe Scholo or Strat, or Naxx 40 when it was endgame. It could have come in handy against Arthas, many players promised to save it for him, but I doubt anyone actually used it. It’s just too cool to throw out, so it will also get displayed on the mantle. Until that little brat Billy Maclure wanders into my Elwynn forest retirement home and breaks it. I should have sent HIM into the Fargodeep Mine to get that necklace back!

Commander’s Badge. About the only thing better than riding a Netherdrake is having a little Netherwing Ally pop out and fight by your side. Like the Mightstone, this was never used in combat (+45 stamina was nice, but not really a Holy Paladin thing), but how can you destroy a Netherwing Ally? It just ain't right.

Going back deeper, my Paladin finds the Argent Dawn Commission and he moves it toward the 'discard' pile -- and pauses. This trinket became useless the second he hit exalted with the Argent Dawn, yet he can't quite part with it. He recalls, perhaps, the excitement of riding into Chillwind Point for the first time, the feeling that he was doing important work throughout the Plagelands. Despite the awful blight upon the landscape, and the horrible creatures roaming throughout, the Plaguelands was one of the Paladin's favorite regions. The trinket holds too many good memories. It stays.

Carried in the Paladin's bag is Uther Lightbringer’s Gold Coin. How can a Paladin throw away something once held by Uther? He can’t.

Noble’s Monocle. It’s just a shame you can’t equip this in addition to a head slot item. It would looks super spiffy paired with a Battered Jungle Hat. I once healed half of Karazhan with this equipped. I guess we were getting better at that point in time.

The Paladin has come to the end of the 'Things that aren't Going Away...Ever' pile. The next pile is called

Things I’m Sure I’m Going to Use…Eventually

These things are taking up lots of space in my bank, but my intention is to use them. Or to at least have them in case I need them. They are:

My Ret Set. First a confession: My second spec is also holy. Still, when dps plate drops and nobody needs or wants it, it tends to come your way. Maybe when Cataclysm comes I’ll finally build a ret spec, but by then the Ret gear will likely be useless, and I’ll be choosing all holy gear for quest rewards anyway. Sensibly, I should just dump it and take the cash. But I won’t. I’m going to use it. Really!

The Soulbound Keepsake. As stated above, I am a huge fan of the Plaguelands and pretty much everything associated with them. I started this questline some time ago, but never managed to finish it off. As a result, this stays in my bank. There is a much greater chance of me using this than my ret set, though I’d better do it soon, before everything changes.

Kael’s Vial Remnant. You need this to get attuned for Mt. Hyjal (the old one, not the one that will be coming with Cataclysm). Of course, Blizzard threw out attunements quite some time ago. I gathered this with some notion of getting the Hand of Ad’al title, but never followed through. The title is no longer available for me, and there’s no need for attunement, so why do I still have this?

Surprisingly, there's not too much in that pile. Now there's one more left:

Things that I have no Good Reason to Keep…but do

These things are utterly useless now, yet I still have them. I can actually see myself getting rid of them though.

Arcane Runes, Sanguine Hibiscus, Coilfang Armaments. I built up a lot of these back in BC era. I didn’t dump the runes because the Scryer enchants were still too good to pass up initially, but once I hit exalted with the appropriate Wrath factions, there’s no reason at all to keep them. The hibiscus and armaments, on the other hand, might still come in handy if I’m trying to get rep up with Sporeggar and Cenarion Expedition (Note to self: exalted with CE, time to dump the Amrmaments).

Direbrew’s Remote. Brewfest is just around the corner, but I believe changes to the dungeon system mean that this item is totally useless; unless I just feel like popping into the Grim Guzzler for kicks and giggles. Maybe I'll throw it away when Brewfest is over....

Finally, there's Spectrecles. This quest line is long over and done with, but who doesn’t want to see ghosts in Shadowmoon Valley?

And so, after spending several hours sorting through his bank, my Paladin takes each pile and places them into their respective boxes. Instead of selling, auctioning, and just plain destroying a bunch of useless junk, he puts them back on their shelves and runs off to help High Tinker Mekkatorque take back Gnomeragon, where he earns a new cloak. Which he puts in the bank. How can you get rid of something earned after such an epic battle?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Confidence Game, Chapter 1: Self-Confidence

Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead once said of the band ‘We’re not afraid to go out and fall flat on our faces.’ By their own admission, the Dead did that many times (‘We usually do pretty bad at all the big ones,’ said Jerry Garcia in reference to Monterey, Woodstock and their shows in Egypt). Despite failing on some of the biggest stages of their era, the Dead continued on for 30 years as one of rock’s most successful and enduring acts, confident in themselves and in their fans’ unwavering loyalty.

Self-confidence ultimately starts at home. The way we are raised by our parents or caregivers likely plays the biggest role in whether we have it or not. Grow up in an environment that is encouraging and not overly critical, with people that accept mistakes and love you anyway, and you are more likely to have a solid foundation of confidence. That foundation is either further built up or eroded based on our experiences moving along further in life.

In many ways confidence is less about our self-assuredness and comfort with our own skills as it is about not being afraid to fail, to fall flat on our faces, as Weir said. If you think about the times you’ve NOT tried something – like asking a girl out, trying out for a sports team or the school play, submitting an essay for a contest – no matter how you rationalize it, it’s almost certainly because you’re afraid to fail. You may tell yourself that she’s probably got a boyfriend, or you don’t have time to commit to the team or whatever. It comes down to fear of failing, of being rejected, which is a lack of confidence.

Confident people, on the other hand, have little to no fear of failure and are willing to take chances as a result. Psychologists note that there’s no direct correlation between skill/ability and confidence (and I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of this): there are plenty of competent people who have no confidence, and lots of confident people with no competence. One doesn’t need a track record of success to be confident.

It’s somewhat surprising then that we see so many people who lack confidence in the world of the World of Warcraft. When you come right down to it, there’s no real risk involved. We’re talking about a computer game here, not trying to stem the flow of millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, or finding a cure for cancer or AIDS, or running a country. There are no risks to take in WoW. You wipe a group, so what? You didn’t just make a gaffe that’s plunging the world into nuclear war. Nobody gets fired, no one’s marriage ends, nobody gets killed over a mistake made in the game. Given that, we should all be playing with confidence – a willingness to fall flat on our faces.

And yet I constantly see examples of people with no confidence in the game and, I confess, I sometimes exhibit this a bit myself. I see tanks who are more than willing to let the other tank do the hard jobs (kiting Rotface slimes and grabbing adds, Bumble-driving on Putricide), I see healers running their mana tank dry 1/3 of the way into a fight because they’re so afraid of screwing up, I see dps who panic and lose all semblance of a decent rotation (or get so wound up trying to maintain that rotation that they forget to move out of the fire or interrupt or dispel the debuff of almost instantaneous death, etc.). So many people out there need to loosen up and find some confidence. Unlike real life, if you die you get to come back and try again. What’s the worst that can happen?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Confidence Game: Prologue

When Ruby Sanctum came out near the end of June my realm was down for the Super-Extended Maintenance (24-hour variety). The following day was a regular Icecrown run, so we didn’t set foot in there until a whole 2 days after its release. We didn’t do so well. Actually, we did quite well on the trash and the mini-bosses, although I think there was at least a little bit of luck involved with Saviana Ragefire: we killed her without really knowing how we did it, which was evident the next time we went in there. Halion was a different story. The big lavender dragon ate us alive during phase 2. We took several shots at him over the night and crawled away, vowing to get him the next time.

Over the next three weeks we took several shots at Halion, but they were half-hearted attempts at best. At that time we had another dragon on our minds: Sindragosa. We were working hard with a Super-Extended Raid Lockout (2 month variety), and Sindragosa was all that stood between us and the big boss, Arthas. Our raid group was spending 2 nights a week, about 3 hours each night, working on Sindy. As much as people were excited about ‘new content’, the truth was most of us were really focused in on Sindragosa, Arthas, and claiming Icecrown Citadel as our own.

So we would go in and take our shots at Sindragosa, and we made our progress, finally conquering her on July 8th. For the rest of July (one week off for vacation) we went in and worked on Arthas: 10, 11, 12 attempts or so per night, sometimes more, once less when we just had absolutely no mojo whatsoever. Halion? Well, we would pop in once a week and get him to phase 2 and die. Four, five attempts, no real nights of bashing our heads against the wall like we were doing with Arthas. Our minds were really on killing Arthas and, on the odd week or two where we didn’t try Ruby Sanctum, no one really seemed to care at all.

On August 11 we finally vanquished Arthas along with some personal and guild-wide demons. We did it on our second attempt for the night, which left us, once all the screen shots, rehashing the fight and running up and sitting on Bolvar’s lap (well, not really. That would be kind of disrespectful, don't you think?) was finished, with about 2 hours of raiding time. What to do? Ruby Sanctum! Why not?

I think it’s no surprise that, buoyed by our conquest of Icecrown, we went in and had little trouble with Halion. On our second attempt we hit phase 3 (which I think we had done maybe once before), though all the dps for the physical realm were dead. Our third attempt was magic, and down went Halion. Two guild firsts, two big bosses in the same night. Kingslayers! Twilight Vanquishers! There’s nothing we could not do!

The confidence we gained that allowed us to roll over Arthas and Halion as easily as we did started the previous Monday when we wiped to Arthas 12 times. The progress made that night in particular fueled us. We walked into Icecrown Wednesday knowing that we could do it, feeling pretty strongly as a group that we would do it, but not being so cocky as to set us up for failure.

Confidence in yourself and your raiding team is such a key ingredient to success in WoW, yet it easily the most fragile. Over the next few posts I’m going to look at some of the elements of confidence and the effects they have on the group and the individual. I’m going to leave off here today with this gem of a commercial from a few years back. While it’s about ‘experience’, most of it applies to confidence as well. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Sounds of Silence

Back in February while traipsing through Dalaran on some important errand, I came across something new: a giant statue of Tirion Fordring. ‘What the hell is this all about?’ I wondered, before realizing that it must signify a Lich King kill. I clicked on the plaque on the statue, expecting some kind of written explanation. Instead, I was treated to the video of Arthas’ last moments on earth (included here because I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, one way or the other). I almost closed it without looking, as I wanted to be surprised for the eventuality of my guild killing Arthas, but curiosity got the better of me, and I watched it through. At the time I thought it was a good scene, well-crafted by Blizzard and, seemingly, a fitting end to the story of Arthas (and a surprise to me. I was sure that Tirion would become the new Lich King). While I never went out of my way to watch the video (i.e., I didn’t sit around in Dalaran for hours clicking on the statue), I didn’t avoid it if it happened to come up somewhere else, though I was afraid that overexposure might lessen the impact if we ever did manage to kill Arthas.

Last night my guild finally, finally, finally killed the Lich King. We’ve been extending this lockout since the end of May, when we emptied Putricide’s Laboratory of Alchemical Horrors and Fun (has there ever been a better name in this game?) of the Not-So-Good Doctor and his ‘experiments’. We spent the month of June re-clearing the Blood wing, which actually went much easier than it had the first time, and playing with Sindragosa. Sindy was vanquished on July 8th, and it was on to Arthas.

By my count we spent some 60 attempts on Arthas. We made good progress into phase 2 our first two full nights there; following a week off, we found ourselves set back to dying in phase 1 transitions. Would we never get it? On Monday of this week we actually twice ventured into the previously uncharted realm of phase 3, where we died insanely fast – nobody saw the inside of Frostmourne, nobody even got the chance to kill off or kite or soak vile spirits, that’s how bad it was. But it was a good kind of bad, because we were back to making progress.

Three days later, our first attempt ended in phase 3. We were very positive and hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this would be it, though experience tells me that we’re often very good early and decline over the course of the night. Would this be a case of ‘first, best attempt’? No! Our second attempt yielded a victory. Arthas’ health seemed poised at 11% for a ridiculously long time, and when I died I wasn’t sure if I was killed by his Uber Spell of Instant Death or the bucketload of Vile spirits that were chasing me around.

Once it was clear that we had killed him, there was a lot of chatter in vent. While all of us had read strats and watched videos, nobody was 100% sure what would follow, except that we did not want to release. While Arthas boasted to the still-frozen Tirion about how he was going to create the 'greatest fighting force the world has ever known' out of us, vent was full of chatter: ‘dps and heal’, ‘watch out for defile’, ‘did we win?’, ‘I don’t think there’s defile on this phase’, ‘we’ve won’, ‘I think there’s still defile’, etc. But Tirion broke out and smashed Frostmourne, Terenas brought us back from the dead, and we went to town, unleashing the months of pent up frustration (1650 holy paladin dps, ftw!) on the incapacitated Lich King. The achievements popped up, and there was much whooping and rejoicing, and the cinematic kicked in.

As I said, I’ve seen it before, I know how it turns out. So did everyone in my raid group. But I watched it anyway (and had to turn up the sound for my wife, who must have hit something on her keyboard and skipped the scene). As Tirion picked up the helm and pondered his future as the next Lich King, I had a sudden realization:

Vent was absolutely silent.

Our group had been extremely chattery in vent between attempts, caught up in the excitement and adrenaline no doubt of feeling so close to victory. Defeating Arthas as a guild was the pinnacle of the expansion, literally eight months of sometimes ridiculous levels of angst and frustration. This was the moment to bask in the glory, to revel, to party.

And no one said a thing.

We watched from our computers in New York, Florida, Manitoba, Texas, California as the drama played out once more. Separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, yet completely together. Despite the lust for loot that drives so many to play the game (and soon raid chat was filled with people linking their hoped-for drops from the soon to be attempted heroic fights), the moments of silence as we watched the cut scene told me a lot about my guild members, and why we were there. And it wasn’t for the loot.

The King is dead. Long live the Kingslayers!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blood Elf Porn!

Note: With thanks to Gevlon for trolling, and Tobold for actually taking the challenge.

Pst! Hey, you! Come over ‘ere, I’ve got something to show you.

You heard about this little gizmo? The Super Snapper FX? Yeah, that’s the one. You – what? You’ve used one? What for?

Huh, well how about that? Well, it turns out you can take pictures of things besides turtles, too. Here, check this out.

Eh? Eh? What do you think, you like that? No? OK, OK maybe dwarfs should keep their clothes on. But wait, you look like a worldly-type man, eh? You’ve been around. Maybe you like things a little more…exotic, am I right? Eh? Eh?

Yeah, I thought so. Take a look at this! Troll women are pretty nice eh? If you get past the tusks that is. And those hands…heh heh. Wait, wait! Don’t go anywhere! I can see you are a man of the highest taste, and I have some very tasty – err, tasteful, yeah that’s it – tasteful pictures right here.

Check this out. These came direct from the pleasure palaces of Quel’Thalas itself! Eh? What do you think, you want to buy some?

Eh? What’s that?

Well, sure they’re girls.

I mean, look at that, right there! It’s clearly…


Well, I think they’re girls.

Ah, what the hell, you'll never know the difference, anyway. Am I right? Eh? Eh?

Wait! Come back! I've got goblins and gnomes with a worgen, I've got...damn.


I think they're girls....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The End of an Era, Part II

Before my vacation I posited that Wrath of the Lich King was really The Golden Age of the Paladin. I pointed out in Part I how Paladins (living, dead, and somewhere in between) dominated most of the story-telling and lore of the expansion. While Horde players only see a bit of Bolvar's heroics at the Wrathgate, Tirion and Uther's presence are felt throughout the expansion (and Arthas, of course). Even the few backhand slaps at Paladins that Blizzard delivers -- Champions Isimode and Faesrol, and of course Eadric the Pure):

-- couldn't take the shine off of Paladins.

But Paladins didn't just rule the lore in this expansion. Among the playerbase, Paladins have never been more powerful or popular than they are now. Just three years ago, WoWInsider showed Paladins lagging behind all but shaman in popularity. Today, Warcraft Realms shows Paladins in a dead heat with Death Knights for most popular class, with Death Knights having a slight edge at level 80.

(Census data provided by

WoW players are not that easily influenced by storylines. That is to say, having Tirion running around kicking ass is not going to cause such a large increase in Paladin representation. Instead, it's due to the fact that we now have three viable, powerful specs to choose from.

Back in the days when I started playing (around the same time those numbers were published by WoWInsider), people looked to Paladins mainly for two things: tank healing, and trash tanking. If you wanted to run heroic Shattered Halls, or needed someone to pick up Hyjal trash, you looked for a Paladin. Bosses were tanked by the warrior or the druid. Paladin healers were fine, as long as you only had one, by and large, and I don’t think anyone wanted to take one into heroic Magisters’ Terrace, at least not on release. Ret? Generally dismissed as Retardins, lolret, or Retnoob, they might find themselves parked outside the raid in case someone else D/C’d or had to leave early, and to maybe throw some buffs.

With the arrival of Wrath, however, all that changed. Ret was so strong coming out of the chute that Ghostcrawler felt compelled to make his infamous ‘to the ground, baby!’ comment within a week or so of Patch 3.0. Seems that folks were pretty upset about being absolutely destroyed by a class they used to laugh at. Despite the nerfs, Ret is pretty well-represented at this point, and can do some pretty good damage, while bringing important buffs, including secondary healing through Judgment of Light and Divine Storm; oodles of mana regeneration through replenishment and Judgment of Wisdom, and, depending on subspec, can provide damage mitigation through either Divine Sacrifice or Aura Mastery. While you won’t usually see Retadins topping the damage charts over the course of the night, they can definitely hold their own, and it shows in the numbers of Paladins raiding today.

Tankadins were concerned heading into Wrath that they might be supplanted not only by a new tanking class, but by changes to threat mechanics and buffs to warrior and druid AoE threat. It hasn’t seemed to happen that way at all. While Warriors and Druids in particular are better now at large-pack tanking, Paladins are still very strong in this department, have gotten better at single-target tanking and boss tanking, and have been given an insanely good life-saver. Palatank threat generation may have been boosted a bit by the bucketloads of undead we’ve faced throughout the expansion, but they’ve also done quite well against mechanical monsters, tentacled Old Gods, beasts and dragons. No problems here at all.

And finally we have Holy Paladins. While still ‘relegated’ largely to tank healing, it’s safe to say that Holy Paladins are the current Kings of Tank Healing. Like our damage-dealing and meat-shielding brothers-in-arms, the healers of the class were concerned coming into the expansion. Holydins quickly got their feet under them in the new landscape of Sacred Shields, Beacons and splashy glyphs. Initially powered by stacking Intellect and Crit out the wazoo, Illumination provided a nearly-limitless mana supply as early as Naxxramas and, even after it was nerfed massively, mana was still not an issue. When Beacon of Light was buffed to work off of total healing, Paladins were able to easily keep up two targets at once (which still drives meter-hounds crazy, either with delight or jealousy, depending on what class you are). While Holy Paladins are still not the best at healing on the run, or dealing with mass party/raid damage, they’re far better at it now than ever, and you’re not crippling your raid if you have to throw a Holydin on raid damage.

Will it last? Sadly, it cannot. As Terenas said to Arthas, ‘No king can rule forever’, and surely the reign of the Paladin is about to end. Cataclysm’s just around the corner, with a new paradigm for everything: tanking, healing, damage dealing; the whole world is going to change. And while another class will rise to the top of the 'most played' charts, I doubt we’ll see the kind of complete domination of any class moving forward as we've seen with Paladins. And if I'm wrong and we do? That's fine by me -- let someone else have their day in the Light. Just don't nerf me 'to the ground, baby'.