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?