Monday, December 14, 2009

LFG [of jerks], or: Why I Hate the Dungeon Finder Now


Remember how, only a few days ago, I praised the new LFG system in WoW?

I'm here now to tell you that I was a bit premature. All is not sugarplums, roses, and nude models.

The bottom line is something that we all already knew: people are assholes.

The core problem with the dungeon finder is also its core value proposition: it allows you to spend more time in random groups. Not only that, but it cycles you through those groups much more quickly, and pulls those groups from a larger pool of people. Add in the fact that most of those people are from another server and will never see you again, and you have the perfect recipe for a highly concentrated example of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. I'm far from the first person to point out this downside of the system.

Being exposed to more people at a more rapid clip for longer periods of time means 1) you are spending more time with assholes, 2) you are seeing more different kinds of assholes (and remember, each asshole only has to be an asshole once), and 3) you are increasing the number of terrible pug experiences you can have per hour.

After the first day, people started to learn how to game the system and they started to figure out that they could bring their undergeared alts to everything, and other players wouldn't have much choice but to carry them (because of the penalties for leaving and the vote-kick timer, which I'll get into later). So over the past few days, almost every group I join has two people doing 1.5k or less dps (below the tank). Out of the dozens of groups I ran this weekend, only 3 were reasonably pleasant and competent. I had no idea before just how shitty WoW's community actually is. I'm not sure I want to keep playing a game that includes so many people who are just wastes of breath and Fritos.


Why does this food taste like asshole?


My stand-out bad experiences: a hunter joins heroic OK and proceeds to do 600 dps. When asked why, he says that he started the instance with his crossbow skill at 1, and he didn't bring any other weapons. He says he "could care less" about how rude, inconsiderate, and unfair that is to the group.

Or how about this: I join H Occ on my super-geared main. I see 4 people from the same guild on another server are my group, and they have decent gearscores. So I compliment them, saying "it's nice to see a geared group, so many of my groups lately have had sub 1k dps". We go through the run, and get to a part when we are about to land on a floating platform. Everyone gets into landing position, and the mage actually dismounts, so I think it's OK to land. After the mage dismounts, the tank and healer go off alone, still on their drakes, to kill a random drake nearby. The tank gets killed. On an unnecessary drake that hadn't even seen us. At the same time, the mage runs forward and aggros the pack. I assume we are dead, so I run around in circles waiting for the wipe.

After we wipe, the group starts screaming at me about how I should have gone into frost presence and prevented the wipe (without the healer, mind you), and says I'm a terrible player. I tried to defuse the situation and be classy, but they wouldn't have it. They kept flinging insults, even though they had actually just wiped in a 5 man as a group from the same guild, despite their raid gear. They must have been so embarrassed to fail like that in front of me that they had to blame me. It was pathetic. I just let it go, and just kept running the instance, because I didn't really care about what random internet idiot said. But then we kill the 3rd boss and are flying up to engage the last boss, and they vote to kick me out of nowhere so I can't get my frost emblems. Classy.


But that's not even the worst part of the dungeon finder. The worst is the number of people showing up with quest greens or empty gem slots (not even getting into the lack of enchants). Please, please, please have the consideration to at least put a green gem in there before you queue up for a heroic. Remember that your group is made up of other people whose time is valuable, and you do not have a right to waste their time. You are not entitled to be carried, and they are not "bad people" if they don't want to pick up your slack.


THe LFG system is shaping up to be a way to yoke geared, competent players and pressure them to carry crappy, undergeared, inconsiderate players (presumably so that those baddies continue to pay a monthly fee instead of quitting because they can't get a group that will keep them). More on that later, with a great quote from Comrade Ghostcrawler. Sure, no one is "forcing" you, but if your a good player who doesn't use the system, you are screwed out of a ton of frost emblems that the terribads are getting. You are punished for not putting yourself at the mercy of the system. I can't wait until good players don't need frost emblems anymore and the LFG system becomes a cesspit of bads all expecting each other to carry them to phat epix. Mmm, community!


Pictured: good players (left), morons, slackers, and assholes (top center)


The rapid-fire cycling of assholes would, in itself, probably be bearable if it weren't for the ruleset that comes along with the system. I understand why Blizzard used the rules they did, but I think, in light of live-server conditions, they need to be revised.

As it stands, if you join a group and someone is immediately an asshole, you have two options: 1) continue the run, or 2) leave, incurring a 15-minute wait until you may queue again. You may not vote to kick someone until 15 minutes into the run.

Think about that for a second. If you are a perfectly nice and capable person, you join a run, and someone in that run is immediately an asshole, you are the only one who is punished. You can't kick him, but if you leave, you have to wait 15 minutes before you can even queue again, while the asshole can just let someone else fill your spot. The asshole gets the run he wanted with almost no interruption, but you have to pay 15 minutes of your life (plus queue wait time, if you are a dps) because you weren't willing to let him impose his assholishness on you.

Great thinking, Blizz.

Now let's say the assholishness only emerges later in the run. Now you can vote kick the guy. However, even if you do kick him, he does not incur a deserter debuff. So he can requeue right away and have almost no interruption in his ability to punish others with his presence.

Awesome.


I think Blizzard's current rules could be vastly improved:


1) Allow vote-to-kick from the beginning.

If I join a group, and the first thing out of the rogue's mouth is "lol you fags are gay", I should be able to kick him. I should not have to leave the group and be punished with a 15-minute wait to requeue.

The 15-minute grave period before you can vote-kick is especially onerous to me given Ghostcrawler's rationale for why it is in place (emphasis mine, of course):


"I suspect it's going to take a few tries before we get the vote kick thing feeling right. I hope it's obvious what purpose it serves though. We feared without some kind of grace period that a common behavior would be to automatically kick someone in greens or without certain achievements or perhaps even someone who would roll against you on stuff (in the partial premade situation)."




The reason you can't kick someone immediately is that - dear god, let me clutch my pearls - you might kick someone for being in greens!?!? Screw. You. It is not my obligation to carry slackers, no matter how important it is to you to keep their subscription money coming.

Aside from that outrage, the benefits of being able to immediately kick "Bustanutz" vastly outweigh the risk that we might dare to kick someone who is undergeared for the instance. Get your priorities straight, GC!


2) No deserter debuff if you leave the group in the first 2 minutes.

This way, you aren't stuck with the choice between running the dungeon with assholes or punishing yourself with a 15 minute wait while the assholes get to fill your spot instantly and keep running.


3) Apply a fresh deserter debuff if you are vote-kicked. To prevent griefing, allow a group to only vote-kick one person every 15 minutes.

You should not be able to requeue immediately after being vote-kicked.


4) Do not let a player queue if they have even a single empty gem slot.

The system should give them back an error message explaining why they were not allowed to queue, as well. The system already uses a highly lenient gearscore measurement to prevent someone in full greens from entering your heroic. Simply add this on.


I believe these simple changes will go a long way toward giving the vast majority of us, who are pleasant, competent people, a way to deal with assholes that is more punishing to the assholes than it is to us. They will also greatly encourage good behavior and increase player satisfaction with the LFG experience, while having little to no negative effect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The return of Games that are Metal


Today marks the return of an early feature of the site that I haven't revisited in a while: Games that are Metal. I was inspired by the following image. For maximum viewing pleasure, please imagine a kick-ass wailing guitar solo in your head while viewing:



Glorious.

Not only does Mega Man have a gun for a hand, but he's using his free hand to hold another gun, and using that other gun to fire blind at an attacking robot while he shoots his gunhand into the air, all while clearly screaming an ultra-high hair metal note. And there is a robot dragon in the background, firing his torso-cannons wildly into the air.

It just doesn't get more metal than that.

Scourge Strike: an Odyssey of Disappointment


From the moment that beta information about DKs started leaking, the Unholy talent tree appealed to me most. I liked how it focused on the disease mechanic more than the other trees, making me feel more like a DK. And why would I care about Blood or Frost when I could control a ghoul, run and ride extra-fast, summon a gargoyle, create a swirling mass of death and destruction around me, and all the while be protected by a shield of bone?

Well, clearly it was far too fun. Unholy Blight's implementation as an aoe aura is gone. No DPS spec can afford to spend points in the utility talents like the increased run and mount speeds. And worst of all, the tree's signature strike, Scourge Strike, has been the only real story of failure for the new class.

Originally, it ignored armor, doing shadow damage instead. This was cool, but it turned out it hit too hard in PvP, and not hard enough in raids (where the target's armor was heavily debuffed, reducing the value of ignoring armor). Trying to correct this problem has led to a series of changes to the strike in almost every patch, none of those changes actually solving the problem.

The absolute low point was when, for an entire patch, Unholy DKs no longer even spent the talent point in Scourge Strike, finding it more effective DPS to contort their spec into the frost tree to focus on Obliterate as their FU* strike instead (*in this case, FU refers to the strike's cost of one frost and one unholy rune, not the developers' attitude towards unholy DKs). The devs were pretty much OK with this, and Ghostcrawler recently admitted that they only revisited SS because of player complaints. I specced out of Unholy and went for blood when this change occurred, especially in light of just how much armor penetration (useless to unholy, key for blood) was going to be on the raid gear going forward. I missed my favored spec and my trusty ghoul Beetlegobbler, but I persevered.

After that, a patch made SS marginally useful again, but not useful enough to bother with talents and glyphs that propped it up, such as Reaping and Epidemic. Hearing that Unholy was key for Anub'arak hard mode (which turned out to be true), I tried Unholy again. The disease-a-palooza was fun, but SS was still not doing too well, and armor pen still wasn't useful enough for the spec, considering how unavoidably prevalent it is on gear now. It seemed kind of sad that Unholy's viability outside of aoe situations was entirely predicated on abusing a badly-designed Glyph of Icy Touch for bonus RP to do more Death Coils, to the point that another Icy Touch was more valuable to your DPS than another Scourge Strike.

But when 3.3 hit the PTRs, a ray of hope shone on the beleaguered strike. The changes seemed genius: they fixed everything wrong with the strike while keeping its flavor. The attack would do physical damage, making armor pen attractive, but then also do a fraction of that damage on top as shadow damage. That shadow damage would be affected by talents and be able to crit independently, making many talents in Unholy attractive again. Along with the change to Glyph of Icy Touch, this brought the spec back to where I felt it was originally intended to be, and where it had been back when I fell for it: using Reaping to get more Scourge Strikes.

This change went through months of favorable testing on the PTR, without much change to it at all. Then it hits the live servers for less than two days, and already a nerf was hotfixed in.

Let's put aside the fact that other, more overpowered mechanics have been left in for months at a time.

Apparently, Unholy was doing too much damage now. I didn't really notice during our raid, given how I wasn't really paying attention to the meters with everything else going on. My first thought was that it was fine. If the dps was too high, OK, let's nerf it. They just removed the ability for the shadow portion to crit independently, I thought, how bad could that be?

Turns out: pretty fucking bad.

According to the DK math gurus over at Elitist Jerks, the change was enough that the Unholy rotation and talent spec revert to what they were before the change. The playstyle is back to being less fun and flavorful. In the end, all they have accomplished with this change is making armor penetration marginally more attractive.

Ugh.

Can you just get it right, guys? This is so disappointing. Once we are done with Anub Hard, I'm respeccing back to blood to get off this roller-coaster of suck.

The worst part? Ghostcrawler's post today explaining the change. Please note before reading this statement that they nerfed the ability in less than 48 hours.


"Will it stay this way for long? It's too early to tell. This implementation has a chance of working out, but we also want to see the Icecrown hard modes start up as well as the new Arena season kick in."


You read it right. They are going to leave it as-is (which is to say, broken) until they get some data from Icecrown hard modes and the new arena season (I refuse to capitalize arena, the game's greatest mistake, GC).

Those are months away.


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

To be clear, I'm not asking for SS or unholy, or anything about DKs, to be overpowered. I just think it's clear that Blizzard's intent is that players use SS and Reaping, but no matter how many changes they make, they just can't seem to make that appealing without breaking the game. I don't enjoy the playstyle of Unholy without those, so I'm one of the people who would like SS to be viable without being broken. And I'm quite disappointed with how badly they've done so far, and with how quick they are to break the spec while being so slow to fix it.

Quote of the Day


Unofficially filling in for Syp while he deals with finals. :)

From the comments thread from a post at Spinksville about how bear druids wear their rocket packs in an . . . interesting way during the ICC gunship encounter:


"Maybe they can combine it with the Mohawk mechanic to create a Set Someone’s Ass on Fire Grenade."

-Stabs

Thursday, December 10, 2009

3.3 Early Impressions, and the LFG tool


As much as I anticipated this patch, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with just how good it has been so far. There were some bad server problems on patch day (I can't believe Blizz didn't anticipate how many people would want to do this new stuff...), and I was all ready to rage about them. But then last night things were fine, so I guess either they splurged on some more servers or the number of people trying to do exactly the same thing simultaneously plummeted.

From the patch notes, I expected to be excited about the lore-rich 5-mans, the raid instance, and a few other tweaks. But I never expected that after only two days, the real stand-out part of this patch - and the part that will change the face of the game forever (and for the better!) - wasn't any of that.

The new LFG tool
If you had told me a week ago how good this thing was, I wouldn't have believed you. In fact, lots of people tried to tell me how good it was, and I was incredulous as a Ret Paladin finding his PvP target still alive after the HoJ stun wore off. I wasn't having none of that.

For five years now, everything Blizzard has tried to do to help people find groups has been sub-par. They've tried to make improvements, but the new additions always showed a lack of forethought and indicated that the developers were at least somewhat out of touch with how players actually find groups. It destroyed my faith that Blizzard couldn't even make a LFG interface that competed with City of Heroes, which is an older game.

But they've more than made up for it now. I'm blown away.

This thing slices, it dices, and it will actually find you a tank in under a minute. It makes instancing and assembling a group a breeze, and it means that when I'm playing, I can spend my time actually playing, rather than spamming Trade channel for a tank or healer.

[unrelated note: people who complain about LFG messages in Trade channel need to shut up. I've accidentally joined many a great group pre-3.3 when I didn't happen to be in the LFG chat channel or system but saw an ad in trade chat. It's not like you were really using Trade for much of anything anyway.]

So far, I've run about 7 heroics using the system, and not had a bad egg in any of them. Once we got a severely undergeared rogue, but he played just fine. If anything, I wish that I could keep in contact with some of the good players I've met from other servers and manually invite them to future pugs.

Sure, maybe it won't be as good once 3.3 fever winds down and the LFG qeue isn't as crowded as it is right now. But nevertheless, I think it's a great system. I'm especially interested to see how this effects what role players choose to play. Tobold thinks it will increase the number of tanks and healers, and I'm inclined to agree.

The main downside is that I will no longer be able to get such a good laugh when I see a group of 3 plate DPS "LFM tank and healz pst"


Icecrown Raid
Awwwwwww, shit. That's the stuff. Mmmmmm. Oh, yes, don't sto-what? You're kidding, right? I have to wait 28 days for the next hit?



NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOo


So far, the ICC raid has lived up to my high expectations for it. My guild was the first to complete it on our server (we finished the 10-man only 20 minutes before the top guild finished it on 25-man), so I've seen the whole thing, and it's reasonably challenging, but not very hard. I'd put most of the bosses roughly on par with Northrend Beasts 10 hard-mode. Given the easier ways to get gear now, I anticipate that most groups will be able to at least make some progress in the place. Without getting too spoiler-y:

The opening trash is a bit brutal and a bit long. I think it's intended to dissuade really casual groups from trying to farm the first boss. Hint: don't charge into the first room and start AoEing. Unlike with the rest of Wrath content, that strategy will feed you your own intestines. Also, watch out for gigantic skeletons and their saber lash.

The first boss looks supremely epic. And really, how can you go wrong with a guy who periodically shouts "BONE STORM!!!"? It's a relatively simple fight, borrowing mechanics from BT and Shattered Halls. He was easy to beat with our 232-geared mains, but was a lot harder to bring down with our lesser-geared alt group - not because of the mechanics, but just because of the raw damage numbers the boss was putting out, especially on the tanks.

The trash for the second boss will evoke Shadow Labs for many of you, and you'll have to actually drag the CC spells back onto your action bars. If you can even remember which spells they are. The boss herself is little more than a skeleton (she must be friends with Kate Moss, whose motto is: "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels") protected by a mana shield. The fight is quite novel, because it has you dealing with a variety of adds in exciting and constantly-changing ways. It's like a more fun and interesting take on Gothik.

The way to the third "boss" is when things start to get really epic, with horde and alliance battling for control of this upper balcony outside of the citadel, all the while fending off the scourge. You'll head to your faction's airship, at which point you get to play with rocket packs! This fight is epic, fun and frenetic, and exactly the type of thing that I was asking for when I designed The Awesoming raid encounter way back in the early days of this blog (in fact, the entire instance so far invokes that to some degree; there are tons of lore and storyline events going on throughout the epic set pieces). It wasn't hard to take out the enemy ship, the only challenge was not letting our offtank get owned by Bronzebeard.

Your ship will drop you off right in front of the final, lore-rich boss of this wing. The fight was straightforward to figure out, but very much a challenge of execution, as each mistake you make heals the boss more and more until the extra damage to you and healing to him becomes insurmountable. But once our tanks got a taunt rotation perfected and the ranged dps worked the kinks out of the kiting, we were able kill this boss so well that we even got an extra acheivement!

Overall, the same flare for both aesthetic and fight design that went into Ulduar is on full display again here, only knocked up a notch and soaked in a thick gravy of delicious lore. Every single battle of this wing trumps everything else in the game in some way, whether it be the emotional storyline resonance of Deathbringer, the epicness of the gunship battle, the horrible beauty of a giant skeletal construct, or the new and interesting fight mechanics of Lady Deathwhisper. Having major warcraft characters directly involved and performing a variety of scripted events throughout the dungeon cements the entire thing together into something greater than its parts. They've turned the raid into a fully fleshed-out piece of entertainment. This is the apex, as it should be.


I don't have time to talk about the 5-mans right now, but suffice it to say I'm impressed with them as well. So far, this is shaping up to be the best patch they've ever done. Bravo, Blizzard!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Is it Christmas, or just Patch Day?



Cold weather? Check.

I'm about to get a lot of really awesome presents? Check.

Sparkly ornaments everywhere (in this case, they are all purple for some reason)? Check.

A large man sneaking about in the night? Check.

Me having insomnia from anticipation? Check.

Hordes of slathering undead? Che-hey waitaminute!


HO HO YOURSOULISMINE


It's not Christmas! It's Patch Day!


But this, my friends, is no ordinary patch. No, this is the end-all be-all of World of Warcraft patches. This is the patch I've been waiting for since I first met Arthas back in July 2002.

For approaching a decade, I've wanted this guy's head on a platter. And now, I finally get to go after him.

I had played a great deal of Warcraft 2 multiplayer, but never really got into the campaign. Beyond reading wowwiki, I'm not familiar with the old stories of villains like Deathwing or the old Horde (Gul'dan, etc.). Sure, Deathwing may be bigger and bad-assier than Arthas, but there is really no way for a warcraft villain to top the Lich King for me. Not after the adoration I had (and still have) for the storytelling, gameplay, and art in the Warcraft 3 campaign. Not after how long I've been waiting for this.

And by all indications, Blizzard is pulling out all of the stops. The last patch was a one-room stalling device assembled, as far as I can tell, by a single unpaid intern. All so they could keep us sated while they worked on this patch.

I give Blizzard a lot of crap. And I don't take any of that back. But as far as I can tell, this patch is one of those times they've come through for the playerbase. Despite being understaffed and still making plenty of decisions I actively disagree with (many of them in this patch), the bottom line is that, with this patch, they are earning their gold-plated yachts.

I am unabashedly fanboi excited about this patch. I'm more excited than a teenage boy in a porn theater packed to capacity with naked nymphomaniac cheerleaders.

OK, well, it's not possible to be more excited than that. But you get what I mean.

See you in Icecrown!

unintentional anatomy



Dear Blizzard Artists,

Why does Icecrown Citadel have a vagina?



Best Regards,

Hatch

Friday, December 4, 2009

Back to the Land of the Living - Sort Of



Geez! Over 52,000 words. I'm quite proud of this mangled little First Draft That Could.

Unfortunately, it's not back to normal life for me just yet. My promotion at work means that I'll have a lot less time to game and blog - but perversely, a lot more money to buy games with. As they say, youth is wasted on the young . . .

In my mad sprint for the finish, I fell behind at work, so I'll be spending the next week or two catching back up. Posting will be slow for the rest of the month, but I'm looking forward to a fresh start in the New Year.

Special thanks to Syp over at Bio Break for bringing this program to my attention. It ended up meaning a lot to me.


PS: Ixo, I'll get on Wave [OF THE FUTURE!] this weekend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Meme-ing it up as DPS


Joining in on this meme:

What is the name, class, and spec of your primary dps?

[name redacted], Death Knight, Unholy



What is your primary dpsing environment? (i.e. raids, pvp, 5 mans)

10-man raids, focusing on hard-mode progression.



What is your favorite dps spell/ability for your class and why?

Overall, I'd have to say Death Coil. As a melee class, being able to fire off ranged balls of death is quite nice.

Wandering Plague is a close second for the insane numbers it can put up in aoe situations.



What dps spell do you use least for your class and why?

Blood Boil, because I usually need that blood rune for something else, even in aoe situations (ie pest and D&D). It doesn't seem to have a strong niche, although sometimes it is certainly useful.



What do you feel is the biggest strength of your dps class and why?

Flexibility. All three dps specs are viable and play differently, bringing different strengths to the table. Often raid spots are decided, especially in 10-mans, by which buffs you bring, and DKs offer the widest variety of them, depending on what you need. They have strong single-target and aoe dps, some ranged attacks, and strong defensive capabilities as well. They require the least babysitting of all the plate dps classes.



What do you feel is the biggest weakness of your dps class and why?

Diseases. The mechanic is a good idea in general, but sometimes it can definitely be a disadvantage to have to apply your diseases in order to do max dps, especially in short-term burst situations. Diseases also have their strengths, but I'd say that being dependent on them is our biggest weakness as well.



In a 25 man raiding environment, what do you feel, in general, is the best dps assignment for you?

That's easy: let me focus on the boss while aoe-ing adds that are positioned near him. Being able to hit multiple targets makes my DPS soar, but the disease limitations also require me to have a long-term main target in order to really push my DPS. Clustering adds around a boss I am focusing is the best of both worlds for me.



What dps class do you enjoy dpsing with most and why?

DK. I have the most options, can help keep myself alive, and have the option to tank if my group needs it. DKs also have one of the more "fun" rotations because they use many different abilities. On my rogue, I just spammed Sinister Strike and rotated 3 finishers. My mage fires ABx4 then Mbarr. The interest and interactivity can't compare.


But most importantly, I get to run around in awesome-looking plate gear and hit things really hard with a giant axe!



What class do you enjoy dpsing with least and why?

Of the ones I have tried in a raid, I'd say Mutilate rogue. I hear they've fixed it since I retired my rogue, but babysitting Hunger for Blood while trying to keep up with when to use Envenom back in early Wrath was NOT FUN.



What is your worst habit as a dps?

Popping my cooldowns at the wrong time. Note to self: don't hit dps cooldowns just before a fear/big aoe/burrow phase.



What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while dpsing?

#1 pet peeve when interacting with people on the internet in general is the abuse of the words "gay" and "fag", and any kind of gay-bashing. I'm straight myself, but equating homosexuality with badness chafes me anyway.

If it has to be an in-game thing, I'd say that in pugs it's people who stand in bad shit, and in guild groups it's people who tune out the fight explanation, then after the wipe say "Oh, so I wasn't supposed to stand in the fire/dps the adds/go afk during phase 2?"



Do you feel that your class/spec is well balanced with other dps?

Yes. DKs are in a good place right now. We're on the upper end of the curve when gear and skill are held constant. Arcane Mages are insane right now, and maybe hunters are a little strong. But overall, we can compete with anyone else on the meters, and we bring some of the best utility and survivability to boot.



What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a dps?

I always have recount open, to make sure I'm performing well and the decisions I make are panning out. Beyond that, I want to know if the boss died without too much trouble and I compare my experiences with those of EJ posters.


What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your class?

That everyone who plays a DK sucks. Death Knights start at high level and have "cool" and "new" factor going for them. So EVERYONE has an alt DK. Very few people play one as their mains. So what you end up with is an unprecedented number of people playing a class who don't know what they are doing, don't have experience, and are poorly geared. So no wonder people get the impression that DKs are noobs. Everyone plays them, and most of those people play them casually as alts, and play them badly. Another factor is that it takes a certain type of player to excel as a melee dps, but when everyone is leveling a DK, you end up with ranged and healer type players rolling them as well. And they are almost always playing their DK as DPS, which really makes it seem like the devs failed in adding a 4th tanking class.



What do you feel is the most difficult thing for new dpsers of your class to learn?

Two things are tied:

1) Appropriate gearing: which stats do you want?
2) Appropriate rotation and priority of dps moves.


What dps class do you feel you understand least?

Warlocks. I've never gotten one to max level, and their mechanics seem to change so often now that I can't keep up. Their three trees seem to play so differently from each other that I have a hard time making sense of it all.



What add-ons or macros do you use, if any, to aid you in dps?

I MUST HAVE RUNEWATCH. Otherwise I can't play my DK.

Satrina Buff Frames are also key.

As for macros, you need one that puts your Dancing Rune Weapon behind your target if you are Blood, and if Unholy you need to macro Blood Tap to Bone Shield.



Strength over other stats or balanced stat allocation, and why?

STRENGTH. This shouldn't be a question. If you aren't favoring strength, then you are one of those terrible DKs that should stop giving us a bad reputation. The only exception is Blood stacking armor pen, though arpen has never been conclusively proven to beat strength.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quick Notes on Dragon Age


I'm enjoying Dragon Age: Origins. I'm about 20 hours in, and it's felt like 5. I usually don't go in for the straight-up, Song of Ice and Fire hardcore fantasy stuff (except for Tolkien), but the setting has really hooked me, and the gameplay is the best PRG mix I've seen in a while. There is a TON of dialogue and text, which is usually pretty high quality. If I have one complaint, it's that sometimes I'm stuck in the 10th long dialogue tree in a row and I haven't fought anything for an hour, and my sword arm starts getting real itchy.

The dark, gritty, realistic nature of the world is what really hooks me. I shy away from swords and sorcery in general because I expect it to be trite, stereotypical, and unoriginal Mary Sue fantasies for insecure boys (sorry, fantasy fans!). But the story, setting, and characters in Dragon Age are complex and live in shades of grey, rather than black and white (making the players title of "Grey Warden" especially fitting). Unlike, say AoC, where "mature" means "boobies and blood", Dragon Age is the most actually mature game I've ever played. You will make hard fucking choices in this game. Almost every quest leaves you to decide who lives or dies - with no obvious, easy answer. There are overarching villains and heroes, but you'll find that though the individual story areas almost always have apparent "good guys" and "bad guys", neither of them are quite what they seem. It will always turn out that the good guy did something horrible, and the bad guy is actually just misunderstood, or something like that. The game is all about choices, and almost none of those choices will be easy.

Not that there isn't plenty of blood. Comically so if you leave "persistent blood spatter" on in the options menu, which causes the blood shed during a battle to remain on character models during the following scene. It's hard not to laugh as the characters carry on a normal conversation, apparently unbothered by the spatters of blood ALL OVER THEM. I had to turn the option off to take the game seriously when, after the first battle in the game (which, in a nice piece of self-awareness, actually has you kill exactly ten rats) all of the characters were literally soaked from head to toe in rat blood and I couldn't suppress my giggles as they continued normally as though they, you know, weren't soaked in blood.

And the game is mature in so many ways, but it still just can't hide the fact that it was made by a bunch of young men for an intended audience of young men. It's just as obsessed with boobies as AoC. Demons are, of course, always depicted as naked women, and the worst of it is that one of the main storyline characters wears a "top" that's really just a loose scarf draped over her nipples. I have never seen so much side-boob in a game in my life. Don't get me wrong, I love to look at boobies. But it really takes me out of the setting when a guy runs into battle fully clothed alongside women with nothing but tassled pasties over their nipples and vajayjay. Boobies are the greatest destroyer of suspension of disbelief known to man, and in an immersive game like this, going so overboard with the adolescent, immature sexual imagery is a major misstep. Thanks, BioWare. Real "mature".


As an aside: I normally love Final Fantasy games, but I hated the most recent installment. The combat system and economy just felt so grindy and boring that I gave up halfway through. Though the tactics system in that game seemed like a great idea in a series where most fights consisted of you tapping through the "normal attack" option as quickly as you could. You set up a series of if>then statements for each party member that lets you automate them in combat.

Dragon Age copies that system almost wholesale, but for some reason I actually like it here. Maybe it's because I'm playing on a PC and I expect a deeper RPG experience here while I expect Final Fantasy to be a superficial game tacked on to an incredibly high-production-value story. Maybe it has something to do with being able to zoom out to tactical overhead view, or maybe it's because the abilities you character have are more interesting and varied. I really can't put my finger on it for sure yet.

The only other nitpick I have with the game is actually part of its greatest strength. The Dragon Age developers did an incredible job of creating the illusion, especially through dialogue, that every single response you make in a dialogue tree matters, and you actions can lead to different outcomes. And to a large extent, this was true. But there were a few fights where I died and had to reload, forcing me to rerun the same pre-fight dialogue tree again. And the illusion shattered as I tried different options and found that, though they slightly modified a line or two of the NPC's response dialogue, in the end I was being siphoned inexorably down one or two possible paths for the conversation. It shattered the illusion.

But that's like condemning the developers for not being able to perform a miracle. In the end, I'm loving the game, and expect that once my Human Noble Berserker runs through the game as a neutral pragmatist, I'm going to enjoy re-running the game as my Dwarven Peasant Rogue with a Heart of Gold and my Totally Cold-Hearted Bitch Elven Mage. Dragon Age is a triumph because choices matter enough that changing the way you act can breath new excitement into the game, and it's married to an RPG system interesting enough that I want to try all 3 classes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo


Blogging will be a little sparse this month, since I am participating in National Novel Writing Month throughout November. The goal is to complete a work of fiction totalling at least 50,000 words, which means about 1,700 a day (if you don't skip any days). It's a daunting task, and I embark on it with a mixture of excitement and EXTREME FEAR. But so far it's going OK. I'm finally fleshing out an idea I've had knocking around in my head for about two years, but never took the time to get started. I don't really have high expectations for my work, but hopefully it won't suck too royally. I'm hoping this will be a transformative trial for me, kind of like what I hear training for a marathon is like, or what the last few weeks leading up to my black belt test was like, or what finishing my master's thesis under a tight deadline was like. I'm psyched.

Thanks to Syp over at Bio Break for bringing this event to my attention!

You can follow my progress here, if you are so inclined. Right now, I'm ahead of the basic wordcount requirement, but I seriously doubt I'll be able to keep a lead.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

BEST WOW NEWS EVER: NEVER RUN OCULUS AGAIN!


On my realm, Oculus was -I kid you not- the heroic daily at least twice a week. Every week since the heroic daily was introduced. There was one week where it was the daily heroic FOUR DAYS IN A ROW. This is not hyperbole.

And you know what? Oculus was a fun idea. Oculus is cool to run once or twice. Oculus would have worked OK based on the original design of Wrath, but since last November things have spiraled out of control a bit when it comes to heroics, and Oculus doesn't have a place anymore. Right now, all of the other heroics are ludicrously easy faceroll affairs where trash is reduced to a minor AoE speedbump and bosses are barely more challenging than the easiest trash used to be. But even after gear scaling was added to the drakes, their unfamiliarity, complicated mechanics, and limited moveset causes Oculus to be the only demanding heroic left. Which is cool if you want a challenge (for NO reward), but sucks if you are, like most of us, just trying to get the boring, pointless heroic out of the way as quickly as possible so you can get on to something fun (and after the first few times, Oculus just plain isn't fun). Daily Heroics are not all created equal. Getting VH or ToC is a cause for celebration, while Oculus is dreaded the world over. You know what I'm talking about.

Well guess what? After 3.3 ships, you NEVER HAVE TO RUN OCULUS AGAIN (unless you actually want to). This is from the LFG system Q&A, and note that Oculus is called out specifically:

When is the particular dungeon determined and is it fixed if you degroup? Say you find yourself assigned Oculus and you have no desire to do that. If you degroup (taking the deserter debuff) and jump back into LFG 15 minutes later, are you locked into having Oculus once it has been assigned once even though you haven't completed it?
The dungeon is determined once the group is filled. If the group does not like the instance that's been selected, they can leave, get the Deserter debuff, and try again to get a different random dungeon once the 15-minute debuff dissipates.

...and just to be ABSOLUTELY SURE that we really did just hear a choir of angels in jubilation as Oculus is removed from the equation, because it's far too good to be true, someone asked again:

You sort of answers this before, but if I got put in a dungeon that I -really- didn't want to do as my first random heroic of the day, and I drop group, wait the 15 minutes and join a new one, do I still get the 2 Frost Emblems? Or do I -have- to take the first random heroic that is presented to me to earn my Frost?
No, you will still be eligible for the daily loot even if you don't complete the first random Heroic dungeon you enter.


Thank. You. Blizzard.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blizzard endorsing gear checking and certain loot rules?


I don't have a ton of time to blog today, but I really wanted to point out some of the 3.3 patch notes that came with the latest build. They give details about how random dungeon groups will work using the new tool. The things that really popped out at me:

As part of the matchmaking system, some of the more difficult dungeons will have a minimum gear requirement.

and

The Need Before Greed loot system will be the unalterable default looting system for pick-up groups in the Dungeon System and has been updated.

Need Before Greed will now recognize gear appropriate for a class in three ways: the class must be able to equip the item, pure melee will be unable to roll on spell power items, and classes are limited to their dominant armor type (ex. paladins for plate) [emphasis mine]. All items will still be available via Greed rolls as well as the new Disenchant option should no member be able to use the item.

Well, then. Does this constitute an endorsement by Blizzard of requiring certain gear levels for groups? And is Blizzard saying that the "right" way to loot is to give priority to your primary armor class (ie priest automatically wins cloth over a druid, etc.)? What do you think?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Glory of the Ulduar Raider


Until last night, my butt was incomplete. Because it didn't have a Rusted Proto-Drake permanently attached to it.




After much struggle with scheduling (including a death in a key guildie's family!), we managed to get two nights in a row on Yogg hard mode, and finally downed it, completing the Glory of the Ulduar Raider achievement. Me and my butt are very, very happy.

For those interested, here's the story of how we did Yogg Hard mode (One Light in the Darkness) with just Thorim helping us.

Originally, our group makeup was:

Tank:
Warrior

Healers:
Disc. Priest
Resto Shaman
Resto Druid

DPS:
DK
Paladin
Warrior
2 Mages
Hunter

We struggled with Phase 2, needing things to go very well with the RNG to down the brain in two portal phases, which I would consider necessary for victory here, as the raid begins to run low on sanity if Phase 2 goes on too long. We would send myself (the DK), the dps warrior, the ret paladin, and the resto shaman down into the brain room, which gave us full coverage on debuffs.

We made it to Phase 3 a few times this way, but always lost people due to poor positioning, loose adds, or failure to look away during the lunatic gaze that reduces your sanity. Basically, we would always be behind on tentacles and run ragged, often with a few people dead, by the time we made it to Phase 3.

The turnaround for us was a night where the dps warrior couldn't make it. We could bring a second ret paladin in his place, but that paladin didn't have the gear or experience on this fight that the warrior brought, making us doubt the chances of getting the brain down in 2 portals. Then our Guildmaster, the resto shaman, hit on an idea: she would do the fight as Enhancement and the priest and druid would 2-heal it! The healing requirements are not all that intense compared to, say, Firefighter, and having an extra dps in the brain room had the potential to be a huge buff to our ability to clear the phase quickly. And best of all, any dispels needed on the portal team could be covered by the shaman/pally combo!

It took about an hour and a half of attempts with this new setup to win. Most of the attempts were wiped not by user error, but by terrible luck with all of the randomized aspects of the fight, such as tentacle placements, targets of Yogg's abilities, and placement of the floating skulls in the portal rooms. One particularly bad attempt found me constricted just as the portals spawned. I was quickly broken out, and ran toward the portal, thinking I would make it. Instead, I was feared by Yogg just long enough to miss the portal. The next attempt, we zoned into the portal room and found that both sets of floating skulls were positioned such that there was no way to dps the targets without losing sanity non-stop the entire time. Randomized screw-overs like that were the most frustrating and disheartening part of the experience. We could play perfectly, and still be wiped by the random number generator, which is clearly > all. I'm not a big fan of that. Yeah, hard modes are supposed to be hard. But they should challenge your ability to play more than they challenge your ability to have good luck. And I think Yogg Hard goes a little too far in the luck direction.

But we did it! We are now in the top 40 US guilds that only do 10-man raiding according to Guildox, and join a group of only about 50 of such guilds to have earned drakes. And we managed this rank despite constant difficulties getting together our hard mode groups due to a string of RL events that made the attendance of many of our roster of only 12 raiders sporadic. Though it took us a month between downing Firefighter and One Light, we actually only spent a grand total of about 7 hours spread over 4-5 nights working on it. That's only 3 normal-length nights of attempts. I'm pretty proud of us.


I know my guildies don't even know about this blog, but I still want to thank them for their friendship, skill, perseverence, patience, and class throughout this entire journey to our drakes. They are an incredible group of people and players that make this game worth playing for me, and I would never have enhanced my butt dragonally without them. I can't wait to fly around REALLY FAST alongside them again!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Try League of Legends! Totally Free Open Beta is Open, and Totally Free!


I love this game.



Shorter Games Can Be Better


Here's an interesting piece at the Escapist about the plight of gamers who have grown up and found they just don't have time to indulge in a 30-hour game with work, kids, spouses, and everything else demanding more and more of their attention. The author actually seeks out games with story modes lasting 8-10 hours, and that represents a month's game investment to him.

I'd take this a step further and advocate that more games be made intentionally shorter, but also cost less. Then, if the game does well, sell DLC or sequels to it. That way, once the game is 30 hours long it cost $65, but if I just wanted an 8-hour diversion, I can spend $30 on the basic game.

LFG Tool: Random Dungeons = More Daily Grind! [UPDATED 10/28]


[UPDATE 10/28: PTR Patch notes: "Daily Heroic and normal dungeon quests have been removed." We're back to only one random dungeon a day!]

So the new cross-server LFG tool is up on the PTRs, and it seems Blizzard finally figured out why they couldn't seem to force everyone to use the interface to put together random groups before: Blizzard was failing to pay them off.

So in the new patch, you'll get 2 Frost Emblems (used to get tier 10 gear, think Triumph Emblems right now) and a nice chunk of cash for doing one random dungeon with a PuG assembled by the automatic random LFG tool every day.

And if any of you raid, you'll be groaning because they just added another heroic dungeon you have to do every single day just to keep up on your raid gear. On top of going back to having to do the daily heroic every day. And the difficulty of the heroics aren't going up, so enjoy your daily trip to Faceroll City. Oh, sorry now it's TWO daily trips!

[UPDATE: The following paragraph is inaccurate, as per this quote from the Twitter developer Q&A:

Q: May I create a group with 4 friends and then use the LFG interface to gain the random dungeon reward?
A: Yes. In fact, you can join it with a full group of 5 and still get the random dungeon reward. The reward is for doing a random dungeon, not necessarily for having random members. ]

Though the emblem reward is constant, the monetary reward scales based on how much of your group is premade when you join the LFG queu. So the way to do this if you are a raider is get a group of 4 guildies, and randomize the last guy. This is going to be AWESOME for casuals and undergeared alts who solo-queu, as they constantly get matched with full 4-man groups in tier 10 and get a free ride through the instance (not that every solo-queur is bad, I'm just pointing out who is going to benefit most here). So basically, Blizzard is subsidizing the act of carrying people through an instance; it's Welfare Heroics (because they clearly weren't easy enough yet!!). Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, if I didn't feel pressured to log in every day to keep up on my raid gear, hearkening back to the old days of 2 hours of herb farming for every 1 hour of raiding (back when you could stack every elixir buff at once).

And the best part? Let me quote wow.com's coverage of the random LFG tool:

"After everyone is ready, you are teleported directly into the instance it has randomly selected."

Too bad that "randomly selected" instance is always-

*ALWAYS*

-going to be effing Oculus.





Update (from comments): Just to put it into perspective, here is the fastest way to gear up in all of the emblem stuff from tier 9:

It took nearly two months of dailies every day, along with weekly clears of ToC, to get everything I needed, and that's actually reduced from what I would have needed because my tier chestpiece wasn't good so I made the crafted one instead, and the badge trinket wasn't good for me either.

Full tier = 210 emblems
trinket= 50
sigil= 25
ring= 35

total= 320

In the first 5 weeks, since they unlocked the bosses one at a time (and in Icecrown I doubt we'll be full-clearing the place week 1, so the effect should be the same) you could get a total of 45 emblems. Not even enough for one of the bigger tier pieces. In that same time, you could get 70 emblems from the heroic daily if you did it every single day.

That puts you just over 1/3 of the way to fully geared. If you do the heroic daily religiously, every day, for 5 weeks.

If after that you full-clear toc every week and do the daily heroic every day, it would take another SEVEN WEEKS to buy every upgrade available. That's *13 weeks* total of never missing a *SINGLE DAY* of daily heroics. "Casual-friendly" my ass.

And this is without even considering the tank gear I should now start building if I really want to optimize our progression potential!

It takes a long time to gather the emblems you need to get the best gear you can to help your guild progress. I only stopped doing the daily heroic every day a few weeks ago, and I only have enough emblems on my main to buy 1 tier 245 piece once we clear toc 10 hard for the tribute chest (focused on Yogg hard atm). Because I'm *still* not done with emblems, even 2 months later.

Sure, no one is "forcing" me to do this. But I want to be the absolute best-geared I can be to help myself and my friends succeed. And because of the grindy dailies, I have to faceroll through a heroic every single day in order to do that. I fail to see the difference between this and herb grinding back in vanilla. Sure, you didn't have to make all those elixirs, but if you didn't, you weren't going to succeed nearly as much in the raid dungeons. They changed that elixir stuff for a reason. And now they're bringing it right back, only with an extra dose of welfare on top.

UPDATE 10/23: According to Twitter WoW dev Q&A:

Q: With T10, are we going to see tokens like in Ulduar? or like CC? CC style had every class and spec rolling on same thing.

A: With t10 we're going to see a hybrid. The tier 10 items (the ones with item levels you'd find in the 10-player raid) will be purchased with Emblems of Frost.

The tier 10.5 items (the ones with item levels you'd find in the 25-player raid) will be obtained by getting a token (one that is specific to 3 or 4 classes, much like the ulduar tokens) and using it to upgrade the tier 10 item that was purchased with emblems of frost.
So tier 10 is another badge farm, with no alternative to get the tier pieces from drops in the 10-man. And in fact, even the 25-man raiders have to badge farm, since they can't use their tier tokens unless they already bought the base tier 10 piece with badges!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm super-psyched for Icecrown!


I played a lot of WC3 story mode. I had found Starcraft such a revelation that it was impossible for me to not want to submerge myself in the combination of epic narrative and fun art and gameplay when WC3 came out. I had been largely a console gamer before this, so WC3's story mode was one of my formative PC gaming experiences, and also one of my first forays into hardcore fantasy fiction (aside from my dad reading the Hobbit to me before bed as a child).

So to finally see the end of that story play out, and experience in a more personal way so many nostalgic and sentimentally symbolic touchpoints, is very exciting to me.

Yes, many aspects of the story are cliched or predictable. Arthas is a reverse King Arthur, and the Lich King might as well be named Darth Sauron, complete with black outfit, flowing cloak, and spiky spires with magic eyes at the top. At least Arthas's motivation for his fall makes some semblance of sense, unlike Anakin's hubris and puppy love (if you even consider "Episode 3" to be canon).

I'm more interested in the epic feel around the whole thing, and the reactions of the world and the other characters to him. I'm expecting to see something awesome, and that's what's got me excited.

Jaina and Sylvanas will be able to finally resolve their long-standing Arthas issues. We'll see where the Ashbringer's story goes, what happens to the Mograines and the Saurfangs, and the fate of Bolvar Fordragon.

And Shadowmourne, which a small part of me is just too afraid to hope might be available, at least in some partial, gimped way, to 10-man raid groups. That story is something I'd really like to be able to take part in, rather than be completely shut out of solely because of raid size. I've made my piece with the other 10 v 25 crap (mostly), but man would I be excited to have a shot at that thing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why MMOs aren't holding me.


We've all heard the accusations leveled at the dreaded WoW Tourist. For the first few days of Aion, nothing was discussed in general chat other than World of Warcraft. It's the big elephant in the room that somehow simultaneously feeds other MMOs while pushing them out of the way.

I very much enjoyed Champions Online and Aion. I purchased both, and thought they were both fun, well-produced, streamlined takes on the genre.

Notice the past tense there.

I let both accounts lapse. This was partly because of my life-consuming addiction to League of Legends, which, by the way, makes terrible blog fodder because it requires so much specialized knowledge to have a discussion about. But my lack of continued interest in other MMOs is mostly because of how grindy they are. And I don't really mean that as a criticism, since they are exactly as grindy as World of Warcraft has always been. It's just that I can't healthily have room in my life for more than one grindy game. I already went through the grind in WoW to get where I am today, and I just can't stomach another grind to reach an endgame that I don't even know will be exciting. At least with WoW, I know I'm going to enjoy instancing and raiding and gearing up and learning my class and playing with my established guildies at 80, so I know that the grind of an alt is going to be worth it. But I really have no idea how worthwhile the effort I put into CO or Aion is going to end up being, and that makes it very difficult to put in the effort required.

(note: I played both games extensively in beta for months. So even though my live account only lasted a month, I actually played the games for longer than most current subscribers have had enough to time to. So I'm not sure I can really be called a "tourist" at this point.)


The core of the grinding problem is the same complaint that was leveled at WoW, even in its first year: it's two different games. After 60 levels of solo questing through an exciting world, perhaps sprinkled with the occasional 5-man group, the transition to max-level play was jarring, as it was suddenly completely dependent on grouping, and to a large extent, raiding, which is a very different activity from leveling. Very little of the WoW leveling experience prepares you for the max-level experience; it's almost like starting from scratch. CO and Aion felt the same to me.

So far, the MMO genre has suffered greatly for grafting together a grind engine (leveling and questing) with the actual game (grouping, PvP, raiding, etc). It's starting to feel a lot like saying that you can't play Team Fortress 2 or Starcraft unless you do 20 hours of Minesweeper first.

So I'm calling for MMOs to all start giving you the "real" game UP FRONT. From 2 hours in, at the latest. Questing can be fun (though this is highly dependent on setting and art direction), and I'm not saying you need to get rid of it. There's a reason it's been so successful as a grinding device. But Cataclysm will need to let you go to Deadmines or whatever around level 12. Champions needs to have some kind of real grouping content starting as soon as you get to Millenium City. And Aion needs to find a way to open up PvP and grouping sometime in the mid-teens. Hopefully, APB will let you engage in its core mechanics early, and SWTOR will launch you into the core story immediately, and STO will let you have some Starfleet battles and away teams right after the tutorial. Those activities, not questing, are the reasons why those games are interesting. Let the players actually play, instead of requiring they invest hours and hours of time to grinding first before being allowed to start the game they actually paid for. If you must have grinding, let me grind the actual game instead of some unrelated pre-requisite.

League of Legends has a progression system, called the "Summoner" system, where you as the player gain meta-levels outside of matches, allowing you to unlock talent points and rune slots to augment your in-game abilities. And how do you gain experience for your summoner?

Playing the game.

Let's have more of that, please.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Icecrown Lore Predictions: We Will Have a Lich Queen [updated]


UPDATE 2 (10/8/09): It would seem that Jaina is here to stay in her current form, given that the latest PTR patch gave her an updated, hi-res character model. We all know that Blizz wouldn't bother if she was just going to die in the 5-man or require a remodel. C'est la vie.


[UPDATE]
Well that was quick! Here's the beginning of the quest line to help Mograine create Shadowmourne! It appears that he reforges the base axe by combining Arthas's old paladin hammer, Light's Vengeance, with some super-saronite. Then, it seems clear that parts of Frostmourne are used to complete the weapon. This points pretty strongly to Frostmourne being broken; perhaps we discover in the Halls of Reflection that this is the key to defeating the Lich King. My theory was fun while it lasted, but clearly things are going in another direction. Sadly, sources are pointing to some seriously bad stuff going down in the HoR. Doesn't look good for poor Jaina or Sylvanas. Do they really have to kill (or reduce to "damsel in distress" status) the only famous women in Azeroth? Please be more original than that.
[/end update]


As we all know, I love making predictions. Even though I'm wrong more often than right, I find speculation about the future to be a great joy. Trying to predict it is a riveting puzzle to me. I'm the kind of person who nerds out hardcore for shows like Lost.

So naturally I locked onto yesterday's information about the upcoming Icecrown 5-man dungeons like a Democratic Senator locks onto failure. That is to say, hard.

You can read the dungeon reveal in full here. The part I'm most interest in is:

Halls of Reflection
With Jaina and Sylvanas leading the way, adventurers who make it as far as these frigid halls will quickly recognize the weapon that lies ahead: Frostmourne, the corruptive, legendary device of the Lich King himself. The Lich King's private chambers are within reach, although they may be the death of anyone who ventures there.

Boss: The Lich King: Sylvanas, thirsty for vengeance against the corrupted prince who sentenced her to an existence as an undead monstrosity, and Jaina, eager to find a flicker of Arthas's soul locked somewhere within the Lich King, have brought their hand-picked allies to this final confrontation. Arthas's true power may only now be discovered. Is there any hope in this mission, or does only death await?


So we'll be following Jaina and Sylvanas into the room where Frostmourne is. Before I get into that, let me remind you of a few other things we know from Blizzcon:
  1. Arthas will not drop Frostmourne in the Icecrown raid. He instead drops an Axe, heretofore unknown, called Shadowmourne.
  2. Blizzard has "very special plans for Frostmourne".
  3. Jaina Proudmoore was not mentioned at all in the lore spoilers revealed for Cataclysm.
  4. Sylvanas is mentioned in Cataclysm as leading a Forsaken assault on Gilneas, which serves as the basis for the new Battleground.
And as the final part of my setup, consider the following facts about the Lich King:
  1. He never goes anywhere without Frostmourne. It's one of the key fonts of his power.
  2. He keeps letting us live because he's got "plans for us".
  3. He needs a "win". He hasn't done any major damage to us since the Wrath Gate, and he needs something to establish him as a more threatening enemy, and not some comedically mustache-twisting cartoon villain.
  4. Arthas used to love Jaina. The original Arthas is mostly or completely gone, and even his heart has been destroyed. But perhaps the Lich King still has some remnants of feelings for her.

All of the above, taken together, leads me to believe that, at the end of the Halls of Reflection dungeon, Jaina takes up Frostmourne (for noble reasons, of course). She most likely presumes to use it as a weapon against him in a desperate moment, but it is in fact all part of his plan to corrupt her over to his side. I think it's the Blizzard writers' intent to continue the legacy of the Lich King after Arthas is killed at the end of this expansion, and I think the way to do that is to start Jaina on a path of being corrupted by Frostmourne (where Ner'zhul's spirit desperately survives), and eventually to becoming the Lich Queen, even after the King is dead. His plan is to bring her to stand at his side, but in the end she actually becomes his successor.


C'mon, you know the sexist Blizzard artists wouldn't be able to resist giving her a skull-bra.


But what of Arthas in Icecrown? If Frostmourne is so powerful, how could he risk giving it up when his enemies crowd his doorstep? Simple: he's forged a mothertrucking UPGRADE.

The first two wings of the dungeon are the Forge of Souls, which gathers and forges souls for some unknown purpose, and the Halls of Saron, which is the core of Arthas's saronite mining operation.

Now why would they have us go through a forge and then a mine before assaulting the very location where Frostmourne is stored?

To give us some context for Shadowmourne. The soulforge was already used to empower a rune axe constructed from the mined saronite.


So that's my prediction: that we'll see Jaina take up Frostmourne while Arthas wields Shadowmourne. After we kill Arthas, Jaina will continue to be subtly corrupted by Frostmourne before emerging as the Lich Queen.

I can't wait to see just how completely off the mark I am! But at least I had fun speculating.

Posting Slowdown


For a long time there, I kept up a 3 days a week posting schedule. As you may have noticed, I've fallen off the rails in that respect. This is not a post about quitting blogging or anything like that. But I can't fit in constant blogging with my current RL situation. So I'll be posting when I have both the time and (hopefully) something interesting to say. I'm still around, even if it's sporadic.

Monday, September 28, 2009

FIREFOUGHT!





Oh hello! I didn't notice you there, I was distracted by my pipe and wonderful smoking jacket. Are you here to congratulate me on how I


TOTALLY BEAT MIMIRON HARD MODE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!






/end bragging

Friday, September 18, 2009

Aion: character selection for head-start is today



If you pre-ordered Aion like I did, then you've had access to the open beta for a while, and will be able to use the head start coming soon. Another bonus to pre-ordering is early character selection to reserve your name and server before the masses appear (though judging by the pre-order numbers, the masses are already there).

Pre-selection is today. A few hours from now, I'll be able to reserve two characters. I've been trying to get on the same server as Ixobelle, but recent developments in how the servers are differentiated has made his "last pvp server in the alphabet" policy seem a bit ill-fitting for this situation. Let me explain.

Out of nowhere, NCSoft has announced that half the servers are "west" and half the servers are "east", denoting which time zone they sync up to. This is important mainly because certain raids and pvp areas are only available at certain times, and it's expected, but not confirmed, that it will be related to the server times. Though I'm on the east coast, I expect to be playing Aion later in the evening, so I'll probably pick a West server, and I assume Ixo would want a west server as well, given his residence in California.

Beyond that, I've done a bunch of research on Aionsource.com, which is basically the MMO-Champion of Aion, to try to learn more about the West servers. Here's what I've come up with:

Yustiel is looking to become the west RP server, just as Lumiel is the East RP server.

Nezekan is actually an official Oceanic server now even though it's designated as US-west. This was announced rather suddenly, sending US guilds on that server scrambling to find a new home.

Vaizel is the self-proclaimed "roaming PvP server", and is looking to be that new home for the harder-core refugees from Nezekan.

Siel is one of the original beta realms, and has a chip on it's shoulder about it. The returning testers expect the server to be highly populated with knowledgeable, long-time players. Even though I've been in the beta for a long time, the implication that they are somehow special for it naueseates me a little.

Kaisinel is quiet, and is looking like it will be a lower-pop server. The early adopters expect this to make it more mature and family-oriented than the "ZOMG PVPZ" servers.

Ariel's community is looking pretty solid, and it's also the home of a large LGBT guild. Not to get political, but I'm a straight guy who strongly supports the LGBT community and enjoys hanging out with the LGBT people I've met, so I find that aspect kind of appealing, if only for the fact that they are less likely to use "that's gay" when they mean "that sucks", which is a pet peeve of mine.


So right now I'm leaning toward Ariel. Granted, the community on Aionsource is a limited sampling of only the most devout Aion fans, but hopefully it will at least give me some insight to help pick a server.

If I don't hear back from Ixo about a server soon, then I'll likely make on character on Ariel and another on the last pvp server on the list alphabetically, which means Zikel [East]. [edit: looks like Yustiel may be a better bet because it's west, so I'll probably be rolling Elyos there as my main server] For now, I'll be rolling Elyos on both unless I'm unable to make an Elyos with vaguely blue skin. So if you happen to want to come play Aion with me, just check if you can make a blue-skinned Elyos.

Oh shit, Zikel is going to be the home of the Goons! Can't decide if that makes me more or less likely to roll there. Certainly seems like it's going to be attracting some unsavory "competition" to that server.

I'll be naming them both Hatch, but the only question is, which class should I roll? I know for sure that my main will be a Gladiator, and my alt a Summoner. So should I roll two Gladiators because I don't know which server will become my "main"? Or should I roll one of each, and then roll a new Gladiator if it turns out I guessed wrong? I've got a few more hours to figure it out before I get off of work.

Happy weekend! *

*I don't live there anymore, but that's one of my favorite bars from back home

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Champions Online: The Honeymoon is Over


Champions seemed great in beta. With everything else going on in the gaming world and the fact that your beta characters would be wiped at launch, I didn't really delve too deeply into the game because I wanted to save enough of the content for playing the game I'd paid for. I tried about 7 different power sets and played up to about level 15 a few times, but left the rest for Live.

At my current rate, I might end up not seeing that content anyway.

Sure, part of that is because of all the time I'm spending in LoL, along with the necessity that I now log into WoW every day to get my goddamn triumph emblems from the daily heroic. Thanks so much Blizzard, for the privilege of having to do that annoying daily grind of faceroll content just to keep up with current raiding. I hate you so much.

Add to that the fact that my 10-man WoW guild is currently dying in a fire against Mimiron hard mode (mastered the first 3 phases, hopefully get phase 4 down tonight!) while exploiting the cheap gear-reset known as Trial of the Crusader (or it is Champion? I can never remember) for all its worth. It takes us less time to clear that place than it takes to fly from there back to Ulduar where the real content still is. These Triumph Emblem vendors outside ToC are very accurately named:


Glad you find this phoned-in, anti-casual (forced to log in every day) patch hilarious, Blizz. You better really enjoy the recliner you've made out of my money.


But the competition isn't the only reason I'm not playing Champions half as much as I expected. I still love the character creator, love the ideas behind picking your powers, and find the game mostly fun. But a lot of problems are cropping up that are keeping me from even getting to 25 to try out my Nemesis (who should have been available from level 10 or so, frankly).


1. Account Problems

First of all, there was a screw-up in the Champions database where some accounts conveniently forgot that they had been activated by a product key. And Cryptic didn't really say anything about this, or respond to the numerous forum threads about it. It took a service ticket on their website and finally a follow-up phone call to get my girlfriend's account re-activated, since the system would no longer accept her product key because, well, obviously it had already been used. My account worked even though we both entered our keys side by side exactly the same way, while sitting in the same room, and were both able to play on day 1. When we tried to play again on day 3 (this was well before that "early start keys no longer work" thing on the 6th, so that's not the culprit), suddenly hers didn't work anymore. I chose not to play out of solidarity while we waited for a response from their website, and the 3 days of waiting seriously sapped our enthusiasm about the game. It's hard to commit to an MMO after a mistake like that.

It took a phone call a few days later to finally get it fixed. To Cryptic's credit, there was zero wait for a representative and she was extremely polite and helpful and got the account up and running in a matter of minutes. But playing the game you paid for should not require a phone call.


2. CO's "action-oriented" engine can't handle it when you hold a key down

CO is supposed to be a more action-ey MMO. So how come the controls just completely break down when you try to time a block or use a "charged" or "maintained" power that requires keeping a key pressed? Almost every other battle the following will happen:

1) I hold down the 4 key to activate my maintained attack.
2) Nothing happens
3) I notice and let go of the button
4) I hold down the button again
5) The power activates for half a second as though I had tapped the key, putting the ability on cooldown while doing almost no damage, because it wasn't "maintained."

If I HOLD DOWN the key twice and the game thinks I tapped it once, it fails. This happens constantly, about half the powers require you hold a key, and I've heard it mentioned by every reviewer or blogger who has talked about the game. It's a universal error, and inexcuseable in a game where all you do is fight.


3. The quest gap

There aren't enough quests in the game to cover your entire leveling experience. "So what?" you say, "just grind mobs!"

Except the game is balanced such that, for example, a quest will give 5,000 xp while a mob gives 10. You do the math about how many mobs I need to grind to cover for one missing quest.

I thought this was a great idea in beta, because it discouraged grinding. It would have been a great idea if there was enough content to get you to 40.


4. Repetitition, followed by repeating rehashes

Making multiple characters is the fun of the game! Getting new powers and trying them out is a blast!

None of that matters because you have to do the exact same content every single time! If I have to do the tutorial again, I'm going to kill myself! Powers are doled out so slowly it makes people waiting in line at the DMV feel bad for you!


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


So we don't log in much, when faced on our mains with the prospect of scrounging for what few quests we can find with the next big carrot (nemesis) still seeming so far away and our powers only occassionally actually working anyway. We could go play one of those other characters we so excitedly designed in the creator, but then we'd have to grind through the same boring content again.

The honeymoon with Champions is already over - but I'm not looking for a divorce. However, I am afraid that one day I'll wake up and forget I ever met her.

It's looking like I'll let my sub lapse at the end of the month, but I don't yet regret my purchase. I strongly suspect that I'll come back to the game a few months from now, after patches fill in some of the gaps, turning this into the game it should have been at release. In the meantime, I just can't fit it in between WoW, LoL, and now Aion.

I'm sorry if anyone bought the game partly based on my recommendation and was disappointed. The first 20 or so hours of playing with the character creator and seeing the early content for the first time IS a blast, and I still really like the game. It's just not quite winning in the competition for my gaming time right now, but I expect it will again in the future.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

League of Legends is stealing my life.


Thanks a lot, Ixobelle.

There are a lot of WoW-related, and Champions-related topics that I'd like to write about, such as my Cataclysm impressions (still haven't gotten to that...short answer is I think Cataclysm is exactly what's needed, but I am still leery that they will half-ass the execution) or the recent shenanigans I've experienced from Champions Online (sudden nerfs, accounts arbitrarily unlinked from their product keys, and various other annoyances, all answered by kind and efficient customer service and a large patch of fixes, leaving me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth).

But I can't bring myself to write at length about any of that, because I'd much rather spend my downtime thinking about League of Legends. Dammit.


LoL is an RTS-style "Massively Online Battle Arena (MOBA)" game based on an insanely popular Warcraft 3 mod knowns as Defense of the Ancients. In both games, you control only a single hero unit from a list of about 40. Throughout the 30-60 minute battle, you and a team of 5 heroes will vie for control of the map against an opposing team of players, assisted by waves of footsoldiers who mindlessly throw themselves down a trio of turret-lined "lanes" that lead to the enemy base. Over the course of the match, you gather xp and gold (to buy items) to upgrade your Champion's stats, 3 special abilities, and "Ultimate" spell. All heroes in each match start as unequipped level 1's, so the game becomes a tug-of-war to outlevel and outgear the other team while killing their champs and avoiding death yourself, all the while trying to assist your foot soldiers at tearing down the opponent's towers and eventually their base on the opposite corner of the map.


DotA
The original Defense of the Ancients (DotA) map for WC3 is extremely complex, offering 95 characters, dozens of items, and a nice steaming pile of lingo and strategic standards and rules that are not apparent to a new user. And since dying keeps you from gathering XP while "feeding" gold and xp to the other team for killing you, new players can be a devastating albatross to their team. This has led to an insular community that will drive away all but the most determined and competitive prospective players. In fact, DotA's community has a reputation as one of the most repulsively belligerent and trolling groups of people in the entire internet. I experienced it myself when I tried the DotA map a few years ago, but soon gave up on it because of it's impenetrability and reliance on "advanced" strategies such as killing your own troops to deny your opponent xp and gold (fittingly known as "denying").


Enter LoL
The guy who refined the original DotA idea into the "All-stars" map that is in favor today, and was it's caretaker for many years, goes by the handle "Guinsoo". A few years back, he handed over care of the mod and disappeared from the scene, only to reemerge recently as one of the founders of Riot games, a game development company creating a stand-alone spiritual successor to DotA. Free from the restrictions of the WC3 engine, a lot about the game was changed in its LoL incarnation.

And for someone like me who was very interested in a game in the style of DotA, but found the mod too impenetrable, LoL hits all the right notes. I've played it literally every day since Ixo gave me a beta key a little over a week ago.

The beta NDA allows me to talk about the game as much as I want, but I can't post any of my own screenshots or videos. So all screenshots in this post are stolen from Gamespy's coverage of the game, written by the excellent Ryan Scott of the legendary, but sadly now-defunct, Computer Gaming World/Games for Windows magazine and GFW Radio (aka 97.5 The Brodeo).

What LoL does right:
1) Accessibility: Compared to DotA, matches are shorter and faster-paced, there are fewer champions to learn and they are easier to tell apart, stats are simplified, and effort is made throughout the game and the interface to help you along, including suggesting items for you and (promised but not yet implemented) robust matchmaking to prevent a noobie from being dropped into their first game with a group of angry veterans. Some of the less intuitive tactics, particularly creep denying, have been removed. Overall, it's just easy to pick up and play and to learn, but still very challenging. Expect to fail really hard for your first 10 matches or so, especially if you are learning on your own.

2) Atmosphere: The art direction is great, and well-executed. The maps are vibrant and colorful, while the Champions are distinctive and full of personality and humor. How could I not fall in love with a game where an eskimo boy riding a Yeti battles a crying baby mummy and a guy wielding a lamppost faces off with a little girl and her giant, flaming teddy bear named "Mr. Tibbers"? The game definitely takes after the "Blizzard touch" of personality and color, while making it all its own.

3) Playability: the game is quite responsive, the UI is good, the hotkeys are laid out intelligently, and there are a lot of Quality of Life improvements such as stat tracking and the ability to rejoin a game if you get disconnected.

4) Fun: the game is fast-paced and exciting, pretty to look at, and enjoyably competitive.

What LoL does wrong:
1) "Summoner" levelling: Unlike DotA and other spiritual successors, LoL adds a dash of MMO to the RTS mix in the form of the Summoner, which is a meta-avatar for the player which levels up from match to match, unlocking talent points and glyphs-oh, I'm sorry, I meant "masteries" and "runes". These give minor in-game benefits to your champion's stats and unlock Summoner Spells, which are abilities on long cooldowns that you can use regardless of which champion you picked. There are over a dozen summoner spells, but you can only pick 2 per match. On it's face, this seems like a nice idea. In practice, it means that you have to grind through about 40 practice games to power-level you summoner in order to be competitive in actual games. If you boot up the game and jump into a public match, the champions played by maxed-out level 30 summoners will wipe the floor with you. The bonuses for each level are small and far from game-breaking, but they add up. In such a skill-based game, it really sucks to lose to a worse player because they have bonus stats. Hopefully matchmaking in the live game will keep you facing off against those of similar summoner levels while you level up, which will help a lot with my unhappiness with the system. My solution in beta was just to grind up to 30 as quickly as possible.

2) Still not enough training: I really have to rely on the forums to train myself in the game. There's no tutorial (yet) and there no way for me to see the exact specs of powers and items without entering a game, so planning ahead of time is a challenge.

3) Retains some of my least favorite design choices from DotA. For instance, the death penalty is too high, since it not only takes you out of the fight for a while, but it also keeps you from gathering xp or money during that time while also giving a hefty reward to whoever killed you. This encourages over-cautious play and is extremely unfriendly to noobies, and leads to the notoriously goofy and counter-intuitive "run in, ok run out, now run back in-omg run out again" gameplay that DotA is known for, which tends to turn a lot of people off (though that fades in mid- and late-game, it's just the first few minutes that are like that really). I'm also not a big fan of "last-hitting": the mechanic where you get extra gold if you happen to be the player who got the killing blow to a creep or player. This mechanic encourages teammates to play against each other, rather than cooperate, as they compete for killing blows. Damage done overall becomes undervalued, because all that really matters is that last hit.

4) Lacking features: the most glaring of these is replays.

The game is clearly torn as it tries to strike a balance between the skill-based (and highly skill-differentiated) play of DotA and greater accessibility. It's true that denying, last-hitting, and the death penalty all add an element of skill and strategy to the game, and thus aren't categorically "bad". They just aren't to my taste. That doesn't keep the game from being, as a whole, a joy to play, but it does sully the experience for me, personally.


Come LoL with me!
Hahahahaah c wut i did thar?!1

No seriously. LoL is a team-based game. I am teamless. Public games ("pub" games have exactly the same reputation as WoW "pugs" - dumb as a brick and twice as hard to swallow) are just not going to cut it forever.

You can get beta keys in seemingly a million ways:
-daily LoL forum beta key giveaway
-outside contests
-find a friend with invites to give out
-just beg for one on their forums (I can't believe this works...and what you get is an entire general forum where every single thread is "can I please have a beta key?")
-the game is free-to-play, but you can get quick unlocks, extra perks, and a beta key by pre-ordering the special edition package


Hope to see you there! I got the name Hatch in the beta, so add me as a friend if you aren't creepy or gross!