Friday, August 31, 2012

Some More Post-Patch Notes

In the Arms Race, My Demo is Now a Pinto

The post patch damage boost has hit Strand of the Ancients (and presumably Isle of Conquest) hard. When you couple a damage boost with the L78 Cata gear, those demos go down very very quickly.  Be prepared to overload demos even more than usual, especially at the L75-L79 range.

Additionally, it seems like Hunters hit for even more than before, but Rogues not quite as much.  It might be that for the Rogues I'm seeing the impact of Health inflation, but I haven't gotten into as many BGs as I'd like to be sure.

Oh, and beware of the "bargain" part of Dark Bargain.  I don't think you need me telling you how much fun it is having a Warlock "pop a bubble" and then afterwards getting laid low by the post-bubble damage.  However, Soul Link isn't as useful as before, because the damage flows both ways and the Warlock's pet has half the health when Soul Link is active.

I still haven't won a BG since the patch dropped.  I think that's partially due to people hashing out their new abilities, but I've also not been impressed by strategy in BGs this week either.  Considering I've been tweaking things too, I'm not really complaining.  Just noting.

Being a Bit Cheeky

The screen capture for WoW wasn't working as of this morning, so I wasn't able to capture the now "normal" view of a Warlock's Shivarra:

From Wikipedia.  Who knew?

As Adelwulf walked around Dalaran with his Shivarra pet, I felt like he was in an episode of Jersey Shore.  Going from the Succubus' 1970s KISS-esque outfit to the Shivarra's adolescent fantasy model makes me wonder who is giving approvals to some of the changes.  First, they come up with Pet Battles, which definitely appeal to the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Goh set.  Then, they decide on the Shivarra as a replacement for the Succubus, which is like dropping a spark onto middle-school tinder.  (Think how middle school boys reacted to Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? back in 1988, and you get the idea.)  Even when compared to other RPG fantasy women, such as Seoni from Paizo's Pathfinder RPG, the Shivarra has less clothing on.

Seoni the Sorceress,

I'm not exactly sure how to take the Shivarra.  Her angry/slightly insane struggle against her bonds fits the "binding a demon against their will" portion of the Warlock, but I'm more than a bit uncomfortable about that view from the rear.  In an ironic twist, I'm okay with the Succubus/Incubus g-string wearing demon that the Demonologist in Age of Conan summons, because a) AoC has a mature rating, and b) there's no gender bias skewed in favor of a female demon.  (There's a hetero bias in AoC in that female Demonologists can only summon Incubi and males the Succubi, but that's a different issue.)  WoW, on the other hand, is really marketing itself to around the tween and up set, and that Shivarran backside raises sexuality images that WoW has been carefully neutering from it's PvE in-game content.  I'd probably not feel as uncomfortable about the Shivarra if it wasn't for the "Hey kids, WoW Pokemon!" that Blizzard is using as a big selling point in Mists.  "Come for Pokemon, stay for the ass" isn't probably the tagline Blizz wants right now.

I'd imagine that more that a few people are grumbling about "Goldshire!" right now, but my point is that we're talking PvE, not player created scenarios.  With humans involved you can't expect things to stay completely clean in an MMO, and lots of MMOs have an ERP subcommunity.  But prior to this, WoW has done a pretty decent job of trying to keep the topic of sexuality and relationships out of in-game PvE content; so much so, in fact, that WoW has been occasionally criticized for ignoring that area completely.  But somehow I think that Blizz didn't intend for sexuality to pop up in quite this fashion.

Why I Need to Consider an Upgrade, Part Whatever

Switching gears entirely, I have noticed a bit of a drag on in-game performance.  I don't have the graphics turned up all the way by any means, but I have noticed a bit of a drop in fps, around 5 or so.  I'm not sure how much of an impact there is if graphics is cranked up all the way, but I'd imagine that if your PC is on the older side you'll feel a bit of a slowdown.

Just Who is the Focus of the Game, Anyway?

In an MMO, you play the hero.  Sure, you could be a grunt or a noble or somewhere in between, but in the end it is the player that is the hero.  At the same time, Blizz concentrates a lot of its storytelling and lore on the faction leaders and their interactions.  Nothing could have emphasized this weird dichotomy more than on Tuesday when both the pre-release Mists patch dropped and the book Tides of War was released.  

Tides is pretty much standard Blizzard novel fare, which I once likened to reading a David Eddings novel.  All the major players are the Azeroth-erati, and the story revolves completely around them and their impact on the world.  It works well enough, I suppose, except that it doesn't mesh with WoW itself.

WoW is the story of us, as a WoW Insider article by Matt Rossi so aptly put it.  We're not kings and queens, organizational leaders or extraterrestrial beings.  We're not dragons or powerful denizens of the forests.  We're people who rise to the occasion.  If nothing else, the game makes it perfectly clear that we are not the Azeroth-erati; we may get the occasional party thrown our way, but we are spectators when the Powerful arrive on scene.  Ironically enough, it is because the Azeroth-erati depend on the players to get things done in-game that I get this weird feeling every time I flip through a WoW novel.  The cast is so insular, I can't help but feel like a voyeur, but at the same time I wonder where the hell we are in the novels.

EtA:  the link was no longer active, so I replaced it with one from Paizo itself.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dear Blizzard....

...your tuning needs work.

When, as an L78 Affliction Warlock, I can drop into Malykriss over in Icecrown and clear out all the L80 normals without breaking a sweat, you've got some overpowered damage issues.  And yes, I do have some heirlooms on, but I also have a lot of L70 PvP gear on.

However, I will give you props for the delightfully insane sounds of the Shivarra.  I keep looking over at her, expecting tentacles or something.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Shared Experience

I showed the Mists trailer to my three kids the other day.  It's become a tradition when a new trailer for WoW or another MMO we play appears; we take the time to check out what's coming.  Besides, between the TOR trailers and the Mists trailer, the production values are really incredible.  I'd like to see a full length feature with these production values.

"Oh, we've seen this," was their first reaction when the "Blizzard" logo scrawled over the screen.

I shushed them.  "No, this is the intro.  It just got released."

They watched the initial scene quietly.  Then, as soon as the Pandaren emerged, it began.

"OMG!  It's just like Kung Fu Panda!"

"Did you see that move?  It was just like Po!"

"That scene looks like right out of Kung Fu Panda!  See the flowers blowing by his face?  Just like when Master Oogway died."

I kept quiet, although their enthusiasm was catching.  I've discovered that seeing things through their eyes gives me a better perspective, and perhaps I've needed it after my skepticism on Mists.  And then it was over.

"Um...  Is that it?  I thought there'd be more."

"But where's the dragon?" my youngest wanted to know.  "I liked the dragon."

"You mean Deathwing?" I asked.  "He was the final boss in the current expansion."


"Did you buy it yet?"

I raised an eyebrow at my oldest.  "What, Mists of Pandaria?  It's not out yet.  Why?"

"I don't know.  It wasn't what I was expecting."

"What did you expect?"  Considering how excited they sounded about the Pandaren, I was a bit surprised.

"Well, I mean, this was cool and all, but it was like Kung Fu Panda, you know?  It wasn't WoW."

"Yeah," replied my son.  "It wasn't the same as the other trailers."

"WoW lore does have Pandaren in it, so there is a history there."

"No," my oldest said, "You know what I mean.  WoW has more to it than that."

"I guess we'll see when it's released at the end of September."

"Are you going to buy it then?"

"No, I won't need to.  I'm going to start a Rogue and level that one up as a new main.  It'll be a while before I need to buy the new expansion."

"Good.  Maybe they'll fix it by then."

I was trying to digest that little tidbit when my announcement caught up with the kids.

"You're retiring Quintalan?"

I nodded.  "He's retired and gone fishing."

"What about Adelwulf?"

"He'll be out fishing too."

"And Neve?  Tomakan?"

"The same."

My youngest smirked.  "That's going to be a big boat."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Memoriam

The first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, passed away today.  He, and the other astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, were an inspiration to thousands of scientists and engineers.

After he retired as an astronaut, Neil eschewed other offers and accepted a position at the University of Cincinnati, where he taught engineering.  He was a private person, and the small suburb of Cincinnati where he lived his final years respected that.

Godspeed, Professor Armstrong.

Neil with the X-15 Rocket Plane.
(Pic from Wikipedia.)

Official Photo for the Apollo 11 Mission.
(Pic from Wikipedia.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Speaking of Tentacled Old Gods...

...and now for something completely different.

Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime joined Bill Prady (co-creator of The Big Bang Theory), Felicia Day (The Guild and Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog), and Wil Wheaton in playing a game of Elder Sign.

Elder Sign is a card game by Fantasy Flight Games based on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.  The game is part of Tabletop, the real play series that's part of Felicia Day's Geek and Sundry web channel.  Sure, it's not an MMO, but it's got Blizzard's CEO involved.  It's a tenuous connection, but I'm running with it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I'm Not as Young as I Used to Be

The family and I (and a friend and another relative) were up at Gen Con today for their Family Fun Sunday.

Five years ago --hell, try two years ago-- I'd have not blinked an eye about a 1.5 hour (each way) day trip and then walking around a humongous vendor/demo area for several hours, playing games and soaking in the atmosphere.  I could have gone back for more without hesitation, or sat up and talked about the experience for hours into the night.

But now, all I want to do is take a nap.

I suppose it's only natural that as time marches on, people change.  When Soul and I started this blog back in 2009, I knew very little about MMOs and WoW in particular, other than the standard jokes about "Warcrack" and "people who make RPGers look like they have a life".  But throughout the life of this blog, I've learned a lot about MMOs, and more importantly I've learned more of what I don't know.

It's very easy to sit back and start grumping like an Old Man hanging around the Dal fountain, but without purpose all it does is seem like whining.

I realize I've sounded a bit like a Negative Nancy the past few months about things, but a lot of that is driven by my need to look at things with a critical eye.  When people zig, I zag.  I am the "yes, but..." hovering around the edges of the MMO blogosphere, fully realizing that I can't buy into the hype and remain honest.

"Mists is gonna be the best thing evah!"
"Yes, but...."

"TOR is gonna be so awesome that it'll have sprinkles on it!"
"Yes, but...."

"TOR sucks major donkey dongs!  It's an unrelenting piece of trash!"
"Yes, but...."

"EVE is full of people who think that Lord of the Flies is a good learning experience!"
"Yes, but...."

"GW2 is chock full of awesomesauce!"
"Yes, but...."

Things are never cut and dried, black and white.  People who tell you otherwise are missing the point.*  Every game has pros and cons.  Some people like games that others detest; is one right and the other wrong?  No, both are right, because opinions about games are just that, opinions.  A post about what I think about a game is subjective while a post about something independently verifiable, like mechanics, can be objective.

Most of what I write is subjective, because I think it important to explore that hazy grey area between what the game provides and what I believe.  

For example, I've not been shy in my opinion that I dislike Warsong Gulch.  I've spent way too many hours being farmed by Rogues and one-shotted by Hunters on Adelwulf to have a high opinion of that BG.  It's a game where one person going AFK or getting DC-ed can be all the difference in a win or loss.  However, I do know of other people who absolutely adore that BG, and consider it WoW's crowning achievement in the development of the PvP battleground.

Who's right?  Everbody, because these are just opinions about the BG, not independently verifiable data.

However, what is really important about opinions is how well they're defended.  Any ol' Blood Elf can pipe up an opinion, but there's an eternity's difference between "It sucks!" and "It sucks because..."  Does the "because" portion of the opinion make sense?  Does it hold logical water?  Can you appreciate the position in spite of disagreeing with it?  This is what sets the intelligent "Yes, but...." apart from other net pontifications.**

What I'm hoping for is to provide a reader with some actual understanding of my position on whatever it is I post about.  I realize all too well that I can be obnoxious and stubborn when I want to be, and I have to constantly fight that tendency when I write.  Others have put the bar so high that it'll take me years to even approach it.  Still, this is a journey, and I'm in this for the long haul.

And my highly biased, totally undefended opinion about Gen Con?  It rocks.  Seriously rocks.

There were a few Old Republic fans present... ***

And I finally found one WoW cosplayer!  There's Vanessa VanCleef at 6:20 in the video clip.

*Or they are NPCs populating an MMO.

**If you want examples of really well thought out and defended opinions and speculations, go see Rades' Orcish Army Knife and Cynwise's Warcraft Manual.  Just be prepared to read; both can be very thorough in their arguments.

***From Nerd Approved's Flickr account.  Unfortunately, I couldn't decide just how many Blood Elves were actually cosplaying Link and his girlfriend.  There were plenty of folks in attendance wearing WoW themed t-shirts, however.

EtA:  Added a reference to the source of the pic.

EtA: Cleaned up some English.  Oy, my old English teachers would kill me....

EtA: Added a video clip for a WoW cosplayer.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Return to Yesteryear

Well, that's the reaction I got from the new WoW cinematic.

Ever seen the Warcraft III cinematic, where the Orc and Human are fighting in a field and an Infernal attacks (and kills) them both?

Well, you can see the similarities with the new Mists cinematic.  An Orc and Human are fighting after a shipwreck (the background is one part Robinson Crusoe and one part Treasure Island), and their battle is interrupted by a Pandaren.

There's more humor (and wuxia tropes) in the latter, but the former is more focused.  You know what you're going to be doing in Warcraft III, but Mists presents a bit more sandbox scenario, ala Vanilla WoW.  Sure, there's the voiceover talking about family and balance, but the imagery presents a different picture.

The selling points that the Mists trailer is presenting to the world?  Martial Arts.  A new continent to explore.  Humor.  Pandaren.

In short, an open book.

Given the direction that Blizzard has moved WoW ever since its inception, this trailer presents a different challenge.  I think this will resonate with people who like to explore a new culture and most especially it will resonate with people who quest and craft.  Whether altoholics can handle leveling in Pandaria multiple times remains to be seen; there's some early indication that the quest chains aren't so rigid as they were in Cata, which bodes well for leveling alts, but whether someone will care to repeat the same story multiple times is the big question.

The raiders, however, aren't necessarily going to be entranced by the trailer; the lack of an endgame pointer in the trailer suggests that Mists might actually be a transitional or bridge expac.

Blizz may have put out Mists to set up the next expac in much the same way that the second book in a trilogy sets up the last book.  Unlike Cata, where Blizz tried to pack both the second book (revamping the Old World) and the finale (the Deathwing/Twilight's Hammer story) in one expac, perhaps Mists lays the groundwork for the next expac.  Sure there will be raids, and we know that Garrosh bites it, but that's all done to set up the Big Finale two to three years later.  Garrosh as the End Boss in Mists isn't all that exciting; he's an asshat who --combined with Varian-- has kept Azeroth in an almost constant state of war since the middle of Wrath, but Garrosh as the Big Bad has the same sort of ring to it that Cho'gall had.

The trailer confirms my belief that Blizz is taking a big risk with Mists.  They're banking on the appeal of Pandaria to sustain WoW for a while, but going off of their traditional expac/raiding script might be off putting to some of the player base.  Right now, it's too early to tell.

Well, except for the humor.  They'll always have that.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Security Breach at Blizzard

Okay, I'm putting on my security hat and telling people to go to and change their passwords.


Blizz announced (in a roundabout way, via a blog post by the Blizzard President Mike Morhaime) that they've been the victim of a security intrusion.  Hackers apparently made off with passwords and some info regarding the authenticator programs, and there's the potential that your account has been compromised.

While the passwords are bad enough, it's the authenticator program breach that is the real problem.  Without two factor authentication to rely upon, your account is vulnerable.  If you use authenticator software to get your ID token, make sure it's updated to the current version.  No word yet on those people who have ID Badges (like the ones that RSA sends out), but if the breach included the algorithms necessary to generate the tokens, I presume that those will have to eventually need to be replaced.  However, at the moment Blizzard is only saying to make sure the authenticator software you use is up to date.

Here's the link to the WoW Insider entry on the issue:  Blizzard security breach, no evidence that financial data was compromised

On the bright side, Blizz is saying that they make sure the passwords are properly encrypted, which does make me feel better.  That gives people time to get their passwords changed before the old ones are cracked.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Power Behind the Throne

Funny how things work.

I was sitting around on Friday, wondering what to write about this week, when the Activision earnings call dropped the bomb that WoW's subscriber base had dropped to 9.1 million, down 1 million from the previous quarter.  Couple that with TOR having dropped to below 1 million subs, and you've got an interesting week's worth of MMO data.

My first reaction was that the numbers would have looked even worse were it not for the annual pass subs, because the WoW base remained flat for the previous two quarters while I noticed a distinct dropoff in the number of people logged into a server.  As I've said before on several occasions, there are days when I think that 90% of the people logged into WoW are gold farmers, because I see very few people in the capital cities on an average evening* and what people I do see are out farming mats or working the auction house.  Actually seeing a leveling toon out in the wild is a rarity.

However, when I turned things over in my head for a while, I began to wonder just how many subs WoW has that are actual players versus gold farmers.  The reason why I bring that up is because, unlike some other MMOs, I keep turning over how gold farming will work in TOR outside of actual account stealing.

Most people buy gold to get a leg up on the competition or to help themselves in other fashions, but with TOR designed the way it is, I don't see the need to buy credits to assist you in the leveling game.  Sure, manipulating the AH can be done, but I haven't seen the TOR AH to be quite as cutthroat as WoW's AH is.  Perhaps I'm missing something obvious, but it seems to me that TOR doesn't really need the gold farmer industry very much.

If that's the case, then perhaps that 9.1 million figure that Activision put out in their earnings call is actually lower --a lot lower-- when you remove the gold farmer accounts**.

WoW is the big dog of the MMO world, and the gold farmers will flock to it like bees to honey.  Their numbers will only decline when their demand declines, and given the amount of announcements you get in the big cities, I doubt that's going to happen anytime soon.  TOR, by comparison, is conspicuous in its lack of gold farmer spam.  Other MMOs that don't have a large population, such as Age of Conan, still have plenty of gold spammers, but TOR doesn't.  Part of that is due to no major city-spanning communication system like WoW's Trade Chat, but other than that I don't really know why TOR has less gold farmer spam.

The scenario that TOR has fewer proportional gold farmers than WoW is significant, because that means that the actual number of true, playing WoW subs is a lot lower than people realize.  Which also means that if it's the actual WoW players who unsubbed, then WoW is in a bit more of a world of hurt than we believe.

Still, this is all water under the bridge since the definition of "true, playing WoW subs" probably is defined by Blizz as "a paying subscription."  They can't afford to discriminate, unless the behavior of the sub is deemed malicious in intent.  I'd argue that acts that participate in gold farming are "malicious in intent", but where you draw that line is kind of hazy.  Merely farming mats like mad isn't enough for malicious intent, because anyone farming for a rare item would be guilty.  Stealing accounts is malicious intent, but Blizz has to either be alerted to the theft or notice a pattern that tips them off that the account was stolen.

What all that means is that WoW needs gold farmers to keep their numbers up.  Other MMOs do too, but none more than WoW.  We can only conjecture as to how many accounts are gold farmer accounts, because Blizz itself probably doesn't know.  You can bet that if they did know, they'd point that out in an earnings call, particularly if it was the gold farmers leaving the game.

Investors, however, aren't interested in gold farmers***; they only care about subscriptions.  If subs go down, they want to know why.  If they stay down, they want to know what Activision is going to do to bring them back up.  People are slamming EA over TOR's subscription loss, and EA announced some major changes to the game in response.  Blizzard's response to its sub loss is "Mists will fix this."

But will it?

Blizz hasn't had subscription loss like this before.  At this time last release, Blizz was still riding high from the success of Wrath, and subs were either relatively flat or trending upward heading into Cataclysm.  Whether you played or took a break is irrelevant, because the subs themselves only changed by a couple hundred thousand.  Right now, things are going in the wrong direction for WoW, and if Mists only halts the bleeding, the investors will still be up in arms and demand a better response to the problem.

Higher sub prices?  Maybe.

More gimmicks?  Maybe.

More gold farmer friendly changes?  Maybe they will.  Subs are subs, no matter where they come from.

The saying goes to not bet against Blizzard, but Blizzard is now fighting its reputation as always being a 'safe haven'.  These are uncharted waters, and even Blizzard can't see what's ahead in the fog.  Maybe they'll find salvation in Pandaria, but maybe they'll just strike some rocks.

*Averaging about 45-55 a night on the two capital cities on Ysera, and about 100 in Org on A-52, which is 8:1 Horde dominated.  I have poked into Stormwind on A-52, but it'd make you cry at how empty it is.

**That's both toons created for the purpose of gold farming as well as stolen accounts.

***As long as the farmers aren't engaged in illegal activity, that is.

Friday, August 3, 2012

For Your Friday Amusement....

....A few in-game escapades, providing a glimpse into MMO life.

In Eye of the Storm (WoW):

(Several Alliance hold the mid from a Horde attack)
Pally:  You see that?  I'm AWESOME!
Pally: /flexes
(Horde Shaman appears and knocks the Pally out into space)
Me:  Oh yeah, that WAS awesome!
Mage:  Do that again!
Pally:  You both suck!

In Alterac Valley (WoW):

(Horde Hunter sets up shop above Stormpike GY, one-shotting Adelwulf twice as he respawns)
Me: Will somebody get that damn Hunter?
Rogue:  Get him yourself.
Me: He's GY camping and one-shotting me.
Rogue:  That's no excuse.
(Rogue spawns at the same time I do, and he gets one-shotted instead)
Rogue:  Damn!  Someone get that Hunter!

In Isle of Conquest (WoW):

(Alliance gets the Workshop and we pick up the siege engine)
Pally:  Which gate is lowest?
Me:  Right.  It's at 54.
Pally:  Go right!
(Siege engine takes off, and then before it gets to the Horde Keep, starts dancing around.)
Me:  Go right!  Go right!
(Siege engine chases after a stray Horde player)
Pally:  WTF!
Warrior:  Go right, dammit!
(Siege engine goes to main gate and starts attacking)
Me: Not there!  Go right!
(Siege engine goes left and chases after Horde players)
Rogue:  Someone else drive that damn thing!