Friday, July 31, 2009

Memo to Blizzard's New Employee

Despite all the attention paid to PvP and raiding, questing remains the core of the leveling experience in Warcraft. So it was with particular interest that I noted Blizzard is in the market for a Quest Designer. The job announcement doesn't say whether this position is for Warcraft or Blizzard's next generation MMO. My understanding is that jobs vacancies in this field are extremely rare and typically go to insiders working their way up the system. I'm sure that these experts have their own ideas but I thought it would be fun to jot down some ideas this person might want to consider. Such a list is by definition subjective and I'm sure readers will have their own say in the comments.

(1) Make questing fit better with the story lines of the game. There are many factions and elements to Warcraft lore but often these elements feel attenuated to me. For example, I still don't understand what Venture Bay in Howling Fjord has to do with the Scourge. I'm sure it has some relationship but for the life of me I couldn't tell you what. Frequently, questing seems directed to pushing us to the next leveling zone rather than the next plot element. The result is that I level faster but I wind up at the end of the game with a jumbled and fractured picture of the lore. One possible approach would be to create questing tracks that players would have the option of following. Think of them as huge quest chains that span not just one zone but the entire leveling experience from 70-80. I don't see the need for more quests, just organizing them more coherently. For me, when I see people asking in trade where the best place to level at 72 is that's a failure. Leveling should flow more seamlessly from following a story line in the game.

(2) Move beyond the Holy Trinity. I am not referring to healer/tank/dps but to the holy trinity of quest rewards: gold, experience, reputation. It could be called the holy foursome because gear is now frequently included. My thinking is that the scope of quest rewards should be broader and more flexible. For example, I would like to see profession skill increases achievable as a quest reward. Particularly at the top levels of professions it can become quite costly in gold to get those final few points and it would be nice to have an option other than pestering trade with ubiquitous "paying 50g if I skill up" chat. At the lower levels of professions such as enchanting items frequently are now destroyed because there is no market for them; some type of quest chain that got you to level 200 would be awesome. I'm not suggesting that profession skill points via questing should come easily, but it seems to me integrating questing with profession skill increase would both provide more flexibility for increasing profession skill and make questing more rewarding. Another possibility that I have thought of is to offer a badge or two (Heroism, Valor, whatever) as a reward for completing X amount of daily quests in Icecrown in lieu of the gold. If I do 20 daily quests at level cap but would actually prefer a badge or a skill point than 250g I should have that choice. Regardless of the precise trade offs, the overall goal here is that questing should provide rewards that meet the needs of the players rather than the rote dumping of the Holy Trinity onto the player regardless of whether that is actually useful to them.

(3) Make every quest repeatable. Now that we have daily quests and now that Blizzard has the ability to turn off XP there is no reason not to make every quest repeatable. More times than I can count some non-game event has distracted me, or I have been half asleep, or simply in a rush with limited playing time only to realize that I wish I could do a quest over again simply to understand what it was I just did (other than kill ten rats). Alas, once a quest is done it's gone into the great beyond and if I want to do a quest over again my only choice is to level another character in that faction. When you have a questing experience and think to yourself gosh that was fun lets do it again and then realize that to do it again means leveling another toon to 70; that's a very sad panda moment for the player. Another advantage to this approach is that it would provide wonderful feedback on what quests players actually enjoy. If a leveling quest is being repeated by many players for the sheer thrill of it, that's a good sign the designer did something right.

(4) Make more immersing quest chains. Yes, I understand that immersion is subjective. The quests that I have loved the best are those of such as Betrayal in Zul'drak and Saving Sharpbeak in the old world. These quests are appealing to me for several reasons. First, there is an overarching purpose to the quest chain that produces a reward that is intrinsically worthwhile. Saving Sharpbeak, with the baby griffin flying off into the sunset, is a feel good event that I as a player am motivated to do regardless of the XP, money, or loot involved. Second, the execution of these quest chains is inventive and fun. I still think using an abomination as a type of Kamikaze suicide bomber to kill trolls is perhaps one of the most creative (although sick) ideas to come out of a quest designers head. It's the type of mechanic that grabs your attention. Another great example is the Druid Swift Flight Form quest chain.

I recognize that not everyone has the time to follow such quest chains though to their completion. But I think it's somewhat sad that at level 80 I can pick out only a handful of quest chains that really grabbed me and sucked me in. So while I get that these type of extended chains are not for everyone, more please.

(5) Less bugs. I see this as self-explanatory. Yet it really is a frustration. There is nothing more disheartening then being on a quest, especially a chain, and having it break half-way through. It's frankly turns the game into a huge waste of time. The saddest part is that I know of quests that GMs have confirmed for me were bugs and six months later, still bugged.

There are lots of little things I would like to see done, such as being able to track more than 25 quests. So the list above is not meant to be exhaustive. They are just big picture items that I think would make the game more enjoyable.

How about you; based upon your experience in WoW, what would you tell Blizzard's newest employee?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The importance of resilience in PvP

I don't play PvP. If there is one topic about Warcraft that makes my eyes glaze over and completely tune out the writer it's a post about PvP. I freely admit that my lack of interest in PvP stems from one key fact: I'm terrible at it. I simply don't see the point of spending time on an activity at which I'm not competent because I don't have an interest in it and which I don't have an interest in because I'm not competent at it. If that logic seems circular it's because it is circular. Sue me.

An incident that happened during the Summer Festival illustrates perfectly well why I fail at PvP. To get the Flame Warden title a requirement is to desecrate or steal Horde flames scattered though out the world. Desecrating the opponent's fire automatically flags you for five minutes of PvP. Surprisingly, during the entire effort to get the achievement I was only attacked three times, all in out of the way places like the Burning Steppes. I actually managed to steal all the flames from the major Horde cities without dying once. The last and final time I got attacked (so I had been killed twice before) was in Mulgore by a Horde mage. I distinctly remember my exact thought process at the time of attack.

Me: Oh look, a pretty green toad. I wonder where that came from?
Me: Hey, that toad is hopping right where my character used to be, what’s up with that?

Polymorph. Somebody just attacked you.
Me. I wonder why they would want to do that?

Me. Maybe because you just desecrated the fire.

Me. Heh. That’s right. I guess I ought to do something about that.

Me. How about fight back?

Computer: “Would you like to play a game of chess”

Well ok, it actually said, "would you like to release your spirit" but it might as well have said that for all the good it does me.

The truth is that I have zero instinct for self-preservation. By the time I get a grasp on the situation and formulate a response I'm dead. Seriously, I don't even bother anymore. I generally make a half-hearted attempt to run away because I feel that in the spirit of the game I ought to do something rather than just stand there getting beaten upon. But I know as soon as I'm jumped I'm gonna die.

The most common time for me to get attacked anymore is in
Wintergrasp when the Horde controls it. WG is the only place where Frost Lotus grows and so I go there sometimes to pick them to make potions. I really don't know what Blizzard was thinking by putting Frost Lotus in a PvP area as it's most annoying. I guess there is just something about picking flowers and raping random strangers that just goes together.

The thing I find most distasteful about PvP is that the reward you get for doing it is called honor. In my limited experience there is nothing honorable about PvP. The most common tactic--no, the only tactic-- I have ever seen employed by the Horde in
WG is to wait until I am getting hammered on by a mob (ideally two) and then begin to wack the heck out of me. I have also been killed by Horde players (back when I was playing Boomkin) who deliberately ran into my area-of-effect spells. Even For the Alliance is basically predicated that you will go rushing into the opponents cities when no one is around and take advantage of superior numbers. I don't really have a problem with the idea that all's fair in war; I don't have to go to WG when it's Horde controlled. But killing someone when they are running away seems the height of dishonor to me. Maybe the programmers at Blizzard are just sardonic little creeps. Although I admit that "token for slime bag tactics" doesn't have much of a marketing ring to it.

The most amusing thing to me about my failure at PvP is that I have both the Black War Bear from doing For The Alliance and the War Mammoth from the Stone Keeper Shards. Every single SKS came from running heroic five mans and when I finally figured out what they were for (by looking on Wowhead) the mount was the only thing that looked interesting to me. When it came time to turn in the shards for the mount it took me twenty minutes just to find the vendor because I had never even been in the fortress before. Truth is that I almost never ride either one of those mounts, partially because I'm partial to my green mechnostrider and partially because I feel like a big fake riding either one. Yeah, look at me, I'm on my uber PvP mount: run away little girls, run away and hide just like I do on the battlefield.

This might be the real reason I'm glad that
PvPers will start getting experience from battlegrounds. Maybe, hopefully, they'll leave the rest of us alone. I kinda doubt that though. When I was getting attacked in the Burning Steppes I kept trying to get away while he kept stunning me. After a few seconds I looked up and realized that I wasn't dying very fast. That's when it dawned on me that the Horde attacking me was only level 50. Whatever. I bet he's still crowing back at the Horde stick shack or whatever hovel the Horde live in about how he took out a level 80. You know what, I don't care. I have enough resilience to handle it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Making Stuff Up

Medical doctors and outdoorsmen alike refer to the rule of threes. You can live for three minutes without breathing, three days without drinking, and three weeks without food. Outside of these limits your continued physical survival becomes dubious, although the precise limits vary significantly with environmental factors. Obviously, there are certain secondary affects such as waste removal and bodily motion implied in the above. Nevertheless breathing, drinking, and eating are the three things that every human being must do to prevent rapid biological death. All else is fantasy.


This is the definition of fantasy used by the psychologist Carl Jung, who not coincidently was a medical doctor. Jung despised the tendency in Freud and Adler to concretize or reify the personality. He was fond of saying, “The object of psychology is to get the individual to play with their own personality.” Play being the operative word. Unlike most other psychologists, he didn’t regard role playing or fantasizing as an activity limited to childhood; he considered it the acme of human experience.

Buried in a post a few months ago Gevlon made a remarkable comment. “Reality,” he said, “is just what we chose to focus on.” This has certain implications that Gevlon didn’t explore; I going to because it’s essential to contextualizing the World of Warcraft.

There are two different ways to interpret Gevlon’s comment. One way is to conceive of reality as preexisting; the human mind uncovers it in the act of choosing focus. The other option is that reality is created in the process of choosing; the choice to focus is the choice to create. Those of a theological bent will understand this as the rephrasing of the age old question as to whether believing is seeing or seeing is believing; those of an academic bent will understand this as the distinction between modernism and post-modernism; those in physics will understand this as the difference between a closed and an unfinished universe.

I go in a different direction. If everything beyond crude biological functioning is fantasy then reality and fantasy are indistinguishable in most cases. This is so because things are one at the level of the mind. The distinctions between what we label “fantasy” and what we label “reality” are distinctions made in the mind first and reside in most cases in the mind only. What we call the self, what we mean when we say “I,” is a label stuck on a process of fantasy.


The eye is a beautiful example of this. We don’t see with the eye; we see with the brain. The eye is a physical organ which, through a complex chemical process, light is turned in electrical neural impulses. It is these neural impulses that the brain then translates into the images we see in three dimensions. As Shakespeare said in a Midsummer Nights Dream 400 years ago “Love sees not with the eyes but with the mind/and therefore wing’d Cupid painted blind.”

The eye translates light into electricity through a biochemical protein based process. Because this process is not instantaneous, when you shift focus from object to object you get fading or accommodation affects. The brain’s response to biological lag is to predict what you see up to a full second in advance based upon prior experience. In the first milliseconds after looking at a new object, you actually see what the brain thinks you should see and not what’s actually there. As a consequences of the speed discrepancy between protein synthesis and neuron transmission the reality we choose to focus on just is fantasy; every single time your eye focuses your brain fantasizes. If this wasn’t the case any type of improvement in manual dexterity, any type of skilled crafting or athletic accomplishment, would be biomechanically impossible.

In this sense, both the eye and the I share a common ground as instruments that mediate realities. The core of the psychological insight is that the mind is a medium; it is that part of reality that mediates between other parts of reality. The mind’s eye is the I. In the same way that the brain weaves together neural impulses from the eye to create three dimensional visions which we call “sight” the psyche stitches together spiritual, emotional, logical, intuitive, and sensory experiences to form the self that we identify as “I”. The precise connection between the physical brain and mental consciousness—between eye and I—remains an enigma despite advances in psychology, medicine, and philosophy. But that there is a connection is indisputable, as has been recognized for thousands of years.

Aye eye I

In 2005 Ralph Koster published what has become the well-known article entitled “The Evil We Pretend To” about colonialism and genocide in video games. There have been a variety of responses and replies to that post yet all of them overlook what seems like to me the salient point. What’s so pretend about it.

Because if the reality/fantasy distinction breaks down upon close examination at the level of the mind then we are left with two choices. One choice is to see everything that happens as a product of fantasy. Our cultures, our legal systems, our religions, our family and friends are as ephemeral and wispy as a dream. They are no more real than the pixel Horde. As Napoleon once said: that’s what emperors do, they play with people. It’s why chess—with all it’s symbolic humans—is called the sport of kings. It’s what Ecclesiastes meant 3000 years ago when he proclaimed “all is vanity.” (The Latin root for vanity is “empty".)

On the other hand, if that perspective bothers you; if you wish to insist that what happened during the genocides in the Balkans or Rwanda was not a cartoon graveyard but something real, that the living and the dying were real dramas happening to real people about something truly important; then the war against the Horde is also the same. Our participation in the genocide of the Horde is not the evil we pretend to; it’s not make believe; it’s the evil we actually do.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Slowing down

It’s in the middle of July and everyone seems to be on vacation. Even Tobold has taken a well deserved break from blogging. At The Pink Pigtail Inn, we’ve been keeping up business as usual, but finally I have to admit it to myself: summer is here. To me it means that everything will slow down for a couple of weeks – in game as well as my presence in the Blogosphere as a writer and commenter.

The summer debuff
Even though I knew it was inevitably incoming, the summer debuff took me a little by surprise. Last week our guild had no problem whatsoever to grab 25 people for the weekly mass slaughter in Ulduar. And now we’re all vanished, gone to do some Real Life questing. The officers are making a tremendous effort to try to keep up some alternative raiding during the vacation period, if nothing else 10 man raids. But the pace in the game is definitely a lot slower than usual. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think we all need some regeneration of mana, rage, energy or whatever that keeps us going. When we come back we’ll all be hungry for boss kills and loot, prepared to take down Yogg and then whatever challenges that await us in 3.2.

I too will soon take off to explore a little bit more of the world outside of Azeroth. Next week I’m off to Paris, where I’m planning to scare the kids with a creepy walk through the catacombs and some breathtaking views from Tour Eiffel. And after that I’ll probably go hiking in the Swedish highlands. (I get itchy rashes if I don’t get some fresh mountain air every once a year.)

Of course this means limited access not only to WoW in itself, but also to blogging, and since I haven’t prepared a ton of prewritten posts, the updating here will be a bit slow and irregular for a while.

In the meanwhile
You won’t be left all on your own though. My bartender may give you something to munch on, which definitely will give you a treat. His (sorry, I mean her) latest post Landscapes of Heart must have been the most poetic and beautiful WoW blog entrance I’ve ever read. Seriously. I’m so proud to have you in the team, Elnia!

If you still crave for some Larísa reading, I suggest that you have a look in the archives. There are some 350 posts there and I doubt that there’s anyone but me who has read them all.

Or why not check out some of the blogs in my blogroll? I keep adding new gems as I find them. The latest addition is Tamarind at standing at the back in my sissy road. I’ve only been following it for a short while, but he has made quite an impression. It’s got all the qualities you can wish from a blog: light-hearted, well written, with a nice and lively commentary section. And as an extra bonus it looks awesome (at least if you agree with me that blogs shouldn’t look like the major boulevard in Las Vegas).

A final word from your innkeeper: don’t worry about my absence. I’ll be back. And the conversation will continue. Don’t forget: it’s you – the readers and commenters – who give life, depth and warmth to the inn. The post about my gender ponderings the other day rendered 60 comments. Every single one of them was nice, relevant and interesting. There must be some magic protection aura surrounding the inn that keeps the trolls away. You have no idea how humbled and grateful I am.

Well that’s about what I needed to say. In a moment I’ll just grab my backpack and silently sneak out the backdoor before anyone can stop me. In my bag I have a 900 page adventure book, Shantaram, which is the most fascinating book I've encountered in years. Go read it when you're done with Arthas: The Rise of Lich King (if you'll ever come around to read that one after Tamarind's lustfull picking at it). Mind you, this book isn't about WoW at all, it's about India, so sticking to the theme of PPI, I probably shouldn't even bother to mention it. But I do. If I was half as good at writing as the author, Gregory David Roberts, I'd be a very happy little gnome.
And now: go to the bar and have another beer. Enjoy yourself and enjoy the summer (or the winter, if you're an aussie)!

See you in a while.

I love you all!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Landscapes of the Heart

I live in the beautiful mountains of New Mexico but the plains are a close ten mile drive away. Typically, spring is the driest part of the year but sometimes we get early monsoonal moisture and the rolling hills turn from blond to green and wildflowers jump up over night. During these times the landscape mimics the well-known Windows XP wallpaper Bliss. Walking undulating paths with daises and Indian paintbrush on either side my heart gives a joyous shout. “Bliss”, a faint voice whispers gently in my ear. “Bliss.” At such moments I realize I could be staring at the image of bliss on a computer screen, drifting away to some imaginary dream world. But I’m not, I’m actually living the metaphor.

A Beautiful World

One of the things that made me fall in love with WoW is its gorgeous scenery. Interestingly, the Night Elf starting area is one of the least visually attractive as far as I am concerned. If I had known better I would have played a Tuaren simply because of the scenery. The first time I saw the Barrens with all the yellows and reds my jaw dropped. I learned later that it was supposed to mimic the savannas of Africa but it could be the view from my window. Here I was, young Druid of Elune, sneaking my way from the shadows into the light. Excited with adventure, eagerly perusing the quest for water form. Oh Westfall, land of men, overrun by the evil Defias. Still now my heart does flip-flops thinking of your billowing cliffs, your waving fields of gain, your beaches stretching forever.

There are two things I never did before the age of 20. The first one was that I never read Lord of the Rings and the second was that I never saw the ocean. These are deeply connected. I never read LOTR because I had read something else by Tolkien as a tween and I didn’t like it; I was convinced Frodo and crew were nothing but over-hyped pap. To me, real fantasy meant Ursula Le Guin and Stephen Donaldson. The sea itself was 1500 miles in any direction. Books, yes I had seen pictures in books. But seen the sea, touched the sea, tasted the sea, lived the sea. No, I couldn’t imagine.

To this day I remember the shock. I think it was at that moment in time that I first accepted evolution as true. An aching and distant voice that I could never quite catch before rushed upon the ship of soul and crashed it in a massive tidal wave. “Home” it shrieked. Home HOme HOME. A wailing banshee tearing me apart, tossing up my losses, shredding the sails of my inhibitions. I sat down in the sand, burst into tears.

Legolas would have understood. Many years later when I finally read the entire series this was the part that resonated with me most. “If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore/Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more." No truer words were ever spoken. I can live in the forest but the ache for the sea is a distant restless thunder.

Evening server time has become a special time for me. I was swimming once around Ranazjar Isle mining Mithril ore and entirely by accident I popped up on the island as the sun was setting. Hypnotized, I stared as the sun set with the Naga swimming around in the sea. For the first time the world seemed real to me. Here was where I belonged, at the sea. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for one of those Naga to come up and whack me, bringing me back to my senses. But a love affair was born. Even today I will come to Ranazjar Isle just to watch the sun set and the Naga swim. It’s my sea fix.

Imagination Vacation

I have come to think of the World of Warcraft as a imagination vacation. There I can let my dreams soar, absorb myself in a world of magic and mystery. In a way that’s hard to put into words I mix memory and fantasy to create a world that’s even more vivid than the pictures on the screen make it. The poet Richard Lovelace wrote more than 450 years ago:

Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage.

There is a sense in which Warcraft is a hermitage driving the imagination onward, inward. Brick upon brick creating buildings to populate the landscapes of the heart. I think it’s something Thomas a Kempis would have understood. There is what’s in the game design; there is what we bring to the game. Both are important. Both are necessary for balance.

This is why I enjoy role playing and even watching other people role play. It brings the game and the server alive in a way that a quest from an NPC can never do. It’s like discovering a pattern in the stars. And then realizing there are no patterns in the stars, just patterns our minds supply. Orion, the Drinking Gourd, the Seven Sisters only exist in the ephemerality of conventionality. Gazing up at the stars at night, we can connect the dots in whatever image we choose, whatever way that brings meaning to our game.

Mark Sanford

The press says that the current Governor of South Carolina has become an international embarrassment because of his globe trotting love affair. I doubt that’s true only because I know that people outside of America aren’t as fascinated with America as Americans think they are. And unlike the apparent majority of people here I don’t think he’s an embarrassment, at least not a total one. I don’t condone martial infidelity. But there’s something about falling in love that captures the imagination. It takes genuine courage to risk family, fame, fortune just to hear the tap tap tap of a lover’s heart. One has to be driven by some primary hunger to fly 4000 miles just to connect the dot. For there is nothing to love but the imagination; it exists nowhere else. If this Argentinean woman truly is his soul-mate that’s a discovery that should not be slighted by anyone. That indeed is a prize upon which to risk it all.

Poets say that love rules the world; psychologists say love is all in the mind. I think that both are true; that our minds create images of love, to love, for love in this material world in a vast and never ending game of connect the dots. It’s how we make sense of the senseless. To us the stars are pixels; to God every mind is a pixel. What draws these pixels together is love. Nothing but love.

So I sit here on the tor of Ethel Rethor and watch the sun dip into the sea. I think of the landscapes that I have seen: the frozen tundra of Borean, the vivid jungle of Stranglethorn Vale, the cool lake of Loch Modan. Staring at the monitor I think I can see each pixel; each pixel a beating heart. What connects it all together is love; a love whose product is light. It bathes my face.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Genders in a five-man party – are we stuck in the stereotypes?

When you’re doing a five-man instance, who in the family are you? Are you the mother, the father or the naughty child?

Speaking for myself, I’ve always been the child. We have a great time, trying out our toys (“Zap! You’re a sheep! Mama, mama, look, I’m invisible!”) while we’re fighting our brothers just for fun. (“Haha, I beat you on the damage list, sucker!”) Sometimes we lose our minds, foolishly pulling aggro. But our patient parents, the tank/healer couple, will normally save our asses, and after giving us some well deserved bashing they’ll forgive us.

Recently however I’ve tried a new role. As the regular guests of the inn know, I’m levelling a druid alt, with the ambition to se the game from a different side, as a tank or healer. But for all my intentions to tank, I have gotten more and more into healing. Not only because there’s obviously much more demand for healers than for tanks in the old world, but also because I’ve fallen in love with the task in a way that I hadn’t expected.

Suddenly I find myself, a modern women, playing the traditional female healing role in an MMO. I’m standing in the back, a pretty night elf chick in a beautiful robe, dutifully renewing the HoTs, trying to keep everyone alive instead of boldly killing evil stuff. And it bugs me that I enjoy it so much. It bugs me a lot.

Revolting against stereotypes
The thing is that I hate gender stereotypes with all of my heart. I always have, since they make me feel trapped, reduced into a couple of milk producing body parts on legs, supposed to take decisions out of hormones rather than out of my free will. I want to enjoy the freedom to form my life and display my personality anyway I want. Above anything I want to be treated by myself and by other people as a fellow human being, not as a Sex.

Even though I’m not a Role Player in its true sense, one of the things I love most about MMOs is that you can play around in an anonymous, protected sandbox. You can check out different roles and discover new sides of yourself.

Surely, sometimes we encounter gender stereotypes which seem to be leftovers from the middle ages, but we can always act like Spinksville and turn our back to it. . Back in the early days, female gamers had to struggle quite a bit to get accepted and respected. But now there’s nothing unusual about us, we’re like other players. No more, no less, exactly how I want it to be.

Lack of female tanks
However, when I think about the act of healing, I can’t help thinking “typical girlish thing to do”, no matter how I try to rid myself from this notion.

Maybe it’s related to what I actually see in the game. Until this day I haven’t seen any female tanks or melee dps as I can recall or knew about. Yeah, there are a couple of blogging exceptions, but I’ve never seen any for myself. Girls play healers or possibly ranged dps. They seem to avoid the blood splatter.

I wonder why. I refuse to believe there’s some genetic reason for it. After all, tanking doesn’t require any special physical abilities, such as real life strength. Basically WoW playing is the same for everyone. You push your buttons; you move your mouse and you click. The only difference is what kind of targets you have and what effects your spell have.

Maybe we just need some new stereotypes, alternative images which we associate to the different roles? Why do I insist on thinking about the tank as a father? A tank could as well be pictured as a mother – a raging lioness, a killing machine, who will do anything to protect her children. And the healer could perhaps be the old, wise, white bearded grandfather, whose inner spirits are familiar with the old arcane power? After all, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're gay because you're a male healer... :)

But for the dps I can’t see any other image than the one of the child: innocent, convinced about their own immortality, full of energy and void of responsibilities. Oh, happy days!

Monday, July 13, 2009

It’s the envy that keeps us going

Are you envious of other players? Does your skin shift into a wannabe-NE-colour when you inspect their gear, see their titles or hear about their achievements? Do you feel that hungry surge in your stomach, telling you that you’ll never get happy unless you get the same stuff that they have?


Good to hear! It’s just the game mechanisms at work. It’s intended.

Gnomeaggedon wrote a rant a little while ago, where he made a confession about the different kinds of envy that affect him: achievement envy, gold envy, pet envy, gear envy, raid envy, for mentioning a few of them. Even though he says “it’s my lot”, I got the impression that he felt a little bit bad about carrying those feelings.

But I would suggest the opposite. It just shows that you’re still enjoying the game.

Why some envy is enjoyable
I’ve been pondering upon this for a while and my conclusion is that envy probably is one of the most important motivators in WoW, something that keep us going. After all, envy is just another nuance of desire.

If anything should worry you, it would rather be the opposite situation. If you don’t give a damned about whatever gear, mounts and experiences there are available in game, displayed by other players, if your desire has vanished and you just don’t care, you’re probably on the verge of burnout and likely to quit the game in a not too distant future.

The envy keeps us alert and involved with the game. And as a bonus: your envy is the pleasure and satisfaction of someone else. I bet you were delighted, Gnomeaggedon, as a random new player whispered you and told you how awesome your mechanostrider was, as you told us in a comment the other day.

The lack of envy can actually make some players become a little bit annoyed. If other players don’t worship their dresses as much as they had expected, they somehow feel deprived of a big chunk of the pleasure in gearing up. (They would be better off looking for other areas to gain the admiration of the crowd.)

Fuel of the community
Another aspect of envy is that it gives the community something to talk about. It’s the perfect fuel for discussions.

Imagine for a second that all classes were perfectly balanced in every single aspect and didn’t need to change in any way at all. Imagine that gear was handed out as results of our effort, so generously that everyone would get their “upgrade kick” often enough to keep them in a good mood, but still so wisely that no one felt that anyone else had any advantage thanks to their choice of playing style. Imagine this.

What do you think would happen to the blogs, the forums, the podcasts, everything that makes the universe of Azeroth stretch far beyond the scripted events delivered by your game server? How could you create interesting debates if we didn’t have the igniting spark of envy? How long would it take before the community ran dry without this fuel?

Destructive envy
However, Gnomeaggedon mentioned another sort of envy, which is harder to deal with: playtime envy. It’s when you see your friends or guildies doing things that aren’t available to you, due to the restrictions that real life put onto your gaming. I admit that this kind of envy isn’t exactly motivating; it’s more connected to feelings of frustration, bitterness and despair.

Probably we put much more value to the events we can’t participate in than they deserve. I bet that if I could play as much as I wanted to, signing up for the optional 10-man content as undying runs and 10-man runs in Ulduar, I would probably lose my appetite for it sooner than I think. It’s the fact that this fruit isn’t available for us that makes it so sweet and desirable.

I think the best way to deal with it is to stick to your own path of progression, put up your own goals to strive for and not bother so much about what other people are doing. See it as if they’re playing another game than you are. They could as well be playing LOTRO as raiding Ulduar. What does it matter to you?

Newbie envy
I’ll give the last word to Argon, who commented on my bartender’s post about heirlooms:

New players have one advantage over the grizzled altaholic: the content is fresh and exciting to them. I'd trade away all my heirloom items in an instant for that.

Oh, how spot on isn’t this? The sad thing is that no matter how you try, it’s hard to make the newcomer understand how privileged he is. The insight won’t come until it’s too late, and he too has become envious of those guys who still have new and exciting things to discover in the game. It’s the Newbie envy, one of the hardest envies to deal with. I’m afraid the only reliable cure for it is to switch to another game.

Not even the next content patch will make the game as sparkling and exciting as your first stumbling steps in Azeroth. The road is always one-way.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On Heirlooms

I’ll admit that I haven’t paid too much attention to the presence of heirloom items in Warcraft. Not being level 80 until recently and not being an alt-aholic I felt it wasn’t an issue of interest. However, the recent introduction of the Tome of Cold Weather Flight caught my attention. Then this post showed up at Shy at Wow and got me to thinking about heirlooms. The more I thought about Warcraft heirlooms the more I found my distaste for them growing.

A two-tiered structure

Let me say up front that I don’t have any concern about heirloom items in their rawest form; that is to say bind-on-account items that can be transferred to lower level alts. The basic idea itself is nifty. The problem that I have is that the latest developments in heirloom items—the Tome of Flying and the 10% exp bonus—creates a two tiered player structure.

The problem adding these two features to heirloom items is that they are fundamentally unfair to new players. By new players I refer to players that have never played Warcraft before. With the implementation of these features some characters are given a leveling and economic advantage in the game for no other reason than the fact the account owner has created at least one level capped toon. That’s wrong.

It’s important to differentiate this reality from what is happening in other areas like the level reduction in mount availability. Being able to ride mounts at level 20 effects all characters equally. The introduction of the new quest helper and equipment manger features effect all players equally. Heirlooms items don’t; two level 68 characters—equal in experience, equal in equipment, and equal in player skill—yet one will have an inherent and unassailable advantage over the other by being able to fly in Northrend.

In particular this change will have a huge impact on gathering professions. How do you think a new player who is on their first level 68 toon is going to feel when they reach for that Tiger Lily only to have it plucked out of their grasp by another level 68 who swoops in on their flying mount. I’d be angry. In is one thing to have flying at level 77 apply to all; it is a vastly different thing to have flying apply to some characters and not to others. The net result is that the rich get richer and the newbies are put at an even greater disadvantage.


I recognize there is a sense in which alts already have an advantage over newbies in the sense that the players behind them have an experience base the new players haven’t developed yet. And these alts tend to be better funded in terms of gold and equipment. But I think those realities are different from heirlooms. First, the development of player experience is not uniform and it’s not something Blizzard has deliberately implemented. If anything, a mod like quest helper is a nerf to player experience and helps level the playing field in that regard. Secondly, gold transfers to low level alts don’t really speed the leveling process that much. Equipment purchasable on the AH at low levels is rarely better than what one gets from loot or quest rewards, assuming you can even find it on the AH anymore. While it undoubtedly has some impact on the leveling process, I don’t think it’s significant. Besides, gold is so freely available now it’s a moot point. My level 54 alt has more than 12K gold all which it has earned itself.

Account Development

What appears to me to be happening with heirloom items is a shift in developer focus from character development to account development. There are solid game life-cycle reasons to do this. For one, it’s almost always more profitable to retain a current account than to entice someone to create a new one. If giving you a few in-game rewards like +10% exp and a quicker access to flying mount convinces you to renew your subscription, it’s smart business sense. In fact, in a sly and subtle way it’s another incremental form of micro-transaction like Refer-A-Friend. Yet, unlike heirlooms, Refer-A-Friend had the redeeming feature of bringing new blood into the game.

At the heart of what bothers me about heirlooms items is this. Blizzard is saying that they deliberately want alts to have an advantage over newbies. And they are not being shy at wow about it. Nothing could be more in-your-face than flying. No one but you can see exp gains; most people aren’t paying attention to how fast others level. But everyone can see you fly. When your level 68 toon is riding around on his horse or raptor and the level 68 toon next to you is flying the message being sent in unmistakable: you’re the noob; you don’t count.

This is why I can’t agree with the commentary at Shy At Wow. It’s true that Blizzard can’t take away from one’s past experiences in an absolute sense. But that misses the point. The point of heirlooms is the relative value of future experiences. In this sense the term “heirloom” is a bit of a Jedi mind-trick. Heirloom items are not achievements, they are not laurels, they are not keepsakes. They are designed to give select players real in-game (not vanity) advantages in the future. With heirloom items—and flying in particular—Blizzard is saying that the future experiences of long-time subscribers is more important than the future experiences of new subscribers.

Maybe that’s right. Maybe for the overall health of the game Blizzard needs to give long-standing accounts this advantage to keep them in the game. But as someone who just recently leveled for the first time through Northrend I can’t say that idea of having to ride on my mechanostrider through the tundra while others in the low level 70s are flying around taking cobalt ore from me is a situation that would have given me a thrill. Maybe it would have prompted me to level faster but somehow I think /ragequit is more like it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How my fps issues were solved and I was born once again

I’ll start with a warning. This post is probably going to become a bit emo and annoyingly cheerful. But considering my state of mind I can’t stop myself.

This is the story:
Last week I made a sad post, sharing my frustration and fatigue after too long time with computer issues. The reception from the community blew me off completely. And somehow I got enough mana regen to wipe my tears and turn my computer over to some professionals. Even if I had done it so many times before that I seriously doubted it would help. My faith was damaged.

The episode ended as a classic cliffhanger, Larísa on the verge of giving up and quitting the game due to her constant PC problems. Now, a few days later, I thought that you deserved to get part two, the conclusion of the story.

I’ll give you the short version straight away: it helped. God help me, it really did. I guess someone will tell me now: “you just jinxed it”, but I can’t hold myself back, since I’m jumping around like a bouncing ball, flowing over with energy that needs to get an outlet. PPI is a place where you can share not only your sorrows, but also your happiness. So if you want more details, I’ll tell you what happened, the long version.

What was wrong
Just like many readers suggested it turned out that my fps problem was related to the processor fan. Even though it looked as if it worked, there was some problem with the attachment. If I had been a normal gaming computer geek and not just a middle aged noob, I guess I could have seen that and sorted it out by myself. But in my case it took the help from a professional eye to spot it. So they fixed it and charged me 40 dollars for the trouble seeking.

Of course I couldn’t be absolutely sure that the issue was all solved until I had tested it for myself. When I logged in the other night I didn’t know what to expect. I hoped that the shut-downs would be over, since the temperature apparently was back to normal. But would it affect the low fps that I’ve had for as long as I’ve been raiding?

I watched the bar on the login screen as it slowly progressed. And then I the world in Dalaran, the place that I’ve avoided as much as possible since the launch of WotLK, sick and tired of the maximum 10 fps and the staggering movements.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this the same place? I assure you that the experience is entirely different if you see it at a rate of 50 fps. How beautiful it was! How I enjoyed seeing the buzzing street life! And how strange it felt that I apparently didn’t have to worry about the cluster of people swarming outside the bank. Sure, it dropped a bit, but not any further than to 35. I could still move around in any manner I wanted to.

Suddenly I noticed that there was a lot of red coloured shouting going on in /general. Apparently a Wintergrasp fight was about to start any minute. This suited my plans perfectly and I jumped into a raid. It was early night and a ton of people were online. Three full raids and probably also a bunch of non-grouped players were bunching up waiting for the portal. But the expected grumping from my computer never came. As we began to attack the fort, I found myself in the new, peculiar situation to be able to move around, doing the things PvP players normally do - you know – targeting, strifing, jumping, whatever. It was awesome. Soon enough I had rank to drive a siege tank, but to my dismay we won the fight before I had been able to reach the very heart of it, which normally is a nightmare when it comes to fps.

But I already knew: The world had changed for me. I had been born once again as a WoW player.

I don’t know if I can ever explain it to someone who hasn’t experienced it. But I guess it’s as if I’ve been walking around my whole life with an eye problem, giving me a blurred vision. And now I’ve finally got a pair of glasses.

Hesitatingly I tried changing my graphical settings to something above the minimum ones. As I approached Ulduar for the raid of the night I grasped. The beauty and majesty of it was absolutely stunning. So this was how it was intended to look like! How little did I know!

How I sucked
I wish I could say that the first raid with my improved fps was a total success and that I shined, out-dpsing every other mage in the raid, but that would be a lie. On the contrary I did something ridiculously stupid that I’ve never done before: probably because I was so overwhelmed at the new perspective that I got a bit distracted. After killing General Vezax I realized that all the time I had been raiding carrying my fishing hat - through the trash and during the two tries we needed to down him.

/blush. I fail.

Furthermore, I did get hurt a couple of times in shadowcrashes and I died once in a green beam at Yogg, which isn’t exactly something I’m proud of.

There is definitely still room for improvement of my performance. But for the first time for a very long time I feel certain that my learning curve hasn’t stopped yet. I’m full of hope, totally motivated to work towards new, higher goals.

I tell you: I’ve never ever before been as happy in the game. I'm Gene Kelly, in the disguise of a pink pigtailed gnome, dancing through the streets of Dalaran.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wanted: protection against the lethargy from the veterans

The sun has passed zenith. I think we can agree on that one.

There are different opinions about how much longer WoW will shine. Most of us expect at least one or two more expansions (wouldn’t level 100 be a nice and even level to end the saga?) But there’s no doubt that the quality of light has changed. It’s older, warmer, and not glowing quite as intensely as it used to.

Still there are various perceptions of this light. Some players have gone further into the dusk. Those who have been around since WoW was launched are starting to look the same as they did when they tried to get from Stormwind to Ironforge swimming, so many years ago. They’ve got a fatigue debuff they just can’t get rid of, even if they try. They grump about how things were better in the old days, about the outrageous nerfs and about how bored they are, and how they can’t bring themselves to level yet another character.

Every time a possible replacement to WoW is launched (most recently Aion), there’s a big buzz going on. Maybe this will be THE one, who will cause the big exodus from Azeroth? But so far the seniors seem to keep hanging around as they always have. I guess it’s hard to break a habit, but they’re also wrapped up in social bonds, to guilds and to game friends. The community seems to be more important than the entertainment they actually get from the game itself.

Like an infectious disease
Since I’ve only played the game half as long as many others, I’m not really at the same level as they are if you look my WoW lifeline. The sun is still pretty high up in the air. It may have passed zenith, but there’s still a lot of power in it. I’m as passionate as ever, at least as long as I’m wise enough to stick to things that I like and skip stupid grinds such as dailies just for vanity purposes.

However, it isn’t entirely easy to always keep up your own enthusiasm when you’re surrounded by people who’re much further progressed on their wandering through Azeroth, people who have lost their hunger and mostly spend their time bitching about the changes and their lost paradise. There is a gloomy layer of dust covering more and more of the community – the blogs, the forums and the general chat channels online.

It’s like an infectious disease, which make you believe that the lethargy of the longtime players is your own, when you would in fact be as happy as ever playing your game, if you didn’t have to constantly inhale the toxic vapours from those “I’ve played the game too long” people.

Protected zones
Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t try to make some sort of protected zones for those who still enjoy the game. Imagine a special server entirely reserved for players who started to play in TBC or WotLK and still have sparkling eyes. Wouldn’t that be enjoyable?

And then we could make an equal server, like a home for elderly people, a place where they could bitch and long back to the old days as much as they like to, surrounded by other players who know exactly what they’re longing for. See it as a protection area for those who have played since the early days of vanilla WoW.

I’m not entirely serious about this suggestion, but I can’t help playing with the thought.

Somehow the situation of today reminds me of how some teachers deal with the trouble boys at school. They put quiet, shy girls between them, treating them as some sort of absorbing padding.

It’s a little bit like this with the newcomers to the game. They’re used as positive energy power field. The old, tired players are allowed to leech on their energy and enthusiasm for the game. (Yeah, Gevlon, there are different sorts of slackers when you think closely about it.)

Maybe we should put an end to this. Maybe it’s about time that we let the grumpy players care for themselves. Let them boil in their own stew and let them whine in company with each other.

Meanwhile, the people who still love the game can flourish and inspire each other in their upcoming adventures.

Of course the older players have a lot to offer to the community in the terms of knowledge and experience. But if this always comes with an equal amount of aoe lethargy, I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off without it.

Or at least we need some resistance gear so we don’t take so much damage.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Pixelated Life

Have you ever wondered if what we call “real life” isn’t someone else’s World of Warcraft. Perhaps this material world, solid to us, is pixels on the computer screen of some alien creature. What if you are the avatar.

Recently one of my neighbors with several children got a puppy dog. And in that mysterious way that like knows like, the puppy dog wont pay attention to anyone but the young children. She’s so cute as she scrambles after them on her tiny legs and she whines piteously when they go indoors and she can’t get in. But as I stood there with this glow in my heart as she gamboled about it occurred to me that maybe there was some overweight alien with long fangs and two heads in his underwear eating Cheetos and mashing the keyboard, muttering, “God, who designed this stupid Pit Bull creature.”


For the sake of easy reference let’s call this creature playing your life your Guardian Angel. I’ve decided to call mine Angela. She’s the one that keeps me from running the red light when my mind is away in outer space. She’s the one makes the decisions I fain to call intuition. She’s also a leveling manic.

A few years ago a friend said to me that all parents should enjoy their kids before the age of five because after five all kids want to do is grow up and act like adults. That certainly was true of me. I never was the type to hang out with kids my own age; if adults were doing it that’s what I wanted to do too. I was in such a hurry: got to grow up, got to get that degree, got to get that wife, make those kids, buy that house. It came as quite a shock to hit level 40. What happened. Where did all the time go. Maybe that is the reason I remain opposed to this trend by Blizzard to make faster mounts available at lower levels. It seems the last thing we need today is for youth to be in more of a hurry.

I think this also explains the time period when my life went all haywire. It seemed like I had become another person. Not in a radical way but nothing went right. I was associating with people: who were they, where did they come from. Why was I doing this job. That instance called India; that wasn’t me. I am convinced that an entire ten year period of my life can be explained by the fact that my Guardian Angel loaned her account to a friend.

Here’s a humbling thought: what if I’m just an alt. What if I’m just that character that somebody rolled and played for a while and decided they liked a Ret Pally better. What if they play with me only when they get bored running President Obama. Heaven forbid, what if their main is a Warlock. I don’t think I could handle knowing that.

Here’s another humbling thought. Pride. Think about how poets and other creative people talk about their muse. Oh ha ha ha. What would you think if every time you crafted that bag or enchanted an item your Warcraft character said, “My genius at work.” It sounds silly put that way. Maybe it is silly.

It’s actually quite liberating to realize that you are not in control of your own life. How is it your fault that you crashed the car. It’s that idiot angel who is still using the damn arrow keys to move; that’s the problem. They have a freaking mouse but noooo that’s not the way God taught them to do it.

The Forums

Think about the forums. It must be awesome. All those angels up there complaining about the Business Conference in Brussels lockout timer and how the developers in patch 2009.07.01 in Life: Europe are nerfing the economy and making it so hard to mine holiday time.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find the forums to be basically the same as on earth.

* Why do races have to be pretty? 06/30/2009 10:11:30 AM PDT

I just saw the dumbest post from a "girl" or troll who wanted the prettiest race. Although that might not have been serious, there are plenty of people who won't roll a class based on their attractive factor. Why must our toons be beautiful? I personally wish I would've rolled Horde when I started playing just because sans blood elf, their characters look more realistic. (obviously in-game realistic, not IRL :P) Orcs in my opinion are the ugliest race, but I'd still roll one. Who cares? To themselves they are attractive. Must we really be so superficial?

I imagine that’s exactly the type of thing they talk about in the Guardian Angel’s forum of Life: The Carebear. ($29.99 today only on Cloud Nine!)

And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if customer support was just as bad. How would you like it if you kept dying in Rwanda and some blue angel told you the game was “working as intended.” Or imagine you were the angel responsible for Adolph Hitler and when you whined about a keylogger and a hacked account they told you to get an authenticator.


There is a wise old saying that everything you play, plays you. I think it’s poignantly true. Perhaps this is the reason RPGs are popular. We want to run character’s lives because we grasp in some unconscious way that someone else is running our lives. Those pixilated characters are just the final installment of a chain of RPGs that go all the way up the seven levels of heaven and hell. We know that when we die someone out there somewhere is going to be wishing they had rolled a Tauren instead. So unconsciously we roll a Night Elf. Oh sweet revenge.

I realize of course that a game—perhaps the game—is only a metaphor. I don’t know if Angela is real. Sometimes I think she is. What I do know is if there is anyone out there clicking away, punching out the key strokes that are my life, this I know for certain. She makes me sweat.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reasons to share your failure stories

Only social people want to read confessions from other players about how their failures. If you blog about how you’re sucking at a certain aspect of the game, you’re just writing crap. No, the way to go if you’re the slightest serious about WoW is to share success stories, preferably including useful information about how to get there.

Well, as you probably suspect, those ideas aren’t my own. I’m trying to make a wrap-up of a recent post by Gevlon. Despite our differences in opinion, I happen to like him. Some bloggers find this affection of mine a bit strange, not to say incomprehensible. But Gevlon is one of my most loyal supporters, being one of the first in the community to read and comment on the PPI. I on the other hand gave him support and encouragement when he started to open his own business. This has created a bond between us, even though Gevlon maybe doesn't see it, since he doesn't believe in networking. And apart from everything else, I find it stimulating to get access to the minds of people who have a completely different view than my own. Sometimes they actually have some good points and if nothing else they force me to think and to find better arguments for my own beliefs.
Attacking I suck-stories
But let's end my defense speech about why I like Gevlon and go back to the topic:
For no apparent reason, Gevlon has suddenly decided to attack a funny little post written by one of my other favorite bloggers, Ixobelle, claiming that he’s writing about his shortcomings just in order to make the “socials” love him. Gevlon also promised in his post that for his own part, he will only share his success stories on his blog, supposedly at the dismay of the socials.
Actually I don’t think Ixobelle cares at all about Gevlon’s opinion on his blog (he would probably be slightly amused at the most if he read his post), so it really isn’t necessary that I pull my sword just to protect his honor. But I couldn’t refrain from picking up the topic anyway, since I'm passionate about how to write, how to communicate effectively and how to improve as an individual and as a group. And I don't share Gevlon's views on this at all.
If anything, I would rather take the opposite position:

I don’t care much about the success stories that are so common at WoW blogs these days. If you’ve manage to down whatever guy - from Hogger to Yogg-Saron - Big grats and good for you, but in 9 out of 10 cases it doesn’t make much of a good read and it’s quite rare that I learn much from it.
I’m more likely to read it and get inspiration from it if you before telling me about your success also share some tales about your less inspired moments. That will grab my attention and make you a trustworthy person.

How storytelling works
This is not rocket science. This is the way stories have been told for thousands of years. Look at the movies! Most of the successful ones, I would say, follow the same pattern. When you’re first introduced to the hero, you’ll probably see him in an everyday situation, which is far from perfect. You’ll see that he’s a human being just like you, and you’ll start to sympathize with him. AFTER this relationship is established, you’ll probably see him raising, being somewhat successful, and overcoming his sucking. Then there will be a little setback somehow, where everything doesn’t work as smoothly as it seemed to. But in the end the hero is likely to win.

There’s a reason why stories are told this way, Gevlon. It works. This actually goes back to my dear old rhetoric divinities, the Romans and the Greeks. They found that a good way to make the audience benevolent was start in a very humble way, pointing at your own weakness and flattering the audience for being bright and enlightened. “Humiliatio” as they called it. It’s still taught in speech classes as one of many tools to make sure that your message will come across. The most skilled speakers are actually the ones who while they’re sharing their fail stories, at the same time giving hints that will let the audience understand that the speaker in fact is awesome – he’s just too humble to notice it. This is a trick that takes a bit of skill. And of course it’s crucial that the audience don’t realize that it’s all a setup, intended to build up some credibility.

So Gevlon, if you want people to listen and learn from your FL+4 stories, you will probably be more likely to succeed if you can make them feel that you’re on the same side, that you’re humble and honest, and that you know what it’s like to fail. Once you’ve caught their attention, they’ll be much more interested to hear about your success, and actually maybe also follow your advice. You are like them. And you managed to overcome your weaknesses and win. There’s no reason that they couldn’t do it as well.

Different sorts of blogs
Another aspect of this is that Gevlon seems to forget that there’s a big diversity among bloggers. There are many sorts of blogs, just as books come in different genres. If you look at the shelves in a book store you’ll find that they offer books for any occasion. Some are for pure educational purposes. Learn to write Japanese in 30 days. 10 ways to become a better lover. How to get rich. Whatever.

Other books are biographies, true stories about fascinating people, that you can get inspiration from, even though you’ll not explicitly learn anything. And yet other books aren’t informative at all, they’re just there for entertainment and relaxation, to make you laugh or cry, to give you stories that you can come back to in your mind and perhaps share with your friends when you come to think about them in a conversation.

If you’ve ever followed the links from my blogroll you’ll probably be somewhat puzzled. There isn’t any clear red thread in my pick of favorite blogs. I read a wide range of blogs for various reasons, just like I read different kinds of books.

For instance, I’ve got a weird fascination for books about climbers other adventurers who who have been dealing with extreme situations, getting stuck at the top of Mount Everest and such. (If anyone reading this shares this taste, I'd like to point you to Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. It stands out since it's not only a good story - the guy is a talented writer as well.)

I re-read The Lord of the Rings every three years or so, not to learn anything, but because I like to escape into the world.

I read educating books about management and communications, because it’s interesting and because it’s helps me in my job.

And I adore the humoristic self biographical books by James Herriot, about the life of some vets in Yorkshire in the 40s (including a lot of “I suck” stories, which really make a funny read). Can I say that one of those sorts of books is better than the other? Do I think that I’m just wasting my time when I read books that aren’t relevant for my career? Of course not!

In the same way I enjoy reading Ixobelle’s spicy recounts from things he has experienced recently (including moments of sucking), as well as I like Tobold’s more dry, intellectual analyzing posts and Gnomeaggedon’s sweet, giggle-provoking weekend reports. They’ve all got a well deserved spot in my heart. And not necessarily because they’re telling success stories or giving useful information. There is a raison d’être for entertainment as well!

You may consider spending time on Ixobelle as wasted, but I certainly don’t.

Sharing fail stories in game
A final thought on this: I seriously wish that more WoW players would share their fail stories, not only in their blogs, but also in the game.

If I meet a player who’s constantly sharing his success stories, never ever mentioning any errors he or she has made, I become suspicious. If I was recruiting for a raiding guild, I would see that kind of attitude as a sign that the player is insecure, lacks self-insight and is generally pretty immature. I would rather look for players who display a sound amount of self distance and don't mind sharing less flattering stories, since they’re confident in themselves and know that they’re in the end are decent players.

I know this is a lot to ask for, and how honest you want to be depends very much on the atmosphere in the group you belong to. In some guilds I can understand that you’d probably think twice before admitting that you suck at something. However I think that establishing such a climate that players feel confident to share stories about their sucking is a very good thing for a guild.

I don’t mean that you should just laugh about whatever error you make. “WTF it’s just a game” and the shrug at it. (I guess it’s OK in a very social guild without any ambitions whatsoever in successful raiding. )

What I’m suggesting is that normal raiding guilds should strive for their players to be confident enough to admit when they suck and then direct their focus and energy towards discussions about what to do about it. The discussion should be lighthearted and yet constructive, aiming for solutions rather than for blaming.

If you use “I suck” stories the right way, they can actually be the beginning of your future success. Share it and gain an audience. Laugh at it. Learn from it. And finally head forward, a little bit stronger and wiser than you were before. And maybe even entertained.
There are many good reasons to tell the world, not only about our glorious victories, but also about our humbling failures.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sad and frustrated

Goddamn it, why can’t I just play the game like everyone else? Why do I have to spend so insanely much time into troubleshooting my constantly cranky computer? Is this my destiny? Am I somehow cursed? Those thoughts are currently whirling in my head.

I’m sorry to disappoint you if you were looking for a cheerful rant, giving you hope and energy to deal with your own challenges in WoW. In this post I’ll fail miserably to live up to the sweet link description that Hatch has given me on his blogroll “Larisa keeps me positive”. I hope you can forgive me. This isn’t exactly an ordinary post. I’m sharing and I’m ranting, because if I don’t get any outlet for the sadness and frustration that is boiling inside me, I’ll probably explode. So, if anyone is still reading, you can hereby consider yourself an appointed therapist, I hope it’s OK with you. I don’t ask for much. Just listen and give me a gentle pat if you want to.

Fps problems
So, what’s up? Well, this isn’t the first time I’m dealing with technical problems. I’ve written about my constantly bad fps before.

This problem remains and is an eternal source of annoyance. If you see it from the positive side, it makes raiding more challenging than it already is. “Move out of fire! – What fire! Oh, that fire, now it appeared on my screen. Let’s move then… am I moving? No idea… yeah, apparently I did, it finally responded to my hammering on the buttons, Larisa took a big jump forward.”

I’ve sort of become used to it and normally I get along decently well, even though I’m pretty sure that I would perform better with a smoother gaming experience. So this isn’t my major problem this time.

And it isn’t the vent hiccups that sometimes hit me, making it lag for short moments, where the ping rushes up to never-seen heights, the chat goes silent for a few seconds, and the all voices come at the same time. After all, this phenomenon doesn’t appear every night, most of the time I’m fine.

Computer shutting down
No, this time it’s worse, much worse. The computer has started to suddenly shut itself down completely, without any previous warning, as I’m playing WoW. It can happen once or several times in a raid. I can’t predict it and I get no warning about it whatsoever. Of course it’s not recommendable to raid under such conditions.

I’ve done the basic work… opening the pc, blowing away the dust, making sure that the fans work and running a program to check the temperature. So far no luck. Heating still is what comes first into mind, since we’ve had extremely high outdoor temperatures the last couple of weeks, affecting the indoor climate as well. But since the fans work I’m not entirely sure about it.

Yesterday night I finally had to give up and leave the raid after hours of unwelcome shutdowns. There was a stand in raider available and I was only a burden, not an asset, so there was no question about it. Still I felt smashed. I just couldn’t help it, but I cried out of sadness and frustration. Silent tears ran down my cheek as I tried to feel any joy in levelling my druid, something I can do without causing any harm to anyone else.

I cried, feeling hopeless and lonely, since I’m more or less helpless when it comes to technical matters. I’m like Elnia, who wanted a car that just works and doesn’t constant fixing and repairs. I want a computer that just works. I want to put my effort and energy into learning how to become a better WoW player, not into trying to figure out what’s up with the intestines of my machine.

The end?
Tonight I’m supposed to participate in the Twisted Nether Podcast. As I’m writing this I can’t guarantee it will happen. Since the computer seems to restrict its shutdowns to my WoW gaming sessions, I nourish a hope that it will work anyway. Skype and an Internet reader hopefully don’t put that much strain on the system, as long as I’m not playing. So hopefully I'll make it after all.

But in the long run. What will happen? Will I pull myself together once again, sorting this out, leaving the pc to some people trying to repair it once again (how many times is it worth keeping doing this)? Or will I even manage to persuade my family that it’s OK that I spend a fortune on a new computer, letting go of this wreck?

It’s not that I don’t have the means to buy a gaming computer, I’m a grown up and have a good income; it’s just that the difficulty of balancing family interests with my own interests once again will be spotlighted and I don’t know if I’m strong enough to take the discussion this time.

Will the lack of a reliable, good-enough computer be what puts and end to Larísa’s fantastic adventure in Azeroth earlier than I had though or wanted? It’s a worst-case scenario, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t come true. The future will tell.

So… this was the end of my sad rant. I’m rising up from the therapy bed, moving away to the armchair in front of the fireplace, where I’ll sit and sulk a bit until it the tears will stop falling altogether and I’m back to my normal self again.

I’m sure I’ll be able to write something positive next week. Just not right now.

Are you feeling guilty for not doing dailies?

First of all I want to state clearly that I don’t intend to name and shame anyone in this post. So please don’t take offence, Anea at Holy Discipline!

I don’t want to point you out as particularly strange or stupid; it’s just that your post hit something within me that put me on fire. It’s not that I’m anywhere different or better than you are. Probably I’m without knowing about it just as guilty of this kind of behaviour as you, and that’s why I’m so touchy about it.

What made me upset
People who haven’t read Anea’s post may wonder what’s up. What’s all this about?

Well, in this post Anea writes about how she feels guilty when she logs in and doesn't grind dailies, in this case the Argent Tournament amongst others. She obviously doesn’t enjoy them, particularly not the mounted ones. She keeps telling herself she’ll do it next day, then she ends up not doing them, and then she gets annoyed with herself for escaping from her duties.

And this makes me shake my head in disbelief. What IS this, really? Feeling guilty, over what? Feeling guilty over doing something else in the game which you probably thought was more fun and enjoyable? Aren’t we escaping into the game to get AWAY from the real life duties, chores, burdens and tedious work? Isn’t the workload in real life enough, do we have to throw ourselves into things that we hate online and then blame ourselves when we do something else?

Seriously, being disciplined is a good thing, probably even in WoW, but save it for good reasons!

Turning my back to it
A little while ago I suddenly realized that I didn’t enjoy the Argent Tournament dailies and turned my back to it. I haven’t looked back yet. Even the information that there will be dailies in the next patch that I can’t do unless I have the crusader title is enough to pull me back to it on a regular basis.

Why? Because for me those vanity items like titles, mounts and pets are what it says: vanity. They’re optional. Not something I MUST have to feel happy about my character progression.

Admittedly Blizzard is planning to add a little bit of usability to one of the pets. He will be upgraded to a portable post box every so and so hour. But seriously, how often do I need that on my mage, which I don’t play much outside of raiding? It would be useful for my druid alt, questing in remote areas, bags about to explode with all those quest items, extra healing gear, cloth from drops and leather from skinning. But for my mage? Not very often.

So unless I’ll find something else that shows that I a crusader title is crucial to me to perform as a raider, I’ll stick to my promise to myself: to only do those dailies when I feel up for it. And I don’t feel guilty about it for a second.

Of course you can set up goals for yourself, goals that sometimes include a bit of grinding, that you’re willing to go through because the sweetness of the reward. But feeling guilty if you're not sticking to the original plan? Isn’t that way out of proportion?

Reasons for feeling guilt
The only reason I can see for feeling guilt is if you’re breaking the social contract you’ve made with other people in game. If I would turn up to raids in last minute, demanding a summon, without being repaired, without having flasks and proper gear, without knowing the tactics. Or even worse, if I’d stand people up, not coming to an appointment, without giving any explanation or making efforts to get in touch with them. If that would happen I’d rightfully feel ashamed at myself.

But feeling guilt over not throwing yourself into the time sinks handed out by the developers to keep us occupied until the next patch? No, just no.

Dear Anea, dear Larisa and dear anyone else who has a tendency to fall into the guilt trap: Get out of there immediately! Enjoy whatever activity you’ve picked instead of the daily grind. Be stronger! You deserve to be happy, whatever you’ve chosen to do with your game time.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Twisted again!

It looks as if Larísa is about to be twisted again.

This Friday, July 3, I’ve been invited to participate in a round table discussion at the Twisted Nether Blogcast Show, which will be sent in a live transmission.

We’ll be discussing the noble art of class balancing, but also pondering upon the news about the upcoming 3.2 patch. This will indeed be an interesting exercise, since it’s normally not the kind of topics I think or rant very much about at the PPI.

Hopefully I’ll have something to say about it anyway, and if not, you can at least enjoy the wisdom and wits of the other guests: Patrick Beja from How I WoW, Big Bear Butt from the blog with the same name and Bre, former hostess of TN and keeper of Gun Lovin’ Dwarf Chick.

The show is scheduled at a “Euro-friendly” hour, which means that it will be sent at 9 PM European game time. For US people this equivalence to noon PST or 3 PM EST.

If you want to listen to the show live and participate with questions from the chat room, you can check out the details about what to do and where to go here.

If you can’t attend the show but want to listen afterwards, you’ll be able to do so the following week, when the recording will be released.

And now I’d better go back to updating myself on the patch notes...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A flood of epics doesn’t make up for lack of content

I like sweets. Salt liquorice, chocolate, fudge, I’m all in for it – as long as there’s about a handful or two of it. Then I hit a wall and my pleasure is suddenly turned into nausea.

I wonder if it isn’t a bit like that with epic loot. Don’t we eventually reach a point, when the abundance of it is about as sickening as spending too long time in a toy store and you desperately long for some fresh air?

Badge changes
I come to think of this as we’re approaching the 3.2 patch. The player community is eagerly waiting to see what Blizzard has in mind for us this time. It’s like an extra visit from Santa Claus coming in the middle of summer. The real Christmas gifts won’t come until the next expansion, but knowing that we’ll get cranky if he keeps us waiting too long, he drops by to give us some presents for consolation.

This time the bag of Santa Claus seems to be filled with sweet purple delights. He has sprinkled every heroic instance with badges that can be converted into shiny epic gear. Some players get a bit grumpy about it, others will cheer since they’ll finally be able to sparkle (or at least they think they will, how little do they know!)

I look at it and I shrug a bit. As far as I can tell it doesn’t change much to my gameplay. My motivation for raiding has very little to do with loot. It’s all about the challenge and experience, about seeing development and improvement, for myself and for my group. And I think I share that philosophy with most of my fellow raiders. I don’t think anyone of us would be interested in swapping one of our 25 man raids for a night of farming 5-man heroics for badges, even though it would give more gear return compared to the time investment we’ve made. Raiding is simply more fun than farming heroics. And we’ll also get a new raid instance that will take over now that we’re about to finish Ulduar. So basically it’s business as usual.

Lack of content
But at the same time I can’t help feeling a little bit sorry for the “casual” players, who are supposed to be the ones that will benefit most from this change. Yeah, I feel sorry for them. Even if the sweets, the easy-attainable epics – may seem nice at a first glance, they’ll just give you a bad stomach and leave you with a feeling of emptiness after a while.

What players want most of all isn’t purples. It’s content. If you’re a somewhat serious player, but have with real life obligations and priorities which prevent you from joining a raiding guild, your options are rather limited to say the least, especially if you prefer group PvE to PvP or the chase for vanity items and achievements.

You can’t run the current five-man instances more than every so many times before they turn into a boring grind. The achievement versions can keep up your interest and challenge for a while, but at least the harder ones can be something of a pain to find a pug for.

It doesn’t take too long at level 80 before you’re basically overgeared for all Northrend instances. The only exception is Occulus, where gear didn’t matter, but that’s about to change as well.

This isn’t exactly new; it has been the state of the game for a while, but with the improved badge loot the situation will become even worse. Running the 5-mans is about as exciting as to grind elementals, pick herbs or solo Deadmines.

The better gear you get the less excitement will you get from the process of obtaining this gear. You’re eating candy but all you get is pain in your stomach.

New content
Admittedly, some new content will be offered in the patch. We’ll get one new five man instance, and one new instance is certainly better than none. But still – the “new car scent” in it will wear off pretty quickly, and definitely not last us until the next expansion.

So is there anything good in the upcoming changes for the serious player with casual playtime? Well, I’ve spotted one thing so far. I think the findings from about the possibility of prolonging the raid lockout up to two weeks are interesting.

Provided that you can make the concept work practically (so you for instance don’t risk to get locked into a failed pug-save longer than necessary), it opens new possibilities for all players who can’t raid more than one night a week. They can form decent guilds with likeminded and have a chance to make progress in raid instances in their own pace, thus getting access to new content.

This is really a good thing. Blizzard has moved from the “none-or-everything” philosophy, making it possible for raiders to come in different shapes. There’s certainly something for everyone.

Still: I would have preferred to see more carrots and fewer sweets in 3.2. It would make me a happier player in the long run. We’ll see what the future will show. Maybe all gifts from Santa Claus haven’t been revealed yet?