Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Parental controls for everyone? No thanks!

I didn't read books when I grew up. I devoured them.

Oh, those summer vacation days in our cottage in the mountains, where the only access to the outer world we had was a radio which barely could receive the late night weather report. Telephone and TV was out of my reach for weeks and no one had yet any personal computer at home. So much time! So little to do.

On rainy days I could easily read two novels a day. Asimov. Clarke. Bradbury. Lewis. Heinlein. LeGuin. Tolkien, of course. Sometimes I cried when I finished them because I didn't want them to end. My solution was to immediately start them over again, reading them a second time. It wasn't as good as the first time, because of the diminishing returns effect. But it was good enough for me to enjoy them.

Did I ever think that there was a problem with that I got so immersed into those books? Did I ever wish that my parents had put some kind of control over my reading, forcing me not to read more than at most an hour a day, to let the books last longer? Of course I didn't! And I don't think anyone else did either. We all knew that there was a natural limit to this excessive reading. Soon enough I would be back to school and I couldn't spend entire days in my bed just reading. (Only the nights, since my parents had a stay-up-as-long-as-you-like-as-long-as-you're-reading-policy, but that's another story.)

Final Fantasy
I come to think of this as I read last week about the player restrictions that are planned for Final Fantasy XIV. You won't be able to get full XP for your character more than 8 hours a week. If you still want to play after that, you're better off playing something else.

Some bloggers were critical, but quite a few seemed to think it was pretty much OK. It will even out the conditions that different players have, making it easier for players with a casual schedule to keep up with players who have a lot of time at hands. And it might also, according to some, help to prevent unhealthy addiction, which ever so often is brought up as an argument against gaming.

I'm not planning to play FF for my own part, but I'm definitely not a fan of this kind of constructions, where you're imposing versions parental controls on the players, using the carrot and the stick to direct them towards a certain pattern of how they spend their game time.

WoW has a way softer approach to this with the XP system, offering extra bonuses instead of putting up a limit like FF. But the game isn't free from parental controls. There are ways which will steer players into the assumption WoW should be played in small, regular chunks and nothing else. Log in every day. Spread the time, don't let it stack up on one day. Because such behavior will be punished! It will cost you frost badges and it will make some of the seasonal achievements impossible to complete.

A question of fairness?
You could ask why they're doing is. Fairness has been mentioned. I don't know. Is it fair that someone who can't spend a single hour on WoW during the week but can play all day long on Saturday, only will be able to grab two frost emblems that week, regardless of how many 5-mans he runs that day? Is it fair that players who are on a job schedule where they work intensively for three weeks but have one week off the fourth week, only can play those 8 hours on their favorite character in FF?

I remember that Gnomeaggedon, who was one of those who suffered badly from this, only playing WoW for one or two nights a week, campaigned about this in the past, demanding a more flexible system that would acknowledge that players will locate their gaming hours differently depending on their life situation. Some play rarely, but a lot once they're online. Other play in small chunks regularly. There's no reason why one should be punished over the other.

Actually it seems as if Blizzard has listened to Gnome. When they announced the new point system in Cataclysm that will replace the badges of today, they said that they'll change it. There will be a cap on how quick you can earn them, but the limit will be set per week instead of per day. A big improvement if you ask me! It won't increase the rate at which the players consume the game in the aspect that they're gearing up their toons. But it will add more freedom, which is about time.

In a world where more and more jobs are done on a flexible schedule, where you work more or less hours depending on the current situation, it seems out-of-date to clinge to a strict only-once-a-day-system. They've even found ways to soften the once-a-week lockouts from raid intances. It's a natural development.

Why they're doing it
Back to Final Fantasy. Tobold was a on the fence in his post, waiting to give his judgement on the design of the XP system until he's seen it in action.

I will take sides though. I just don't like it when you build in parental controls to a game that is intended for an adult audience. We should be able to decide for ourselves how much time we want to dedicate to a game and where in the week we want to put it.

I devoured books as I grew up and I don't believe it made me any harm, as I don't think anyone will be hurt from spending a rainy weekend day devouring a video game. If someone has an unhealthy addiction they'll find a way to work around it anyway, raiding an army of alts. Artificial limits won't help.

So what is the real reason for game companies to maintain this kind of constructions? For a subscribed MMO there's no doubt about it. It's about money. Subscription fees. If players can't maximize their character in XP and gear from dailies, it means that they'll have a reason to play the game a little longer. They can sell you another subscription month.

There are reasons to introduce patronizing limits. But I suspect that it's more motivated by profit than by concern about the players.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Preparing for a brutal wake-up in Cataclysm: Time to suffer!

I had almost forgotten about how it used to be to level a mage a few years back in time.

Do you remember? I always spent half of my time online in a grey blur, trying to find the way to my body (and inevitably bumping into some wall you couldn’t climb).

If I was lucky enough to last longer than the mob I was attacking, I had to sit down to drink and eat before I could think of assaulting a new one. “One mob at a time”. That was my mantra.

And oh, the horror if two mobs turned out to be linked to each other, and they were of the unsheepable sort! You had only one option: Run away little girl, run away!

Survival strategies
As I grew more experienced I became better at avoiding those situations. Some quests required you to kill mobs that were annoyingly grouped up, three of them helping each other out, assembled around a little camp, like the gnolls in Redridge. I learned the hard way to not even think of attacking those. I was way more efficient to be patient and wait until one of the solo strollers respawned again, the one you knew you could bring down without any problem.

I also got the hang of some handy mage moves. Frost nova-blink-turn around. Throw a frostbolt to slow them down, run away, fireball, frostbolt again. It wasn’t fast, but at least I survived.

All this drinking. All this eating. It bored me to death but what was a gnome supposed to do when the self bandaging and evocation was on cool down?

It wasn’t until much later on that I realized that the mage experience was different from how the game appeared to almost everyone else.

Some classes had pets to tank for them! Some classes had armor that actually protected them against damage. I don’t say anything about frost mages, because they had their own ways. But as a fire mage you were utterly fragile. Call it unfair if you want to, but that’s how it was.

Turning into a killing machine
With the arrival of Wrath we entered a new era. Suddenly I could take out not only one, but several mobs, without hesitation, chain pulling as I was questing my way through Northrend.

You’ve probably forgotten it, but at least on my server, the frostweave cloth was insanely exclusive during the first few weeks. Unless you were dirty rich you couldn’t really afford to make bandages out of them, when you could sell them at AH at 40-50 g per stack. This meant that I had to level without having any powerful bandage available, but this turned out not to be such a big problem. In Wrath you didn’t bandage, even as a mage. You were a killing machine.

As time passed, I started to take this for granted. It was easy to play a mage and the harsh life of a cloth wearer turned into a distant memory. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

A brutal wake-up
To be honest we’ve run on auto pilot for an entire expansion. But now, my friends, it’s time to prepare for a wake-up that will be brutal.

Recently Blizzard increased the damage that the creatures do in the beta significantly. And with significantly I’m talking about doing four times the damage they used to do.

I’ve been following the reports about what this means for mages at The Mana Obscure with increasing anxiety. Here’s a little example of what Gazimoff has to say about it:
“The other big change is that creature damage has been heavily ramped up from level 65 onwards. Level 82 outdoor creatures now do four times as much damage as they used to, which is horrendous news for cloth classes with little to no damage mitigation.

Currently, solo questing involves constant use of mana shield, counterspell and frost nova. And that’s for every single pull, just to stay alive. Going toe to toe with mobs in Deepholm is an excruciating experience – you have to work hard to take down a single mob. If you have anything add to the fight, you’re toast. Don’t forget that Polymorph won’t help you there as almost everything you fight is an elemental of some description.”

Like anything in Cataclysm it isn’t set in stone yet. They developers are still asking for feedback. Apparently the increase of damage is intended, as expressed in this blue statement:

[...] The idea isn't for you to be in Godmode, mowing through everything in your path. The idea is - in fact - for you to have to stop to rest, bandage, heal, every once in awhile. If you are reckless you will absolutely die. This is intended.”
On the other hand they say that the intent not is to force players to rest after every single solo pull. Maybe it won’t turn out quite as bad as it looks now in the end. I trust on the beta testers to give developers adequate feedback in the discussion thread.

My views on it
So what’s my personal view on making the mobs more lethal? Am I actually complaining about it, arguing that things should stay as they were in Wrath?

No, definitely no. It’s a wake-up and it will be a bit of a shock, but I think it’s a good step.

Levelling becomes more fun and interesting if you’re required to use a few more of the tools you have in your mage arsenal. I’m looking forward to sheep one mob so I can take down the other one, to frost nova and blink away. This makes me feel like a mage and not just like a generic cast-damaging-ball-of-something machine.

However I think it’s important to balance it well and not go from one extreme to another The scenario that Gazimoff describes, where you barely can take down one single mob doesn’t sound much fun to me. Running abut in the mists of death gets old quickly. And I cringe at the thought of spending excessive amounts of time just sitting on my ass, drinking and eating – especially if other classes with self healing and defense mechanisms will be better off.

Having a meal together with the rest of your party is one thing; I can put up with that. But I hate it when everyone else have to wait for thast slow mage to finish her recovery. Like I don't appreciate when other classes can level up way quicker, taking down several mobs at a time when a squishy barely can take down one.

If I’m going to struggle and suffer as I'm levellinging in Cataclysm, it should be the same for everyone else. Give me a better protecting shield or let the mobs hit harder on classes that have more protection than cloth. Whatever that makes it even.
I'm mentally preparing myself for hard times, the brutal wake-up in Cataclysm. Are you ready?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Old legendaries will count!

Last week I was a bit worried at a blue post, which implied that only legendaries you had acquired after the launch of Cataclysm would count towards the guild achievement “We are legendary”.

Now it turns out that there was no need to worry.

Mumper, Lead Content Designer at Blizzard, posted:

“We are making a exception for this guild achievement. Any legendary items you have already earned will count.”

That should settle it. There are still a few things that are unclear. What happens if someone who has a legendary joins your guild? Does that count? Or if you got a legendary back in time, but that player has quit the guild? Will it or won’t it count?

The logical solution to me would be that you won’t get the achievement just because someone who carries a legendary joins your guild. You should have to be a member of the guild at the point you get the legendary. That’s the entire point of the achievement – to reward guild efforts. If someone leaves the guild with the weapon I think the achievement still should stay in the guild.

But you never know. I suppose it depends on what’s possible to track from a technical point of view.

Anyway, I was glad to learn about this exception. Guilds that have worked hard and stayed together for many years will have an advantage and already be far on their way towards the legendary achievement at the start of Cataclysm. That’s only fair.

Blizzard’s Maestro Speaks Up

If you ran a podcast and were offered the opportunity to get an interview with someone in the Blizzard staff – completely at your own choice, who would you pick?

I bet many of you would answer “Greg Street, a.k.a. Ghostcrawler”, without thinking twice. Thanks to his active presence in the community forums during the last few years and his rather open attitude – not always as polished you might expect – he has reached a top-of-mind position in the community. Speaking for myself I can immediately picture him if you mention his name – but if you ask me about how Michael Morhaime looks, I honestly don’t know.

As a podcast producer, you would know that Ghostcrawler would be a safe card to play to get a huge audience for your show. There’s no one out there who doesn’t care about what that guy has to say.

The choice of The Instance
Recently the grand old WoW podcast The Instance, still going strong after several years in the business, was given this choice, as they were preparing for their 200th episode and wanted to celebrate it in style.

I don’t know of any other WoW blog or podcast that would get such a thing, but The Instance has a special position. They’ve got an official approval, as a member of Blizzard’s fansite program, and it appears as if they also have a lot of personal connections to people on the inside. And apart from that, I think they’re doing this at least on a half-pro basis, but I might be wrong there.

Anyway. The Instance is huge, respected, popular and loved by Blizzard, so they could pick whoever they wanted. But to my surprise, they didn’t ask for Ghostcrawler (or at least that’s not what they say.) They asked for someone who isn’t as high profiled as many of the others, but who never the less has a huge impact on how we perceive the game, even if we don’t think about it.

Instead of going for one of the highest profiled developers, The Instance went for an interview with Russell Brower, who is ultimately responsible for all music in WoW and some other Blizzard games as well. It was a bit unexpected, but also a very good choice.

Getting the player perspective
There are no revolutionary news released in the interview, and Russell dodges elegantly any question about the “secret MMO project”, which was to be expected. But nevertheless, the guy is just nice to listen to, and I found it especially interesting to hear about the creative process going on in the sound team, which consists of no less than 16 people.

There’s more thought put into this than you might imagine and Russell stresses how important it is to see the game from the perspective of players of all kinds as you’re composing the music. It shouldn’t just enhance the experience of a new raid instance or a questing zone, it should also work for someone who mainly plays the AH.

What I found especially cool was to hear that Russell Brower has been listening to The Instance ever since he started his job at Blizzard. He hadn’t played World of Warcraft before, and he wanted to quickly get into the feeling of how the players think and what they experience in the game, see the game through their eyes. Listening to the podcast helped him to get a better understanding. And who knows, maybe there are more ears in the Blizzard HQs that are listening to and reading our stuff than we imagine?

Russell concluded the interview, saying that this appearance in The Instance was a “dream come true” to him. Maybe he was just polite. However, he really sounded as if he meant it, and I actually believed Scott when he described him as “The Nicest Guy at Blizzard”.

By the way – now I know how he looks, thanks to listening to The Instance. He’s a look-a-like copy of King Theodren in the Lord of the Rings movie (after the curse has been cured, I should add.) It’s true! Pictures on the webs confirm it.

My congratulations
So. I think it’s about time that I come to the actual point of this post, namely to tell you to go and download and listen to the 200th episode of The Instance.

If you haven’t heard the show before, I can tell you that it’s always a nice listening, since the hosts Scott and Randy have a special chemistry between them that sets a nice and cosy atmosphere. There are so many blogs and podcasts out there that spend most of their energy on complaining about things. (Yeah, I too do that sometimes, getting a little jaded, grumpy and whiny.) The Instance is different. Their lighthearted and relaxed attitude towards the game and the community is contagious and I often find myself smiling as I listen to their banter.

Episode 200 is extra long, about 2.5 hours, and has several special appearances for the occasion. Apart from Russell Brower, there is for instance an interview with no one less than Felicia Day, the woman behind the wonderful series The Guild. Go listen to it. You won’t get disappointed.

And finally I’d like to grab the opportunity and congratulate The Instance on their Big Day. Doing 200 shows is awesome, especially since they hold such a high quality (at least the later ones; I can’t speak for the first 100 episodes, which I haven’t listened to). As if this wasn’t enough, they’ve also managed to create and maintain an iconic, flourishing guild consisting of 3 000 people. Don’t ask me how. It sounds like a nightmare to me, but it seems to work.

You guys are imba. Here’s to you and to the next 200 episodes (you promised!):


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Someone’s watching

I’ve never quite understood the attraction of Big Brother and its clones.

Well, I can understand it from the point of view of the producers. Putting up a camera and just recording what random people are doing is probably a lot cheaper than making up real content, hiring professional writers, journalists and actors.

But if you’re in the audience? Just how fun is it to watch someone else scratching their butt, drinking milk directly from the fridge or mumbling something incoherent to someone you can’t see or hear because he’s too far away?


I suppose I’m just old and don’t get the pry-into-other-people’s-lives fascination that is the mark of the Facebook generation.

Stalking the top guilds
Anyway. If you’re into this kind of viewing and nurture a fascination for the players in the high-end raiding guilds, you have something new to follow.

Recently the guilds For the Horde and Ensidia launched a new joint website, called Manaflask, which includes a streaming feature.

A handful of players have been chosen as study objects. Kungen, guild leader of Ensidia, is one of them. According to the announcement the stream will follow him “whatever he plays” – WoW as well as other games.

And I can’t help thinking: “Ouch!” How fun could it be to have a camera stalking you like that. When you just feel like a quiet fishing session in Grizzly hills, if you’re chatting away with a buddie, not doing anything cool, or just trying on a silly old hat you found in your bank vault – is that something you’d like to share with the world?

Obviously it is, because otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But it certainly isn’t my cup of tea.

Watching Kungen playing SC II
I’ve checked out the streams a couple of times to see what it looks like in action. Once I noticed someone entering a battleground, another time a guy was doing HoL and it looked exactly the same as it does to me.

Most of the time, there wasn’t much going on at all. Judging from how few of the streams that have been up, the participants in the WoW Big Brother currently have other priorities in life than to play video games. Or maybe they got tired of the attention after all and shut down the camera, what do I know?

There’s no question though that there’s a huge interest for it; they have a sold base of fans, eagerly following every step they take.

One night I managed to slip into a live stream of Kungen’s. And I was far from alone; there were over 100 other people following his ventures in Stracraft II in a party with a bunch of friends. I didn’t get much of how they were doing, since the lag was horrendous and it looked more like still pictures than as a fluid movie. The most interesting part of it was the vent conversation, which also was streamed. All the guys spoke Swedish, and I smiled to myself as I realized that most of the 100 listeners probably didn’t understand a word of what they said. I felt a little exclusive.

A couple of minutes of watching was more than enough though, and I left quickly, bored out of my mind. I think you at least need to have a basic clue about the game that is streamed to get any enjoyment whatsoever out of it.

My next try to follow a stream failed miserably. This time they were apparently sending an Ensidia ICC 10 man hc raid, which could have been somewhat interesting to watch, seeing how the “pros” do it. But now they had put a limit of the number of viewers at a maximum of 50, and I never made it to be one of those.

Hiding for competitors
According to the website, Ensidia is currently raiding ICC and Ruby Sanctum HC once a week, clearing it in a couple of hours. So if you’d like to see how it “should be done” you might want to try to get a spot in that streaming channel. (Good luck!)

Don’t count on them to keep the stream up once Cataclysm hits though. Then the cameras will be promptly switched off. As Azmara says:

“The streams will probably get put on hold while progress rolls around, same for logs, progress logs won’t be public. If you’re pushing for a world first the last thing you want is your competition looking over your shoulder”.

For my own part I wouldn’t like to have anyone looking over my shoulder at any time. Just having someone within our guild record something we're doing, putting it at Youtube, makes me slightly nervous.

I definitely wouldn’t fit as a Big Brother participant, neither in real life, nor in Azeroth.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I facepalmed before getting the mount of my dreams

Sunday night offered a mixed bag of WoW moments.

It started with a huge /facepalm, one of the worse “I’m an idiot”-realisations that I can remember from my years of playing. However it ended with a beautiful ride where the hero rides off into the sunset. All is well that ends well, isn’t that the saying?

Facepalm moment
But let’s start on the bad side.

Have you ever felt stupid in WoW? I mean REALLY stupid, angry with yourself for being incredibly thoughtless and careless and what-not? This was one of those occasions.

It was initiated by a spontaneous application from a mage, posted on our forums, as all apps are. I had a look at his Armory profile and was a little bit concerned with one of his choices of glyphs. It wasn’t the standard one which EJ recommended, at lest last time I checked them out. But I wanted to be sure, so I went to my own profile to have a look at my glyphs. And that’s when I got the shock.

I was specked arcane, but my main glyphs were intended for a frost spec! No kidding. Where I expected to find Arcane Blast and Arcane Missils, I stared in disbelief at improvements of Frostbolt and my non-existent Water Element!

I don’t want to think about for how long this has been the case. It’s for long, that’s for sure. I remember experimenting a bit with a second arcane spec, which replaced a frost offspec that I put up with the intention to see if I was capable of aoe-farming (which never came any further than to an idea). I can clearly see why and when the mix-up happened.

Not having your main nukes glyphed is a massive downer, and I feel really horrible about it. Our guild is doing hardmodes, for crying out loud! We’re bringing pots and flasks and buff food, squeezing out every little inch of dps we can. And I make a major error like this? It’s on par – or worse – than not using the maximum rank of a spell.

However you can’t change the past by dwelling on it, sulking and hitting yourself in the head. What’s done is done and what counts is that I’ve fixed it and that I’ve learned my lesson. From now on I’ll be paranoid about checking my glyphs.

Ulduar hardmodes
Let’s move on to the pleasant part of Sunday night, the sunset.

As always on Sunday nights we were gathering a 10-man raid to go and grab some more hardmodes and achievements in ICC, where our goal is to get mounts to everyone. We have quite a few already but since especially the ranged dps has to rotate a lot, some of us still are missing out a couple of achievements.

This Sunday night first seemed to be a disappointing no-go, since one of our tanks had technical issues and couldn’t log into the game. We were left with 9 raiders, no main-spec tank and one off-spec tank. Not be best setting for ICC hardmodes, not even with the 30 percent buff.

We didn’t let this stop us though. One of our dps:ers switched to an alt paladin, geared for tanking, and off we went to Ulduar, to do some hardmodes for the Rusted Proto-Drake.

First off was Firefighter. How much hadn’t I heard about that fight? Supposedly about the hardest one you could find in Wrath. And I’m sure it was back in time before everyone was overgeared. Now we got him down on second try, and it really isn’t much to brag about. But nevertheless it was really fun to run around in a sea of fire, looking out for dangers coming from all directions. “Don’t stand in fire” has definitely got a new meaning after seeing this fight.

When we were about to face General Vezax, our ordinary tank had managed to come online, so we did him quick enough with a full group before we moved on to Yogg-Saron.

Last time I faced him was back in January in a 25-man group, when we went back to finish the legendary mace. And before that it had been ages since I set my foot in Ulduar. So it felt slightly awkward to try to remember this fight, now with added difficulty, such as not having any access to sanity wells. It turned out to be as fun and chaotic as I remembered – or even better – in this spiced-up version. We didn’t have to struggle too badly though, and after a few tries I could see him go down.

Oh, the joy! Sure, we were way overgeared and I’m perfectly aware of that it doesn’t give me any bragging rights, at least not compared to what it would have one year ago. But nevertheless – it always gives me a nice feeling to tick of another check box, to reach completion of a goal. My Glory of the Ulduar Raider achievement was finished and a brand new proto-drake was awaiting me in the mail box.

I added it to my collection, headed for the flight point in Dalaran and took of into the night. The model was the same as my seasonal-achievements-mount, but the colour was more down-to-earth, rust instead of purple.

Isn’t it a bit funny by the way? A brand new dragon that comes full of rust. Reminds me a bit of the denim trousers that are sold worn out, complete with holes and everything.

I’m totally happy about it though, and it will surely become my mount by default. At least until I get the ICC one.

My next goal
What remains now for me now is to get the hardmodes in ICC I’m missing for the mount and to kill Algalon. Yeah, and Halion. Due to my vacation I haven’t made it into any of those raids yet. After that I think I’ll consider myself pretty much done with Wrath, ready to face whatever lies ahead of us in Cataclysm.

I know one thing for sure though. In Cataclysm I’ll see to that I always have the right glyphs.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's it like to be an older player?

I'm 42 years old and still playing WoW. And you know what? I'm not ashamed about it at all.

I wrote about this issue recently and won't repeat myself. However, I've written a follow-up on this, where I talk a bit more in depth about what's it like to be above the average age in WoW.

There has been a lot of discussions about gender issues lately, but what about age? Does ageism exist in Azeroth?

And what about performance? In sports, it's very rare that high age gives any kind of advantage, on the contrary. Can you expect a 40+ year old player to perform and act the same way as someone who is 20?

In my post I'm listing the advantages as well as disadvantages of being older in WoW. My conclusion is that on the whole I believe the older players have the upper hand.

If you'd like to read this post, head over to the blog The Company of the Wolf, where I'm appearing as a guest writer. (Link to the post)

Do you feel like commenting on the topic? Are you agreeing or disagreeing? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment to this post, since The Company of the Wolf isn't open for comments.

Edit: since there are a few readers who have reported problems to access The Company of the Wolf, I’ve decided to post my guest post here as well. I hope they’ll sort out the issues soon – it’s a nice blog, well worth following. Cheers at Jeff and Rebecca and than you for letting me post at your blog as well!

And here’s the post:

Being an older player – for good and for bad

There’s a lot of talk about gender issues in MMOs going on these days. There are entire blogs dedicated to this perspective on gaming, and it’s understandable. Female gamers have broken a lot of ground over the years, but there’s still much more to be done.

But sex isn’t the only way to sort the players in different segments. There are other dividers. Age for instance. In this I’d like to talk about this, because we don’t do it very much normally.

On most occasions when age comes up as a discussion topic, it’s about discrimination. Not of older players, but of younger ones. It’s quite common that guilds put up a minimum age limit as a way to protect their mature social climate, or to keep feeling free to use an explicit language in the chat channels without having to worry about how it affects the kids.

Some younger players complain about this, rightly pointing out that there isn’t any automatic connection between age and maturity. Many grown-ups behave ridiculously childish as soon as they enter an MMO, causing drama wherever they go. And there are teenagers who lead raids and guilds as well as any CEO.

However, in the end every guild is a social club that sets up its own rules, and I really can’t blame players who prefer to socialize with people about their own age for being prejudiced and narrow minded.

Prejudices against older players?
But what about the opposite; are there prejudices around against older players?

I’ve always been open about my age. It’s not as if I’m shouting it out from the rooftops – and these days I consider a PUG where you say as much as “hi” and “goodbye” as chatty. The topic rarely comes up. But if someone asks, I’ll answer truthfully (currently 42, if you’re wondering).

Until this day I’ve never been ridiculed for it, at least not that I know of. Most players don’t care, and if anything I’ll get an appreciating nod: “Cool”, after which we get back to Killing dragons or whatever we were up to..

However I don’t think the community is entirely free from views about elder players. I was reminded of this as I listened to episode 14 of the podcast The Mana Obscura. I wasn’t able to transcribe every word, but the conversation between the hosts was something like this:

“I am now the grand old age of 31”
“You’re officially old!”
“I’m not officially old, that happens when you turn 40!”
“Didn’t someone turn to you and say you’re too old to play Warcraft?” [Starts talking about a recent instance run]
“There was a 58 year old guy… He was sitting in BRD with us this moment”
“What a way to spend your retirement in Warcraft with junior olds!”
“So that’s why it took you three hours to finish it?!”

Laughter. Loads of laughter.

“It wasn’t so much the bad group but the fact that the healer was 58 years old!”

And this rubbed me a little the wrong way. It’s not that I think it’s impropriate to joke about age. I laugh a lot at my self. Self irony is one of my major cures against any angst that comes with ageing. But there was something in this dialogue that came out as if the guys weren’t laughing WITH the 58-year-old, but rather AT him, if you get the difference.

When I pointed it out to them, they were very remorseful and apologized:

“That’s a perfectly fair and valid point, possibly one of those ‘mouth activated before brain did’ moments, and then again maybe it a hint of age-bias that I’m not consciously aware of.”

I’m fine with that statement and I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again.

Pros and cons of being older
Let’s leave the discrimination side of this and talk a bit about what it’s like to be an older player in WoW, because that’s what I was asked to write about. Is it an advantage or a disadvantage to be above the average age? I would say a little bit of both.

I’ll start with the negatives:

Slower reactions might cause problems
It’s not a secret that our reaction time will slow down slightly as we grow older. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem in WoW. With the exception for a couple of fights, WoW is quite forgiving. Provided that you have a decent computer and internet connection, keeping down the lag, you should be able to keep up anyway. But since it’s been announced for Cataclysm that there will be way more fights that require you to be constantly moving and reacting to your surroundings this might cause you a problem for a few older players.

We haven’t been gaming since we were born
Teenagers who play WoW started their gaming careers further back than they can remember. The hand-eye coordination is totally integrated in their system. It’s as natural to them to use the mouse and keyboard as it is to breathe and drink and sleep. It’s just something you do. If you belong to an older generation, you might still have been playing for a very long time, but it’s not the same as if you were born with it. I believe that this might lead to a slightly longer learning curve if you’re older. At least that’s the case for me. I need a couple of more wipes before I’ve learned the choreography of a new encounter than my younger guildies.

Families and jobs restrict our gaming time
Older players are more likely to have time constraints to their gaming. They have often more real life commitments to balance around, such as children, husbands/wives and job. An ageing body won’t as easily compensate for nights with only a couple of hours of sleep as before. The top guilds of the world have very few, if any, older players in their ranks. In those teams you have to be able to play very intensively – more than a full-time job – for short periods, when a new raid instance is released. For most 30+ers this is impossible.

It might be a bit lonely
The mix of people, coming from different life situations, of various ages and professions is one of the things that makes WoW attractive and interesting to me. But let’s face it; older players are after all in minority. And sometimes you might feel a little bit lonely when all the 20-year-olds are dropping names of artists and comics that don’t mean anything to you, and when you make a reference to something you think is as well known as Santa, they have no idea of what you’re talking about. Events that you have personal memories of – such as the fall of the Berlin wall – are history to them something that happened before they were born, something they’ve only read about in the books. They don’t remember what it was to grow up in the firm belief that the world would blow up because of a nuclear war.

Most of the time this isn’t a problem; you’re playing a game and not discussing real life issues. But if you only play with 20-year-olds, being Forty-plus yourself, you might feel a bit lonely from time to time, longing to at some point interact with people sharing the same past and points of reference.

And now for the positives:

We have more life experience
I think that our general experience of living longer helps us to become better players, especially from a team perspective. Of course there are exceptions – I’ve once met an extremely childish 58-year old who selfishly was raging and sulking over a piece of loot he thought he was entitled to; but on average I think that older players thanks to their experiences from job and family are better prepared to deal with all the conflicts and challenges that inevitably will arise within a guild or a raiding team.

We know when it’s best to speak up in a group if you have an issue with something and when it’s better to take it privately. We’re a little bit more used to give and take criticism than the young fellows, which is something very useful in a team sport like WoW.

We rule ourselves
Older players may have time constrains but at least we can decide for ourselves. Surely there may be angry relatives who will pull the power plug when they think we’ve played too much, but that’s really a rarity. Normally older players have way more control over their own playing hours, especially compared to teenagers who still live at home and are under the supervision of their parents.

We’ve got more cash
Older players, who are done studying and have a job income, have a better economy. Most of us can easily afford the monthly subscription fee and don’t have to worry that our game card has run out and we can’t buy any new until next month. If we run into trouble with our computers or internet connections, it normally isn’t such a huge deal to replace it as it is to someone who barely can afford their school literature.

We last longer
If there one big difference I’ve noted between older and younger players, it is that the older ones tend to last much longer. If you have one of those in your guild, it’s way more likely that he or she will stick around for a long time, while especially teenager can get ideas very suddenly and then act on them instantly, meaning that they’ll leave the guild, change server or start playing another game following a momentary impulse. I’ve never ever seen a grown-up act like that. Since player turn-over and the following recruitment can be a heavy burden for guilds, I think it could be an advantage for them to look for a few older players who can serve as the steady rocks that you know will stay there, not only when the guild is successful, but also in hard times.

To sum it up I think there are pros and cons about being an older player or having one in your guild. If you ask me, I think that there are more advantages than disadvantages about it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Are you up for levelling downwards?

The Course of Life is often pictured as stairs. Initially you climb it, growing stronger, wiser and more powerful for every year. Then it turns somewhere midlife – 30, 40, 50, whatever. And you climb downwards until you reach the end where there’s a tombstone waiting for you.

Admittedly this image doesn't tell the whole truth. A workmate of mine told me about her elderly aunt. Asked about what age in life she thought was the “best”, she thought long and hard and then answered that it must have been after she turned 65. Reaching that age she had finally figured out who she was and wasn’t afraid anymore to stand up for herself, not bothering anymore so much about what everyone else thought she should do, and she also had way more time at her hands to make her dreams come true.

25-year-olds tend to believe that life culminates about there. But actually it doesn’t. At the age of 40 or 50 you might still be climbing it upwards, to something better. Quite a comforting thought if you ask me.

The life curve of WoW
In WoW, the life curve of a character has always been very simple and linear. We progress. We level. We get gear and reputation and achievements and whatnot, growing stronger with every hour we put into the game.

This has been the case until now, but the other day the Escapist published an interview with Ghostcrawler, where they hinted that there might come a change of this in Cataclysm. Not at the launch, but possibly later.

According to the article, they’re planning to “include a system that allows players to scale down their character’s level in order to help newer players.”

I don’t think that it will mean that you’re actually levelling downwards, like the main character in the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, if you remember it. He started as an old man and grew younger as the people around him got older the normal way until he became a baby and died. This would no doubt be an interesting idea for an MMO, but I think that the downlevelling in WoW will be more temporary. You’ll probably be able to jump back to your original level when you want to.

A quote from the interview:

“The heirloom items unveiled in Wrath of the Lich King already scale with a character's level, so adjusting them to suit a downgraded character is already part of the design. Cataclysm will go one step further and replace individually purchased spell ranks with a scaleable system that allows a single ability to grow along with a character. Scaling down levels probably won't be possible when Cataclysm is released, but it's a feature that will be coming eventually and should help players of differing levels adventure together more easily.”
The description is pretty vague, so it’s hard to say how this would work in reality. Is this open to anyone or do you have to be in a party with someone lower to be able to downrank your own level? Do you need some sort of heirlooms to do it? Will it be free or an additional service? “Add 4 dollars a month to your subscription and you’ve got the options to set your characters to whatever level you want”? We don’t know. Probably Blizzard doesn’t know either.

A wonderful idea
But let’s assume that anyone will get the freedom to scale down your character as much as you want to. Imagine what possibilities this would open!

Suddenly I could run Karazhan for real again, on my favourite character, without being overpowered or without having to raise an alt for this sole purpose.

I could catch up on those quests I never experienced since I dinged 80 way too quickly, enjoying the content the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed, not rushing through it since the mobs will die as soon as I look at them in my ICC 25-man gear.

And if I had friends with low level characters and no alt in their range, I could actually play with them, not just boost them.

It’s a wonderful idea, especially for main huggers, who don’t have any interest in levelling an army of alts at various levels. I hope this won’t become another dance studio or Path of the Titans, but something they actually will go through with.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How-to-conquer Azeroth: Go fight for it!

So, yesterday I initiated another lengthy post on the gender-topic, which I ended in a an open question: is there anything we can do to increase the speed at which women will become full worthy citizens of Azeroth, holding as interesting and important roles in the game, either they're NPCs or players?

Here's the continuation - my thoughts about what female players can do about it.

I know this post will rub some of you the wrong way - a few will probably consider it hostile and anti-feminist. (Sorry to disappoint you Fulguralis and Hydra, this post is probably a bit too preachy for your taste.) But I'll share it anyway. In the end this is my corner of the world, and it's the privilege of the innkeeper owner to serve whatever thought she has. Take it or leave it.

Time to step up
To summerize it I believe that female players who want to have an impact on the development on WoW should start to take our gameplay and ourselves a bit more seriously. Step up. Kick ass. Be just as good - or preferrably better - than the guys.

I would even go so far as to say that we should start bothering a little bit more about our epeens. It’s not a sin to check out the wws charts and to head for one of the top positions if you’re a dps. To measure yourself towards other and decide not to end up in the tail.

I don't say this because I'm personally rocking the dps charts. I'm definitely not as good as a player as I'd like to be; God knows it's hard to climb the learning curve at this age when you've never touched a game before. Mind you though - this has nothing to do with my gender, it's all about lack of experience. I may not be the worlds' best player, but damned me if I stop trying to be!

While there are physical reasons why female athletes can’t perform quite as good as male ones in many sports, which has resulted in most sports letting them compete separately, there's no reason whatsoever why there shouldn't be as many female top WoW players as there are male. I'd like to see a lot more female main tanks, raid leaders, guild leaders and successful e-sport pvp:ers.

I don't think it's fair to blame the lack of women in the world-top-guilds on prejudices and injustices. The occasional one-gender-only-guilds we hear about every now and then are exceptions, not the norm. I think it's up to us to grab those spots. We have the same chance as anyone else to get it - but we have to work for it. And that's what I'd like to see more female players do. Go for it.

Regardless if you're heading for the bleeding edge or if you're a happy one-night-a-week-raider, you should take pride in your gameplay, become the best you can.

Go home and make your homework! Don’t lock yourself into mediocrity! And don’t give up! It seems to me that guys keep record of their performance all the time, keeping track of the charts, comparing it in their solitude - or boasting about it in the party chat. You can do that as well. Not necessarily the boasting part, but the analysis. We all have it inside us - the potential of awesomeness. Give yourself a chance. You deserve it.

And once you're ready for it, knowing that you're perfectly fit to carry your own weight - and more, since you sadly enough probably have to be even better than the guys to be fully accepted - dare to challenge yourself! There's no reason why you couldn't apply to a more progressed guild. Don't settle with mediocrity, don't let yourself become that "hot chick", "sweet girl" or "understanding gf". Become a team member like anyone else. No less, no more.

Treading in new waters
It's all about attitude. There’s nothing wrong about being humble, but I think many women are bringing this a bit too far. Try being cocky for a change! It won't kill you.

Ophelie wrote:
“There are corners in WoW where women are uncommon: hardcore pvp, high end raiding, auction playing, serious tanking. I have a lot of admiration for those women who dare tread in waters they’re not expected to be seen in.”
And I can only agree. I think that players such as Poptisse, former player in Ensidia, or Xenophics, only female player in the world leading guild Paragon mean a lot for the modernization of the views on women in WoW. Seeing players like them make me smile; their very existence is an exclamation mark. I just wish there were more female players who were willing to explore that territory.

Now - becoming a top player is only the first step. The next one is to get recognition. Going from being "anyone" to "someone". Someone who matters, someone who Blizzard listens to. Become a top player. A strong and respected voice in the WoW community.

Read me right. I don't expect putting on this attitude automatically will change everything. I don't think for a second that the presence of outstanding female players miraculously will make them introduce more powerful female NPC leaders or let us get rid of the impractical bikini outfits.

This isn't a quick fix. But overtime, in a very long perspective, I think it might make a difference. Slowly, without really noticing the game makers will be influenced by it. If the female players are as strong and succesful as the male, it will come natural to let it be reflected in the written characters.

And it hasn't got to stop there. There are other areas to conquer. A certain headquarter in Irvine, California. How many times haven't you heard about the guy who dreams about getting a job at Blizzard. But what about women? Isn't it about time that we break into this business, aiming for the design team rather than the customer support? I know it takes more than being a passionate gamer to get a foot in there. It takes education and a willingness to work crazy hard for almost no money. But don't let this stop you.

I don’t think we’ll see a solid shift in the thinking patterns and a breakdown of the outdated stereotypes until we have several women in positions that today are hold by people like Ghostcrawler or Morheim.

I honestly don't know how we'll get there. But I think that if more women become as passionate, competative and confident as the male players, it will help a bit.

Taking yourself seriously
I wish that more women - in WoW as well as in real life by the way - would start to take themselves a little more seriously. I don't mean that we should hide our sense of humor, that we shouldn't crack jokes or be able to laugh at ourselves. That's fine and I definitely prefer to interact with people who have a sound amount of self distance.

But there need to be some balance in it. Sometimes it saddens me when I see women making themselves smaller than they are as they enter a party, a guild, a blog or a podcast. I'm not pointing fingers as I'm saying this. I include myself, because I do it too, all the time. (Which Gevlon has pointed out for me more than once.)

I don't know if you've thought about it, but I think we tend to giggle. A lot. More than you could expect from the situation. It has bugged me for quite a while now, all those giggles that often comes with a podcast as soon as the host or the guest is a woman. Where does it come from? What's it all about? Is it a nervous tic? Or an effort to please the socials, as Gevlon probably would put it?

I don't say that women should stop laughing and giggling entirely, on the contrary. But I think we could benefit from holding back a little once in a while. You rarely hear guys giggling that way. Think of a respected podcaster such as Totalbiscuit. He's sarcastic, he's angry, he jokes and bitches. he doesn't giggle very much. For a good reason.

If you want to earn the trust and respect of the WoW community, the first step is to start giving it to yourself. Stop hiding in the "I'm-the-innocent-and-charmful-girl"-box. Cut down on the giggles. Don't stick to the girls-only-corner; compete for a spot on the same stage as the boys. Show confidence - even in the moments when you don't feel that you have any. Especially then. Trust me on that. It makes miracles.

I hope the day will come when I can admire, dislike or identify myself with female as well as male characters in a computer game (or a fantasy book or movie for that matter), free from the chains of outdated stereotypes.

It probably won't happen in WoW. Not in the next secret MMO either. But eventually we'll be there.

It's not up to the world of men to make it happen. We could change a lot on our own. But it won't come for free. We have to fight for it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Our legendaries won’t count

We had a little discussion on vent the other night, where we were asking ourselves if the deeds we’ve done in Adrenaline the last two years will be recorded as already completed guild achievements.

I reckoned – or at least hoped –that they would. After all, when the achievement system was introduced for individuals, we got a ton of achievements recorded. Admittedly the game didn’t remember everything we had done. I remember that it felt particularly weird to have to revisit Mechanar, which I farmed so excessively in TBC, just to get it documented that I actually had completed it. But a lot of it was there from the start.

So wouldn’t it be natural if long-time guilds would get credit for our glorious past? I thought it would, but apparently Blizzard thinks differently.

I’m quoting a blue post, referred by MMO-champion:

“Dark Phoenix Mount Reward
[…] First and foremost, they must be unlocked via a guild achievement. Let's just say, that for example, you need to complete the new guild achievement "We are Legendary" in order to unlock the Dark Phoenix. That achievement requires the guild to gain access to all 6 legendary weapons currently available in the game. (note that all guild achievements start on Cataclysm launch, so anything you have now will not matter, it must be done with your guild after launch)”
As with anything related to Cataclysm I suppose that this isn’t set in stone. Maybe it will change before launch. But he does sound worryingly certain about this thing. And it makes me rather disappointed.

So far my guild has managed to get two legendaries – the mace and the axe in Wrath. Oh, and yeah, one alt got an Illidan legendary as we ran a retro raid in BT, although I’m not sure if it was guilded or not, so it might be out of our hands. That warglaive didn’t take a ton of effort, but on the other hand, the mace and axe did. And all this work was for nothing?

I can’t help scratching my head seeing this. Are you serious? Really? I know that Blizzard has good reasons to try to make us go back and relive old content and take away some of the pressure from them to produce new. But isn’t this to push it a little bit too far?

Of course the situation could be that they haven’t got any choice. There might be technical limits that prevent them from tracking historical deeds of a guild. But it seems strange to me. If guild ranking sites can track guild progression automatically, why shouldn’t Blizzard be able to do the same?

We should be half way to “Legendary” as Cataclysm is launched, or at least a third, if there was any justice. As it stands now it appears rather unlikely that we’ll ever get it.

My survival tactics in a stereotyped world

During my vacation the blogosphere has seen another epidemic of gender-related blog posts. It’s not the first time, and definitely not the last. The topic tends to pop up about twice a year, each time causing a quite intense debate.

Of course I can't refrain to jump into it this time either. And of course I can't but agree with Pewter, who started the debate with an awesome post. WoW is made by a heavily male-dominated crew primarily aiming for a male-dominated audience (even though the proportions among the player base are far more even.) And this shows. All the time.

It’s not just the bunny year achievement (which I honestly couldn’t really get mad about because I found it rather amusing.) It’s the gender of the faction leaders, the lack of female ogres, the look of the armor. A recent example: did you see the incoming loading screens in Cataclysm? As far as I’ve been able to count there are three female characters pictured out of a total of 15, and all of them seem to be some sort of elves with big and well exposed boobs. Eye candy I guess. I'll miss the female gnome and the dwarf lady. But then I'll turn my back to it, pretending it isn't there. That's my normal way to deal with the fact that not only WoW, but the entire geeky universe I inhabit basically still is men's territory.

Looking in another direction
Am I upset? Not very much. Over the years I've developed some sort of immunity to it.

I simply don’t expect my fairy tales to offer inspiring and interesting role models for women (not to speak of having some sort of balance between the genders.) That’s not what I’m primarily looking for as I pick my next book or movie. I look for great stories and enchanting worlds, I look for escapism. As long as the fantasy as such is immersive, I’m prepared to let the authors get away with almost any kind of stereotype. I just put on my genre glasses and filter it out as irrelevant.

For instance it never bothered me that much Tolkien portrayed a universe where only men made a difference, mattered and had an impact on the world events. There were a couple of exceptions - Galadriel comes to mind. But the only woman who ever holds a sword in her hand - Eowyn - was pictured as damaged goods, strangely depressed and frustrated, misguided in her mission for honor and war, when all she needed in fact was a proper man that could take care of her. Once she found him she put her soldier ideas on the shelf. I suppose she was preparing to hatch yet another male hero. My reaction was simple. I put her on ignore, pretending she basically wasn't there, at least not as a representative for my gender. I identified with the fellowship and not with this weeping, love craving pathetic lady.

Another example is the Narnia series by CS Lewis, where the boys got swords and shields from Santa, while the girls had to settle with healing potions, a horn to call for help and a useless dagger and bow, which only was to be used in a case of emergency in self defense, since “women weren’t supposed to participate in the fight.” Doh. Those lines always disgusted me, but on the whole I loved the books and read them over and over again, sinking deeply into a parallel world of adventure and magic. I turned my back to the gender perspective as I always do, identifying with one of the male characters (I always liked Eustace), forgiving Lewis for his rather old-fashioned outlook. After all he was nothing but a product of his time. You couldn’t expect more.

Those examples are from the past. But what about now? Has the genre progressed since those days?

Possibly. A little bit I'd say. But to be fair there’s quite a long way to go before the female roles in the majority of the fantasy eposes are as frequent and as important as the guys.

Harry Potter was made into a boy and Rowling chose to appear with her initials and not her first name on the books, not to pull too much attention to the fact that the author was a woman. For a good reason of course. It comes from a simple analysis of the demands from the market. I don’t understand why, but it appears as if guys have way bigger problems to identify themselves with a female hero than I have to engage myself into the destiny of a male character. And in the end, most books aren’t published for a good course or as a political statement – they’re made for profit. Easy decision.

A future Thrallica?
To be fair, there are exceptions. For instance I remember some of the novels by Ursula K LeGuin as quite inspiring as I grew up. Reading her stories I didn’t have to deliberately dismiss the female characters for being pale and stupid. Another good example is the development of Star Trek, which step by step removed itself from the heavily stereotyped Kirk in the original series to the updated female captain Janeway of Voyager. It was definitely a move in the right direction.

So what will happen? Can we expect the “geek genres", such as SF, fantasy and horror, all with the origins in the extremely traditional fairy tale, to develop even further, holding less stereotypes, offering interesting and varied portrays of women as well as men? Will there be a day when a popular game , equivalent to WoW, could have females such as Bolvara, Thrallica, Garrosha and Artha in the leading roles? I'm a bit of an optimist in those areas, so I'll say yes. Mankind is slowly but surely heading towards some sort of enlightening. But it won’t happen overnight, that’s for sure.

And I doubt that it will be the result of a cannonade of angry blog posts from the female part of the WoW community.

If WoW is to change you'll have to change the overall view on women, sex and gender in our society. It's all in the bigger picture - how women are portrayed, what expectations society have on them, what choices both women and men have to express themselves. The chains of stereotypes and fixed patterns have ruled us for a very long time. Solve it in real life and I'm pretty sure the gaming business will follow. We're talking about a change of mentality here. Big stuff.

How to conquer Azeroth
If you’ve come this far in this mega-rant you might think this was a rather sad and disillusioned post. First I chime into the choir that WoW is governed by and made for men. In fact the entire fantasy genre is teaming with models that lock women into passive, traditional roles that I find uninspiring and impossible to identify with. And then I tell you how I deal with it - simply looking in another direction, trying to not notice it, moving my focus to the male characters and the fantasy stories I love. And finally I claim that this is how the world looks and that there isn't much we can do about it. Our blog posts on the topic won't change anything. It' s all in the hands of the market.

Gloomy, yeah. A bit maybe. But isn’t there anything we can do to move the positions, trying to make women into full worthy citizens of Azeroth, just as capable as the men of taking the role of the hero?

I think there is. Just like Ophelie I refuse to regard myself as a victim. I think you can - and should - take charge of your own destiny. But more about that tomorrow. This post is long enough as it is.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A gnome is knockning on the door

Three weeks have passed and here I am, standing by the door that leads to the WoW fandom. Should I knock on it? Am I ready? Does anyone still remember that little gnome lady with the pink pigtails who used to hang around? And - above all - have I still got anything on my mind about WoW, any opinions and thoughts worth sharing?

Something makes me hesitate for a second. I've never been away from blogging this long since I started in February 2008, and as I'm stretching my muscles, I suddenly feel how stiff I've become. It's strange how quick it goes. Three weeks, is that all it takes to get out of touch with the community?

Mind you, I haven't turned my back to everything imaginative and geeky during my vacation. On the contrary. For instance the last week has been a 24/7 exercise in All Out Geekiness.

Living the fantasy
The Medieval Week at Gotland that I mentioned before my take-off delivered anything I could possibly have hoped for. I think the best way to describe it is that when you're there, you're not playing a fantasy game anymore. You're living it. (I'm afraid there aren't any good videos posted yet, but here's a bunch of pictures from the week 2009, which will give you an idea of what it's like.)

Walking the streets dressed in a mantle and fairy-tale dress is for one precious week the norm rather than the exception. In more or less every corner there's some street performance going on - jesters, jugglers, acrobats and eaters and the music never ceases. If you like me think that bagpipes as opposed to the general opinion is a lovely instrument, you've come to the right place.

I spent three afternoons raiding, which turned out to be a quite exhausting activity wearing a full-length blood red dress in the sunshine. The sweat was pouring down my face and made me look far from ladylike. But I barely noticed, because the activity too my entire concentration.

To be fair, I don't think anyone else noticed that I in fact was in a raid. For a spectator it looked as if I was taking classes in medieval and renaissance dances, jumping around barefoot in long, complicated patterns in the green grass to some very old music. There wasn't any blood shred, no villains or dragons to deal with. But apart from that - it was raiding I was doing.

The learning process was exactly the same. The patient explanations from the raid/dance leader, the wipes in advance when something didn't click and we had to work out why. The strong sense of team work. And finally the moment when it clicked for everyone at the same time and we to our astonishment got through the entire dance to the end, ending at the positions we were supposed to end at. You don't need to wear a headset or even sit in front of a computer to let out a out a first-kill-cheer.

Can you blame me for holding onto this bubble? Can you blame the bards and musicians for writing melancholic songs about how dear the week is to them, and how reluctant they are to leave it, songs that brought tears into your eyes as you heard them.

I think anyone who's been to a geek convention knows the feeling. It's a homecoming and you enjoy every minute of it, but at the same time you're starting to take your bittersweet farewell of it even at the very moment it starts.

Nothing much happening in WoW
However - an end is an end and I'll have to cope with it. After all: you're still around here, provided Tam and Ixo didn't scare you off, and why should they?

WoW is still there and from the little I've seen so far, not very much has been going on since I headed out for adventures. It all seems very calm - to be honest a little bit too calm for my taste.

The release date for Cataclysm hasn't even been revealed yet. Not that I expected it to. Wrath was announced in mid September 2008 and launched in mid November. So we could wait at least another month or two before we have a reason to start worrying and asking ourselves if Cataclysm will launch this year.

But I must admit that the thought of spending the entire autumn with nothing much raid content to do except doing hard modes in Ulduar and ICC feels like a downer. It's a very long time we have ahead of us indeed. How are players like me, who aren't in the Beta and are reluctant to devour all the content in advance through movies and spoilers, supposed to keep up the spirit during those months?

And what about the blog, my dear old inn? With the lack of deliveries and new ingredients, can I really produce any decently tasting ale? The future will tell.

Tonight I'll just stretch out my legs in front of the fire, sip on a drink and linger a little bit longer in the memories of firetorches dancing in the air, hypnotizing music from instruments which I don't even know the name of and nightly walks under a the starry sky through the stone paved narrow streets of the 13th century town Visby, which makes Stormwind look totally modern and charmless.

I'll get over the loss eventually. A flat screen with moving pictures is slightly disappointing as a replacement for living out the fantasy, but as the nights quickly are getting darker and colder, I think I'll be quite pleased with the solution. And after all - only in Azeroth will I stand face to face with a dragon. That's quite something!

Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to hear your stories of what's been going on in the WoW community. What should I catch up on? Which discussions should I dive into?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The post in which GM Huw restores Larísa's confidence in Blizzard

Oooops! You spotted me. That wasn't really intended.

No, I'm not taking back the charge of the bar disk quite yet. My trusted stand-ins are obviously doing just fine and I'm still on vacation, only stopping by here for a couple of hours to change my clothes, and then I'm off on the roads again.

But since you've seen me, I could as well bring you a little piece of news that has reached my ears.

You remember that post I made about a guildie of mine that lost the right to his name after a conflict with a GM? I'm pretty sure you do; it's the by far most commented post I've ever had on the blog, and to be honest the majority of the readers thought that I was wrong in taking the side of my grumpy fellow player. Most of you thought that he got the treatment he deserved. I still don't think he did. But I don't mind disagreeing with my readers from time to time, it makes a much better discussion.

Anyhow: Blizzard has now come to a decision on how they look on this incident and they actually give Eräjorma right! A guildie of mine published this in a comment to the original post, but most of you will probably not see it there, so I thought I'd better post it separately. I thought I owed you the conclusion of the story.

This is what they wrote:

"Hello [real name]

Thank you for your mail. I am sorry that we took so long to get back to you. Starcraft 2 launch had an effect on all of our response times :(

Firstly; allow me to apologise in the matter your issue was handled. It is with deep regret that we see this type of issue.

We aim to be at the forefront of customer support for online gaming and strive to provide a level of support to match the strength of our products. This occasion highlights that we are, at times, far from this.

We will certainly be investigating the manner in which this was handled further.

Regarding your name; I cornered a Finnish colleague who assured me that your name was perfectly acceptable. so we reverted the name earlier today and removed the warning from your account.

We never change names unless they have been reported by other players and we have verified, so this was an unreasonable and needless name change for which I am again sorry for :/

Hopefully this incident has not tarnished your image of our support and you will feel
comfortable coming to us in future with other concerns.

If you require any further help or have any other issues, please feel more than free to get back in touch with us and we will respond as swiftly as possible.


Senior Game Master
Blizzard Entertainment Europe"

I can only say that I'm really, really happy about this. What the first GM did to Eräjorma may have been unprofessional (although understandable from a strictly human point of view), but that wasn't the end to it. This shows that they take customer concerns seriously. The e-mail address where you can complain about issues you have with GMs isn't just there as a marketing gimmick - it's there for real and if you have a good reason to use it you should do it.

To be honest I was quite surprised to see the response. I really hadn't expected them to listen to Eräjorma - which actually is a little bit saddening to think about. When and why did I become so cynical? When did I start to see Blizzard as a faceless giant who doesn't care about an individual player any more than a cow cares about the whereabouts of a fly? Is it the RealID thing that has affected me? The general atmosphere in the community? Playing for too long without a break?

Oh well. My eyes are pinkish and sparkling again. Our grumpy ret paladin is back, and hopefully he'll focus his fury on attacking monsters with his Shadowmourne axe rather than GM:s in the future.

So I'll finish this little unplanned post by bringing out a toast for GM Huw, who put everything right again. Here you are - a pint of The Black Sheep, a wonderful local ale I picked up in Yorkshire - a perfect match for an inn run by a mage if you ask me. Cheers and enjoy! It's on the house.

That's all folks. Now, go back to where you were. I heard there's been some great storytelling going on in the bar...

Thanks for keeping this up, Tam and Ixo. See you again in a couple of weeks!

(Larísa goes invisible and sneaks out through the backdoor.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Guest Submission by Kaputt

The PPI isn't normally a place for short fiction, but Larisa specifically asked if any of you out there in the internet tubes have anything to say, and along came Kaputt with a short tale of a drunken Dwarf (short... dwarf... c wut i did ther?).

I tend to think of the Inn as a bar or tavern; a place where conversations get started. Narratives tend to be one sided affairs for the most part, but I liked the theme, and I hope you'll agree it certainly fits the motif that Larisa has built up here. If anyone else has any burning questions they wish to ask their fellow patrons, don't be shy. Ixobelle@gmail.com is open 24 hours a day. Perhaps I can put together a consolidated list of snippets, or perhaps you have a full post outlined in your head?



A dwarf is sitting in a corner. Not old, not young and certainly not sober. He drinks one ale after another and if it would be not for his impressive record of nights like this at the inn, worries might be in order. But alas, he can certainly make the impression of being a friendly fellow to some and not being a troublemaker to others. Likely because of his eyes, in which a sad friendliness can be found if one wants to see it there.

He is quite disturbed to find out that his ale will be served by new hands for the time being but intends to make the best out of it.
"Anyone want to hear a story?" he asks. Well, at least he tries. "Anyoan wannah hee er stoay?"

He looks around and finds out that, no, not really. Nobody is interested. He takes it with dwarven pride. As he takes another sip of his ale he notices that somebody carved a smiling face on the side of the table he is sitting at. Vandalism!

He stares at that smiling face and cannot help but wonder why somebody would do that. He did his share of vandalism in his life, but he did not carve friendly faces out of wood. Quite the contrary: He preferred to smash some and to carve obscenities.

"You wanna hear a story, Woodface?" The friendly visage just smiles at him. The dwarf, as dwarves tend to do, stared back.
"You are one silent fellow, are you not?" The face keeps smiling.
"You making fun of me?" Still no answer, no motion, no sound from the smiling face. Just a presence of friendliness.

No, it is not making fun of him. Not at all, not even a little bit.
"You are puzzling, you know that?" The dwarf asks. "Why are you here? Where do you come from Woodface?" Silence between them, banter everywhere else in the inn.
"Oh come on! Open up a little!"

The longer the dwarf looks at the face the more he gets the impression of wisdom.
"What are you smiling at?" he wants to know.
You know that; the face seems to say.
"No, I don`t!"
Yes you do.

The dwarf can not shake of the impression that this discussion leads absolutely nowhere which aggravates him.

"You are sometimes angry?" he asks. "I am often angry."
Of course.
"Sadness. You know sadness? Regret?"
Yes. Everyone does.
"Yet you keep smiling."

The dwarf looks around. He does not care too much about the opinion of other people but he is fully aware that he is talking to a stupid table, which nobody really has to see or know.
"This stays between you and me, ok?" he whispers.

"So, who made you? I really want to know."
You already do.
"You are a cryptic one, are you not?" the dwarf asks, grinning. He does not expect an answer to this rhetorical question but he gets one none the less.
No, I am not. If he were not absolutely certain that it was impossible the dwarf could swear he saw the smile broadening.

"How do you do it?"
"Smiling. All the time. No one ever sees you, nobody knows where you come from."
It is what I do.
"What is your purpose?"

No answer this time. The dwarf sighs, sits back and lets his mind wander.
He thinks about the smiling face. Carved in wood, lifeless, a lingering shadow of a long gone patron. It should be meaningless, he thinks. There should not be anything to it, it is just some missing splinters of an old, dirty table.
Yet there it is, smiling at him and unquestionably raising his mood. On the one hand clearly mocking him, on the other hand it seems as if it is trying to tell him something.

"I am missing the point, right?"
"Am I doing something wrong?"
I will not tell.
"You are useless!"

The dwarf notices what is happening. He suddenly becomes aware of how drunk he is, how he tries to find answers in a smiling face, carved into his favorite table. He comes here nearly every other day and he did not see it until now. How could he miss it? He looks closer and makes sure, but yes, it has to be at least months old. Yet he never noticed.

He starts to smile himself, he cannot help it. He just has to, as he begins to follow the lines of the face with his stubby fingers. He is fascinated by this, this message of happiness that has some strange beauty hidden in its crudeness.
"You need no reason to have that stupid smile on your face, so why should I?"

And then, finally, he bursts into laughter. The first time in centuries it seems. He laughs, loud and thunderous as only dwarves can do. The face joins in with some silent smiling itself. He laughs because he notices that the only thing he was waiting for was this, a friendly face listening to him. Sometimes that is all you need. He laughs because he starts to see how ugly that stupid face really is, probably carved by some drunken idiot. He laughs because that is not important at all. He cannot stop laughing as the thought, that maybe he did it himself when he was smashed, crossed his mind.

As the laughter subsides the dwarf starts looking for other things he missed while looking too hard. He never noticed how friendly and inviting some of the other patrons seem to be. He did not see how lonely some of the other ones are, longing for a smiling face themselves.

"Thank you stupid Woodface." he says. He looks at it again, very closely, wanting to feel its magic again but to his surprise it is gone. The face itself is still there, but being just that, a face. For a moment he is sad but then he feels that he himself is still grinning.

Laughter, again. What a night! he thinks. "Wisdom can be found in the most unlikely of places." his grandfather used to tell him but until now he did not understand what that was supposed to mean. A decision formed inside of him, a knowledge of what to do with that present he found. To pass it on.

"Come here folk!" he yells. "I have something to say to everyone who wants to listen!"
People turned around curious, some annoyed.
"I want to tell you a story of a smiling face. It is a new one, it got told to me just recently."

Many people left the inn smiling that day.