Changes Coming

For those of you who are unaware, I haven’t had a full-time, steady job in quite some time. I was in university for longer than I probably should have been, supplemented income with web clients and such, had a fortunate thing happen to me which allowed me to not worry about money for a while and, since graduating from university, I’ve been looking for work.

While looking for work, I’ve explored different avenues for making money. Among them, my guides. I’ve also done some web work and have complained (at length) on Twitter about some nightmarish clients.

Today, I was officially offered a position for full-time work in my field (!) (no details for you guys yet, sorry!) and, because I am not stupid, I accepted it.

What this means for me:

  • Working Monday to Friday from 9am-6pm
  • Going to bed no later than midnight Sunday-Thursday
  • ZOMG A STEADY PAYCHEQUE
  • A distinct lack of this thing called “free time”

What this means for you:

Definite interruption in content production. Specifically:

  • Changes to the podcast schedule. I’ve been releasing most episodes on Sunday night/Monday morning. This may change to something like Sunday afternoon or Monday evening.
  • A delay in my guides. I wanted to release my Raid Leader’s Guide in August/early September. That is almost certainly not going to happen now. As of right now, before even starting work, I’m thinking we’re looking at late October/early November. On the plus side, it will almost certainly beat Warlords of Draenor to release. ;)
  • A delay in my Sneak Peeks. I generally write for my guides and then look over the content and select 2000-3000 words for sneak peeks and release those every week. Well, most weeks. With the interview process and such this week, I had no time to write, much less release a sneak peek. The best way to be kept up to date on my guides and sneak peeks is by signing up for my announcement list. With an upcoming bizarre schedule, I’ll do my best to aim for a new sneak peek every two weeks, but I can’t promise anything yet.
  • Possibly more blogging (?!) just so I have an outlet to talk about WoW stuff — assuming I have time to still play WoW.

Crap. I just realized that I may not be able to pull an all-nighter when Warlords comes out. That’d be a first for me. (Well, not really. I wasn’t here for the launch of Mists, but that’s because I was in Italy.) Oh, well, a steady paycheque makes a lot of things worth it. ;)

Anyhow, that’s what’s going on with me. I’m very careful about keeping my “real life” away from my “WoW life” and I didn’t give out any of my WoW-related stuff to my new employer, but I want to remain very vague about things anyhow (hence all the [REDACTED] tweets on Twitter!).

So that’s what’s going on with me. I’m really excited about this and will spend some time planning stuff out. With any luck, there won’t be too large a disruption to stuff you’ve come to expect from me.

That said, there should be a new Kurncast this Sunday night/Monday morning, by the way, and look for content (YouTube?) about the new Naxx “adventure” in Hearthstone after it comes out on Tuesday! (I’m seriously so excited about PVE coming to Hearthstone. I realize this makes me a little sad. I’m okay with that.)

Hope you’re all doing well. :)

Episode 10 of the Kurncast

Welcome to episode 10 of the Kurncast!

This week:

Realm Maintenance (by Rho) hit 100 episodes!
– I got my “legendary” cloak!
– I went along with Dayani, Magdalena, Crazzarc and Tikari to the new UBRS in the Warlords of Draenor Beta.
Rob Pardo leaves Blizzard — related to the recent outcry and discussion about minority representation?
– Huge grats to Apotheosis of Eldre’Thalas for downing Heroic Garrosh 25 on July 6!

Finally, if you’re in need of webhosting, please do consider Bluehost! If you use this affiliate link, you’d also be helping to support me in various WoW-related efforts. I’d really appreciate it, thank you. :)

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Pondering Pardo's Unpardonables

(Please do bear in mind the comment policy here at Kurn’s Corner. Thanks!)

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Todd Harper wrote a piece over at Polygon on Thursday, May 22, about diversity (or the lack thereof) in various video games. In the piece, he spends time discussing Blizzard’s values, as well as Nintendo’s recent troubles to do with the lack of same-sex marriage support in Tomodachi Life. Since I’m not a Tomodachi Life player, I’m going to skip over that and just say that including LGBTQ content (at least the options!) in games (and other popular culture) is an important step towards equality. I think any kind of game where you adopt a character as your avatar and there’s romance should have some kind of LGBTQ representation and choice. (The Sims, for example, has supported same-sex relationships since its first incarnation.)

Anyhow, as troubling as Nintendo’s reaction has been, what was new to me in the Polygon piece were the stated values belonging to Blizzard, espoused by Dustin Browder (Game Director for Starcraft II) and Rob Pardo (Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard).

When pressed on the sexualization of women characters in MOBA games, Browder argued “We’re not sending a message. Nobody should look to our game for that.” The message just below the surface here is: why can’t we just have fun? Why do we have to be responsible for being respectful?

… seriously?

After his talk, I asked Pardo to talk about how Blizzard’s values — “epic entertainment experiences,” emphasizing the Blizzard brand, focus on gameplay and de-emphasizing narrative — and the company’s perception of their audience might impact how they portray socially progressive content.His answer was disappointing. “I wouldn’t say that’s really a value for us. It’s not something that we’re against either, but it’s just not something that’s … something we’re trying to actively do.”

Why the eff not?

“We’re not trying to bring in serious stuff, or socially relevant stuff, or actively trying to preach for diversity or do things like that,” he said. His example of a place where Blizzard struggles is portrayal of women.Pardo notes that “because most of our developers are guys who grew up reading comics books,” Blizzard games often present women characters as a sexualized comic book ideal that “is offensive to, I think, some women.”

Gee, ya think?

It’s a really good article that everyone should read, but, shockingly, I’m going to discuss my views here. ;)

I play games to escape. They’re fun, they take up space and time in my life, they give me a sense of satisfaction I don’t easily get outside of them. I’ve played video games since I was 5, playing on my Atari 2600. River Raid was my favourite game. I loved the King’s Quest, Space Quest and Police Quest series from Sierra. I kicked some ass at Double Dragon on my Atari 520ST computer and absolutely adored both Déjà Vu and Déjà Vu II: Lost in Las Vegas. Sneaking around as Garrett in Thief and Thief 2 was spectacular (less so in the sequels, but anyhow). Eventually, I came to World of Warcraft and found that I quite enjoyed playing a hunter and, later, a holy paladin. All of these games made me an involved player, made me think outside the box (seriously, using an athletic supporter as a slingshot in SQII?) and served to entertain me while rewarding me for my efforts by finishing chunks of the game.

That’s not to say that the Quest games from Sierra didn’t have horribly sexist moments. They did. The Latex Babes from SQIV? The fact that Sonny’s girlfriend in PQ was a hooker? A lot of it went over my head until I took the time to think about these things from the perspective of an adult and it wasn’t limited to the Sierra stuff. It’s disappointing to look back at the Déjà Vu games, for example, and realize “holy crap, I had to beat the crap out of a hooker lest she shoot me in the face”. (I can’t even think of another woman from those games, to be honest.)

So, I’m coming from the perspective of having grown up with sexism in video games. It’s pretty much normal to me, or at least it was until I started looking at games more critically. (And part of that was thanks to Anita Sarkeesian and her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.)

I remember levelling my holy paladin, Madrana. She’s a human female. As a paladin, she wore mail until level 40, at which point she could wear plate. Here. Have a look at some actual screenshots of Madrana in plate armor. (click for bigger pic)

platearmor

The two on the left are of Madrana wearing the Shadesteel Greaves, which were part of the Shadow Resistance gear from Burning Crusade. Notice a difference when you compare them to the human male wearing them?

platemale1

The chest piece my toon is wearing is the heroic T13 chest, the Breastplate of Radiant Glory. Nice exposed stomach. That makes OH SO MUCH SENSE for a plate-wearing class, who can also be, you know, tanking things. Oh, look. They actually took into consideration that armor should cover one’s soft, squishy bits when they decided what the male model would look like with it.

platemale2

I included the Lightforge set on the far right because it’s my transmog (and has been since transmogrification was introduced). Yes, I love Lightforge, but one reason why I love it so is that it covers my character’s body in an appropriate fashion.

These discrepencies between armor on a male model vs. a female model have always pissed me off. (Just play with the 3D model viewer for the Glorious Breastplate and Glorious Legplates if you doubt that there are dozens of other examples.) However, I dealt with them because I knew that the designers were men and that the target audience also consisted of men.

In other words, I’ve known Blizzard has been sexist, at least in some ways, since I started playing. Half the reason my night elf hunter is a male is because I didn’t like how the female night elves bounce as their idle animation!

What’s really troubling about the Polygon article, for me, is that not only is this kind of junk still acceptable, but it’s coming from the top. Pardo is the Chief Creative Director. While I’m sure not everything we see in the games goes by him, he (and the others at that level) are responsible for the overall culture and sentiment in their company. That Pardo (and, presumably, the other executives at Blizzard) think that “fun” and “entertaining” are diametrically opposed to “socially responsible and progressive” is, well, not cool.

Let’s look at Hearthstone, which was just released a couple of months ago. You’ve got nine heroes, one for each class that existed in World of Warcraft in the original release. They are:

Malfurion – Male Night Elf Druid
Rexxar – Male Orc Hunter
Jaina – Female Human Mage
Uther – Male Human Paladin
Anduin – Male Human Priest
Valeera – Female Blood Elf Rogue
Thrall – Male Orc Shaman
Gul’dan – Male Orc Warlock
Garrosh – Male Orc Warrior

… really? Just two females represented among all of those classes? Is it really that there aren’t other epic female druids, female hunters, female paladins, female shaman, female warlocks or female warriors? Let’s take a look.

Apparently there are no notable female druids. But HEY, how about, oh, I don’t know, ANY OF THE WINDRUNNERS for a female hunter? Lady Liadrin or Aponi Brightmane as female paladins? Tyrande as a female priest? Okay, I kind of get Thrall as the Shaman, but did Magatha Grimtotem get any consideration? And, shocker, there don’t seem to be any notable female warlocks. Nor any notable female warriors. (Note: I’m not big on lore. I may be missing some, but still.)

So two of the heroes are women in Hearthstone, which is about 22% representation. Which sucks. They could have had a different hunter, paladin and priest. It could have been ~56% representation. But it’s not. And at some point, you just have to ask… why isn’t it?

Look, I’m not asking for any portion of any game to change in terms of gameplay, not at all. But how does it negatively impact the game when 4 or 5 of your nine heroes are female? How does it negatively impact the game if, for example, my Tier 13 Heroic Breastplate of Radiant Glory actually covers my character’s abdomen? Neither of those things have anything to do with the game mechanics.

Blizzard, you can have your epic gamplay. You can have your fun and entertaining games. But you can also make better decisions about the representation of women in your games. (I’m not even going to touch Heroes or SC or Diablo with a ten-foot pole since I have 0 interest in Heroes, I’ve only played a little SC in my life and haven’t touched D3 since last year.)

If anyone thinks I’m overreacting, rest assured that I’m not. I’m not even angry. I’m disappointed, troubled and resigned, but I’m still playing World of Warcraft and playing around with Hearthstone for the time being. Just because I’ve learned that there is a sexist culture at Blizzard that comes from the top isn’t going to cause me to go running into the night, mostly because I’d always suspected that. (And if I hadn’t, Metzen’s “it’s a boy’s trip” comment at the last BlizzCon would have tipped me off. (See Fan #16’s Q/A section.))

You know what, though? Of all the reasons to quit, this is a really good one. I’ve already seen two people on my Twitter feed decide that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Cynwise has been a fantastic community resource. Osephala’s been a great player that I’ve personally played with off and on for years. I commend them for taking the steps they feel they need to after Pardo’s comments, but the community will be worse off without them both.

As a former guild master, it’s ingrained in me that if someone leaves, someone will be around to replace them eventually. There’s churn. But losing Cynwise? Big blow for the community. Losing Osephala? That’s one more talented player the community will need to do without. In this day of boosted 90s with clueless yahoos behind them, the community can ill-afford to lose the good ones.

Since I’ve come back to WoW, I’ve been buying one month of game time as I go, because it’s a tentative re-entry to the game. In the two and a half months since I’ve been back, I haven’t ever been so pleased I’m not on a recurring subscription and, to be honest, my future in this game is in doubt. (For this and other reasons, but anyhow.)

So… confirmation of what I’ve always thought — Blizzard is a boy’s club. Representation of women doesn’t matter to them. Social responsibility doesn’t matter to them. Hiring more women doesn’t matter to them. It’s nice to know this stuff for sure, but it’s pretty disappointing that this is where they stand. They could be so much more and that’s what’s so disheartening about all of this. The wasted potential just makes me sad.

*** ETA: Here’s a link to a video of the response the article was based on. It doesn’t really change my mind, but definitely have a look. ***

(Please do bear in mind the comment policy here at Kurn’s Corner. Thanks!)

Stupid Hunter Tricks

I have a new favourite thing to do in World of Warcraft and that thing, my friends, is soloing Zandalari Warbringers.

It all began because my level 90 priest, who is my enchanter, was severely lacking in various reputations to get the “good” enchants, the ones that need revered with the August Celestials and Shado-Pan. My priest had basically been neutral with both of these factions and I was in absolutely no mood to do countless dailies and such to raise her rep to honored, much less revered. Some searching online revealed that one can get a ridiculous amount of rep with these Bind-to-Account things called “Stolen Insignias”, which drop from Zandalari Warscouts and Zandalari Warbringers.

I’d killed a few Warscouts and I knew of the Warbringers (they had previously kicked my ass) but still felt stuck because I didn’t really know if I could solo them.

At the relatively low equipped ilvl of 525, I’m proud to say that my hunter can, in fact, solo the Warbringers. It is awesome.

Why is it awesome?

Well, not only is my priest the proud owner of all the bracer and weapon MoP-level enchants, but I am getting these awesome things called Big Bag of Zandalari Supplies and Small Bag of Zandalari Supplies. The big bags are themed, so to speak, and are duplicates of the various bags the rares in Townlong Steppes have a chance of dropping. So you could open a bag and get 20 Golden Lotus, along with something like 100 herbs. Or you could open one and get a Sha Crystal, some Mysterious Essences and a crapton of Spirit Dust. Or you could open one up and get a ton of ore and a few gems. The small bags contain gold, plus a stack of a couple of different materials. (I am now drowning in Kyparite, by the way.) These bags and insignias also have a chance to drop from the (much easier) Zandalari Warscouts. (There’s about a 29% chance to get big bags from the Warbringers and a 15% chance from Warscouts, so the Warbringers are definitely better odds, although I quite enjoy killing the Warscouts, too!)

If you don’t need rep and if you don’t need various MoP materials like herbs, enchanting stuff, ore or leather, then there’s still one reason for you to go out and try to kill Warbringers: the mounts.

The Slate Primordial Direhorn
The Slate Primordial Direhorn

So that’s the Slate one that I got the other day. The others are Jade and Amber and you can apparently tell which colour mount is a drop possibility by virtue of what colour mount the Warbringers are on. (or their chairs? I am unclear on this.) At any rate, the mounts are a nice little bonus.

I’ve been killing these guys all weekend long. They have an approximate respawn timer of an hour and they only spawn in five places in the world: Near Chi-Ji’s Cradle in Krasarang Wilds, near the Briny Muck in Dread Wastes, near Sik’vess in Townlong Steppes, near the Yaungol Advance at the eastern edge of Kun-Lai Summit and near Sri-La Village in The Jade Forest.

As a hunter, the hardest part of this is controlling threat. I was very confused as to why my pet’s aggro was, well, terrible. Apparently, they’re immune to taunts, much like the Death Adders on the Timeless Isle. As such, to get it done easily, I personally have to chain misdirect my pet and feign quite a bit. Terrible, but the rewards are good enough and it’s challenging enough for me to keep doing it, despite the immunity to taunts.

If you’re not too concerned with threat, the next major issue is keeping your pet alive. The Glyph of Mend Pet is helpful in removing the potential fear being cast on the primary target of the Warbringer, but the Glyph of Mending is essentially mandatory for this.

The other thing to be worried about, in terms of pet health, is the stupid Vengeful Spirit. You need to turn off all your AOE stuff and keep your pet on passive so it doesn’t change its target, or else you may get the attention of the Vengeful Spirit who can two or three-shot you (or your pet). Keeping Mend Pet up at all times will help to draw her to you, where you can easily run away from her. If you need to feign while she’s up, do so, but then re-cast Mend Pet to ensure she turns around and comes right back to you instead of your pet.

In terms of pets used, I use a turtle for the Last Stand ability as well as the Shell Shield ability. Both can come in fairly handy!

Overall, it’s a fun, profitable thing to do and it’s something that lesser-geared hunters can do fairly easily, with some practice. Here’s a video guide to soloing a Zandalari Warbringer that I put together this weekend. :)

Quick Alpha Thoughts

Honestly, I have neither the time nor the inclination to talk in-depth about the Alpha patch notes for Warlords of Draenor that we’ve gotten. This may actually be a short entry! (hahahaha, if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.)

The first thing anyone needs to do in order to have an informed opinion on these changes is to read the entirety of the patch notes. No, I’m not kidding. Pretty much everything they posted is necessary to further understand the changes. What is absolutely wonderful about these notes is that they do attempt to give you context. That is amazing and you have to thank the devs for trying to do so. From what I can tell, they attempted to explain the whys pre-emptively. The whole bit about ability pruning is particularly interesting.

So what am I going to discuss here? I’m just going to say that I’m a little disappointed to see some abilities go, from a hunter perspective. In particular, the loss of Aspect of the Hawk, Distracting Shot, Hunter’s Mark, Rapid Fire, Scatter Shot, Silencing Shot and Serpent Sting altogether are, to me, fairly disappointing. The changes to Kill Shot (no longer available to Survival Hunters) and Lock and Load (being removed by itself, but still able to be procced from Black Arrow) also sting a bit. That Stampede is now a talent is interesting, so I’m not all that fussed, although I don’t know how Murder of Crows or Blink Strikes can compete.

Note that I’m not going to lobby to get these things changed — I know things will naturally change and evolve due to feedback and play data in Alpha and Beta. That said, I did want to talk a little bit about why I feel these changes are disappointing, from a PVE standpoint.

Aspect of the Hawk

Okay, seriously, I know. I know! I get it. We always use Aspect of the Hawk. To not use it is to use Aspect of the Cheetah or Aspect of the Pack. This is absolutely ability bloat at its finest. The trouble is, it’s only ability bloat NOW because we used to have other options. We had Aspect of the Wild (nature resistance!), we later had Aspect of the Viper (mana regen!) in addition to Cheetah and Pack. That Aspect of the Hawk finally goes the way of the Wild and the Viper is not terribly surprising to me, but it feels like an iconic part of being a hunter is going. Yes, they’re baking the buff itself into the abilities and such, but I’m someone who actually enjoyed the different aspects back in the day.

What they really need to do is a way to prevent morons from running around with Pack on constantly, particularly in things like LFG and LFR. >.>

Distracting Shot

I will freely admit that I rarely use this ability. However, when I have used it, it’s generally been in key situations where I ended up kiting some damn thing halfway across the room/area/etc. We’re talking General Drakkisath in Upper Blackrock Spire, back in the day. What about on a pull gone horribly awry? Forcing a mob to pay attention to you and chase you down is a core part of what hunters have been. And while I was thrilled to not have to always kite Drak (thank you, Toga!), I enjoyed knowing that I could and that I had successfully done so previously and could do so again. This kind of gameplay doesn’t really happen these days, though, and I think the game is poorer for it.

For what it’s worth, I occasionally use this out on Timeless Isle when fighting the Gulp Frogs if I pull more than one so that my poor bear doesn’t get 10 stacks of their poison. I could use another shot, like Arcane Shot, if I wanted, but I use Distracting Shot because I want that other mob to look at me and I want it to look at me now. The only way we’ll be able to kite things in the future is if we’re the last one standing, essentially. While that means that kiting in the middle of a raid encounter, for example, will no longer be our domain (and perhaps it hasn’t been for a long while), it’s worth taking a moment to think about where we started and to respect what we were able to do.

Hunter’s Mark

More bloat, I’ll grant you, but another iconic ability going the way of the dodo makes me sad. True, it’s automatically applied on virtually any shot. True, with the raid icon markers, we no longer need to use Hunter’s Mark to actually differentiate between different mobs. But it pre-dated the icons and, for a long while, was the only way TO distinguish mobs from each other.

Rapid Fire

They’re getting rid of a lot of cooldowns. I’m okay with that. I’m even basically okay with Rapid Fire being removed. I’m not a fan of blowing all cooldowns on the pull and on CD thereafter, which perhaps makes me not the best hunter in the world (which is one reason I haven’t raided seriously on Kurn since Vanilla). It’s just that it’s so weird to see all of these abilities that have been around forever finally being cut. We lost all of our melee abilities (even our ability to wield both a ranged and a melee weapon) in Cataclysm and this feels like they’re coming back around to finish the job. Even if it’s just a silly cooldown that I probably never used as much as I should have, I’ll still miss it.

Scatter Shot

Once upon a time, back when I spent a lot of time in Warsong Gulch while levelling my hunter, I was defending the flag in the Alliance base. An orc hunter named Dar (not to be confused with the awesome mage Darista, whom we all called Dar) came up the tunnel with a feral druid named Elu and, while I called it out (dude, I had humanoid tracking on and was shadow melded and was watching Dar’s dot come up the tunnel), I was unable to prevent them from taking the flag. Why? Because when I gave chase, I was suddenly disoriented. I lost control of my character. “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” I yelled at my computer. As I waited to be resurrected (Dar managed to DESTROY me), I scrolled up in my combat log. “Scatter Shot?” I said, “What in the hell is Scatter Shot?”

As a hunter, I knew I must have had the same abilities as Dar, who was about the same level as me, so I found it in my spellbook and put it on my bars AND YOU BET YOUR ASS I Scatter Shotted him every single time I saw him thereafter.

It’s another shot I rarely use, mostly just to prevent spellcasting if Counter Shot or whatever is on cooldown, but I’ll miss it, too.

Silencing Shot

I remember getting Silencing Shot. I believe I spent some time in the Western Plaguelands playing with casters as I learned how to use it. Counter Shot is fine, I guess, and I understand this is part of the larger picture of no longer having silences ATTACHED to interrupts, but it’ll be missed.

Serpent Sting

Oh, Serpent Sting. I think I’ll miss you, most of all! Hunters used to have a fair number of “stings”. Serpent Sting has always been around and it used to be terrible and not worth the debuff slot on mobs in Molten Core, for example. Scorpid Sting helped reduce the target’s chance to hit (and before that, reduced their Strength and Agility by a certain amount). Viper Sting was a mana drain. Wyvern Sting, a Survival-only (for so long) form of CC. I always thought that stings could be a REALLY interesting mechanic for hunters, that Survival hunters, in particular, could be a great DoT class, right up there with warlocks. Instead, they’ve already removed Scorpid and Viper, Wyvern is a talent and now out goes Serpent Sting. It was one of the very first abilities I gained as a hunter and I remember being awestruck and fascinated at the green vapours that appeared on the recipient of my sting.

I think this is the one choice that I don’t really understand. Serpent Sting isn’t automatic. It’s a deliberate choice one makes when they’re attacking the target. Not using Serpent Sting at all, or as much as you can (aiming for 100% uptime), is, well, silly, but it’s also the sign of a not-great hunter (at least on single-target fights). While we all SHOULD use Serpent Sting and aim for that 100% uptime, I’m sure many people don’t. Since it’s not automatic like Hunter’s Mark (unless you’re Survival and using Multi-Shot — which, by the way, will still exist!), I don’t see why Serpent Sting is going away. Is it bloat? Perhaps, I guess, but it’s not bloat like Aspect of the Hawk or Hunter’s Mark, both of which are either used 100% of the time due to lack of other options or are applied automatically. Even world-class players can’t always keep Serpent Sting up 100% of the time. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why this ability, which takes a bit of skill/practice to use properly, is being culled. Alas, poor Serpent Sting, I knew you well. /salute

What about Holy Paladins?

Honestly, good riddance to the Guardian of Ancient Kings as a holy cooldown. Adios, wings. Seeya, Divine Plea. I’m fine with all of these. (My jaw dropped into the apartment below me when I saw Druids are losing Innervate, so I was more prepared for our loss of Divine Plea.) I’m sure I’ll have more to say about healing, but for now, I’m pretty much okay with things. (Although Flash of Light and Holy Light healing for roughly the same amount feels wrong to me, but that’s another rant for another day.)

What do you think about the Alpha notes? Anything you’ll really miss?

But Wait, There’s More

Before I forget, my bio and first column are live over at SentryTotem.com! Every Tuesday and Friday, there should be a brand-new column from me about Guild Leadership. In fact, there’s a second column scheduled to go live today, so be sure to check it out sometime after noon Eastern, 9am Pacific. :)

I Wasn't Going to Say Anything…

As a rule, I try to pay very little attention to April Fool’s Day. I don’t usually participate in gags or pranks or what-have-you, myself. This year was the most involved in April Fool’s Day I’ve been in ages, and I wasn’t even very active. All I did was tell Rho that yes, he could tell people listening to Realm Maintenance that Blessing of Frost was coming out of retirement. (Which it’s not, by the way, but I do appreciate the comments from various people wishing that were the case — as does Maj!)

Yesterday’s April Fool’s jokes by Blizzard had two reactions from me:

1) Hah, these “patch notes” are hilarious! Love the Calvin & Hobbes references, among others.

2) … oh, right, it’s April 1st. I will ignore this “artcraft” post pretty much entirely.

I wasn’t going to talk about how the female draenei post was somewhat insulting towards women. I wasn’t going to talk about how intolerant people can be when the representation of a woman is less than a straight man’s “ideal”. I wasn’t going to talk about how the fact that Blizzard decided to make fun of the female draenei can be considered a statement that they find it funny to screw with the players’ heads in introducing a model that is not the straight man’s “ideal”.

And then Twitter exploded with reactions. Particularly on my timeline today, April 2nd, there’s all kinds of hate and anger — not just restricted to the joke. Backlash for the joke is fair, assuming it doesn’t cross over into abusive insults or threats. Saying “I didn’t find it funny” is fine. Saying “I didn’t find it funny because of points a, b and c, that I will explain below” is also fine. Saying “YOU #)*%_@#% PIECES OF #(&)!% I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU @)*$)!@* THAT #)*@% UP” is not fine. Hopefully, you get the point.

However, what’s happening on my timeline today is hate and anger directed at people who didn’t find the joke funny and decided to say something about it.

Dudes. (And I don’t mean just guys, I include girls there, too.) That is uncool.

Now, believe me, I have zero interest in defending WoW Insider in general. I’ve had my issues with them as a website and, in fact, make it a point to basically never read it. That said,  they posted an interesting article called The Joke is On Women and, subsequently, had to turn off the comments. Why? Because of all the awfulness that was cropping up. (Another great read, from The Godmother: That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.)

Look, I’m a woman, but do you know why my character, Kurn, is a male night elf? Apart from the fact that I instantly hated the female night elf idle bounce animation (for various reasons such as I don’t actually do that myself and, frankly, never would), it was to blend in with the masses. I never wanted to stand out as a woman among players, because I’ve been treated terribly in the past by a variety of people who thought that, because I’m a woman, it’s okay to objectify me and to treat me like I’m there for their pleasure. I worked as a writer on a high-profile website for four years in the late 90s and into the 2000s and part of my daily routine was weeding out the creepy messages from guys who were offering me a life of luxury to come be their fourth wife or concubine (I’m not kidding) or guys who demanded I spend some one-on-one time with them on the phone (which was not at all part of my job, but they insisted it was).

Due, in part, to those experiences, I decided “nope, I’m going to make Kurn a guy”. And it was lovely. I was left alone when I wanted to be. It was only when I rolled Madrana, a human female, that I started getting lewd whispers and inappropriate comments from people. I have actually said to people “I’m a dude” to get them to back off. (I once had an opposite-esque experience, actually, which broke my brain for a few different reasons, but anyhow.)

So, within WoW,  I took steps to make sure I wasn’t particularly bothered as best as I could (male night elf, telling people I’m a dude if they persisted, etc). Even on this blog, I have a comment policy that I stick to and ask others to adhere to, as well. Further, I’ve gone out of my way to be a good player, to help dispell all the “girls can’t play” crap that goes flying around out there. Basically, I’ve done what I can do to make sure that being a woman who plays a video game doesn’t adversely affect my gaming experiences.

Think about that for a minute. Being a woman can adversely affect my gaming experiences.

Being a guy does not inherently do that in the same way that being a woman can.

Guys automatically “fit in” with gaming culture because so much of the content is created by guys and, like it or not, for guys (even though female gamers are about half of the gaming population). In order for me to fit in and be comfortable, I have to do X, Y and Z first. I shouldn’t have to, but I accept it because to not do those things, to not protect myself, will result in uncomfortable, awkward and downright creepy experiences. If I want to play and have a good time, with other people in the mix, I must first take those precautions.

I’m not even complaining that I feel that I have to take these kinds of precautions, although it would be nice to easily fit into a culture I am definitely part of without doing so. The truth is, I’ve experienced this stuff my entire life. I was the girl who spent her teenage years calling local Bulletin Board Services and playing Trade Wars 2002 and Legend of the Red Dragon while moderating a forum about Star Trek. So, whether I like it or not (and I don’t), I generally don’t make a big deal about it because I’m used to it.

So, ultimately, if Blizzard (or any other company) wants to make a joke about a previously “attractive” character (how attractive is a female draenei, really? Horns, hooves and a tail??) being made “less attractive”, by changing the face, adding fur and the like, that’s their decision. My decision is to not like it and, as long as I do so respectfully, there’s no problem with my opinion.

The problem comes when either I am disrespectful or when others are disrespectful towards me.

You don’t like that some people are offended? Fine, feel free to disagree. Just do it politely and with respect. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, particularly if you are the straight male for whom the joke was obviously intended.

If you don’t know about Anita Sarkeesian, by the way, you ought to take a look at her stuff. She has had the most vile and horrific abuse levelled at her simply because she wants to deconstruct anti-feminist tropes in video games.

Oh, and one more thing, while I’m thinking of it: “feminism” is not a dirty word. Being a feminist doesn’t mean that you want women to be the dominant gender. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a crew-cutted, man-hating lesbian. Being a feminist simply means that you believe men and women are equal and should be treated as such. I once shocked the hell out of a friend of mine by saying “no, I’m not really a feminist” and she was like “… do you think men and women are equal and should be treated as equals?” I replied that I did. “Then you’re a feminist.” So go read some of these quotes about feminism to perhaps better understand what feminism is, but this is probably my favourite.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

– Marie Shear, reviewing Kramarae and Treichler’s A Feminist Dictionary in the news journal New Directions for Women (1986)

So when people — women, in this case — talk about being offended, look at why they’re being offended. You can disagree with them, but do it respectfully and with the understanding that this isn’t the first time they’ve had to deal with being the butt of a joke like this. As for myself, I simply didn’t find that portion of Blizzard’s April Fool’s Day funny and, really, I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but now I have. And I hope the Internet is better for it.

(As always, the aforementioned comment policy is to be adhered to, thank you kindly.)

My Own 90 Boost Adventures & Ruminations

Here’s where I confess that:

a) I actually resubbed for 30 days shortly after pre-ordering the expansion last Monday (and by “shortly”, I mean “within four hours”)
and
b) I boosted a warlock from 1-90

I know, I know. The poll results said I should boost a brand-new monk. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. I have absolutely no desire to play a monk outside of a tiny bit of curiosity when it comes to mistweavers. I did not want to play a monk.

Similarly, I kind of thought it, well, silly, to play a warlock. I already have a ranged DPS class with a pet — my hunter. So why the warlock?

Well, the first reason is because I’ve always been interested in warlocks in terms of a playstyle. DoT management has always intrigued me in theory. The second reason is that I’ve tried, on more than one occasion, to level a warlock. It never goes well (even with heirlooms — and I even have the heirloom RING!) and I have no interest in levelling a character from 1-90 or even 1-60 and then boosting from 60.

The third reason is that hey, I don’t much like the other options I felt I realistically had and so went with the warlock. It was the second choice in my poll, so why the heck not?

I’ll say this up front, I’m a bad warlock. I’ve spent about an hour at the training dummies and I am just not doing a great job. Part of this is UI-related (I need a good dot timer that ISN’T DoTimer because DoTimer keeps crashing my WoW, oddly) and part of it is that I’m sure I’m just not comprehending the subtleties of the class yet. Happily for the rest of the population, I have not grouped up for anything at this juncture, because I clearly don’t know what in the hell I’m doing and do not wish to inflict my idiocy on other people. You’re welcome! :)

That said, part of the reason for even using the boost was to help my professions along in the sense that I have:

– skinning/leatherworking on Kurn
– alchemy (elixir)/jewelcrafting on Madrana
– herbalism/mining on my shaman
– alchemy (potion)/enchanting on my priest
– alchemy (transmute)/inscription on my warrior

Those are all maxed. This means that, on Eldre’Thalas, I am missing just blacksmithing, engineering and tailoring as primary professions. I might bring my mage back from Skywall (at some point) and drop his herbalism for tailoring… but the point is, I wanted my boosted character to have blacksmithing and engineering.

Now, I could have, perhaps I should have, rolled a death knight on Eldre’Thalas, levelled five levels to 60 and then boosted that to 90, with 600 BS/600 Engineering. But I thought about it and realized that I really have zero desire to play a death knight. I don’t enjoy tanking and I enjoy melee DPS even less than I enjoy tanking.

So I boosted the warlock to 90 (male dwarf, FYI) and have the plan to make him a blacksmith and an engineer.

Problem: OH MY GOD, THE MATS.

It was brought to my attention that, previously in the expansion, Blacksmithing was changed and one is now able to use just Ghost Iron Ore to level to 600.

Ultimately, though it was good to know, it was kind of useless because Engineering requires many of the same materials as Blacksmithing. Additionally, the total number of pieces of Ghost Iron Ore required is over ten thousand. Even though it’s abundant and I could buy a bunch I’m sure, if I had to go mining in the old worlds for things like Thorium and Cobalt for Engineering, then I decided to do it “old school” for Blacksmithing, too, by just going around and mining for both professions while I was going to be out there anyway.

Total pieces of various types of ore/stone needed for BOTH Blacksmithing AND Engineering the old-school way: 5593.

Total pieces of various types of ore/stone needed for BOTH Blacksmithing AND Engineering with the “new” BS Ghost Iron Ore method: ~12000.

… yeah, OLD SCHOOL IT IS.

So, I made a spreadsheet because things just got complicated. Of course, it doesn’t include things like “Alicite” or “Wool Cloth” type materials. I have most of that stuff just lying around in my many bank tabs of my bank guild. I just tracked the stones and ores. Of course, in order to count up all the ores I needed, I had to look up the mats at various guides and then MULTIPLIED the number of bars they were asking for by two, in many cases, in order to come up with how much ore I needed. That’s not the case with things like Thorium, but is the case with something like Adamantite. So I broke down the number of pieces of all the types of ore needed for Blacksmithing and then did the same for Engineering. Then I hauled out Altoholic and searched through all my toons (on that realm, excluding the Apotheosis guild bank) and put in a column stating how many of these things I already had. Turns out I had a lot of Rough Stone, Coarse Stone and even Dense Stone. I also had a lot of Iron Ore. Then I put in the “Total I Need” column at the end, showing me how many I needed to have IN MY BAGS after mining to ensure I’d have just about enough. In the case of Copper Ore, I had to mine 369 pieces. In the case of Thorium, 609 pieces.

So I designated Saturday, March 15th, as #MININGDAY2014. Here’s some of what I did.

bsengineering3
So. Much. Thorium.
bsengineering4
On to Fel Iron.
bsengineering5
Adamantite took a long time, but was marginally less awful than Fel Iron.
The worst, to date. Cobalt was painful.
The worst, to date. Cobalt was painful.

So I did everything through Fel Iron Ore on Saturday, did Adamantite and Cobalt on Sunday and plan to tackle the rest later this week, as time allows. I’ll also be spending some time on Timeless Isle, practicing being a warlock, once I get around to doing a bit more reading.

As an aside, I’m finding something really interesting is happening since I’ve been back: many people are acting as though I don’t know what in the hell I’m doing.

Guys, I may have taken a break for over a year (17 months minus a week in there around Christmas, actually) but it’s not like I don’t know how to play the game. Sure, I didn’t know about the Ghost Iron Ore method for Blacksmithing, but even still, I discounted that method once I had learned about it, because 10,000+ pieces of Ghost Iron Ore versus fewer than 6000 pieces of stuff just doesn’t make sense to me, especially because I had to mine some of the old stuff for Engineering anyhow.

And yet, 90% of the comments I’ve received about this have been challenging my logic for choosing to mine old-school materials.

I know people are mostly trying to help and some are confused by my choices, but for crying out loud, I didn’t play for 17 months. It’s not like I forgot everything I ever knew about the game. ;) It’s changed, but it hasn’t changed that much. And it’s not as though I don’t keep up on the vast majority of changes. Or as if I don’t do my own research on things. While it’s really interesting to be on the side of things where I have to look stuff up and I have to confirm various things, it’s less interesting to be repeatedly challenged by people who think they know better.

To be honest, it’s making me think a lot about how I’ve acted in the past, when I’ve been on top of my game and have known things with absolute conviction. While I maintain that any advice I’ve given out in the past about this game has, at the time, been accurate, I can’t help but wonder if newer people (or at least less-knowledgeable people) were frustrated with the advice I’d offered to them. I know that I’m right about certain things (old-school mats vs. Ghost Iron Ore in this particular situation, FOR ME, for instance), but part of what fatigued me over the course of my WoW career was the constant questioning of my decisions. Have I, at some point in the past, caused fatigue or frustration to someone else when I’ve genuinely been trying to help? I’m not talking about feedback to people in my raid groups or guilds, but random holy paladins who were, as I saw it, Doing Things Wrong in random dungeons in the past. Or hunters. I mean, okay, the melee hunters in this Wailing Caverns run I once was snarky to, I’m not apologetic about. At all. :P I mean people to whom I offered unsolicited advice.

I’m trying to figure out which scenario I’m running up against here…

1) People are offering me advice and are trying to be helpful, despite the fact that it is actually not going to help me in the least.
2) People are offering me advice and are trying to be helpful because they think they know better than I do.

While I’d really like to believe the majority of people offering advice fall into group 1, I can’t help but think there are at least a few in group 2 and possibly some people who are both.

Again, this is causing me to be introspective. Every time I’ve offered advice to someone, I have tried to be helpful and have tried to make sure that the advice WOULD be helpful. But I know that many times, I’ve seen the problem as a very basic “oh, they don’t know about X, Y or Z, LET ME INFORM THEM” problem, thus falling into category 2. Have I been wrong in the past? Is it a lot more nuanced than I’ve seen it? Should I have been less willing to offer advice until I was certain someone needed it? I don’t know. I can’t help but think that if I didn’t offer advice, then maybe no one else would have. I can’t help but think that if people keep their mouths shut and adopt an attitude of “not my problem”, the community suffers. And what if people who are obviously struggling don’t ask for advice? What if people just sit there quietly, unsure of what they’re doing, but remain silent rather than open their mouths and be thought a fool?

Even after an extended break, I didn’t think I’d ever be on the “oh, no, Kurn, do it THIS WAY” side of things again. But apparently, I am. It’s a weird thing to go from being someone who knows damn near everything there is to know about the game to, well, not knowing, for example, that Blacksmithing is available to level from 1-600 with just Ghost Iron Ore. The last time I was this out of touch with the game itself was before I hit 60 on my first toon. And I don’t know if I like it. No, okay, I don’t like it. And I definitely don’t like being challenged by others on my various decisions, but I’ve done that to others in the past. I’m not even sure that the random, unsolicited advice I’ve given in the past is altogether justifiable, although I would think that telling a death knight “tank” to use Blood Presence is, you know, something they should do regardless of how tactfully that may or may not be put…

I guess I’m just trying to work out how I feel about people’s recent behaviour towards me and how my reaction to that may mirror how other people may have felt when I gave those others unsolicited advice. I mean, I’m thankful that people want to help me out. I appreciate the sentiment. And I like talking to people about the game. But maybe doing it in a way that is less challenging and more helpful (but not condescending!) is a better way to get one’s point across. Yeah, I’m wondering how I could do that, myself. Certainly, it’s a fine line to tread, but I know that I’d be more receptive to advice given in such a manner and I imagine others would be, too.

Today, March 17th, 2014, is the last day that you’ll be able to buy Kurn’s Guide to Being a Kick-Ass Raider at its introductory price, by the way! The launch sale ends tomorrow, so don’t hesitate to check it out!

All KINDS of Warlords Stuff

I have not one, but two post about the Warlords of Draenor healing changes sitting in my drafts folder, but then I took a nap and when I woke up, the Warlords of Draenor pre-order (and included boost to 90) had gone live (along with the $60 paid version of the boost to 90).

It’s as though I have too many thoughts racing through my head to get any of them down, but, by golly, I’m going to try.

“On or Before December 20, 2014”

The thing that seems to be causing people’s heads to explode is that, on the pre-order page, it says quite clearly “Game is expected to release on or before 12/20/2014.”

First of all, they’ve already said that’s not the release date. They’ve said fall of 2014. So that’s somewhere between September 23, 2014 and, shockingly, December 21, 2014.  My money is on early fall, but they’re obviously being very Blizzard about things and hedging their bets, as per usual.

Still, people are upset because that means more than a full calendar year in the Siege of Orgrimmar raid instance.

This isn’t new, though. Icecrown Citadel, the final major raid of Wrath of the Lich King (no, Ruby Sanctum doesn’t fully count), launched on December 8, 2009. Cataclysm launched one year later, on December 7, 2010. Dragon Soul, the final major raid of Cataclysm, launched on November 29, 2011. Mists of Pandaria released, surprisingly, on September 25, 2012. Siege of Orgrimmar, the final major raid of Mists of Pandaria, launched on September 10, 2013.

Given that track record, it’s hardly news that people are going to spend a year with Siege of Orgrimmar as the “current” raid content. It is, however, quite disappointing to a lot of people, I would imagine. I would further submit that this is probably the entire reason why pre-ordering now gets you the level 90 boost immediately.

On the bright side, Blizzard typically has beta periods that last approximately 6 months. 6 months from now is, you know, September. In my opinion, this means we are very likely to see beta launching in the next month or two. So they’re going to try to keep players occupied with new toons at 90, the beta launch, plus their other properties. (D3’s expansion is coming out soon, Hearthstone is certain to be ending beta soon, Heroes of the Storm is on its way…)

I’m not surprised. I’m not even disappointed, although I know a lot of people are. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve not played much of this expansion and I’m fairly separated from what’s going on, or maybe it’s because I’m just that jaded, hah! I actually thought it wouldn’t be impossible to get things going for a June release, but apparently I was wrong. Ah, well. I do think it’ll be closer to late September than late December, but what do I know, eh? Clearly not a lot. ;)

Healing Changes in Warlords of Draenor

Honestly, over the last few days, I’ve written over 3500 words talking about these healing changes and I can’t make up my mind about them.

On the one hand, I’m in favour of absorbs being less potent (I’ve always hated absorbs and yes, I’ve played a holy paladin), I’m in favour of smart heals being less smart, I’m in favour of having time to make intelligent decisions about on whom to cast which spell.

I’m not in favour of the cast-times being added to Light of Dawn, Word of Glory/Eternal Flame, Wild Growth, Prayer of Mending (and other priest spells) and Uplift.

I’m not in favour of healers having to relearn how to do their jobs all over again. My previous drafts rambled a lot about this point, but here’s the thing: DPS basically still does today what DPS did when WoW launched. Tanks have changed a lot, I’ll grant you, especially with this whole “active mitigation” thing. But healers had to relearn how to heal for Cataclysm. I’m not saying that was a terrible thing or that healers didn’t need a serious retooling, but here we are, just 3ish years later, and they’re removing the “mid-level” heals (or whatever you want to call them). So much for the three-heal system. (Actually, I’m well-aware that the three-heal system was already out the window come the end of Cataclysm, with healers spamming AOE and smart heals, and I can’t imagine that’s gotten any BETTER throughout Mists.)

It’s not that healing doesn’t need to be reworked, because I’m certain it does. I just think it sucks that the burden of relearning falls to the healers. Again. As if relearning your specific class again doesn’t suck enough (and it can!), learning how healing works in a whole new system of healing can be painful. Blech. I read the healing changes and immediately did not want to heal, period.

Out of the many words I’ve written on the subject, perhaps the most poignant (for me) were those that made me see that perhaps I’m just too old for this stuff. I mean, not necessarily because I’m old (because I’m not, shut up!), but because I’m weary. Part of the reason I stopped playing is because rolling with Blizzard’s punches just got really exhausting after a certain point. After seven years of adapting to every change and all the retuning and retooling and redesigning, I was just tired. Heck, I still feel tired. It used to energize me to know that changes were on the horizon. I’d jump at the chance to learn anything new.

But I just… don’t, anymore. That lack of passion, lack of desire to learn, it kind of indicates to me that maybe I’ve truly outgrown the game…

But You Just Pre-Ordered! WTF?

Warlords of Draenor Pre-order
… yeah, I did. Guilty as charged. I bought the pre-order for two main reasons:

  1. I’m going to at least check out the new expansion. That’s never been in doubt, even if my lifelong dream of getting server-first skinning has been crushed. I also had the money to pay for it now, so why not spend it now on something I know I’m going to want to have later?
  2. Even if I don’t play much for Warlords of Draenor, I want my stable of alts to be ready for the expansion for money-making purposes. (I’ve quite enjoyed having a stash of over 220,000 gold sitting there, ready for me if I ever wanted to come back and raid seriously again.)

I’m also seriously considering resubbing for a bit, but I wouldn’t expect that to last through to release. Maybe I’ll spend the next month or two playing around a bit and then let things lapse before coming back at the 6.0 patch, at which point I will endeavour to learn how to heal all over again, unless it really makes me want to cry. (Which is a possibility.) Still, I feel as though I owe the community at least a 6.0 holy paladin primer. We’ll see.

That said, because I pre-ordered, I have a shiny new boost to 90 I could use, if I resubbed, and I am incapable of deciding. Here’s a poll. Vote for your favourite options and I promise to take them into consideration.

Temptation

It should not come as a surprise to most readers that, over the course of my life, I have spent a ridiculous amount of time within World of Warcraft. I played for just over seven years and then stopped once my Annual Pass obligation was completed. I’d just stepped down as Guild Master (and Raid Leader) of Apotheosis and I was writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, attempting my 10th NaNo novel in the last 11 years. I’d just finished university a few months prior. I had grandmother stuff going on (moving her to a residence and such) and was focused on getting a job — a real 9-5 job — in my field.

So when I stopped playing World of Warcraft, I didn’t really miss it. I had a lot of other stuff going on in my life. That was, however, 13 months ago.

Lately, I’ve found myself tempted to start playing again. And it’s not just the “oh, it would be nice to play, but whatever” temptation. It’s the “man, I really want to play and this isn’t waning!” type of wanting to play. It’s the type of wanting to play that you have during weekly maintenance when you know you can’t play, so, obviously, that’s all you want to do. (Interesting. I wonder if I resubbed, and suddenly could play, if the temptation would subside.)

This latest bout of temptation has lasted about a week, so far, and shows little sign of abating.

That said, I’ve at least realized why I want to play. It’s got very little to do with the game itself, although that’s a part of it. It’s got to do with the fact that I am currently not feeling terribly accomplished in “real” life. But there’s always something to do in WoW that will help you to feel accomplished. Got a lot of farming done? There’s that sense of accomplishment. Killed some raid bosses? Amazing, there’s some achievement. Even got your equipped ilvl up a few notches? What a great feeling! Virtually everything you do in WoW has the specific goal of making you feel accomplished. (Insert long diatribe about how the game has a zillion tiny, and not so tiny, hooks to keep you playing…)

This was a problem for me, back in university. Who wanted to read about what dead German guys thought about society when you could go make 10,000 gold on the Auction House? WoW has always been a place where I could feel accomplished, so it’s no wonder that I’m looking in the direction as accomplishments in my “real” life are few and far between at the moment.

It’s not to say things aren’t happening in my life, but the lack of full-time employment is wearing me down. Apart from not having a reliable, regular income, which I’m actually somewhat managing, family stuff is taking a larger and larger role in my day-to-day life. To be honest, while I do love my family, I could do with a little less of them. So not only am I looking for something that will give me a sense of accomplishment and achievement, but I’m looking for something to take up space in my life. A full-time, fulfilling job would be keen. As it stands, I’m doing freelance web stuff (which is actually working out nicely and I just confirmed a new client the other day), but the downtime as I wait to hear back from clients is irritating, to say the least, and it means that projects drag on a bit without me doing any of the work I could be doing, because I’m waiting for feedback. (What, me? Impatient? Never! ;))

So is it any wonder that I’m looking at WoW? I could do any number of things in the game. I could take Kurn, who’s already 90, and go try to get geared up. Or I could take Madrana, who’s still 85, level her to 90 and then try to get HER geared up. Or I could take my shaman farming alt and mine and herb ALL THE THINGS and work on getting up to a million gold. Or I could roll a new toon somewhere, taking advantage of being able to mail BOA stuff cross-faction and cross-server. (I think I’ve had no less than three offers to come hang out with various guilds on Twitter, should I decide to resub and roll a new toon!) Or I could do any number of other things! (For some reason, I’m also tempted to do old dungeon video guides. My LBRS guides on YouTube, which are at 240p and are of terrible video quality, remain my top-viewed videos! WTF?)

The trouble is, though, that while I do believe my experiences in WoW have been nothing but amazing in terms of having learned stuff, at the end of the day, my item level doesn’t matter in “real” life. So all those feelings of accomplishment wouldn’t actually help me to change my “real” life situation. Ultimately, change in my “real” life is what’s going to make me feel accomplished and useful and will take up space in life so that I’m not dealing with my family so much. (Alternatively, if I could find someone in this city worth dating, that’s another option for taking up space in my life and such… but let’s not get into my lack of a love life.)

And yet, I wonder, would it be such a bad thing to resub for a month? The month of December is going to be fairly uneventful for me except for some stuff around Christmas and the end of the month. I’m in a holding pattern for both of my web clients right now (and one is going away for the holidays), so why not spend some time feeling good about achieving various things, even virtual things?

The other consideration is that I’m writing my Kick-Ass Raider guide and it would be really helpful if I could use examples to illustrate my points that don’t come from, you know, Wrath of the Lich King or Cataclysm. While I’m sure the major keys to being a great raider haven’t changed a lot in the last 13 months, it might be good to visit even LFR to get an idea of what Mists of Pandaria raids are like.

Speaking of my guides, something that’s really interesting (to me, anyhow) is that I’ve enjoyed writing them with some distance between me and the game. I feel as though it’s just a lot easier to write about various aspects of the game without having been a part of it for a while. It does make it a little more difficult in terms of talking about the pitfalls of raiding, which is why it would be nice to have more contemporary examples, but I couldn’t have written my GM guide while I was still GM of Apotheosis. I was just too close to the situations. It was even still difficult for me to write about certain situations in that guide because of how keenly I still felt them, and I didn’t even start writing that guide until I hadn’t been playing for over six months. Even after six months, I was still feeling things deeply. It’s easier now. So if I get back into the game, will that make things clearer for me or will things still feel “too close”, obfuscating the actual issues I should focus on with emotional reactions?

The other interesting thing is that so many other people have the desire to play! Several of my friends from Apotheosis who have quit now want to go back. Even my brother wants to go back. He and I had a chat on Friday evening that went something like this:

Me: “I’ve been so tempted to go back to WoW, lately.”
Him: “Me too! I WANT TO PLAY!”
Me: “Ugh.”
Him: “Oh my God, do you want to roll a new character with me on the Horde side somewhere?!?!?”
Me: “No!”

(What he doesn’t know is that it’s not because I don’t really want to roll a new toon with him, but that it’s because he said Horde and not Alliance. ;) I’ve never been good at resisting my brother’s cries of “LET’S START NEW TOONS TOGETHER!” It’s how I have a shaman, a priest, a mage and a druid. All his fault.)

Obviously, I remain torn. I do intend to resub at some point, prior to the expansion’s release (which I still think is happening around June 10th, 2014, give or take a couple of weeks) and I do intend to be around for at least a month at the release, but the question is when? Now? January? March? May? I guess we’ll see just how tempted I get over the next few days, weeks or months, eh?

How about you? Are you still playing? Tempted to go back if you’re not still playing?

Ruminations about Raiding from the Retirement Home

Well, hello there, folks. Apologies for the dust, but that strange thing we call “Real Life” seems to have expanded significantly since I stopped playing. Plus, who wants to hear about WoW stuff from someone who hasn’t played it since November?

Of course, though, I have things to say. I always have things to say. As usual, whether you play or not is your choice. These are just my ruminations about raiding. I’m not calling on people to quit en masse, I’m not encouraging everyone who’s ever quit to go back. I’m just writing because I have stuff I want to write about.

I’ve kept up with some of changes that have happened in the game since I quit in November. A lot of the smaller changes have escaped my notice or interest. To be honest, I don’t care about most of the balance changes, I don’t care about VP upgrades, Elder Charms, dailies or anything of the sort. However, what has struck me as interesting has been some of the discussion between Blizzard reps and various players about a couple of subjects. Specifically, the 10% nerf to 5.0 raids that is coming up in 5.2 as well as some responses to a thread on the forums about raiding being too hard and time consuming.

In order to address these points, I want to talk about my own philosophy and what encouraged me to raid.

RAIDING WAS THE PVE END-GAME

We typically spent a lot of time getting our toons from 1-60 in Vanilla. It took me 30 days of /played time, one full, real-life month (!) to get Kurn to 60. It was a long slog. Part of it was that I had no idea what I was doing to start, part of it was because I was distracted by all the cool things I could do in the world. (I spent way too many hours on a run from Desolace down through Feralas to Tanaris in order to explore the neutral Auction House, for example. There were many deaths as I ran down there at level 28 or so, collecting flight points along the way. I still had a blast, because it was all new and exciting!) I eventually hit 60 and was getting the hang of the various 5-mans available to me. I soon learned the best ways to clear LBRS, that the Father Flame event in UBRS was SO not worth it, that unless a warlock needed shoulders you should probably avoid Jandice Barov in Scholo, memorized the pulls in Strat Undead, figured out how to summon the Postmaster in Strat Live, figured out how best to navigate around Dire Maul’s various wings and, possibly most importantly, knew every square inch of Blackrock Depths and how to get everyone through Molten Core and Onyxia attunement. (Damn you, Windsor, DAMN YOU!)

As I saw it, the 5-mans (and LBRS/UBRS 10-mans) were stepping stones to the REAL end-game, which was raiding. I also acknowledged that not everyone wanted to raid or even had to raid. But the max-level instances were there to help attune us to the raids and also challenged us to learn how to play, basically. That’s where I learned how to pull properly, but that took time. I still remember killing more than one group after the rat cage in Strat Live because I pulled the patrolling abomination at precisely the WRONG time, causing a group of undead to join in the fun. But I learned to time things better and got to be good at pulling, as well as CCing and controlling my pet. (We will not talk about how my cat, Whisper, once wiped us all in BRD because we jumped off the “high road” and Whisper took the long way ’round…)

As I understood progression within the game, it was very linear. You got to 60, did these instances, then started raiding. And you would start raiding with the 20-mans, Zul’Gurub or the Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj, if you didn’t have 39 friends to go raiding with. So we cleared ZG and half of AQ (always less popular than ZG with my guild). We recruited constantly and only ever twice had a full 40-man group to go tackle Molten Core. We would usually be around 32ish people or thereabouts, of varying levels of gear, skill and specs. We once walked into MC with something like nine warriors. Awkward. But no more awkward than 26-manning Gehennas one night.

MC would lead to Blackwing Lair, which lead to AQ40, which ultimately led to Naxxramas, the original level 60 instance. Somewhere in there, around the midpoint of MC, you could probably start working on Onyxia, which dropped T2 helms. (Insert moment of shock when you think that they’re about to release Tier 15…!)

Guilds were supposed to work their way through the content and eventually arrive at Naxx and Kel’Thuzad.

It didn’t really work out that way, though. Given the amount of people needed (at least 40 to have a full-powered raid) and the amount of time needed to prepare to raid (flasks, food, all the farming), many guilds just fizzled out, the guild I was part of at that time included. You have to know that in any guild, you have a lot of chances for things to go kablooie. The raid leader or GM quits? The chances to come back from that (if it’s unexpected, especially) were slim, back in those days. When you had 40 people, at a minimum, to manage, things got crazy hectic and there was even less of a chance of overall consensus or acceptance of various strats because there were even more people who could disagree with you. Maintaining order was challenging.

So, to me, it’s not at all surprising that so few people ever cleared the original Naxx. You weren’t expected to even SEE Naxx back in those days. It was accepted that most people, even raiders, would maybe get somewhere into Blackwing Lair, maybe early AQ40, and that’s where they’d basically fall apart. It was only the most dedicated and talented (and, in some cases, lucky) players who would get through Twin Emps and C’thun and get deep into Naxx.

There was, of course, a time limit. Naxxramas came out with Patch 1.11, June 20th, 2006 and Burning Crusade came out on January 16th, 2008. (Wow. Imagine less than ten months between the final instance of an expansion and the release of the new expansion…) So guilds only had 7 months to get to and clear Naxx.

It wasn’t really possible for people to catch up and get to Naxx. That’s why Naxx (much like Sunwell Plateau later) had so few guilds that ever even got to it. That’s why they could re-release an easier version of it as Tier 7 at the start of Wrath of the Lich King. So few people had seen it when it was current content, it was like a brand new instance.

BURNING CRUSADE MAINTAINED LINEAR PROGRESSION (MOSTLY)

Burning Crusade was more of the same game that we loved. We still had to go through and do the instances at level cap before we went off to raid, only they also introduced “heroic modes” and made those attunement quests rely heavily on mastery of level 70 heroic instances. I won’t talk about the rep requirements for heroics, nor will I talk about how some of the heroics were really quite difficult, even for people who knew their classes quite well. Entry into Karazhan didn’t require heroic dungeons to be completed, but Serpentshrine Cavern required time spent in Heroic Slave Pens and Tempest Keep’s The Eye required all the Trials of the Naaru to be completed — which included Heroic Shattered Halls, Heroic Shadow Labyrinth and Heroic Arcatraz to all be completed. (They were all considered to be some of the most challenging dungeons.) Once you cleared SSC and TK, you could get into Hyjal. Black Temple attunement required an extensive questline and for you to kill certain bosses in SSC, TK and Hyjal.

Long story short, progression here was extremely linear up until the point where they removed the SSC, TK, Hyjal and BT attunements and released Sunwell Plateau which was open to everyone without attunement (although the last three bosses were gated for two months).

Still, things were pretty linear because in order to participate in T6 content, you pretty much needed T5 gear. You couldn’t very well show up to a Tier 6 boss and do your part as a team member in gear you got way back in T4 out of Karazhan. It would be like doing some of Molten Core and then showing up to Naxx back in Vanilla. You couldn’t do it — your stats would not be high enough to justify giving you that spot, unless you were in an exceptional group who dragged you through farm content to gear you up.

So we went:

60-70
Normal level cap dungeons
Heroic dungeons
Karazhan (10 people)
Gruul/Magtheridon (this is when raids started requiring 25 people)
SSC/TK
Hyjal
BT
Sunwell

Somewhere in there, I think with the launch of Sunwell and the Shattered Sun Offensive, Blizzard gave us badge gear. We’d had Badges of Justice for quite some time, but now it could be used to purchase gear that was … interesting.

These badge-obtained items weren’t quite T5 (ilvl 133) but they weren’t quite T6 either (146). They were in the middle, leaning closer towards T6, with an ilvl of 141, for the armor. The weapons were ilvl 146, which was BETTER than what could be gotten out of BT, just from a stat perspective, with the exception of weapons off Illidan (151, except the Warglaives, which were 156).

All of a sudden, you could go from being all decked out in Kara gear to farming badges for this badge gear and you could move from being relegated to T4/T5 content (none of which most people touched in pugs except for Karazhan, at least on my server) to being able to join a guild progressing in Hyjal and Black Temple or even Sunwell.

This was the introduction of the catch-up mechanic. While the removal of the attunements was the preliminary step, the introduction of this badge gear was the thing that actually enabled people to move from T4 to T6 content without ever seeing T5 content. You could go from pugging Karazhan or even just doing heroic dungeons, to a Sunwell Plateau pug on your own.

It’s as though, midway through the expansion, Blizzard realized “dude, if guilds keep getting stuck at these entry requirements (attunements) for each tier, no one’s ever going to see Illidan,” and then once they lifted the attunements, they realized that the gear was the stumbling block. “Let there be gear!” they said, and there was.

Despite this, and despite the blanket 30% nerf at the 3.0 patch drop, about a month before Wrath came out, Sunwell Plateau was not seen by a ton of guilds. It was more popular than Naxxramas was for a variety of reasons (no attunement, the ability to pug trash for epic drops, etc), but I know hardly anyone back on my server went into Sunwell. Even very progressed raiders on other servers had a lot of difficulty with Sunwell and many guilds broke up while coming up against the second boss, Brutallus, who was well-known for being a “guild-breaker” and the sole reason many people picked up Leatherworking, for the Drums of Battle that could be used for a “permanent” haste buff, which stacked with Heroism/Bloodlust.

BURNING CRUSADE-LIKE BADGE GEAR BECOMES THE NORM

So off we go to Wrath of the Lich King.

In Wrath, tier gear was available from badge vendors right from the start. Sorry, I mean emblem vendors. Remember all those emblems? Emblems of Heroism, Valor, Conquest, Triumph and Frost. I still call them badges. :P

Anyhow, you could now get TIER gear from these vendors. Not all of your tier at first, but once the Trial of the Crusader raid (T9) came out, you could use your badges (which you got from basically any PVE content, including heroic dungeons and even a random normal one, once a day) to purchase your entire tier set from a vendor.

This continued with Tier 10 gear from Emblems of Frost, although your methods of gaining Emblems of Frost were a little less varied than Emblems of Triumph. Here, this page explains things pretty well.

So it was during this period, around Tier 9, that you suddenly not only had a “catch up” mechanic, or a mechanic to help you out in case your tier token is packed or to help with bad RNG. Suddenly, players had an alternate method, aside from raiding, to gear up entirely. What’s more, since the badges were EVERYWHERE, basically, people weren’t using the gear to “catch up” in order to go out and raid. It was more just to improve their own characters for the hell of it. And who could blame them? If you have the ability to upgrade your gear, especially with such ease, why wouldn’t you do it?

This is also the point where, in my never-remotely-humble opinion, raiding stopped being so much about the gear, which had been a huge incentive for people for years to this point. Until T9 came out, you were never able to get all of your tier gear without raiding. Gear was many people’s GOAL for raiding. (Not mine, mind you, although it was always nice to get upgrades.)

Gone was the linear progression, entirely. You could now level an alt to 80, do a ton of heroics, get the lowest tier of your tier 9 and then jump into PUGs without being a drag on the group due to your gear. (That’s not to say, of course, that you wouldn’t be a drag on your group at all, but that’s another story.) In theory, a knowledgeable player could get an alt to 80 and decently geared in an extremely short period of time. It was during this time that I actually levelled a bunch of alts. I had levelled my hunter and my paladin, but I levelled a druid to 80 as well as a priest, a shaman and even got my mage from 70 to 80. I healed pugs on all my healing-capable toons and did gold-DKP runs on my hunter. I knocked out dailies and weekly raid quests on most every character. Without a doubt, I was the most active I’d ever been in-game, with six characters at level cap and almost all of them had at least a full set of T9 and I was capable of doing just about any content I wanted to with them (barring heroic raids).

JUSTICE POINTS, VALOR POINTS AND CATACLYSM

Once Cataclysm launched, not all tier was available from the vendors. Clearly, Blizzard had realized “hey, we should probably keep SOME of the tier to raids only…”. Still, players had all kinds of options from their Justice/Valor point vendors. While there were a couple of slots that were notoriously hard to upgrade (helm and shoulders in particular) in early content, but there were several off-set pieces available to people, such that it was also pretty easy to gear up an alt or a new level 85 character. Combined with Darkmoon Faire trinkets, plus crafted gear from various professions, someone could level a toon to 85 and then get geared and hop into a raid pretty quickly. Even while running a guild, raiding with that guild, raid leading with that guild, I levelled a second holy paladin from level 1 to level 85 and geared her appropriately for T11 content in less than two months. If I’d had all the free time I wanted, that would have dropped to maybe three weeks, total.

It only got easier once Dragon Soul was out and the Heroic Hour of Twilight instances were out. Plus LFR joined the fray.

It was clear that LFR (in conjunction with the nerfs we saw in T11 and T12) was brought out to push people back into raids. However, given the precedents set in Wrath of the Lich King (where people were able to get good gear just by virtue of doing daily dungeon runs over a period of time), the challenging aspects of the LFR raids were toned down, if not eliminated.

Blizzard claims this is due to LFRs being a group of 25 people who don’t communicate and don’t plan things out. That’s fine, I get that. But there were very few, if any, negative consequences for screwing things up in Dragon Soul’s LFR. People didn’t have to soak on Morchok, bounce the ball back on Zon’ozz, even switch to the “proper” slime on Yor’sahj. People could eat Ice Waves on Hagara and manage to live. People could easily ignore the twilight realm on Ultraxion while healers didn’t pick up the healing buffs and still live. LFR Blackhorn wasn’t anywhere near as challenging as its normal version and was a pale imitation of the heroic version of the fight. LFR Spine saw healers twiddling their thumbs throughout while DPS mindlessly did damage and countless abominations died before they were pulled into the proper position. Thrall kept dropping people on Madness.

So LFR Dragon Soul was laughably easy to get through, with most of the issues stemming from griefers: those who would start the fight before people were ready or the group was even full, those who would deliberately kill abominations before they were in place and the like.

At the same time, normal Dragon Soul wasn’t terribly difficult. My own guild stomped the first four encounters on Normal on the first night we were in there. Two weeks later, Deathwing was dead and we could start in on heroics.

Meanwhile, non-raiders could “catch up” through LFR and get very similar gear to normals, albeit slightly less powerful versions. Again, though, these people weren’t trying to “catch up”, they were trying to progress. And that’s fine, that’s what LFR is for, IMHO. It’s for the casual raider who wants to see the content and do the encounters but doesn’t have the time or desire to raid in an organized, progressive fashion.

But then, they nerfed the crap out of Dragon Soul, both normal and heroic, despite having LFR available.

WHAT IS THE ACTUAL PURPOSE OF LFR, NORMAL AND HEROIC DIFFICULTIES?

After they had nerfed T11’s normal modes after T12 came out (by ~30%), I know I assumed they would go forward and nerf T12 by the same amount (normals only) once T12 was done and T13 came out. But just three months into T12, they nerfed everything in Firelands, pretty much, on normal and heroic. Why? So that people could progress and see the content.

Once LFR came out with T13, I know I assumed that normals and heroics would remain untouched in terms of being nerfed. After all, anyone with ilvl 372 could get into LFR and see the content.

But no. They started nerfing Dragon Soul normals AND heroics just 9 weeks into the release of the instance, and that’s with an active LFR.

It was no longer about allowing people to “see the content”, as they had previously claimed. If all they wanted to do was to expand the number of people who see instances, they’d done that with LFR. No longer would instances mostly go unseen, as had happened with AQ40, Naxxramas and Sunwell Plateau. The trouble is that, due to the ability to catch up even more quickly, fewer people were seeing the earlier instances, although likely not as few people saw the early raids as the late raids back in Vanilla and BC. Anyhow…

Here’s what Blizzard said about the nerfs to Dragon Soul.

For any number of reasons a group may be having difficulty on a specific encounter each week, and our intent in adjusting the content is to ensure the ability to keep progressing, enjoying the content, and gearing up. […] Very few players are willing to suit up, buff up, do all the necessary requirements to raid, jump in, and then do no better than they did last week for hours and hours, only to return next week and do the same.

So it became clear: Blizzard wanted people to eventually see any difficulty level without always putting in the required time and energy. Right?

MISTS OF PANDARIA AND A RETURN TO DAYS OF YORE. KINDA.

Well, not really. Nethaera recently replied to a poster on the official forums, who had complained about being in normals for three months and wiping for 8 hours a week and she suggests some things that may be causing issues in the person’s normal raids.

You’ve found a bug or an imbalance in an encounter that’s causing you issues.

Your Raid team may not be using solid achievable tactics to approach the encounters and may need to refine them more.

Members of your Raid team may not have the most appropriate gear for the encounters. which can cause additional burden on other members who do have appropriate gear.

Members of the Raid team may need to change spell rotations or even talent options for specific encounters

So Nethaera is telling people to basically gear up, learn how to play their class, examine tactics and to submit a bug report if they think they’ve hit a bug.

This sounds like a perfectly reasonable response to me. This is what people used to do! This is how I’ve always approached the game. Make sure you have the gear, the skill, the knowledge and a strategy (or two… or three…) and note any weird behaviour that could be a bug. But Neth is telling this person who is stuck on normals to basically learn how to play the game. Good! It’s said a lot more diplomatically than, say, I would put it, but this is a case where the person who is complaining is basically saying “give me my loot with very little effort required”. And Neth says “no”. Yay!

However, at the same time this exchange is going on, the news comes out that they are nerfing T14 by 10% when 5.2 (and thus, T15) comes out. Bashiok says that they went “too far” in Cataclysm, meaning that they allowed people to skip all previous content, later on in the game and that fresh 85s could just hop into Dragon Soul. So now they’re going to try to force people to go through T14 content before hitting T15, and in order to make it a little more palatable to pug it, they’re going to nerf both normals and heroics by 10%.

But hey, if you killed various bosses in those instances PRE-NERF, you get a “Cutting Edge” (for heroic) or “Ahead of the Curve” (for normal” feat of strength! Snazzy. I guess…

SO WHAT’S THE POINT OF THIS POST, KURN?

I guess my point is that Blizzard is being inconsistent.

In the beginning, raiding was basically reserved for those who had the time to dedicate to it, but this was unacceptable.

They wanted more people to raid, so they lifted attunements in BC and implemented badge gear.

This presumably grew the game and so they continued with that trend in Wrath, with the game reaching

They feel that they did too good a job in allowing people to “catch up” in Cataclysm, so in Mists, they’re going to go back to the linear model, but make it easier to complete than it was before (10% nerf).

At the same time, by virtue of what Neth is saying on the forums, they are seemingly okay with someone in a sub-par raid group because there appears to be a limit to what Blizzard will do to allow people to progress without those people doing “the right things”, like gearing up, figuring out how to play and the like.

REALLY? NEARLY 4000 WORDS AND THAT’S YOUR POINT?

Well, there’s more to it than that. WoW is down to 9.6 million subscribers in Q4 (October, November, December) of 2012, down from “over 10 million” in Q3 (July, August, September). The Annual Pass ended, for many people, in November. Is the reason Blizzard is forcing people to go through raid content in a linear fashion because they’re hoping to get back to Wrath basics, where the game population grew substantially and everyone had alts? Is it because their early instances are being completely abandoned even by newer raiders in the more recent expansions? At the end of Wrath of the Lich King (reporting for Q3 2010), there were over 12 million concurrent WoW subscribers.

There are now 9.6 million.

I don’t think WoW is dying, I don’t think 9.6 million subscribers is bad. It’s leaps and bounds more than most MMOs have these days.

However, if I worked for Blizzard, I’d be looking back at Wrath and trying to figure out ways to entice people to keep playing. What could I lift from the extremely popular WotLK expansion and drop into Mists? At the same time, I’d have to balance how to keep the better/smarter/more talented players around.

I think the problem is that WotLK is when Blizzard got an influx of “the masses”. Not gamers, not people who understand what an MMO is or how things like aggro work. We’re talking people who don’t bother to train their skills, who don’t understand the game and they’re inflicting themselves on other players. So as game population went WAY up (and it clearly did), the overall ability of a random group dropped down into the basement.

I think that Blizzard needs to ask if they want 12 million bad players running around, making life miserable for everyone else on every single random dungeon or battleground or LFR they run OR if they want to keep the game interesting for the more talented players, even at the risk of alienating some of the bad players (and thus, their subscriptions).

I think a lot of this is tied in with how they approach gear and available PVE/raid content.

I don’t claim to have the answers. All I can say is that, if I were in Blizzard’s shoes, I would have wanted to keep people like me (GM, raid leader, blogger, podcaster) interested in the game. Since I am not interested in the game any longer (okay, not interested in PLAYING the game, since I’m obviously keeping up to date on some of the happenings), I can only imagine that people like myself (and Majik, for example) are being replaced by the people Nethaera responded to on the forums, who complain about 8 hours of wipes a week on normals for three months.

Which type of player is better for the game? Which approach is best from a financial standpoint? How can in-game changes to gear, gear acquisition, raid content and nerfs be used to maintain and grow this population? How can Blizzard balance the game population? Do they even want to?

Like I said, I don’t have the answers. I can only guess that we’ll learn more as Mists of Pandaria matures. Where will WoW’s population be for Q1 2013? We’ll find out in early May and that, combined with in-game changes, may give us an idea of where Blizzard is heading and what its true intentions are with regards to the type of players it wants playing World of Warcraft.

(PS: The final episode of Blessing of Frost is out. Enjoy!)