The Cub Report – Plotting a Summer of Science

Summer is almost here, and my wife Cassie has been looking ahead to what opportunities for fun and learning there will be for our 12 year old son. You know, the ‘Cub’ part of the Cub Report.

Her goal? Find something to keep him busy and off of Youtube all summer long.

As a side note, my mom did this too. What the heck is so wrong with spending a summer sitting on your butt watching TV or playing video games? Or reading comic books and sci fi novels. I know that’s all I wanted to do when I was a kid during summer vacation. But no, my mom wasn’t happy until I was out of the house and out of sight and earshot. Wait, I might have discovered the secret motive there….

Cassie has been looking for cool things for a 12 year old to do over the summer break. Amazingly, when trying to think of things the Cub would enjoy doing, the options are all coming up ‘science’.

Among the choices she’s looking into are the following;

1) Mad Science.

Mad Science is a very cool group. The Cub has taken part in after-school activities through them before, activities that included making and flying model rockets, building science projects with magnets or lenses or different types of soil, etc. For a summer program, the school is trying to organize a twofer, a Junior Robotics Engineer course, and an Amazing Chemistry course. Those would be week long camps, and make me wonder if they could do versions for grown ups because they sound cool.

2) Minecraft Java Mod Design.

There is this great sounding online course package that says it’s aimed at learners between the ages of 8 and 14. It’s goal? To teach young minds how to code and create their own custom Java mods for Minecraft. The description says they include the software needed for the work, and at the end of the course the student will have a working mod for Minecraft version 1.6.4 and will be able to take that mod and bring it up to date to work with the latest version, which is 1.8+ or something.

3) Project Spark (Xbox One or PC)

On a related note, as we have an Xbox One now (so the Cub can play online console games with school friends), one of the things we’ve installed is the ‘free to play’ Project Spark. it’s ostensibly a software system with community support that gives you the tools to design and build your own video games. It looks to me to be mostly for platforming style games, maybe some arcade smash em ups, and there is as you’d expect quite a lot of cash DLC available to play ready-made stuff or to get more content to use in building your own.

Alex loves building/creating and then playing his creations, as you do, and one of his biggest loves of the moment is the Steam game Besieged, where he builds siege engines and then uses them to complete missions requiring specific objectives of destruction. It’s also community supported, where you can upload your creations for others to try and can download theirs for your own fun. I think Project Spark may be another game along those lines for him, depending on the tool sets.

Whatever, I can easily foresee there will be designing, building, using and destroying in his immediate future, whether in Project Spark or Besieged.

4) Project Gundam.

Starting last year, I began to get the Cub involved in building giant robots. Gundams, of course. We’ve tried to set things up so we get two kits at a time, and we build them side by side. I have two nice worktables laid out where we can build them and admire each others’ progress as we go. His latest build was meant to be Master Gundam and Fuun Saiki which we gave him for Christmas, but midway through the build we lost one of the little pieces for the backpack. Just, I dunno, gone to carpet oblivion. I’m sure it’s warm and cozy in a nest of socks, but that stopped all building progression.

I took steps to finally correct this yesterday. I gave up trying to find the spare parts online, so I used some of my AR build fund to buy him another entire set. The build will continue! He’ll just end up having an entire second robot unicorn gundam, and really, is that such a bad thing? Can you even HAVE too many robot unicorn gundams?

5) Model Rocketry.

Picking up from where we left off before winter, we have an action packed summer of building models, shoving explosives up their butts and setting them on fire. Or, launching rockets in a refined, carefully precise and safe manner. Whichever works. We have several completed rockets already from last year and some left over engines all set and rarin’ to go. This year, I think we’re going to focus on what Alex wanted to do last time, and build an X-Ray model with the see through plastic cockpit so he can launch an actual payload into the sky. Putting an egg in a rocket and shooting it at a cloud never gets old.

If that doesn’t end up being much fun, Wisconsin is just a border away, and fireworks are legal there. It’s amazing how much trouble fun you can get into with a box of fireworks, a carton full of plastic army men, and some matches. Because as Lewis Black once said, “I don’t care about space exploration, I just liked seeing us lauching shit in the air.”

6) Ballistic trajectories and experimentation with physics. MATH!

Also known as ‘going to the range every few weeks and shooting bullets at pieces of paper’. Aside from Bill’s Gun Range in Hudson, I’ve found a few outdoor locations that allow the public to ‘go plinking’. Remember what I said about fireworks and army men? Yeah, that also applies to .22 rifles and army men. We also have been enjoying shooting games, literal games, where the target has tic tac toe on it, or battleship, or race tracks, and you compete on the same target against someone else to try and outshoot the other win the game. It’s AMAZING how this direct competition has focused all of us on pinpoint accuracy instead of being satisfied hitting somewhere near the bullseye.

Sadly, Cassie kicked my ass in tic tac toe on our last outing, legitimately. I was all proud of my leet planning skills in target acquisition, right up to the point where she says, “I don’t know why you didn’t just shoot to block me on the bottom middle.”

The answer is, “Um, because I didn’t see that. I, um, I didn’t see that move. Because apparently I’m not smart enough to play tic tac toe. Now I feel like a big fat stinky idiot.”

Of course, she could have missed.

Spoiler alert: she didn’t miss. I don’t know that she ever misses. Certainly not where winning a game and kicking my butt is concerned, anyway.

So… we’ve got some options. Cassie works hard at planning this stuff out.

Funny how many of her plans involve finding ways to engage his mind and challenge him with building stuff or making stuff… and my plans involve giving him choices to blow stuff up.

Gonna be a fun summer!

OMG Another Alt

My wife says I am the worst leveling partner on the planet.

My son agrees.

They double teamed me last night, Cassie mentions I’m horrible at starting characters with her to level together and then wander off on my own, and it became the two of them bringing up characters of theirs left lying abandoned by the side of the trail when i took my character and leveled past them.

Ow. That stings. The Cub mentioning his Druid left to wither at level 61 hurt. Especially since he hasn’t played the game in so long we finally deactivated his account. In a world of Minecraft, Besieged, Terraria and others he just doesn’t log in to WoW. But he still remembers, oh my yes.

Okay, to be honest, he plays whatever the Yogscasters are playing on Youtube. Especially Yogscasters Lewis, Simon and Duncan. Thanks to them he’s a huge fan of Goat Simulator.

Because goats?

I’m trying to be better this time, honest! Cassie and I have started up a brand new pair and we’re already level 11 together.

Um.

As Blood Elves. Female Blood Elves. Starting in the Forsaken zone.

It was either that or Tauren, and I thought a Blood Elf would look dead sexy as a Paladin in plate. She’s going the Shadow Priest route. Healers? This is post 6.1, who needs healers to level anymore?

I’m not saying anything for certain, but I might have respecced to Prot because I got tired of her Power Wording stuff to insta-death before I could get in range.

By the way, whose bright idea was it to give Shadow Priests a 40 yard range and Paladins a 30 yard? Are you people TRYING to feed her ego?

“Oh, did I kill it before you could get there again? I guess I’ll just have to slow down for you. Because you’re slow. Useless. Having to carry you around, slowing us down.”

Thanks, Blizzard. Love ya. I shoulda been a dwarf so I could blame it on those stumpy legs.

On the plus side, it’s a trip. It’s a funky bally high, man. (If you don’t recognise that line, it’s been too long since you saw My Science Project.)

I forced my evil will upon Cassie, and made her heirloom up on this one. I also sent her gold (although she refused to use it) to buy enough heirlooms to hit 35 and get those level one mounts.

Level 1 alts with mounts, full heirlooms, starting in a zone not your own… yeah, we’re a post-modern leveling family.

It is kind of fun. It’s not, like, OMG SO FUN SQUEE because there is an upper limit on how many times you can level another alt, but this combination is goofy enough, and having mounts to cut down on the horrible running around back and forth is cool enough, that it’s good fun when done with someone you love.

Someone who complains because apparently I quest wrong. She’s over there and where the hell am I? I’m over HERE. Killing the wrong diseased bear or something. That bear was diseased, what did you expect me to do?

Last night we’re heading to turn a quest in, both of us riding in our mounts spinning wheelies off the hillsides, and she starts getting chased by a bear. And she objects JUST because I yelled “Get her, bear!” Is that right?

What did she expect? Show me goldilocks and the three bears, and I’m rooting for the bears. This comes as a surprise? REALLY?

It makes it all worthwhile. It really does.

Next stop, Silverpine.

I’ll admit, I’d like some advise on transmogs for a Blood Elf Paladin (female) and a Blood Elf Shadow Priest (also female).

So far, I’ve got most of a set of Bloodfist Plate for the pally, but I guess there aren’t good shoulder options for that color scheme? I intend to look into how to put together a set that looks like the Blood Elf paladin NPCs but frankly haven’t had the time. So much to do in game!

An Old Geek Just Getting Older

It’s funny how time passes. Some things change, others stay the same, some changes happen so slow you never notice it happening around you.. or to you.

I’ve been interested in, fascinated by, obsessed with things considered ‘geek’ for as long as I can remember. I know everyone starts out as children with toys and, maybe, comic books or cartoons or sports games, what have you.

Is part of being a geek that we don’t put away childish things? Or is it more that we engage more in a world of the imagination, or the what if and could have been?

Do we share some reason in our backgrounds that makes imagining ourselves as other people in other lives an attractive escape, if only for a little while, from the reality of our day to day?

I don’t know. I can only speak for myself, and yes there was a lot of nasty crap in my life as a child, and maybe because of that or despite that I cherished stories and music and distractions that led me out of myself and into the life of someone else.

Is that something we share? Or is it enough to simply have a curiosity of the world outside we know that leads us to read or dream of something different?

I don’t know, I really don’t. I think about it every now and again as I watch my son grow up, and see how his interests develop.

The changes I mentioned, it’s something I’ve noticed very recently as I look over the things I consider my treasures, my keepsakes from years gone by. Things I put aside, small mementoes of special occasions, reminders of things I knew I’d want to save.

Concert tickets, bookmarks with pretty scenes (mostly of tigers drawn in the Japanese rice-paper style), dice and fantasy convention flyers, painted miniatures and buttons, a bracelet, a watch, rings and necklaces and earrings with feathers.

The small things that I tucked away in tackle boxes and small wooden casks, things that I take out now and have a quiet smile as I remember where and when I got each thing. Most of them I forgot I had, and seeing them brings those forgotten moments back.

It reminds me that, in those long ago days of my youth I’d wear concert t-shirts, or shirts with my interests there on my sleeve for the world to see. Buttons and rungs and necklaces, and yes earrings with a feather on, things to display my differences and my interests with anyone to see.

A shout of defiance? A big middle finger ‘fuck you’ to conformity? An advertisement to those with eyes to see that here was a kindred spirit? A little of all of it, and more besides.

But where did that young man go? It’s been a long time since I’ve worn concert shirts, buttons or badges, and it’s been a hell of a long time since I last wore an earring with a feather.

No bumper stickers adorn my car, no signs are seen amongst my clothes or person that here is anything other than yet another wage slave droning along the highway.

I still see others, young and fresh, boldly showing their loves and passions as slogans and images on their t-shirts, their lanyard or buttons on vests and bag straps, anything and anywhere, and i wonder where that desire went in me.

Do I care any the less now than I did back then?

I think it is a function of age. I think, and again it’s just me, but there was a long time when I wore my passions and flights of fancy on the outside… but now, it’s all inside me where nobody else can see. The songs, the camaraderie, the worlds I’ve inhabited only in my mind… I don’t feel the need to show them anymore. They’re always here in me.

It’s the biggest change, and it’s all inside. I no longer have ‘geek cred’, because it’s not what’s outside me. I don’t care if someone sees me and knows I’m different, or that I love comic books or Terry Pratchett or World of Warcraft. It’s enough that I know, because it’s part of who I am. I could no more stop liking those things than I could stop being me.

It leads me to wonder. How many more like me are there? How many more like me have there always been? Everyone you see has their own internal world, and perhaps all of us reach a point where we don’t need to wear it on our sleeve.

Maybe everyone you see in their plain cars and casual clothes, driving to work or walking down the street is filled with secret worlds that they never share and you could never imagine just by looking at them, from 40 to 60 to 90 and beyond, satisfied to have those worlds inside their hearts as welcome and familiar homes.

I’ve heard it said that my generation will be the first one to demand high speed internet for our clan deathmatches in the old folks home, but will we really? Or has technology only just now started to catch up on letting us be who we are inside, without being judged first by what we wear, how we look, what our age or color or sex tells the closeminded on first glance?

The promise of the internet was to know us not by outward appearance but by what is on the inside. To be ourselves, without filter.

When I pause to think of it, it’s one of the saddest things I know. That this great promise of intellectual openness is slowly being lost as written sharing gives way to the smooth voices on podcasts, and even more now by the selfie cameras on Youtube.

Once more we can judge you first by how attractive you, how you dress, how you act before we have to pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth, as if outward appearance defines what palaces of the imagination live in someone’s heart.

It does make me look forward to the day when the virtual reality of novels like Snow Crash and Ready Player One are real. When anyone can craft a visual persona and voiceover to mask their true self however they want.

To paraphrase a favorite super-villain, “When anyone can wear a mask without you knowing, you’ll have to treat everyone as if they’re wearing a mask. Then the only thing you can judge is how someone acts, and not what they look like while they’re doing it.”

Such a strange world. So much hate. So much pain. I never quite know what I think of it all, I just hope to someday understand it better than I do now.

I do know one thing. I wish more people were willing to look beyond the physical and listen, really listen to the words coming from other people before judging or blaming or hating. I wish that so much sometimes, but wishes don’t ever come true unless you make them.

Proving Grounds level – Tarnished Silver

Proving Grounds

Your mother was a mudkip and your father smelled of elderberries!

About this Proving Grounds thing.

Enough time has passed that it’s safe for me to say, if you were gonna do Proving Grounds, you did it. Or tried like hell.

I can remember the first couple of weeks after Warlords of Draenor was released. I played my Warlock (specced as destruction) all the way to max level. I didn’t take my time, but I didn’t rush either. I moved along at a right good clip.

As I’m in a raid team in the guild, and I knew that when raids were formed depended on who and how many were at max level and relatively geared for it, I made an effort to hit those check marks.

The Legendary ring was sure to be the obvious one. I know at one point, our raid leader told me that if someone hadn’t bothered to get to the ‘collecting Highmaul drops’ stage of the Legendary quest, they weren’t serious about wanting to raid and didn’t need to show up.

No direct pressure, but you could see in guild who was advancing, who was knocking down those normal instances, and then who was hitting the heroics and gearing up with blues fast.

It was damn straight a competition, and the name of the game was “Who is the most dedicated about being ready to raid.”

To do the Legendary, you needed some drops from three heroic dungeons.

To get into heroic dungeons, you had to get minimum of Silver in the solo instance Proving Grounds as whatever spec you intended to queue as.

So. The Bar has been set, grasshopper. If you can’t get Silver, you might as well not bother showing up to raid, because you won’t ever get the Legendary Ring.

As soon as I hit 100, my Warlock was in the Proving Grounds, and while it took me 8 or 9 tries, I got my Silver. I was a fresh level 100, and I can’t recall the exact number but I think I was around iLevel 595 or so. I Tweeted it when I finished it, so I could probably go back through the twitter archives, but really, who cares? If I had a brain in my head I would have waited for more gear. It’s no accomplishment to succeed at being stupid and impatient.

But I did it, and I certainly knew that in the Proving Grounds your gear was NOT scaled up, but if you were over iLevel 615 your gear was scaled down to that point. I was proud of finishing it, and I was damn glad to never have to do that again because what a royal pain in the butt.

Still, done and done, time to get my buns in the dun(geon)s.

Ah, but the story doesn’t end with that. Sure, I went on to do the heroics, and to progress with the Legendary Rung quest.

But Cassie got to level 100 as well not long afterwards with her Enhancement Shaman, and tried for Silver.

And failed.

She didn’t say anything about hitting it, she did it, probably so she didn’t have me breathing down her neck.

But she went after it. Many times. MANY MANY times. And she failed.

She got so disgusted with herself and frustrated with the challenge that she got fed up with the game and walk away.

I believe she didn’t come back until the first Highmaul LFRs were open for a while, and we knew you didn’t need to have Proving Grounds Silver to enter it.

How’s that for a kick in the nuts? You can’t queue for heroic 5 person dungeons unless you ‘prove you can play your class’, but LFR raids with 19 other schlubs? Oh, no problem, go right on in.

Months this went on. Every once in a while, as her gear improved and I slid her some enchants and gems, I’d see her slip on and try it again. But those AoE groups with the heals and floating chasing traps were just too much at the end.

So what, right? No big deal. So what if you can’t do heroic 5 mans, you can’t do the Legendary, you can still raid in LFR.

Oh, but if you can’t queue for heroic 5 man dungeons, you also can’t ever complete the Inn quests that send you into heroics for drops. That means no Avianna’s Feather, no Leeroy, no Croman, none of those things.

That’s bullshit.

I started pestering her to let me take a shot with her character at it, let a fresh pair of eyes do the run.

At this point, I’ve gotten Silver on every character I intend to do anything with. I ran Proving Grounds as a Destruction Warlock, Beastmaster Hunter, Feral Druid and Frost Death Knight. I got Silver with all of them, and truthfully once I did it with characters that had 615 or better in every slot, it was a piece of tasty red velvet cake with cream cheese icing and a little frosting carrot on top.

Arrogant? Oh my yes. I was sure, absolutely positive, just let me take over your character, dear, and I’ll White Knight this battle for you.

Yeah, no fucking way.

What I found out was how unmercifully bullshit that fight can be on a stock UI.

That fight is so damn frustrating with a stock UI, especially when you know, not think but KNOW that you can do this easy on your own system.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pro raider. Not even fucking close. See, I press buttons on my button bar instead of using tons of keybound macros on a pro mouse. Mouse key binds is the way to do it, where you don’t ever even have to look at a bar, you can use most of your key abilities right from different mouse button presses. Instant response. I tried it, just couldn’t deal with it.

So my UI had button bars on it, and I click on those buttons to cast abilities. I have carefully thought out macros and I do have things like rain of Fire on mouse buttons so I can easily click and drop out there on the field of battle, but most of the time I’ve got my attention split between the battle and the cooldowns on my button bar.

It is what it is. At least I don’t keyboard turn.

But I do everything I can to maximize my screen real estate. I use ElvUI because by default it puts my buttons al nice and tight at the bottom, frees up lots of screen, and puts my health and casting bars on the bottom left and my target on the bottom right. I can see my casting bar for making sure I’m queuing up my abilities the instant my current cast goes off, and I can see right there in bottom center the casting bar of my targeted enemy and below that my focus target.

If my target or focus target starts casting, I see it instantly in my prime field of view and can cast my Interrupt macro that beings with a /stopcasting and then fires off the interrupt right after. No delay, because I’m slow enough that I can’t possibly wait for a cast to go off, it probably took me a half a second to react once the bad guy started casting in the first place.

So with my UI, I can look at the center of my screen and see all the key data about my targets, most especially when they’re trying to get that damn heal off, and I can slam the shit out of them and interrupt it easily.

Not so with a stock UI.

The health and casting bars are way the hell up at the top left corner. I never look up there, I CAN’T look up there, I cannot process information from the very top left plus the moving battle in the middle AND the button bars at the bottom. Not happening. I can flip from middle to bottom and back, but not middle to top to middle to bottom to middle to oh fuck he got off a heal. Son of a mudkip!

I tried to do it with Cassie’s Shaman, and I don’t think I got past wave three the first time.

That was a wake up call.

“Okay, fuck this, that’s how it’s gonna be? Fine.”

I made sure everything was gemmed, enchanted, went to Icy Veins and checked for recommended macros and glyphs, aoe strategies, made sure every possible useful talent and ability was on the bar, food buff, good to go.

I prepared for war.

There was actually an ability she didn’t have on her bar that she wasn’t using. Just didn’t make it to the bar when they changed something over the last year.

So I tried again.

And again.

I went at that miserable piece of shit instance nine or ten times, getting ever more pissed off because I could NOT get used to where you had to look to see spell casts by the enemy.

I’m talking swearing at the screen telling it to kiss my big furry butt and getting ready to quit the damn game myself. It shouldn’t ought to be that damn hard to unlock a fucking heroic 5 man instance. I’ve done them plenty of times now; there are some stone idiots in those. If they could get through it, what the FUCK is wrong with ME?!?

But I finally got close enough, popped cooldowns and blew everything I had, and triumphed. And damn, did it feel good.

It also felt ridiculous. The only reason, the ONLY reason that was so miserable was because of the way the stock UI is laid out to provide information.

Dealing single target damage, fine, doing some AoE while hitting single targets hard, okay, moving and scooting out of the way of those stun globs while still doing DPS, fine, but moving and doing strong single target and also AoE and also dodging stuns and ALSO watching a cast bar at the top left so I can respond to a heal and interrupt it in time?

Just kiss my furry butt, man. You want to make us ‘learn how to play’, change your UI to help us identify the damn caster getting off a heal.

You know what would have helped? An option of setting a mob’s outline to glow or pulse red when they began casting a heal. It wouldn’t matter who the hell you had targeted or what their cast bar looked like if any enemy that started casting a heal began pulsing with a bright red glow. A simple mouseover macro tied to a left thumb button and you could quickly mouseover them and pop an interrupt.

Oh, would that trivialize the challenge of interrupting?

I respectfully submit to you my opinion that if the challenge lies in using your shitty UI to be able to tell who is casting or what it is they’re casting, and a UI that better conveys critical information in a tight space negates that challenge, the challenge is crap.

Still. It felt very good to finish that for her, so we can do heroics together and open the rest of the game for her to do if SHE chooses, and not feel blocked because she can’t interrupt a damn heal fast enough while dodging stun balls.

I hate to say it, but it’s true. I know it to be true.

If I had to play the game with the stock UI, I’d quit. I wouldn’t enjoy it after being able to play using a UI laid out by someone who had some sense. Someone that looked at the increasingly difficult raid requirements and realized we needed better access to information to speed up response times.

I’ve been using ElvUI too long. I just didn’t know how bad the default really was for SEEING things.

I can’t help feeling sorrow for anyone that uses the default UI, has tried like hell to do the Proving Grounds, and has failed.

It’s not you. Dear lord, please believe me, it’s not you. I know it must be frustrating to see other people get it done, but it doesn’t mean you suck.

It might just mean that you aren’t playing with the same advantages as others. You might still be foolish enough to think that everything in the game can be done by a reasonably experienced gamer using stock WoW user interfaces without macros or addons.

You poor, poor deluded soul.

The Things That Keep Me Going in Draenor

There was an announcement that subscription figures for WoW were way down. Subscription I assume means active accounts, because with the WoW Token being added what exactly defines a subscription has completely changed. I mean, thanks to the tokens I’ve got my account paid through to next July 2016, and it’s not going to cost me a dime.

With that news, I’m seeing discussion on social media along the lines of, “Well of course subscriber numbers are down because Warlords sucks, and this is why…”.

Sigh.

Okay, it’s a new expansion, and Blizzard tries new things every time around. This time there were some major changes to the core gameplay. Better? Worse?

It’s not your vanilla WoW, but overall I like it.

In fact, I’d argue that overall this expansion has kept me engaged and logging in daily FAR more than any expansion has before.

I know everyone’s mileage on these things vary, but there are lots of things I like, and I want to talk about this because it’s not all doom and gloom and end of the world like I think it would look if I were on the outside.

The first thing I see polarizing people is the Garrison.

I like the Garrison. The Garrison is my core gameplay now. It took the initial promise of the Pandarian farm and expanded it in a way that makes it an excellent starting hub for all of my activities.

Leaving what the Garrison is aside, what I like about playing in it each day is that it has similar gameplay to my mobile phone game apps, which is exactly what I hoped it would be when it was announced.

Just like on the mobile phone games I play, I am not expected to log in and play for hours in the Garrison. Instead, I can log on quick, collect some rewards and shuffle some followers around and level some up to be more effective, rearrange some teams for different bonuses, and then send them back out on missions.

It really is similar to how I play on my mobile games. I log in for a few minutes to do stuff and then it’s time to wait for them to be done.

Now, I’ve sabotaged my own gameplay here. What is quick and easy for one character becomes a lot of time when you have seven fully leveled alts that you try and keep equally maintained. Blizzard isn’t making me do that, I am doing it to myself. BUT.

BIG but. I find the time I am spending doing garrison chores on seven alts to be worth the investment. By spending so much time on garrison missions, I have constant gold and items to sell from the salvage yard rolling in all the time. With lots of epic mounts and treasure hunters, the missions all finish up fast enough to do three, four or even more rounds of missions per characters each day.

And with so many salvage crates to open, it ends up giving me a steady stream of crafting materials and epics to sell, meaning I don’t have to spend time running the herb garden or mine anymore. If I get low on ore or cloth, I use excess garrison resources to buy them at the trading post on days when the prices favor me.

It’s exactly like a small mobile game of managing the team and keeping them busy, doing profession crafting and everything else. The only time I ever have to leave the garrison to actually DO something to keep them going is when I need to go trap a lot more clefthoof for leather and Savage Blood. Just from the trapping, I have 90 Savage Blood that have stacked up that I don’t know what to do with.

Which rolls on into another thing I like that keeps me going. Getting gear upgrades from routes other than raiding. Gearing up alts so they are viable in current raids as replacements if needed.

Note, I’m saying viable replacements, not GOOD replacements. But with the way you can craft items and upgrade them, and how plentiful the upgrade materials can be, the three item limit makes a lot of sense. After all, it’s pretty easy to get three items to max, and they are comparable to good current tier normal raid gear, and even on a par with heroics.

Then there are all the BoE epic drops from raids, items you frequently find for sale on the auction house, and all the items that you can get from garrison missions that are bind on pickup.

There has never been a time in the game before where you could level and gear up an alt easier so that you can play that alt and feel reasonably powerful at that point in the game. Even if you never do LFR, you can still have your character geared up with reasonably powerful stuff so the PvE content in the open world doesn’t just eat your lunch.

There are also other things I really like. Like mobility.

A lot has been made of the lack of flying in the open world of Draenor, but honestly I don’t miss it. There are lots of different ways of moving around quickly, and if you allow yourself to adapt to them it does make distance a lot more important.

For example, if you choose to you can create a building in your garrison that lets you teleport around using waygates. If you did some of the garrison missions, one of them opened up a mole machine right outside your front gate (for Alliance, anyway) that gives you instant travel to your Gorgrond outpost.

If you were able to complete the solo Silver ranking challenge, you could unlock heroic instances and with the Inn building, complete Inn quests for very cool rewards, one of which is Avianna’s Feather, and item that has a ten minute cooldown, and when used blows you high up into the sky, and then triggers wings that let you glide for, damn half an entire zone. CRAZY far. That’s every ten minutes.

Don’t have an Inn? Not able to complete the Silver ranking challenge? You can still get the same effect by building an engineering wonders structure in your garrison. The Skyterror (I think it’s called) device does the exact same thing as Avianna’s Feather, it just has charges and looks different because you ride a rocket up into the sky and have an actual glider instead of glowing wings.

I do miss using my flying mounts whenever I want, but I don’t miss the functionality of flying because with mines and herb gardens I don’t need to fly routes to farm mats, and with the Feather and Skyterror rocket glider if I want to fly massive distances I can, at ten minute intervals. With the cooldown, it just means I have to be more careful, more mindful of what I’m doing.

I don’t mind that. Distance matters more when flying is a privilege and wasting your flight means waiting for ten minutes before you do it again. It also makes landing in tight spots feel rewarding. :)

Other things I like, I really like the garrison pet mechanics and daily quests. With so many pets in the game, adding a catch up mechanic that lets you buy stones to instantly turn a pet to rare quality feels perfectly timed, along with items to buy to help you insta-level them or just increase the XP rate if you like to level as you go. I have over 700 different pets, so this helps me immensely.

No longer do I have to feel like I must spend days camping a rare quality spawn of one particular hard to find pet, preventing other people from getting just one of them of any quality. If I can get just one of those super-rare pets, I can use an easily acquired stone to instantly make it rare, and leave new spawns for other players to get.

It’s funny, there are just so many things that are great, that give me freedom to choose what I want to do at any given time. It’s almost like a sandbox game now, with so many catch up options, so many old raids able to be soloed, the treasures and the LFR and such.

What can be hard is to find for yourself something you are interested in doing. Something that isn’t tied to a constantly growing story.

The one thing that I have felt lacking is a continuous engagement in the story. The Garrison Story Quests that were coming out each week were doing it for me, I truly felt engaged and delighted every single week to log in and see where the story was taking us this time. They had different rewards that felt good to get, they told us more of what was going on and felt like we were truly traveling in time through a changing world, heading towards the confrontation with the Warlords and with the problems Gul’dan is bringing to us in Tanaan.

When 6.1 brought no new quests, that took a large chunk of my engagement with the story away. I think that was a huge mistake. If there was one thing Blizzard could do to really up my involvement in playing, it would be to bring back the weekly quest chains and not have such a long dry spell. Having a quest chain building on the story every week didn’t feel like too much, it felt just right. If you want to catch up if you’re behind, being able to do the next part of the chain you’re missing each successive day would be perfect. If you miss a whole month, you could catch up in one week. That doesn’t seem too arduous a task. But having no new story quests for months, well, you gave me this wonderful thing and I got used to it. The loss hurts worse than when we never had them at all.

I do log in every day, multiple times, and I feel rewarded by doing so. Going out into the world finding pets and mounts, rares and treasures, trapping creatures, using engineering gizmos, a little archeology, even leveling new alts through Draenor still feels fun. With the XP boosts and heirloom upgrades, Draenor zones can simply FLY by if you start getting bored with them.

It’s all the little things, the attention to detail that keeps getting me.

Being able to log in and having my favorite pets wandering around my garrison, some of them seeing me and following me around, that’s delightful.

Traveling through a zone and seeing an icon on my minimap letting me know a treasure is near. I’ve got five minutes, let’s go see if I can figure out how to get to it.

Seeing a skull pop up and knowing, “Here’s a rare I haven’t killed yet! Get him and see what he’s got in it’s pockets, baggins…”

Since last Tuesday, I’ve run Firelands (just a few bosses) on all seven max characters trying to get the Alysrazor mount. No luck yet, so I also ran Black Temple and Sunwell on all seven, trying for the pets. Haven’t gotten most of them, but they go so quickly I’ve still had some cool transmog drop, it hasn’t been a waste of time. That’s a lot of old raids to run, and it’s all good.

I’ve figured out how to solo the rare Demidos with my Hunter, so I’ve been doing that once every day trying to get the pet he can drop. Seven kills, and you can only get loot on a character once a day, but sooner or later the odds will be on my side, and it feels satisfying on my non-raiding toon to be able to solo that bastard. His nerf to self healing and the constant AoE makes each win feel satisfying.

The addition of the garrison special ability, the one that changes in each zone, gets my vote for ‘new thing I never remember until too fucking late’. I can’t tell you how many Demidos kills I’ve squeaked by without using that damn Call to Arms button in Shadowmoon. Always makes me feel just a little bit like a dumbass.

“Yay I got him! Oh damn, I forgot to use Call to Arms. Shit!”

In some ways, I think this expansion is testing the short attention span player harder than any other. So much of the new content requires the player to take the initiative to seek it out and do it. There are no bread crumbs to tell you to go seek out most of these things. It’s there for you to do or not, as you choose. I wonder how much of this expansion blahs can be traced to that.

It’s also so easy to get garrison rewards to gear up your characters that are as good as or better than what drops from the current LFR, it makes me wonder how much of LFR is avoided because you’ve geared past it without ever raiding. As things stand, if it weren’t for legendary ring quests, my Hunter would never have to step foot in Highmaul for gear, everything I have is better and came from something else. I like it but at the same time I think it does marginalize the excitement of an LFR run and loot drop.

I do love being able to take an alt into LFR, without ever doing heroics, and be geared up enough to not be a massive lead weight sucking the raid team into the pit. My skill may suck, but at least my gear is appropriate for what I’m doing.

I dunno. A lot of people I like and respect look at this expansion and are bored and walking away, but I’m still here, I’m still liking it, and I’m having a good time. I wish i could point to one specific thing and say “But what about this, doesn’t this make you feel excited” but I can’t.

No one thing is a big thrill. It’s like the rest of World of Warcraft has always been; a game of incremental improvements and steady advancement. It’s not one thing, it’s a lot of little things that all add up to having stuff to do and be spoiled for choice.

Some days I wish that I had fewer alts, fewer chores, but at the same time I love all the benefits of having all professions maxed and all those garrison missions coughing up their rewards into my deep pockets.

I wonder what changes tomorrow will bring. Will gold missions get nerfed to the ground? Will crafted gear upgrades continue to work so well? Will the story of Warlords of Draenor return in 6.2 with a roar and bring back the feeling that things are happening all around us, or have we already seen the best this expansion will have to offer?

Will we someday soon see a payoff of the promise of a revamped Burning Crusade? So far this expansion has seemed like Burning Crusade 2.0, this time done with us being involved in the story every step of the way. Will we eventually see something as epic as a revamped Black Temple, with all the horror and massive scope that would entail?

Are we truly going to see the birth of the Burning Legion, as fel power returns in spades, and the demons and the green skinned orcs crank everything up all over again, but this time we get a front row seat? Where is this whole thing going? Are we still building to a big payoff, are we in halftime or is the game nearly over and minutes left to make the play?

Everything is good as it is right now… while we wait. While I wait. But I know that if things don’t pick up soon, it’s going to be hard to stay with it. It’s all well and good to know we’re in  for a shipload of trouble in 6.2, but what I hear about the story seems like it’s timeless isle 2.0, and I don’t know about anyone else, but timeless isle wasn’t story, it was more self-starting solo content. Treasures and rares and little things to do tucked in out of the way corners.

I need to see this story pick up where it left off, advance and grow towards something epic. There needs to be a central narrative that all these little things are built around for it to feel satisfying. I’m hoping… I’m still hoping. Blizzard did a great job on the previous garrison missions. I’m really pinning my hopes on those returning.

If you’re not enjoying this expansion, I can understand. It’s really a different animal from what has gone before. In this lull between content patches it’s starkly apparent how much I depend on knowing there is more story coming, and finding things to mark the time until new stuff arrives.

I do wish, if Blizzard takes any lesson away from this expansion, it’s that investing more time in the advancement of the story at max level through weekly quest chains pays off MASSIVE dividends in keeping me invested in logging in each and every week feeling like we’re going somewhere exciting. Those are so worth continuing, they are the one thing i would say is MOST worth continuing.

Everything else feels a good bit like marking time waiting for their return. the weather is fine and it’s nice to hang out sitting on my surfboard, but there is only so long I want to chill while I wait for a ripping wave to haul my ass into shore roaring like a freight train.

World of Warcraft is My Energizer Bunny of Doom

C’mon, you remember the commericals, right? That damn little bunny just keeps going and going and going, no matter who tries to take him out.

I didn’t expect to be writing about the game today, but a few things came up in the last couple weeks that brought doom and gloom and the usual same old into the WoW discussions I’ve been reading on MMO Champion and other sites.

The first thing I started seeing were comments about how horrible Warlords of Draenor is, and how people wished we could go back to Mists of Pandaria.

This brought about a round of replies, and I’m paraphrasing here, taking the tack of “We hear this every expansion, OMG Burning Crusades sucks bring back vanilla, OMG Wrath sucks bring back BC, OMG Cata sucks bring back Wrath, etc, etc it’s always the same thing.”

I’d like to address that for a moment. Without putting any particular judgment on the merits of those feelings, those arguments imply that it’s always the same every expansion with the same people saying the same things so it’s just silly people being hypocrites, the game is always fine in hindsight.

That’s not factual. If you stop and consider that argument, what is being implied comes down to “the same people always make the same complaints and can be safely ignored.”

The truth is, there is nothing here to say that the same people are saying the same things. All we can say for sure is that whenever a new expansion is released, there are people who wish some things hadn’t changed.

On the contrary, the ever fluctuating subscription figures give us some indication that people join and people leave, and within those numbers there may be more unseen churn as people leave but are replaced by new players.

It’s actually possible that, after each expansion, some people who came into the game and really enjoyed aspects of the play that were unique to that expansion did not like how things changed with the next one. They continued playing into the new expansion, began feeling dissatisfied with the changes, and eventually left or grew accustomed to it.

Nothing says that those same people who adapted to the changes in their second expansion were the same ones in the third expansion bitching yet again and waxing nostalgic and wishing for the return of the very thing they once complained about.

There is nothing to say that. But it is implied in that rebuttal, and that takes the relevancy of those complaints out of the conversation, doesn’t it?

I would like to make the case that with every expansion many changes are implemented in all aspects of the game, from PvE and PvP content to the core functions of character classes and abilities. It’s not just adding some new places to go kill bad guys and a change in scenery. Many things change, sometimes it seems just for the sake of changing things so there is something new and fresh for everyone to have to learn. One of the sure ways to reset some parts of competition is to change things so that everyone has to learn how to play anew (to some degree) and that includes how to play the character they’ve raided or PvPed with for the last 8+ years.

Almost every large content patch we see includes a rebalancing or adjustment of character class abilities. That can have a large impact on how someone feels about the game, irrespective of any other content additions or changes. A discussion of how that can affect people is very valuable.

I think in each expansion some players that came in and grew to love some aspects of the game legitimately find that, when the new expansion brings changes, some of the things they loved were changed around them and they either don’t like the changes or are fine with them but can’t adapt to them and become unhappy.

That does not make them bad people, or people who don’t have a valid cause for voicing their displeasure. Not at all.

But just as with anything else, if you are in a situation where what was once great has turned sour, each person has to make their own decision as to whether or not to stay and hope to rediscover that love in the new stuff, hang on and hope that future changes will return what you liked and suffer through until then, or leave, and go find something new to love.

I’ve taken the approach of looking for something new amidst the changes to love each time. That’s the reason that I don’t play my Druid at all, except to level each expansion and then abandon. I loved the Druid, then things changed in the playstyle and I didn’t like it so much, and I spent an expansion trying Cat and Boomkin until finally I moved on to Hunter and Warlock. Then Warlock changed this last expansion and I pretty much hate it, but that’s what i raid with now and i can’t change to raiding with hunter on the team so I’m stuck with it, and I make the best of it.

When Hunters changed from using Mana to Energy, I know a lot of players didn’t like it any more than I liked the changes to Bear Tanks. I was very fortunate in that I liked the changes to Hunters even more. Others weren’t so lucky.

Other people take the approach of looking around, seeing that the fun they were having has gone for them, and shrug their shoulders and move on to a new game, whatever it may be. They just vanish.

And then you’ve got the folks that become unhappy, and can’t find something new to get really happy or excited about to counter it, and who choose to hang on hoping the things they loved (or something new to love) will return, and they are vocal about letting Blizzard know that they aren’t happy, why they’re not, and in a perfect world what they wish could be changed to bring them back the fun they miss.

I can only ask that you respect everyone’s right to handle change in their own way, and try not to dismiss the concerns other people have out of hand when you don’t share them.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Plot Rant – BIG DAMN SPOILERS!!!!!

Saw the new Avengers movie Age of Ultron last Sunday, and yes, there is one thing I just keep going back over like a tongue over a missing tooth.

As good as the movie was, and as much as I enjoyed the character development of Hawkeye, it had its issues.

Fine, I get that. But most of it was subjective. What one person might have seen and been annoyed at, someone else might have really gotten into and dug. The movie was very good, and I really can’t pick anything out in that movie to be cranky about that I can’t spin it the other way and like. Not gonna try.

But… okay, there is this one thing.

Massive spoiler about the final plot here, so if you haven’t seen the movie, please, I ask you, don’t read past this. This is just my annoyance with the final scene as it is written, PLEASE don’t let my take on this ruin the experience for you. I’m going to say flat out that nothing in the movie as it LOOKS is a problem for me. The visuals were great, I enjoyed the acting, unlike many I enjoyed the pacing, it’s a great looking movie.

But the plot, the written plot, the story as it would have been if it were words, a novel, a transcript read cold, that I have an issue with.

Still with me? Are you sure?

Okay, let’s do this.

At the very end, big old Ultron has his master plan, he is going to hit the reset button on planet Earth by hitting us with his own version of the meteor impact extinction event. I like it as a concept, I really do. It ties in with the theme running throughout the movie, Ultron seems fascinated with, heck obsessed with evolving, extinction and growing, adapting, or dying off and making way for someone else. The whole meteor thing makes perfect sense based on how Ultron has been portrayed and his rambling monologues that we see over the course of the film.

What Ultron does is he makes this city in a European country into the meteor. I told you this was a massive spoiler, please don’t get cranky. He has an entire city fitted out underground with, as far as I could tell, an iteration of Tony Stark’s repulsor technology, and at one point the comment is made that the land mass is being held together by a magnetic field working on the ore within the bedrock.

So there you are, this majestic view of an entire city, bedrock and foundations and all ripping loose from the Earth and flying up into the sky. Awesome visuals, eventually the fight is being done on the city streets amid the clouds because they’ve gotten that high up, the whole thing is done very well. Again, not knocking any of the visuals of the film.

But here is the big challenge for the heroes, right? There is a city full of innocent people flying into the sky. A whole city. And Tony Stark peeks under the hood, sees that this thing ain’t just rigged to drop when it gets to maximum altitude, oh no, the engines are balanced on pivots and are set to flip over and power this thing down into a screaming eagle of devastation, driving the city into the Earth turning the city into a much more mass-intense kinetic weapon than just dropping a rock into a gravity well would be. Stark keeps up a sort of running commentary on how far out the blast wave of extinction would travel based on current altitude, until I guess they figure we got the point that this was a bad thing.

Still, all good and I’m fully invested in this story. What the hell are the Avengers going to do to stop the evil plot and prevent the extinction event, and at the same time save a city full of innocent people? This is a freaking great twist, the ultimate ‘innocents held hostage’ situation. You might sacrifice one or two people to save millions or billions, but a whole city? And if a city is too much, where exactly IS that line drawn? If 50,000 deaths are too many, what about 25,000? 5,000? 5? Where do you draw the line?

Great questions to force the characters to face, each in their own way. Great plot development for where the movie took each of them.

But… oh geez, but.

But then Nick Fury shows up with a SHIELD helicarrier that just happens… JUST HAPPENS to have a shitload of flying buses on board to fly over and evacuate the flying city.

And almost before you know it the entire city has been safely evacuated because everyone in the city is able to walk and can be guided at a run to get in one of these flying buses.

I mean… oh geez.

How does that make it through a script reading?

Nick Fury, who the rest of the world and ALL of SHIELD (except for a select core handful of our good friends in Agents of SHIELD) thinks is dead just happens to have a helicarrier that he pulled up out of mothballs. And he just happened to be able to get it from wherever he had it to the city, with the crew he put together.

Okay, I’m not gonna nitpick flight times of imaginary helicarriers. I would submit to you that the thing is too massive to have the flight characteristics of a concorde jet, but okay. I’ll give you, for the sake of argument, that this can happen. That when the Avengers get the nod from Black Widow and immediately head to her rescue, Nick Fury had already gathered a crew and recommissioned the helicarrier and brought it out of mothballs where it has been floating overhead somewhere, stealthed and out of the internet so it will come as a complete surprise to Ultron (who was all up in the internet) and be able to respond, literally, at a moment’s notice. So as fast as the Avengers travel, the helicarrier is only moments behind.

Okay, I’ll assume all that.

I want someone to explain to me, in itty bitty words, how the fuck he knew the threat was going to involve a flying occupied city that would have civilians that needed to be evacuated with enough advance notice to load up the helicarrier with flying buses instead of assault craft?

Don’t bother, I’m not buying it. That is complete horseshit. I’ll take the helicarrier showing up, but the flying buses? Fuck you.

Also, the entire population of that city can run? What about hospitals? Wheelchairs and walkers? What, do they all just die because tough shit?

No, no they don’t, but we don’t know that. We have to assume that this was all taken care of off camera.

Or worse than that, the writers figured the story was too bullshit for anyone to take a close look at in the first place, and if we’re wondering these things we’re missing the point of a movie about comic book characters. We’re thinking too much. If that were the case, it would be a bullshit move, because if we’re going to try to have a smart movie with tough choices and dramatic moments then don’t condescend to us right at the end because it’s just a comic book movie. You don’t get to have it both ways.

But here’s the thing that really bugs me.

The writers didn’t have to go this route. When they came up with this great concept for the ending, they didn’t write themselves into a corner that required flying buses to bail them out.

We can get a solution to this that is internally consistent with the Marvel Comics Universe we’ve been shown, even one that is consistent with the movie up to that point.

If you saw Iron Man 2, you’re familiar with War Machine, and you also saw the US Government wanted Iron Men of their own. They even contracted for autonomous guided robots, robot version of drones if you will. We saw that first implementation fall apart due to internal hacking.

Then in Avengers we see that Stark has taken this concept to heart with his own guided Iron Man drones, being used for crowd control. But of course, those are guided by Jarvis, the AI that was destroyed over the course of the film.

But.

If you take what we’ve already seen, we could infer that the US Government would have been on the brink of having Iron Man drones, functional and deadly, that only required software improvements to prevent hacking. Drone robots that were not part of the Jarvis loop because that was the point of Iron Man 2, the US Government wanted control over the project all to themselves.

And what did we have in Avengers 2? We had War Machine, piloted by an active duty US military serviceman and supposedly acting under orders to assist in the final battle.

So if we had a helicarrier and War Machine and the need to be ready for ANYTHING at the drop of a hat, then we could have had (instead of flying buses) a shitload of US Military war drones, remotely piloted humanoid robots that could fly. Primitive compared to the real Iron Man, sure. Hell yes. But still flying robot drones that can, you know, pick things up and have chainguns on their shoulders, or even just use rifles.

And the robot drones could have been flown over from the helicarrier to pick up people and carry them back over. To go grab cars, pieces of wall, whatever that you can stick a person on and fly them to safety. With the added benefit of being able to fight off individual Ultron bots, and be able to gently pick up sick and elderly and handicapped people and carry them to safety, no walking of the elderly required.

We could have flipped to those internal shots of consoles and drone pilots inside the helicarrier controlling the drones and having their own, very human reactions to the stress and confusion and urgent necessity of saving as many lives as possible. Of having to choose between playing hero and fighting an Ultron robot or of putting weapons aside to try and save just one more life by lifting a citizen to safety.

I’m sorry, the flying buses… that just irritated the shit out of me. A whole team of writers crawled all over this thing, and flying buses was the best they could come up with? Grrr. Grrrrr.

Okay, I think that’s good. I got it out of my system. 1600 words on freaking flying buses. If I didn’t really like the movie, you know I wouldn’t have cared less. But I did like the movie, which is why it annoyed me all the more.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Other than that, hey, how about that Hulk vs Hulkbuster fight? Pretty cool, right?