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Damn Shaman.

There is one final class I have never leveled to max in WoW; that damn shaman.

I came close on the Kael’thas server, real close, but stopped a few levels away. There were just so many times I could take the last five levels of Cataclysm before I snapped, and my shaman suffered the final price.

But here we are, and the days are ticking down to d-day.

D-day stands for denial day. I say it’s the day when my WoW subscription runs out a month hence. Cassie says it’s the day I try to log in, can’t, break down in a panic attack and resubscribe to the 100-year plan.

I hear if you sign up for the WoW centennial plan, Lore brings waffles or pancakes to your house, your choice.

The game time is there to be used, and, well, you know. Why not log in, just clear out a few of those last little things.

My Bear is sooo close to having a Legendary cloak, after all. I have eleven out of twelve Titan Runestones. I ought to be able to get just one little Titan Runestone next Tuesday, right? I mean, come on, there are the first two wings of Siege of Orgrimmar and the last two of Throne of Thunder, and as long as I leave Lei Shen alive to take his heart once I’ve turned in all twelve, I could have it all wrapped up before the weekend.

Then there is my Horde Hunter. I’ve been fortunate enough to have Tyben of the Elitist Jerks inviting me along to their alt night runs on Tuesday, so I’ve been having a ton of fun there. Listening to them raid and joke around is a hoot, and the vibe is amazingly like being with my own raid team. It makes me wonder if all extremely successful raid teams share similar qualities, being able to focus on what needs to be done next and improve every time instead of falling into bitching about what happened last. Also, having a sense of humor without a bitter, entitled edge to it.

Regardless, I’ve really been enjoying the Tuesday night Elitist Jerk raids, and that has me wishing I had better gear on the Horde Hunter so I’m not dragging them down, and THAT has sent me into every LFR instance trying to get upgrades.

If I set my computer on fire from running too much LFR in a blind rage, I blame Tyben.

Speaking of raiding, I’ve been spending Thursday nights raiding in my own group’s flex alt night on the Bear hunter, and having a blast there as well. it’s all flex, but it’s all right. Lots of fun, and it gives me an opportunity to hang with folks in my friends list.

But there is only so much LFR and Flex that can be done, and so my thoughts turned to that lack of a shaman.

Could I putter around and level a shaman before the subscription ends? I hear Elemental is a lot of fun, you can cast lightning on the run, all that stuff.

What could it hurt if I created a pandaran shaman? Maybe a female with the red raccoon tail, I’ve never made a female pandaran. Pumpken always looks super cool, maybe a mace and shield combo would be fun!

Wrong move, tofu breath.

I managed to level through the turtle isle, but damn did that feel crappy.

First thing was, I thought the wandering isle was kind of empty when I started leveling, which was awesome. “Oh boy, the boosted 90s have cleared out the crowds fighting for the mobs and drops! I have the zone all to myself for RP!”

Um, no. I think it was the Easter holiday effect. By the time I logged in to finish it up last night, there were billions of others cross-server leveling on that teeny little isle. Okay, maybe I’m exagerrating. Maybe. Damnit, I hate sharing leveling zones with a crowd. I want to take my time and enjoy the moment. No, I don’t want to group to power level through. Piss off.

Then there’s this whole elemental thing. From level 1 to 9, you’ve got a lightning bolt, a melee whomp, and an Earth Shock. You get a lightning shield after a while, but that’s not really something you intentionally target on an enemy.

Oh, and every time something starts whomping on you, it interrupts your cast, slows it down, over and over! I found myself kiting shit more while leveling the shaman than I do when raiding.
That’s just wrong. Lightning bolt, lightning bolt, back away, bolt, back away, keep moving, shit there’s four of them!

It was brutal.

That moment when I hit level 10 and was able to choose a spec made a VAST difference. Most classes I’ve played, you hit level 10 and you get more toys but you don’t feel that much more powerful. More tools in the box, not necessarily bigger nukes.

Oh, not so with the shaman! You get passives to reduce interrupts while spellcasting, reduced cast times, boosted power to your lightning, instant cast AoE knockbacks, and flametongue weapons. Stuff that I was kiting all over creation suddenly went down like dominoes. Big difference.

So I’m rolling around on Kargath, having fun as a Thunderbear. We’ll see how it goes, it was fun and frustrating to reach level 10 without heirlooms to make the game easy mode. Things felt challenging enough to have to use all the abilities I had. Now that I have my heirloom gear, will it be too boring to continue? If I don’t use heirlooms, will it take me the rest of the month to get to a mounted level?

Should I even bother messing around with another alt? Is there time enough for May thunderstorms?

Comments 5 Comments »

I still love World of Warcraft as a game, and I like the people I play with, but as of this last weekend the Bear family has joined the ranks of the great unsubscribed.

I have some time ticking away on my subscription, due to being on a 3 month billing cycle, but the deed is done.

There are a lot of things that go into this decision, but the single biggest one is a lack of having anything to do in game worth paying $50 a month for the family to take part in.

Note, I’m not saying there is nothing in the game to do. There are certainly plenty of things that any of us could do. We could all log in and /dance in Stormwind for 8 hours a day, but that doesn’t mean it would be fun, exciting, or worth $50 a month to us.

For the forseeable future there will be nothing new to do, nothing that we haven’t already done on some character, somewhere, many times. In most cases, many, MANY times.

I will be back when patch 6.0 is 100% fully released. It is doubtful the Cub or Cassie will return. Until there is something new to actually do, new goals to achieve, new rabbits to chase, we’re out.

For those of you who have been with me all of these years, yea even through the great content drought of Cataclysm when I proclaimed to the sky that you’d have to pry WoW from my cold dead fingers when the server shut down, I’d like to give you more explanation than that.

I love playing WoW, but right now I feel much the same as I did at the beginning of the long, boring stretch during Cataclysm when all we had to look forward to were seven long months of Dragon Soul farming on alts.

The single biggest difference between then and now is, now we can clearly see that the decision not to release any new content during this long intermission before the next expansion is an intentional choice.

I admire the creativity and skills of the programming, art and design teams at Blizzard, but running the game is a business. This isn’t something driven by the creative programmers, this isn’t based on how passionate the developers are. This is driven by number analysis and managing a brand for maximum income versus resource expenditure among a strong fan base.

Someone over there in the business group has run the numbers and determined how long they believe they can go without releasing new content and still keep x number of paid subscribers.

Part of that calculation of maintaining subscriber income comes from how much interest they think they can generate from buzz in social media, news teasers on patch 6.0 info, screenshots, discussion panels at conventions, beta news blurbs and all the other stuff.

Basically, they expect to use words and pictures and promises of neat things to come in the future to keep World of Warcraft visible in social media, alive in our thoughts, and us enthused and subscribed until the new expansion comes out. All without new content until then.

Sure, they know they’ll lose some people, but they’ve got hard figures from the Cataclysm slump before the Mists release to know exactly how many subscribers they lost over time, and how many of those came back once there was a patch.

It’s also reasonable for an analyst to expect the pre-order offer of an immediate boosted level 90 character to bring back old players or new ones, and that influx of new accounts should hide the churn to some extent.

For those of us who are long time fans of a grand adventure run as a business, we have to live in two worlds.

In one, we are romantic. We believe in the game developers, we trust their vision, we have faith that they are working to create the most wonderful game experience we could ask for. And I feel that is very true.

In the other world, we have to remain aware running World of Warcraft is a business, the goal of which is making money, and there are ‘suits’ whose purpose it is to extract the most cash possible from the franchise without risking alienating our romantic role-playing escapist side.

I’d say, the vast majority of the time those suits leave a lot of money on the table, erring in the side of caution. They leave the short term gains untouched to focus on keeping long term trust with us. I admire that. I really do. So many other companies have executives that get greedy and start milking that cow dry. Blizzard doesn’t do that.

All that being said… $50 a month seems pretty steep to us as a family to continue logging in to do a pet battle once in a while, or do a Flex run once a week. We’ve kept active accounts for, what, over eight years now?

I’ve never unsubscribed before. I’ve been one of the faithful for almost as long as my son has been alive. There are kids playing WoW right now that weren’t alive when my subscription began.

It’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is.

I’ve said plenty of times that I pay to play a game, and if Blizzard is going to choose to stop releasing content for a long stretch of time, I’m going to choose not to pay them for that same stretch.

I’m certainly looking forward to Garrisons, and new racial graphics, and a beautiful content that is the same and yet vastly different, and raiding with my guild, and everything that comes with the new expansion.

As soon as you provide them, I’ll be back.

All that being said, I have one foolish optimistic hope.

I hope that the real, true reason we have this insanely long dry spell is because we have to for the expansion coding.

I hope that they can’t do more content patches because they need one stable core software revision to base all their changes from.

I hope that, because first I am a romantic and I’d like to believe there ain’t no suits at Blizzard, just passionate gamers.

And also, that might mean their new file structure designed for easier patching might mean shorter gaps before new future expansions!

Yeah, I know but I can dream.

Comments 21 Comments »

Yesterday I talked a bit about class difficulty and complexity, and current worries about the game being ‘dumbed down’.

Now for the other half of the discussion – it’s too late Jim. It’s dumb.

Sort of.

At one point, things were reversed.

The game was complex, the classes were simple.

You could pump out great DPS, Healers had nearly infinite mana to blow the cool winds of healing across your weary brow, and tanks had the joys of new AoE tools all day long.

Remember Wrath of the Lich King?

What was different there was, the encounters were difficult and the game mechanics were complex.

Do you remember the days before Vengeance? When you had to have a Threat Meter like Omen if you were DPS, because if you went balls to the wall things would come and eat you instantly.

Do you recall those days, or has your etch a sketch memory relegated it all to some rosy-fingered caress of perfection?

Let me remind you briefly of the tools that Blizzard has available to keep the game complicated without using class abilities to do it.

Core mechanics is one of the tools.

All it takes is changing Vengeance a bit so tanks do significantly less spike damage and generate less threat, and suddenly the onus is on the DPS to keep it in their pants and assume responsibility for working as part of the team, or they get eaten (and healers have to unexpectedly blow mana to try and keep you alive or lose someone on a boss fight).

What’s that? They’ve already announced changes to Vengeance are coming? But not to the amounts of threat generated, just changes to rein in runaway tank DPS.

uh-huh. Sure. Okay.

How about that whole Healing mana thing and AoE heals? How healing works and mana regeneration rates and how many targets can be affected (whether smart or dumb) can have an incredible affect on every fight.

Oh, healing is getting changed too? Oh. So, could be easier in some ways… or not. It’s not out to TEST YET, so I guess we don’t really know what’s going to happen for sure. Maybe some things will get easier or smoother while others become more of a challenge?

How about mechanics?

Have you ever considered just how brutal boss fights could be if Blizzard wanted to up the challenge?

Do you remember the early days, and the proliferation of untauntable mobs? You had to let a tank actually build threat using their baseline DPS because taunts to boost threat to the top had no effect.

Oh sure, we still have that a bit now, it’s never entirely gone away. But we also have vengeance now. What happens if the developers decide to see how well you work together as a team in Mythic mode by making some bosses that ARE tauntable in LFR or Normal difficulties untauntable in Mythic?

How about some of their other already established mechanics, like the Garrosh Hellscream fight? I don’t know about you, but I simply LOVE it when members of your team get mind controlled, and they begin casting mind controls on other members of your group as well, starting a chain that will take over your entire raid team unless you interrupt them and free them.

Isn’t that special? And gee, what a differency it makes when the mind controlled player casts become empowered and you can’t interrupt them anymore with a Kick, you have to burn them down faster than they can get the control spell off on another of your friends.

I love that part of the fight. You’ve got huge pools of AoE poison dropping, massive waves of adds popping up like mushrooms, a huge demented Orc swinging an axe and oh yeah, drop your cocks and grab your lock rocks, because if you don’t apply some DPS to your friends RIGHT NOW your raid is wiped without anyone ever dying.

Core mechanics changes can make the overall game easier or harder. Encounter mechanics changes can make individual fights easier or harder, and have the added benefit of rewarding teamwork or punishing the lack of it.

Encounter difficulty doesn’t have to mean more health and more adds, and if Blizzard has shown us one thing over the years it is that they can do some truly crazy stuff with encounters when they want to.

Now for the best news.

All this time we’ve played the game, Blizzard has been hobbled by the inherent latency of the game client and server dynamic.

Bottom line, there was a limit to how fast they could require us to react because lag.

Ah, but what is this I hear? I understand Blizzard has completely redone their file structure system to make things oh-so-much more responsive and capable of handling complex chores faster between client and server!

http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/13645405

We’re introducing a new proprietary file format that we call CASC (Content Addressable Storage Container). We’ll be using this new format in the Warlords of Draenor alpha and beta tests, and our intent is to convert everyone to the new format in a pre-expansion patch. As geeky as it may sound, we’re extremely excited to be moving to this new file format. It provides a ton of benefits not only for us and our ability to support and patch the game, but also for players.

I’m laughing my ass off right now.

You know the game you’re playing now, and when someone announces some changes it’s understandable to try and put those changes into the context you’re familiar with.

I’m trying to tell you that until you actually play real raid content in Normal or Mythic mode and see how ALL of the variables go together, there is simply no freaking way to know what it’ll be like.

Nope.

Say I’m right. Say that there are too many things that are going to change for you to be able to make any kind of good guess as to what the new expansion will be like. Roll with that hypothesis for a second.

If that’s the case, why not decide to be positive and enthusiastic to see what happens instead of BITCHING, PISSING AND MOANING ABOUT SHIT YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT?

You’ve got just as much reason to be joyous as enraged right now. Being pissed off at this point is a choice you’re choosing to make.

Relax.

Remember one thing that should reassure you.

The developers know that continuity is important. They have shown, repeatedly, that they care about keeping the flavor and feel alive while they make changes to the game. They want to improve things and modernize the game while AT THE SAME TIME keeping everything FEELING the same.

They don’t want to lose anyone by shocking them with a total revamp of how things play out.

Look at the incredible lengths the art team is going to make brand new character models while keeping them feeling exactly the same, just… better.

What could be more subjective than how your own persona character you’ve spent over 8 years playing looks?

Yet they’re changing them, and somehow they’re nailing it beautifully.

If the choice is ours whether to be scared and pissed at upcoming changes or encouraged and enthusiastic, I think Blizzard has earned the right to have us be cautiously optimistic instead of, y’know, that other thing.

TL;DR – Frankie say relax, don’t do it.

Comments 4 Comments »

Warlords of Draenor received a news spike last week with the release of a bunch of notes on what we might see in the pre-release patch coming 6 or more months from now.

I wanted to inject a little sanity into this right from the get go. These are notes about what might happen before it’s ever been tested in something that ain’t going to be released for over 6 more months. Get a grip, people.

Anyway, gotta keep pumping air into the news bubble for WoW, so we got patch notes.

As expected, Twitter and the forums began to churn with excitement, enthusiasm and outrage.

The most common complaint I’m seeing in this first pass is that the changes are Blizzard ‘dumbing down’ the game.

This seems to derive from the stat squish, abilities being removed, some Glyphs being given automagically as you level, the removal of hit and expertise, the easing of facing requirements for the use of some abilities, and so on.

Complaining about dumbing down the game. Another way to phrase that would be simplifying the game, wouldn’t it?

What would be the drawback of a simplified system? Or put differently, what are the benefits of a complex system?

Seems to me someone desiring a complex system wants there to be a great deal to learn and master in order to become great at playing their class.

So that same person would not like a simplified system where the gap between a great player and a good player narrows. The larger the gap, the shinier the epeen. The narrower the gap, the more any gap can be explained away by class burst or imbalance issues, not skill.

The point here is to have an opportunity to shine as you excel at playing the game in groups.

But what goes into this gap between good and great performance? It’s not all just hit after all.

You’ve got baseline class abilities, stat optimization on gear and player skill.

Basically, in order to be a great player, right now you have to know what your key abilities are and exactly how/when to use them, you have to know what your most important stats are and reforge/select gear to maximize them, and you have to be able to PLAY.

You know, move your butt? Pew pew? That part of the game where you’re actually playing kind of thing.

So what’s the problem?

Yes, class abilities are being streamlined according to the patch notes. Fluff is being removed. Baselines skills and spells are being highlighted so it’s harder to get lost as to which you’re expected to use.

That doesn’t mean a player will know how to use them, it simply reduces the likelihood that a Destruction warlock will run an entire encounter spamming Fel Flame.

Now the gear thing, I can almost see the QQ there. After all, a reforging calculator is not currently built into baseline World of Warcraft. In order to be at the ‘optimal’ levels of Hit and Expertise, a player has to know about reforging, know about the character pane and how to find your levels, understand about your effectiveness and miss chances against mobs at various levels above yours and that raid mobs are plotted in as three levels higher than you, and all that jazz.

Right now an easy way for someone to feel special is to properly reforge their gear, and reap the performance benefits over people who don’t. A lot of that is going bye bye with Warlords.

And of course then there is skillful playing.

This is the tough one for your diehard e-peener, because some of those players that don’t read websites or know about reforging or what stats to use or what the ‘optimal’ rotation is for their class have the temerity to be fucking righteous players.

As Keanu Reeves once said, “This is for rubber people that don’t shave yet.” They can get out of the bad and stick to a bosses’ ass like a remora on a shark.

Can you imagine what it’d be like if they weren’t kept from realizing their true potential through things like obscure reforging systems and opaque hit and expertise ranks?

Let’s flip this on it’s head.

What is the biggest complaint in many LFR runs?

That so many of the players in them are on low-geared or new alts that aren’t properly reforged, gemmed or enchanted and where the players don’t know how to use their class skills.

When you think about it, is it really SO BAD that Blizzard takes steps to address some of those issues?

What, you don’t want Blizzard to simplify aspects of the game, but you do want to bitch about how miserable LFR is.

Is it such a terrible idea to contemplate that new players not have to reforge hit and expertise before stepping foot in LFR? That some class abilities be pruned and others enhanced to make it clearer what to use?

The average DPS or HPS or TPS will go up overall. The gap between these players and the leet will narrow.

But it will still be there. Those gems and enchants will still make a big difference. Your gear drops from crafted items and normal raiding will still help you shine.

If you want to keep your edge, though, you’ll really need to make sure you work on that whole skill thing. Because those newbs be narrowing the gap and sucking on your hind quarters there, chief.

I guess I can see some of the concern. ‘Dumbing’ down the game means the leet have to actually move their ass and learn to play if they want to stay on top.

If not, those rubber people that don’t shave yet will be eating your lunch, boyo.

Comments 11 Comments »

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-new-cast-poster-low-res

Last night I went to a midnight showing of Captain America, The Winter Soldier, and I wanted to do a quick review, no spoilers.

Quickest review: I really liked it, and I think I’m going to enjoy seeing it again. Maybe not as much as the first Thor, but more than Iron Man 2 or 3. Maybe just a touch below The Avengers. It’s a great continuation from the first Captain America and Avengers films.

I went to see the movie by myself because it’s PG-13, and I wanted to see what the action was like before letting my eleven-year old boy see it. We went to see Iron Man 3 as a family, and it turned out there were a lot more ‘people melting, on fire and exploding’ scenes than I expected from an Iron Man film. Surprise!

I’m glad I saw it, it’s a good movie. I’m also glad I didn’t take my son this go around.

No spoilers, but I’ll share a few things if you’re considering taking your children to see it.

First, this isn’t a primary-color superhero film. This isn’t Spiderman or Superman. This movie is, first and foremost, a very tight cold war technothriller involving super-spies and super-soldiers. Think more like James Bond 007 without the drinking, gambling and sex.

I’m fine with that, in fact I loved it. I’ve read the comics where The Winter Soldier was introduced, I always loved the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD comics, and there was a time in Marvel comics where Captain America was used as a super-spy by SHIELD as though it were a natural extension of being a super-soldier. This storyline felt very natural.

In case you love old SHIELD comics yourself, one of my favorite Marvel one-shots was a “What if…” issue where the question was asked, ‘What if Wolverine was an Agent of SHIELD?‘ It is a superb one-shot story, and if you find yourself browsing a bin of used comics, by all means look for it. It’s kick ass.

Anyway, I’m not the guy that’s going to walk in to this movie pissed because it had lots of spying and secret agent man stuff, but your kids probably won’t understand why a superhero movie has all these people in black commando outfits racing around in black Chevy suburbans shooting at each other.

Let me be clear. This film is a cold war technothriller in that there are two opposing forces with a whole lot of gray area in the middle, each is evenly matched in terms of power and influence, and they use the latest bleeding-edge technology in their attempts to gain the upper hand.

One of the strengths of this movie was in giving us two sides that could each argue their positions with passion and charisma. When you see an idiotic frothing-at-the-mouth twit ranting illiterate pseudo-Nietzschien crap, you wonder how the hell he’s got more than three people following him around, and expect two of them to be CIA plants keeping an eye on the moron.

In this film, when talking motive the speakers are able to passionately articulate their position so they sound reasonable. Caring. What they say smacks of fascism, but of the “yes, it’s fascism, but it’s okay because it’s us doing it, and you know you can trust us” kind of thing. “Oh, okay, if someone else were to say that I’d think they were a crazed would-be megalomaniac with dreams of world domination, but since it’s you saying it, we’re good.”

You can believe that the two sides here could recruit intelligent, committed people to their causes.

Bottom line, no real super-powered Loki-style colors and capes villains. It’s causes and crimes and sneaking and techno-gadgets. It’s “Trust no one” levels of super-spy.

The other thing to keep in mind, Black Widow and Nick Fury share a lot of screen time with Cap. That poster I put up there is accurate, Captain America is the star and we follow him around, but he spends a lot of time with our two other favorite super-spies. I thought it was great, gives you three kick ass stars instead of one, and let us build on their relationships.

Now for the two things that I thought were annoying.

First, we’ve got a movie starring a super-soldier that doesn’t use guns. That makes for some hard cinematic choices.

He uses his shield as both a defensive and offensive weapon, and they make a point of showing how skilled he is at unarmed combat. Through most of the movie, the action is tight and well filmed. Also, the shield matters. A lot. He’s a freaking genius in using the shield tactically, and they show it MUCH better than in the first film.

But in the first fifteen minutes, they are trying to establish that he is the ultimate bad ass. Where it went a little off was they didn’t show us his fights clearly, they used a LOT of shaky-cam and sped-up shots with weird angles to give you the impression of blistering fast movement without a clear idea of what the heck just happened.

They calm it down, but that first fifteen minutes had me worried that it was all going to be like the first Transformers movie, lots of shots of giant robot feet running by and crashing noises and falling rubble, but no clear shots of giant robots fighting.

The other thing to consider, and the main reason I’m not going to take my son to see it in the theater, is the nature of the violence.

Yes, it’s a spy movie, so there is a lot of political double-play that is going to go over his head.  Most of the plot is going to be muddy to him, so it’ll end up being a bunch of people fighting for no clear reason. That’s okay, he’s eleven and a fight is exciting for it’s own merits. How else can we explain the popularity of Dragonball Z?

But this isn’t blasters and stun guns and aliens falling down. A lot of real people get shot. There are real consequences and real tragedy and real injuries and death. All the things that make a cold war technothriller tense and exciting are present. Real people shooting at other real people, and dying.

I didn’t see any gratuitous ‘head blown off’ stuff, it’s not like that, but you can show people getting shot and have it matter without spraying guts across the room, and they do that. Most of the time when people got shot it was the ‘red blooms of color form on chest, people fall down’ level of wounding. And when superheroes get shot, they just get a little slower and their uniform gets stained, you know what I mean.

But it’s intense, and if you’ve got small children they are going to see gunfights in crowded city streets, and while you don’t specifically see the people in a bus get mowed down into hamburger, it would be easy to walk away with your mind filling in the blanks.

So in the end, like I said, I liked it a lot. I thought the acting was first rate and I’d like to see it again, but it’s not one that I’d recommend for the youngsters in your life.

That being said, I’d take my son to this one before I’d let him watch Man of Steel. At least THIS hero cares about saving people and doesn’t kill the bad guy at the end by ripping his head clean off.

Okay, that was a spoiler, granted, but it was for Man of Steel, so it doesn’t count.

Comments 2 Comments »

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