Archive for the “General” Category

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 19 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 »

You know that feeling you get, when you just can’t quite remember something?

You’re sitting there eating a Filet O’ Fish sammich and watching Eraser. You see a guy, and you know him but can’t come up with the name. “Who’s that guy? Hey, Bill, who the hell is that, the guy flying the chopper. Who the hell is that? He was in that movie with Bruce Willis, you know, he was like this old spy and shit. Damnit, it’s Jim something, wtf it’s RIGHT on the tip of my tongue.”

“Come on, what’s his name, white hair, starred in Our Man Flint or Flynn or some shit back around when Spencer for Hire was on the air, you’re old, you should know this. I can’t believe I can’t remember his name, it’s right there, I can almost touch it.”

“Come on, come on…. SHIT!”

You reach for the name, or the address, or whatever it is and you really strain for it, but nothing. Your brain gets the request, looks around at the shit you’ve got up there, no organization to speak of, looks back at you and says, “Fuck you, you want me to find something around here, clean this room.”

So you get frustrated, and the smartass watching the movie with you says, “Just stop reaching for it, think about something else. It’ll come to you out of the blue. You’ll be doing something else and think you forgot and BAM! Suddenly there it is.”

So you try it.

But it doesn’t come to you out of the blue.

So, so what? You let it drop, not much else to do. Meh, wasn’t that big a deal anyway, just irritating as hell. It’s gonna bug you for the rest of the day, like a tooth that got pulled and you keep running your tongue over the spot, oh yeah, no tooth.

So it’s gone. Oh well, no big deal.

Ah, but you’re wrong, fish breath.

It IS a big deal.

That guy, the smartass that told you to go think about something else, it would come to you?

He was right, you go think about something else, and somewhere in the back of your brain some wheels are turning. There are pieces of memories flowing by and a teeny tiny piece of you is sitting tiredly on a stool, watching all that shit go by on the conveyor.

Every once in a while the bit of you thinks he sees something, reaches forward, grabs it, turns that memory around and tries to match it up with what you wanted to remember… and then tosses it back on the conveyor. “Nah, not it.”

The problem is, that teeny tiny little piece of you is gonna sit on that fucking stool looking at shit flow by until it finds the right memory for forever, or you die, whichever comes first.

Sitting right beside him on stools next to that conveyor belt are more little pieces of you, all bored off their ass and patiently looking at every damn thing in your head, waiting to match something up.

Waiting to come up with that answer.

Forever.

Now ask yourself, how many tiny little bits of you can you afford to have tied up looking through your memories for shit before the YOU that’s managing the whole warehouse runs out of bits that can do any real thinking?

The older you get, the more of these pieces of you get tied up trying to come up with the name of that actor you loved that starred in a TV show in the seventies about a magician detective.

And you’ve got no control over it.

I’m telling you, this is serious shit, SERIOUS SHIT.

If you don’t nip this in the bud, if you let it go, I’m warning you, you’ll be as completely fucking useless as I am by the time you’re 40.

And nobody wants that, least of all you.

So get off your ass and bookmark IMDB.com, make sure you’ve got Google hotkeyed in your smartphone, and don’t let it go.

Whatever it is, don’t let it go. Answer that question. If someone tries to tell you to blow it off, it’ll come to you, tell them, “Shut up, I have to find out what the name of that damn Ewok was that Leia kissed, damnit, if’n I don’t remember I’ll end up just as stupid as Bear!”

Seriously. Nobody wants that.

Comments 7 Comments »

Last night I bought my son a planet.

How cool is that? I bought a planet for my son.

I shopped online, got a really good deal on a planet, brand new, nice solar system, fresh unexplored territory for he and his friends to play around on.

Even better, in this brave new world, I am God.

My son loves Minecraft, as do many of his classmates. If anyone knows this it’s you folks, single player can be cool but sharing what you’ve done with your friends online? Force multiplier of sheer awesome.

Some of the kids don’t play the same version of Minecraft the Cub does. Some are on the tablet version (PE) and others are on a trial version instead of the full thing. Still, four or five of them are on the PC and could join in on multiplayer if their parents permitted.

Before unleashing my infinite power and creating a new planet, I had to consider what my goal as a parent was in this.

What I came up with was;

1) A single place for them to play together.
2) Easy to setup/access for the computer illiterate parents.
3) A gated community for our children – no strangers AT ALL.
4) Controlled environment – game rules set to limit abusive behaviors.
5) Security – hardware and software protected from external hacking.
6) Persistent and independant – the game world exists 24/7, independant of my computer hardware or internet connection.

I started messing around with creating my own server world on my computer, biggest benefit being it’s free (assuming you own a licensed account for Minecraft) but I quickly ran afoul of points 5 and 6. If I’m running it on my computer, it’s always got to be on in the background. Also, ports need to be opened, forwarded, protected, etc. IP needs to be permanent instead of dynamic, all that stuff.

I set it up anyway, checked and it worked GREAT for the Cub and I to play within our home network. If it was just going to be a server for us to do multiplayer on it was perfect. To stabilize and secure it so others could log in? A bit more than I wanted to get into.

So instead of creating a world, let’s sub-contract. I went looking to buy a planet.

I checked a few server providers, and found MCProHosting. For about $2.50 a month, I could buy my own planet. Well, rent. But that included mineral rights, so it’s all good. We’ll strip mine that sucker and never look back.

Real estate has never been cheaper!

So yeah, I did that. I bought a planet for mah boy for his birthday. What did you get YOUR kid for their birthday, a PONY? Ah hah hah hah hah haaaaa. Losers.

What I found after dropping some dough on a discworld was that even for someone like me that has no clue whatsoever about setting up a Minecraft server, they make it pretty easy to take over possession of a pristine planet.

I looked at the options, and chose the $6 a month plan. The $2.50 limited you in three ways; overall Mb, only 5 simultaneous players online and vanilla Minecraft 1.7.4, no mods allowed.

For $6 a month, I get to have up to 18 players on the world at a time, more than enough to cover the Cub and his friends. Also, while it’s set up as a vanilla Minecraft 1.7.4 world right now, I have the option of either having MCPro install some mod packs for me, or I can select and upload my own .jar files and plugins.

Best of all, the world is a true gated community. You can set up your whitelist so only the player names you specify are allowed to log in. The Cub can give his classmates the IP address, but unless they give us their player names and we include them on the whitelist, they cannot come in.

This isn’t like a ventrilo or mumble server on your local realm, where if you give out the info for pugs in a raid you’ve got to change the password or wonder who the heck these strange people are. Set it up with a whitelist and everyone is forbidden access unless specifically invited in.

I like that.

Access is denied! Papers please? Papers? You got badges? You DO need to show me your stinking badges!

The last thing I did was go through the world configuration settings with the Cub before he went to bed. I ran down every option to ask him how he wanted it set up.

He got to choose that it be set to creative mode, that flying be allowed, that monsters CAN spawn but it’s set to easy difficulty so there will be SOMETHING to fight but not too hard.

And, at my very strenuous suggestion, there is NO PVP allowed. in the immortal words of Barney Fife, NIP IT IN THE BUD.

We both logged into the world before and after our changes. It was good, spawn point next to a lake, I got blown up by a creeper or two before we changed it to creative and the Cub laughed at me, but all in all a lovely little world.

Now comes the God part.

Before we changed the settings and made it a creative world, we were poking around on survival going “gee, it worked!”

I saw that while I was logged into the server admin panel, I could click on active players. I selected my son, and it gave me a range of options, including giving him any items in any quantity I wanted. I could also teleport him around or summon things to him. Basically, I had unlimited power over him without the itty bitty living space normally associated with it.

I tested it, selected a standard bed, quantity one, and ‘gifted’ it to him. Poof, it was in his inventory.

Suddenly, I can understand why some of these videos the Cub watches have interesting sub plots of the server admin whispering players on open multiplayer worlds and messing with them.

I’m very glad I am the admin. Not that my son would necessarily abuse the power when playing with his friends… but then again, I certainly would have when I was his age.

Are you kidding me?

If I could have summoned an Ender Dragon and dropped it on my friends’ heads when we were ten, you can damn well bet I would have.

The only difference between then and now is if I were to do it now, I’d FRAPS the results and post it to YouTube.

Cassie made very nice printed out cards with the server IP address on it, our phone number and email address, and put a note on them asking parents to call or email us for details so I can explain what it is we’re doing, and what the situation would be for their children while playing.

I hope we get some responses. It would be very cool for even one or two of the kids to begin playing with the Cub after school.

Especially since I’d be able to see what kinds of things they create when they put their minds together.

I am almost as excited as he is to see how it all turns out!

Comments 5 Comments »

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