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?

The Cub Report – Real Guns Go Pop Pop Pop

My boy has recently turned 12, which means it’s time for me to pass on some things that aren’t related to video games.

When I was growing up, my father immersed me into the world of firearms, along with a myriad of somewhat related interests. I know he didn’t learn these things from his father, because his father bailed on him when he was but a toddler.

My father shared with me exactly one story related to his interests from when he was a child.

He told me that in his early teens, the first thing he recalled ever really wanting was a fine old rifle, a lever action along the lines of the fine Henry rifles you see today. A lever action rifle with a deep blued finish and warm mahogany woodwork that he fell in love with. This rifle he saw was hanging on display in a furniture store, just another furnishing such as they did back then.

He decided that nothing would do but that he have that rifle, and as his mother was sternly disapproving but too Minnesotan to actually say “no” in clear language, he knew that he would not gain the funds from her but she would not stop him from earning it himself. He spent the entire summer working around the neighborhood at what jobs he could scrounge, mowing lawns, weeding in gardens, washing cars and cleaning and such.

Finally, the day arrived where he had earned enough to pay the asking price for that rifle. He went downtown, entered the store, made his purchase and took his new most treasured belonging home to examine and develop his first relationship with a firearm. To learn it’s feel, it’s balance, and the intricacies of it’s inner workings.

He took the rifle to his room, cleared a space on the only open area available to him, the floor, and carefully disassembled the entire weapon, laying each piece spread out in a geometric pattern so that the order in which he took each gear and lever apart would make sense when once he went to put it back together.

He felt the tension of the springs, the smoothness of each stone ground piece of metal, and marveled at the way each metal part had it’s own special and perfect fit against another, as intricate and precise as any fancy clockwork, but meant to puncture a primer and launch a bullet towards what could mean meat and a meal for a hungry family, or another night going without.

He laid each piece out fully, cleaned and polished each one, and used a fine cloth to place a light sheen of oil upon them but not so much as to attract dust or dirt to foul the action. You might say he spent that summer of mowing lawns dreaming of the day and reading up on what to do once he had the rifle in his possession. Now that the day had come, he was putting that book study and day dreaming to hard use.

With the rifle fully apart and spread out in front of him, he decided he was missing some important tool and went down to the garage to get it. He didn’t tell me what it was, but the impression I had was that his long departed father had kept a tool bench out there, and he had gone for a pliers or screwdriver of some sort.

By the time he returned to his room, in that brief span of time, he found the floor empty. Clean.

Very, very clean.

The pieces were all gone.

The carpet… was freshly vacuumed.

In the time it had taken for him to open his door and head out to the garage, his mother, my grandmother, had opened the door to his room…. and vacuumed.

She just vacuumed up all the pieces, drove that thing right over everything, scooping them all up with the rough spinning brushes and sucking them into the old fashioned dirt-filled bag.

My father made no bones about the fact he went ballistic. He told me in no uncertain terms how this marked his first true knock down drag out verbal battle with his mother, they went at it with plenty of Minnesotan passive aggressiveness and guilting being done by both sides.

In the end, my father never could find all the pieces to put that rifle back together, no matter how hard he tried. He claimed she must have held some back from the vacuum to throw out somewhere else just to confound him. She denied this completely, and who could say what the truth was?

This affected my father profoundly. It wasn’t long after this that he ran away from home the first time, and he told me it wasn’t the last time he did that. The last time was when he ran away and joined up with the Navy, not to speak with her again until he mended fences shortly after getting married and adopting me.

That rifle was a turning point for my father. A watershed moment, something that he used to later define himself.

He became the complete sportsman, perhaps as compensation, who knows? Who can say what is psychology and what is genuine love for a hobby or passion for an interest?

Whatever it is led him to master all manner of the art of the firearm, leatherworking, knifemaking and throwing, fishing and hunting and even such esoteric skills as the building of a log cabin in the wilderness using handmade tools.

When I came of age, when I turned 12, it was my father’s time to teach all of these things to me, and I was an eager student. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was as obsessive to learn every part of this adult world of skills and mysteries as only a young boy with nothing else to do with his free time can be.

I might have memorized entire decades of Field and Stream, not to mention many a years’ worth of Shooting Times and Guns and Ammo magazines. My favorites were the ‘Stupid Criminals’ section, but the stories in the back of Field and Stream were also of particular pleasure.

Now, I’m not a hunter or a fisherman. I kind of never really got into it for itself. I don’t need to hunt my food to feed my family, and I don’t see much point to doing it for sport. I can do it and I’ve certainly done it, but the camping out part and the shooting at targets was perfectly all right with me, I never really felt the need to go kill something to call it a good trip. If there is a need, such as to feed your family in hard times, sure, but just as a way of keeping score, nah. And I have a very nice supermarket right down the street.

Likewise for fishing, I know how to do it and Lord knows I’ve done my share, but if I have to choose my favorite way to spend an afternoon, it isn’t going to involve a boat on a lake with a rod in my hand.

But shooting. There is a powerful satisfaction in firing a weapon, in practicing your marksmanship and directing the rounds to go where and how you intend them to go. It’s not solely about power although there is certainly a part of that. But a firearm is a magnificent thing unto itself, a marvelous work of engineering. The clockmaker’s art combined with the physics of force and pressure, the mathematics of ballistics, the awareness of your environment for windage and humidity, the physical mastery of your nerves, your muscles, your heartbeat itself and the keenness of your sight all combining to place this small chunk of lead just so.

Self control. Self awareness. A general awareness of everything around you. Responsibility for your actions, the handling of the firearm, the safety of your movements at all times.

I’m not going to go full Hemingway, but there is a different feeling you have when you hold a firearm with the intent of shooting it on the range, even without a deer at the other end of your sights. A knowledge that what you are doing and the how of what you are doing matters, and that doing it right is how an adult acts. It’s important for itself.

And the shooting skills, there are no ways to cheat code those. You do it and practice it and if you do not shoot straight and true that target will show it. If you have a nice tight group shooting from the standing offhand, you accomplished that and nobody can take that away from you.

So, in partnership with Cassie, we have purchased for the Cub his first firearm, and I think it’s a fine one for him to learn the basics of safety, range responsibility and shooting technique with; a Ruger 10/22.

Now, it’s not quite my 10/22. When my father bought me one, and yes he did, what he bought for me was the original Ruger 10/22 carbine way back in 1982 or so, the blued metal rifle with the wooden stock, 10 round magazine and barrel band and all that.

A fine weapon, but oh my it’s not a patch on what is out there now.

In the decades since I fell in love with my Ruger 10/22, the rest of the world apparently decided it agreed with me that it was a mighty fine rifle for the price… and oh my isn’t it an easy thing to customize?

So now I go looking around for a Ruger 10/22, and I come to find the market is flooded with variant models, special editions, and an entire cottage industry built around supplying custom parts of all sorts, from magazines and barrels to the wildest stocks you could imagine.

What to do? I kind of wanted to do this purist thing, but damn, there is some cool stuff out there now.

What I ended up doing is finding a mighty good deal on a 10/22 carbine, but instead of the traditional wood stock it had a synthetic stock in digi-cam that looked quite nice, part of the “All Weather” variant.

ruger1022-1That, a gun lock, a cleaning kit, a carry case and an extra curved 25 round magazine, and I had everything you could want to start the learning process.

It’s been a few weeks now, and we’ve been shooting several times at a fine local indoor range. In my next post, I’m going to launch right in to how that started out and how he’s been doing, but for right now this post sure seems long enough to be going on with.

I do want to say that as important as it is for me to give him this opportunity to learn firearms himself, it’s just as important that he be given the choice to decide how much he wants to learn, and to be able to make an informed decision as to whether he wants anything to do with them at all.

I don’t want my son to grow up to be me. What I want is for him to have the world opened up to him, to understand all that I can teach him that is within it without fear, and then to have the freedom to choose what he wants to do, not because it is all that he knows but because what he chooses is the best that he wants from all that there is to look from.

It’s gonna be a wild next 6 years, I can already see that.

Making Golds and My Experience with the WoW Token

Good morning.

The new WoW Token system went live in North American regions yesterday, and you can bet your bippy I took advantage of it. Now for the morning after report. Regrets? Buyer’s Remorse?

Nope.

This has been a damn strange expansion for me and no mistake.

For the first time ever in this game, I have more gold than I know what to do with.

This has never happened to me before. I’ve never been taht gold making guy. In fact, there is a long-running tradition of me wanting new shiny pet or mount, and having to go to Cassie for a WoW gold loan (at zero percent interest never to be paid back) because she is thrifty and makes all the gold while I’m always blowing it as soon as my pouch gets any weight to it.

That all changed this expansion, and I really don’t have an answer for you as to why.

I will give you some anecdotal evidence, which is a fancy way of saying this is all the shit that’s somehow working for me and I’m too small of a sample size to matter a hill of beans to the big picture. I won’t even say your mileage may vary, because at any moment it might vary for me too; for example, Blizzard can change things on the backend and suddenly the garrison gold missions I see all the time could vanish like a Rogue on tax day.

Anyway, I leveled early and often as soon as this expansion hit. I’ve found the leveling path through the zones to be easy and mostly pain free, especially since I prioritize the quests that lead to the garrison blueprint reward books and anything that rewards a follower.

This means that I currently have six characters at level 100 with fully maxed garrisons, every one of which has a level 3 Inn, Dwarven Bunker, Barracks, Salvage Yard and appropriate profession buildings. Almost all have a Trading Post to convert excess resources to crafting supplies, and the one that doesn’t is my Hunter, who has a max level Barn that I keep stocked 100% of the time to the rafters with large leather work orders that send me a steady stream of Savage Blood.

Five of the six level 100 characters have all 25 Followers maxed to ilevel 675, andon every follower that is not considered necessary to a ‘Mission of Interest’ by my Master Plan addon, I constantly reroll traits and abilities until i get one that is an Epic Mount with either Treasure or Resource bonuses.

I even have a seventh character that is almost 100, my Enhancement Shaman.

Basically, what I do is I log into every character morning, noon, evening and right before bed to collect and resend the followers on garrison missions. I prioritize those missions that are gold, then resources, then level 100 or above because they return the best salvage crates for greens and blues to sell.

I also at some point every day run every character through the herb garden and mine. This gets me resources for my professions, Archeology tokens on everyone, Primals that can be sold in batches of 50 for Savage Bloods and also extra resources to turn in at the various Traders.

And of course every character does their daily profession cooldowns and crafting.

I’ve done this from day 1, even when there seemed no point to it, and I never crafted anything in the first few months. I made a few items but never upgraded them.

Up until patch 6.1, the way I made gold from crafting was to sell every Savage Blood I got on the Auction House, craft tailoring bags and top level weapon enchants and sell those for thousands apiece, and that’s it. All other gold came from garrison missions and selling all the greens and blues that I got in Salvage Crates.

Since 6.1, I have upgraded almost every weapon and crafted armor piece on my alts. My Druid, Hunter and Death Knight are all sporting upgraded weapons and the hunter has the other two pieces at max level as well. With the barn cranking out Savage Blood faster than I know what to do with it, and the Traders giving me tons of primals for more bloods, the only bottleneck in crafting upgrades are the daily cooldowns on profession mats, and well, I had thousands of those on everyone.

Now I’ve taken to crafting the upgrade tokens and either selling them directly or upgrading an item and selling it on the AH.

All of this to explain how someone like me that does NOT make gold or manage a careful regimen of buy low sell high live on the margins of the gem or glyph market somehow still ends up with 30,000 gold to 60,000 gold and has to find something like rare pets and mounts to blow it on… and I’ve plum run out of shit I want to spend money on. It’s a terrible thing when you have excess gold burning a hole in your pocket and you can’t find a mount you even WANT on the AH to blow it on.

What can I say, there is something special about seeing Blingtron’s Vault come up with multiple multiples and being over 2000g.

So.

Enter the WoW Token last night, and me somehow sitting on 65,000 gold even after spending over 20k on a Spectral Tiger Cub pet the night before because why the hell not, it’s cute.

When the WoW Token first went live, I had no intention of buying one at the store. I already HAVE the golds. But I also didn’t intend to rush to get one on the AH. At least, not nuless the price showed signs of rocketing up. I wanted to get one, but I figured the only way I’d get one on first day jitters is if it looked to be rising in price so I could get one before they stabilized at some obscene cost like 50k or 80k each.

At first, it looked to be doing that very thing. I started getting nervous. it was going up 1% every hour like clockwork, with no signs of stopping. I almost bought in at 32k.

Then I took a break to watch Agents of Shield with my wife, and other assorted stuff, and when I came back the price was not only shifting faster to demand, but it was on the way down and currently at 28.8k gold apiece.

I instantly bought two WoW Tokens at the 28.8k price point. Would it go down further? Probably. Would I consider 28.8k gold a fair price for a month of WoW time? Sure!

I based that decision on how much effort I think it will take in one month to earn that amount of gold. I think 28.8k gold per month is, currently, a sustainable rate based solely on garrison gold missions and selling greens and blues from Salvage Crates and from doing legacy raid runs and selling the accumulated loot.

As an example, and again totally anecdotal only my experience, I made probably 6k gold yesterday just from salvage Crates and gold missions. That’s probably a peak and I haven’t been tracking it on a spreadsheet, but even so I definitely know that I average more than 1k gold per day across my characters. That is all that is needed to sustain that income towards a WoW Token.

IF WoW Tokens eventually stabilize at 30k gold each, then we’re talking a 1k per day ‘nut’ to maintain your account. Once you’ve made your monthly nut to cover the mortgage, it’s all cheddar.

This morning, I checked the WoW Token price after doing my garrison missions and before heading to work, and the price was down to 23.8k each. So yes, I spent 10k gold more last night on my two tokens than I would have needed to if I’d waited one night.

Buyer’s remorse? Nope. I have those two days of game time, I still have over 20k gold across my characters, and more rolling in.

It’s going to really interesting to see where the prices go.

It all comes down to a balancing act. Once someone pays $20 for a WoW Token, the question becomes, at what price are they willing to place it on the Auction House? If I bought one, and I saw I would only get 23k gold for it, I would be tempted to hold on to it until prices rose higher to what I would consider an equitable return on my investment. 23k would feel too low to me. I might hold on to it until the prices rose back up to 30k.

If enough other people felt the same way, that they wanted to hold on to them until prices rose, then the supply of them would go down. That would tend to result in fewer tokens available for people to buy, and with increased demand the prices WOULD go up.

But… if the prices on the Auction House get higher than the majority of players are willing to pay, then demand goes back down until the prices do… from a glut of Tokens on the market and no takers.

It’s just so cool to see such a direct correlation of real money to gold in the economy. When it was all about gold to gold for digital goods, meh

But now, I see that Spectral Tiger on the AH for 20k gold, and my brain instantly translates that into $19 dollars of real money.

I put a ilevel 675 Shredder rifle up on the AH last night, and it sold for 35k gold. I can’t help but think someone just paid over $25 for that Hunter gun. Maybe up to $45 depending on Token market prices.

I’m sure I’m not going to be the only one this happens to. Gold is now a currency with an exchange rate to dollars, and since the gold price of Tokens is stable across the region and NOT dependant on server economy, we can truly expect a website to provide the current exchange rate for gold to cash and vice versa any second. Check in, see what one gold is worth in dollars, JUST LIKE THE OTHER GAMES THAT HAVE DONE THIS.

I always laughed when I saw the real world cost of a star destroyer or other massive ship that got destroyed in Eve Online, but that same scenario is now played out here in WoW, but without the perma-death of your purchased equipment.

Now, you can look at that Grand Expedition Yak and compute the exchange rate instantly to what that really does cost in real world dollars. And if you bought a Yak in the old days, how does it feel knowing that you have one mount that you got for on-the-go transmog that would be worth $104 in today’s market?

It’s going to be fascinating to watch how this effects everything.

No, really, this is going to be amazing to watch.

I expect more people to take the time to craft items or put stuff on the auction house that never took part in the online economy before because there is a real world monetary benefit in doing so.

I expect with the increase of available goods that the prices will drop on just about everything.

I expect that eventually the value of a WoW Token will rise back up and stay there as demand increases across the board and the people who have gold capped purge their reserves buying Tokens at the current low prices (to the monthly 10 Token max) and then have to try and rebuild their gold reserves in the face of stiff selling and undercutting competition.

Oh yeah, this is going to be a fun time to be a WoW player.

My goal is to see if I can maintain enough gold income to fund my own and my wife Cassie’s accounts month to month. Will prices climb to way above my monthly gold income? Frankly, i totally expect them to. After all, if it’s that easy for me to reach this gold amount, then it is the same for everyone else.

The big question is… will there be more huge gold sinks added into the game to give real money Token buyers a reason to keep wanting tons more gold? Blizzard has complete control over adding enticing new items to the game that cost obscene amounts of gold.

Will that beautiful new purple tiger mount be coming soon, and at a crazy price point of 150k or higher? That might drive a sudden spike in gold buying.

What do you think? have you bought a WoW Token yet, either in the store or on the AH? Are you happy with the cost?

The Cub Report – Big Guns Go Boom

Over the last few weeks a new class of games have entered the Cub life; first person shooters.

He’s already familiar with the concept of PvP. He does quite a bit of it with friends online in Minecraft server minigames.

Heck, I’ll be honest. At this point he’s probably played more PvP battles in videogames in his life than I have. PvP online with faceless opponents have never been my thing. Now, kicking a friend’s ass… that there is priceless pleasure, but my generation mostly did that on a console sitting together on a couch face to face (or butt cheek to butt cheek).

You know, close enough to throw down the controller, stand up and accuse your friend of being the cheap-ass Chun Li using bitch that he is, right to his face.

Not all that long ago I turned over my old tigerlordgm Steam account to him and created my own as Thebigbearbutt. That means anything I had on there is now his, and I can get him his own games as well.

Steam is very cool. I was able to link his account to mine as a family, so if he’s not playing games on Steam I actually have access to his complete game collection and can play any of them on my PC.

It also means that any games I buy on my account we can play in multiplayer. Sitting side by side in the same office on our own computers, close enough to, well, okay we don’t scream about Cheap Li. But in some ways, it’s nearly as bad.

The first game we played together on Steam is Terraria. We played a LOT of multiplayer Terraria. That fad has since died away, but before it did he had fully mastered summoning bosses and dominating everything currently in the game, thanks to some coaching through Youtube videos about Terraria that clued him in on the stuff in there and how to unlock it.

He does so love knowing more about a game than I do, and teaching me along the way. :) It must feel very empowering when normally you don’t know stuff because, hello, young, and other people have to coach you. The opportunity to turn the tables around and be the teacher is clearly good for his confidence.

The next game we moved on to was Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, a first person shooter. Transformers is a game that is simply beautiful to play, it has amazing graphics. He played through the very complete campaign modes, loved it very much, but the multiplayer matchmaking on there is dead. It’s been out too long for people to be camping in the matchmaking servers.

To get the multiplayer going I got it on a Steam sale, so he could fight me in there as well, and holy crap he took to it like a bear to honey. We figured out how to select mechs and change styles, and while he started out trying the big monster Dinobot skinned tyrannosaur mech against me, he quickly found that if he chose a flyer in an outdoor map he was going to dominate and own my sorry slow mech ass.

Cheap chirping pterrodactyl death from above swooping punk. grrr.

Side affect is, when a friend of his comes over they can play multiplayer as well, whether on Steam games or on Minecraft servers and be in the same room… but that means I’m kicked off my own computer. It’s hell, I tell you.

Lots of fun, oh my yes, but limited. You can’t do campaign multiplayer in Transformers, no coop, just the PvP matches or ‘two vs swarm’ mode against bots, and that got old super quick. Without other players besides the two of us, well, it really limits how much replay there is.

We moved on from there to Portal 2 multiplayer. No bang bang guns, instead cooperative portal puzzle solving. So far, I think that’s been our favorite. So wonderful.

The Portal 2 cooperative multiplayer has been extremely well done. Tons of personality in the characters and environment, a continuation of the main campaign (sorta), more GladOS goodness, more exploring of the environment in cool ways. And hard puzzles.

If anything we limit ourselves on doing those missions because we both realize once they’re done, they’re done. They are so good, we’re rationing them out.

So we’ve added a second game to the mix. When we’re not playing Portal 2 together… we’re playing Borderlands 2.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, we’re cheating like a mofo in that game.

I bought it along with the Mechromancer DLC for my Tigerlordgm account before I created my own Steam account, so he had that extra character class available to him. The idea of playing as Gaige with his own giant pet robot was a winner, so that’s what he’s been doing.

Me, I’d originally been playing as the Mechromancer too, because duh giant pet robots, but once he chose that I abandoned it to level up a Zer0 assassin to play with him.

We started it up straight, but yeah, it didn’t take long for me to ask myself, ‘Are we playing for a challenge, or to have fun blowing stuff up?’

Shortly thereafter I downloaded and installed what is called the ‘gibbed’ Borderlands 2 save game editor, and used it to add some special weapons into our inventories. Weapons that normally aren’t available until much later in end game… and synced to match our much lower level. Legendary weapons.

So I was able, for example, to put a pistol called the Vengeful Infinity into his inventory, synced to match his level 8 in power, but retaining the special characteristics of extremely stupid rate of fire, and infinite ammo.

Or to drop an epic rocket launcher into his backpack that, when fired, spawns smaller mini-missiles at the distant target. Does he ever hit anything with it? No, he generally shoots it into the sky for fireworks. But he still loves it.

The point is, we’re cheating by giving ourselves fun weapons in the early game and playing together. We haven’t used it to increase our levels, because if you’re not taking damage and risking dying, it eliminates all the fun out of it. As it is, we still die every once in a while, especially when overwhelmed by bad guys and unable to revive the other one in time. Also, grenades. Grr! But racing around in a jeep, my driving because he bogarts the turret, is a heckuva good time. And charging into the guns of the nomads is great.

It’s been interesting.

He’s very good at the game, and he loves the sense of humor of Handsome Jack. Butt Stallion did get quite a giggle out of him. But I’m finding out that the draw isn’t the shooting, which is what most people seem to think of as what kids want.

I really don’t think he’d enjoy a more realistic FPS, like Call of Duty.

He likes the more outrageous weapons. I think in an earlier age, he’d understand the amazing joy of a BFG in Doom.

But the main point here is, sure he’s playing Borderlands 2 with me in cooperative multiplayer because we’re playing together and it’s fun to do that. But if given a choice, he’d much rather play Portal 3 with me on a very long coop campaign than play a shooter.

Creating portals, figuring out puzzles and dodging tricky scenarios is more engaging than the boom boom for him. Heck, it is for me too.

A game that we have on PS3 that was similar in concept to Portal, Quantum Conundrum, also engaged his imagination and tickled his funny bone.

The problem with that game was that rather than rely mostly on interesting puzzles involving heavy and light and other mechanics, they added in tricky moving and jumping puzzles on conveyors over lava kinda stuff that too. With the shitty control scheme of the game, it made later parts suck compared to the beginning. The Cub felt it was not nearly as fun and certainly NOT original. Almost as though they had a great idea for a portal style game, but ran out of imagination on creating the puzzles about halfway through and had to insert the jumping stuff to stretch it out. So he got that far in and lost interest. Such a shame, too. Quantum Conundrum had a charming setting and a great theme song.

But it is an example of where he would like to go, based on what games are out there. If given a choice, he doesn’t want to shoot stuff or blow stuff up. Okay, I lie, he loves to blow stuff up. But he’s not looking to get scared in a Doom style horror shooter, and he doesn’t have a craving to pop caps into the backs of peoples’ skulls in alleyways.

His preference is a game with a fun setting, meaning one with lots of humor and personality, jokes and sillyness. A game that let’s him have an avatar that runs around and jumps and can drive vehicles and explore and basically interact with the world in as many ways as he can think up. And a game that has puzzles that are challenging to think through and have lots of movement, that he can solve using his imagination and figuring things out.

He has another ‘game’ on Steam that he specifically requested, and that he spends a LOT of time in, based on the Youtube videos he’s watched. It’s called Gary’s Mod, and it’s hard for me to call it a game. It doesn’t have a story, or a campaign, or anything like that. It’s a giant sandbox. it’s like a big FPS, but everything in it you create from scratch. or download from the Steam community of players that upload their creations.

He’s happy spending lots of time trying to create a gadget or new construction using other people’s gadgets and tools, and then play with them on this big featureless plain.

Make a jeep putting together chassis parts, wheels, etc. Program a control scheme mapped to keyboard keys. Then climb aboard and drive it around. That kind of thing. Being able to use your own imagination to create something and then try it out on puzzles to come up with your own solution.

Another game he plays on Steam? Scribblenauts Unlimited. A game where he can use words to describe an item to create it, and then use it to get through puzzles and overcome obstacles.

Do you begin to see a trend here? The use of the imagination within the bounds of the game programming… and a desire to be able to have more options and less boundaries to restrict his imagination.

Why look… almost as though he is ripe for beginning to try pen and paper old school role playing games, where there is no imposed programming limitation on using your imagination. In fact, the only real limitation is how hard it is to get your idea across to a dim-witted gamemaster.

Soon.

Soon, my friends, and his transition to the dark side will be complete.

Story time – I came, I Saw, I ran like hell

We own a home in a nice, quiet suburb in the midwest.

It is more than just the American dream, it was always a dream of mine. All my life as a child, my family never owned property. Even after my parents divorced, neither side owned a home, a place to call their own while I lived with them.

One thing that holds true; no matter how nice the place you are living, if you’re just renting space there, then you know any month could see you looking for a new place to call home.

Emotionally, they are less a home than what George Carlin called them; a place for your stuff. The bigger the place, the more stuff you can stick in them. If you move from a larger place to a smaller, you gotta get rid of some stuff… or find an extra place for a bit of your stuff.

I internalized that message at an early age. I remember, several months into living in one rental apartment, showing my stepmother how I’d arranged my room, and proudly showing her how I’d managed to unpack just enough stuff to do schoolwork and move around while leaving the remainder neatly packed and ready to go.

I was proud, without any irony at all, to be able to show her that I was prepared to leave at a moments notice with a minimum of effort if that was what the family had to do.

Life in the Marines didn’t exactly require a lot of preparation when it came to traveling light and living out of a seabag. I even kept all of my comic books in a nice, reinforced steamer trunk so it could be moved as one piece of furniture. Ah, the old steamer trunk o’ comics. I miss that trunk.

But I’m an adult now, and one thing I always wanted for the family that I would someday have was that sense of permanence, of community, of being of fixed address that home ownership would surely bring.

Yeah, so I was delusional.

In hindsight, of course you can be a part of a stable and vital community with friends and good relationships with your neighbors while renting a house or apartment.

And home ownership doesn’t magically transport you to a land of block parties and sharing cups of sugar, and lazy Sunday grilling and beer with the neighbors while a bonfire roars into the sky.

In fact, you can be isolated as hell owning a home, especially when your neighbors are dicks that like to let their dogs out to snarl and bark and chase your kids along the fenceline every time you go outside in your own yard to play. In fact, it can be ever so much worse because if you’re renting and your neighbors are selfish dicks, you can always move. When you own a house? Ah, that’s when your thoughts turn to homicide. I mean, so I suppose. I’d imagine. I really wouldn’t know.

But I wanted a house. My wife wanted a house. We both had visions of the perfect house, and the perfect yard, and the perfect kids, all in the perfect quiet little suburban community the perfect distance from work and the perfect distance from the inlaws.

Be careful what you wish for.

Well, we got a house, and it’s got a yard.

That means I’ve got yard work. FUCK.

Being in the midwest, we get snow, we get rain, we get heavy leaves falling in a blanket of gorgeous colors in the fall.

What these translate to is we get a driveway covered in snow and ice for me to shovel, a driveway that the snowplow truck buries in hardened mounds of snow, ice and rocks at 4 AM in the fucking morning AFTER I’ve cleared the driveway, rains that flood the yard a foot deep and come pouring through the basement windows like leaky portholes in a submarine, and leaves that choke the gutters so that if I don’t get up there and clear the gutters by hand a couple times of year I get gutters filled with rotting vegetable matter that stinks to high heaven.

Oh yeah, and in the spring, that much lauded and delightful time of year when the birds sing, the flowers bloom, and the air is fresh and warm?

Yeah, that time of year is when shit starts growing like plants versus zombies on crack, and you need a machete to beat your lawn into submission.

My personal favorite time of year is the first bloom of summer, when the lawn has been beaten until it’s quietly moaning and is afraid to grow too fast because I’ve got power tools motherfucker, and the pollen hasn’t exploded just yet because I’ve got poison to dump on the lawn and kill the weeds, eat hot death cottonwoods, and the torrential rains have eased up so I can stop bailing the basement like our house is an ark and we’re trying to take the cats to the first new dry land.

This story? This is about all of that. The joys of home ownership, yard work, and my favorite time of year.

The hot mad sex of spring was finally over, and everything that was going to grow had worn itself out. The weeds got poisoned early on, and the Sun was getting a tad hot so the lawn only needed to be slaughtered a few times a week. Memorial Day weekend was upon us.

During this lull in the eternal battle of the great outdoors, I needed to take advantage of my opponent’s momentary weakness.

One of my targets of opportunity were the trees that like to grow along the fenceline.

One of the many miracles of spring is that a single sprout, invisible to the naked eye in the fall, can somehow grow in ONE SPRING into a ten foot sapling with a two inch diameter tree trunk and deep, branching roots that somehow grow into, around and through the chain links of the fence as if to say, ” You can take my leaves, but you will never take my ROOT SYSTEM.”

Those trees only think they’ve won.

As I said. I’ve got power tools.

This, by the way, is how a religion gets founded. It takes the inspiration of a great leader, a charismatic voice that people will truly believe in.

Like Tim Allen. I believe in Tim Allen, and I follow his commandments. Well, commandment. there’s really just the one.

The religion of Tim Allen can basically be boiled down to this; There is no problem, however large, that cannot be solved by the application of a powerful enough tool.

If the tool you are using isn’t working, it’s simply not powerful enough. Step it up, heretic.

Also a mark of faith among the believers of the Church of Tim Allen is the knowledge that explosives are, in fact, tools, and fire is a legitimate power source. If you light a fuse or activate an electrical detonator on explosives you are using power tools. Accepting that fact makes a lot of other things in your life simpler and happier.

So I’ve got trees that grew over the course of one fucking season from a two inch tall sprout lost among the grass to towering pieces of green and brown shit over ten feet high, thinking just because they’re part of my steel fence there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it.

Hah!

See, I’ve got a Sawzall, which is the tool version of Kleenex. Sawzall is really the brand name for a reciprocating saw like a jigsaw but bigger, stronger, beefier. Much more powerful. They’re generally called a sawzall but mine is in fact a Tiger Saw.

Depending on what blade you put on this thing, you can cut through trees, ceramic pipe, steel struts, sheetrock, you name it. If it’s less than three inches thick, you can probably cut through it.

If you can’t, well, there’s always the cutting torch.

On this particular day in early summer, battle was joined as man and tree faced off. The tree had a strong defense in place, being in de fence as it were, but I was armed with my Tiger Saw and a nice wood cutting blade that would slice through those branches like they were warm butter.

One of the nice things about a sawzall is that you can use that sucker to go after the roots of small trees even when they’re deep in the ground. You just start at the base of the tree and take that thing down and the reciprocating blade will churn into the soil and throw dirt like crazy, letting you chop up bits of roots and stringy grasping vines with ease.

I made my way around the fenceline, and you could see where I had been by the wreckage I left behind. Dead limbs torn from the trunks lay scattered around the lawn, leaves torn from branches, the clean lines of exposed chain link gleaming in the sunshine.

The scent of the sap flowing sluggishly down the torn bark smelled like… victory.

I cleared the field of battle, and looked over the work that I had done, and I saw that it was good.

The yard was returned once more to a state that could be easily maintained by frequent use of the deadly torture device known as the lawn mower, and it’s smaller kin the fence patrolling weed whacker.

I turned from the fence and examined the foundations of the house itself, where weeds and such liked to grow where the mower lacked reach to grab and slice.

As I surveyed the foundation, I found that I had missed a tree.

This one was tall and strong, and the son of a bitch hadn’t been there the year before. And it had chosen a particularly cunning location to make it’s stand.

It had grown in the center of, and directly underneath, my outside gas meter, where the city natural gas line runs from the street and under my lawn to the side of my house, up to an explosed meter so the city can see how wasteful I am of my natural resources and fine me accordingly, and then the solid metal gas line descends once more into the earth, to head deep underground and be routed into my house to provide warmth to the air, hot water for our baths, and heat to cook bacon, all vital functions to survival. Especially that cooking bacon part.

Oh really?

I approached the tree, standing tall and defiant, it’s roots clearly grown so large in one spring that the damn thing was about ready to start moving my underground gas pipes. Yeah, that’s ALL that I needed. A fucking tree breaking a gas line.

The more I thought about it, the more I had to admire the revenge. I had cut down it’s arborial brothers and sisters, and it would exact revenge by tearing my gas line asunder and blowing my whole damn house down. And what could I do about it? It was already too big to simply grab and pull out by the roots, it wasn’t a weed, it was a damn tree.

Well, I wasn’t going to try and pull it out, I can recognize an exercise in utter futility when I see one. I’ve played a warlock for years.

So instead, I took a quick look over the gas meter and the pipes heading into the ground, checked to make sure everything looked nice and solid, and without engaging any actual sense at all to THINK about what I was about to do, I went after that tree with the sawzall, chopping it down and getting good and deep into the roots in the soil.

It was about right then that the blade encountered resistance. A fierce knot held firm against the assault and deflected the blade, right over against one of the gas pipes.

Surprisingly, once you get under the actual ground, what I found out was the gas line wasn’t steel pipe any more. It was, in fact, a rather small, thin gauge of rubber sheathing over very thin copper tubing. The whole underground pipe was not much more than three quarters of an inch in diameter.

Now, you may be curious just how much protection a thin rubber wall provides for a copper tube when attacked by a determined sawzall.

Let me assure you that it does not in fact provide any protection whatsoever.

You may also wonder just what, exactly, you do when you’ve just cut the main gas line running from the city street to your house in half.

Well, it turns out that there isn’t actually a cutoff to shut that gas off when you cut that main line.

In fact, that’s kind of the point of the gas meter. The gas line goes to the meter, and you can shut it off FROM the meter TO your house.

If you somehow manage to cut that line BEFORE it reaches the meter, why, it’s quite impressive. But then what fucking idiot would do something so incredibly stupid?

So, my saw took a bad hop, it’s advances rebuffed by a determined knot. Sliced RIGHT through the main gas line to the house.

Oh my.

Hmmm.

I had one moment where I looked at that cut line down in the churned up soil, and I said to myself, “You’ve just gone and completely fucked that up, haven’t you?”

And a little voice in the back of my head channeled from the movie Spaced Invaders replied, quite clearly, “Ain’t life a bitch?”

I have to admit, I never really appreciated before just how MUCH pressure that natural gas has behind it when it reaches your gas meter with it’s built in regulator. It doesn’t just ease through that pipe, it doesn’t simply hiss a bit, it explodes out of that hose like a fire fighter working a four alarm.

Speaking of fire fighters….

I stopped running the sawzall, took it to the outlet I had it plugged into, unplugged it and set it down. There, no source of spark immediately available outside.

Then I ran inside and explained to the lovely and talented Mrs Bear that yes dear, I have in fact managed to arrange for some excitement in an otherwise dull day by causing a situation that could lead to our house, you know, kind of exploding. Could we all please go outside, maybe?

Yes, in fact I do mean now, and perhaps we should bring a cell phone with us because there may not be a house to go back into later.

Do I know the number for the city public works department off the top of my head? Unfortunately I do not.

However, 911 comes trippingly to the tongue. Why don’t I give those rascals a call and let them know that yes, why thank you dispatcher yes it is a fine day, and could you please let those nice fire fighters know that we have a severed gas main at my house that cannot be shut off and is JUST waiting for any spark or source of fire anywhere to ignite the stream of pressurized gas that is flooding the entire neighborhood at a stunning rate of many hundreds of cubic meters per second?

Thanks, I’ll hold.

Oh, did I happen to realize that today was not only Sunday, but was in fact the Sunday of a three day holiday memorial day weekend?

Yes, yes I did happen to notice this, it is in fact why I was out doing lawn work.

Yes, I am aware that it’s quite inconvenient to have done this on the Sunday of a holiday weekend when city public works, union workers all, are at home drinking beers and grilling. And of course yes I do understand that the fire and police departments are mostly out and about at community parks doing meet and greets and letting young kids like mine bounce on the seats of their squad cars and fire trucks.

I am so sorry, I truly am, you have no idea how sorry I am that I didn’t schedule this particular emergency for normal working hours during the Monday – Friday work week. I promise the next time I have an emergency I’ll do my best to be more considerate.

Just this once though, since I am rather new at this whole ‘accidentally blowing up a house’ thing, do you think you could try to send someone over that knows how to shut the main off at the street? Thanks, you’re the best.

As we stood out at the street watching our home and clearly hearing the roaring of the natural gas pouring out of the pipe even from forty feet away, the lovely and talented Mrs Bear says, “You need to go warn the neighbors that their houses might blow up.”

Oh shit, do I really have to? I hate those fuckers and their damn dog.

Okay, okay, you don’t have to give me the look, shit, I’m going.

Shit.

There are few things in this life that are quite as distinctive to the memory as that moment when you have to knock on your neighbor’s door, the neighbor that has the angry vicious dog that they let out every single time your son tries to use the swing set in your yard that you built with your own two hands (and power tools), that neighbor that you think of as a true piece of shit, and tell them that you fucked up on such a grand scale that their house might very well blow up.

That right there, that moment’s a keeper. That’s one you just have to look forward to recalling when you’re old and fading away in the nursing home, wondering where your life went wrong, because you were going to live forever and getting old only happens to other people.

Of course, a few more moves like that one and I’ll certainly not have to worry about making it to the nursing home.

Such a lovely sight it was on the fine Sunday afternoon, as the fire trucks came roaring around the corner to stop in front of our home, and the police came to see if they could blame anyone for anything and write a ticket or two, and then a truck from the public works department came by, and then two more trucks from public works came by, and there before you knew it was a block party!

What followed of course were over a dozen police and fire crew standing around watching the public works guys dig a hole.

Rock on.

In only a few hours, a massive hole was dug, a hole big enough for two men to stand in, and the entire gas meter was ripped out and replaced with a new one, along with the gas lines, which they replaced with some nice stout looking pipes. Why, they even filled in the hole!

And shortly thereafter we received the bill.

Oh my.

I’d have to ask Cassie, but I want to say that after I negotiated with the city, and then begged with the city, and then tried a little crawling and sniveling, that it only took, what, two years to pay off that lovely little memorial day mishap?

Sigh.

Fine.

Let the record show, the score stands at Tree: 1, Bear: 0.

Well played, tree. Well played.

I know what went wrong.

I brought what I thought was a big enough tool for the job.

But the tree? The tree brought the gas main. And thus the one with the bigger tool won.

Although, if you were to ask Cassie, I imagine she’d say I was the biggest tool she ever saw.