A New Evolution in Cheating!

Ah, progress.

Remember back in the bad old days when gold sellers were everywhere in game?

Oh, those evil gold sellers! Just waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting account, hack it, loot all your stuffs, and all your guild banks belong to us!

It’s so nice that all that went away, right?

Or, at least it all got a lot quieter. Subtler. Whispers and Battletag friend invites and calendar hacking.

Of course, with all the hate directed to gold sellers over the years, funny how little rage or attention I see get directed towards gold buyers.

Without an eager market with money in hand, services that cost money to provide go away. Like website hosting and the buying of WoW accounts to spam people with gold seller crap.

It’s a time honored formula. People have websites and accounts that collect gold (or are receiving accounts where hacked characters can send gold), and there are the mules farming gold making items and the people hacking the accounts to loot.

You want to buy gold? Then you find a website (following the link from that spam you got in your friends list yesterday will help) and if you trust them enough to give them your money, your real money, and your character name and server, maybe they mail you golds.

Or maybe you are tired of being level 34 on your main, or on your alt, and you want to be level 90 right now to raid with your friends. Or maybe you suck at PvP, you’re so bad you’re ashamed, and you wish there was a way you could just be famous for PvP without having to actually DO the PvP.

You go to one of those websites, and now comes the true moment of faith. You give them your real monies, and your account name and password, and trust that they will play your character FOR you, winning in random battlegrounds, earning loots, making levels.

All supposedly without trolling everyone on your server, joining guilds to try to loot their banks, using your character to farm golds for their other customers, whatever.

There have to be people who think that sounds good, otherwise how are these people still in business? And make no mistake, they are still in business.

But they’ve gotten smarter about it. We’ve gotten smart, we’ve gotten authenticators, closed off some of the more outright larcenous ways of getting something for nothing by hacking our accounts, so they have to entice customers by addressing the biggest concern you can have;

Faith that they’re not using your account for evil shit.

I got an email from someone looking to advertise, looking for a marketing partnership, as I often do. A good rule of thumb for me is, if someone contacts me thinking they can advertise on my website, that means they’ve never visited my website. Um, no ads. No paid reviews. You either haven’t visited my website, or you really think highly of your gold making guide, don’t you?

So the email I get today is for one of these marketing ad partnership blah blah blah. As usual, I don’t reply to it, but I do check out the link.

Prepare to get your mind blown.

They aren’t really gold sellers, they’re more than that.

They focus on the whole “we take over your account and play your character for you” market.

Want to own in rated battlegrounds? Buy their service and they’ll hook you up. You’ll be leet in no time!

Want to be level 90? They can power level you!

Want to have that ultra rare mount that takes a complete raid achievement of all heroic modes and achieves? They’ll get it for you!

Just make an account, give them all your infos, no problem they’ll hook you RIGHT up!

And while they’re doing it…

They provide you with a link to the live stream of them playing your character.

Yep. That’s right. So you can have absolute faith in them, they live stream everything they do while on your character, and you can watch on your special channel and see everything they do, everywhere they go, when they’re pretending to be you.

….

JUST WHAT THE ‘SQUIRREL FLYING OUT THE NORTH END OF A SOUTH-BOUND MOOSE’ IS GOING ON OUT THERE?!?!

I can’t even… I’m trying, and I can’t believe it.

There is so much to discuss on this, and I’d love to delve deeper into the whole idea, maybe we can do that in the comments, I don’t know.

What I do want to know is, who out there doesn’t have the time to play their character, but does have the time to watch a live stream of someone ELSE playing their character?

How have we finally gotten to the point where someone is willing to pay someone else to have fun playing their character, ans watch them do it?

Holy bacon on a stick, Batman!

Oh my God, is this how professional sports got started? First we enjoy playing the sport, then we got older and had free time, money and careers but didn’t have the athletic skill to play anymore, so we started sponsoring other people to play at higher skill levels while we watch and drink beer and admire the game we used to play ourselves?

What comes next?

Do we start betting with other non-player spectators on our favorite PvP players that we’re already paying to play for us? Is that it?

Where do I find my cyber-bookie, and what are the odds on the DeGei vs Gulvan pet battle deathmatch? Can Rades and Vidyala host the event with AngryOrc giving color commentary?

Just WTF, people?

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Best Be Paying Attention!

World of Warcraft, Patch 5.3 has arrived.

I’ve been focusing most of my efforts on running the Burning Crusade raids that can now drop pets.

I was super-excited the first night of the patch. I ran Karazhan, and in the Opera event, Barnes started talking about not believing your eyes. Yay! Big Bad Wolf! I might have a chance at the Lil Bad Wolf pet first time it’s up!

Well, I did have a chance, and yes the pet dropped. Wow, right? First week?

I began to suspect something was wrong when the Curator dropped a pet. And then so did Illhoof.

Oh, shit, is this bugged? Is Blizzard going to take my pets away because the thing was bugged out and giving pets every time?

On the other hand, what if it IS bugged out, and they don’t take pets away? No sleep ’till Machie!

I’ll kill the suspense here, it turns out it wasn’t bugged, in that and four more runs, I haven’t seen the pet from Prince, or from any other boss again. It was only that first golden run that was blessed, and I’ll gladly take it and treasure my good fortune.

In fact, I consider this whole ‘pets in old raids’ thing a massive success, because I’ve seen several people on my friends list announce they’ve gotten the Ashes of A’lar on runs in The Eye, Elizabella of the Epic Questions podcast and the Elizabella Chronicles to name one you likely know, and I can’t help but think it’s the incentive of going in and getting pets that is encouraging people to go back in there again after all these years. Well played, Blizzard. Well played.

Blizzard has sure succeeded in getting my butt out there to do stuff I normally wouldn’t solo. With the addition of pets, I went out to SSC, The Eye and Karazhan, and for the first time I really tried to solo the end bosses of each. Well, in the case of Kara, soloing Chess.

The only real stumbling block I had in soloing anything was the Chess event. Kael’thas and Lady Vashj are now quite soloable, no RNG at all.

I tried zerging the enemy King in Chess my first night, and it didn’t go so well. Sure, I can solo 25 person raid bosses, but a damn Chess match…

Cassie suggested I do it the smart way, and follow the guide written by Tikari back in January.

Oh, right. RIGHT!

Um, okay. And of course, it worked flawlessly, and after adopting the Tikari Tactic I soloed Chess three more times in a row. Or four, I’ve lost count. If anything, now that we’re post the 5.3 nerfs, Tikari’s guide works better than ever before.

While I’ve been running old raids, Cassie has been doing some of the new scenarios.

She decided to break out her Priest and run the new Blood in the Water scenario for the quest chain, and found something that was a great wake-up call.

She queues for it and gets two strangers in the group, someone running as a healer, and a Warrior that Cassie described as “the squishiest Warrior I’ve ever seen”.

On a personal note, I truly hate running scenarios with people there as dedicated healers, players who insist on only healing. It’s one thing to be a Smite-spec Priest doing damage and incidental healing on the side, or any other healing spec that is also firing off some damage once in a while. What I don’t need is you walking around behind me, tossing overhealing on my already topped-off bar, while I do all the killing. The scenario mechanics give you healing options if you need them, all you are is a boat anchor slowing us down. It’s one of the reasons I prefer doing scenarios with friends, if we’re gonna do it, let’s just do it without wondering why that jackass is standing there looking cute with a whopping zero DPS.

So Cassie runs the scenario, it takes a bit with only two people contributing to kill all the trolls, but they get through it. They downed Hekima in the final battle, get the Hekima’s Heal-Halter achievement…

And the Warrior and healer drop group, first the Warrior and then about 30 seconds later the healer, leaving Cassie all alone with the scenario unfinished.

The other two players apparently saw the Achievement spam for killing Hekima, thought that that was the ‘Scenario complete’ spam, and dropped group!

Cassie had to kill the rest of the group of bad guys all by herself, but you know, she took care of that little task, all the while shaking her head in amazement. She was still shaking her head in disbelief when she told me about it minutes later.

How do you fight that far in a scenario, only to drop group the second you think you won without, like, checking? I know I’d wait at least a few seconds to make sure, oh wait, I DID wait a few seconds, because I saw the achievement spam the first time I did it and thought, “What a strange place for an achievement, we’re still fighting, we ain’t done yet.”

Again, well played, Blizzard. By putting the Hekima achievement where it is, you’ve just made sure that anyone running these without actually paying attention is apt to get a surprise. A big surprise.

It’s a classic example of someone who didn’t have the time to finish the rest of the fight, but they’re gonna have to find time to run the whole damn thing over again, now aren’t they?

Sneaky, Blizzard.

I guess maybe next time those two should stay and pay attention to all of the lore and storytelling Blizzard took the time to put in the damn game, huh?

What, do they think Blizzard is programming all of this for their health? That’ll teach ’em.

So, what have been your favorite things to come out of Patch 5.3 so far?

The Xbox One – It is what it is

Microsoft publicists put on their dog and pony show reveal of the upcoming Xbox console yesterday, the Xbox One.

Amidst the press puffing were a few kernels of fact, kernels which are popping into corn all over the place.

One of the most interesting things to be revealed wasn’t part of the planned presentation, it came out of the Q&A afterwards.

On the new Xbox One console, which offloads a lot of information to ‘the cloud’, when you want to play a game for the first time you install the whole thing on the hard drive of the console. Once you’ve installed it, the disc is of no further use to you. You can toss it, or file it, you won’t need it to play.

Now, that was an interesting fact, and immediately spawned questions on whether a 500 gig hard drive was going to be large enough to accommodate all of the games a player might own (even with the cloud), but it wasn’t the surprise reveal. They were up front about the cloud and the install, as though always having to be on the internet and not needing the disc in the console to play were big advantages I had always wanted.

The surprise reveal came when someone had the guts to ask what that meant for used games. If the entire game is installed on your hard drive and tied to your Xbox Live account so you are “free to play it anywhere, on anyone’s Xbox when you sign into it”, then what does that mean for used games?

Microsoft, what is to prevent someone from installing the game that they can now run without the disc, and selling the disc to a used game store?

Well, they weren’t glad that question was asked, because the answer, the official answer, is that if you want to play a game from a disk on your system that someone else already registered, you will have to pay Microsoft a special fee.

That’s right. If you buy a used Xbox One game, you will have to pay Microsoft to be allowed to play it. If you borrow a game disk from your friend to try it out, you’ll have to pay Microsoft.

Oh, but it’s all okay, because if it’s really your friend lending you the game, you can just log into your Xbox One as HIM, and play the game with appropriate permissions on HIS account.

I guess people borrow games differently these days than when I did. I don’t recall having my buddy over for a sleepover camping in my living room for a week because I wanted to borrow his Halo 2.

Now, that fee could be anything Microsoft decides. No way now of knowing what it might eventually be, what structure it might take. The system isn’t even out yet. Maybe they’ll have one set fee, maybe there will be a higher fee based on ‘premium’ games or on games exclusive to the Xbox franchise, maybe there will even be a time decay structure so the longer a game is out in the world from it’s date of release, the less the fee would be.

“This game is two years past it’s born-on date. You are free to play.” Blech.

Who knows? Maybe if the stink reeks enough before launch, they’ll drop it to a token fitty cent, get the worst of both worlds, too low to generate much revenue, enough of a fee to outrage people that a fee exists.

The point here is that with that one announcement, they have killed any possibility that I or my family will ever buy one.

We won’t buy an Xbox One because we are not early adopters, and we don’t have to play the latest content to feel like we’re keeping up with the gaming joneses.

When my family buys a console, we buy it only after it has been out long enough to have a decent selection of titles available at a used game store on the cheap, and after most of the software bugs have been worked out. Typically, we’ll hold off until there is a really nice ‘Black Friday’ sale over Thanksgiving, or some other serious cost savings to getting it.

See? I am not the target market Microsoft is pitching to, so what I think shouldn’t make any difference to their marketing plan. Their game will be a hit or a miss the first year entirely without our dollars stirring the shallow end of the pool.

The key point is, if we buy a game console, and we have friends with games we could borrow, or we find a good deal on a game that got decent reviews at the used game store or online, we’re good. We do our gaming on the cheap. We just don’t have the inclination or the capability to spend thousands a year on games.

Any console that will charge us extra money, whatever that amount may be, just to install and try a used game is doomed.

Gamefly is a service that is the Netflix of games. It’s a pretty cool option, one I’ve looked at for when our son gets old enough he wants to start playing some of the same games his friends inevitably will. Likewise, if we want to try out a game on the Wii or PS3, you can rent games for a day or two from the local Redbox dispenser.

We’re not going to rent a Gamefly or Redbox game and then turn around to pay Microsoft their ‘rental use’ fee before we play it. Just, not going to happen.

And the idea we’d do the teenager route of dropping $60 or more on every new game that comes out that sounds cool? Man, that’s something kids with disposable income do, not us.

But here’s the thing.

Whether you like the idea, hate the idea, or dislike it but think it’s inevitable, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is the result of “greedy corporation lusting after your dollars.”

I know the tendency will be to paint Microsoft as evil and greedy.

Please, be original. before you jump on the hater bandwagon, take a moment to think about what drives these kinds of decisions for them.

Microsoft, along with all other publicly traded corporations, are responsible for reporting their revenue streams, profitability and plans to their shareholders.

Like it or hate it, the market has set expectations. Your company must not just be profitable, it must be more profitable than your previous year.

You literally cannot simply make money, or be profitable, and survive. You must have ‘growth’, and that growth is defined by making more of a profit, or ‘profit before income tax’, then you did the previous reporting cycle.

You must grow to be successful in the market, because the market said so. If you simply continue to be really profitable each quarter, then your earnings to shareholders are ‘flat’, and the market will count you as a failure to dump.

There is a lot behind all this, but in the end the core metric is simple to understand. A stockholder takes $1000, and buys a block of stock in some company that makes widgets or game consoles or whatever, and that block of stock was valued at that moment at $1000.

From then on, so long as you own that block of stock, you can make money one of two ways.

One, you will get paid a few cents on the dollar each quarter based on how much money the company made as profit. Those are your earnings, for owning the stock.

OR, you can play the market like a casino, and hope that the company will get some rocking good news, sound like earnings are going to go through the roof and be a ‘good investment’, and someone else will be willing to pay you more than you spent on your block of stock. A short term quick profit.

If a company experiences ‘growth’, if they keep making more money in profit each year, then their stock is considered desirable, and you could flip your block of stock next month for maybe $1200. You just made $200 for picking the winning racehorse, and bailing out before the company revealed they had a union strike in Malaysia and profits are going in the shitter next quarter.

If the stock continues to grow every quarter, and the earnings continue to grow for your block, then the perceived value of your block goes up. Ooh, this month my stock is worth $1500! I wonder what it will be worth next month. Microsoft, make me some money! More profits! Make people want my block even more, so I can dump it and make buckets of dough!

So, think about it.

Corporations are about greed because shareholders are about greed. A corporation must always be looking at ways to be come more profitable than they were a year ago, because if they don’t the shareholders will respond by dumping the non-performing stock, and when your stock price falls it be bad, yo.

If you invest or have holdings in a 401K plan, congratulations. You’re part of a huge shareholder block that distorts these things, too. 401Ks and pensions funds that represent huge numbers of employees have enormous power over the market, and they aren’t interested in what the product is, they want increased growth. So before you bitch about greedy shareholders, consider that you might very well be one of them, or at least are represented by one.

You financial pitbull, you. Grr!

It absolutely does not matter if a company made a billion dollars in profit last year. If you only make a billion dollars in profit this year, your earnings were flat and you are a FAILURE, your stock price will drop because you’re not an easy cash cow for day traders to flip your stock for easy profits, and the drop in stock price triggers all sorts of bad things.

“But… but we made a billion in profit last year!”

Yeah, but how much more than a billion will you make next year? You won’t make more? No growth for you! LOSER!

It is this core philosophy that drives corporations to look frantically at new ways to, sigh, ‘monetize’ their intellectual properties and any asset they can find. It is what drives automation, efficiency efforts, reduced benefits for employees, reduced headcount and layoffs, outsourcing manufacture to cheaper labor markets, and yes…

It is this kind of thinking that can drive a Microsoft to look at used game sales, and see that as money being left on the table.

Nobody in Microsoft was sitting over there, wondering how to screw gamers on a budget. There was little to no malice in this decision.

No, if you think about how the market game is played, you can see that for every executive, the drive is to come up with new ideas for getting as much possible profit and residuals out of their products as they possibly can, to continue to have growing profits quarter over quarter.

So, somebody had the great idea of designing the architecture of the system so that you’ve got your DRM on the ‘cloud’, someone can buy a game and register it to their Xbox Live account, and if someone else tries to use that same code, they have to pay. Makes no difference if the game disk was ripped or sold to a used store, Microsoft won’t care, because every time a code is registered, someone will pay.

Personally, I hate the whole idea, but I can see where they’re coming from. A new launch is costly, and they want to be able to show the shareholders that the new system architecture will result in more robust residual sales and reduced losses from theft or pirating.

I hate the idea, because I play PC games for the online experience, I play console games for the single player or multiplayer sitting in front of the TV experience. If I lose internet, your cloud based DRM just bricked my console. Screw that for a game of soldiers.

Anyway.

If you are intrigued by how shareholder concerns and business conditions in the market can directly impact the businesses that create the stories and movies we dearly love, I highly recommend the book “Disneywar” by James Stewart, a gripping account of the inner working of the Eisner-era Disney Corporation, written by a journalist that was given amazing levels of access for purposes of a biography.

James Stewart witnessed and accounts firsthand the events that led to the creation of Dreamworks, among other things. A fascinating book that takes the things we as gamers and geeks love, and shows you the money matters and profit driven concerns that shaped them. Considering they now own the Star Wars and Marvel brands, the book is even more relevant to us geeks today.

As a side note, you’ll also learn the secrets behind the Disney VHS and DVD timed release strategies.

In conclusion, I think the Xbox One media event just confirmed for me that this is not the console I’m looking for.

At the same time, I don’t think they’re being greedy and hateful to gamers. I just think they are allowing the real need to please shareholders and increase profits any way they can to drive their design, and it’s gonna bite them in the butt in the long run.

The solution?

There isn’t one. We have a market economy, and for small businesses, the holy grail is to take a company public and hope the stock will go through the roof, make you as the owner a millionaire overnight, and then you turn the company over to the people who have to start riding the shareholder accountability train.

Companies that are not publicly traded don’t have to cater to market pressures. Smaller companies can actually be satisfied with flat growth so long as they can make payroll and expenses, and reinvest the rest into improving the quality of their products and even, and this may shock you, provide better benefits and wages to their employees.

You sometimes hear of these companies out there, where the owner pays employees great wages and benefits, and still makes lots of money for himself, and turns out a great product or service. They are the exception, not the rule, but they are out there.

Things are rarely as simple as they seem, and sometimes understanding the system, what it is, and seeing how it pressures others to act as they do helps us see what we can expect.

It looks to me as if in this case, Microsoft is feeling their position as the number one selling game console with the 360, and is looking at ways to increase revenue streams with the next launch rather than consider that if they do things like this, they may lose the crown, along with a big chunk of market share, to someone else that is giving away the store to bring in more customers.

 

Comments and criticisms and opposing points of view very welcome!

Requesting Suggestions for Minecraft Mods!

Okay, I’m finally stepping up to where the other parents are with this Minecraft thing.

How embarrassing is it to be a gamer dad and have the only kid in the class who can’t play modded Minecraft games?

The Cub has wanted to play various mods on Minecraft ever since he found out we had it, but the Feed The Beast system I tried for whatever reason was just crashing the game. And my computer. Fine. Whatever.

I have finally taken the time to learn how to install the Minecraft Forge API, set everything up properly and tested, and have a ‘mods’ folder all set to drop mod zip files into to mod the game.

So.

Um, okay.

Given a Cub that has never run anything but the stock game, I am looking for your suggestions on what mods would be small, bite sized pieces of awesome fun for the 1.5.2 game client.

I know he has stated a desire for the Portal Gun mod, and apparently there is also some kind of ‘aether’ world or something that is the opposite of the nether, that you can create a portal of light to access, and ignite/activate the portal with gold and wool or something. Um, what?

I know many of you are experienced hands at Modding Minecraft, and I hope you can guide me to which mods would be fun ones for him to start with.

Nothing says ‘you’re old’ quite like getting your game modification lessons from someone whose voice just changed. I learned how to get the game set up and tested by this outstanding Youtube video, which I strongly recommend if you’ve been as slow as I was to get started with mods;

A Blast From The Past

It’s funny, the way things work.

A long, long time ago, Matticus the wise and powerful interviewed me as part of his series on getting to know other WoW bloggers better.

I was very flattered, and as long winded as you’ve come to expect, and what it turned into was my first storytime. One of his questions I just ran with and ran my mouth off with, and I had enough fun sharing that story that I decided to continue doing that off and on over the years.

These storytimes are pretty much a fire and forget missile. I send one off, and it’s in the past. I don’t think about them much anymore. I was there when it happened the first time, I was there when I wrote about it as a nostalgic tour, no sense going back to, like, read it, y’know?

All this to explain why I was surprised when Ganluin sent me an email to tell me the link I had on my blog to the interview over at World of Matticus was broken, and to give me the correct link.

My first thought was, “Matt still has that up there? Wow, I guess stuff on the internet really does linger on like the scent of a bad cheese.”

My second thought was, “Crap, I didn’t know anyone ever read those things anymore. That’s ancient history. Maybe I should, like, go back and spell check my shit.”

I fixed the link, but in following the link over to make sure it worked, I took the time to read the interview through.

I’m going to repost the story part down below, just to save it on my own site for posterity. I’m amazed it never occurred to me that I might like a copy of that someday. I’ve always thought of Matticus as living and blogging forever. He is an icon. An immortal, a living legend, the bringer of priestly fire. What if he were to fall? What if he got abducted by rabid wombats tomorrow? Wombats that needed the best healer in creation for a secret wombat mission?

What if, over the course of his quest, Matticus was overcome with mad wombat lust and chose to make his life among them, his new wom-batty people, and never returned?

What would become of his site then? What of my interview?

Anyway.

Reading through the interview, I realized on top of wanting a copy of the story, I had left out some key visuals that would have helped the picture I was painting.

I’m going to kill two Mogu with one swipe here, post the story bit from the interview, and include a few pictures afterwards that ought to make a key bit of the story a lot clearer.

From the interview with Matticus, my first storytime;

Your blog states that you served in the US Marines. You willing to share any good/humorous stories during your time there?

I assume that the statute of limitations still covers… yeah, okay, so those are out. Hold on, let me think. What can I say that wouldn’t incur legal fines or liability?

Right, okay.

I’ll be nice and limit myself to a Marine story, and not include the subcategories of drinking, practical jokes, drinking, crazy physical stunts… oh, wait, that reminds me. Okay, I’ve got one. And I don’t think I can be arrested for anything in it.

So, I’m in the barracks with some friends, in the desert of Twenty-Nine Palms, California. And there are a bunch of us, and we’re bored, and it’s Saturday morning.

One of the guys has a car, which when you’re all PFCs or Lance Corporals, is a BIG thing. So someone suggests we get a shitload of alcohol, bundle some camping crap into the car, and head for Yucca Valley National Monument for some serious drinking and barbequeing, maybe stay over for the night.

Now, at the time I was the ringleader of our little clan, the resident Game Master of our gaming group. (Hell yes, Marines play role playing games. Best groups I’ve ever had in my entire life were with Jarheads. Intelligent men and women, tactically proficient and possessed of wondrous imaginations and low and evil cunning. God, I miss gaming in the service. Oh heck, where the hell was I? Oh, right.)

Right, I was the ringleader. And I usually organized games on the weekend, followed by everyone drinking, listening to Dr. Demento, and then having a steak and lobster tail barbeque in the beer garden outside. Beer garden? Don’t ask.

So I get us all organized, sort out who is going to bring what, then we hit the package store (where you buy your alcohol on base) and off we go out into the High Desert.

And we drive for miles, and miles, and miles. When we finally approach a likely looking campsite near some particularly fine rock formations, we are waaaaay out there.

As the car rolls up to where we’re gonna park, the engine makes some knocking noises… and then with a loud bang! we watch the hood of the car lift up with the force of a massive blow. The car stops. And I mean, right then and there.

So, we look at each other in the back seat, and then we look at the owner of the car. With a deadpan emotionless tone of voice, I say, “Engine threw a rod, Mark.”

He says, equally emotionlessly, “Yep. Looks that way.”

I say, “It’s a hell of a long walk back to the main road, man.”

He says, “Yep.”

I tell him, “Better carry a case with you when you go. And carry a bag. No littering in Yucca.”

He says, “Yep. Damn it.”

So off he went, with a case of wine coolers, to go flag down a ranger. Which he did, eventually.

In the meantime, heck, we had food, alcohol, and lots of free time. This was years before cell phones, so nobody had any way of getting the word out but by walking. Fortunately, it was Saturday, so we had two days to figure out how to get back to base before we’d be missing a movement, namely Monday morning formation. No worries.

Well, at the time I fancied myself a fair free rock climber. I went out fairly often, and enjoyed taking a camera with me to take shots from “How the hell did you get there” angles. I didn’t have any gear with me, but some of the rocks out there were pretty easy grades for a novice. I left the other guys to their drinking, and headed into the rocks.

So I went on in a little valley twixt the steep walls of rock, picked an approach, and started climbing. And the rock out there is nice, there are frequent and easy to reach handholds, indentations, fissures, you name it. I was just climbing to have fun, stretch out a bit. I was wearing jeans, combat boots, and no shirt, because I thought I was quite studdly, and I wanted to get some Sun for a tan.

I am sliding around a steep grade, feet inching sideways on a narrow crack as I work my way over to where I can see the way up is going to be easier. I’m a long way up, but it’s cool. I am pressed flat against the rock, arms spread wide and hands out, kissing the rock good and close, just kinda inching my way sideways.

As I go across this flat steep face, the rock is pretty gritty, and it’s suddenly smooth. It’s like sandstone, with a very fine grade of loose grit on the surface. And I start to slide down.
I force my body closer against the rock, I’m desperate for the rock to love me long time. I mean, I am seriously bear hugging this rock in a way that should require a marriage license and a hotel room.

And as I slowly slide down, I can feel a tugging on my pants as my belt is scraping along the rock. And then, suddenly, hella pain. Somehow, I make myself stop dead, possibly through heretofore unknown psychic powers, I don’t know.

What happened is, the belt buckle post grabbed on the rock, and my belt worked itself free, and the buckle, looped through the belt, came out of the sheath, but was still caught in the belt, all tangled up.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I was an amateur real-life leatherworker, and I’d hand-stitched my woven belt? And I’d used a belt-buckle palm dagger (what is known as a push knife) as the buckle with a sewn in sheath? Sorry, that must have slipped my mind.

Yeah, so the belt buckle came undone, grabbed on the rock, twisted on the leather looped through it, and pointed itself up… into my stomach. Braced agasint the rock.

And I was slowly sliding DOWN the rock face.

Yep, paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it?

So, let’s recap, shall we? I’m way up a rock face, I’ve got a dagger sticking into my stomach, I’m wearing no shirt, and I’m starting to slide down. And as I slide, the dagger is digging deeper.

Now, I calmly access the situation. I am not panicking, but I am 100% aware that I am the stupidest person on the face of the planet, and I’m about to die, die by being stuck with the dagger I myself spent hours crafting into a belt, and the worst part is I have 6 Fosters Oil Cans at the camp that I’ll never get to drink.

Such are the thoughts of a single Marine. Just so you know.

Obviously, I didn’t die. Sorry to break the suspense, but I thought I should mention that, just in case you were getting worried.

Instead, I kept on hugging the rock face fiercely. I slowed my rate of descent, kind of hoisted myself by the skin of my forearms straight UP and then inched the rest of the way onwards to my destination, since I had traveled a hard way up, and then eased my way back down to the bottom of the gulley.

When my feet touched down on soft desert sand at the foot of the rock, I gently pulled the dagger from my stomach, I unthreaded my belt from my pants, and then I threw the entire damn thing with all of my might as deep into the rocks as I could possibly get it.

I assessed my injuries. I had a nicely bleeding, seeping really, hole in my stomach, and the skin on my inner arms, from my wrists to my elbows, was gone. Sinmply gone. my inner forearms were raw exposed meat from being abraded against the rock to stop my slide.

So.

I walked calmly back to camp, and I’ll be perfectly honest here… I derived a certain sense of satisfaction, knowing that my reputation as a bad ass was going to be ramped up a few notches by walking out of the desert covered in blood. Kind of a consolation prize for being a galactically stupid moron.

I proceeded to borrow a buddies’ shirt to wrap up my arms and stomach, after pouring beer all over my arms to try and wash away sand. I’m intentionally trying not to think about how bad that hurt.
I kicked back, had a steak grilled over an open fire, and drank Fosters for the next 8 hours or so, until Mark came back in a park ranger truck, and we carried our happy butts back out of the desert, and I made my way to the base sick bay.

And as I walked into sick bay on that Saturday night, contemplating how to possibly spin what happened so I wouldn’t look like such an incredible dumbass on the inevitable after action report… some corpsmen rushed a guy past me into sick bay on a gurney. And the guy’s mouth was covered in dried blood.

It looked like the guy took a punch in the mouth, but the corpsmen seemed VERY anxious to work on him, so naturally I asked at the counter what was up with him.

Turns out he’d been drinking with his buddies in the desert (surprise), saw a rattlesnake, and decided to show what a badass he was by biting the head of the snake off.

Except the snake chomped his tongue GOOD. And even though he succeeded in biting the snakes’ head off, the fangs wouldn’t release.

I stopped worrying about the reception my story was going to get. Apparently, on a base full of Marines in the desert on a Saturday night, my story wasn’t even gonna make the top three.

All right, so that is the story.

There was one key thing about that story that bothered me at the time, and when I re-read it, it STILL bothers me.

I know what the hell I was talking about with the knife belt buckle thing, and maybe a few other people who read the blog know what they are, but this falls under the category of exotic or obscure weaponry.

I know from some of the conversations I’ve had with many of you that I am not alone in having spent a large portion of my early years mastering exotic weapons. It’s too late for us.

If you are still in your youth, and you are about to embark on a year-long journey of tomahawk practice, this is a protip for you; not once in my entire life have I ever found it useful to be an expert with a blowgun, throwing knives, shuriken, tonfa, tomahawks or  butterfly knives. Not once… okay, well, yes. Once. The blowgun. I think I even told that story somewhere, the blowgun mouse hunter. Fine, but that was a fluke, and a professional exterminator would have been a better idea anyway, so it shouldn’t count.

The point is, if you are still young and eagerly practicing your throwing knife or blowgun skills for hours on end… that’s cool, and it’s fun for a hobby, but don’t neglect marketable skills.  The market for exotic weapons experts is on the down swing, unless a new season of Top Shot starts up.

Anyway, AGAIN.

In the story, I describe the leather belt I had woven, damn that thing was a piece of work. I spent hours weaving the leather and stitching it so it looked like it was grown that way. The belt buckle part was cute but stupid, and falls under the category of “I collect and play with dangerous things, maybe they’ll rub off and make me more dangerous, hur hur.”

I have not only found pictures of the exact kind of belt buckle push dagger I talked about, but also an example of it both in and out of a belt.

Taken from The Martialist, here are pictures of a belt buckle push dagger and belt almost identical to the one I had used in 1982.

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist1

 

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist2

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist3

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist4

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist5

 

If you look at these pictures from the excellent article at The Martialist, you should immediately see what I tried to describe. There is a steel post that sticks out of the knife body, goes through a hole in the leather belt, and continues to stick out far enough to fit through the tongue of the belt, holding it in place.

This clearly makes a belt buckle push knife one of the stupidest emergency weapons on the planet, since in order to get it into battle, you have to unbuckle your belt.

“Hold on, I’m gonna kick your ass just as soon as I take off my pants!” Impressive battle cry heard nowhere at all ever.

What happened to me was that the metal stud sticking out of the knife caught on the stone, and all of my body weight was on that one point, pulling my belt up towards my stomach as I slid down. The leather stretched around the stud, until I slid off the stud, causing the tongue to slide partly out of the belt, loosening the belt, and giving the knife enough slack to come completely out of the sheath, and then, still caught on that DAMN STEEL POST, twist around and get the knife point up, tangled int he belt which was still looped through and around my waist.

When I wrote it the first time, I knew what happened but I couldn’t think of a good way to describe it. I did my best, but i hope now with the inclusion of these pictures you can see for yourself what a galactically incompetent moron it took to almost get killed by my own pants.

I almost got killed by my own pants!

Still just amazes the hell out of me, and I’m the one that freaking did it!

I’m glad it happened. It’s moments like that, that are well and truly lived. I’ll never forget that moment in my life, everything that led up to it, the whole thing. What I ate that week, what I was doing on base, so much is gone and might as well have never been, but that moment, hell that entire weekend will live in my memory for the rest of my life, and that makes it part of the only life that matters, the part that I can remember and experience again, if only secondhand.

Please, if you take anything away from this story, anything at all, it’s to get your ass out of your house, get out there and do something, anything that is out of the ordinary, because the ordinary fades into nothingness, but the special, the unique, the crazy or weird will remain with you forever.

Provided you live through it, of course.

Second Thoughts on Scaling

Following on the heels of yesterdays post, Blizzard can implement scaling but would we want to play that way?

The World of Warcraft game could be boiled down into one concept; bigger means better.

The goal of the game is to reach higher numbers. Higher character levels, higher stats, higher item levels, more gold, topping meters, and on and on. For a game with no end, the numbers are the way we keep score.

I’m not saying that is the way we have to play it. I’m saying that is the way we have ended up playing it. Roleplaying our characters and pet battling and other pursuits are perfectly viable and fun means of playing the game, but that stuff is our attempt to turn a level grind into a sandbox. It works, but it’s certainly not the message we get from the game. Level your character, equip upgraded gear, go look for more levels and better gear. Rinse and repeat.

Content in the game is set to a fixed difficulty level. If it’s the hardest content, it has the best gear rewards for developing the skill and coordination to beat it. By beating it, you get more powerful gear than can be found anywhere else, which enables you to attempt ever more powerful challenges. At some point, what you’re doing is relegated to old stuff, new content and ever better gear comes out, and the people who couldn’t kill it when it was current can get gear through other means to let them go back and give it another try.

Having problems in Mogushan Vaults normal? Go get yourself some iLevel 522 Valor Gear and come back to roflstomp it later.

The entire system is designed to reward you for improving your skill and coordination as a team by giving you the highest level of gear, and then making that gear necessary to take on the next leading edge content.

Blizzard has included other content meant to give non-progression raiders a strong challenge in the past. Like the timed bear mount runs in Zul’aman, the new Challenge modes in Pandaria. Um, maybe other stuff I’m spacing on?

They’ve tried, and it’s been well received. People like their bear mounts.

The name of the game, though, is progression, even in our character power. Starting off low, improving over time, and feeling that difference as your gear gets better.

Personally, I like the way our characters become more powerful in comparison to older content. If you played through content at it’s most challenging, then coming back years later brings both nostalgia for the good times and a renewed sense of being a badass now. In a game with no ‘I win’ ending, it is important to be able to feel badass after getting your lunch money stolen all day by Lei Shen.

With the majority of the game designed around coming back to a challenge after your gear improves, would there really be interest in playing scaling content?

Yes, I know it’s goofy to make up a system yesterday that doesn’t exist, and then spend time today asking if anyone would play it. I’m just getting in on the ground floor! First I suggest the system, and then I tell you why it would never work. Okay, I’m kidding. But seriously, if Blizzard did that, think of the time savings by cutting out the QQ middleman!

I’m interested in this idea, though. Scaling of content exists in other games. Guild Wars 2, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Neverwinter, etc. It’s out there, this is not a dream or an imaginary tale, it’s really real.

If the game you play is founded on the concept of improving your gear to become more powerful, then how does it feel to play scaling content that makes your gear irrelevant? The challenge will always be the same, the only way to improve is to practice and improve your own gameplay.

How does it feel? If your gear doesn’t matter in scaling content, doesn’t that mean your gear doesn’t matter? Without gear to improve your power, what is the shiny dangled in front of you as a reward?

For better or worse, powerful gear is the lure used to get most of us playing the next content to come out in World of Warcraft.

Whether you run a raid to get a drop, or you run content that can’t drop anything that would be an upgrade for you because you can earn points to spend on stuff that IS an upgrade, it’s still doing stuff to get better gear.

Achievements and vanity items like pets and mounts help to give us other goals to pursue, but for the most part it’s more powerful gear. Not everyone runs stuff for pets or mounts, but everyone I know in the game wants gear upgrades, and plays some form of content they don’t particularly like once in a while to get some.

I don’t know. I’m very curious about this whole thing.

What I would like that does not currently exist are twofold.

I would like an expanded selection of content to run while leveling, content that was reachable by the LFD tool.

I would also like a way for players new to World of Warcraft to be able to experience ALL of the content that has been released over the last eight years through a simple to find interface like the LFR/LFD tool.

For a person brand new to World of Warcraft, the game is easy to get into, experience from kills and quests comes rolling in fast, and the journey from 1 to 90 doesn’t take long at all.

Here is my only criticism of it.

You can use the LFD tool to play existing dungeon as you level up, with new ones presented as you outlevel the old ones, but once you’re past that level range, the dungeon is gone forever, and the raids don’t exist at all.

I would like a way for new players to be able to know that the old raids exist, to see them, and to do them in groups without the only real option being facerolling them solo at level 90.

It is only my assumption that the best way to allow a new player to get into the old raids as a group is to scale the raids so you’re not limited to doing them within a narrow level band. The majority of active players are at or near level cap, so my thoughts turned to how to get the old raids viable for level 90s.

Perhaps, before I thought of scaling, I should have gone to the heart of the question;

What could we do to take all of the existing content, all of this awesome stuff Blizzard has spent the last eight years creating, and stick it in the face of players new and old to have fun with?

Challenges Not To Scale

Just for fun, I’m going to ramble on about scaling this morning.

Call it scaling, sliding, normalizing, whatever you’d like. What I’m going to talk about is increasing or decreasing the effective power of an opponent or a player to make a fight ‘fair’.

The first time I ran into scaling was in City of Heroes. They had a sidekick system that incorporated scaling. The idea was, you might be a long term customer with a powerful character, and a friend decides the game sounds fun and they want to come in and give it a try. The problem? Your friend wants to get in and start playing with you right away, but they’re level 10 and you’re 50. What to do?

The sidekick system in City of Heroes let you group with your low level friend, and the low level friend would have their effective power levels raised to match yours. They wouldn’t gain any new abilities, so they would have far fewer tools in their toolbox, but what they had would at least be effective, and their health and armor would let them be a viable teammate instead of a boy hostage.

So, that’s an example of a system where the power of the character would scale to match the content you were running.

Now, I’ve been puttering around in the new free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, which is still in beta but is pretty awesome.

Why is it awesome?

Unlike almost every other free to play game I’ve tried, Neverwinter hasn’t been shoving their cash store in my face every time I turn around. Instead, I’m having fun playing the game, and the store is enticing me to buy neat stuff to enhance my play. Not, you know, stuff to buy just so I can have any kind of playtime at all.

Anyway.

In Neverwinter, there are scenarios, dungeons, instances, whatever you’d like to call them. There are those designed by the game company, and there are also player-created instances in what is called ‘The Foundry’, which are also, yes, free to play. And if you so desire, you can create your own scenarios too.

The interesting bit here is that the instances are not gated by level. The monsters and treasure within the instance will scale based on the level of the player that enters, so loot in chests will be level appropriate, and the opponents will also scale to match you. The difficulties come in the instance design. If someone stacks a bunch of bad guys in a small room with no place to maneuver, well, it’s going to be a hell of a challenge. The design of the instance determines the difficulty, and even how many people are needed to play in it, rather than the level of the characters or villains.

So, an example of a system where the character stays the same, and the content of an instance scales to provide an ‘appropriate’ challenge.

Where I’m going with this is simple.

What would it take to add scaling for the old content in World of Warcraft?

I’ll talk about why I think it would be a good thing later, for now let’s just talk about what would have to be done to implement something.

In my opinion, the highest hurdle would be the scaling technology itself. No sense talking about it if it would cost three years of serious programmer time to get something into beta.

Surprise! In World of Warcraft, most of the technology needed has already been implemented.

Blizzard is using scaling in the game already, and seems to be following the ‘scale the player power to match the content’ concept.

The first piece we can see comes from Heirloom items. The tech is in place to be able to scale the ilevel of gear up OR DOWN based on the level of the player.

You get an Heirloom, whoever you mail it to can equip it, and it will scale up or down, no problems. Right now, it scales based off of a character trigger – what is the level of the character equipping it?

In my opinion, it’s a short step to changing the trigger so iLevel scaling could change based on the recommended level of the dungeon or raid you were zoning into.

That brings us to the second piece which is already in the game, Challenge mode dungeons.

The Challenge mode dungeons are all level 90 dungeons that you cannot access until you’ve completed them on Heroic. They do not incorporate any character level scaling, but they do scale your equipped gear down to effective iLevel 463, except for the trinkets.

They also do other things upon entering them, such as deactivate Sha-touched gems and Tier bonuses. A complete list of what gets changed when you enter a Challenge mode 5 person dungeon can be found at Wowhead New’s awesome guide here.

The important bit here is that the tech is in place so that when you specifically queue for one of these scaled dungeons, and you zone in, your gear gets ‘normalized’ to an appropriate power level for the dungeon or raid you are doing.

So what puzzle pieces are we missing for the tech?

Only one thing, really. When you zone into a dungeon or raid, if there was a mechanism in place to detect your character level, and to scale your base character stats down to the ‘intended’ level of the content… well, that would cap the package, wouldn’t it?

With that one additional piece of tech, you could zone into, say, Ulduar 25 and as you zone in, your character base stats could be adjusted down to level 80, your gear iLevel could be scaled down to 232, your hit/expertise percentages against raid bosses would be maintained at whatever your previous level had been, and lo and behold you would now be able to do old content scaled to the appropriate ‘challenge’.

So, it’s a possibility. The tech is not that impossible to imagine.

Blizzard could, if they chose to, implement a new system where you could do old content through the LFD/LFR system, and when you zone in with the group your effective level and gear would be scaled to match the challenge.

If they chose to.

What is the one big reason why they might like to implement this?

To expand on options in the Looking for Group tool for dungeons and raids when leveling.

For a big bonus, to give us more options for randoms when level capped and seeking fresh possibilities for weekly Valor Points.

If you could queue for ANY dungeon or raid content, where you can queue for it now instead of when you finally ding 90, where you would have to use your class abilities to some extent rather than outgearing and facerolling it,  and IF you received Justice Points, Valor Points and experience points for doing it just like the current leveling dungeons… wouldn’t that expand the leveling freshness a bit?

Think about it. You wouldn’t just be matchmaking with people who are within the same three levels as you when trying to do Sunken Temple. You’d be queuing with anyone your level and above who’d like to get a run in, and everyone in the group regardless of level is going to have their effective power scaled down to put you all on the same playing field for that run… except for how many buttons are on your bar.

Why would you expect to get Justice, Valor or experience for such a run? Well, the whole point would be to make the content a reasonable ‘at level’ challenge, and suitable for LFR/LFD queuing. It would seem reasonable to expect to get some XP from the kills, some JP for the bosses and maybe a 15 or 30 Valor Point random queuing quest reward.

But there is one last big hurdle to it, and the reason why this isn’t an “I think they will do this” and more of an “I wonder how they would do that”.

What to do about loot?

Right now, when you do randoms leveling up you get a loot bag on completion of the run, with some random blue quality gear of the appropriate level for the dungeon you ran. The iLevel of the gear is based on the level of the dungeon, not your level. It doesn’t matter much because once you level past that dungeon, you can’t queue for it anymore.

What if they added loot bags to the random LFR/LFD system for old raids and dungeons? Bags with a piece of loot based on your actual character level instead of the level of the dungeon or your effective character level? The gear is already there, a wide range exists from those dungeon bags. Tie the bag quality into your level when you queued rather than the level of the dungeon, and you would get a level appropriate something for doing older content.

But is that enough incentive to get someone going through an entire raid? Some of those would take megatime.

Probably not.

But there is something else already implemented in a similar context that could be expanded into older content in LFR/LFD.

Achievements, Titles, Pets, Mounts and fancy transmoggable armor sets.

They have already implemented this in the Challenge mode dungeons, so the model is there.

If there were special achievements for doing older scaled content through the Raid/Dungeon finder tool, if loot was handled the way it is in LFR right now so you’re not competing with the other players, if there were pets that could drop on bosses, mounts to earn for completing raids or achievements, gear pieces that were specially colored old Tier or Dungeon sets…

Yeah. I think that just might be a complete package.

You could even implement a class-specific easter-egg hunt.

If you played in Vanilla WoW, do you remember the Sunken Temple quest lines?

Each character class had a quest you could get in Ungoro Crater, that led you to Sunken Temple, and as a reward gave you something really useful for your class.

What if a quest chain were added in the game, that asked you to visit all of these places through the Scaled Content LFD and collect items from them? Gather all the items, turn them in and get something appropriate for your class.

It wouldn’t have to be anything big or crazy, but it would be fun to have that class quest for a tasty item or RP flair. Mages could go collect shards of energy cast off from some of the big battles, charging a special Mana Gem. Warlocks could collect Shards of teh Souls of powerful bosses they defeat along the way. Rogues could pick pocket trinkets from bosses in various locations that had… personal meaning for the person sending you out to get them back. You get the idea.

I’m just musing aloud here, I’m not trying to prophecy or suggest something, and I don’t believe it WILL happen… but it could happen, and it would be fun.

The most interesting thing about this to me, is that by using the LFD/LFR tool as the gateway to run these, it allows Blizzard to leave all of the existing content untouched. You could still zone in and solo the old runs, get the chance at the original loot lists, work on original achievements and Legendary questlines, drops for the Raiding with Leashes pets, all of it.

The only time you would be zoning in to old content that scaled for an appropriate challenge would be when you intentionally sought one out on the LFD/LFR tool.

And finally, and to me the most fascinating part of the whole thing… by scaling the players to the content, you leave in place the option for Blizzard to tweak up or down the effective iLevel of the players. If a particular dungeon or raid became a severe chokepoint, then they could tweak the effective scaling of ilevel up or down as they felt appropriate.

I dunno. Maybe there is some glaring flaw I’m missing, but the whole thing seems technically feasible, it would benefit the majority of players in the game right now by adding more options, you could return to having a challenge in old content without it necessarily being a brutal slog, it would not require the creation of new zones or raids or art assets, except for mounts or Tier recoloring (or new gear sets, if they felt like it), and it would continue to be relevant regardless of what future level caps may climb to become.

Okay.

So, what do you think? Does any of that make sense? Would it be fun? Is it a horrible idea? What do you think, my friends?

Oh, and happy Wednesday.