Friday, December 19, 2014

Is Technology Getting Out of Hand?

Giant Metal Scorpion: steampunky. Tail Mounted Laser: not so much.
This goes back a while:

I was in the Mists of Pandaria beta testing phase and one of the things they frequently tested then were race and faction changes. As a result, I had turned a lot of my Alliance characters in beta into Hordes and gotten a chance to check out how the other side lives.

Early on in the adventure into the Jade Forest, A Horde gas bag is hanging in the sky dumping pain and misery on...somebody on the ground. I honestly can't remember if it was Hozen or Alliance or Jin'yu. But for one quest you are ordered to "man the guns" and kill X number of bad guys on the ground. So I ran off and did that, but as soon as I jumped into "the gun," my heart sank a little.

This was no ordinary gun.

This was a machine gun.

Y'see, machine guns are weaponry that quite definitely begin their existence in the 20th Century. In fact, the machine gun took its bow almost exactly 100 years ago this year as it was pulled up by troops in World War I. It shocked the world just how horribly lethal it was and how cheap a soldier's life had become. It was a triumph of mechanical engineering and one of the worst things to happen to the human race all at the same time.

And, as of the beginning of MoP, The Horde has these things on the decks of their navy.

Since that time, we see more and more futuristic robots, we have the Warlord's Deathwheel, which is a cross between a tank and a tricycle. The Iron Horde has rocked up on our world with artillery that looks like it Napoleon's cannons on a bit of steroids.

Warcraft has always embraced an element of steampunk, and I can't say I'm against that. But artillery, machine guns and huge, city-destroying bombs seem like they have gone a bit beyond steampunk. You must remember, when the real life calvary raised their swords against a machine gun nest, it was the calvary that lost-- badly.  What place does a warrior's sword or mace serve in a world where Siegemaster Blackfuse is firing lasers at us? And maybe more importantly, how does this change the story?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

RIP Garrosh Hellscream, Warchief, War Criminal

This is a spoilery sort of article if you haven't worked that out yet.
It is with a relieved heart that we of the Alliance lay former warchief of the Horde, Garrosh Hellscream, to rest. Or, not really to rest, but more to slowly rot away, exposed on the plains of Nagrand after having been electrocuted and squished in a talon of earth by his former mentor and noted orc shaman, Baldy.

Hellscream, a noted war criminal and warchief of the Horde who was overthrown in a recent revolt, had most recently escaped justice in Pandaria using a botched time travel mechanism and is presumed to be at least partly responsible for the recent attacks of the so-called "Iron Horde" on the Blasted Lands of Azeroth. It was these actions that brought together a rare, mixed task force of Alliance and Horde heroes to storm the Dark Portal, protect our world from this new threat, and bring Hellscream to justice.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Resource Follow-up.

The Commandojack
It's a little bit later and there are results to go over in regards to my experience trying to up my garrison resource production. Some useful lessons have appeared.

Upgrade Your Lumber Mill ASAP
I built the level one lumber mill, accomplished the first few quests related to that, and then promptly stopped finding any lumber I could harvest. It was frustrating. The mill sat idle for several days during the holiday weekend when my runs through the world turned up little I could harvest, and my brief forays to generate lumber were also unsuccessful.

Prompted by some guildies, I upgraded to the level 2 mill and found a ton more trees to mark. I also found the Nightmarsh of Shadowmoon Valley to be a fast respawning place to collect two or three days worth of lumber work orders. This is how I imagined the mill was supposed to work.

Scavengers Need Development
We spoke of how follower with the scavenging trait looked to be among the best ways to generate materials. I ata d by that, but find more work is going to be needed for that pay-off.  As noted before, the only way to get a scavenger on your team will be to headhunt one. But any follower brought on board this way is going to be level 90 and thus unsuited for many potential supply runs at the outset. She is going to need leveling, so pair her with training bonus followers and keep her busy even if she's not chasing supplies right away. And on the downside, your scavenger will have other abilities that may or may not make her suited for particular missions. This is a crapshoot and would support hiring one or two others. But more on the foibles of hiring more followers is below. I think I went out and hired my first scavenger immediately after I wrote this and since then, she is underperforming. First, she was too low level to go on the right runs. Then, she most frequently didn't have the right counterskills to bring home the bacon. Third, very few of the resource reward missions have more than one character to assign, so unless something changes, I don't see much opportunity to stack that scavenging bonus either.

Garrison Invasions

An idyllic evening in Lunarfall... but not for long!

I've been through two weekends worth of garrison invasions now. Um... first weekend it was the Iron Horde, and then it was another bunch of Iron Horde. But they were different, I swear. These are a real hoot! But there's a lot going unexplained. 

There are three stages. In the first you kill some scouts. In the second, the main body of the attack commences. In the third, there's a boss. The real meat of the thing is the second stage. And there are clearly some variants depending on what group of idiots is attacking you. For example, the first week, they charged the gates. The second week, they poofed into the center of town in a puff of smoke AND charged the gates.

Your goal, as a defender, is to rack up as many Victory Points (VP) as possible. If you get 300 VP, it's a bronze. 600 VP is silver and 1000 VP is gold. The quality of your finish affects the size of your reward at the end, which includes gold, garrison resources and apexis crystals. You can allegedly win one bag of prizes for each finish once a week. Which seems like crap to me. If you get gold on your first invasion, what are you encouraged to do? Fight less so you get the silver or bronze package again? Are you going to deprive a friend of a strong finish because you want your spoils?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I Need Me Some Garrison Resources!

The Storehouse doesn't actually make resources but
you could pretend to store them there. Or something.

If you're like me, you got to level 100 and among the first things you wanted to do was scare up 2000 garrison resources so you could build out your garrison into a proper castle. And, if you're like me, that wasn't too bad because you'd been collecting a fair number of resources from quests you see completing. I think I had about 1850 at the time I struck level 100 and got the rest fairly easily after that.

So when I spent my 2000 resources, I did so with a little niggling worry in the back of my head: these resources had been mostly found using quest rewards...ones that I'd never be able to collect again. These were non-renewable resources, which if we have learned anything from our dependence on fossil fuels, should teach us that one should never build an economy on that.

Blizzard has done a pretty arcane job of giving us ways to generate resources. There are some "easy" ways to do this, but those are almost exclusively non-renewable. Which is to say, you'll get that haul once and then never again. There are some renewable sources of garrison resources but they need some set up work to become effective. And then there are other sources that will require your constant attention.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Panda Postmortem

Yes, it's going to get ugly.

Warlords of Draenor is here. We're done with Pandaria and I don't sense that it's a place I'll be terribly excited to revisit, unfortunately. I was trying to piece together why that was the other day and realized that I missed something Blizzard did last time around, which was a full-on public post-mortem of their work in Cataclysm. It was refreshingly honest and it was good to see how the company assessed their own work.

Well. if Blizzard isn't going to do the job this time, somebody has to. So, let's give it a go! I'm not sure that this can be comprehensive because there's so many aspects of the game, but here's a few thoughts all the same.

The World
Pandaria looked very pretty, really. The zones had some distinctiveness while still seeming to be a part of the same world. That said, I didn't feel that the continent had any particularly memorable sites.

(Haha... I just Googled "Pandaria Map" so I could have a reference to look at and it showed me Pandaria, in the Chhattisgarth province of India.)

Actually, that's not entirely true, I was moved by the view of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms with its Mogu architecture and spray of manicured trees, and that was destroyed.  Because I like it better before the Alliance and Horde have a battle there, I specifically stopped running through the full story in Jade Forest with my alts just so I never reached that part where the statue of the Xu'lon gets covered in sha goop.

I think a bigger problem with the settings was that none of it felt essential to the story. Jade Forest and the Valley of the Four Winds had some personality to them, but Kun-Lai Summit, Townlong Steppes, and Dread Wastes felt like one long slog of progressively uninspired waste.  I remember reading, before Pandaria came out, that "Kun-Lai Summit is 4 times bigger than the largest zone in Cataclysm." But didn't you notice how much completely empty space was in the Kun Lai region? And naming the tallest mountain "Mt. Neverest" and then putting nothing of any essential importance even near it was both boring and uninspired.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Commander is On Deck!

Whenever somebody calls me "Commander," This is what I think of.
Some stray thoughts about Warlords after the first weekend:

Shadowmoon Valley was tremendous fun, with some good storylines that I enjoyed a lot. Gorgrondor, my next stop in Draenor, feels utterly formless by comparison. I'm not entirely sure what's going on there because all the questing I did was about checking in with the Ragnari and helping them solve some ecology-related problems. As soon as I found a summons to Talador, I took it. I haven't gone far there yet, but it was a little disappointing that the promise of immediate engagement with the Iron Horde was deferred by the need to construct an artillery tower instead. 

Argh! Karabor was a snooze fest! The final battle against the Shadowmoon orcs was all well and cool, but Karabor was originally to be the main Alliance hub in Draenor. When that was cancelled for Ashram instead, Blizzard promised Karabor would still be an exciting mecca of Draenei culture. But no, instead it is one huge, sparsely-populated botanical garden. I've had one reason to go up into that area since the Battle of Karabor and can find no reason to go back.  I wandered into Shattrath last night and found a sprawling city with whole districts I didn't know existed. And it was inhabited and showed signs of recent battle. But again, no signs of questing in this area. And no mining or herb patches. These are great big empty patches of nothing. I sure hope they turn into something. 

DPS queue lines for dungeons have been absurdly long, but I ran with a guild group (healing again!) and saw the Bloodmaul Slag Pits and The Iron Shipyard.  Slag Pits was a fairly nonsense attack on a few bosses, only one of which had any particular mechanics to pay attention to. The Shipyard was more challenging and just more interesting in general. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Draenor! HoOOooo!

It's Orctacular!

The sites and colors of Draenor

You know what I like best about the new expansion so far? ALL THE DRAENEI!! I feel like my favorite race has sat around like a bunch of outcasts for six years now and suddenly we're everywhere! I mean, we are on the planet they named after themselves and all. But hanging with Maraad, and that posse of Drae refugees that keeps growing and growing as we maneuver to destroy the Dark Portal! My Blue Brethren not beaten down and mostly destroyed by filthy Orcses! Yeah! This is my kind of expansion.

And then there's all the Orcs. One thing I kinda noticed is that all these clans have parallels to Azerothean races. The Shattered Hand clan puts on body paint and runs around with their shirts off. Just like trolls. The Blackrock clan spends all their time at the forges. Just like dwarves. In one part, I'm a little disappointed that I see such parallels. On the other, I like that these clans kinda sorta have their own flavor, which will go a lot further towards my enjoyment of killing them all.

My biggest raised eyebrow right now goes to Ner'zhul who seems like a raving thug each time I've laid eyes on him so far. In this parallel universe, it seems like the Burning Legion skipped him altogether and made their pacts directly with Gul'dan, so Ner'zhul ought to be a shaman of sorts, but all I've seen him do is yell uncontrollably and snatch a girl. I expect there to be more, but I'm like, "Sheesh! This was the cloth they cut the original Lich King from?" It actually brings LK down a peg in my mind.

I've been writing (and rewriting and rewriting, hence it's not posted) a summary of thoughts about Pandaria. And seeing Draenor has reinforced one thing that disappointed me about MoP: The land is so much more beautiful in Draenor. Pandaria felt like an Asian wonderland, but with each zone very ascribable to certain Asian contexts or locations. Draenor is where they've thrown off that restriction again. I can see techniques they've learned to do since Outlands was created, and they put those to unfettered use in a landscape that ever so barely hearkens back to Outlands and yet feels very new and very vibrant. My only concern might be that the terrain is very rugged and with no flying in this world even announced at present, I'm gonna get might tired of trying to farm stuff while navigating the cliffs and ravines of this place.

Well. In truth, I've not even seen half of Shadowmoon Valley yet, there is so much left to do (and the servers are doing their normal new x-pac strain and shut down for maintennance) so I'll write more impressions later. But here's a few first stray thoughts:
  • Thrall is slave's name. No more shall Thrall be known by a slave's name. From now on, Thrall shall be known as Baldy. Seriously, what happened to his hair? Did we all just let 15 years slip by or something? That can't be a valid style choice!  That said, I kinda did enjoy actually running along and casting lightning with Baldy. He and I have talked on a number of occasions but this is the first time we've ever really "teamed up."
  • Garrison. Hmm. I dunno. Do you get the sense that garrisons feel like a well-packaged Facebook game? Showing up at City Hall, telling this follower to go do that quest and that I should come back to check on it again in an hour, or how ever long, reeks of Farmville, or The Simpsons: Tapped Out. Keeping an open mind, but really... It has not made the best first impression. Keeping an open mind... keeping and open mind...

Servers Move That Way, I Move This Way

They confirmed it long before I ever heard a rumor.
This feels more like a maintenance post than anything else, but it would feel loathe to not talk about this straight up.

I think it's been mentioned somewhere in the archives here that I started my Warcraft Career in Asia. I actually had friends there who played and they talked me into it. Needless to say, I was hooked.

That first fateful day, when I had no characters on any server, the server recommended to me was that Oceanic server Nagrand.  That is where I went. It was (is still) full of Australians and New Zealanders who enjoy warcraft. I could also report a significant number of Singapore players and guilds. This connection worked fine for me with a minimum of latency and I've made gobs of Australian, New Zealander and Singapore friends. Some of them have moved onto places like South Africa, Malaysia and a bevvy of European countries. Warcraft has been a fantastic international experience in that regard.

These Oceanic servers, however were located near Los Angeles, in the United States. While, for some reason, I was getting barely any latency rates, I never knew that my Aussie friends routinely played with 200-300ms latency rates. There were days when it was worse, but hardly any days when it was better.  When I moved back to the United States almost four years ago, I kept playing on Oceanic Nagrand with almost no change in my performance rates.

And then, last month, Blizzard announced they were moving their oceanic server farms actually to Australia and a week later it was done. They started offering free transfers for Aussies looking to come to home servers and all were happy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

That Chest and Batgirl

Babs Tarr's new Batgirl costume design includes this key note
Earlier on, while I was going through the new character changes in game, I got stuck considering changes to Merinna's character model that I just hadn't expected. Particularly, the size and shape of her bust.

I went to some of the forums, both the WoW forums and places like WoW Insider and found a few others struggling to put into words, politely, what they felt about what they saw and whether it was something to like, or not.

Finally, I went back in game and using the magical "use new models" switch, I took pictures of the old model and new model Merinna so this can be described better.

Merinna's breasts are flat-out bigger than they were before-- and draenei never lacked for size there in the first place.  They have a big more of a sag and are slightly allowed to splay. I think it is arguable that they are more "natural seeming" like this but I stand by an earlier statement I made on a forum somewhere. It looks like somebody's taken her bra away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Live Blog: Patch Day 6.0.2

Merinna 6.0
I've never done this before, but here's the blow-by-blow account of my first time seeing all these changes hitting at once. I've been in beta the past several expansions and always had these things sort of filter through more slowly. Today, it's just an onrush of impressions. I will add to this as time goes on.

  • We start the day off with Merinna. Mer is my main. She'll always be my main. She gets first attention no matter what. 
  • Great God! It looks like she has a huge overbite now. Her hair looks a bit like she was standing out in the rain.
  • Log out and update some add ons. Very few have updates ready to go. Very unschway. 
  • And back. Poking around the UI. Not having bags open in Bagnon (no update there) is tough. It's taken me a while to find the glorified new Toy Box, but yup. There it is. And it's recorded all the archaeology toys I had built and thrown away because there was no room in my inventory. That is very nice. When I heard about Toy Box, I thought it was at least an expansion too late (and it may still be) because I'd had to purge my bank to make room for... anything.  Several of my key binds have been lost, but Bartender is functioning and keeping track as I reset some of those. Guppet, the add on I use to get something to ride on is hopelessly messed up.
  • Well, the overbite thing looks much less so out in the light. That's a relief. I'm spending a lot of time thinking about this new character model. But truth is, I expect to turn it off before I do anything for real. It seems highly unlikely that my 8 year old iMac is going to be able to handle all these additional polygons. That said, it's doing alright so far. And this is with new patch lagginess and insanity happening everywhere. We shall see.
  • Swooped in and killed a rarespawn in the Vale of the Eternal Blossoms. I still got it, but man is it the crap that I'm no longer allowed to cast lightning while on the move. I hate hate hate that change and knew it was going to hurt. 
  • Just realized my weapon imbues are gone. I think that's something they just baked into the specc build now. Elemental shamans were always supposed to use flame imbue and now that damage is just in the build. 
  • Aaaaand, there's the first DC.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Warcraft and Racism

Is this a problem?
Long-time readers of Be Healed! would rightly guess that I am an Alliance patriot. I mean that in the best sense of the word "patriot." I make no bones about it: the Horde is the instigators of most horrors brought on Azeroth. Yah yah, the ultimate evil of the Burning Legion played a hand in that, but the orcs made their own choices and need to reap their own consequences. And anybody who wants to stand next to them can get what's coming too. The basic orc point of view-- that they should be able to take whatever they need to survive because they have the strength to do so-- is no different from how a bully justifies his actions. And I won't stand for it.

Anyway, That's not really what I wanted to talk about today.

What I really want to talk about is, "Am I being racist when I slam on the orcs or Blood Elves?" I am always struck by a lot of people using a morally flexible point of view to justify actions or plot twists in Warcraft: WoW presents a "morally complex" story with many shades of grey and no absolute rights or wrongs. Or is it really a lot simpler than that?

And, yes, Warcraft is a game and that's a good thing. But playing games gives us chances to make bad choices and to explore morally gray areas in a context where the consequences aren't as dire as they are in real life. In order to get this benefit, though, we do have to examine the quandry.

Battlepet Blitz!

...and what's with the all-mechanical line-up here, anyway?
I think the bandicoon has got this one.

It's about two years since Pet Battles came along. How are they doing on the eve of Warlords of Draenor?

I'm pretty sure if you go back into my archives at this site, you'd find that I was a skeptic of this pet battles. Pokewow, I'm sure I called it, and didn't see a lot of value in co-opting a Nintendo game into WoW in the first place. 

Well, I stand corrected on that. It was good, mostly-mindless fun for those long waits between raids or whatever other downtime you're experiencing. I think I've enjoyed pet collecting more than pet battling, per se, but the whole thing was more entertaining than I ever expected. God help you if you're OCD though.

The Warlords of Draenor battle pets model has no significant changes to the system. There's a bevy of new pets, some things to do in your garrison and the new black market auction house will have rare pets that you might not have found in Pandaria. But the basic model of getting your pets to level 25 and then going out to beat up some trainers continues with no respite. Right now, there's no sign of a new Celestial Tournament, but you've got to believe that it will be a feature of patch 6.X announced at some point in the future.

As far as I'm concerned, this is just fine. I do wish they'd consider some refinements however:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Blizzard Got It Wrong: It's not a "Timeline"

What kind of portal is it?
Well. It's been two years since I posted. What can I say? It's been a rough two years, personally. Too much Real World business to do, diminishing returns on fun in game. I took a break from Azeroth and buckled down to mastering my universe.

But all things come in some variety of cycles and time has opened up somewhat and I'm back, at least for now.

It is the eve of the Warlords of Draenor. It's about three months out. The beta is allegedly going swimmingly. Garrisons are being considered, half my favorite abilities are being culled in The Great Ability Culling of 2014, and those are topics for another time.

Even when I wasn't playing, I was reading the blogs and caught all the Warlords reveal at the last Blizzcon and I've experienced the befuddlement of the greater WoW community in trying to figure out exactly what is going on with the premise of this expansion. At best, it seems very timey-wimey (if I may borrow an expression from The Doctor). At other points, it makes no sense whatsoever.

The big problem here is that this time travel business is the farthest edge of science fiction fantasy. There are some who have invested some serious thought into the business of this thing, but the facts are that we really don't even have a real-world working hypothesis for how time travel should play itself out, much less a theory or ... god help us... some laws of nature on the issue.  The point is that each universe pretty well makes things up as they go along. But, I'd argue, that some sort of crowdsourced understanding of temporal mechanics has risen to the top of the public conscious and should be observed.

The point is: Azeroth is not dealing with an alternate timeline in Warlords of Draenor. Azeroth is being invaded by a parallel universe.