Tuesday, 3 December 2013

I don't get Alter Time

There is such a terrible downside to Alter Time that I find it hard to use in my rotation. The downside is this: I end up being moved back to where I was a few seconds ago. I can certainly see why it's great for fire and frost mages, who can use it to double-proc, and I can see it has some great uses in PvP (for instance with blink), but as an arcane mage trying to raid, I usually don't want to be moved back to where I was standing a few seconds ago, because the only reason I would have moved in the first place is because there's burning oil or acid or something similarly nasty where I was previously standing. Raiding in this tier has required a fair bit of mobility, something arcane mages are not great at. When we do move it's because we are absolutely forced to by the void zone under us. Here's what happens to me every time I use Alter Time:

"Hey, I've got 4 stacks of Arcane Charge up! My next Arcane Blast will use up a lot of mana. Let's use Alter Time to have my cake and eat it."
- Cast Alter Time
- Start Casting Arcane Blast
Then a void zone opens up under my feet, my robes start to singe! Ouch! Get out of here fast! Run! Don't wait to complete that cast!
- Run away, little girl, run away
- Restart casting Arcane Blast from the comfort of solid fire-free ground
Alter Time resets
Doh! Back in the fire again!
- Run away, little girl, run away

So Alter Time usually ends up costing me time in most raid encounters, especially mobile ones. Arcane raiding mages, how do you benefit from Alter Time?

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Day of the Dead

Halloween is a Celtic Festival, and based on the Celtic calendar. It's the greatest of the four main festivals, marking the start of Winter. I want to tell you why that is the greatest of the festivals, but first, I need to tell you something about the Celtic day. It's simple. It ends at sunset. Not midnight. Sunset. That also means that the day actually begins just after sunset, as well. As the sun dips below the horizon, one day ends and the next begins. The Celtic calendar day begins with the darkness of night.

Now back to why Halloween is the most important of the four festivals. The four festivals fell on the interstices between the seasons. The seasons are based around the solstices and equinoces. Let's start with winter. It lasts for three months, centred around frosty midwinter's day, the shortest day of the year (that's December 21 in the northern hemisphere).

Spring also lasts for three months and is centred around the vernal equinox, the day when it is light for 12 hours and dark for 12 hours, which is March 20th. What is the day that is halfway between those two centres, and marks the interstice between those two? It is February 3 And don't forget, that day actually starts at dusk on February 2. This day was celebrated as the day on which we left the cold winter behind, and marched into spring. . Originally known to the Gael (the Celts of Scotland and Ireland) as Imbolc or Imbolg, it's now conflated with the Christian saint Brighid's day and Candlemas. It is still traditionally the day when spring begins in Ireland.

The other fire festivals were calculated in the same way. The Beltane festival is now celebrated as May Day almost universally (but no longer in Ireland!) halfway between the Vernal Equinox and midsummer's day, the summer solstice. Lughnasa or Lúnasa marks the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest (and at one time the celebrations included the Tailteann Games, the Olympic Games of the Gael), and Samhain marks the end of the harvest time and the beginning of winter. Oíche Shámhna in Irish Gaelic. Samhain's night. Halloween.

I mentioned that these were fire festivals, almost by-the-bye; in passing; but they were fire festivals, all right. They were interstitial celebrations, held in the gap between one time and another, and the light of the fires purified that gap. Imbolc: the festival of candles. Beltane, the festival of fires (it seems to have been translated in Ireland to St John's eve, near midsummer, nowadays), when bonfires are lit on hills and on beaches, and hearth fires would be doused and renewed from the bonfires. Lughnasa, when the first corn is harvested, ground, and baked on the hearth. And Samhain, Halloween. More bonfires.

Especially at Halloween and on St. John's eve, bonfires burn from dusk until dawn. Young men and women still jump through them at the end of the evening, through the flames and over the embers (or occasionally miss their step and end up in Accident & Emergency).

These festivals were held in the gap between times, and the Halloween festival fell on three gaps: the moment between one day and the next; the crack between one season and the next; and the interval between one year and the next. Because just as the Celtic day begins in the darkness of the dusk after the sunset of the previous day, so the Celtic year begins with the darkness of Winter. In these three apertures in time, worlds can open. The souls of the dead might come from their plane of existence to ours. Hence the purifying fires and bonfire leaping and general divilment. It is the start of the day of the dead.

As you might remember, my Pandaren monk has been stuck for a year and a day in the gap between our world and the mists surrounding the great turtle's back on which all Pandaren begin their adventures. Poor Paoquan was faced with having to help the Yaungol (they call themselves Tauren) to progress beyond her level 10 story on the concealed island that is Shen-zin Su's back.

She cannot. Every time I've tried to find an alternative understanding of this story, or an alternative way of advancing Paoquan, I have failed. This Halloween, I hoped she might leap through the flames, through the void between her old dilemma and her new future, might with one bound be free. She did not. She fell into the underworld, into the abyss of lost souls. Never more will I see her. 

Edit: What's this? By the cleansing power of the summer flames, Paoquan returns!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Old-time raiding

My guild has a levelling group, doing Burning Crusade raids. We've been seeing dungeons at the appropriate level, and now we're at level 70, we've finished all the Burning Crusade HC dungeons, and started the BC raids, even though we're struggling to get a full team. We did Karazhan last week. I think we'd all seen that raid already, soloing it on our 90s for transmogrification gear at some time or other. But of course level 90s cut through these bosses like a hot knife through butter, usually totalling the bosses before they get a chance to show all their abilities. So we were excited to be doing it at level 70, to see it as it was originally meant to be seen.

Only trouble was, we couldn't muster more than seven or eight people. Karazhan, as you need not be told, is a ten-man raid. We gave it a go, anyway, and did better than we expected. Sure, we had a few wipes as we figured out tactics, but really, we were never blocked. We managed to get to the end of the instance in two nights (each of which included an awful lot of running about, lost, trying to find where our corpses were, or where the next encounter was). Finally we killed Prince Malchezaar (and his beautiful bow dropped). It seemed a little too easy, since we were seven at the time, but I put it down to our gear, which included some Northrend pieces and some heirloom pieces. Anyway, we had a great time.

To round off the evening, we thought we'd just quickly head over to Magtheridon's Lair, to get a foretaste of the problems we'd have in a 25-man raid. Not too bad, we survived the trash, and managed to get it all down, even though we were still only eight. Then onto the boss. A couple of wipes there, but then we found a strategy that worked, and we managed to kill Magtheridon! Well, that was definitely challenging. But really, it should have been impossible. Eight level 70s managed to get down Magtheridon? That's more than just better gear. What's going on?

My first thought is that Magtheridon has been nerfed horribly since his heyday. But then I noticed an article on the blog I like Pancakes wherein Saxsymage remembered that 400 DPS used to be common for level 70s, and she had 700 DPS in Karazhan back in the day. Our top level 70 damage-dealer had over 3000 DPS last week in Karazhan and Magtheridon's Lair. Sure, Magtheridon may have been nerfed, but the real nerf to content has been the buff to player stats.

This is something I hadn't really paid much attention to, before. Sure, I knew that new players were now complaining about the trivial nature of many quests. I put that down to an XP buff, not a stat buff. People were outlevelling zones before they'd finished all the quests in them; and out of a desire to finish a quest-line once they'd started, they'd find themselves doing trivial grey quests, just to see the story to its end.  In other words, they're doing quests designed for, say, level 70 characters, but by the time they do them, they're level 72 or 73. But that isn't the case with Magtheridon. He was originally designed as a challenge for 25 level 70s, and can be defeated by eight of them now.

Yesterday, though, we tried Gruul's Lair, and had our asses handed to us.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Talking Trash

Keen wants to improve themepark MMO dungeons. Great idea. Just I'm not sure of his tactics to achieve this. He says that the all suffer from the same issues:
  • Repeating the same dungeon over and over
  • Too many trash pulls and not enough bosses
  • Encounter variety and mechanics are always the same
Let's take a look at the first of these issues, just to get it out of the way. Nobody needs to run the same instance over and over again. If you do it, don't blame the virtual world for your repetitive and obsessive behaviour. Look within yourself. Blizzard, in fact, have tried to stop this behaviour in a number of ways at various times: by locking you out of a dungeon once you've run it; or by stopping bosses dropping loot for you once you've looted them once in a particular period. But it shouldn't really be up to the world designers to keep you from your disorder. You need to fix it yourself. If you find yourself chain-running dungeons, perhaps it's time to look at what else you can do.

As for trash, I like trash mobs. They are not there just to provide you with loot and fights. In fact, they aren't even primarily there for that. They are there to provide a real world: to  set the atmosphere of the dungeon, and to provide a setting that makes the dungeon more credible. Take, for example, the instance Keen mentions, Utgarde Keep. And forget how the dungeon finder teleports you in, so that the instance seems to be suspended in space and time, rather than set in an actual keep in the Howling Fjord whose entrance you reached by battling through the Vrykul to the north of Valgarde. You fight your way into the keep. It is full of Vrykul. Of course it is. It's their keep. Should it just have a handful of Vrykul and three bosses? Keen's view seems to be that the sooner he can get through the trash and onto the loot piñata bosses, the better (and sadly, Blizzard seem to be siding with this kind of argument: on the Timeless Isle, you don't even have to kill bosses to get your loot. It showers on you from the heavens). I can't say I'd find such an instance interesting, even the first time through. The trash make the instance come alive, they make it credible. Utgarde Keep is a real keep populated by vrykul soldiers, blacksmiths, guards, and so on. Without them, it would be empty.

But credibility and atmosphere aren't the only benefits of trash mobs. They also provide a cadence and rhythm to instances. A warm up to the boss. A way of building up the tension for the boss fight, and a counterpoint to it. The trash mobs, of course, are easier than the boss fights, but the best trash also provide a challenge of a different nature: the trash in the Lost City of Tol'vir or in the Halls of Origination required teams to plan pulls, to communicate, to practice small pulls, to practice crowd control and to practice focussed fire - something that came as a shock to many adventurers after their previous practice of silently rounding up everything in sight and AoEing it down. It came as such a shock, in fact, that they whined to Blizzard for a nerf. But while those instances still required teamwork, they were great, precisely because of the trash.

Of course, Keen is quite right that 5 pulls that are all the same is dull. Trash needs variation, and the best trash does have it. Meeting the same trash over and over again isn't great design. I'm thinking here of the two bridges between Jin'rohk and Horridon. Perhaps one would have been sufficient! But the best trash adds variation and forces the instance team to respond in ways that boss fights don't. When encounter variety and mechanics are always the same, the fun goes out the window. Part of that is the fault of overgearing. Once we're overgeared for an instance, we can often reduce every trash pack to the aforementioned tactic of round up and AoE down. Part of this is also our fault. We whine when unfamiliar mechanics are introduced that take us out of our comfort zone, and Blizzard is ever ready to nerf whatever we QQ about.

Finally, Keen suggested:

One of the biggest changes I would love to see in Themepark dungeon design would be to add way more bosses.  I think a dungeon full of nothing but boss fights would be fantastic

I hate to say it, but it was tried and found wanting. The Trial of the Crusader was exactly this. Blizzard listened to players like Keen who said they hated trash and only wanted boss fights. So they designed a raid that was only boss fights. And nobody liked it. It felt thin and hollow, and actually boss-fight after boss-fight without end, proved to be as dull as trash after trash with no boss at the end of it. Adding way more bosses simply proved that the highs of a boss-fight need the pause of trash to make them feel epic. And the most innovative fight of the lot there, the faction champions, were the least liked (again, because they moved adventurers out of their tank-and-spank comfort zone). Another instance that was almost (but not quite) trash free was  Blackwing Descent. The boss fights in this instance were fun, but there was no sense of being in a real credible world. Without much trash to provide a context, there seemed to be no reason for any of the bosses to be there. Finally, the most memorable thing about that whole instance is the elevator that killed more adventurers than the trash did.

So where is trash used well?

Kharazan is probably the most memorable. The trash mobs bring the place alive. The same is true of the Lost City of Tol'Vir, where the trash also added great variety to the encounters.

And the worst?

The Throne of Thunder has just far too much trash. But the worst has to be the trash-free Trial of the Crusader.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Secret life of a Dungeon Boss

By the gods, I'm bored! I've read all the books in here a hundred times. I hope some adventurers come by, so I can have a little fun with them. The more overpowered they are, the stupider they become.

Nobody. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored! Can't stop thinking about my poor son, Medivh. Please, no more! My son .. he's gone mad. I hope that Khadgar guy looks after him. He always had his back.

Ah, here comes the curator.

"Hey, Curator. Seen any adventurers today?"

"Your request cannot be processed.The Menagerie is for guests only."

Man, he's dull. A golem, of course. The place is full of them. Hey, he wasn't talking to me! There are some guys out there! I can hear them crashing about, blundering from golem to golem. Excellent. Time for a bit of fun! I hope they manage to get as far as me.

"The curator is equipped for gallery protection. You are not a guest". He's funny, that curator! Popping poor adventurers because they touch the displays!

"Get 'em, curator, go for it. Use the flares!"

Silence. Did they all die or did he?

"These shoulders look cool!" Ah, now they're looting him. My turn! Let's see, I'll close the door, but I won't lock it. I'll stand over there, pretending to read a book. No, I'll walk slowly around pretending to be lost in deep thoughts. Yeah, that'll be good. Maybe they'll come rushing straight in hoping to take me by surprise. Ho ho, that'll be great fun! Ah, here they are now, fumbling at the door. Just two of them. I remember when they were scared to come here with less than ten. Here they come, opening the door, and rushing straight in, just as I had hoped! What idiots these guys are! Ow! That hurt! A quick bit of telekinesis now and the door behind them is locked. They're all mine!

"Who are you, what do you want from me?" They just want my loot, but let's string them along, see if we can get a little conversation going. Nothing. By the blood of Aegwynn, these guys are poor conversationalists. Wow, Aegwynn! She was a ride! And she could talk for Lordaeron! I miss her. Hot nights in Tirisfal, romantic evenings in front of the fire, snowy walks discussing the Titans. She knew everything about everything! Concentrate, concentrate, these guys are still hitting you. Let's see. These flame wreaths are always fun. Every time I use them, the idiots walk into them and get blown into the air! Then they fall and land on another flame wreath and up they go again! It was even better when there were ten of them, popping like jack-in-the-boxes!

"Burn, you hellish fiends!" Well, you gotta keep up the image. Let's try the arcane explosion now. that's always fun. Pull them in, then blow them back through the air till they hit the back wall. What a laugh!

"I am not some simple jester, I am Nielas Aran!"  I might even get a part in the movie, if I keep people talking about me. "I'll freeze you all!" That's a good one. After knocking them back, cast blizzard in the outer part of the room! Double whammy. A couple of water elementals now, and a pyroblast should put them in their place. Look at that idiot healer, running into range of my counterspell again, and then wondering why he can't heal! Stupid people. I doubt I'll get any interesting conversation out of them. Oh, I know! I'll turn them into frogs. What? Dammit! Out of mana. I've been having too much fun. Time to lie low, and drop some shinies to distract them. Let's see, they got some shoulderpads from the curator, maybe I'll drop some boots. Let's see: Boots of the Incorrupt. Drop boots, drop to the floor, play dead. Telekinetically open the door before they start looking about the place.

"Dude! Look at these boots! Phat lewt! Let's go!" Out they run. Up I get. That was fun! Till next time!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Timeless Question

I was off sailing for the last month (from Booty Bay to Menethil Harbour), when patch 5.4 arrived and the Timeless Isle was discovered, so I only got to the Timeless Isle this weekend. Since then, I've spent all my time there, following the legendary quest-line. I'm not sure what to do apart from that, though. The gear that's dropping isn't better than I already have. I can see that it's great for gearing up alts quickly, but for me, what is the value of these Timeless Coins, or reputation with the long-dead Emperor Shaohao? It's not a rhetorical question, I haven't learnt enough over the weekend to figure out what I should be doing next!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Chinese Subscribers and MoP

Shogun: Total War is still one of my favourite games. I would love to play a game in a samurai-based virtual world similar to Japan's Sengoku period. I would definitely subscribe to that (especially one that was created by a Japanese games studio, seeped in the culture).

Imagine that you, too, loved such a game. How would you feel if, after playing it for several years, the publishers announced that the next expansion would be set in a world like medieval Europe. Only, because they're a Japanese gaming house, it isn't like the Europe that you know. Instead it's full of Japanese stereotypes of medieval Europe, where people wander about, intoning to you "Priests, pilgrims, pastries. These are what matter most."

Yeah. Now you've got it. You bought the game for its samurai milieu, now you've got samurai wandering around medieval France.

The Chinese subscribers to WoW were originally joined because they were interested in a high-fantasy medieval european-style world. Otherwise they'd have taken up any of the other Asian MMOs. They don't want a Chinese-as-imagined-by-Americans MMO, with a side order of Japanese Pokemon. No wonder they're off to League of Legends.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Planning for war

Anyway, with predictions that we are approaching the last phase of the Pandaren campaign, I've started planning for 5.4. I've got the best gear I can get for now: ilvl 530 for the most part, as well as the ilvl 600 cloak from the legendary quest-line, and I'm not going to win any heroic gear from the Throne of Thunder in the next month (my guild is 1/12 normal. I'm 6/12 normal, due to links with other guilds, but there isn't a hope of getting much further before the storm breaks), so I'm going to save enough valor points so that I'm capped for 5.4, in the hopes that I'll have something to spend them on.

As for raiding in 5.4, my plan is to take advantage of the Flexible Raid feature, which allows you to take anywhere from 10 to 25 raiders into a raid whose difficulty level that is between LFR and Normal, and whose loot is also between those two levels. I predict that this will replace LFR raiding for our guildies. Certainly, as soon as the new 5.4 raids open, we plan to take a look at the first fight in Normal mode (since it opens first), but I'm not expecting any kills! FR raiding will then open up and I hope we'll get a kill early in the first month, if not in the first week of the raid. There is absolutely no point in me personally doing LFR at all, as the gear rewards are mostly 2 levels below what I already have (I assume the upgrade vendor is going away on his holidays again).

I've started buying windwool cloth to stockpile. We'll need a lot of it when the new tailoring patterns drop. I've stopped making Imperial Silk. It's already useless. Instead, I'm saving my cloth to make Celestial Cloth as soon as I get the pattern, and then to make the ilvl 553 caster belt (3 weeks worth of cloth) and leggings (4 weeks more).

With the arrival of new raids comes the need for new gems and enchantments. I'll certainly be buying up tons of enchanting materials this month, and any cheap gems I see at auction - I believe there are no epic gems coming in 5.4.

The new zone, the Timeless Isle, has a new currency, the Timeless Coin. 5000 of these are needed for the next leg of the legendary quest-line, so I expect to spend a lot of time there!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The coming storm

The Darkspear trolls under Vol'Jin are revolting. No, seriously, they are. Up in the Barrens, they're openly colluding with the Alliance to disrupt Garrosh's preparations for the coming war, paying adventurers like me to go and kill orcs.

That's par for the course from trolls, I suppose. They can't even get along with each other, never mind with other species. Never trust a troll. Do you remember when the Zandalari trolls were the good guys? I even became exalted with them, back in the day. They helped us in Zul'Drak against the Drakkari, as we helped them in Zul Gurub against the Gurubashi. Now the Zandalari try to kill me on sight.

You can never trust a troll. Garrosh is learning this painful lesson, as Vol'Jin backstabs him.

Well, I'm happy to help Vol'Jin become a thorn in Garrosh's side, but I don't understand why he wants to become one. Is he hoping to break away from the Horde and join the rest of the Trolls in a third faction? According to our alliance spies, he claims to be unhappy with "Garrosh playing god? Making monsters? Dis ain't what da horde is about!". Well, I'd be tempted to believe him if he wasn't in the same horde as the undead. Playing god and making monsters is exactly what the Forsaken are about. Has he forgotten about Sylvanas Windrunner? If he was really unhappy about that, he should have left the horde long ago.

I can also sympathise with the goblins' unhappiness over their treatment by the orcs, especially the Kor'kron Guard. But I can't see why they would want to overthrow Garrosh. The Kor'kron Guard are just behaving the way all orcs do. Removing Garrosh won't change the nature of the orcs, any more than overthrowing Gallywix would change the nature of goblins.

And, orc adventurers, why are you planning on betraying your own warchief? He has expanded your territory, given the night-elves an almighty kicking, blown Theramore to smithereens, and generally made Kalimdor a horde-dominated continent. He's everything a proper orc could want in a warchief, unlike Thrall who wanted to make peace with the alliance and made friends with Jaina Proudmoore. He wanted to be a Peacechief. Garrosh showed how real orcs deal with Jaina Proudmoore. What real orc wants peace? Maybe that's good for the tauren, but a real orc lives for war. You should be joining the Kor'kron Guard to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. And if the trolls and the goblins don't like it, crush them too. Instead you're planning to betray and kill the best Warchief you've ever had!

Never trust an orc.

Anyway, I'm glad the idiots in the horde are breaking themselves apart, for Garrosh is a real danger to the Alliance, and King Varian Wrynn's only response to Garrosh's attacks have been to turn the other cheek. Even when Jaina kicks the blood-elves out of the Kirin Tor, for helping Garrosh steal the divine bell, that wimp complains that he could have got the Sin'dorei to join the alliance, if only she'd done nothing. Yeah, right.

Meantime Jana has been using a scrying technique known as "datamining" to determine that Garrosh may be planning on blowing up Stormwind Harbour. I wonder if that will wake Varian from his slumber.

Friday, 2 August 2013


Are you cheered by the news that Activision-Blizzard is separating itself from cash-strapped Vivendi? It probably is good news. But I'd just like to point out one thing, by way of warning.

Blizzard released World of Warcraft while owned by Vivendi, and all through their time with Vivendi, their subscriber numbers climbed. Vanilla, BC and WotLK were developed under Vivendi's stewardship. In July 2008, Activision merged with Vivendi Games, and Blizzard was moved out of Vivendi's stewardship, and into Activision's. Soon after, Ghostcrawler replaced Tigole, and the decline of WoW subscriber numbers began.

Of course, all of this could be a coincidence. It probably is. But I can't say that it certainly is. Who knows what new pressures Activision put on Blizzard? What is certain is that Blizzard's time with Vivendi was good for Blizzard, and Blizzard's time with Activision has not been so good.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Ted Atchley's counter-hypothesis

Two months ago, Gevlon wrote a short series of articles on wargaming.net, the makers of World of Tanks, where he discussed the possibility that they were hoodwinking their customers. Part of his reasons for writing the series was that two earlier articles had sparked a lot of page views, and Gevlon felt that those articles resonated with wargaming.net's customers, which accounted for their popularity.

Ted Atchley had an alternative theory: the two articles got a lot of hits because people were googling for cheat codes for world of tanks.

I created a page to test Ted Atchley's counter-hypothesis, and promised to report back on the results. Well, it's now two months since I published that page, and since then it has become the 7th most-read article in these diaries (it doesn't take a lot of hits to get to 7th best here, though!)

It's interesting to review my top 10 articles, and of course I'll be doing it in reverse order.

10. My old friends, Spidersilk Boots and Drape
9. Sunsong Ranch
Those two were part of Cold's Blogging Carnival, which I think accounts for their popularity.
8. Golden Lotus Notes - this was a guide to what to do after reaching level 90 in Pandaria, which was popular a few months ago when most people were just dinging 90. Not so much now.
7. The aforementioned World of Tanks Cheat Codes. I think this provides some support for Ted's theory.

So what was more popular than this? Well, the next most popular post in the Dàchéng Diaries is:
6. Toys and Games, an argument with Tobold over the nature of virtual worlds. Its high hit-count, I think, stems from Tobold linking to it.
5. Problems with Commenting on Wordpress Sites. This one falls into the problem-solving category. Some people are having comments that they make on Wordpress sites fall into a black hole, and this article presents a possible solution.
4. A Draenei in the Deadmines. Published two days after the number 3 contender, I think this one benefits from the afterglow effect. People coming to read the number 3 article also read this.
3. Gevlon the Bully. For a long time this polemic aimed at the lying, cheating, sociopathic bully of Azeroth was my number one article. To use Gevlon's words, it "resonated with something my readers found themselves". More likely, it benefited from crosslinking from the JMTC forums, and then reddit. It still is the article with the most comments.
What could beat "Gevlon the Bully" out of top place? Two rather more prosaic articles:
2. Black Lion Trading Company, which is a short article on what to do in GW2 if you get a particular error message. Like the "Problems commenting on Wordpress" article, it falls into the problem-solving category
1. Doomsday is a comin' which is an article on the shenanigans Garrosh Hellscream was getting up to a while back. Now it's certainly an entertaining read, but so are many of my articles that have only a tenth as many hits as this one. So what is driving people to this page? I can't find any search terms or back links that might explain it (the main search terms are ones driving people to entries 2 and 7), so I'm pretty much bewildered by this one With my tin-foil hat on, the only thing I can think of is a reference in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph to a munition that can destroy stuff massively. Which of course does not show up as a search term, according to Google. Maybe my Iranian readers aren't really from Iran.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Shield Wall? We don't need no stinking shields now.

Azuriel just pointed out that in the 5.4 PTR

Shield Wall no longer requires a shield. If the Warrior does not have a shield equipped, it will show a visual of an equipped shield.
What madness is this? Azuriel is unaccountably happy about this, and the same change to Spell Reflection, on the basis that it makes playing a warrior easier, but surely without a shield, the warrior should not be able to create a shield wall? This makes play easier for warriors at the expense of making it illogical and unimmersive for everyone. I had thought that Blizzard was slowly coming to the conclusion that forever making WoW "more accessible" isn't the same as making it better. Perhaps I should rethink that thought.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Free2Play need not be Pay2Win

Tobold has been on a roller-coaster ride this last few days, from when he believed that "Pay2Win is not an issue", couldn't even admit to knowing what "Pay2Win" meant, and claimed not to know a single Pay2Win game, to his later hyperbolic claim that "Everything is Pay2Win".

This latter claim is based on the idea that Free2Play games must monetize by selling stuff in an item shop, and that in order to sell them, they must address somebody's idea of winning. So, for instance, if I am a hat collector in a particular game, then I am likely to buy hats that are sold in the item store, because otherwise I won't be able to make a complete collection. In other words, it appeals to my personal idea of winning in this particular game, and if it didn't, I wouldn't buy it.

I have two observations to make:

Firstly, people buy fluff items for the fun of it. We don't need to win to have fun. For instance, in WoW, Some people like to use Leyara's Locket, or Noggenfogger Elixir just for the fun of it. I dare say that even if these items were only available in a cash store, there would still be takers, just for the fun of it. Even people who weren't pet collectors bought the pandaren monk, just for the fun of it. This is an important point, as we will see later.

Secondly, I agree with the main thrust of Tobold's argument: in-game items sold in the cash store are usually bought to improve your odds of winning. That's why I've always argued against them. They are not fair, and they are not perceived to be fair. When people talk of "fluff" items, or "cosmetic" items, they often simply mean "Items that don't impact the competitive game that I'm playing, such as boss-killing". The Pandaren Monk and the Sparkly Pony did not impact on the raiders. But they did impact on mount and pet collectors. For them, these were not cosmetic items. When the Sword of a Thousand Truths goes on sale in the same real-money item shop, raiders can't really complain if they ignored the earlier complaints of the pet and mount collectors.

First they came for the pet-collectors,
And I didn't speak out, because I wasn't a pet-collector
Okay, that rather over-dramatizes the situation. But, it doesn't have to be that way, in Free2Play games. There are ways of monetizing these games other than just selling in-game items for real money.

Before I get to what these ways might be, first I want to talk about the nature of Pay2Win. Everybody here already knows that it doesn't mean that I pay some cash to a game company, and they display a "You win" screen. It really means "Pay for a competitive advantage". I think we're all agreed on that. If not, just read "Pay for a competitive advantage" anywhere that I wrote Pay2Win.

That raises the important point of competition. If everyone wins, nobody wins. If everybody must pay for the same competitive advantage, it confers no advantage. That's why I don't think anybody seriously includes subscription games in the list of pay2win games. Everybody playing the game must make that payment, so no  player is advantaged by it (and non-players aren't in the competition). Also, it must be obvious who is winning. There should be a clear way to calculate it. For instance in soccer, goals scored less goals conceded tells you who is winning a particular game; games won less games lost tells you who is winning a particular league, and so on. Leagues formalize this by awarding league points for a win, a draw or a loss. Similarly in Azeroth, it's pretty easy to tell who is winning the gear race. For instance, on my realm, I'm currently being beaten by 200 or so well-geared adventurers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and it isn't so easy to agree on a transmogrification winner. That's also why portraiture is not an Olympic sport.

I'm writing this article to remind people that there are ways to monetize Free2Play games that are not Pay2Win. I'm not promoting particular ways of doing so. But as an aid to your creative juices, here are some examples. If you think any one of them is a bad example, I will readily agree with you. If you think any one of them is actually a Pay2Win item, I withdraw it. My point is simply to try to get people to think of ways of monetizing Free2Play games without making them seem unfair.

On to examples.
When I open my browser, it displays my home page, which is Google. How does Google monetise their product? By showing you adverts. Okay, I wouldn't be fond of this solution, as it might not be good for immersion, but it certainly isn't a Pay2Win solution.

In World of Tanks, I pay for garage slots and for barracks with real money, so I can keep more of my  tanks and crew. Otherwise when I want a new tank, I have to scrap an existing tank and crew. In Star Trek Online, I use real money to buy character slots. Rift now sells bag slots. You may say that this does confer a slight competitive advantage, but it is so slight that most people would not perceive it to be unfair. If you do, I withdraw it.

Fun items:
I can imagine selling armour dyes and transmogrification services for real money.
Hairstyles, tattoos, skin and hair dyes, body shaping (such as the items I mentioned earlier).
Dance Studio!

WoW already sells content, on top of its subscription. You couldn't get to outland before you bought the Burning Crusade expansion pack. Today, you can't get to Pandaria without paying for the content. LOTRO does this  too, and it's a great way to monetize the actual reason we play these games. In a Free2Play game, I would happily pay for access to zones (including dungeons and raids).

My examples may be poor, and I happily withdraw them all. But the point is to free your mind. Tell me what you would pay for that you don't think is Pay2Win. Think different.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Quote of the year!

Tobold is at his usual tricks, raising straw man arguments so he can demolish them. His latest strawman is one he's very fond of: 'stupid "all Free2Play is evil" ranting'. Of course, there's nobody saying that Free2Play is evil. But Free2Play is really a proxy term for what is dear to rich-but-time-poor Tobold's heart: Pay2Win. But when I commented that Pay2Win is the issue, not Free2Play, Tobold replied with this astonishing response:

"Pay2Win is not an issue"

I am dumbfounded! The sad thing is, he really believes it. The internet is chock full of discussion and complaints about Pay2Win games, but Tobold has his blinkers on, and doesn't think it's an issue at all. Instead, he tries to muddy the waters by pretending that nobody agrees on what it even means, exactly.

Anyway, Tobold did not choose to answer my substantive point which was that in a game of skill, if you can improve your chance of winning by opening your cheque-book rather than by improving your skill, it rather removes the point of the game.

Now you may make the point that not all games are games of skill, and I won't disagree with you. Some are games of exploration, some are games of collecting, and so on. But where a game is a game of skill, what's the point in paying to win it (or paying for a precursor to it)? It doesn't improve your skill in the slightest.

And I'm not against somebody writing cheques to pay for training (such as professional athletes do), because ultimately, the trainer is simply helping you to develop your skill to its full potential.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Balmy days

Our guild is in low-key mode at the moment. This always happens at this time in the summer. People are on holidays. Students are doing exams. The sun is shining and people prefer to be in the garden at the barbecue than in a cave full of bats.

So we're taking it easy. We have a team of XP-capped level 70s who are having fun getting all the Heroic BC dungeon achievements. Maybe they can get a few BC raids as well. Those heroic BC instances are a lot of fun, though! Much more so than the Pandaren "heroics", which are more of a sprint to the finish line. You need to really think about each pull.

We're also doing Pandaren Challenge Mode dungeons. These really are challenging, and so far we're just learning. There are a lot of mechanics in these that everyone ignores in heroic mode but that will kill you if you ignore them in challenge mode. Also, there are some mechanics in challenge mode that are not in heroic mode at all. Part of the fun in these challenge mode dungeons is to figure out for yourself how to deal with them, for they aren't well documented on wowhead and other sites.

Gevlon has a nice list of features for an world different to Azeroth that I'd like to visit. I'd like to add to his list. I'd love it if you can't look things up on a wiki somewhere.Oh, and perilous travel.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Sources and sinks

How do you make your money in Azeroth? Farming (harvesting herbs, skinning beasts, fishing, mining) or crafting (tailoring, leatherworking, smithing, engineering, jewelcrafting, inscribing and so on). Or maybe you are a trader on the Auction House, buying low and selling high. Or perhaps you make your money by questing. Most likely it's a bit of all of these. However you get your gold, it might surprise you to know where the gold comes from. The short answer is: new gold comes from NPCs only.

You might think that when you're mining copper ore you're basically digging money out of the ground. But you aren't creating any money at this point. Eventually you sell the ore (perhaps after processing it into another form): if you sell it to another player, you still haven't created any new money - you've only transferred money from another player to yourself. You only create new money if you sell the ore to an NPC.

Think about that.

Farming, crafting and trading in general don't create any new wealth. They simply transfer wealth from the buyer to the seller. NPCs are the only source of new money in the economy. They generate this money spontaneously only as a result of a player interaction with them. So the real source of new wealth in the economy is mostly players who make their money through questing (especially dailies), running instances, killing mobs and sell questing rewards and mob-drops to vendors*.

Where does the money go? What takes it out of circulation? Again, NPCs take gold out of circulation. For instance NPCs take money when you buy something from them for gold, or when you repair your armour. Probably the most effective sink is the least noticed: the auctioneers, who take fees on listed items and sold items.

Blizzard tries to control the amount of money in circulation through these sources and sinks. Without effective sinks, the amount of money in circulation would climb rapidly, bringing inflation. So Blizzard has been aggressive in adding gold sinks: mounts such as the Mekgineer's Chopper, the Traveler's Tundra Mammoth, the Grand Expedition Yak; services such as armour repair, bank tabs, transmogrification and void storage; pets like the Hyjal Bear Cub (strangely, no expensive vendor pets were added in Pandaria). These all act as a way to suck gold out of the economy.

Without gold sinks, the Azerothian economy would fill with gold, and the the cost of stuff we buy from other players would inflate very rapidly, since we could all afford to pay more for everything, since we would have more money.

* "Vendor" is the biggest misnomer in the whole of Azeroth. These guys sell virtually nothing. They are really "vendees".
Two other misnomers are "fear" and "equip". How often do we hear players complain that they were feared? The opposite is usually true! When "Fear" is cast on somebody, they feel so afraid that they run about like headless chickens, losing all muscle control. Nobody fears them! 
And when I put a piece of gear on, I do not equip it; I equip myself.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

World of Tanks Cheat Codes

Gevlon is writing a fascinating series of articles this week on how wargaming.net is (in his opinion) cheating World of Tanks players (for reasons that are not clear to me). But this article isn't in response to that series, rather it's in response to something a commenter said. Let me give you a little background. Gevlon started his latest series because he found that a pair of articles that he wrote months ago - accusing wargaming.net of cheating - was getting loads of hits, a year after he wrote them. In fact, they are the most visited posts on his blog. He opined "I think they resonate with something my readers found themselves". Commenter Ted Atchley had a counter-hypothesis:

The two pages are getting lots of hits because people are seaching Google for "World of Tanks cheats", looking for a cheat code or something similiar for the game.

Well, that resonated with me! So I thought I'd test that theory. Here, I provide no interesting theory about wargaming.net, nor do I provide any World of Tanks cheat codes. Such things don't exist. I simply provide a page that will catch people googling for such cheat codes, to test Ted's counter-hypothesis. I'll report back with the results in a few months' time.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Lollygagging in LFR

Whenever I disagree with Rohan, I always stop and think twice. I greatly respect Rohan's opinion, and so I suspect I might be wrong. So I've been stewing over a post that he wrote last month for a couple of weeks now. But time has not cured me, and experience has just confirmed my feeling. I really hate the Determination buff in Raid Finder. Every time you wipe, you get an extra 5% buff that stacks up to 50%, until the boss dies.

Here's what happens, in my experience, in a typical Throne of Thunder encounter: tanks rush in (often without a ready check), pick up targets, everyone else rushes in and does as much damage as they can. Some of us know the mechanics and try to avoid causing problems, others ignore all fight mechanics and stuff on the floor. Healers keep them up as long as possible, until they can't any more and everyone dies.

We pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. Somebody explains the mechanics (often nobody explains them before the first wipe, since nobody wants to appear to be talking down to their comrades in arms). Second attempt: some more people are now trying to properly deal with fight mechanics. Many still aren't. They don't care. They know they don't have to. Next attempt we have two stacks of Determination. What does it matter if they don't kite the orbs out of the main courtyard? What does it matter if they ignore the Loa Spirits? What does it matter if they can't find and follow the maze? What does it matter if all the lollygaggers die? Our Determination will just stack higher and higher until those remaining can defeat the boss anyway.

The lesson this teaches is that we can just ignore fight mechanics. The boss is going down, anyway. For instance, when somebody tries to explain that you shouldn't pull all the Anima Golems at once and AoE them down (or else you'll get all the Large Anima Golems activating at the same time), someone will point out that that's exactly what their raid did, and they were able to AoE down everything in the room. The worst thing is, they are right! The unspoken corollary is that they had 5 stacks of Determination at the time. So the fight starts, and the guys who pretend that they don't have Recount installed AoE down everything, anyway, to get to the top of the charts (they pretend they don't have recount installed so that they can ask "Can anyone link recount?"). For them, getting to the top of the charts is more important than actually downing the boss. He's going down, anyway, in another few minutes, but they'll be spamming recount in guild chat forever.

Blizzard is complicit in all this. When people complain about the difficulty of a fight, Blizzard always ends up nerfing it. I've never seen a case where, when a fight is too easy, Blizzard buffs it; and yet all fights get easier as we outgear them. What's the bet that before the end of this expansion, nobody will be running Durumu's Maze? We'll all be standing in the purple, DPSing and healing as usual. Running from the beam, but that's all. Or maybe by then the beam will also have been nerfed!

Interestingly, when the Cataclysm happened, the new dungeons couldn't be zerged.  For the first time in many months, adventurers had to pull crowd-control abilities onto their action bars and key-binds. The resulting whine from the player-base was so high-pitched that Ghostcrawler responded by writing this article, barely a month after the Cataclysm struck: Wow! Dungeons are hard! In it, he defends their emphasis on thinking over acting. Rohan didn't agree, and said so. A few days later, the nerfs were implemented. For the rest of the expansion (i.e. all but the first month), the fights were all too easy. Now in Pandaria, "heroic" dungeons are an embarrassment to Blizzard, who must see the irony in the name "Heroic", just as they must see the irony in naming LFR loot "Epic".

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Toys and Games

Tobold, who often has the opposite opinion to me on paying for games, had another pop at his favourite strawman, "people [who] have very incoherent attitudes towards ... Pay2Win". His point is that WoW and Rift cannot possibly be pay2win games because they have no win condition. It's a very disingenuous argument that he rolls out to support his view that time-poor but money-rich players shouldn't be at a disadvantage in these games, compared to people who have lots of time. To see why it is disingenuous (and incoherent, incidentally), first let me digress, and discuss the nature of toys and games.

What is a toy? It's something that you play with, for fun. A ball, for instance is a toy. A train-set is a toy. The play is normally undirected/self-directed. When that play becomes directed by a code of rules, the toy is generally being used as part of a puzzle or game. For instance, model soldiers: I can play with them, paint them, hide them in the sugar bowl and generally have undirected fun with them. I can also use them to play tabletop wargames. My ball can be used  to play undirectedly, but there are lots of games that are played with a ball: football, kerbie, keepy-uppy. The best toys are those that you play with for years without getting tired of them.

What is a game? A game is goal-directed play, and it is competitive play. In a game there can be a winner and there can be a loser1. Football is a game that uses a toy (a ball). Poker is a game that uses a toy (a pack of cards). (Aside: goal-directed play in which there is no competition is called a puzzle. I can complete my Sudoku puzzle, or I can put it aside for now and come back to it later, or I can give up. There is no competitor involved).

Virtual worlds are primarily toys. Second Life, Minecraft; these are worlds in which the self-directed nature of the play is paramount.

What is disengenuous about Tobold's argument is that a virtual world is a toy which is used to play many games. Tobold pretends to ignore the competitive nature of these games and only looks at the toy nature of these worlds - "tra, la, la, I can go exploring, I can see what's in this cave, I can make myself a festival suit, I can kiss a frog, I can bow before the king of Stormwind, I can ride on a dragon's back through the clouds. How does it affect your play if I've bought the Sword of a Thousand truths, to help in my self-directed play?"

The problem is that there are games within this virtual world. Competitive games. And not just "Realm first kill of Lei-Shen" or "Top Arena Team 2v2" kind of games. There is also the game of keeping your guild ahead of your peers' guilds. There are league-style ladders, in which I am both winning against those below me on the ladder, and losing against those above me. For instance, my guild is about realm 35-40 in raiding (depending on whose ladder you look at). That means we are in a competition in which we are being beaten by 35-40 other guilds, and in which we are beating about 2000 other guilds (many of whom don't realize they were entered in the competition :-)). Or another game is "See who can get the highest ilvl gear". Again, there's a ladder. Same for achievements, companion pet ownership, mount ownership, cooking recipes learned and so on. There are many games in these virtual worlds, many of which we don't choose to participate in. But that doesn't mean we don't affect them.

If the Sword of a Thousand Truths is sold in a cash shop, that defeats the nature of these games, or demands that all who want to play them have to buy the sword. It doesn't even matter if Tobold doesn't want to play these games. By making the sword available in a cash shop, these games are greatly affected.

There are also puzzles, which is what I think the majority of raiders are primarily interested in (even though they do keep an eye on their guild rank, as well). The puzzle is "What must our guild do to defeat this boss". This is a tricky puzzle. Of course, we must study tactics, and often invent new tactics for the particular nature of our team; we have to learn to execute those tactics; We also have to recognize when we need to improve our gear. Maybe we have to go into a different dungeon just to find a particular piece of equipment that we need for this dungeon. Figuring out what items we need and how to get them is part of the puzzle. If we can just buy gear at the cash shop, the puzzle is spoiled.

It is a source of confusion that these virtual worlds are called games, when in actual fact they are toys that are used to play games. Tobold uses precisely this confusion when he rhetorically asks "Can you Pay2Win in a PvE game that has no win condition?" You see right there what he's done? He is claiming that because the "game" has no win condition, it's impossible to pay to win. What he really means is that the toy that is the virtual world has no win condition. But the games played with that toy do. He also asks (again rhetorically) "Is buying something you could also get from grinding Pay2Win?" Well, clearly it is, because of the competitive nature of these games. Many of them are about who can do something first, or before somebody else. If you can do something first simply by paying for it, or by paying for a precursor to it, your time-based games are dead in the water. Just because Tobold isn't currently playing these games doesn't mean that cash shops won't affect these games.

All the while, Tobold supports these Pay2Win concepts because he believes that it will make life better for the average player. That is a belief that is not evidence-based. My gut feeling is that it will just trivialize both the toy and the games played with it. Again, that is not evidence-based, it's just a gut feeling. Its reductio ad absurdum would be to repair the Broken I.W.I.N. Button and put it up for sale in the cash shop.

1 A game need not always have a winner: everybody could lose/draw. A game can be against a computer opponent, or against the clock, or against your previous best. The point is that you, the player, can win or lose.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Holiday that Time Forgot

This year's children's week was the quietest since records began. With most high-level adventurers now lodged in Pandaria, it wouldn't surprise me that many people were unaware that there was a holiday event happening: there wasn't the slightest hint of it in the Shrine of the Seven Stars. No Pandaren orphans to look after, nor any orphan matrons looking after any other orphans there. The holiday itself hasn't changed all that much since Orphan Matron Aria opened her orphanage in Dalaran. There was a bit of a reshuffle after the Cataclysm, as old quest locations were destroyed or altered, but since most adventurers were back in Stormwind by this time, the old orphanage there got plenty of help. This year, with few adventurers lodging in Stormwind, the orphans were all but invisible.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Gear plan for 5.2 revisited

So, this was my gear plan for 5.2 ( ← the link on the left also shows how I was dressed at the end of April)
Head:Falling Blossom Cowltailoring
Neck:Destroyer's BattletagsShadow-Pan Assault neutral
Shoulders:Shoulders of
Demonic Dreams
Shadow-Pan Assault exalted
Chest:Fire Support RobesShadow-Pan Assault revered
Cloak:Shadowspike CloakShadow-Pan Assault honored
Wrists:Troll-Burner BracersShadow-Pan Assault friendly
Hands:Flameweaver HandwrapsShadow-Pan Assault honored
Waist:Firestrike CordShadow-Pan Assault revered
Legs:Charfire LeggingsShadow-Pan Assault honored
Feet:Falling Blossom Treadstailoring
Finger 1:Signet of the
Shado-Pan Assault
Shadow-Pan Assault friendly
Finger 2:Eye of Oondasta
(ilvl 522)
It dropped for me last week
when killing Oondasta.
If you don't have such luck,
you can use Restored Hexxer's
Signet instead. 
Trinket 1:Volatile Talisman of
the Shado-Pan Assault
Shadow-Pan Assault friendly
Trinker 2:Wushoolay's Final Choice
(ilvl 502)
A lucky ToT LFR drop last
week. Apart from praying for
lucky drops, best choice is
the Shock-Charger Medaillon
from Operation Shieldwall
Main Hand:Loshan, Terror IncarnateTsu-Long in TES
Off Hand:Inscribed Jade FanInscription
or Staff:Jin'ya,
Orb of the Waterspeaker
Lei-Shi in TES

How am I getting on? Not hard to answer that one. I'm currently honored with the Shado-Pan assault, so nothing for revered or exalted is yet mine. And the headpiece, Falling Blossom Cowl, cannot be had in the market. Not even for ready money. However Horridon was kind enough to drop the Flamecaster's Burning Crown in LFR last week.and I can't really expect to improve much on that. STOP PRESS: I luckily discovered the recipe for Falling Blossom Cowl today, and I'll be making myself one just as soon as I can buy enough Haunting Spirits. I need eight, and they go for upward of 15000g each on my realm, but they still get snapped up quickly at that price.

For the neck, I've got the Destroyer's Battletags, as expected.

As for the shoulders, I've replaced my old Mantle of the Golden Sun with an ilvl 502 LFR drop from Jin'rokh, Fissure-Split Shoulderwraps. Exalted with the Shado-Pan assault is a long way off! Jin'rokh is the easiest boss in the throne of Thunder to kill, so I may be able to get the ilvl 522 version on of these days.

For the chest, I've replaced my Imperial Ghostbinder's Robes (ilvl 489) with Robes of the Lightning Rider, a world drop from Galleon. I also won the LFR Robes of Mutagenic Blood from Primordius, but I haven't gemmed, enchanted and equipped it. I don't think it's worth it, as I'm on the cusp of revered with the Shado-Pan Assault, so I should have the Fire Support Robes as soon as I have enough Valor Points.

Cloak: Shado-Spike Cloak: 

Wrists: Troll-Burner Bracers ✓

Hands: Flameweaver Handwraps ✓

Waist: I'm still stuck with the ugliest belt in the universe, the Belt of Malleable Amber. Oh, how I'd love to get rid of it. as soon as I hit revered with the Shado-Pan Assault, I'm getting the Firestrike Cord, even before I get the Fire Support Robes.

Legs: Even though I'm honored with the Shado-Pan assault now. I'm not yet planning to replace my old Leggings of the Burning Scroll (which I got from Amber-Shaper Un'sok in HoF Normal, by way of a Shadowy Vanquisher token). I think I'm better replacing my waist and chest, first. I just don't have enough VP yet to buy the Charfire Leggings.

Feet: No sign of the Falling Blossom treads on the AH, and I haven't got the recipe yet, so for now I'm sticking with my Sandals of Oiled Silk.

Finger 1: Signet of the Shado-Pan Assault ✓
Finger 2: Eye of Oondasta ✓(I already had this at the start of April)

Trinket 1: Again, my shortage of Valor Points means that I haven't yet bought the Volatile Talisman of the Shado-Pan Assault. I'm still sporting my Relic of Yu'Lon.
Trinket 2: Wushoolay's Final Choice ✓ (I already had this at the start of the start of April)

Main hand: I'm in a quandary here. Although I won the ilvl 502 version of Athame of the Sanguine Ritual from Dark Animus in the Throne of Thunder, I'm havering about equipping it instead of my sword, Loshan, Terror Incarnate, which is twice upgraded to ilvl 491, and has the sha-touched gem in it. Usually when I'm vacillating like this, what happens is that I keep both items and wait for something unequivocally better to drop for me, but in this case there is nothing that I can realistically get that is head-and-shoulders above them. I know that the dagger is a bit better, but after all the trouble I went to to get the sha-touched gem, I'm loth to give it up.

Off-hand: I still have the Inscribed Jade Fan, and I'm waiting for something better to drop in LFR.

So there you have it. About half-way through executing my plan. But with 5.3 on the near horizon, and the balmy days of summer with us, I'm seriously wondering if I wouldn't be better off taking it easy and waiting to replace my ilvl 522 gear with 5.3 LFR gear. Certainly, all my hard-won 5.1 gear was no sooner acquired than replaced in 5.2. I have the feeling that the pace of the gear treadmill has picked up. In 5.1 I made a real effort to keep up, because I was guesting with another guild's raid team. But now my guild is raiding, so I'm no longer guesting with the other team, and I no longer feel the same pressure that I might lose my raid spot, being as how my gear is still pretty decent.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

My Iranian readers

I noticed a few spikes in my readership numbers, last week. Nothing that Tobold or Rohan would notice in theirs, but huge in mine, coming as it does from a much lower base. Blogger.com told me that there were two spikes, one on the 23rd and another on the 26th, each in the dark hours of morning, each of 140 hits (if I get that in a full day, I'm lucky), and coming from Iran. Who knew such subversives existed in Iran? I hope they enjoy what they read!

Last week the subversives were reading from Germany. But those ones were trying to get me to click a link to their porn site, which would be subverting the purpose of this diary entirely!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Seal Clubbing

I came across this term for the first time a few days ago, while trying to find the formula for WN7, which sites like noobmeter.com use for rating World of Tanks players. The term is used to describe experienced players who deliberately play in low-tier tanks to win lots of battles against noobs.

As a casual noob myself, I'm perplexed by this. Surely the whole point of the World of Tanks matchmaking system is to prevent battles where inexperienced players are pitted against experienced players? If I remember back to my early battles, everybody in the battlefield was a total noob. We would be shooting at each other, driving into each other, rushing across the field in Malinovka, doing everything noobish in the book. But as I improved, so did the quality of the rest of my team, and so did the quality of our opponents. Rushing was not so common, and when it was used, it was a deliberate scouting action by a fast tank that hoped to survive, rather than an attempt to overwhelm our enemies. That's as it should be. I was no longer a total noob, so I wasn't matched with total noobs.

Now, after 3000 battles at an "adjusted avg. tier" of 2.47, according to noobmeter, I never find myself in the same battle as "seals" (noobs relative to me), nor do I find myself in the position of a"seal" being clubbed by somebody with a lot more ability than me. I find myself in battles with people of about the same ability as me, with their tanks at the same level of improvement as mine. There is no way that I could get into a battle against genuine noobs, and there's no way a player with much more ability than me would end up in the same battle as me. After 3000 low-tier battles I cannot recall any examples of seal clubbing.

So what's going on? Why are the World of Tanks forums so full of talk about seal clubbers? How can they really exist? Is it, in fact, mainly a term used by players at the top tiers to denigrate play at lower tiers? Or have I noobishly misunderstood something?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Making Maps

Syp recently mentioned, in "Five things I want to find out in any beta" that he likes to see a full map of the world. It got me thinking about maps.

Map-making was important back when you were playing table-top adventure games like D&D. The explorer in me likes starting with a blank page and slowly filling the blanks in. Sometimes a false start even meant a complete re-draw. Which way is "up"? Are these distances correct? I loved all that.

In Azeroth, we map as we explore. I like it that I have to explore an area before it is fully revealed to me. But as soon as we have explored it, the map is correct. No mistakes. No inaccuracies. No omissions.

It took me two weeks to fully uncover the tame mysteries of Elwynn Forest. I "discovered" Outland one October evening while playing "Trick or Treat" there. I flew over most of it at 20,000 ft. I don't think I landed more than once in Blade's Edge,  and I sure as hell discovered none of its mysteries. Nonetheless my map of Outland is as detailed and accurate as my map of Elwynn Forest. That's a bit off. I guess an eagle-eyed hunter might have been able to see the lay of the land from that height, but I couldn't.

How would it be if there was a world where map-making was a profession, just like archaeology? As we explore an area, we can make a map of it (if we have the materials); but it is pretty crude while our map-making skill is poor. It will contain mistakes. Places missing, or in the wrong location. And it only contains the  stuff that was actually in our field of vision. As we make more maps, so our skill increases, and each map gets a bit better than the last one. Until a cataclysm happens, and we have to remap certain parts of the world!

If that's all there was to it, it would be an annoyance. Here's where it gets useful: we can trade maps.

I can make a copy of my map and put it on the Auction House for sale. Like all manual copies, it may contain some errors that weren't in the original. But as my skill in map-making increases, my maps get better, more detailed, more accurate. I can charge more for my maps than you charge, and people will choose my maps for their quality. Once you buy a map, you integrate it into your own map, and over time you can improve your own map by buying maps from well-known cartographers. You can make copies of your updated map for sale. Again, the quality of your copies is limited by your skill in map-making, but at least you're starting with a better original than you could have made on your own. With enough skill, you can make a name for yourself. Your maps will be better than anyone else's.

You might think that the internet will put a stop to that. The maps will be up on Allakhazam before long. Possibly; but which ones? Each of us has a different map. Take a look at a Roman view of the world:

( from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/TabulaPeutingeriana.jpg ). This is an astounding map. You need to zoom into it, (and probably open the image in a separate page) to look at properly. It has "Insula Thyle" (Thule, possibly Iceland, or another landmass near the north pole) at the top left, then three unnamed islands just to the right of it before we see Ibernia Insula (the island of Hibernia, Ireland), then Caledonia (Scotland) and Brittania (Roman Britain). At first it's hard to recognize just what we're looking at, because we're used to a particular world-view in our maps. Just below Ireland (I don't say "south of Ireland" because south has no meaning on this map) is the whale-like shape of Hispania (the Iberian peninsula, i.e. Spain and Portugal), and then at the bottom of the map is North Africa. It takes time, looking at that map, to fit it into our modern view of how Europe should look.

Here's another one:

Again, it takes several moments to recognize just what we're looking at. Africa to the right, Asia at the top. Is that Cyprus at the centre of the universe?

It's hard to see that these two Roman maps are of much the same territory. If you were Allakhazam, how would you deal with differences? Is Thule next to Ibernia or is it closer to Dacia (Romania)? Sometimes, while playing D&D, a map would  fall into our hands: found in a library or sold by a trader for two camels, or found on the body of an enemy. It was always interesting to compare with our own maps. Could these really be of the same territory? Oh, look! There's an oasis we didn't know about!

As long as the real source of all our maps remains a secret, Allakhazam's map will also be just an approximation of the truth. Your map might have a secret location, known only to you for now!

Of course, over time, our maps will get better and better, until it will be easy to buy a perfect representation of the world for a few coins. Ah, but then comes the expansion. And with it, new regions, completely unmapped.

I'm sure there are holes in this idea. Perhaps you can help in filling them in?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Reavers' Return

I popped into Dalaran recently, and was much surprised to see the Sunreavers back in place, wandering around the city as cool as you please, as if Jaina had never purged them from the place, and as if I'd never imprisoned them and killed those resisting arrest. What's going on?

Monday, 22 April 2013


I gutted Lei Shen last week, as soon as the LFR instance was available. I was also gutted. Like killing the Sha of Fear in 5.1, Lei Shen's death did not seem the act of a band of heroes. It was not epic. A few months ago, I'd never even heard of Lei Shen or the Sha of Fear. They don't have any resonance in lore. But I don't think that even if they had, it would have been satisfying. Probably the opposite, because there was no epic quality to it. LFR has let us participate in raids that we would perhaps not have seen for some time; but it can't let us participate in the epic experience. Our guild's first kill of the Stone Guard in the Mogu'shan Vaults normal had more of a heroic feel to it. Certainly our kill of Jan-Xi and Qin-Xi was epic. But not as epic as it would have been if we hadn't all killed them several times in LFR beforehand.

I'm not sure what to say, here. We, individually, can't build the epic quality by simply not doing the LFR version, for two reasons: we need the gear, and we need the sigils/secrets of the empire. I suppose an alternative route to getting the gear is to get the Valor Points and buy Shado-Pan Assault gear with them. But you still need to kill bosses in the Throne of Thunder to get the rep to spend them. The only boss I've been able to kill on normal so far is Jin'rokh. In previous expeditions, we used heroic dungeon gear to equip us for raiding, but that isn't feasible currently. Geared only in dungeon gear, you wouldn't even get into the LFR vesion of the Throne of Thunder. If you went into the normal version, you would know what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Thunder God's Palace that day, I can tell you.

Saving Ra-Den as a special boss for heroic raids only was a good idea. I can see that building excitement in a raid team. Getting close to him, then wiping on him, then finally getting him down. A boss you'd never encountered before. I like that idea. Unfortunately, most raid teams won't get heroic Ra-Den down while he is still current. For mid-level raid teams like ours, who will be happy even to complete Normal (we're still not on tier 14), it would be nice if blizzard could throw us a bone, and produce a boss that is encountered in Normal, but not in LFR. A final boss for Normal, who would also be a penultimate boss for Heroic.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

My old friends, Spidersilk Boots and Drapes.

Cold wanted to know what used to sell well, and now doesn't, and what we could learn from it, over at Cold's Gold Blogging Carnival.

Long ago, my mage banker Fuill spent most of her time at the auction house, buying a bit of this, selling a bit of that. Well, after a while, she got bored and started running around Elwynn Forest and  Westfall like anyone else would, levelling. But she had to keep going back to the auction house, and that severely cramped her levelling. So she decided to take up PvP, once she got to level 15 and qualified for Warsong Gulch. She collected some gear through questing, but quickly realized that if she was to take PvP seriously, she really had to stop levelling at level 19: a level 19 PvPer was at the top of her bracket, a level 20 PvPer was at the bottom.

Since she hadn't set out at level 1 to be a PvPer, she hadn't optimised her levelling for collecting the best PvP gear, and since in those times you couldn't switch off XP gain, then she could no longer go questing for new gear - from that point on, all her gear would have to come from the Auction House.

I helped her out. As a tailor, I was able to find two important pieces of gear that were excellent for level 19, the best you could buy: Spidersilk Boots and Spidersilk Drape. I quickly found that Fuill wasn't the only one who wanted this gear. There were plenty of other cloth-wearers who found themselves in Warsong Gulch and would pay top dollar for the best gear they could get. Of course, the Spider's Silk was expensive at auction, and rare, because people in Duskwood often didn't realize how valuable it was, and wouldn't bother to loot it. More than once I spent a half hour in Duskwood myself, killing spiders for their silk, and advertising in general chat that I would buy any spider's silk that other people looted.

The market was great for me, though, because few other tailors were making Spidersilk gear. They either didn't notice that these low-level pieces sold at such a great price, or they didn't have the materials needed and weren't about to go and spend time and money on getting them in case the items didn't sell; and on the face of it, it looked like a price-fixing scam rather than a genuine sale price. Only Fuill's fellow twinks knew why they were so expensive.

That whole twink market died years ago. Ironically, it was killed by a twink: Besten, the twink rogue who will allow you to switch off XP. At the same time XP-locked twinks were put into twinks-only battlegrounds.

The first of these changes allowed genuine twinks to go out into the world again and do quests and kill mobs without fear of levelling. That meant that they could go out and get BoP gear that was previously unreachable to people like Fuill who became twinks by chance, and hadn't planned their levelling 1-19. For instance, they could now go out and get the Engineer's Cloak from Stonetalon. This was on a par with the Spidersilk Drape, and was free. Or they could go and run Wailing Caverns over and over until the Feyscale Cloak dropped. Similarly, they could go out to the Stranglethorn Vale and try to get Nat Pagle's Extreme Anglin' Boots. In other words, they were no longer limited to equipping themselves with what they could find on the Auction House.

At the same time, twink-only battlegrounds meant that twinks were having a harder time getting into battlegrounds, because there were relatively few of them. In turn that meant that fewer people started new twinks. Patch 3.2 knocked the heart out of the market.

The lesson.

As elsewhere in life, we have to expect change, and they have unexpected side-effects as well as planned effects. Luckily, I never stockpiled spider's silk, but this example and my frozen orb fiasco has convinced me not to bother stockpiling mats beyond the needs of the next few weeks. In fact, when I read gold gurus suggesting that we ought to stockpile this or that for an upcoming patch, I sometimes conclude that I ought to be dumping those same items in the run-up to the patch.

Monday, 8 April 2013


Is it my imagination, or have tanks with autocannons started doing more damage since release World of Tanks release 8.4 came out, a few weeks ago?

You know what I mean by autocannons, don't you? Those guns that fire bursts of small shells in rapid succession. Their penetration is usually almost as good as the regular gun for the tank, but their damage is a good deal less. Their accuracy is also less, so the shells spray out like from a sub-machine gun rather than a sniper's rifle.

Up close they are deadly: they can pump all shells from the burst into you, and usually their high rate of fire means they can keep hitting you while you try to line up a shot - disrupting your aim and often causing you shoot over or under them.

At range, however, it is my recollection that they used to cause much less of a problem. For a start, usually only one shell from the spray might hit you instead of all of them; and I got the impression that their penetration dropped more rapidly at range. That would make sense: a small projectile slows down more through air-resistance than a large projectile.I got used to ignoring autocannons hitting me from afar. The shells just bounced off, and didn't even rock the tank much - so didn't affect aiming as much.

Since release 8.4, though, I have the impression that their penetration doesn't drop off like it used to. I'm getting killed by them. Shells that used to bounce off are now blowing me up. In WoT, nothing is more embarrassing than being destroyed by a Leichttraktor, especially if you can't even see him*.

I tried swapping the guns on a few of my tanks to try out the autocannon for myself, to see if it feels different. But the problem is that I can't remember how it felt to use an autocannon before: I never liked the Leichttraktor, and always got tanks with 'proper' guns on them. So I've no means of comparison, except as a target! What I can say, is that when I earlier dismissed the, it was before I learned how auto-targetting worked. Now when I'm using an autocannon, I've learned to target my opponent, then right click to lock on to him before shooting, so that my gun automatically follows him as I circle around him. That's made using an autocannon more fun for me. But not enough so that I've stuck with it. My play-style is not naturally to rush into the thick of things, circle-strafing and using my speed to get me out of trouble. So I replaced my autocannon with bigger calibre guns again.

* well, almost nothing. Drowning yourself or falling off a cliff to your doom are still more embarrassing. Also, last night some guy killed himself (but not me) by ramming my KV-1. That was pretty funny!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Gear plan in 5.2

If you want to skip my waffle, my mage gear-plan for 5.2 is at the bottom of the page.

Back in October, I listed my gear plan to get me into heroics. That worked out very well, and once in heroics, enough ilvl 463 gear showered down on me to get me into Mogu'shan Vaults (LFR edition); and in turn enough gear rained down on me to get me into the other LFR raids. What with that and the VP spent with various vendors, by the end of 5.1, I was geared like this:
Hood of Focused Energy (ilvl 476) from an LFR drop. That and Firecracker Corona (ilvl 489, 1125VP) seem to be very popular.
Wire of the Wakener (ilvl 489) from the Klaxxi, 625 VP. Also popular is Amulet of Seven Curses (ilvl 476 LFR drop)
Mantle of the Golden Sun (ilvl 489) from the Golden Lotus, 875 VP. Other mages are also wearing Mantle of the Burning Scroll (ilvl 483) or Shoulderpads of Twisted Fate (ilvl 483), both LFR drops
I should have been wearing a crafted Robe of Eternal Rule (ilvl 496), but I couldn't bring myself to buy a cloth garment that I hadn't tailored, myself; and the pattern never dropped for me. Instead, I'm wearing Imperial Ghostbinder's Robes, which I got at ilvl 483 from MSV normal, but which is also available from LFR at ilvl 476. Other mages are sporting Vestments of Thundering Skies (ilvl 489, from the Golden Lotus for 1125 VP).
Cloak of Snow Blossoms (ilvl 489) from the Shado-Pan. I see other spellcasters wearing a bunch of fairly similar cloaks from ilvl 476-483 from various LFR drops.
Twisting Wind Bracers (ilvl 483) from Blade-Lord Ta'yak in the LFR version of the Heart of Fear. Minh's Beaten Bracers (ilvl 489 from the August Celestials, 625VP) is more popular.
Gloves of the Burning Scroll (ilvl 483). The Burning Scroll regalia comes from tokens dropped by tier 14 raid bosses (tier 14 being the pre-5.2 raids: MSV, HoF, TES). The tokens are called "XXXX of the Shadowy Vanquisher" for mages, and can be handed in to Commander Oxheart for a piece of gear. The tokens dropped in LFR raids are all ilvl 483. Other mages are also wearing Spelltwister's Gloves (ilvl 476, crafted).
Belt of Malleable Amber (ilvl 483)dropped for me from Aber Shaper Un'sok. For VP you can buy the Klaxxi Lash of the Orator (ilvl 489, 875VP from the Klaxxi) or Bon-iy's Unbreakable Cord (ilvl 496, 1312 VP from Operation Shieldwall)
Leggings of the Burning Scroll (ilvl 483, more Shadowy Vanquisher gear)
Feet:Sandals of Oiled Silk (ilvl 496). These hush-puppies come from Operation: Shieldwall for 1312VP, and are a great boost for anyone wanting to get into the tier 15 LFR raids in the Throne of Thunder (you need an average ilvl of 480 for that). If you haven't yet got them, you should seriously consider them. I upgraded mine to ilvl 504  for another 1500 VP at the tail-end of 5.1, while the upgrade vendor was still around
Fingers:Band of the Shieldwall (ilvl 496), also from Operation: Shieldwall, a mere 937VP, and Simple Harmonius Ring (ilvl 489), 625VP from the Golden Lotus
Trinkets:Relic of Yulon (ilvl 476) is a must. This comes from the Darkmoon Fair Serpent Desk, crafted by scribes. I upgraded mine to ilvl 484 while I still could.Blossom of Pure Snow (ilvl 489), 875VP from the Shado-Pan.
Staff/Main Hand + Off hand:If you're serious about following the Wrathion quest line, you'll have got your "legendary" weapon (by which I mean a weapon capable of holding a legendary sha-touched gem). That's also how come you have so many VP to spend on gear! The Test of Valor quest has some beneficial side-effects. The weapon I got is Loshan, Terror Incarnate (ilvl 483), an LFR drop from Tsulong in the TES.
For off-hand, only this will do:
Inscribed Jade Fan (ilvl 476) made by scribes.
An alternative would be to get Jin'ya, Orb of the Waterspeaker, which is a "legendary" staff dropped by Lei Shi in the TES. 
(VP prices are 5.2 prices, not 5.1. The price has dropped since 5.2 arrived):

So, that was how I was geared at the end of 5.1. Since my average ilvl was above 480, I was able to get into LFR throne of Thunder as soon as it opened. If yours isn't, buy the Operation Shieldwall gear, Band of the Shieldwall and Sandals of Oiled Silk. What next? Well, the first thing is to check out the new factions: the Shado-Pan Assault and the Kirin Tor Offensive. The Shado-Pan Assault has the better gear, but the Kirin-Tor Offensive is the easier to get gear from.

The most important thing here is that the Shado-Pan Assault already have one item that they'll sell to you when you're neutral to them: the necklace Destroyer's Battletags (ilvl 522, 1250VP). You can get to be neutral with them just by finding the Shado-Pan Assault Quartermaster, Teng! This should be your first VP purchase. Once you get to friendly with these guys, you can also get Troll Burner Bracers and Signet of the Shado-Pan Assault. The key here is that you can't get reputation with these guys by doing dailies for them. They require you to go into the Throne of Thunder and kill their enemies there!

The Kirin Tor Offensive, on the other hand, has an immense pile of dailies for you to do on the Isle of Thunder, and it isn't hard to get rep fast with them. You can buy an ilvl 476 belt from them for a few gold if you haven't anything more decent. At revered, you can buy a Static-Collecting Cloak (ilvl 496, 937 VP),  and at exalted you can buy the Restored Hexxer's Signet (ilvl 496, 937VP).

So between the Battletags, the Kirin-Tor Offensive and Operation Shieldwall, you should have no trouble getting enough gear to get into the Throne of Thunder, and start earning rep with the Shado-Pan Assault.

The Shado-Pan assault is the key to gearing up in patch 5.2. Once you're friendly with them, you can buy the Signet of the Shado-Pan Assault (ilvl 522, 1250 VP), Volatile Talisman of the Shado-Pan Assault (ilvl 522 trinket, 1750 VP) and Troll-Burner Bracers (ilvl 522, 1250 VP). At  honored, you may buy Charfire Leggings (ilvl 522, 2250 VP), Flameweaver Handwraps (ilvl 522,  1750 VP) and Shadowspike Cloak (ilvl 522, 1250 VP). At revered, you can choose a Firestrike Cord (ilvl 522, 1750 VP) and Fire Support Robes (ilvl 522, 2250 VP), and at exalted, you can get either Shoulders of Demonic Dreams or Frost-Kissed Shoulderwraps for 1000G (not VP).

Crafting produces a couple of ilvl 522 items, at great expense. The head-piece, Falling Blossom Cowl, is a must -there is really nothing equal to in ToT LFR, and most of the better pieces are heroic raid drops. It will be horrendously expensive. The same is true of the footwear, Falling Blossom Treads. I will be spending a fortune on these.

By their weapons shall ye know them. This is ultimately what sets raiders apart from non-raiders. Outside of raids, there are no epic weapons available, even for ready money. Well, actually, there are two for mages. You can get an ilvl 476 Inscribed Serpent Staff if you have a scribe in your pay. Outside of LFR, you can also get Darkmaster Gandling's drop, Headmaster's Will, in Scholomance. But really, you've come this far, you need to have the "ledge", either Loshan or Jin'ya. And that means you just have to keep running the Terrace of Endless Spring until one of them drops.

So, this is my gear plan for 5.2:

Head:Falling Blossom Cowltailoring
Neck:Destroyer's BattletagsShadow-Pan Assault neutral
Shoulders:Shoulders of
Demonic Dreams
Shadow-Pan Assault exalted
Chest:Fire Support RobesShadow-Pan Assault revered
Cloak:Shadowspike CloakShadow-Pan Assault honored
Wrists:Troll-Burner BracersShadow-Pan Assault friendly
Hands:Flameweaver HandrapsShadow-Pan Assault honored
Waist:Firestrike CordShadow-Pan Assault revered
Legs:Charfire LeggingsShadow-Pan Assault honored
Feet:Falling Blossom Treadstailoring
Finger 1:Signet of the
Shado-Pan Assault
Shadow-Pan Assault friendly
Finger 2:Eye of Oondasta
(ilvl 522)
It dropped for me last week
when killing Oondasta.
If you don't have such luck,
you can use Restored Hexxer's
Signet instead. 
Trinket 1:Volatile Talisman of
the Shado-Pan Assault
Shadow-Pan Assault friendly
Trinker 2:Wushoolay's Final Choice
(ilvl 502)
A lucky ToT LFR drop last
week. Apart from praying for
lucky drops, best choice is
the Shock-Charger Medaillon
from Operation Shieldwall
Main Hand:Loshan, Terror IncarnateTsu-Long in TES
Off Hand:Inscribed Jade FanInscription
or Staff:Jin'ya,
Orb of the Waterspeaker
Lei-Shi in TES

As you can see, this isn't cheap. There's about four months' worth of VP in there, for a start. I'm hoping for lucky drops!