When Kodo Fly

Sometimes I fail to take notice of the finer points of patch notes.  One such event just struck me this past weekend.

I am leveling my first toon (a Shadow Priest Tauren … big wall of glowy purple) since the release of Cataclysm.  And, when I visited the trainer to learn Journeyman Riding (land mounts, but faster) I was delighted to see that my trusty old white kodo was now running at full +100% speed.  I like the white kodo (even bigger wall of glowy purple) and was happy to see that I would not need to replace him.

But, the event that I am really looking forward to is hitting level 60, learning Expert Riding, zipping to the Outlands, and taking my trusty white kodo off the nearest cliff to see him soar!

What?  What do you mean, ‘when kodo fly’?

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Call to Arms: best WoW blog fodder of 2011 so far

I’m sure I needn’t tell you about the implementation of Call to Arms or the uproar it has caused in the WoW blogging community.  Others have covered the subject with greater invested effort that I plan to make, most recently at WoW Insider by Matt Rossi.

During a boring, day-long workshop last month, I tried some rudimentary ‘root cause’ analyses to test whether I could draw out different conclusions than other bloggers have made.  But, no, I cannot….

Fundamentally, the purpose of this change is to encourage more tanks into the LFD queues.  And when I worked on the source of that issue, I reached no novel conclusion.  There are just too few tanks using LFD.  I would preferentially use the following words to describe the root cause of the problem that Call to Arms is designed to address:  “Since the arrival of Cataclysm, tanks have become squeezed between increasingly challenging content and the unchanged talent pool, attitudes, and expectations of the Game’s players.”  I guess it is an off-putting position to be put in.  So, tanks are withdrawing from that field of game-play.

With this analysis, I’ve hatched a new idea for an experiment.  I have considered starting a tank and recording data, metrics, on the experience.  Is it really as difficult as people claim?  Are all the other players of WoW as obnoxious as is popularly believed?  As I’ve not tanked before, I would enter as a ‘noob’ and would need to learn as I went.  We could track the performance of a new tank and how much grief I attract, another subject frequent covered in blogs like this fun item from World of Matticus.  I’d also not have any qualms about naming players who exhibit good and bad sportsmanship, which would make the whole effort even more interesting.

Who knows … perhaps it will start a trend of accountability for one’s actions on the internet.

(*gasp*  Did he just say that?  Let’s ignore it and move on.)

Alas, my work and travel calendars dictate that I will be away from the Game until at least the end of May.  But, I will continue to toy with this idea in the interim.

Class Warfare … in WoW

No, this isn’t an article about the proletariat rising.  But whatever happened to the Druids’ mutual non-aggression pact of years gone by?

One element of Warcraft’s user community that has always intrigued me is the artificial turf battles that gamers cook up to keep the forums and blogs active.  Part of it disturbs me;  I fear it is proving a philosophical posit that human nature requires each of us to define ourselves and our neighbors by the differences between us and them, not by our similarities.

But mostly it amuses me.

The clearest examples of the division and derision that you will find is aimed at whichever class is momentarily topping damage meters or dominating some aspect of the game-play.  When I first began playing, that was the Warlock class.  … Fear was the ‘I win’ button.  Just so O.P.  Have you ever looked up “warlock” on Wowhead and read the first entry in the comments?  It is a tongue-in-cheek description of the tactics a 25-man raid group may employ to try to bring down a single Warlock in PVP.  The odds did not favor the raid group.

After Warlocks came Death Knights.  If you are not familiar with Oxhorn’s side-splitting machinima series, “Inventing Swear Words” at least watch the fifth and final episode to hear Blizzard developers discussing the next hero class, the Lightning Templars.  ‘That sounds balanced, doesn’t it?’

Then came Paladins and the delicious tears as they fell from grace with Cataclysm.  At any point along this path, the players of those favored classes felt it was their right to be at the top of the game indefinitely and quashed nay-sayers with damage meter output spammed to chat.

The second obvious battle is the one that rages between Warlocks and Mages.  (I do not know how Shadow Priests escaped becoming embroiled in this.  …probably by being lazy in some way.)  Most blog entries written by the resident Mage guru or Warlock guru (link) at WowInsider include a jibe or dig at the other’s expense.  This competition has always been explained as Mages and Warlocks being locked in battle for the same game-play space, that of the ranged caster.

With the new races introduced in Cataclysm, we have also thrown fuel on the old Mirage Raceway competitions and one-upmanship between Gnomes and Goblins.  Now that Goblins are a playable race, and the racial tensions have persisted through the flooding of the Thousand Needles and relocated to Fizzle and Pozzik’s Speedbarge, I expect the players will take this idea and run with it.

And, don’t forget, everybody hates a Hunter.  They are usually described as the easiest class to play and might, therefore, be favored by new or less adept players.  Personally, I don’t know why everyone is so anti-hunter.  I think they are as difficult to play well as any other class.  Moreover, I have seen statistical compilations that show hunters are one of the classes preferred by female players of WoW (along with priests and warlocks … racking up all 3 of the classes that I currently play.  I’m male; Don’t read too much into that.)

On the beneficent side, I once read a charming piece of Druid game-play history.  Apparently on certain servers in the early days of WoW, Druids had a tacit agreement not to attack each other in BG’s or world PVP.  This long-abandoned camaraderie is an obvious fall-out of the neutral Moonglade zone, which Druids of both factions could access relatively early in the game and start intermingling within.  But, I think the non-aggression pact actually was driven by the relatively rarity of Druids at that time and by the challenges of overcoming the then-larger hybrid tax to play one.

I’ve also seen mention of gamers who refused to kill Trolls.  Again, I think it is an issue of rarity.  Trolls are among the smallest minority on both of my servers according to Warcraft Realms.  And a rare thing is worth preserving, I guess.  Especially when dey dance so well, mon.

Psychoanalyzing My Attachment to WoW

Although Archimedes might have had an epiphany every time he took a bath, I have to wait for just the right set of circumstances to encounter my “eureka” moments.  Case in point – I suddenly realized why I am so strongly attracted to playing World of Warcraft while I was sitting in a boring human resources presentation at work.  (But in Archimedes’ defense, he probably was an awful lot smarter than I am.)

The primary element, of which I have always been aware, is the escapism.  Obviously.  After all, who doesn’t want to break away from their normal daily routine every once in a while to experience a life or a world that is not one’s own?  I read books, watch movies, and, yes, play computer games to fulfill that desire.

But, why do I wake up on Saturday mornings to start playing Warcraft instead of, say, plowing through the 100 or more unread books that pepper my bookshelves?  Now, finally, I understand what that extra element is, that special quality, the secret sauce.  It is the refreshingly low sophistication of decision-making that is required to play the Game.

Real life, after you reach a certain level of maturity, is no longer about just doing things.  Issues become more complicated, with greater unknowns, risks, and constraints.  There are no truly right answers after a while.  Rather, you are navigating a sea of varying degrees of wrong answers and partially right answers, testing for implications, impressions, knock-on effects, past experiences, efficiencies, and effectiveness.  There is no more certainty for you.

But in a WoW quest there is.  When some orc flatfoot wants you to bring him 30 Quillboar tusks, then you need to bring him 30 Quillboar tusks.
   – Twenty-five is not sufficient if you are running short on time.
   – Thirty-five is unnecessary and won’t benefit anyone.
   – You won’t have to question whether you can get a better price for 30 tusks from someone else.
   – There is no worry about not having the right shoes on for collecting tusks today.
   – You don’t need to consider the social ramifications of slaughtering one entire outpost of Quillboar rather than harvesting the tusks evenly from all camps.
   – There is no question of the morality of murder and genocide at all, actually.
   – One needn’t be concerned about a retaliatory attack coming your way the next night or demands for blood money from relatives.

No.  No higher-levels of complex decision-making need to be engaged.  This is real life on easy mode, and I find it refreshing.  You just say, “30 tusks?  Coming right up.  By the way, I was sorry to hear about your wife.”

Of Cataclysms in the Real World

First there was the Shattering of Azeroth.  Then there came the Shattering of Honshu.

I know there’s no need for me ask whether you’ve seen the photos and videos.  The drama and trauma of the earthquake that struck Japan this past Friday is mind-numbing.  I’ve been glued to my computer each lunch at work looking for new pictures and stories.

As anyone who’s been here before knows, I live in Hong Kong and play WoW on US realms.  It transpires that a fair portion of the cross-Pacific internet communication went through Japan.  Not a majority, I’d say.  But, enough so that in the weekend following the earthquake it was nearly impossible for me to play the Game.  The Technical Support forum confirmed I was not the only one, with heavy complaints registered from gamers in Australia, Singapore, and Manila as well.

Great RiftAt one point I successfully logged in to discover 14000 ms lag on ‘World’.  (That’s 14 seconds of lag.  Anything over 400 is noticeable and over 1000 is unplayable.)  That was tough.  The pre-dawn hours were at the rough end of playable, but after 9am and through the night it was impossible.  In ill-advised enthusiasm I tried to continue questing with my Tauren shadow priest, but quickly realized that any random mob would probably kill my toon before I even realized I was being attacked.  At its worst, I ran through Orgrimmar to the scribe’s shop, then went to get a drink while I waited for the NPC’s to warp in to the room.  I couldn’t even buy parchment from the supplier to write a glyph. 

Oceanic realms seemed a bit better, but only after I had passed through the US battle.net log-in.  To fill in the time, I started dabbling on Kaz’goroth with the idea of a new shaman.

So, the cataclysm in the real world critted the gameplay of probably hundreds of gamers this past weekend.

But, wait.  What am I talking about?  Me, a lone game addict living in a high-rise flat above Hong Kong is frustrated that I missed a weekend of playing the auction house?  I’d better go find more pictures of the devastation in Japan to make another reality check.

Remember the Great Ore Crash of ’11?

Now this is interesting.

I was catching up on WoW Insider posts and read this article in the weekly column, Gold Capped.  It describes a glut of obsidium and elementium ores that is halving auction house prices.  But, more intriguing is that this is a cross-realm event affecting at least dozens of WoW servers.

I did some research on the now-repaired Undermine Journal and confirmed much of what Basil Bernsten wrote in the article.  For example, here is what I found for the changing volume of Obsidium Ore in the Horde AH on Zul’jin, my Horde-side server.

obsidium ore on Zul'jin-h

You can see the typical pattern of ups and down for a week gets shattered beginning late on the night of Thursday, February 24.  Since then, the market has ridden a rollercoaster of insanity that crosses midnight every second night.  Prices of obsidium on Zul’jin-horde have indeed halved, as seems to have happened elsewhere.

The original article took this in and turned it into recommendations on how crafters can make money.  The author even stated part-way down, “I don’t want to speculate about the reason for this recent surge in supply, and focus instead on its effects.”

Yeah well, let me help you with that, then.  There is evidence of this glut, to a greater and lesser extent, on every realm that I looked at.  It was coordinated, although the selling did not start at precisely the same time on all servers.

So, who has control of large volumes of high-end, farmed goods across large numbers of servers and can coordinate a move like a mass sell-off?  OK, everyone say it with me … gold farmers.

Now, Basil knew this, of course.  He even referred to the sellers as “level one mules”.

But, my next question is, why?  Why did this occur?  For that large a volume on so many servers, it must have been one of the major gold selling sites.  Why would they flood the market with high-value merchandise in an uncontrolled manner and drive their own prices and profits down?  Classic micro-economics says you do that when you want to drive out competitors and establish a monopoly.  But, that won’t work for farmed goods in WoW.

I’ve toyed with various ideas.  Is the corporate strategy changing, and bulk ore is not the core business any longer?  I don’t see why it would change.  Was it a programmatic mistake that triggered automated liquidation of inventory?  Oops.  But, if it were, it would have started at nearly the same hour on all servers (correcting for the local time zone of each server, of course).  It didn’t.

Much clearer in my mind is how the ‘white hats’ can use this to their advantage.  What has happened here is that, for reasons I cannot explain, multiple gold farming toons on many, many servers have just lit a bright beacon at their doorstep and proclaimed, HERE I AM.  There’s no hiding it now.  You couldn’t ignore it if you wanted to.

What Blizzard needs to do is pull this data across all servers and identify the sellers.  There will be no mistaking these guys with an innocent player leveling mining.  The difference in scale is too great.  Then, ban the toon, ban the account, hold any new account that tries to start from the same IP address, and monitor accounts that use neighboring IP addresses.  This would be the equivalent of a nation-wide roundup of organized criminals.  Maybe they’ll catch up with my old nemesis, ‘lilmouse’, the Mad Miner of Sholazar Basin.

Go ahead, Blizz.  Take a bite out of crime.

Cataclysm Impressions … What Hath Deathwing Wrought (2 of 2)

(Please see below for part 1 of this article.)

As referenced previously, this ultra-casual player is back in the Game now to experience all that is new and fresh in the post-cataclysmic world of Azeroth.  As with anything else, I see some good, some bad, and much that is tepid in Cataclysm.

Being a pessimist, it is easier to pick out the ‘bad’.  And for me, the worst element is the proliferation of ‘mini-games’ within World of Warcraft.  These things just keep popping up in greater and greater number, and I don’t like them at all.

The first mini-game that I noticed was in The Burning Crusade, when my Alliance toon needed to take gryphon rides to drop bombs on things.  It was not bad, but since I don’t play with a mouse (due to repetitive stress injuries in my wrists) my targeting is very imprecise.  It took several runs for me to accomplish what someone else could probably do in a single run.

Then it all turned sour in Zul’Drak in Wrath of the Lich King.  The quest The Storm King’s Vengeance had me frothing at the mouth for hours and reading all the comments that users have put on Wowhead in search of successful strategies.  It had a heavy investment of time, and I suffered at least eight unsuccessful attempts.  I wasn’t raised on a Nintendo (was just a little too old when the original came out), so I don’t have the ridiculous hand-eye coordination of everyone younger than me.  These mini-games are too tough.

What’s worse is that each of them is also a jarring break from the normal flow of the Game.  I cut my teeth on some of the original, great computer role-playing games.  Finishing “Ultima VI” was like an epiphany for me.  I would have gotten further through “Morrowind” if I could figure out how to make the game understand my WACOM tablet’s input.  And, playing WoW for me is just participating in a big, colorful, but not terribly deep RPG.

These mini-games have no place in a role-playing world.

So, what is the source of my current frustration, you ask?  First Be Raptor followed almost immediately with Swabbing Duty.  Judging by comments on Wowhead, it looks like I am not the only one whoOhgan'aka is spitting nails about the unwelcomed inclusion of these mini-games.  Be Raptor would have been forgivable if we had ended up keeping Ohgan’aka as a pet.  At least Blizzard added a work-around for Swabbing Duty that costs only 1 gold.  Well worth it, I say, to avoid the irrational click-fest required to complete this mini-game.  Very much well worth it.