Category Archives: World of Warcraft

Patch 5.3: Well, That Escalated Quickly

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I’m a little delayed, I know, since Escalation, World of Warcraft’s third content patch for Mists of Pandaria, was released about a week ago, but I’ve been a bit distracted by other things.  The bright side is that it’s given me a week to really delve into the content and see what the community at large thinks about it.

The first two patches were pretty expansive, introducing new areas, new factions to earn rep with, and taking several days or even weeks to complete.  It was almost overwhelming the first time I stepped into the 5.2 content — the mobs were a bit challenging, even with my shadow priest’s excellent gear, and the list of Things To Do was as long as my arm (granted, I’m kind of short and stubby, but you get what I mean).  Just when I thought I’d finished it all, I discovered the Isle of Giants and honestly at that point was so winded by everything else I said “screw it, I’ll go back and do it later.”  I still haven’t even gone into LFR for Throne of Thunder.  I was actually a little nervous once 5.3 was released so quickly, thinking that I was going to be hopelessly behind until at least 6.0.

Yeah.  Totally finished 5.3 in a day.  Hot damn.

This is where the first grumbles I’ve heard come in — compared to its predecessors, Escalation is really small.  Yesterday I heard someone say that she hated it because “there was no climax” to the story.  Let’s look at the definition of “escalation”:

es·ca·late  (sk-lt)
v. es·ca·lat·edes·ca·lat·inges·ca·lates
v.tr.
To increase, enlarge, or intensify: escalated the hostilities in the Persian Gulf.
v.intr.
To increase in intensity or extent: “a deepening long-term impasse that is certain to escalate” (Stewart L. Udall)

And things in the story are definitely increasing in intensity.  The Darkspear leader, Vol’jin, has the backing of both Horde and Alliance to take over for Hellscream and his harsh, often irresponsible rule.  Voices of dissent are becoming louder.  How long will it be before a real move is made against Orgrimmar and Vol’jin is declared Warchief?  Is he truly a better option than Hellscream?  Are there other players lurking in the wings?  The answers, presumably, will be coming in 5.4.  With a couple more planned content patches still being worked on, bringing the story to a major pinnacle now would mean that everything to follow would either have to match in epic scope or would be a steady decline back into “blah,” and that’s really not the most engaging way to tell a story, especially in an interactive form of media like a game.  Rocketing straight to “ULTIMATE BADASS OF ULTIMATE BADASSERY” without any real build-up is cheap and unfulfilling, especially when there’s so much to look at with regards to lore.

Speaking of lore, complaints have also been rolling in about how it’s dumb that the Alliance would be helping to put Vol’jin on the throne… wait, is it a throne?  Big spiky chair?  Place where the Warchief sits?  Whatever.  But Hellscream has already crossed lines that Thrall would have avoided altogether.  Remember the fate of Anduin Wrynn at the end of 5.1?  Under Thrall’s rule, the Horde and Alliance didn’t exactly have a truce, but Hellscream has proven himself to be a steamroller of destruction not just for his own people, but for the Alliance, as well.  It is in everybody’s best interests if the proverbial loose cannon is replaced by a more reasonable leader.  Given the Darkspear tribe’s main goal of just trying to rebuild their home post-Cataclysm versus command-and-conquer, a little cooperation from the Alliance (entirely possible, given Anduin’s tendency to seek peace rather than war) could mean that these two factions might even be able to reach a cease-fire.

It’s also been said that Blizzard is showing clear favor to the Horde with 5.3 content and that the Alliance don’t have as immersive or enriching of an experience on their side of the fence.  I haven’t brought an Alliance character through, but I will just point out that since the beginning of World of Warcraft, the Horde have been claiming that the devs are favoring the Alliance while the Alliance claim that the devs are favoring the Horde.  I played both sides of the same server once and let me tell you, the arguments were exactly the same except for the faction names being switched around.  Even if there really was “favoritism” going on in this patch, I can almost guarantee you that 5.4 will shift focus the other way and ultimately balance everything out.  Mists of Pandaria is proving to have one of the most intricate and expansive storylines yet, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s that there’s always a method to the madness.  I have complete confidence that by the end of the Mists content, everyone will be sitting in there chairs going “OHHH!  That’s where they were going with it!”

In addition to drawing out the dramatic tension in the storyline, 5.3 is also serving as a great catch-up for those who don’t have regular access to raids, are trying to gear out alts, or who have just started playing.  During the Battlefield: Barrens event, players can complete a weekly quest to gather 100 each of four different materials and turn them in to receive one Radiant Mojo.  When combined with a piece of Latent gear, which has a decent chance to drop off of the very mobs being killed to complete the quest or can be purchased in exchange for more materials, the Radiant Mojo will create a piece of item level 489 gear specific to the player’s spec and class (489 is on par with Valor gear).  In one week, I ended up with three sets of shoulders, a pair of pants, and a belt.  Before combining them with the mojo, the items aren’t soulbound, meaning you can trade with other players for pieces you need, sell them for profit, or send them to alts.  It’s an amazing alternative to having to grind out the “oldschool” Pandaria reputations and run heroics ad nauseum to get Valor points — the payout for heroic runs in Mists versus Cataclysm is incredibly small.  With each patch, Blizzard has been making it easier for players to get caught up with their rep.  In 5.1, we got commendations that would allow all characters on our account to receive a major boost to rep gains as long as one character had received at least Revered status with the faction that the commendation was purchased from.  5.2 gave us work orders on our farm and the ability to “star” reputations while running dungeons for extra reputation towards that faction once per day.  Golden Lotus rep is no longer required to serve as a gateway for Shado-Pan and August Celestials quests.  The Latent gear offers an alternative to the grind so that new or hopelessly behind players can focus on newer reputations that offer higher item level rewards.

That’s the beauty of 5.3 — it offers multiple ways to achieve a goal.  Besides the alternate path to 489 gear, which is easily enough to get players into LFR, there’s also several ways you can get the materials needed to complete the Battlefield: Barrens weekly quest.  Mobs in the highlighted areas on the map have a 100% drop rate of the items you need.  There’s also physical objects that can be gathered, like barrels of oil or crates of meat, and have a chance to yield more materials than individual mob kills.  Occasionally a caravan, laden with the precious materials you require, will start out from one area in The Barrens and require your protection from raiders on the way to its destination.  Keep the caravan safe, and you’ll be given a crate of bonus supplies that contains a fair chunk of each of the kind required to complete your quest objectives.  If a caravan is overturned, those who get to the site quickly enough will find its contents strewn through the wreckage for yet another quick burst towards completion.

Arguments are, of course, being made that Blizzard is rewarding players who are one or all of the following:

  • lazy
  • noobs
  • casual
  • scrubs
  • (insert colorful accusation of homosexuality here)

Still others are sitting around in their gear from heroic Throne of Thunder and complaining that it isn’t fair because none of the gear offered in Escalation is an upgrade for them.  So essentially, those ranting about the Latent gear are either elitist or greedy, and definitely selfish.  These are the kids on the playground who want first pick of the swings and don’t mind pushing the smaller kids down into the dirt to get to them.  If they’re not having fun, then why should anyone else be allowed to have fun?  I imagine they’re also the type who, when losing at a board game, scream “I WIN” and knock all the pieces onto the floor.  As a funny sidenote, I’ve also noticed that most of these same kids claiming to be “oldschool” players who remember what the game was like “before easy mode” started playing World of Warcraft a full two or three years after I did.  If I really wanted to be a jerk, I could give these bullies a taste of their own medicine, but I’m more concerned with watching the player base grow rather than trying to impose some sort of social restriction that if you started playing after x date, you’re not allowed to do anything.  Oh noes, the purples are accessible to everyone!  The Legendary questline still isn’t.  Hell, I still need like 15 of the Sigils from the first part; I just don’t have the time or the patience to get them, and I’m fine with that.  So is every other casual player I know.  The hardcore and progression-based raiders are going to make up the majority of the I Haz Orange Weapons club.  The devs are not vomiting max-level gear all over everyone quite as freely as the vocal naysayers would have us believe.  It’s going to be okay, guys.  I promise.

Beyond the gear and the inevitable controversy surrounding it, we also get six heroic scenarios!  Hurray!  They are definitely more of a challenge than the original batch — bring your best game and halfway-decent gear if you want to succeed — but they’re still a quick and enjoyable way to get Valor points.  Even with the alternate path to Valor-quality gear, the Upgrade ethereals are back, and with reduced Valor and Justice costs.  Pet battles have been retooled a bit with regards to hit chance, and tooltips will now reflect this as a way to help battlers decide which attacks to use.  A new chapter of Raiding With Leashes has opened up with the obtainable pets dropping off of Burning Crusade-era raid bosses; finally, an excuse to go back to Karazhan!  There’s also one obtainable from turning in a Radiant Mojo to the Darkspear quartermaster at Razor Hill, a handful now available off of Throne of Thunder bosses, some Isle of Thunder and Isle of Giants drops, and a new wild pet for Northrend, which has the misfortune of being called an Unborn Val’kyr and looking like a baby angel.

There’s still a lot of value to Escalation, even if it doesn’t have the same epic scope to it as the other content patches.  The Battlefield: Barrens quest, however, is being treated as a world event, which means that it’s quite likely to disappear at some point, so get it done while you can!  My recommendation to avoid burnout (400 total materials is a pretty steep order to grind out, even if it is only once a week) is to split it up over 4 days.  With no new batches of dailies or factions to grind to Exalted, the general theme seems to fit right in with Vol’jin and his Darkspear trolls: “Take it easy, mon.”

Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?

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One of my favorite parts of World of Warcraft is getting to celebrate the holidays in-game.  It’s a week or two of festive decorations, chances at special vanity items, and themed fluff quests to serve as a distraction from the regular grind.  There are Azerothian counterparts for the major American holidays — Hallow’s End for Halloween, Pilgrim’s Bounty for Thanksgiving — and even versions of holidays from around the world, such as Day of the Dead and Chinese New Year.  Children’s Week runs during the same timeframe as Children’s Day, a real-life Japanese holiday celebrated on May 5th.  The questlines are easy; just take an orphan around the world, receive a battle pet as a reward, win.  There’s no grinding of tokens or special dungeon bosses to take out, no purple gear or mounts to drive yourself nuts over.  With the advent of account-wide pets, having enough alts means you can theoretically get all of the available pets in one year.  It’s the only holiday to have an achievement that encourages you to come back year after year, which I managed to screw myself out of by deleting the character who had 2 out of 3 already because I am just that smart.

For Children’s Week, players are tasked with taking various orphans for a whirlwind tour of the world, buying them small tokens of affection, and playing with them.  It sounds tedious, but it’s actually pretty heartwarming.  The Dalaran orphan quests lead you to the Bronze Dragonshrine, where they encounter a future version of themselves who has ascended to great heights within their communities, a reminder to us all that even if you come from very humble beginnings or lives of hardship, you can still accomplish amazing things.  In Orgrimmar (or Stormwind, if you’re rebel scum), the questline ends with the purchase of a rack of foam swords for all of the children living in the orphanage, who excitedly run around with their new treasures proclaiming your excellence.  I’m still waiting to find out what’s up with the Shattrath orphans, though.  Apparently Zaladormu and the other Keepers of Time know something about their future deeds, but they’re keeping mum on the subject.

The problem is that unless you know where to go in the first place, or just happen to stumble upon the quests, you’re going to miss out on all of it.  There’s no breadcrumb quests leading you to the three orphanages.  I’ve been playing the game for eight years and only this year did I find out that there was an orphanage in Dalaran that offered its own questline, which saddens me because I can’t help but think of the designers whose work is being missed thanks to this oversight.  Nor is there any kind of decoration that shows up in the cities to let everyone know that yes, there is a holiday this week, which seems like a missed opportunity considering the event’s Japanese heritage and the introduction of craftable origami creatures for the Inscription profession.  Mists of Pandaria, while primarily pulling from Chinese mythology, also shows some elements of Japanese and Korean influence; using some of the decorative lanterns and kites already added to the game could make sprucing up the cities easy.

The addition of a Pandarian orphanage would also be great here, not just for sake of keeping up with the expansions, but also from a lore perspective.  How many Pandarian children have found themselves orphaned since the parting of the mists and the violent battles against the Sha?  Character models for these orphans would be easy, since Pandaren are a playable race for both Horde and Alliance.  The same could be used for both, or the difference could be as subtle as different colors of clothing.  There’s certainly tons of important landmarks in Pandaria itself that could be used in the questlines.  Here’s a quick and dirty example of what the chain could look like:

Children’s Week
Offered by: Matron Geum-Ja (and yes, that totally is a Sympathy for Lady Vengeance reference)
Objective: Use the Pandarian Orphan Whistle to summon your orphan.
Turn-in: Orphan

An Inky-Dink Operation
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to walk on the mystical waters of Inkgill Mere.
Turn-in: Orphan

Doin’ Fine At The Shrine
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective (Horde): Take your orphan to the Shrine of Two Moons.
Objective (Alliance): Take your orphan to the Shrine of Seven Stars.
Turn-in: Orphan

Just Tillin’
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to the market at Halfhill.
Turn-in: Orphan

I Wanna Go Fast
Prerequisite: “An Inky-Dink Operation,” “Doin’ Fine At The Shrine,” and “Just Tillin'” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Enter the Sky Race with your orphan.
Note: This is done like the “Ridin’ the Rocketway” quest in Azshara, where the player enters a cloud serpent vehicle with their orphan out and the two are taken on a scripted flight path around the racetrack.
Turn-in: Orphan

It’s Bugging Me…
Prerequisite: “An Inky-Dink Operation,” “Doin’ Fine At The Shrine,” and “Just Tillin'” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to meet the Klaxxi at Klaxxi’vess and buy them an Amber Figurine.
Note: Amber Figurine purchasable from Klaxxi Quartermaster only while this quest is active.
Turn-in: Orphan

Back To The Orphanage
Prerequisite: “I Wanna Go Fast” and “It’s Bugging Me” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Return to Matron Geum-Ja with your orphan.
Turn-in: Matron Geum-Ja

The reward for completing the entire quest chain, in keeping with the spirit of the other Children’s Week lines, would be a choice of battle pet:

Of course, the design team has their hands full right now with the upcoming 5.3 patch and future storyline patches to expand our Pandarian adventures, so it’s likely that deviating from those deadlines to update a once-a-year event with new content won’t be happening anytime soon.  That being said, I’ve got my fingers crossed that they take a moment to re-evaluate School of Hard Knocks, an achievement required for the For the Children meta-achievement which is, in turn, part of the significantly larger What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.

It seems like I’m not the only one out there bemoaning this achievement, either.  I somehow managed to get it completed back in 2009, but The Fiance is playing through the Children’s Week content for the very first time and I’m finally able to see what a colossal time-sink and pain in the ass it really is in its current incarnation.  It’s standard for the holiday meta-achievements to include at least one PvP achievement, which I think is only fair; after all, designers have to cater to both the PvP and PvE players out there as best as they can in order to keep either side from feeling neglected.  The problem is that the objectives for this particular achievement leave both camps out in the cold.

Let’s look at the PvPer’s plight: during Children’s Week, the required battlegrounds are inundated with inexperienced and undergeared players who are only in there to get their achievement.  The players who are there to earn honor and who are actually concerned with victories have to spend this entire week gritting their teeth and expecting a string of losses.  I was watching when The Fiance entered a battleground and was promptly kicked because he had his orphan out.  Simply put, the general attitude coming from the PvP group seems to be “we don’t want you here,” and I understand their frustration.  It’s the equivalent of trying to do a raid and having the other 24 members show up in greens without having read any boss strategies beforehand.  Does it excuse the insults and harassment being flung around?  No, not at all, but tensions are definitely running much higher than normal this week.

The Fiance is not a PvPer.  He had fun doing the easier battleground achievements in Winter’s Veil and Hallow’s End, but he isn’t interested in PvP otherwise.  He doesn’t have a PvP set or spec.  He plays on a PvE server because he wants to avoid PvP situations as much as possible.  Without basically being carried through each objective, he has zero chance of being able to complete the achievement.  Instead of making progress, he’s being called every nasty name in the book, singled out by the opposing faction, excluded from groups where he might have the opportunity to get the achievement out of the way… if Hard Knocks wasn’t required for the metas, he wouldn’t even “inconvenience” the PvPers by entering their battlegrounds to begin with.  But he has his sights set on the Violet Proto-Drake mount, so his only option is to either keep trying and failing, or giving up altogether.

School of Hard Knocks should not be removed from the requirements.  The holiday events already have a strong lean towards PvE, and just as there are many PvE players who would rather eat their own hand than enter a battleground, there’s plenty of PvPers for whom having to do regular quests or any kind of PvE content is a slow, agonizing death for their enjoyment of the game.  Including a PvP element for them is the best way to throw them a bone that doesn’t involve the addition of an entire alternate line of achievements that cater to their preferred play style — it’d be cool to have both PvE and PvP paths that lead to the same end, but would require a great deal of work to implement.  The trick here is to simplify the objective itself so that it is still enjoyable for PvPers, but not completely out of reach of those who choose to focus on PvE.  Currently, for completion, a player needs to summon his orphan and:

  • Capture the flag in Eye of the Storm
  • Assault a flag in Arathi Basin
  • Assault a tower in Alterac Valley
  • Return a fallen flag in Warsong Gulch

These are all highly-specific events that can quickly become impossible when you’re fighting against 29 other players to complete them.  There aren’t enough opportunities in a single 15 vs. 15 round of Eye of the Storm to capture the flag.  Some serious teamwork is required in order to make these happen, and while Blizzard as of late has been trying to encourage social play and working together within the game, it’s a lesson that’s just not sticking.  Whether it’s because we’re all jaded after eight years of play and have, in turn, caused even newer players to exhibit that same malaise when it comes to being considerate, or perhaps due to the lack of accountability for one’s attitude that seems to have tagged along with the implementation of cross-server groups, expecting an entire battleground to “play nice” has sadly become a mark of naivete.  Without being lucky enough to find a pre-made group specifically going for the achievement — I keep seeing this suggestion, but have yet to actually see it implemented — there’s just no way it’s going to happen.

If the objective were changed to something much more general, such as tasking the player with winning 10 battleground matches or getting 100 honor kills with their orphan present, there would still be an element of challenge and dedication required in order to complete the achievement, but it would be much more accessible for non-PvPers.  It would put it more in line with the difficulty level of G.N.E.R.D. Rage or With A Little Helper From My Friends, a welcome change from its current status as the hardest PvP achievement required for any of the holiday metas.  PvPers might even see some of their frustration alleviated as the focus shifts from completing specific tasks within the battleground itself and more towards playing to win, meaning that even those who usually are PvE-only will be putting their best foot forward to ensure victory.  Until these tweaks are made, however, I feel bad for The Fiance and all of the other players who will be kept from receiving their proto-drake this year because of this single achievement.

 

Children’s Week is pretty enjoyable in its current incarnation, but with even the most minor of changes could still be better.  Much like the orphans we’re asked to take care of, all it really needs is for someone to remember to come and visit it from time to time.

 

 

 

Overlord Bunny And The Podcast Extravaganza (And Some Other Words About Words)

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Today I was present as a guest on LowPopWow’s sixth episode, which focused on community-building.  It’s available for download/listen on their Twitch channel, and should be uploaded (along with a few other episodes) to Stitcher and iTunes fairly soon!  I really enjoyed the experience a lot — it was a much different interview style than I’m used to, extremely structured, more like an actual panel at a convention than anything.  Practice, maybe, for the future?  Hathorr is a fabulous host with a voice that’d make any NPR broadcaster feel woefully inadequate.

About halfway through our recording I got an email from Ghemit of the Let’s WoW! podcast asking if I could fill in for his co-host Dae for the evening, since real life apparently crit her for like 74692764 and prevented her from being able to do the show.  How could I turn down an offer like that?!  Though Dae was sorely missed, we had a great time with Rongar of Hearthstone Cast fame talking about Hearthstone and what excited us all the most about its impending release, as well as delving into the wonderful world of roleplaying in World of Warcraft.  There’s a rough/temporary version of it up on the Let’s WoW! Twitch channel, though Ghemit will undoubtedly have it up on Podbean, Stitcher, and iTunes within the next couple of days.  He’s an industrious sort like that!

I really can’t wait to do more podcasting.  I’m toying with the idea of a “Let’s Play”-type Twitch channel for myself, where I could really go through all of the various zones and instances and apply a designer’s perspective to them, highlighting details, bugs, et cetera, but in the meantime, I’d love to be back on LowPopWow and Let’s WoW! again!  There’s also a laundry list of other podcasts I’d love to be a guest on, and I’m hoping that in the very near future I’ll have more announcements for everyone about my guest appearances!  And maybe I won’t be all hopped up on Nyquil by then!  (Seriously, I am so sorry to anyone who had to listen to my gravelly/more nasal than usual rambling today.)

I actually did a little bit of listening to the recordings today and was somewhat disheartened to hear that the aphasia I’ve been having to deal with as a side effect of my old medication hasn’t resolved itself as completely as I thought it had.  There’s a few instances where I can hear myself struggling for words, slurring my speech, and flat-out using the wrong verbage.  Aphasia is a neurological issue that messes with the speech and/or language centers in my brain and occasionally makes me sound like a dolt, something I certainly don’t need any help with in my day-to-day life.  Imagine being onstage in front of a thousand people and without ever having read the script, so you have to think as fast as you can to cover up for it and ad-lib your way through the play you’re in.  You’ll probably get some of it right, but you’re also going to screw up a bunch of it by spouting off random nonsense because to you, it sounds like it maybe fits the scene.

That’s a pretty complex analogy, I know, so here’s an example: I want to say “I insist upon it,” but what comes out is “I exist upon it.”  The word is close, but definitely not correct.  I know the definition of “insist” and “exist” and if you asked me to write the sentence down on a piece of paper, I could do it perfectly.  It just gets messed up when it goes from my brain to my mouth.

I know that it’s not something I can really control, so I shouldn’t be upset with myself, but it’s a terribly embarrassing issue to have.  Those not in the know usually think that I’m a.) drunk or b.) unintelligent and trying to sound smart by using words I don’t know the meaning of.  When I slur the pronunciation of a word, most people will laugh and ask “You mean ___?” and though I’m pretty sure they aren’t trying to be dicks about it, I want to cry every time.  I know how the word is pronounced.  My brain is just not cooperating.  And should I have to stand there and struggle to come up with a word, they just assume I’m not paying attention or that I’m an airhead.  It’s common for people to not be able to think of a word once in a while.  For me, it’s more like I can’t think of any words because part of my brain has just decided to turn all the lights off for a while.  As a writer and hopefully soon-to-be game designer, it’s mortifying, because good communication is part of the job description.  I am a good communicator, I really and truly am, especially when it comes to writing, I just have a temporary setback right now while the damage that the Lamictal did to my body and my mind undoes itself.  Trying to explain this to people and desperately hoping that they’ll understand and not hold it against me is a terrifying thing.

The aphasia gets worse when I’m under stress, tired, or taking medication that spaces me out, such as — you guessed it — Nyquil.  There’s always a certain level of anxiety I deal with when verbally communicating with people, mainly because I have to think a little harder to sound “normal.”  On top of that baseline, this weekend my mother managed to drill through her hand while working on a DIY project which resulted in an emergency room visit, one of the mice passed away of unknown causes, and just this morning I was startled awake very early by a crashing noise in the living room that ended up being the cat getting into the mouse cage and killing another of the mice, who happened to be the sweetest, cuddliest, most loving of the bunch.  My weekend, as you may have gathered, has been a fairly large pile of shit, not even counting all of the sleepless nights and highly uncomfortable days I’ve spent before that with The Plague.  It’s like a perfect storm of failure on my end.

I’m not trying to make excuses or get pity, more that I’m troubled by it to the point that I really feel the need to explain myself and maybe educate a few people here and there on some of the weirder things that can go haywire with the human brain.  And to a degree, I think I just need to talk about it for my own sanity rather than trying to pretend like losing partial control of my faculties doesn’t scare the everliving crap out of me, even if it is a problem that should eventually go away on its own.  But until it does, purple monkey dishwasher, I suppose.

It Burns When I PvE

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It’s hard for me to admit to this, but I’m starting to get burnt out on playing World of Warcraft.

There’s a lot of guilt because of it.  My career goals haven’t changed — not one bit.  Warcraft team, I will be in you.  Designing stuff for the game hasn’t lost its shine in any way, shape, or form.  Just because I’m finding myself out of things to do in-game doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep imagining and planning out things that I wish I could do.  But even still, I feel like a traitor, or like the entire dev team is sitting there shaking their head right now and saying “oh man, Overlord Bunny, you’re on the blacklist 5-ever” which is longer than 4-ever, don’t you know.  Azeroth has been a second home to me since three months after the release of vanilla.  Now it feels almost like turning my back on an entire community.

The good news is that I’m fairly certain it’s not a permanent burnout.  I’ve done this once or twice before, taken a month or so off and focused on other games and hobbies, only to get The Urge™ and end up logging back in.  The longest hiatus was between the end of Wrath of the Lich King and the tail end of Cataclysm, and even then I couldn’t resist its siren call, because quite frankly, Everquest II wasn’t cutting it.

In the meantime, I’m left to wonder what exactly triggered the change of attitude, from being excited to log in and spend an entire Saturday pew-pewing to practically needing to give myself a pep talk just to log in and harvest my farm.

To begin with, I’m still a little out of sorts from my 2600-mile move from Florida to California.  I totally stuck the landing and am happier being here again than I ever could be anywhere else, but there’s still an adjustment period to contend with.  It’s been nearly 10 years since I was last in California and a lot has changed (for the better, in my opinion).  I have a real family again, since my mother and stepfather are both here.  The Fiance has gone from living four hours south of me to sleeping next to me every night.  And for the first time in a very long time, I actually have the energy to do things.  My days of staying up till 6 a.m. and waking up at 2 p.m. are over.  Nor am I afraid of leaving the house anymore; I try to find any excuse to go somewhere at least once per day.

Then there’s the job hunt.  I’ve still got a load of applications in with Blizzard, but in the meantime, I’m looking for something temporary and part-time that I can actually do.  Though I’m no longer taking the meds that basically poisoned me, I still have some pain when walking or standing — not crippling like it originally was, but still severe enough that if I can’t sit down periodically it will reach that point.  This takes retail jobs off the table, and desk jobs around the area seem to be universally full-time, which means I won’t have enough time to work on what I need to work on in order to get my dream job.  It’s on my mind constantly.  As it stands now, I’m likely going to end up doing nerdy crafts and baked goods on Etsy and some local markets and hope that it brings in enough income to cover my cell phone, mercifully the only bill I have right now.  Getting the Etsy store set up, however, requires inventory, and inventory requires crafting my little fingers down to the nub for the greater part of the day.

Within the context of gaming, I did a fairly stupid thing by shotgunning five characters to level 90 back-to-back.  Yes, I have my Quintessential Quintet to shove in people’s faces in lieu of a wang, but when thinking of leveling yet another alt, I want to curl up in the fetal position and whimper “no moooooore!” for a week and a half.  I haven’t yet experienced all of the revamped content from Cataclysm with either faction, this is true, but the idea of having to redo Hellfire Peninsula ever again is killing me, which is part of the reason that my Ultimate Fantasy Project would be to handle the redesign of all Burning Crusade content.  Seriously, just shove me in front of a computer and pay me in tacos and nerdy T-shirts, and I will be your revamp-monkey.  At least it’s still got more replayability than SWTOR, but that’s kind of like saying that cancer is better than AIDS.

I’ve maxed out my rep with all of the Pandaria factions.  I’ve had Pandaren Ambassador since before 5.1 and its delicious commendations were released.  I had exalted with Dominance Offensive and the Sunreaver Onslaught about two, maybe two and a half weeks after they came out.  Sure, I could go back and farm my way to exalted with the pre-Pandaria reputations that I’m missing, but it’d require facing that old content that makes my eyes cross.  I’ve done at least LFR for everything up to Thunder King, but I honestly don’t feel like I have the patience right now to continue on with it, even though my gear more than meets requirements.  A big part of that is because I always loved raiding with friends, and right now a good chunk of my “minions” are on hiatus, so I’m stuck playing with strangers.  I joined a raiding alliance with an awesome guild on Thorium Brotherhood after having a really great experience with them a few weeks back, but while I’m still getting settled in here, it’s hard to devote that time to sitting down and raiding, no matter how badass of a group of people they are.

Another huge part of my “meh” attitude towards raiding, to be honest, comes from my own guild.  When I started Torchwood Institute, it was supposed to be for me, The Fiance, and our friends and family.  Our attitude towards raiding was pretty much “we’ll get to it eventually.”  It wasn’t going to be progression-based, attendance wasn’t going to be mandatory… Hell, we weren’t even sure if we’d be doing it every single week.  But then a couple of old gaming buddies started getting a little more into the idea of raiding than the rest of us.  I found myself watching them pull their mains out of Torchwood Institute to join progression-based guilds and suddenly the feeling became “Oh shit, if I don’t start trying to throw raids together, I’m going to completely lose them.”  There’s a certain level of pressure on me now that’s started to tip the scales from “fun pasttime” to “job.”  Now, under more pressure from other guild members to open up recruiting, we have a bunch of strangers in the guild who barely talk and give the impression that they’re just there for the XP and rep bonuses.  One guildie in particular is constantly hounding me for special favors and titles because he’s the one who brought them in to begin with.  Many nights I’ve sat there, finger hovering over the “character transfer” button, and thinking about just leaving the guild in his hands and running away to Kil’rog or Lightbringer or Proudmoore where I could start over fresh, or just give up on guild leadership for a while and join up with some friends of mine there.  But then in comes that pesky guilt thing again.  I convinced a handful of people who I really wouldn’t want to leave behind to re-up their accounts and transfer characters in the first place.  Running out on them would be, for lack of a better term, a “bitch move.”

The server we’re on, to be honest, never felt like home to me.  I rolled there in the first place because a friend of mine recommended it, swearing up and down that he’d come play with us, and then promptly cancelled his account for good before I was even finished setting up my first new toon.  Uldum is apparently notorious for being a “dead server” with a crappy economy, none of which he bothered to mention, and I sometimes wonder if he was trolling me when he told me to transfer there in the first place.  None of us can afford to simply transfer all of our toons off, so we’re kind of stuck where we are.  There’s even more guilt now because I feel like a horrible guild master for not researching the server more thoroughly before roping everyone in instead of just taking someone at their word.

In the meantime I’ve been trying to clear out the backlog of games that I’ve got downloaded on my computer.  Last year I dropped about $200 on the Steam Summer Sale, only to neglect the whole library in favor of World of Warcraft.  The Fiance bought me Skyrim and all of the DLC for it at Christmas which I’ve just started to delve into in the past couple of months.  I finally finished Wings of Liberty and am working my way through Heart of the Swarm.  With our peripherals combined, my stepdad and I have a complete Rock Band setup, which I expect will be put to good use plus a few bottles of Shock Top.  And maybe I should feel a bit more heartened over the fact that even with non-Warcraft IPs, my designer’s eye is still wide open, breaking down and absorbing everything I play and finding inspiration in the most seemingly obscure of places.

Work, work.

Noblegarden: It May Be Noble, But It Ain’t Novel

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Either I just have a lot to say lately, or I’m subconsciously going on a blogging binge because I know that for the next two weeks I’m going to be pretty much off the grid while I drive across the country with my mother and The Fiance and make my bunny den of iniquity anew in Irvine, California.

Originally I was going to write a joke review of Blizzard’s prank line of kids’ computer games in celebration of April Fool’s Day (which, incidentally I would play the Hell out of even as an adult), but there’s more important things that need to be dealt with here, namely the Noblegarden event and just how frustrating and outdated the damn thing really is.

I completed Noblegarden, the World of Warcraft version of Easter, in 2009 according to the date stamp on my achievements.  Even back then, it was a major pain in the ass for relatively little payoff, other than some RP costumes and a companion pet.  There was no special dungeon fight as there is in Brewfest and Hallow’s End, no crafting patterns like the ones offered by Winter Veil and the Lunar Festival… of the in-game holidays, Noblegarden was pretty much one extremely lame duck.  Tokens in the form of Noblegarden chocolates could be obtained by doing circuits around various towns in the beginning zones until you were dizzy and hoping that you were able to click on the holiday eggs containing them before one of the other 100 people trying to do the same thing did.  I got my Spring Rabbit and the achievements for the What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been meta and swore never again.

This year, however, The Fiance is playing World of Warcraft with me and since he’s new, he doesn’t have any of the Noblegarden stuff.  I’ve helped him with most of the others whenever possible, so I decided to log on today and see if the celebration had changed at all in the past four years.  Technically it had, in two very vital ways:

  1. Now there’s a mount you can buy for 500 chocolates
  2. CRZ is enabled in the egg-hunt areas

Holy rabbit shit on a shingle, Batman, I regret complaining about how hard it was to get eggs all those years ago.  The effects of cross-realm zoning extend past merely dumping tons of extra competition onto everyone; oh no, now we get to experience the delays caused by CRZ, where it takes one or two seconds for the game world to “update,” meaning you could have just blown past a whole group of eggs and not realize it until it’s too late.

The spirit of competition in Noblegarden is just flat-out ugly.  You’ve got people swearing at you, insulting your sexuality, and threatening to kill your dog through every conceivable channel of communication for getting to an egg before them, even if you did so in a completely fair-and-square way.  Players are using the biggest mounts they can to park on top of eggs and prevent others from clicking on them.  Some are keeping the loot window for the egg open, making it unclickable for anyone else until their buddy gets there to snag it, or to distract people from hitting other spawn points (and keep in mind that if they’re forcing the egg to stay up like this, that’s one less egg spawn that can pop for others).  If Blizzard was attempting to encourage friendly competition with the egg-hunt mechanic, all they’ve managed to do instead is foster more opportunities for harassment, cheating, and overall poor sportsmanship.

There’s still no holiday boss battle — prime opportunity missed to really push the Darkmoon Rabbit encounter, especially since this year the Darkmoon Faire and Easter are happening during the same week —  and no real questing beyond the unbelievably difficult task of collecting shell fragments from 20 eggs and turning in half of your hard-earned chocolate for a woefully impotent Noblegarden basket that works like a rogue’s Sprint ability.  With so many people in the area to begin with, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference.  Most of the egg hunters I see are using flying mounts, which are pretty much a no-contest win against any temporary speed boost, especially with the zoning-in delays I mentioned previously.  Those 10 chocolates are such a pain in the ass to gather that they’re better applied to purchasing a spring outfit for the achievement or putting them towards the mount or the pet.  In previous years, I would have recommended just farming the gold to buy the pet on the auction house, but since 5.2, any achievements granted for obtaining a pet during the holidays now require you to actually earn the pet.  Just getting an extra from a friend or buying one no longer counts.

For Love Is In The Air, the charm bracelets required for daily turn-ins and token purchases could be traded or sold freely.  I used that opportunity to help The Fiance get his holiday mount, since he works full-time and thus didn’t have as much opportunity to farm the Lovely Charms needed to make them.  The Noblegarden chocolates are soulbound, and as far as I’ve seen, so are the Noblegarden eggs that contain them.  This means that he might be able to get enough chocolates despite the insane competition for them to complete the achievements required for the meta, but his chances of being able to get the mount are pretty much nil.  Hell, even my unemployed freelance ass probably won’t come anywhere near the required number for the mount, and that sucks.

Granted, the development team has had their hands full, first with Pandaria itself, then with the new content patches, so I believe this is why the vast majority of the holidays haven’t been updated in quite some time, but I’m hoping that once everything dies down a bit, they’ll change Noblegarden so that it’s actually fun.  The simplest way to do that would be to get rid of the outdoor egg hunt and take a design tip from 5.2.  The Treasures of the Thunder King scenario, unlocked on the Isle of Thunder when a player turns in a Key to the Palace of Lei Shen to the appropriate NPC, would translate ridiculously well to the idea of gathering eggs, while at the same time giving everyone a fair shot at the prizes.  There’s a few ways this scenario, which I am tentatively referring to now as The Noble Hollow, could be accessed:

  • Keys to the scenario randomly dropped by world mobs
  • Keys dropped for all players in a group upon killing either dungeon bosses or that special holiday Darkmoon Rabbit battle they should totally be doing (RUN AWAY!  RUN AWAY!)
  • Like the Lovely Charm -> Lovely Charm Bracelet conversion, have an Egg Basket item that will allow players to gather the necessary festive items (special eggs, candies, etc.) to make an Overflowing Noblegarden Basket and access the scenario

The scenario could be run as many times as the player is able to gather the items needed to unlock it.  Drop rates could be tweaked accordingly to prevent chain queues that might make it too easy to purchase the special rewards while still factoring in its relatively short accessibility (1 week, versus several other holidays that last for about 2).

Players would have five minutes upon entering The Noble Hollow to keep a sharp eye out for colorful eggs while avoiding traps and slow-downs, just like the Treasures scenario.  The current boring Noblegarden quests could be changed to lead players to the scenario, such as the first key turn-in rewarding 5 chocolates, and another few of them (plus one of the Blooming Branches or other vanity items) upon completion.  After the time limit expires, players would then be transported back to the “real world.”

Here are some awful scribblings of mine:

Because I can't tell where the core interface begins and my modded UI ends.

Because I can’t tell where the core interface begins and my modded UI ends.

The real thing would obviously look a billion times better, but essentially, The Noble Hollow is an idyllic green forest, thick with trees, little patches of sunlight coming down here and there, patrolled by guardian rabbits (no, I’m not biased, I promise) who want to stop you from stealing the Noblegarden eggs.  Potential traps could include suspicious lumps of dirt from which lots of tiny critter-like mobs will spring and do just enough damage to interrupt your gather, having different colored eggs grant different buffs or debuffs on gather, such as an exploding red egg that will only give up its tasty chocolates in exchange for doing damage, a green egg that boosts speed, or a blue egg that grants a damage shield sort of like the old Retribution Aura from paladins, where any mobs attacking you take damage in return.  Maybe special, super-rare golden eggs could contain items, including but not limited to pets or mounts.  Also, I don’t know why I made the eggs sparkly.  That’d make them way too easy to find.  I’m invoking artistic license and the siren call of Photoshop brushes.

Setting the egg hunt up this way would level the playing field, so to speak, by changing the way that current Noblegardeners are left at the mercy of area population in order to complete objectives.  The player would still have challenges to face, but they’d be the fun kind, not the “oh my god why is this guy still camping the same egg spawn site he has been here for five goddamned hours” kind.  More importantly, the dev team would probably see more players actually experiencing the content they’ve worked so hard to create than they do with Noblegarden in its current aneurysm-inducing state.

I feel like there’s some joke I should close with about how I’m a Jew devoting her afternoon to designing an Easter event, but everything I come up with could probably be construed as offensive, so I’ll just leave this high-tech simulation of what a Noblegarden boss encounter should look like here.

Making A Design Mountain Out Of A Mole-Hill

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I had to stop trusting other players today, at least temporarily, because of one jerk’s actions.

For the most part, I’m a pretty laid back guildmaster.  We don’t even have a real “officer” class.  If you’re a cool person and you make it clear through your interactions with us all that you can be trusted, I’m going to promote you from the beginning rank up to the one right under mine.  My tailor can make the ilvl 476 gloves and robes, so if a guildie needs gear, I’ll ask them to just send me over whatever Windwool Cloth they can and I’ll plant a farm-full of Songbell Seeds to speed up the process of making the required Imperial Silk for it, no charge.  I don’t require applications or anything like that to get in; all I ask before sending over the guild invite is how you found the guild and why you want to be in ours versus the million and a half others out there.  Since we’re Torchwood Institute, I get a lot of “I love Doctor Who!” and that makes me happy.  Sometimes people mention that they read our guild finder note about how we’re all older and they’re looking for other adults to hang out with, which is great, too.  Unless you flat out tell me “lol don’t care just want rep boost,” you’re probably getting an invite.

Last night, one of the guys in the guild who I’ve been playing with for years invited a kid who was looking for a guild in trade chat.  Nothing seemed too unusual about that until I noticed a few strange things with the guild bank and checked the tab logs.  I saw a bunch of withdrawals from the new guy, but noticed our number of members had gone down by one.  Uh oh.

Sure enough, the kid apparently accepted the invite, cleaned out what he could from our bank, and then /gquit for another guild without a word.

I understand that a lot of guilds out there don’t even allow access to their bank until members reach some kind of officer or trusted status, but I have a tendency to  give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  In my eight years playing this game, and others, I’ve only had to deal with one other thief, and that was back in the days when Wrath of the Lich King was still fresh.  He had been taking items out of the bank and asking other members to withdraw for him, then putting them on the auction house to make money for himself.  His argument was that there was no rule against it on our forums.  I replied that if he couldn’t figure it out for himself that doing something like that was dishonest and selfish, then he didn’t need to be a part of our guild, and if he needed gold all he would have had to do was ask us rather than steal.  Against my better judgment I gave him another chance, and ended up having to kick him a few weeks later when it became obvious that he had given his account over to a gold-farming/power-leveling service.  I have no idea what happened after that, if he ended up getting banned or scammed another guild or quit altogether.

Guildmasters usually have to take a player’s history at their word.  Unless they’ve done something so notorious that the entire server knows them as a ninja-looter or a bully (and there have been a few of those in my time), or the guild in question requires references and a detailed history as some raiding guilds do, there’s no real way to know if the guy you just invited is a thief or a botter or any of that.  I have an uncanny ability to tell when somebody’s lying or hiding something from me if they’re sitting across a table from me — as a result, no one ever wants to play poker with me — but when they’re just words on a screen, it’s a little harder to know if they’re just pulling off some kind of act.  With this guy, who knows if this was his first offense or if this is something he does on a regular basis?  He was only level 15, but alts are such a common thing that you can’t even really assume he’s a new player just because he’s a low level.  For all I knew, he had six level 90s fully decked out with the gold and items he’s stolen before.  Paid appearance, name, race, and even faction changes make it even easier to escape detection.

So I very sadly put on my Sherlock Holmes hat to figure out where this kid had gone after loading up from our bank and peacing out.  I knew he hadn’t deleted his character or switched name/faction because I was able to friend him.  He wasn’t online, but a quick character search on the official website brought up his profile and showed that he had joined another guild already.  A /who for the guild name brought up a list of all online members, and one polite inquiry via whisper led me to the guildmaster.  I explained the situation to him calmly, in private, and gave only the facts: this player was in our guild for all of a couple of hours, stole from our guild bank, then quit and joined his guild.  The GM of this guild was quite horrified and apologetic, even offered to replace what had been stolen (thankfully it was all replaceable and of course, not his fault, so no way was I going to allow him to do that), and assured me that he was going to leave the player on a restricted rank and put a note in his tab so that he didn’t forget.  I thanked him for his time, he thanked me for the heads up, and we went on our way.

I’m not going to give out the names of anyone involved, or mention the other guild, because I don’t want this to turn into a call-out.  There’s more to this than me being upset about a thief or the fact that afterwards I had to lower the daily withdrawal limit from 30 to 5 and turn off the ability to withdraw gold, except for repairs, for this particular rank.  Though by this point we only have one or two people still on this lower rank, either because they’re very new or haven’t been on enough for us to get a feel for them, it still bothered me that in order to make sure the guild was secure for everyone I had to throw them under the bus, too.  I like being able to just kick back and hang out with people rather than needing to “manage” them.  I don’t like having to put people on a blacklist.  But sometimes it can’t be avoided.

This all got me to thinking about ways to deal with this from a designer’s perspective.  Obviously, small matters such as a guild bank thief are whatever the in-game equivalent of civil cases are, and should be dealt with as internally as possible.  In this case, simply contacting the thief’s new guildmaster sufficed.  Back in the days of vanilla, you could frequently find someone sitting in trade chat sending out repeated warnings about specific ninja looters or thieves, but I never really felt comfortable with that concept.  After all, there is the chance, no matter how tiny, that this kid is brand new and like 10 or something and didn’t know that doing what he did was a major faux pas, and putting him up for massive amounts of trolling and harassment like that would be horrible.  But what happens if this kid moves on from his new guild?  Will that guildmaster contact the new one as well?  This chain of communication about dishonest players only stays strong so long as people talk to each other, and that doesn’t always happen, whether due to apathy or anxiety about bugging a complete stranger.  So how do you put together a reliable system that can’t be easily abused to let other players know who’s shady and who’s safe?

XBox Live features a scorecard system that allows you to “rate” the person you’ve just played with.  Liked them?  Leave them five stars.  Did they scream abuse into their headset or spawn-camp?  You can choose from the list of preset infractions and have a lower rating put on their scorecard, visible to anyone who checks their profile.  If you didn’t enjoy playing with them, the matchmaking system also does everything it can to avoid pairing you up with that player ever again while showing preference to players you’ve rated highly.  A few alterations here and there, and you could easily tailor it to fit World of Warcraft’s interface with a few different options.  In fact, it could probably be adapted for Battle.Net as a whole to cover StarCraft and Diablo, as well.

First things first — where would this information be displayed?  The addition of a “Statistics” tab to the Character window, viewable on inspect or via Character Search on the World of Warcraft website, could also open the door for lots of useful numbers, such as:

  • Player’s specific raid lockouts
  • List of dungeons, raids, and heroics run, and number of times successfully completed (to last boss)
  • Number of times vote-kicked (with reason recorded)
  • Number of times run in each role
  • Average DPS/heals/threat gen/etc. per run

Here’s a quick and very dirty mockup of what some of this information could look like — of course, headers and such could be switched around, rephrased, et cetera.

All numbers 100% pulled out of my ass.

All numbers 100% pulled out of my ass.

“Contribution” itself would require the implementation of a Recount-esque feature, but World of Warcraft is no stranger to integrating useful code developed by modders into its interface.  I remember back in the day when EquipCompare was required to be able to view two tooltips side-by-side and Scrolling Combat Text was the only way to see your combo points, regen, and really much beyond how much damage you were doing and how much you were being hit for.  Now their features are available in the regular, un-modded interface.  Almost every player I know runs some form of damage or healing meters to begin with, so this would seem the next logical choice for integration.  Of course, when utilizing any system of averages, there are some challenges to be faced to make sure that the end results aren’t skewed, such as in the case of a shadow priest who only heals on occasion, but is great at it when they do.  If it were an overall average, including their time spent melting faces, the number would be much lower than it should be.  If healing done was only taken into account when they engage their Holy spec, then it would be much more accurate.  In this case, I don’t know why I gave the imaginary Death Knight here 125/s healing, but I’m too lazy to open Photoshop and fix it, so just ignore it.

The “History” heading showing how many guilds a player has been in can be extremely useful information for endgame-centric guilds.  If someone has a high number here, it could send up red flags that they may be a guild-jumper who takes useful items from one and then moves right on to another.  For players who have been around for years, this could potentially skew the data, so a “Years Played” or some similar entry  may be useful here to offset any confusion.  Thus, if you see that someone has played for 7 years and been in 7 guilds, that should be less alarming than someone who started playing 6 months ago and has been in 10.

The final category depicted, “Scorecard,” would record player complaints selected from a list of pre-determined values, which is where things can get tricky.  There’s the obvious entries, like:

  • Ninja-Looting/Theft
  • Language
  • Abandoned Group
  • Spamming
  • Verbal Harassment
  • Physical Harassment

XBox Live has infractions listed in theirs for players who queue for matches above their skill level, but that’s where it gets tricky in World of Warcraft, and why I instead chose to implement the Recount system.  The numbers there can speak for themselves, rather than risking abuse of the scorecard system from less savory individuals.  Of course, there’s the risk of abusing any complaint system, but I honestly feel that “skill level” would be the most open-to-abuse option here.  I also neglected to list “Griefing” and instead used the broader complaint “Physical Harassment,” which would cover killing questgiver NPCs over and over rather than being used by those upset about being ganked while PvP flagged or playing on a PvP server when no real offense has been committed.  Link harassment, language, and spamming complaints to the GM ticket system so that a report must be submitted in order to record the offense on a player’s scorecard.  False reporting can result in a suspension or even a permanent ban, meaning that the chance of frivolous complaints being made is lessened, and in the event that they do happen, they can be removed from the player’s scorecard.

Average ratings would be generated based on how many complaints have been applied against a particular player and how many positive marks have been granted to them, although in the case of player apathy (more on that later) having the potential to skew these ratings, some very careful number-crunching will be required.  Enjoyed grouping with someone?  Right-click on their portrait and mark them as such.  The dungeon finder tool could even be modified in order to set priority on grouping you with these preferred players, much like XBox Live does, and applied to work cross-realm.

If it sounds like a lot of complicated change, well… it is, and for this reason, no matter how awesome and useful of a system this would be, I highly doubt we’ll see it implemented anytime soon.  In order for any system like this to work to its full potential, you’d have to find a way to encourage the player base to take the two seconds to participate, which can sometimes be a challenge.  Offering an achievement for rating x number of players, positive or negative, could encourage participation, or perhaps the preferential matchmaking could be enough incentive, but regardless of how it’s done, the danger would be having an otherwise great player with one complaint and no positive votes simply because no one else could be arsed to rate them suffering with an extremely low rating that they don’t deserve.  There’s also the risk of encouraging elitism, with guilds and groups refusing to play with those whose numbers may not be the greatest, thus not giving them a chance to learn what they need, but my argument here is that any guild or group with that mentality is going to find ways to exclude new players regardless of how readily available the information is.  For my own guild, the only extra stats I’d be looking at would be the behavioral ones, since we have a very strict “no jerks” policy; maybe this is me being too trust-y again, but I’d wager that plenty of casual guilds out there would feel the same way.

You know, in a way, I’m kind of grateful to that druid — at the very least, he’s helping me build my design portfolio.

The Raid Etiquette Compendium: Pinkies Up, Guv’nors

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There’s been an epic battle raging between Overlord Bunny and a sneak-attack of her Shas, predominantly Fear and Doubt, but also Crippling Depression That Makes Her Sleep 12 Hours A Day Not Including Naps And Eschew Human Contact In Favor Of Videogames And Twitter.  But thanks to a couple of hours spent sitting in front of my inspiration wall, which features some new and very awesome additions, I’ve managed to Tokyo Drift my way through the worst of it.  I don’t take it as a setback or proof that I “can’t do” this — living my life med-free, even for a little while, is bound to come with some mountains to climb.  The fact that I’ve managed to still set my feet on the floor in the morning and that I’m still sitting here in my wildly uncomfortable computer chair blogging about it is a personal victory for me, and evidence that yes, I can do these seemingly small things that a year or two ago would have been completely impossible, thus I am not completely screwed and my plans to rule as The Awesome Overlord Bunny of Irvine are still in place.  I’ve got my ten-hour loop of the Game of Thrones theme all queued up and ready to play the whole way out there.

Of course, I’ve also been translating beating the crap out of my own personal Shas into my in-game activities.  I’ve been no stranger to LFR these past couple of days, and I’m happy to say that I’ve finally gotten a severe bite from the raiding bug.  Not that I didn’t want to raid before, but the newer raids (read: since Cataclysm) just haven’t invoked the same kind of desire in me as Karazhan or Naxxramas.  Compared to the raids of yore, they’re remarkably short, and the core mechanics seem mostly the same: don’t stand in shit, do exactly what Deadly Boss Mods tells you to do, profit.  Up until 5.2, I was able to drop into raid encounters I’d never seen before without reading a single word of strategy or watching any YouTube videos and still be alive at the end.  Quite frankly, I found them boring.  But with Throne of Thunder looming ahead and a plethora of better-but-still-obtainable-for-me loot being dangled in my face, the urge to continue gearing up my shadowpriest and even starting on some of my other characters was too strong to ignore.

Am I going back to my hardcore ways?  Hell no.  Not only am I now a grown-ass woman who has left the borderline sociopathic years of her life known as “being a teenager” behind, but I’ve got stuff to do, dreams to chase, all that good stuff that really doesn’t jive well with being able to regularly spend 12 hours a week on the interwebs.  I don’t want to yell at people, and I don’t want to get yelled at.  But I do want to try and push the raiding aspect of my guild just a teensy bit more, find some new or equally casual raiders who wouldn’t mind helping me build a raid team from the ground up.  Maybe dedicate just one weekend night as Potential Raid Night, and if everyone can make it, awesome, but if they’ve got their kid’s recital or an extra shift at work, no big deal.  I want to step back into my raid leader role and lead a team of my friends and guildies to digital victory.

Proud nerd, yo.

But the very idea of putting the Official Raid Leader Hat back on has made me sit back and think about a few things.  For starters, I’m somewhat anxious that returning to that role will turn me back into the mega-bitch that I know I used to be, sort of like that episode of Community where Shirley unleashes her dark past as the YMCA bully to teach Jeff how to play foosball (started watching for the Inspector Spacetime, ended up staying for the awesome).  Lord knows that I sometimes still get frustrated with The Fiance when he asks me extremely simple questions.  I’m hoping that my awareness of the fact will help me check myself before I wreck not only myself, but everyone else’s enjoyment of the game.  Server firsts for progression don’t really appeal to current-day me.  I don’t care if we’re the only guild that hasn’t downed (insert e-peen boss of the month’s name here).  Maybe that’ll go towards maintaining my non-asshole mentality as well.  And I’m going to need every ounce of it, because most of the people in the guild right now are new raiders, meaning they’re going to need to learn the Rules of the Raid from the ground up.

My plan to hopefully mitigate some of the frustration from the inevitable wipes that shall ensue is to run training raids before anything else.  These will be practice runs in a safe space where the goal is to learn the fights over anything.  If we wipe fifteen times on Empress, then we wipe fifteen times on Empress, and by the end know how to, you know, not do that.  Once everyone’s an old pro, then we can worry about the more “serious” runs with feasts and flasks ready.

I’ve also noticed a few things in the raids I’ve been doing that have made me really consider how important raiding etiquette is, not only from the raid leader’s side, but also the raiders.  I’ve seen countless new raiders get chewed out for what amounts to an honest mistake.  Those of us who’ve been raiding since vanilla can sometimes forget that even if something is completely intuitive to us, that doesn’t mean the new guy who’s never set foot in a raid before and just started playing World of Warcraft in the first place three months ago is going to be able to figure it out on his own.  It doesn’t  make him a bad player or an idiot, it just means he hasn’t spent the past eight freaking years of his life playing every single day to the point that he can recognize homages to quests removed two expansions ago (like when I ran down the Lor’danel coast screaming in agony every time I found a dead Auberdine NPC whose name I not only remembered, but could attribute to entire quest lines and locations started by them).  Simply put, if you don’t explain it to someone in the first place, you don’t get to bitch when they don’t know it later on.

That being said, the responsibility doesn’t fall entirely on the raid leader’s shoulders.  Raiders need to also do a little research on their own.  Getting started with this can be overwhelming to someone new to the whole raiding scene, so where to begin?

1. Suit Up!

Raids have an item level requirement for a reason.  If your team goes in wearing nothing but greens, the ensuing failure is going to be epic.  Harder fights require more badass gear, and beyond that, you’re also going to need every stat boost you can get.  Stats are important; focus on the wrong ones, and your character is not going to be able to fulfill their role as needed.  That’s where something called stat priority comes into play.  Websites like Elitist Jerks and Got Warcraft? can help by explaining which stat is most important for your class and spec, and which ones to focus on after that.  How does your gear measure up?  Before you go into your first raid, find out, and make adjustments as needed.  Arcane Reforger NPCs in Orgrimmar and your respective Vale of Eternal Blossoms shrine will allow you to swap out one bonus stat for another.  For example, if your character really benefits from lots of haste, but your gear has mastery on it, and mastery is your absolute worst stat, you can take it on over to the reforger and swap part of that useless mastery out for haste.  It sounds confusing, but once you learn how to play the reforge system, you’re in real good, kid.

Also make sure that your gear is enchanted and gemmed properly.  The only reason to have un-gemmed gear in a raid is because you literally just got the item in the middle of it, and even then, if your guild has the Mobile Bank perk and a steady supply within, it’s an easy fix.  If you don’t have or can’t afford the rare cuts, go with the uncommon ones until you can.  Don’t worry about getting the super-expensive enchants requiring Sha Crystals on blue gear — save that for when you get an awesome purple weapon, and settle for the next step down until then.  Many guilds are able to help their members either by providing the appropriate augments or having a crafter on-board who can make them if mats are provided.  Our guild bank is stocked with both cut and uncut gems, enchants and their required mats, and if we don’t have it ready-made on the tab, chances are we’ve got someone who can slap it together for you.  Belts can have buckles added to them that give an extra gem socket, which is an absolute must once you hit purple gear.  DPS casters and healers can enhance their pants (giggity) with spellthreads made by tailors; other DPS classes and tanks will benefit from leg armor made by leatherworkers.  Inscriptionists can make shoulder enchants for all classes and specs.  The tweaks available to make the most out of your pewpew are endless.  If everyone pitches in and helps each other out, either with crafting items or providing mats, you’ll find yourselves geared in no time.

So where do you get this gear in the first place?  Run heroics, for starters.  Not only do you have the potential to get gear, but you’ll also receive valor points that can be traded in for epic gear from the various faction quartermasters, so start working on your rep.  Completing Isle of Thunder dailies will unlock the ability to purchase an epic belt for gold rather than valor points at Honored with your respective faction, something that’s easily doable within a couple of days or even in one evening if you’ve already bought the commendation on another character.  Inscriptionists can make themselves bind-on-account epic staves and bind-on-equip epic off-hand items for casters.  Tailors and leatherworkers should focus on Golden Lotus rep so that they can obtain patterns for epic robes and gloves (tailors can provide for both DPS and healing clothies, leatherworkers for leather-wearing tanks, healers, and DPS, but also mail gear for all shaman specs and hunters).  Klaxxi rep and kyparite are important for blacksmiths to get their epic patterns for DPS, healing, and tanking plate.  Engineers may get somewhat shafted as far as being unable to make epic guns or bows, but they can make scopes to increase ranged DPS and epic helms for themselves.  Wowhead allows you to search profession and faction databases to see all possible rewards and crafted items, so when in doubt, check there.  If after all of this your gear is still lacking in places, stock up on Elder Charms of Good Fortune (easy if you’ve been doing your dailies) and jump into a few LFR runs.

Oh, and don’t show up to raids in PvP gear.  It never ends well.  Important stats are sacrificed in favor of PvP Resilience and PvP Power, which are vital in battlegrounds and 100% useless in dungeons.  Even if you’ve got the most badass of the epic PvP gear on, you’ll still find yourself woefully undergeared for a raiding environment.  Put in the time and effort to get yourself geared up properly for PvE.

2. Glyphs Are Kind Of Weird, But Ultimately Your Friend

I personally don’t care much for the glyph system and never have.  To me, it feels clunky and tacked-on, but its benefits are undeniable.  Major glyphs will make useful spells and attacks even more powerful, and minor glyphs will make you feel pretty while doing it.  Be sure to at least have all of your Major slots properly filled (again, I say giggity) before you start raiding.  The websites I mentioned before offer advice on which are the best to use, and I strongly recommend that you consult them before making your decision, as sometimes what sounds like a benefit is actually not that great.  Minor glyphs don’t affect DPS at all and are only for cosmetic changes, so feel free to pick and choose as you wish.  You can use various reagents to un-glyph yourself if you make a mistake or decide to switch to another minor glyph.  Once your character learns a new glyph, it’ll be highlighted in the list and permanently usable, so you don’t need to worry about buying another one of the same, which is lucky because certain glyphs can cost a couple hundred gold if you don’t have an inscriptionist at your disposal.

3. Talents Are Also Kind Of Weird Now, But You Need Those Too

No more trees to mess with!  At various levels, you’ll be able to choose between three different spells or augmentations.  Some will be better than others for your particular spec, others will have limited raid use to begin with (usually the first one or two tiers, but don’t blindly follow that for all classes as some may be different) and are pretty much “free choice,” but those same websites that I’m smacking you over the head with will also be able to guide your choices here.  As with glyphs, various powders and tomes can be used to unlearn talents as needed, which is not just necessary for mistakes, but also sometimes to switch talents depending on the fight.  As a result, I’d highly recommend showing up to raid prepared with a stack of these reagents, either purchasable from an Inscription Supplies vendor or craftable by inscriptionists themselves.  They’re pretty cheap, only about 45s a piece for the level 90 versions, so it’s an easy way to come prepared and look like a professional badass in the process.

4. Level Your Damn Professions

Yes, even fishing.  It sucks, I know, but with the exception of Archaeology, you’re going to need every skill point you can get.  I mentioned above how much epic gear can be crafted by the players themselves with max-level professions — alchemists can provide flasks and various useful transmutations of gems for cutting and Living Steel for use in belt buckles and the epic plate chest and gloves, if you max out cooking you can create feast tables usable by your raid party that give some pretty sweet Well Fed buffs, and some of those tables actually do require you to go fishing.  Use your daily cooldowns and learn all the new patterns and recipes that you can.  Not only will you be valuable to yourself, since most classes have at least one self-only perk, such as bind-on-pickup shoulder buffs from inscriptionists and bracer linings from leatherworkers with significantly higher benefits than the ones you can trade to your buddies, but you’ll also help your raid team out in a very big way.  Even those of you who have chosen to go with double gathering professions can pitch in and donate stacks of necessary mats to the guild bank.

If the profession in question is one of the few that still has a particular “spec” you can choose, such as alchemy or now cooking, it may behoove everyone involved if you take a moment to check which specs others in the guild with that particular profession have chosen.  In the case of alchemy, elixir spec means the potential for double procs on beneficial flasks, while transmute spec could mean it’ll be easier to get everyone the primal diamonds they need for their meta gem sockets.  Different cooking paths will offer different stat benefits, and while pursuing all of them at once can be a very daunting task, if six out of your ten raiders take the time to each level one, you’ll have all of your bases covered.

5. Hit The Books

Most boss fights should have a “how-to” type video up on YouTube, and strategies for each encounter should be available on Wowhead, Icy Veins, and other similar websites.  It is the raid leader’s responsibility to let you know ahead of time which bosses to plan for, just as it’s your responsibility to actually study up on them and at least attain a basic understanding of what to do.  My ability to “fake it” in LFR would make me an inconsiderate asshole in a 10-man (normal) guild raid, because not only is the difficulty level higher there,  but by refusing to take 10 minutes to review the mechanics, I’ve just guaranteed that my willful ignorance is going to get at least myself killed, and probably everyone else.  Making an honest mistake is one thing.  Screwing up because you couldn’t be arsed to read an article is another.

This is also incredibly useful for training raids, but chances are that the raid leader is going to give you a quick rundown as a reminder, anyway.  Even still, knowledge is power.  If everyone shows up to the training raid knowing what they’re supposed to do, that’s more time that can be devoted to obtaining phat lewtz and having fun with your friends.

6. You Are Not The Little Mermaid, Use Your Voice

Maybe you spent hours the night before reading up on strategies, but something’s still not clicking into place for you.  When in doubt, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST ASK YOUR RAID LEADER.  Any raid leader worth their salt is going to be more than happy to clarify a point for you versus having the raid wipe because you didn’t speak up.  Unclear on how to gear your character?  Ask.  Not sure which glyph is better?  Ask.  Ask ask ask ask askity ask ask.  A great resource for learning your best spell or attack rotations is to talk to knowledgeable guild members of the same class — believe it or not, pressing certain buttons in a certain order can make a huge difference in your DPS output or how awesome your healing is.  Tanks can definitely benefit from learning the most effective way to manage aggro, as well.  Elitist Jerks has lots of information on this available, but for new players, they can admittedly be a bit on the tl;dr side or even confusing, so actually talking to a human being about it can often make a huge difference.  There’s also the Training Dummies, who have a great podcast that covers commonly-asked questions about how to raid and go into some advanced stuff like macros if you really want to kick it up a notch.

Most guilds will use a voice server once they start raiding, which means you might want to invest in a decent headset with a microphone built in for hands-free communication (third time’s the charm, giggity).  The one I use is great and costs about $40, but there are cheaper options available that will work fine as well.  As a general rule, I’d recommend a USB headset over anything, just for the bump in audio quality both ingoing and outgoing.  If you just can’t get a microphone set up or your guild doesn’t have any kind of voice server, make friends with the chat box, and use it.  Use it to tell people you’re AFK once that fifth bottle of Mountain Dew hits your kidneys.  If you’re the tank, use it to verify that the healers are good on mana and ready to go before a big pull.

By the same token, however, don’t abuse it.  If your team is in the middle of a difficult fight that requires concentration, chances are nobody wants to hear your rendition of I Will Always Love You.  Don’t interrupt other people while they’re talking unless it is an absolute emergency.  You wouldn’t like it if somebody cut you off in a real-world conversation, so don’t do it online, either.

7. Keep Your Cool

It’s easy to get frustrated on a particularly difficult raid, whether you’re the raid leader or just a raid member (gig– blah, nevermind, it’s not funny anymore).  The important thing to remember is to not be this kid.  There’s plenty of videos and audio clips of people out there just absolutely losing their shit over the game (previous link is NSFW for language) and looking foolish in the process.  We live in the age of cell phone cameras and streaming audio rips.  If you make an asshole out of yourself on the internet, someone is going to rat you out and everyone will be making memes of your meltdown for years to come.

And beyond the risk of public shame, this is a game that you are playing with REAL people with REAL feelings.  There’s zero reason to tear somebody down because your raid’s not going well or they won the roll for an item you wanted or any of the other thousand instances in which you could even remotely argue that you’d be “justified” in being mean to somebody.  You never know how somebody is going to react to the cruel things you say to them.  That person could be having a really rough patch in their life and you telling them to kill themselves for being a “baddie” could be all the encouragement they need to actually do just that.

Raid leaders have to constantly toe the line between offering constructive criticism to individual players and making sure that they don’t feel singled out.  If the sentence about to come out of your mouth contains any kind of obscenity, chances are you need to rephrase it.  For example:

RIGHT: “Hey, XxSephirothxX, can you turn Growl off on your pet?”
WRONG: “OMG YOU FUCKING SCRUB HUNTER L2PLAY TURN OFF YOUR FUCKING PET MORON”

But if you’re on the receiving end of the criticism (and it falls under the “right” category), you need to understand that the raid leader is telling you what to do for a reason.  They’re not picking on you or trying to imply that you’re bad at the game.  Everyone makes mistakes, everyone gets confused, and nobody is going to get any better unless somebody lets them know what they’re doing wrong.

It’s also up to raid leaders to make sure that they are providing a safe and fun environment for their team.  If someone is getting abusive either in voice or in chat, they need to be dealt with.  Repeat offenders should be banned, temporarily or otherwise, from raids.  It doesn’t matter how well-geared they are or if they’re good players; if they’re making everyone else miserable, they’re not worth the stress.

8. YOU ARE PREPARED

Beyond gear, glyphs, and spec, you should always show up on time, gear fully repaired, and with a supply of flasks, buff food, and any other items your raid leader might request, such as repair bots from engineers.  It’s just common courtesy.  If the raid starts at 7:30 and you don’t show up until 8, that’s half an hour of everyone else’s evening that they’ve spent just waiting around for you, assuming they didn’t replace you with a substitute.  Sometimes emergencies come up, like you get stuck in traffic on your way home from work or your kid is sick, but if you’re constantly showing up late for no reason, you’re being inconsiderate.  If you know you’re going to be working late or unable to make the raid at all, post a quick note to that effect on your guild’s forums, or let one of your guildies know if you have them on Facebook or some similar form of contact.

Don’t show up under the influence, either.  The number of people who can actually play well while drunk is extremely low, regardless of how much drinking-and-gaming prowess you may think that you have.  Going AFK every ten minutes to pack another bowl is also annoying beyond belief and wastes everyone’s time, not to mention TOTALLY ILLEGAL HI POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS READING THIS.  You should be focused on the raid as much as possible.

9. A Few Quick Ones That Don’t Go Anywhere Else

  • Don’t take loot, either from raids or guild crafters, and then /gquit for greener pastures.
  • Main spec always gets priority over off-spec.
  • Ask about need or greed for vanity items, like pets or mounts, before you roll.
  • If you show up to raid, stay for the entire duration (unless prior arrangements have been made or there’s an emergency).  Don’t just come for one boss and leave if they don’t drop your loot.
  • Don’t argue with the raid leader.  If you’ve got an alternative strategy on how to down a boss, talk to them before the raid, or afterwards so that they can decide whether to try it out next time.
  • Don’t stand in shit.  Seriously.  I can guarantee you that this will be a very important part of the strategy.  There are very few exceptions to this rule.

A lot of this probably sounds more like a how-to list rather than etiquette.  The truth is, by following these tips and tricks, you are showing proper raiding etiquette by putting in a serious yet still reasonable effort, which basically says to your guildies “Hey, thanks for giving up your evening so that we can all get loot, I’m going to do what I can to help out with that, too.”  It may sound like a lot to ask of anyone, but even in a casual raiding environment, endgame content requires a little extra preparation than regular questing.  Some people may not be able to put forth the time or the gold to devote to such endeavors, and that’s okay.  I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again — not everybody is able to or wants to raid, and that’s ok.  Raiding is not a requirement to be allowed into the World of Warcraft.  Play the game how you want.  Everything I’ve mentioned above pales in comparison to the list of rules I had to follow when I was a hardcore raider.

Obviously, with the cross-country move looming over my head, getting set raid nights together isn’t going to be feasible for a while.  But in the meantime, let me take this opportunity to shamelessly plug my guild again!  Torchwood Institute, horde-side on Uldum!  We’re level 25, have seven bank tabs, and are just here to have fun.  All levels welcome, all classes welcome.  We have punch and pie.