Tag Archives: blizzard

So, A Bunny Walks Into A Blizzard…

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One year ago, when I announced to my friends and family members that I was quite literally dropping everything and moving across the country to chase my dream of working for Blizzard Entertainment, they were mostly supportive, but a little bewildered. Some might move to Southern California with Hollywood aspirations. I moved to Southern California with the very nerdiest aspirations.

There were also quite a few people who were not afraid to let me know that they thought I was making a huge mistake and that I was reaching too high. And yes, there were plenty of times since landing in Irvine that I stopped and thought to myself “holy shit, what did I just do?” but somehow I managed to block out the naysayers and keep going.  Maybe I didn’t block them out completely, come to think of it — maybe they just served as even more inspiration and drive to make things happen, just so I could prove them wrong.

So I did.

As of March 17th, I will be rolling out of bed in the morning and into my desk at Blizzard’s Irvine campus. My official job title is Technical QA Analyst II, which is a lot of fancy-speak for “waving my arms up and down and screaming ‘I NEED AN ADULT’ every time I break something, THE SEQUEL.”

(I’m kidding, there’s way more to it than that. For one, you don’t scream out loud. You write it down, i.e. “AAAAAAAAHSGDJGSHDGSJGDKDS;”.)

There’s a funny story behind March 17th and how it relates to my family. That’s my great-grandfather’s birthday, and he was a man largely regarded to be the champion of our family. When we first arrived in this country and the local toughs tried to intimidate him into paying them money for “protection,” he chased them off with a baseball bat and was never harassed again. He traveled the world, mastered seven languages, and was respected throughout his community both here and back in The Old Country(tm). When I was little, I would call him the “lion man” whenever I saw his picture because of his thick white hair that looked more like a mane than anything.

Lions. Hm. Seems familiar.

the_alliance_by_djfoxx-d34jemd

 

Before the interview that led to my hiring, I stopped in the lobby to take a photograph with the Alliance gryphon. I don’t really know why — I just had the urge to do it. At that time, I was mainly playing Horde. But for some strange reason, I decided to hang out with those reppin’ the lions.

Then a few days ago, I was shopping at one of my favorite clothing stores and noticed that they were selling beautiful jeweled lion rings for $5. Guess what I bought.

BhRBPpGCcAAGLm7

 

Logically, I know it’s all coincidence, but I happen to be a very superstitious person. March 17th has been an incredibly fortuitous day for my family ever since I can remember, and the lion has become our unofficial mascot, with significantly less inbreeding than the Lannisters.

Of course, nothing this amazing can come through without there being a few changes. I already announced to the world that I had stepped down from the HearthPro Podcast due to scheduling issues, which was not a complete fabrication. It was more a matter of there being real challenges in getting our schedules together, but at the time having just the possibility of working at Blizzard made me hesitant to ask the rest of the team to completely rework their lives if it meant I’d only be able to stay for another week or two — and man, am I glad I made that decision now! A couple of weeks ago, I also very quietly stepped down from writing at BlizzPro after being notified that I’d gotten the position, but wasn’t yet able to go public with the announcement.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen to this blog. I may cease to update it, or I may change formats and turn it into a personal blog rather than a gaming one; of course, anything you’ll find with my name attached to it on the interwebz consists solely of my own opinions, and not those of Blizzard Entertainment or any past employers. My Twitter account will still be entirely too active and I’ll be streaming my face off via my Twitch channel (my participation in this year’s Extra Life is still a go!). You won’t, however, find me on any more podcasts, guest or otherwise, and it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be writing any more articles on lore or dreaming up game content in the community, for reasons that I’d hope are pretty obvious.

Several people have asked me what my “secret” was to get the job. I don’t have any real advice, other than don’t give up — it took me at least 30 applications and multiple interviews to get in. There were plenty of times that I was convinced I was doing nothing but throwing myself up against a brick wall and trying to make it a door, but I’d go back and re-read this interview with Brian Kindregan, lead writer for StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm and the Diablo team, where he addresses those same frustrations:

Every person I know whose career has taken them to a fun and creative place got there in a different way. So the bad news is that there’s no set path. The good news is that there’s no set path! I always tell people that the key ingredient is: you should be too stupid to give up. You’ll meet many people who will tell you that you’re not good enough, that it’s not a ‘real job,’ that they don’t want people like you, that you can’t make a living at it and the list goes on. But if you’re too stupid to give up, it will bounce right off you. You’ll meet people who you will think are more talented than you, smarter, faster, better, and more creative. But those people will often give up, and you can always be better than they are at being too stupid to give up.

Color me proud to be the stupidest bunny you’ll ever meet.

The Convention-Going Introvert’s Lament

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Before I go any further, I’d like to thank everyone who came out to my Extra Life charity stream this past weekend.  Thanks to you, I more than doubled my initial goal and raised over $500 for All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL!  Now that I’ve gotten the hang of streaming, I hope to be doing it way more often, so you can probably go ahead and bookmark my Twitch channel or follow it or do whatever you kids do nowadays (except for that, you weirdo).

The Fiance recently leveled up to The Husband, so now that he’s level-capped, we get to experience the joys of our honeymoon, which thus far have included meeting Thor at Disneyland and picking up antibiotics for him from the pharmacy following an emergency tooth extraction that took place on the day before the wedding.  Still to come is the much-anticipated BlizzCon, which is a deliciously nerdy way to wrap up our already-pretty-nerdy celebration — today is Day 2 and we’ve pretty much spent it gaming and cuddling up to watch the original run of Battlestar Galactica.  He’s so excited he can barely contain himself.  I’m both anxious to go and anxious because I’m going.

What most people don’t realize about me is that I am actually a pretty huge introvert.  I may be active on the internet within the gaming community, but when it comes to facing large groups of people in person, I’m typically operating off of complete and utter terror.  Sometimes my “autopilot” kicks in and I start cracking jokes that mask how nervous I actually am.  Just as often, though, I’ll end up sitting in a corner by myself with my headphones on or my nose buried in my Kindle so that I can completely block out the action around me.  The worst part about this kind of reaction is that nine times out of ten, people mistake it for rudeness.

I’m not a celebrity by any means.  At best, I might use the phrase “internet celebrity,” complete with quotes, to show how very much non-applicable such a moniker is for me.  I have more Twitter followers than most, but I’m nowhere close to being Felicia Day, and I don’t pretend to be.  Even still, I’m in the public eye, and that means I’ve got a metaphorical stack of invitations to parties and meet-ups that I’ve had to come up with excuses to decline, not because I don’t want to meet these people or because I think I’m better than anyone, but because the idea of being surrounded by strangers and expected to actually interact is enough to make me hyperventilate.  For example, I did not attend today’s BlizzCon fansite mixer, nor am I going to be present at the WowInsider or World of Podcasts events, despite receiving invitations to all of them.  I’m sad that I’m not there because in my heart of hearts I really want to be able to shake hands and hug a bunch of people whose work I follow, and heck, I’d love to be able to represent HearthPro at WoP, but the truth of the matter is that there is no conceivable way I could handle that much social interaction without bursting into tears.

Here’s the part where I’m sure a lot of people are saying “But Bunny, just throw back a few drinks before you go, and you’ll be fine!”  I won’t lie.  I used to party pretty hard in my youth.  I could spend hours talking about hilarious things that went on during those days (at least, the ones I remember).  What never gets talked about, though, is the absolutely horrendous after-effects of those shenanigans as far as my health is concerned.  Alcohol and I are not friends.  I can do a bottle of Angry Orchard or a beer with a meal, but that’s about it.  Any more and I risk all sorts of maladies, ranging from my kidneys going on strike to severe stomach pain to throwing up so violently it starts coming out of my nose.  By “any more,” I mean “sometimes two beers in one day is enough to do this.”  I don’t get buzzed and I don’t get drunk; I get horrifically ill with no payoff whatsoever.  Partaking of alcohol in a public setting like that would actually add more anxiety to what I’m already dealing with, because on top of everything I’d have to worry about getting sick.

This also makes attending parties, especially the type that usually break out at conventions, pretty boring for me.  I’m almost always the only person not drinking, and that makes everyone else feel really awkward.  I will hear all of the following things at some point during the night:

  • “You’re not drinking? Are you pregnant?”
  • “Wow, I feel really bad for you.”
  • “So you’re like… straightedge or something?”
  • “Why’d you go to a party if you didn’t want to drink?”
  • “Are you sure? Come on, just one drink. It can’t be THAT bad.”

Truth is, the forced sobriety doesn’t bug me.  What does bug me is that it often puts me at the center of people’s attention, and that’s about the last thing I want at a huge gathering of people I don’t know.

I also chose not to get a hotel room for the convention because I knew that there’d likely be a ton of room parties going on and that it’d mean no sleep for me.  Part of having PTSD is hypervigilance, which for me means not only jumping at every loud or unexpected noise during the daytime, but snapping awake with my adrenaline running at max at the slightest change in background noise.  I use a fan to give me a constant flow of white noise to help with this, but should something happen in the middle of the night — say a power surge, or The Husband changes the speed on it — I will instantly wake up.  In addition, a hotel room is unfamiliar territory for me, so in order to feel safe enough to sleep without risking a night of constant panic attacks I have to be used to where I’m staying.  Having The Husband with me might mitigate some of that, but there’s still the chance I’d spend the entire night having nightmares or freaking out and interrupting both of our sleep cycles.

Nor do I plan to pass out business cards or network heavily while I’m at BlizzCon.  The temptation is there, of course, but it’d be too much to juggle with focusing on keeping myself calm while dealing with the crowds.  I’ve got this terrible fear that not introducing myself to every dev there will be the one deciding factor in my not getting hired at Blizzard, but the logical part of my brain tells me that I’m being irrational there.  If anything, they might actually appreciate not getting chased down by an awkward girl in a bunny hat!

That’s no drinking, no partying, and no real networking — why am I going to BlizzCon then?

BECAUSE IT’S FREAKING BLIZZCON!

I may be an introvert, but I’m still a gamer.  I love Diablo, StarCraft, Hearthstone, and World of Warcraft.  I’m 99.9% certain that I’ll be squealing over Heroes of the Storm, too.  I spent long enough hiding inside the confines of my house, too terrified to even go to the grocery store and pick up a loaf of bread.  In that year or two where agoraphobia got the best of me, there’s no telling how many amazing moments I missed out on.  I will not let that ever happen again, even if it requires some special techniques to get through the day.  It’s sort of like that “Part of Your World” song from The Little Mermaid (and exactly why listening to said song causes me to tear up — it can apply to anyone feeling like an outsider due to anxiety just as well as it can to disobedient teenage fish-people).  I have a million games and tons of creative outlets for my writing, but that’s not enough.  I want to be where the people are, even if I’m not terribly good at being there.

So if I see you at the Anaheim Convention Center this weekend, there’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t be offended if I’m quiet or seem uncomfortable.
  • If you invite me somewhere and I decline, please don’t feel bad or try to press the issue.
  • Don’t sneak up on me or surprise me with tackle-hugs… but the sentiment is appreciated!
  • Despite all of this, DON’T BE AFRAID TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF!

Besides wandering around the convention floor, I’ll be at the BlizzPro Meeting Stone event on Saturday between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., during which I should be much more talkative, since it’s a somewhat controlled and less chaotic environment that’ll give me a chance to focus on actually meeting you lovely people instead of pure survival!

The Overlord’s Creep Spreads To Blizzard

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My previous estimation of “I’ll still be updating this blog even if I am focusing on BlizzPro right now!” may have been a bit optimistic.

It’s been a couple of weeks, and I am happy to report that I haven’t blown anything up or set anything on fire yet.  In fact, I’ve been able to do a ton of new, shiny stuff:

  • I’ve managed to build up a pretty decent library of articles over at BlizzPro — use this link to access the archives of everything I’ve written so far, including my new weekly Behind the Lore series!
  • The sausage fest formerly known as the HearthPro podcast has been inundated with glitter and raspy lady-voices thanks to my being elected as their third co-host! Though my first appearance was technically in the Special Beta episode, my actual debut as a co-host type and not just a guest is in Episode 4.  New episodes are released every Monday!
  • It finally happened — Internet Celebrity Status has been unlocked.  I now have more followers than I do people I’m following on Twitter (and no, I didn’t just go ahead and unfollow a bunch of people to get it):
    internetcelebritybunny
  • Hearthstone’s closed beta happened.  As you may have gathered by my inclusion on the HearthPro podcast, I got in.  I am a Baddie McBadderson with a win/loss ratio so crappy that the random matchmaking system often has trouble finding someone on my skill level.  At first it made me a little sad, now I take it as a point of pride that I may very well be the worst Hearthstone player ever.  Fame and fortune will be mine.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has been invaded by a small odangoed Lalafell thaumaturge named Bunny Sagan (spoilers: it’s me).
  • I toured some tiny little indie game company you may or may not be familiar with, I forget what their name is… Hurricane?  Tornado?  Oh, no, Blizzard.  I toured Blizzard.

While I gear up for an impending comic review and try to refocus my brain on Actually Producing A Blog Post, I figured I’d share some of my experiences and impressions of my journey through the hallowed halls of Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine campus, or what some might call Nerd Disneyland.

Blizzard isn’t just one enormous building — it’s several enormous buildings.  I was only able to tour the World of Warcraft hub (“only,” she says) and that on its own took about two and a half hours to cover the lobby and the second floor.  The lobby is home to the infamous Blizzard Museum, kept safe by a life-sized hyper-realistic statue of Nova Terra and a bank of computers where you can log in on your StarCraft 2, Diablo 3, or World of Warcraft accounts and kill time while you wait.  It’s also where you’ll stumble across the giant Horde and Alliance plushies that so many people take photos with, something I should have planned ahead for, since they ended up photobombing this otherwise amazing photo of myself with my tour guide, the devastatingly handsome Monte Krol:

Other than clearly being a male model so talented that he can ambi-turn with the best of them, Monte is the voice of the male goblins in World of Warcraft and the game’s Lead Tools Engineer.  He’s been with the company for thirteen years, just shy of receiving the commemorative shield given to employees for 15 years of service (they receive sword at 5, a ring at 15, and the Lich King’s helm at 20), so he knows where all the cool stuff and secret candy stashes are.

The Blizzard Museum is not only a repository for awesome concept art, character bios, and community appreciation — StarCraft 2 shoutcasters have their very own plaque in the eSports exhibit — it also features a StarCraft 2 voice changer that you can mess around with to sound like Abathur or Izsha if you follow the instructions given on how to manipulate the small soundboard hooked up to it.  To answer your next question, yes, I made poop jokes as Izsha.  I’ve got you covered, guys. (Not with poop.  Ewwww.)

The second floor of the World of Warcraft building is where all the magical creative stuff happens.  It’s home to concept artists, quest designers, and the most impressive collection of official Warcraft figures I’ve ever seen just in one guy’s office.  One of Blizzard’s core philosophies is “embrace your inner geek,” and their employees have definitely run with it based solely on their office decor.  They go all out on making their work environment comfortable, which sometimes means decorating their workspace with hanging vines, tropical plants, and dim lighting to look like a balmy jungle.

No, seriously, I forget whose office it was, but it was one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen.  I’m pretty sure he was even using a specific color of lightbulb to get the full effect.

Everyone I spoke to, even the team Leads (who were undoubtedly swamped with Patch 5.4’s impending release), were more than happy to explain to me their roles in the development process and even just to chat.  It didn’t feel like anyone was reading from a script or being forced to interact, and that sense of welcoming really was appreciated.  About halfway through the tour I ran into Greg Street, a.k.a. the infamous Ghostcrawler, and I can honestly say that he is really a pleasant and kind-hearted guy when he’s not being screamed at and threatened by the denizens of the internet JUST AS TERRIFYING AND HARDCORE AS YOU THINK HE IS.

(Don’t worry, Greg, your secret’s safe with me.)

Across the courtyard from the World of Warcraft building is the fabled Blizzard Library, guarded by more lifelike statues of Illidan and Jim Raynor.  The library itself is small, but stuffed with every tabletop RPG manual, graphic novel, or programming reference guide you could ask for.  They even have a gigantic console gaming and Blu-Ray section for their employees to borrow from.  If I could have a library card from anywhere, it’d be from there!

The tour ended not in the gift shop — sadly, they don’t have one — but in the campus’s cafeteria.  If you follow any Blizzard people on Twitter, you may have noticed them talking about how good the food is.  After sampling it for myself, I can safely say it was a better dining experience than most restaurants I’ve been to.  Vegan, kosher, and halal employees always have options available that are not just “a salad” There is an ice cream machine and a spread of just about anything you could possibly want to eat that day.  This isn’t typical “pizza or hamburger” choice, this is more like “Stuffed Greek Burger” versus “Tofu Veggie Wrap with Watermelon Salad.”  It makes sense, though, when you figure that a lot of these employees are spending at least two of three mealtimes at work; good food means they’ve got the fuel to make it through the long hours.

If you want to schedule your own tour, Blizzard’s official site explains what you need to do.  There’s no cost, and it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to see where your favorite games are born!  Keep in mind, though, that spots are very limited and may require a bit of patience to get depending on how many other tours have already been scheduled or phases in the development cycle that may see the campus closed to visitors.  All in all, it was a great experience, and only a little bittersweet for me.  Getting an inside look at how Blizzard operates has only made me hungrier for a desk of my own there.  One of these days…

Overlord Bunny Goes Pro!

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Folks, this morning I found something amazing in my inbox.

As of today, I am officially BlizzPro‘s newest editor.  This means that I will regularly be contributing news articles to their most glorious of websites so that you, the players, can stay informed of the most exciting changes in Blizzard Entertainment’s gaming lineup — live events, PTR thrills, patch notes, the works!

What does this mean for my blog?  Well, probably not too much.  I’ll still be writing original gaming articles here (I’m hoping with the same frequency), and of course, you can always catch me on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.  If you’re not much for the social networking but all about the gaming, I’m also noobing it up pretty regularly on Battle.Net as BunnyOverlor#1766 or on Steam as BunnyOverlord.  Noticing a pattern, yet?

I’m also hoping to start livestreaming my gaming adventures on my Twitch channel — I’ve done one “test” show with the fabulous Miss Bonekitty and a whole horde of stinky zombies just asking to be set on fire, but I’m still working on some technical stuff with it as well as figuring out a regular time that works for everyone.

I don’t have any articles up on the site yet, but that will be changing soon!  In the meantime, head on over to the sparkly new BlizzPro Forums and say hello!

A million thanks to all of you for your support and reads, by the way — I legitimately could not have done this without you all listening to my voice and spreading the word.  I may not be as internet-famous as some, but damned if I don’t have quality over quantity.

Swinging Sharp And True With Diablo: Sword of Justice

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Back in 2011, Blizzard paired up with DC Comics to produce a five-issue miniseries called Diablo: Sword of Justice, set a couple of decades after the Lord of Destruction expansion to Diablo II (but still before the events of Diablo III).  It follows Jacob, the fugitive son of a mad northern king, and his desperate search for answers to a strange plague of violent insanity that threatens to overtake Sanctuary completely.

No, not THAT far north.

Not THAT far north.

Sadly, not even the epic writing of Aaron Williams and brutal art by Joseph LaCroix couldn’t save us from a far greater threat than any epidemic: General Usage Comic Decay.  It happens to the best of us; a favorite comic, after multiple reads, lending to friends, and being crammed onto the shelf between much sturdier-bound books begins to show wear and tear.  The corners of each page bend.  Colors fade.  But Blizzard and DC are both in the business of making heroes, and just as it seemed we’d have to retire our individual issues to the world of bag-and-board, they showed up to save us all with the Sword of Justice trade paperback, available to preorder from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both physical and digital formats for a July 16th release date (or hardcopy purchasable as of July 9th via the Blizzard Store).

Besides being a lot less fragile than regular comic books, the trade paperback contains a fascinating appendix of preliminary sketches for each issue cover, main characters, and some of the more intricate interior panels.  It also looks badass on a shelf or left laying around for your friends to drool over, and much more “grown up” than a bunch of comic books stashed in a shoebox, if you’re one of those “adult” things I keep hearing about.

LOOK.  LOOK AT IT.  IT'S SHINY. (Seriously, though, high-quality gloss finish paper for the win.)

LOOK. LOOK AT IT. IT’S SHINY. (Seriously, though, high-quality gloss finish for the win.)

It’s also significantly cheaper and easier to purchase the trade paperback now if you missed the original release of each issue or are just now discovering the rich lore of Diablo.  At just under $15, that’s only $3 per issue, versus the inflated prices I’ve seen for the individual comics — if you can even find them, that is — often hitting as high as $50 or $60 for the complete set.

Newcomers to the Diablo games need not fear being hopelessly lost with the content of Sword of Justice, either; being a lore expert is not a requirement to enjoy the story, which stands tall on its own even with limited prior knowledge of the series.  It begins with a short recap of the fall of Arreat given in by Bahman, a blind storyteller who seems to be just another peddler swallowed up by the bustling marketplace he calls home.  A hooded figure has listened intently to his words and now, as the tale ends and the crowd disperses, steps forward to impart upon the old man his own recollection of the horrors surrounding Arreat’s destruction, but is cut short when Bahman whispers to him that he has seen a man following him in a vision, and if he wishes to escape death, he must move quickly to seek what lies beneath a mountain peak in the northwest.  Somewhat shaken, the mysterious traveler sets off in the direction indicated, and thus begins the story of Jacob…

Jacob’s homeland has been overrun by a terrifying madness that imparts an unquenchable thirst for blood and flesh upon its victims.  Even his own father has fallen beneath its scythe, ordering that his own wife, the Queen, be executed for some imagined treason against the throne.  Jacob can only watch in horror as his mother is beheaded for crimes she did not commit.  He confronts his father in his chambers, but what starts as a simple accusation quickly turns to a fight for his life, ending with his sword buried deep in his father’s gut.  With his dying breath, the King, in a moment of lucidity, cryptically warns his son that “the blood will mark” him.  Now a wanted murderer, Jacob must stay one step ahead of the soldiers chasing him if he intends to find a cure for the madness that has destroyed his family, and may soon leave all of Sanctuary in ruins.

And that’s all you get, because the story laid out in Sword of Justice is so rich that it has to be experienced for itself.  Spoilers just can’t do it… justice.

YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH

YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH

Jacob’s last name is never given, nor are his parents ever named beyond their royal titles, but the Queen’s execution seemed so familiar that I initially wondered if they weren’t intended to be the Mad King Leoric and Queen Asylla.  Asylla, however, wasn’t even a part of the lore until Diablo III (although her execution took place during the time of the first Diablo game), and her death was at the hands of the treacherous Archbishop Lazarus, who does not appear in Sword of Justice either by name or by inference, thus the similarities are likely coincidental.

One thing I really appreciated about the series was the portrayal of the two main female characters, Shanar and Gynvir.  Both are written as strong of mind and body, and neither of them are toting around breasts bigger than their heads.  Compared to most other women in fantasy environments, their costumes are pretty reasonable, as well.  Any midriff exposure is actually far more conservative than anything you’d see on a summer day in Southern California, and their breastplates don’t appear to be in danger of triggering a nipple-slip should they lift their arms too high.  Though Shanar’s costume features some pretty steep slits up the side of her skirt, there’s no side-butt or sheer panels.  Gynvir’s armor looks like it could actually withstand a decent battle, although the bottom half shares some similarities to Shanar’s; to be fair, these designs are identical to what appears in much of the game art, but I’m just grateful to see that no further artistic “liberties” were taken to hold male readers’ interests.  In the sketch appendices, there are actually a couple of proposed versions for the cover of Issue #2 that would have had Shanar in what I like to call the “Slave Leia” pose, but they were scrapped in favor of a side-view that actually has her towering over Jacob, rather than at his feet making bedroom eyes.

Shanar, a wizard with a wit sharper than any sword, only relies on Jacob’s support in the most basic of ways, such as needing his help to stand up after unleashing a particularly strong spell twice in one battle, which she makes clear is not a spell that’s intended to be used so rapidly.  It isn’t because she’s a female, and thus weaker; from her explanation, even the strongest male wizard would find himself drained in the same situation.  It’s also worth noting that she is of Asian descent, as is the wizard class in general according to Diablo game art, but not fetishized or marginalized by the use of offensive stereotypes — her dialogue does not indicate any accent or broken English, and she proves to be anything but demure.  She doesn’t throw herself at the male characters to try and get out of tricky situations; she throws it down.  In fact, at the end of the comic, one of the soldiers refers to her in a manner she finds offensive, and she happily calls him out on it.  When he continues to try and insinuate that she really wants him despite protestations to the contrary, she doesn’t back down, but makes her displeasure and disgust over it known.

The tactically skilled barbarian Gynvir is similarly independent and unwilling to take on her “traditional” gender role, shown in a later part of the story taking over a group of soldiers and chastising them for their lackluster performance just as well as any male leader would.  Nor is she written as uneducated or typical “barbarian-stupid”; she speaks just as eloquently as Shanar and Jacob.  She is fearless, and shows a great mind for strategy without which the group of adventurers would have been unable to progress.  Would Joss Whedon approve?  Absolutely.  And then he’d probably stab Jacob through the heart with space debris.

We’ve already established that Aaron Williams does amazing things with words, but artist Joseph LaCroix is not to be forgotten.  The stylized “sketchy” style fits in well with the battle-filled storyline, and the often bleak color palettes lend to the sense that evil and ruin is really lurking behind every corner.

I hear goat is actually quite delicious.

I hear goat is actually quite delicious, you know.

Continuity in each panel is typically good, with only a few errors, the most noticeable of which is a panel in which Shanar’s eyes go from brown or black to a vivid shade of blue and it doesn’t appear to be due to lighting or magical invocation.  There are plenty of bloody clashes, but none of them are overly gory to the point of ridiculousness, and LaCroix manages to capture the frantic movement of the battlefield in a way that has to be seen to be believed.

Whether you’re a long-time Diablo fan or just getting your feet wet, or even if you’re just a fan of awesome comics, Diablo: Sword of Justice cannot be overlooked.  Sanctuary — and your bookshelf — needs you.

 

 

 

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.