Thursday, December 26, 2019

No-Castling Chess

Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik has proposed a new chess variant: No-Castling Chess.

To Kramnik, the problem with high-level chess is that it results in draws more often than wins. The logic behind his proposal is pretty straightforward:
  • There are too many draws because defense is stronger than offense.
  • Castling is a very strong defensive move.
  • Banning castling keeps the king in the center, making it more vulnerable and empowering offense.
  • It also makes it harder to "link" the rooks.
Most other solutions for high-level chess have focused on introducing randomness and time pressure. This is an interesting proposal because there is no randomness at all. In fact, it's a simpler variant of chess that everyone learns before you learn about about castling. But because castling is so strong, pretty much all established theory assumes that one or both sides castle early in the game.

Kramnik is apparently working with Alpha-Zero, and he says that Alpha-Zero comes up with some very interesting games in this new scenario.

Of course, this isn't a proposal which makes it likely that humans will start beating computers once again. It may turn out that White's moving first is an insurmountable advantage with a stronger offense. And after a few years, new opening theory will be established. But for those few years, high-level chess will be very interesting as the game is figured out once again.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

First Impressions of Control

On a whim, I picked up Control, by Remedy Games, from the Epic Games Store because it was on sale for the holidays. I'm really glad I did, because it's a lot of fun. However, it's also a game where I would strongly recommend that you go in blind, because discovering everything about the setting and story is so enjoyable.

I've put anything even slightly spoiler-ish behind the cut. Here are the non-spoiler important points:
  • Control is a third-person shooter.
  • The setting is modern-day paranormal. Shades of the X-Files and Half-Life.
  • There doesn't appear to be a difficulty setting. However, the game does not seem to be overly difficult. It's possible it will get harder later, or maybe there's some dynamic difficulty going on.
Heh, it's pretty hard to try and convince people to play this game while withholding all information. But the setting and story of the game are just so interesting and well done.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Supergiant's Hades?

Supergiant Games--developer of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre--has a new game out, Hades.

Or at least, I think they do.

I was browsing Steam when it popped up. I really enjoyed those three previous games, so I went to buy it, but then paused when I saw the 'Early Access' label. The three previous games were story-based games, so does that mean this one is not? Or perhaps they are releasing the story in pieces?

The game is described as a "rogue-like". The early reviews all seem uniformly positive, with many saying that this is one of the most polished Early Access games they've seen.

Supergiant themselves describe Early Access this way:
We designed Hades as an Early Access game from the ground up. Our foremost goal was to see if we could create something great in partnership with our community -- a game that was true to our values about design, worldbuilding, and storytelling, and could naturally evolve based on the feedback we'd get along the way. Every aspect of the game, from its modular structure to its approach to narrative, flow from this idea.
What the hell does this mean?

If I buy Hades now, is it a beta where it changes significantly, and I would have to start over when it reaches 1.0? Or maybe because it's a rogue-like where you are constantly dying and restarting runs, changes to the core game don't really matter story-wise. And the story is set in stone, even if new chapters are released slowly?

Should I buy this game now? Should I wait for Hades to actually release? Normally, buying a Supergiant game would be a no-brainer. Buy it, play it through to the end, thoroughly enjoy it, and then wait for their next game.

Why do game companies insist on making things complicated?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Jedi: Fallen Order Complete!

I finished Jedi: Fallen Order today! It was a great deal of fun.

The story was really good. A fairly standard story about a padawan becoming a knight, but executed very well. The characters and voice acting were good. The ending sequence was great!

The main villain, the Second Sister, was particularly excellent. Every time she showed up, she made the game better. One of these days, I really need to write something about how video games are so much better at making female villains than other media.

I can't really speak for the combat. This is not really my main genre, and I played it on Story mode. But even button-mashing felt a little strategic, and it was nice to pull off moves.

I really liked how the game slowly unlocked force powers through the story. It was interesting how you would return to areas where you had been, only now you can access new sections because of your new powers. They did a good job with the map, too, making it clear what you can and cannot access.

To be clear, Fallen Order isn't an RPG. It's a straightforward, linear, adventure game or platformer. It has lots of jumping puzzles and sequences, and no choices in the story. If you go in expecting something like Knights of the Old Republic, you will be disappointed. Fallen Order is what it is, but does a great job of being that.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Unique Character Archetypes

Unrelated to gaming, but I came across a character archetype I've never encountered before in Edith Layton's The Amiable Miser:
Alfred Minch was an amiable miser. He didn't kick beggars out of his way when they pleaded for alms in the street. He actually smiled at them. He just never gave them anything. ... Smiles and compliments cost nothing, and he was free with them, and good at them, too.
It was completely novel to me, and yet it makes logical sense, and hangs together well. Misers are usually miserable, cantankerous people, exemplified by Ebenezer Scrooge from Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Yet that isn't a truly necessary quality for being a miser.

Are there any other unique archetypes you've encountered in games, literature or other media? Archetypes that make sense, and yet you almost never see?

Monday, December 09, 2019

First Impressions of Jedi: Fallen Order

Looking to get the most out of my EA Access subscription, I'm trying Jedi: Fallen Order next.

Fallen Order is pretty much a pure adventure game, with lots of movement and jumping puzzles. The controls are pretty good, and so far the jumping puzzles aren't too hard.

I did turn the combat difficulty down to Story mode. I figured I was already dying a lot from failing to jump correctly, so I may as well skip dying in combat as well.

The story is pretty straightforward so far. The main character, Cal, is a padawan who escaped the purge and has been hiding ever since. But then he's forced out of hiding by Imperial Inquisitors, and joins a mission to reform the Jedi Order. So far the story is pretty straightforward. Cal is a likeable protagonist, with minimal angst, which is nice to see.

The game has pretty clever use of force powers, and interesting lightsaber combat. A little too heavy on the slow-mo kill animations, but that's a pretty minor quibble. To be honest, I'm pretty much just mashing buttons in combat, rather than parrying and using combos properly.

The main character animations, and the interactions with your droid, are superb. You can tell Respawn put a ton of effort into this, and they did a beautiful job.

All in all, it's a pretty fun game. Though if you hate jumping puzzles, you may want to give this one a miss.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Vampyr Complete!

I finally finished Vampyr today!

I was having a fair bit of trouble with the last boss. My build was based entirely around stunning and biting, and the last boss couldn't be stunned! Instead there were adds which you could bite for blood, but I was having trouble with them.

Finally after a lot of dodging, buying another rank of the health passive, and going though all my available health potions, I defeated the boss with a sliver of health left!

The ending was solid and tied up a lot of the loose ends. One thing that was interesting is that you could piece together the ending from all the various lore items that you picked up over the course of the game. The game also offered some lore items during the final chapter that filled out details, even though the final conversation sequence covered the same ground.

Now that I'm typing that out, it sounds redundant, but really it reinforced the ending. A little repetition in different formats allowing you to understand exactly what happened. A lot of games miss how hard it is to convey complicated information to the player without dumbing everything down.

I did beat the game without embracing any civilians, so I got the "best" ending. It was a satisfying and appropriate ending.

In particular, Vampyr has me reconsidering my penchant for playing games on Story difficulty. I very often do so, justifying it because I'm primarily interested in the story and not really a twitch gamer. But I rather think that without failing again and again on the bosses (especially the boss of Act III), I would not have experienced the point of Vampyr. The way Dontnod used the difficulty to simulate the temptation of drinking blood for the vampire. It was an excellent mechanic.

All in all, I really enjoyed Vampyr. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting RPG that's different from the normal fantasy world. Vampyr was an excellent blend of story, setting, and mechanics. I will be keeping an eye out for other games by Dontnod Entertainment.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

December Updates

World of Warcraft

Still boycotting.


I'm working on the boss of Act V (I think). This one puts circles of light on the ground that you have to avoid, but if you get too far away from him, he pulls out a gun and starts shooting. I'm still trying to find a good strategy of dealing with it.

I do have one side-quest outstanding. I may go and do that quickly before coming back to this boss.

The Old Republic

I think Bioware messed up the scaling on the vehicles. I'm taking my Inquisitor through Iokath, and there's this one part where you have to fight 3 giant Sentinel robots in a Walker, and I'm just getting wrecked. I can't even kill one before I die. I seriously do not remember this fight being this hard.

Final Fantasy XIV

I'm slowly leveling Red Mage. I'm up to 78 now. While waiting for the queue to pop, I'm leveling Botanist and Armorer. I rather like the changes that SE made to the gathering and crafting classes. They also level extremely fast now. I can get 2 to 3 levels of Botanist just from the class quests that come every 5 levels.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Vampyr Combat Mechanics

I'm still making my way through Vampyr. I estimate I'm at the 80% mark or so. I think there's two major reasons it's taking me so long. First, I'm very under-leveled due to the whole not eating people thing, and I'm not particularly skilled with twitch mechanics, so boss fights take me a long time to beat. In hindsight, I probably should have played the game on Story. Though I rather think I would have missed much of the "point" of the game that way.

Second, there's a lot of conversations and puzzles with the citizens that I'm really enjoying, and that eats up a lot of time.

I thought I'd discuss the mechanics of the game. They're nothing greatly out of the ordinary, but they work well together.

There are three resources in combat: health, stamina, and blood. Swinging your weapon costs stamina, as does dodging. If you aren't attacking, stamina recovers fairly quickly. Blood powers your vampire abilities, which includes a healing ability, an attack, a defensive, mobility and a special on a long cooldown.

Enemies have two resources: health and a "stun" meter. Certain weapons (like clubs or stakes) can inflict stun damage, as can timing a parry correctly. If you reduce the stun meter to zero, the enemy is stunned and you can bite them and drink some blood, increasing your blood meter. Once they come out of the stun, the stun meter goes back to full.

So combat basically follows a pattern of dodging and parrying enemy attacks, getting some damage in, stunning and biting, then using the blood to heal up and use vampire abilities, and repeat.

One other mechanic is that while you are biting someone, any other opponents won't attack you. That makes it a nice break to allow your stamina to regenerate. I'm not entirely sure if this makes sense from a logical perspective (after all, wouldn't you attack the vampire to save your friend?) but it does allow the whole cycle to actually work. Otherwise biting someone in combat would be an automatic loss.

There are other options. For example, you can alter certain weapons to drain blood, so you don't need to stun and bite. Not every weapon can parry. Some weapons are fast and some are slow. There are firearms, which do a lot of damage, but because of the time period they don't hold a lot of ammunition, so you get very few shots off.

Bosses have a lot of health, and if you get caught by them, they tend to deal a lot of damage in quick succession. A boss fight can be going reasonably well, and then you make one mistake and you lose 60% of your health in short succession, especially if you get knocked down. At least for me, most of the blood drained goes toward constantly healing myself.

All in all, the combat mechanics work well together, there's a nice flow, and they reinforce the whole vampire aspect of the game.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Reconsidering the Blizzard Boycott

I miss my guild. I miss raiding. I'm beginning to wonder if I should just bow to the inevitable, and give up this boycott of Blizzard.

There was a kerfuffle last week in the Magic: the Gathering community. Their Creative department had always been reliably progressive in past. Two of the five "main" characters, Chandra and Nissa, were both women and attracted to each other.

That relationship was unceremoniously dispatched in the latest novel, with Chandra emphasizing she was attracted to men. Wizards of the Coast followed the Blizzard playbook exactly and "apologized", but confirmed the new direction. The apology was not accessible from China.

Maybe China dictating the practices of Western companies is just the new normal, and the only thing one can reasonably do is enjoy the decline. 

Nassim Taleb puts forth an interesting theory in a chapter from his book, Skin in the Game: The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority. He suggests that in a tolerant society, the rules will be dictated by the most intransigent minority with skin in the game. In our new globalist era, that's basically China. 

It's a pretty interesting theory, actually, though Taleb doesn't really address what happens when there are multiple intransigent minorities holding opposite views. In this case, does the largest minority win? Does the market attempt to offer options, to placate each minority separately?

So that's what I'm contemplating. Should I reinstall WoW or not? I really would like to raid again. On the other hand, one cannot become an intransigent minority without actually being intransigent.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Vampyr Citizens Survive for another Night!

I beat the boss I was working on, without needing to embrace a civilian!

In the setting of the fight, there is an unconscious priest. When the boss reaches 66% for the first time, she will drain the priest, healing back up and boosting her power. In theory, you can drain the priest first, and prevent the boss from healing and powering up.

I decided that--since the priest was going to die anyways--I would try draining him first, and see if that made the fight easier.

I started the fight, but could not figure out how to actually drain the priest. I'm not sure If I was standing in the wrong spot, or pressing the wrong button, or if you need to wait for a specific moment. But since the boss was constantly pressing the attack, I didn't have a lot of time to experiment.

Eventually the boss hit the 66% mark, and drained the priest. So I figured I may as well play out the fight and try again. Only I actually defeated the boss in that attempt!

There was one dicey moment in the last phase when I got really low on health, but I was able to dodge away and heal up.

Now I'm on to Act II, and the citizens remain alive. We'll see if that state of affairs continues. All the enemies in the new area are around level 28 compared to my level 21, so I have to be pretty careful.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Time for Hard Decisions in Vampyr

It looks like I'm going to have to kill and drain a civilian in Vampyr.

I'm about halfway through the game, and I'm stuck on a boss. The boss is level 21, and I'm level 18. On my own, I can get the boss to about 30%, but she speeds up then, and I cannot keep up. I've tried respeccing and different strategies, but I've come to the conclusion that I need to be higher level. And the only XP left are those tasty civilians.

So far, I have avoided "embracing" any civilians. I did cause one civilian to die due to a bad choice, so I can't get a perfect game in any case. And I think just one or two would be enough.

But which one should I take? I've been flipping through the stat pages, almost like looking through a menu at a restaurant. The vicious gang boss, who's wife is cheating on him and planning on ousting from the gang leadership? The serial killer who's the sole child and support of a genuinely good woman? An unrepentant slum lord? The hospital patient who thinks she's a vampire?

I really like the civilians in this game. They're written very well. Most of them have shades of grey, even the outright "bad" ones.

I have to give Dontnod credit for these mechanics. They fit the game beautifully, and elegantly get across that you're playing a good guy who cannot escape the fact that he is a monster.

As an aside, one other interesting thing about Vampyr is that it is an "auto-save" game. The game auto-saves often, so you can always pick up where you left off. But you cannot access old saves. If you make a decision in the game, it's pretty much final for that playthrough. SWTOR is like this, but it feels unusual for a single-player game. However, it does works well in Vampyr.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Blizzcon Apology, China, Hong Kong

Blizzcon Apology

At the start of Blizzcon, J. Allen Brack delivered an "apology". It was a very oblique apology, not one that was clear and straightforward.

One of the problems with the modern world is that we pay too much attention to what people say, and very little attention to what they actually do. Here Blizzard mouths some nice-sounding words, but never actually state what they did wrong. They did not reinstate Bliztchung, or apologize to him specifically.

The lack of actual concrete actions means that Blizzard's apology was meaningless. A speech to pacify the audience, and keep Blizzcon on track.


I've seen some commentary that many people upset with Blizzard are hypocrites for buying goods made in China. And maybe that's true. But here's my take on it.

25 years ago, our political leadership and business elite made the decision that it was acceptable to do business with China. That we could invest in China, and China could invest in us. The thinking at the time was that China would absorb our values and peacefully convert.

In hindsight, it is clear that was a bad decision. Instead of absorbing our values, China is exporting theirs. Our supply chains are too entangled with China to make disengagement easy. Our corporations will gladly enforce Chinese repression in order to avoid losing access to the Chinese market. Opening trade with China only served to empower the Chinese government.

But I don't think it's fair to fault those who followed decisions of the leadership, especially as it wasn't obvious they were wrong. For better or worse, trade with China is "normal", now. The struggle is to keep "repression" or "suppression of criticism" from becoming normal as well.

Personally, though, I will try to avoid buying items made in China from now on. I doubt it will be possible, but if I can buy a similar item from a different source, I will choose that option.

Hong Kong

I believe Hong Kong is going to end in blood. In fact, I rather think that the pressure brought by China on companies like the NBA and Blizzard is battle space preparation, showing the people of Hong Kong that they can pressure the West into staying silent.

When the tanks roll into Hong Kong, will the people who work for Blizzard or the NBA regret the stance they've taken? Or will they shrug, ban anyone who says anything about it, and keep counting their profits?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Mandalorian

Disney released the first episode of their new television series, The Mandalorian, today. It was excellent!

It's pretty much a pure space western, with a well-done protagonist, and an interesting set up. There are so many small touches that just work. I loved the bit where the Mandalorian refuses to be paid in Imperial credits since the Empire is gone, and settles for a lesser amount in Calamari currency. The makers are content to let their world-building speak for itself, without feeling the need to state everything.

I strongly recommend The Mandalorian. It's possibly the best Star Wars since the original trilogy.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Nov 2019 Updates

I have been having some trouble with nerve pain in my arm lately, making it very hard to sleep through the night. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but as a result I haven't gamed very much in the last two weeks.

I've played a little bit more of Vampyr, and I think I'm somewhere around the halfway mark. I still haven't Embraced any citizens, and combat seems to be going okay for now. However, the average enemy level seems to be pulling away from my current level.

FFXIV 5.1 was released a couple weeks ago. A good patch. The Nier story and raid are particularly enjoyable, especially for Nier fans. The forums seem to be complaining about how hard it is to win the 2B costume from the end of the raid (3 costumes drop for the 24-man raid), but I got it on my run this week with an 86 roll.

Otherwise, I did the SWTOR: Onslaught Republic story with my Jedi Knight. It was well done, though maybe less interesting than the Empire story. (Possibly that's just my preference for the Empire, though.) I liked the story of Tau and her new padawan, Arn. I also did a couple of the Onderon weeklies. A couple of them are a bit buggy, and some quest markers are hard to see in the dense jungle, but otherwise they're solid.

The new gearing system is pretty nice. It actually reminds me more of gearing in Diablo 3, rather than traditional MMO gearing. Lots of gear drops, and it's all around your current gear level, so you swap in new pieces fairly often with your item level slowly increasing instead of jumping.

I do want to write a post on Blizzcon. Hopefully I will get around to it soon.

Monday, October 28, 2019

First Impressions of Vampyr

I was going through Origin: Access looking for a game to play when I came across Vampyr. I like vampire stories, especially ones which focus on the downsides of being a vampire, so I decided to give it a whirl.

I have heard nothing about this game, it seems to have been completely ignored in my circles. This is a shame, as it's actually a really good RPG.

Vampyr is set in London in 1919, just after the World War I and in the middle of the Spanish Flu Epidemic. You play as Dr. Jonathon Reid, a former army surgeon, who is suddenly transformed into a vampire, and is trying to figure out just what happened to him. The first five minutes of the game makes it clear that being a vampire is not a good thing.

Vampyr is a classic RPG. You talk to NPCs (called citizens in the game), earn XP, and spend XP on various vampiric powers. You use weapons (knives, clubs, stakes, and revolvers so far) and can upgrade them, etc. You get "quests" from the citizens. Citizens have secrets which you uncover through conversations and documents. Some of them are ill, and as a doctor, you can create medicines to cure them.

The "special" element in the game is that by far the largest source of XP are the citizens themselves! You can mesmerize them, lead them off out of sight, and feed on them if you choose, killing them. You get the most XP if they are healthy and if you have uncovered all their secrets.

The citizens themselves are excellently written. They all have unique personalities. Some are good people, some are bad, some are mixed. The game is fully voiced, and all the actors do a great job. As normal for me, I'm trying to play without embracing any citizen. However, as I'm playing, I catch myself wondering if anyone would really miss this this unrepentant criminal citizen.

Like all good vampire stories, Vampyr thrives on contradictions. Dr. Reid is a Man of Science transformed into a Creature of Myth. The game encourages you to care for the citizens, to heal them and learn all about them. Then it encourages you to feed on them, as they now give the most XP.

Combat is probably the weakest part of the game. It's serviceable, but it isn't anything to write home about.

So far I'm really enjoying Vampyr. If you're looking for a solid RPG in a unique setting, I strongly recommend it. Hopefully the rest of the game is just as good as these first few hours have been.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Old Republic: Onslaught

This post contains some minor spoilers for The Old Republic: Onslaught.

Star Wars: The Old Republic launched its latest expansion last week, Onslaught. This expansion adds a new story, a level cap increase to 75, and some changes to gearing and some cleanup for the UI.

The story in Onslaught is a bit short, probably clocking in at about three hours each for each faction. TOR has gone back to the Empire versus Republic stories, with the Sith Empire launching an attack on a new Correllian shipyard, and various machinations around that. It's very good though, and in many ways is a welcome return to form after the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne style.

I will say that the loyalist Imperial story is perfect for an Imperial Agent, and I greatly enjoyed it. There are lots of good callbacks to the older story, along with newer NPCs.

There is one weird or interesting thing about Onslaught, which feels different from previous versions. Before, you had:
  • Original - 8 class stories in a shared timeline.
  • Makeb - 2 faction stories in a shared timeline.
  • Revan, Fallen Empire, Eternal Throne - 1 story in a shared timeline.
Now, in Onslaught we have 2 faction stories, but the timeline is not really shared. It's like many similar timelines, but things are unfolding differently in each timeline.

For example, let's take Darth Vowrawn. At the end of Onslaught, he can be:
  1. Dead
  2. A member of the Dark Council
  3. The Sith Emperor
This is a huge variation in outcomes and story going forward!

And Bioware is doing this for a lot of different elements. I wrote a post once about Story Choices That Constrain the Future. In Onslaught, that doesn't seem to hold anymore, and Bioware is actively committing to making many similar versions of the story, with differences to account for your choices.

It will be really interesting to see how Bioware attempts to deal with this design, and whether they can maintain it going forward. Or if they work towards collapsing some of these timelines back into a single one. For example, they could have another Sith kill Vowrawn and Acina (whichever are still alive), and become the new Emperor, cleaning up those timelines. Which would be kind of sad, as I really like Empress Acina. But she's already dead in some timelines.

In any case, Onslaught is a worthy addition to The Old Republic, and very enjoyable. Hopefully Bioware will be able to produce content faster than they have in the past, and the story continues.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Blizzard's Response is Disgraceful

Blizzard responded to the outcry late Friday evening, reducing the suspension to six months. This is a cynical attempt to defuse the community outcry, while desperately trying to stay in the good graces of the Chinese government.

There is one single truth at the heart of this matter: Bliztchung did nothing wrong.

He played fairly. He won the tournament fairly. In an interview after the tournament, where he was only one being interviewed, he expressed support for a political position that was important to him.

There is nothing wrong with this conduct. Indeed, it is even admirable.

There is a long and storied tradition of athletes in our culture espousing political positions, criticizing the government or the state. Blitzchung's actions fit squarely within that tradition.

The issue is not that the punishment was too severe. It's that Bliztchung was punished at all. Punishing admirable conduct is unjust, no matter how you dress it up or point to overly-broad rules.

Blizzard's response is an attempt to mollify the community, while at the same time persuading them that what Blitzchung did was wrong. That criticizing the Chinese state is wrong. Once you agree with that, the degree of punishment is only a detail, one month, six months, a year, a lifetime. The important part is that China and Blizzard have convinced you that criticizing the Chinese state is wrong.

J. Allen Brack and Blizzard are a disgrace to the gaming community and to our society. The Chinese government has ordered them to squelch dissent. Blinded by greed, they have chosen to act as agents of repression. Blizzard has gone past mere trade, and into active collaboration.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Time To Boycott Blizzard

From /r/wow's summary of events:
Earlier today Blizzard announced that Hearthstone player Blitzchung will be stripped of his price money for "Grandmasters Season 2" and be banned from participating in official Hearthstone tournaments for a year. This is following him proclaiming support for the protests in Hong Kong in a live post-match interview on stream. The two casters conducting the interview were reportedly also fired.
I am deeply disappointed in Blizzard. I don't expect them to support Hong Kong explicitly, or anything like that. Indeed, maybe they don't. But Freedom of Speech--especially in political matters--is the core Enlightenment value, the one from which all the others flow.

Blizzard has decided that preserving access to the Chinese market by appeasing the repressive Chinese government is worth betraying those values. I am disgusted by their spinelessness.

I have cancelled my subscription, and will boycott Blizzard, until such time as they come to their senses and remember who they should be.

For Blitzchung, I repeat his words, the ones which got him banned:
Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Heroic Azshara Down!

We finally got Heroic Azshara down! It's a pretty good fight. It feels crazily chaotic at first, but as you repeat it, it becomes more and more tractable. A good fight for seeing and mastering phase by phase.

It also feels like a fight where, as individuals get a handle on mechanics, especially decrees, it seems to stabilize for everyone else as well. Decrees are orders from Azshara to soak a mechanic, stay moving, stand still, group up, or be solo. Then you get 2 random ones in heroic. It's very hard at first because everyone is running around like a chicken with their head cut off. But then people start to move predictably, and it becomes easier for people with the more complicated combinations.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Oct 2019 Updates

Posting dropped off a cliff in the last two weeks. Let's see if I can do better this month.

World of Warcraft

I finished getting the Nazjatar companions up to level 30, and have basically stopped doing Nazjatar. I'm now working on getting the level 3 Azerite Essences from Mechagon.

It's weird, but I like Nazjatar better than Mechagon, but I'm not really too sure why. Possibly because flying in Nazjatar is less annoying than Mechagon. Or possibly Mechagon feels the same every time you go to it. Get chests, kill Rustfeather, do quests in the same area. Nazjatar felt a little bit more varied. Or perhaps it was easier to skip the parts of Nazjatar that you disliked.

Like all of the Alliance, I'm also working on the Bee mount. My current plan is just to kill Honey Smasher and do an event if it pops while I'm in the area once a day until Revered. Then farm for jelly with the item that shows jelly on the minimap.

Raid-wise, we're working on Heroic Azshara. We've mastered the decrees and are working on killing the Phase 3 adds and Phase 4.

World of Warcraft Classic

I levelled a whole bunch of classes to the level 10 to 15 range. Then for some reason I picked up my rogue and just ran with it. My rogue is level 20 now.

It's interesting playing DPS again. You have no control over the group and since tanks and healers are so rare, you just grin and bear it. Like I did Deadmines, and the healer seemed to be playing a game where he let the tank's health drop to as near zero as possible before getting a heal. Is it really too much to ask for people to just play sensibly?

I do like all the rogue quests that encourage you to use skills like Stealth and Pickpocket. Retail WoW could really use some class quests again.

Heh, perhaps the most shocking change in Classic that I've forgotten is that Sap takes you out of stealth. I used Sap for the first time on one of a large group, hoping to stealth past. Instead I came out of combat and was promptly slaughtered by the rest of the group. Combined with being unable to Sap people in combat, Sap is surprisingly useless in Classic.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

First Open World Death in Classic

I finally had a character die out in the world in Classic. (I did have a few deaths on my druid in a dungeon). As predicted, it was because of stupidity, rather than the game being hard.

I was on my level 13 Warrior, and I joined a group of around the same level to kill Defias. After that, the group wanted to kill gnolls, so I tagged alone. They went to the southern gnoll camps, the ones with level 16 or so gnolls. That's +3 levels, so high enough to be dangerous, but there were four of us.

Surely it would be easy enough if we pulled carefully.

After killing one mob, I turned around and noticed the healer had managed to pull four level 16 mobs and was half-dead. Like an idiot I charged in instead of running away. And shortly thereafter we were all dead.

Otherwise, I'm pretty much just making low level alts in Classic. I have 7 characters between levels 7 and 15. Maybe I should just give up on Classic. It hasn't managed to really capture my interest. It really feels like the best or most optimum way to play is to play in as tedious a manner as possible. And the game is already tedious enough.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Two Murlocs

There's a debate running in the WoW blogosphere about the difficulty of Classic WoW. I had an experience last night which may shed more light on the issue.

I made a Human Warrior and was running around Elywnn Forest doing the quest that requires killing murlocs. I came across the dead body of a paladin, let's call him Dave, near one of the murloc camps. A few minutes later, I came across Dave again. He had pulled two murlocs and was at half-health. I jumped in and helped him kill the murlocs.

Several minutes after that, Dave starts ranting in General Chat about murlocs, and how when you attack one in a camp another comes, and you keep dying. The reaction in chat was not particularly charitable, telling him to form a group, or attack the lone murlocs instead of groups.

So here you have two perspectives:

  • Classic WoW is difficult. If you get into a fight with two murlocs, there is a high chance you will die.
  • Classic WoW is easy. The solution is trivial. Don't attack two murlocs.

Both perspectives are true, but I think neither perspective encompasses the whole.

In some ways, it comes back to my old posts on Small Decisions. Attacking murlocs is a small decision. The solution is trivial, don't attack two, only attack one. It's very similar to having to deal with ammo. Don't start a fight when you are low on arrows, go back to town and restock. Many of the commenters on those posts felt that small decisions with obvious solutions were a bad idea, and just busy work. For example, killing lone murlocs isn't hard. But you have to patrol more to find them, and it is more tedious.

Modern WoW has smoothed away most of those small decisions, instead choosing fewer large decisions that occur less frequently. For example, the equivalent of two murlocs in Classic might be an elite in Retail, which may happen only once in any given zone.

However, it's not obvious that this was the right decision. Many small decisions with easy solutions, and yet obvious consequences, might be better for the game than fewer, larger decisions.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Throne of Eldraine Trailer

Wizards of the Coast released a trailer for their latest Magic: the Gathering set, Throne of Eldraine. Apparently, these high-quality trailers might be a regular thing from now on. The trailer for War of the Spark was pretty good.

This trailer is a little ... different.

As one person on Reddit put it, "I didn’t expect to be rooting for a gingerbread lady to kill Garruk when I woke up today, but here we are I guess."

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

WoW Classic Observations, Part 2

More WoW Classic observations:

  • Ragnaros and Onyxia have been killed already, pretty much putting a stake through the heart of the "Classic is hard!" crowd. As someone observed, Queen Azshara has about as many mechanics as all of Molten Core combined.
  • I was a bit surprised when Ragnaros died. I thought Hydraxian Waterlord rep would gate the kill. But apparently you can grind Hydraxian Waterlord rep in Silithus or something, so people were able to obtain enough Aqual Quintessence to spawn Ragnaros.
  • I'm really not feeling the druid. After playing a bit more and trying to analyse why, I think I just don't like shape-shifting for some reason. Druid is also the one original class I've never really been able to level on Retail either, and I think it is for much the same reason. Maybe it's part of my aversion to transmog, where I like seeing my character look change as I level.
  • I did try to tank Ragefire Chasm at level 12. This was probably a small mistake, as many enemies are level 15 and bosses are level 16. It did get better when I dinged 13 in the middle of the dungeon. Also, druid is completely missing AoE threat and a ranged pull in Bear form (at that level), so gathering mobs was a little difficult. Apparently you get Swipe at 16, in time for Deadmines or Wailing Caverns, which would have made life a lot easier.
  • I've been trying several other classes, but I really cannot pick a class to focus on.
  • We are beginning to see more and more posts suggesting that--for a lot of players--Blizzard was right when they said "You think you want it, but you don't." I think Classic is actually improving the view of Retail by highlighting the things Retail does better.
  • I think the wider WoW community is beginning to coalesce around the phrase "Retail is a better game. Classic is a better world." I've seen it posted in multiple discussion threads by multiple people, and it is always highly rated and gets positive responses. In a month or so, I predict this will be the accepted wisdom in the WoW community.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

More WoW Classic Thoughts

Tuesday was raid night in BfA so I didn't play much Classic. We did log on after the raid to set up a Classic guild, which was mostly a round of collecting silver and signatures from people running to Razor Hill. I did get a chance to play more on Wednesday. Here are some random thoughts:

  • It looks like Blizzard bit the bullet and drastically increased the number of layers per server. While this has greatly reduced queues, it will probably cause them grief when it comes time to collapse those layers. But I guess they're kicking the can down the road, and figuring that queues later are better than queues now.
  • I find it pretty funny coming across skeletons in Mulgore. You can tell that, yup, a lowbie got jumped by a few mobs and died here.
  • Speaking of which, I've seen some people claim that these deaths are evidence that Classic is hard, and I don't think that's correct. It's very easy to avoid dying in Classic. Pull carefully, don't attack more than one mob at a time, run away if a second one engages. It's more that people are impatient, and willing to push the edge. And then sometimes they misjudge and die.
  • I've got Corhal up to level 10, though I haven't done the druid quest (bear form, I believe) yet. I'm not really "feeling" the druid, though. I'm not sure if I should keep going, or try a different class. After all, I will have bear and cat forms eventually, and those might be more interesting than casting.
  • The one thing I really, really like in Classic is the chat. Now maybe this is just because it is launch, but it is very nice to see conversations going on. I do think that the amount of downtime does help, though. It's very easy to type something quickly while drinking or eathing to regen mana and health after a fight.
  • It's funny to see much of the lowbie conversation revolve around bags. Six-slot bags are the equivalent of epics in Mulgore.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Classic WoW Launch!

Yesterday, WoW Classic launched. There were major queues on many (if not all) of the servers. I was at work during the actual launch. When I got home, there was about a 90 minute queue on Atiesh. So I left it running and went and did some chores.

When I finally got in, I made a male Tauren druid named Corhal. In contrast to many of the other posts I've seen, the starting area was fairly empty. There were a few other people, but there was plenty of space for questing. It was also fairly quiet, with no chat, which I found unusual.

It's possible that I was one of the first to be assigned to a fresh layer, as it seemed like there were more people as time went on, and chat became livelier. One positive about the chat is that people seemed disinclined to talk about current WoW. Another amusing thing about Mulgore chat is that people keep losing the ghost wolf for the Rite of Vision escort quest, and have to be directed by chat to the cave with the quest.

In any case, I did all the initial quests, and grouped up with a warrior and a hunter to do the quests in Bristleback Ravine. We even found a quest in a cave that I had never seen before!

I ended up logging off when I got to Bloodhoof village, at level 5. Fun times. Hopefully the queues calm down quickly.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Social Addons in Classic WoW

Blizzard announced that they would take steps to break a Looking-For-Group addon for Classic WoW:
We’ve been closely following the community discussion around this add-on for WoW Classic, as well as analyzing it to make sure we understand how it works. After careful examination, we believe the nature of ClassicLFG is incompatible with our social design for Classic. Thus, in an upcoming patch (in the weeks following launch), we will be adding restrictions to the Classic add-on API that will significantly limit this add-on and others like it. 
In line with what we shared at BlizzCon last year, we intend to be very careful about allowing add-on functionality that might undermine aspects of the social dynamics that are core to the Classic experience, even in cases like this where it’s clear that the addon author had no ill intent and was simply trying to provide a service to the Classic community. Ultimately, if a streamlined group-finding system was something we considered compatible with Classic, we would have kept the modern Premade Group Finder tool rather than choosing to remove it from the Classic client. 
It’s difficult to articulate a clear-cut rule for exactly when an add-on crosses the line. However, when an add-on goes beyond presenting information or providing aesthetic customization, and attempts to create an interconnected social network that relies on other players also using that same add-on, we are likely to scrutinize it particularly closely.
I did predict that the addon community would attempt to replicate the "convenience" of modern WoW. But it is very interesting that Blizzard is going to take steps to stop them. In particular, Blizzard singles out the automation of social networks as perhaps the primary difference between Classic and modern WoW.

It is perhaps ironic that this is mimicking society at large. Facebook, Tinder, Instagram, Twitter. Instead of older, more manual methods like writing letters, assemblies/dances, writing articles for publication, etc.

I'm not really sure where I am going with this. Maybe the old, manual, ways were better for social cohesion. Maybe the modern, automated, ways are better as they make it easier to find like-minded people, or just to get things done without all the social maintenance required.

Either way, Classic is going to be a very intriguing experiment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Classic Name Reservation

My guild has decided to go Horde for Classic. We are making characters on Atiesh, one of the North American PST PvE servers. I think most people in the guild will be treating their Classic characters like an alt on retail

I jumped on and reserved three names on Atiesh. I'm not sure if they really fit Horde characters, though.

Going Horde immediately solved the dilemma of playing a paladin or not. It's simply not an option for Horde. Now, however, I have no idea what I want to play. I'm thinking about an Undead Priest, an Orc Warrior, a Tauren Druid, or maybe an Undead Mage. Or maybe a Rogue of some sort.

I am ruling out Hunters, Warlocks, or Shaman. I'm leaning against dealing with ammo, soul shards, and pets. And Shaman, seems to much like the same problems as Paladins. Though now that I am writing things down, maybe it would be nice to play one of these classes.

Heh, in some ways it would have been easier if we had gone Alliance. I probably would have just ended up with my default of Human Paladin.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Heroic Ashvane, Orgozoa, Queen's Court

We killed Lady Ashvane, Orgozoa and the Queen's Court in the Eternal Palace Heroic raid tonight.

We struggled the most on Ashvane, simply not getting enough damage before getting overwhelmed. I think that will become easier as we get used to the fight, especially breaking the coral. We were not doing well with it. I did get a new healing mace from Ashvane, though.

Heroic Orgozoa, I think is undertuned compared to Ashvane. We actually one-shot it. I think it would have been fine if it had come before Ashvane, but after Ashvane it was a little easy.

Heroic Queen's Court took us a few tries, but it's one of those fights where there are a few mechanics which absolutely have to be handled perfectly, but once you get those down, the rest of the fight is straightforward.

Perhaps it is because we didn't have a lot of turnover from last tier, but we're really moving along at a steady clip in Heroic Eternal Palace. I rather imagine the next two bosses are going to take a few weeks.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


Been a while since my last post. I'm not sure what happened. There was so much content released recently that I've been spending all my time playing instead of writing.

World of Warcraft

I've basically been alternating between Nazjatar and Mechagon. I'm still Revered with both factions. I haven't had a chance to do the Mechagon dungeon yet.

For the Eternal Palace raid, we've cleared it on Normal, and have killed the first three bosses on Heroic. It's a pretty good raid, with some interesting fights.

Final Fantasy FFXIV

I finished the main story, did the new dungeons, and have tried the new raid on Normal difficulty.

The new raid, Eden, is pretty interesting. I actually like the story a lot, better than the MSQ. It's interesting, and I have no idea where they are going with it.

SE is introducing a lot of new mechanics in this raid. For example, there's a delayed timer mechanic. You get the marker for the next mechanic (basically stack or spread) like normal and boss does the cast. But then the cast finishes, the marker disappears and a countdown starts over your head. When the countdown disappears, whatever mechanic originally targets you goes off.

It's a pretty good raid overall.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

FFXIV Shadowbringers MSQ Review

This post contains significant spoilers for Shadowbringers.

I finished the Main Story Quest for FFXIV: Shadowbringers last night. I have mixed feelings on it. I should note that everyone else seems to be raving about the story, and are extremely happy about the expansion. So I appear to be out of step with the community at large.

When I see a new story or game, there are two dimensions along which I evaluate it: execution, and ambition. And perhaps I value ambition too highly. I'd rather see something where the creators aim high, and stumble. Of course, the best works are those which combine the two successfully.

Shadowbringers is a case of superb execution, but also far less ambition than the previous expansions. And that makes Shadowbringers somewhat of a disappointment to me.

I should start off with the good. The small moments, the characterisation, the interactions with the Scions, the dungeons and trials, all are absolutely excellent. The best FFXIV has ever been.

However, suppose I told you a story about a demon invasion. The demons invaded, conquered the lands, and magically created an eternal night. People wandering outside might get attacked and killed by roaming demons. Demons sometimes transform their prey into new demons. The hero needs to lift the night by killing the demon lords. There's one human kingdom which allies with the demons. None of the kingdoms are particularly new or interesting, mostly because they're all remnants of older kingdoms from before the invasion.

This is a pretty cliche fantasy story. One that's been done many times. Yet this is exact same story of the first 80% of Shadowbringers, only with a palette swap. Instead of being shown as "demons", the enemies are shown as "angelic". Instead of eternal night, it's an eternal day. Only there is zero difference in behavior. The change is only skin-deep.

The last 20% is an Ascian story. But it did not feel much different than the Lahabrea story from ARR. The execution was superb, true, with a great villain and set-pieces. But ultimately it was just a retread of what had happened before. There were moments where I thought the Ascian would do something new, take the story in a different direction, and break new ground. But ultimately that never happened, and everything fell into the old patterns.

I would rate Heavensward as the best expansion, then Stormblood, then Shadowbringers, and finally ARR. Stormblood stumbled a bit in execution, but I thought it was more interesting and more ambitious than Shadowbringers.

Monday, July 01, 2019

FFXIV Shadowbringers Dungeon Trust System

This post may contain minor spoilers for FFXIV: Shadowbringers. I am trying avoid major ones, though.

Final Fantasy XIV launched early access for its latest expansion, Shadowbringers, this weekend. I'm still in the middle of the story, so no comments on that yet. However, I thought I'd take a look at one of the new systems introduced: Trusts for dungeons.

The new 4-man dungeons in Shadowbringers can be done entirely with NPCs. The NPCs available depend on the story line leading to the dungeon. All the roles are covered, though, so the player can choose any role.

I've done the first three dungeons using the Trust system, playing as a tank. In general it works quite well. The NPCs do mechanics correctly, they move out of AoEs, and stack appropriately. It's actually pretty useful, as you can just mimic them if you don't know what to do for a particular mechanic. You cannot give the NPCs any orders, they just do their thing, as if you were playing with other players.

There's also no queue time for the dungeons when using a Trust. It works better with the story, as using the same NPCs makes it feel more seamless, and allows SE to add appropriate commentary.

SE also tried to add some personality into how the NPCs do things. For example, there's one fight which creates a chasm between the party and the boss. There's a thin zig-zagging bridge you can use to cross the chasm. One NPC, who's something of a hothead, just ran across the bridge with no hesitation. Another one, a magic-user, used a personal teleport spell to get across. The third NPC is timid, and she slowly and hesitantly walked across. She did not make it across before the rest of us finished that mechanic.

So why play with normal people instead of using a Trust? The biggest difference is that the NPCs are slow and have lower DPS. They do not AoE at all, and single-target everything. Even in pulls which have eight small things, and are quintessential AoE pulls, the NPCs will kill one by one. It isn't that bad, as they will focus the same target, and are generally very predictable, so tanking is easy.

The first dungeon I did with a Trust took 35 minutes, with no wipes. I estimate it would have taken around 25 minutes with a normal group of players. So using the NPC Trust increases the time taken by 50% or so. However there is no queue time.

As a result of this, I think people will be very happy to use Trusts for the first time through the dungeon, while doing the story. But after that, when leveling other classes, they'll probably choose to play with other people. A few people--who really don't want to play with others--will stick with Trusts. It was pretty clever of SE to use time as the factor to separate players and NPCs, while ensure that ultimate success is still the likely outcome.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

8.2 Nazjatar

World of Warcraft released patch 8.2, Rise of Azshara, this week. It introduced two new zones, Nazjatar and Mechagon. You go to Nazjatar first. I haven't really started Mechagon, so these are just impressions of Nazjatar.

Nazjatar is an interesting zone. The story line unlocks a faction which you ally with. For Alliance, it's the Waveblade Ankoan, who are basically fish-men. There are a lot of quests, and things to find and unlock.

Gameplay-wise, the zone is a combination of dailies and world quests, which actually work fairly well together. A lot of the dailies are more general, like "kill 15 Naga", which you can do anywhere on the island. You also choose one of three Ankoan companions who fight alongside you, and have three specific daily quests to level up. So you try to do dailies and World Quests at the same time, completing the dailies on the way to and from the World Quests.

I chose the hunter companion, who honestly comes across as a bit emo. I think I'll try the shaman next.

The combination of having some quests which are tied to a specific location, and others which are more general, is very good. It allows you to play a mini-optimising game with your quests each day.

There's also lots of puzzle quests in Nazjatar. Everyone was complaining about this one where you have to rescue someone by bouncing on jellyfish. I thought it was pretty easy, as I one-shot it. Maybe it was beginner's luck, but all you need to do is turn and face the next platform/jellyfish as you are being bounced.

Nazjatar also has Benthic armour, which you can buy and upgrade with the currency found in the zone. I'm not entirely certain if it's something a raider should pursue, or if it's mostly for solo players, alts, and filling in holes. I blew most of my currency on fixing an Abyssal device, which doesn't seem to do anything, but might be used in crafting later. So gear is mostly moot for me at this point.

One thing is that the armour is random, but whatever stats it has is maintained as it upgrades. So it's possible that the ideal is gambling until you get a piece with the best secondaries and a socket, and then upgrading that. The initial armour is very cheap as well, which lends itself to this strategy.

Edit: Apparently the secondaries and special Benthic bonuses are fixed for each item slot. All belts have the same secondaries and Benthic bonus, etc. So if you want to gamble, it's really only for tertiary stats like leech and sockets.

Second Edit: Apparently the above is not quite right. Some slots have multiple "types" of Benthic armor. Each type has specific secondaries and bonuses. Like there are three different plate legs.

All in all, Nazjatar is a pretty interesting zone, with a variety of activities. It should be interesting to see how things unfold, especially as there is a second zone to balance it out.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Worrying Sign for Classic?

My latest experiences in the WoW Classic Beta have made me more pessimistic about the success of the WoW Classic. To wit, the early zones, Elywnn Forest and Westfall, are already dead. Honestly, they died faster than many of the other "failed" MMOs which I've tried.

I ended up deleting all the characters I made and started fresh with a Priest. There are very few (like on the order or 5 or less) people in Elywnn Forest. Local chat is completely dead.  I got up to Hogger, and then spent time on the weekend going, "LFG Hogger".  After three different sessions, I finally got a level 9 dwarf hunter to take pity on me and we teamed up and killed Hogger.

Westfall is pretty much the same. There isn't even anyone just hanging out in Goldshire. In Retail, there's always people dueling or jumping around in Goldshire.

Classic is a game which requires other people. If there are no other people around, it becomes a very frustrating experience.

Now, maybe everyone is on higher level characters, and focusing on them. Though Stormwind was pretty empty as well. Maybe people aren't playing because it is Beta, and they're saving their powder for when Classic launches.

I guess my advice to people thinking about Classic is to make sure you do not miss the initial wave of players. If you fall behind, Classic will rapidly become a lot less fun.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Classic Stress Test Thoughts

Blizzard started a stress test for Classic yesterday, where anyone in NA with a WoW subscription could try Classic. The servers will be up for a day or two, if you didn't get to try Classic out.

I found the test quite funny. Blizzard was clearly testing their server stability, as they put way too many people in the zone for game-play purposes. I made a mage, and I had a lot of trouble finishing the very first quest. I'd start casting a Fireball at a kobold, and someone would tag it before the cast finished.

In the end, I resorted to running up to the kobold, hitting it with my staff to tag it, and only then start casting Fireballs.

The conversation in the zone was very lively, and everyone was remarking how this was totally unlike retail servers where it's silent. That's true, but the Beta servers were like that at the start, and now they're dead silent.

If I was making an MMO, I would strongly consider adding a world chat channel that everyone on the server is in.  There's a critical mass of people necessary to get chat going. For zone chat, it really only exists in the starting zones, and really only at launch.

Or maybe, like Blizzard is having layers for the world, have "layers" for chat that expand and contract depending on the number of people. Maybe the game starts with one chat for the starting zone, and all the other zones have the same chat. Then as people starting levelling up, maybe the first two zones share the same chat, and so on.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Classes in an Alternate Burning Crusade

Continuing on from my previous post on races, another major mistake The Burning Crusade expansion made was with classes. Specifically allowing Alliance Shamans and Horde Paladins.

I've discussed this before, but I think that the Alliance in particular lost a lot of its identity when the Horde got paladins. Especially as the Silver Hand opened up to both factions, but the Horde had separate orders for the Blood Knights and Sunwalkers.

In an alternate TBC, paladins could stay Alliance, and shamans could stay Horde. As long as Blessing of Salvation (and the equivalent totem) is removed, there would be no real imbalance.

Then, assuming an alternate Wrath comes along, perhaps the Horde could get Death Knights, and the Alliance gets Demon Hunters (since both Night Elves and Blood Elves are Alliance in my alternate timeline).

I think reinforcing the faction division mechanically, with different classes that play significantly different, would be a much better path. WoW chose to homogenise the factions. In the long run, I think that was not a good decision.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Personal Loot Needs an 'Any Specialization' Option

Quick thought from raiding tonight. Personal Loot needs an 'Any Specialization' option.

Right now, you can choose 'Current Specialization' or pick a specific specialization. But at this point in farming, an 'Any' option would be really nice. If you're a Holy Paladin, you might get a Ret weapon, or a Prot trinket, without giving up the chance to get a Warforged Holy item.

The other option is basically switching loot specializations on all the different bosses, which is rather fiddly. As well, it's unfortunate when one specific boss has items from different specs, and you have choose which spec to forego.

Perhaps a small change, but I think it would make Personal Loot a bit better.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Graehl's FFXIV Videos

I came across Graehl on Youtube. He makes FFXIV informational videos which are absolutely superb. They're clean and efficient, and present new data beautifully.

Check out his video introducing the new Dancer class:

The class looks really cool. The "dance" mechanic is quite novel for MMOs (even if it is just Simon Says), and I'm quite intrigued as to how it will work in actual group content.

Speaking of FFXIV, I'm really excited about Shadowbringers, especially the class overhauls. However, I don't really want to play FFXIV right now, and level classes with the old mechanics. Ironic.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Revisiting the Deadmines

I finally reached a point where I could take on the first Alliance dungeon, the Deadmines. Luckily a guildie was looking for a final DPS spot, and I was the quickest to respond. The group was a warrior tank, a paladin healer, a rogue, a hunter, and my paladin. All about level 17 or 18.

The run was ... interesting.

It wasn't bad. People generally knew what they were doing. But we didn't use any crowd control. The warrior tank didn't really have any AoE threat, but played as if she did. So the rogue and I often ended up tanking individual mobs.  The warrior also didn't have any ranged weapons, likely because she had not gone to Darnassus to train them yet. So every pull was a body pull or a charge.

I did enjoy playing the old-style paladin. Mostly dealing damage, tanking the occasional mob, throwing out a heal every so often. Especially on VanCleef, when the healer went out-of-mana at about 30%, so I healed the last bit.

We did wipe once in the middle, too many goblin runners.  The hunter had run out of ammo, so he took a spirit res to buy some more. Then the others ran out of the dungeon to help him get back, though he did die once on the way. I stayed in the dungeon to make sure it didn't reset.

Most of the bosses were fairly easy. After VanCleef, we jumped down to get Cookie, but pulled too many mobs and died. At that point the healer called it, and the group disbanded. In total, the run took about an hour and half.

I'm not really sure what to think about that run. On the one hand, it wasn't entirely successful. We wiped twice. It took a fairly long time. We didn't even clear the entire dungeon.

On the other hand, it was memorable. It made for a better story than the fast, efficient, successful runs of modern WoW. Is that valuable? It's good for your first run of a dungeon to be memorable, but I rather expect you want your hundredth run of that same dungeon to be fast, efficient and successful.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Races in an Alternate Burning Crusade

Assuming Classic is a success, what is the future of Classic servers? The most probable option is that Blizzard releases The Burning Crusade for Classic, following the same path as Classic.

But playing with Classic Beta has lead me to believe that TBC made several big mistakes, which weakened the setup of Classic WoW. In some ways, an alternate TBC, with several changes and essentially new content, would be a better future. Of course, Classic would have to be spectacularly successful for Blizzard to green-light something like this. And even then, they may not, believing that fidelity to what was released is more important.

The biggest mistake, in my opinion, was having the Blood Elves join the Horde.

In Classic, the Horde has a very strong identity. They are the monsters, banding together for survival. In the immortal words of Zangief from Wreck-It Ralph, "You are bad guy, but this does not mean you are bad guy."

The blood elves really weaken this. They're pretty elves. Blizzard tried their best to give them a dark backstory, but when you join a group where 4 of 5 characters are blood elves, it just doesn't feel like the Horde, not the way a Classic Horde group does. Now, maybe Blizzard did need a pretty race to balance the factions numerically, but that balance came at the cost of the Horde's identity.

What I would suggest is that the Alliance gets the Blood Elves, and the Horde gets the Worgen. Werewolves are classic monsters, and would fit in with the Horde. Of course, this would invalidate pretty much all of current WoW's story lines.

A later expansion could give the Horde goblins, and the Alliance draenei. Keeping the Horde's identity as the "monstrous" faction, and keeping the Alliance as the "normal RPG" faction would serve make the factions more distinct.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Revisiting Tera Online

I've been playing Tera Online over the last few weeks. It's pretty interesting to see what they've changed.

They've streamlined leveling a fair bit. You just follow the main story quests and you don't have to do any of the zone quests. The story quests give you armor, and special relic weapons drop at certain level ranges which gives you a good weapon. Monsters are a bit easier to defeat while leveling. Most leveling dungeons have been repurposed for 3-people of any class, rather than needing a tank or healer.

I leveled a Castanic Valkyrie to 65, the start of current content. The Valkyrie is a spear-wielding class with several AoE moves, so her combo chains have lots of spins. She also builds combo points on enemies, and detonates them for large amounts of damage.

For the most part following the story quests worked well, though there were a couple of points near the end where they ended up in a dungeon for which I had outlevelled the instance finder, but was tedious to solo. That was fine for the most part, I just went back and finished up when I reached 65.

Technically, 65 isn't the cap, the real cap is 70. But apparently it takes weeks to level up from this point. Current content is a long grind, I guess.

For the most part, I really enjoyed my time in Tera. I still think the combat is excellent. The stories were not exactly good, but they were fun in a cheesy way. It was nice to see the conclusions to all those stories I started so long ago.

If you treat it as kind of a quasi-single-player game, levelling a character to 65 in Tera Online is a lot of fun. I don't know if I'll continue playing, or if I will try out a new character, but I really enjoyed the time I spent in the game these last few weeks.

In any case, here's the highlight of all Tera Online posts. Let's see what sort of ludicrous armor my character has to wear. Actually, I find this the most hilarious part of Tera, seeing the different, shameless, armor styles. Here's my Valkyrie in her current armor (from the login screen):

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Classic Thoughts, Part II

Other People in Classic

A long time ago, I observed that:
It's a little unfair to the developers, but the best reason to play WoW instead of other MMOs is that you don't have to listen to people talking about WoW.
Well, now you can play WoW while listening to people constantly talk about WoW. Either castigating Battle for Azeroth or reminiscing about 15 years ago. It's non-stop, and it's like these people don't have any other conversation.

Truthfully, it makes me less inclined to play Classic.

Grouping and Questing

Regarding the discussion of grouping and questing, I came across this old post of mine from TBC days: Is Questing Anti-Social. An excerpt:
I think people don't group because they are ambivalent about approaching strangers. Maybe it's fear of rejection, a desire not to impose on someone else, or feeling bad about asking for help. But my experience is that a lot of people are perfectly willing to group up, they just don't want to be the one to ask. And because you can solo most quests, they don't ask unless they have to.
I think we are already seeing this issue in the Beta. Classic is a game which works best when groups are formed easily. But people simply don't like to group.

Will Classic Weaken Guilds on Live?

My current guess is that Classic will attract a great deal of attention on launch. But over the next three months, it will lose 90% of its audience. It will still stabilise at a few hundred thousand, numbers any other MMO would envy.

I don't think that Live will lose significant numbers to Classic. However, I wonder if the "type" of people who switch from Live to Classic will matter.

Basically, the type of people who will be very attracted to Classic are the highly social and the organizers. They'll be the ones who will be able to handle the grouping, who have a rolodex of friendly tanks or healers. In Live, though, these are the people who form the strong core of guilds. Guild leaders, officers, etc.

Numerically, these people are outnumbered by the rank-and-file. But they're the type of people who's loss hurts the most. I look at my current guild, and I think I have a general sense of who would be most interested in Classic. If we lost half of them at the same time, it would hurt us a lot.

I think something similar happened before, when 10-man raids were introduced. The core of many existing raid teams focused on 10-mans, but a lot of the rank-and-file ended up dropping away.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Classic Thoughts From The Weekend

More observations and thoughts on WoW Classic, from the Beta:
  • I am really unsure how successful Classic will be. Sometimes I think it will do well, but then I see three groups going "LF Tank for DM" in Westfall chat, and I become more sceptical.
  • One group even offered to pay the tank 15 silver. It's been years since I've seen that. Also, it is amusing how 15 silver is a valuable reward in Classic.
  • I made a whole bunch of alts and tried the various classes up to level 7 or so. Paladin is the most boring, all the other classes are reasonable.
  • Rogue is the one class which feels the most similar to modern classes, and you can see how many classes have become more like the Rogue over time.
  • I think the best way to play Classic is to be super-aggressive about grouping. Someone is in the same area as you doing the same quest? Send them an invite, do the quest, and then say good bye.
  • This is especially important for paladins. Add a single group member and game-play smooths out and efficiency spikes.
  • In some ways, I think Classic levelling is a better game than Live when in a group, but a significantly worse game when solo. When you're in a group in Classic, even at very low levels, there is a noticeable feeling of the group being stronger than the sum of its parts.
  • The question then becomes how easy is it to get a group while levelling.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Classic Updates, Heroic Mekkatorque Woes

WoW Classic Beta

I haven't had much time with the Classic Beta. I got up to the quest with the Defias Pillagers, who have killed me multiple times so far. I think I'm a bit underlevelled. I probably should have gone and done the quests in the dwarf area.

I'm really not feeling the paladin, though. Currently Classic Beta feels very lonely and paladin game-play is very boring. I think I'm going to try out a few different classes this weekend.

I did roll a Tauren Druid, but have only reached level 3 with it.

Heroic Mekkatorque

We're still having a lot of trouble with Heroic Mekkatorque. We can beat it every week, but it always takes us five or more pulls every week. It's simply not on farm status. Unlike all the other fights, it feels like we haven't improved on that fight even after killing it several times. In contrast, we can one-shot Heroic Jaina now.

Because Heroic Mekkatorque can take us up to two hours, it's in an awkward position for completing all the content, and actually getting both Daza'lor and Crucible down in one week.

I think there must be a better strategy out there, though I'm not sure what we're doing wrong. My guess is that our tank movement and raid positioning is ad-hoc, and makes things more difficult than it has to be. Like maybe there's a better way to position the group that makes the fight more standard and less variable.

If anyone can link me a particularly clean H-Mekkatorque kill video, I would be grateful. All the videos I can find have messy kills, usually because they're first kills.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Audience Inconsistencies, Class Quests

Audience Inconsistencies

Sometimes I feel sorry for Blizzard. They get so many conflicting signals from the audience that it must be quite hard to figure out what the right thing to do is. For example, right now:

Players: Classic is amazing with it's difficulty and inconveniences. It's awesome when players have to be careful about what enemies they attack and avoid. Retail should be more like Classic

Blizzard: In Patch 8.2 absorbs will no longer prevent daze. You need to be more careful about avoiding enemies, and not just mounting up and running straight through them all.

Players: Why does Blizzard hate fun?!?

Class Quests

I hit level 12 in the Classic Beta yesterday. Apparently there's an entire quest around getting Resurrection that I completely forgot about!

I really enjoyed that quest. It's small, and involved a lot of running, and wasn't that difficult. But it was very paladin-specific. I also liked that it wasn't world-shaking, but first about providing linen to an orphanage for clothes, and then resurrecting someone who was investigating the Defias. It fit nicely with learning the Resurrection spell. Though that does raise questions about who you can actually resurrect or not resurrect story-wise.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Classic Westfall: Where Dreams Meet Reality

First Death

I finished Elwynn Forest and moved on to Westfall, where I had my first death. I got attacked by a Coyote and a Coyote Packleader and foolishly decided to fight when my bubble was on cooldown. It's interesting because if it had been three coyotes, I would ran away right at the start and survived.

I also had a second death a bit later, fighting a Defias Trapper, and not realizing that a Defias Smuggler was throwing knives at me from a distance.

Dreams meet Reality

If Elwynn Forest is the zone where you see all the advantages of Classic, Westfall is where you start to see some of the disadvantages. And you realize that there was a reason Blizzard changed things.

Like one of the first quests is to kill 30 Defias, 15 trappers and 15 smugglers. You have to make a circuit of several camps, killing one Defias at a time. You run away if two of them attack you. You sit and drink after killing three or four. The respawn time is long so you have to find multiple camps.

There are some advantages to this playstyle, though. You explore a lot of the map. You usually end up working on several quests at the same time. For example, kill a couple Defias in camp A, then kill some boars for livers on the way to camp B.

Truthfully, it is kind of boring. Another thing which made it worse is that Westfall chat wasn't working in the Beta. There's a saying that MMOs are glorified chat channels, and that's true to an extent. But the chat channels work with the slow pace. The slow pace gives you time to read chat and respond in between killing a mob or two. And the chat channel makes the slow pace bearable.

Another element is that the way paladins interact with a couple of mechanics pushes solo gameplay to be even less interesting. Mana regen in Classic is governed by something called the "5 second rule". Mana only starts regenerating a full 5 seconds after you last used an ability. For most classes, this isn't an issue, because you have to spend mana to deal damage. For paladins, though, the abilities are all front-loaded. If you Seal, Judge, Seal at the start of the fight, mana regen will kick in after 5 seconds. Then if you just auto-attack, you'll get most of your mana back during the fight. The only damage you are missing out on is Judgement, and it isn't that much. Especially if Judgement gets resisted, which is rage-inducing because you realize that you killed your mana regen for nothing.

Fights are slightly longer, but you don't have to sit and drink. But game-play is atrociously boring. Press three buttons at the start, and then auto-attack for 30 seconds.

Now, obviously, playing any other class might be more interesting.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

WoW Classic Beta!

I got a WoW Classic Beta invite, and it is hilarious!  I remade my paladin, and here she is at level 10.

Classic Coriel in Goldshire
You can see the Seals, Judgement and (5 minute!) Blessing of Might on the bars. I had forgotten just how few buttons the classic paladin uses. (The question mark is a mouseover macro for Holy Light that seems to have a bug with the tooltip. I have reported the bug.)

It feels very much like the vanilla WoW that I remember. It's pretty slow, level 10 took me maybe four or so hours. Lots of running around. Combat is somewhat dangerous. I haven't died yet, but I've had to use bubble and run away four times. Twice from gnolls, and twice from murlocs. I'm wearing a mix of leather and mail, and I've even been wearing greys!

The major difference so far between Classic and retail is how much interaction there is with other people, and how the mechanics push you to interact. For example, tagging is absolute here, there are no shared tags at all. So I've ended up making impromptu groups for almost every named quest mob with the others who are waiting for the mob.

People seem to make liberal use of buffs, randomly buffing people nearby. Priests and Mages give me Stamina and Intellect, and I give them Blessing of Might. Though, this may just be the beta crowd. If you get in over your head (very easy to do!), and someone is nearby, they'll often help out.

I even traded some linen to someone who was leveling tailoring in exchange for two six-slot bags.

It's a very interesting experience to see exactly what you miss, and what you don't miss from retail, and what you wish was in retail.

So far, things I miss from retail:
  • AOE looting. I kill two murlocs and I always forget to loot the second one.
  • The bag clean up button. Apparently I use this constantly in retail. I open my bags, and reach for the button before I remember that it doesn't exist.
Things I don't miss from retail:
  • Quest markers and sparkles. The map and mini-map in Classic are very basic, and don't do very much. The mini-map doesn't even show new quests. After playing Classic, it's clear that I pay more attention to the map in retail rather than the actual world. In Classic, bringing up the map doesn't really add any information, so you pay more attention to the world. I am beginning to think that the balance between map and world in retail has tilted too far towards the map, and the map simply does too much.
Things I want from Classic back in retail:
  • The spinning uppercut animation for Hammer of Justice. It's so much better than the current animation. Every time I use Hammer of Justice in Classic, it annoys me that it got removed from retail.
Overall, WoW Classic has clearly got that vanilla feel, with all the advantages and disadvantages thereof. It's a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the two versions, rather than relying on nostalgia and unreliable memories.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

WoW Classic and Layers

When WoW Classic launches (Aug 27!) it will use a new tech for managing server populations called "layers". From BlizzardWatch:
Called “Layering,” the new system will help reduce queue times and improve server stability for the launch of WoW Classic. Layering is tough to explain without a metaphor, and thankfully Blizzard came up with a good one while explaining it to press and content creators recently. 
Imagine a tray with an empty glass. The tray is a single server in WoW Classic. The empty glass is a layer. When you log into the game on launch day, you’ll be with a flood other players: the water that we’re going to pour into the glass. Once the glass is full, we add another empty glass and start filling it up with water, or players, too. Each new glass is a new layer that consists of two to three thousand players — which means any single server could handle tens of thousands of players at the same time but without all of them being crowded into the same place in-game. The only way to see players from another layer is to group up with them —otherwise they don’t interact.
A layer is basically an invisible server. You get assigned to an invisible layer, and you only see other people who are assigned to that same layer. If you join a guild, you get transferred to that guild's layer. So you should see the same guilds and characters over time.

If the population of two layers drops down, the layers are merged, just like a server merge. Only because the original and final layer ids are unknown, and character names are unique across both layers, the merge should be unnoticeable. Other than seeing a bunch of new people running around Stormwind.

The interesting thing will be to see how many traditional "servers" WoW Classic launches with. Perhaps it's theoretically possible that WoW Classic could have a single server (or maybe 3 for PvE, PvP, and RP) and have 1000 layers.

Of course, naming characters would rapidly become very, very hard. And I wonder if there is value in having a named subcommunity, rather than everyone thrown into one giant pot. Is it good to feel like you belong on Lightbringer, while others belong to Skywall?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Cinematic: Safe Haven

Blizzard dropped a new cinematic on us in the lead up to patch 8.2 titled Safe Haven.

It's a pretty good cinematic. It looks like Thrall is coming back to the Horde.

I really wonder what Blizzard is planning for Sylvanas. They said she won't be Garrosh 2.0, but she's sure looking like it. I also don't think they're handling her character very well. She's supposed to be the cool-headed, competent archetype, but she seems to be making rash and foolish decisions all through this expansion.

Ah well, we'll see how this turns out in the patch.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Ahead of the Curve: Uu'nat

Heh, I thought it would take another couple of weeks, but we tweaked our strategy and how we handled the Tears and got a kill!

Defiant-Doomhammer kills Heroic Uu'nat
  Here's a screenshot from our Jaina kill which I never posted:

Defiant-Doomhammer defeats Heroic Jaina

Uu'nat was a pretty decent fight. Using the same three artifacts with the same double-edged powers in both fights of Crucible was an interesting twist. Ultimately, though, I think it was a touch gimmicky. I still think Jaina Proudmoore was the best designed fight this tier (and probably the best from the last several tiers).

Wednesday, May 01, 2019


World of Warcraft

We're working on Heroic Uu'nat at the moment. It will probably take a couple more weeks, I think. We're currently working on steadying Phase 2 and figuring out Phase 3.

Otherwise, things are pretty steady in WoW. One thing about the server transfer is now all my other characters are stuck on the old server, and it's a bit of pain to switch servers. So they're basically gathering dust now.

I am very slowly leveling a Shadow Priest. I decided to do questing-only, with no heirlooms. I like upgrading gear and watching my character change appearance as I level. But it's quite slow without heirlooms. I think I would like Blizzard to separate out the XP gain from the heirlooms. Since quest gear now scales with level, you don't really need heirlooms unless you don't want to bother with gearing entirely. Perhaps XP gain while leveling becomes a stat that you could permanently increase through various mechanics, including heirlooms.

Final Fantasy FFXIV

I'm pretty much done with Stormblood, and waiting for the next expansion. I've been leveling Ninja using the AI Squadron in dungeons. It's not bad, but it can be tricky to force the tank to take aggro on everything.

The only thing I have really left undone in Stormblood is Eureka. But I'm at an awkward stage in Pagos where I'm too low level for the bosses, but I find it hard to get a smaller challenge log group going. Content that requires groups is really hard to do if you can't find groups.

Torchlight II

I ended up deleting this. The problem here was that Torchlight is one of those games which doesn't allow you to respec. I was putting all my points into one main ability and a bunch of passives. This worked well, but got boring. I really wanted to try different builds, but that would have required making new characters. The story wasn't really gripping me, so I eventually decided that I wasn't interested in finishing the game.


I haven't played much since the patch. I did log in and do some missions and a stronghold for the daily one day. It was actually a pretty good day in terms of loot, with two Legendaries and four or five Masterworks. I haven't tried the new stronghold yet, though.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mythic Champion of the Light

We had a weird raid last evening. First, we went and did Normal Crucible of Storms. I think we did this mainly to get another look at Uu'nat before we start working on the Heroic version.

Then we killed Heroic Restless Cabal again. Interestingly, this was harder than our previous kill because we were trying to fully use the Promise of Power mechanic, instead of just dispelling it early.

After Cabal, the raid leader noticed that we had exactly 20 people in the raid, so we tried the first boss of Mythic Dazar'Alor: Champion of the Light. She was fairly easy, and we actually one-shot her. I think that because it was Mythic, everyone paid a lot more attention to the mechanics.

Loot-wise, it was pretty lucrative, as I got a warforged i425 shield! I also realised that our raid does not have a single 2H Strength DPS character. No Warriors, Retribution Paladins, or Death Knights. As a result, there's no one for me to leech Retribution weapons from. I was wondering why I haven't replaced my Retribution mace since Uldir.

We then tried Mythic Jadefire Champions, but that was a big step up in difficulty and coordination. We made some decent progress, but then people had to leave. So we finished up the night with the first three bosses in Heroic Dazar'Alor.

Pretty good night, all in all. It's rather unlikely that we'll have exactly 20 people again, so that's probably our only foray into Mythic this tier. To be honest, I don't mind. I do kind of miss the intricacies of Mythic raiding, but that's more than outweighed by not having to worry about roster issues or the bench.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Heroic Jaina, Heroic Restless Cabal

Heroic Jaina Proudmoore

Last week, we killed Heroic Jaina and got the Ahead of the Curve feat for Battle of Daz'alor. The fight took us a fair amount of time overall, as we had a lot of problems with Phase 3.

We ended up switching to having most of the raid get frozen early during Bloodlust, and having a small group break people out. That proved to be the strategy which got us past P3, and Jaina went down shortly after.

I really like the Jaina Proudmoore fight. It feels like fighting a powerful frost mage. It matches the story quite well. There's a solid variety of mechanics, but nothing feels too contrived. Jaina using Iceblock in response to Bloodlust is simply hilarious, an outstanding mechanic.  Once you master each portion of the fight, you generally have it down. Wipes never feel arbitrary, but always because you made an identifiable mistake.

Heroic Restless Cabal

After we got Jaina, we still had an hour or two left in the raid, so we went back to Crucible of Storms, this time on Heroic. The first boss took us about an hour. It's basically the same as Normal, only this time you have to do all the mechanics correctly.

If you did the fight properly on Normal, and didn't try to overpower mechanics, Heroic is just more healing and damage required. It's less difficult than Jaina.

After Restless Cabal, we took a look at Heroic Uu'nat. This one looks a lot harder, and it looks like a fun challenge to finish the rest of the tier. I also think that--unlike Cabal--we didn't do half the mechanics properly in Normal, so we'll have to learn to do them correctly.