September 2013

September being my best blogging month for close to three years, I wanted to close it off with another post. The problem is what to write. I’ve only logged on once in the last few days, and in that time I ran around, killed some things, avoided some high level horde raiders, and mourned the state of my gear. Not really that exciting and certainly not blog worthy. Then again, most things I see written, (and most probably write myself), just aren’t that blog worthy. This makes me wonder what the definition of worthiness for a blog post might be. Perhaps it would be something that causes me to continue reading after the first few lines. I jumped over to Nil’s blog just now to have a look at his blog list and see what other bloggers were writing about. I clicked on a few of them, but each time I began to read I found my eyes glazing over of their own accord and I skipped to the next one. And so on, repeat ad infinitum.

For those of you who have managed to get this far, on what seems like becoming a suitable nothing blog post, I applaud my own powers of captivation and your own willingness to suspend disbelief. The thing that has kept me away from playing make-believe online video games and forced me out into the real world where the sun shines and people make hay, is the beginning of the cricket season. I am involved in this noble pursuit as a proud card-carrying member of my local cricket club. The fact that I haven’t played any form of competitive cricket since the year 1988, a year I may add that certain of my team mates were not even born, gave me some pause a few weeks ago when the notion of joining first arose.

For I find myself living in a city which is new to me and where I know literally a handful of people. While playing MMOs is certainly fun it does nothing for mixing with the social set, so I cast around for some medium with which I could meet people with the least amount of pain involved. Thus I cast aside kickboxing, social chess, and the horror of political association, and came up with my favourite childhood sports activity. It turns out that I am still quite passable, at least on the bowling front. Getting my eye in while holding a cricket bat has been somewhat of a greater hurdle, but that is progressing nicely at this point. I did pull some sort of ligament in my back the other week in my over-exuberence at casting down missiles to make batsmen quiver, but all in all it’s proving to be an inspired choice for widening my social horizons and getting back into shape. Plus I’m hoping that the younger lads will all be of the sort to entertain bevies of local beauties to whom I can cast an appraising eye while sipping my post-game gin and tonic washed down with a couple of bottles of Verve.

I will of course continue to blog on video-game thingamajiggys, but perhaps it is best to not get too used to the whirlwind of posting activity that has enthralled all 23.5 of you this month.

There are no achievements in Vanilla WoW, obviously, as the system wasn’t implemented until much later. But having played both before and during the achievement period, it is interesting to go back to the game when the achievement system was not in place. I have always considered the achievement system to be one of firmly tieing players down into the role of a mouse on a never-ending treadmill. No thought is required – achievement will pop up for doing some banal act, which is of itself completely the opposite of what I would consider an actual achievement to be, and this then sends the player off on a mindless merry-go-round to collect more of the same achievements, usually for no better goal than having a title above their head that should read, “Not only do I have no life or brain but I have no awareness of either.”

But then I considered the early quest system. I mean, is this much better? Isn’t this more of the same, the mindless running-around for not very much which is merely designed to keep us busy? Actually I think it is different in a variety of ways. Firstly there are tangible rewards, experience, gold and gear, as well as reputation with different factions which enable you to purchase other gear. So there is a tangible benefit. Also, a lot of these early quest lines are very good indeed. I’m presently involved in the old hunt for that nasty Stavlan fellow. It’s a nice atmospheric detective story which is keeping me nicely entertained even the second time around. Admittedly quite a few of the Vanilla quests are downright terrible, the pages of Stranglethorn Vale anyone? And a good many are simply kill a certain number of floozles. But they create a foundation of meaning in the world with which the player can do as they please. Which is in of itself a choice. You can choose to take a quest or you can choose that it is not for you, for whatever reason. Maybe you don’t like that style of quest, maybe you don’t want to go to that area, maybe you hate quests in general and will only do one for a specific piece of gear.

Achievements leave you no choice, at least as far as I can remember. You’re running through a zone and BAM! – achievement simply for wandering through a zone, aren’t you great???? Well, actually no, I think that this is facile and condescending and a pile of doggy-poo, but I have no choice in the matter. I must participate in this system and the more I am forced to do so the more infuriated I become. Much much worse is when I inadvertently find myself willingly participating in the mindless madness. For the achievement system is simply a cheap and unimaginative way of disguising the fact that the game designers are not prepared to put much more effort into the world. The rationale is to keep the players running around, nice and busy, on the mindless spinning-wheel so they don’t notice that the designers are not doing really that much that’s inspiring any more.

It is so nice to play in a world with no achievements. The only achievement here is are you any good at playing your class and that has to be earned the hard way. And more importantly, with some modicum of effort. Achievements are the MMO gaming version of political correctness; every child has to get a ribbon for running in the race. Which pretty soon makes all ribbons worthless except to the truly deluded. Which is most of you. So go back to your achievements, why do I care anyway?

I got a whisper from an unknown quantity wanting to know if I wanted to do a Blackfathom Deeps run. I was helping some other players fight some elite mobs but on hearing this I dropped that group like a hot potato. There’s some good rogue loots in BFD and I desperately need some upgrades. I joined the group and saw that only one player was in the Ashenvale area. As I handed in a couple of quests I dinged 24 so I let them know that I wanted to level up my skills in Stormwind and they were fine with that. I got to Stormwind and did what I had to do. By this stage the others had all made it to Ashenvale but on the map I noticed that they were running across the map towards the Raynewood Retreat, in other words in the opposite direction from where the instance is located. This was troubling. They had also been carrying on a conversation for some time debating whether it was more fun playing WoW on weed or acid. I was beginning to have sincere doubts about how this was going to proceed.

Somehow they sorted themselves out and eventually I got a summons. There was a paladin tank, a paladin healer, a warlock and another rogue. Clearing up to the entrance went well, and then we cleared the mobs to the first pool. Swimming across I suddenly remembered the old BFD jumping test that was looming, but I cleared the obstacles with epic grace as did the other rogue. Then we waited there while the other party members spent a good deal of time falling into the water. As we proceeded I noticed that the other rogue wasn’t watching her threat. At all. In all other aspects she was very skilled, but the tank wasn’t getting a look-in. I sent her a whisper to give the tank a few more second before unloading and I got the reply that she didn’t speak English.

The first boss went down without too many issues and we proceeded down towards the murlocks, but now I was beginning to understand that the real issue here was the tank. From the previous conversation I knew that he was stoned but that still didn’t quite excuse the total lack of initiative now on display. He seemed unable to pull any mobs. We would stand there, and he would stand there, and someone would suggest something, and still nothing would happen, and on and on and on. The other rogue decided that enough was enough and she became the expert puller, creeping in to distract, hit a sap, gouge another one while running full pelt back to us whereon finally the tank shambled forward as threads of drool hung down from his chin. At this point I would unload as the other rogue had no chance of dumping the threat until we balanced things out somewhat while the tank ran back and forth wondering what day it was.

The rogue began to just use her bow to pull, even on bosses. I pleaded with the tank to at least mark some of the mobs so we would have a vague idea of who we needed to take down. This happened occasionally. Other times it didn’t. We wiped once when the rogue pulled a bunch of mobs at once and the warlock forgot that he had AoE attacks. Finally we got to the second last boss, where we got him down. I bent down to light one of the flames and as I stood up I saw that three other players had done exactly the same thing. Oh oh. The walls opened up and we got pounded. Somehow one of the paladins didn’t die and managed to rez everyone and then we took out each group one by one. Unfortunately the door to the final boss refused to open due to some bug. I had got zero drops as everything had been mail or cloth and the whole thing had taken over two hours from first contact. I thanked the others for the run, polite to the end. They all agreed that it was a great group. I hearthed the fuck outta there.

I’m slacking off my levelling a bit to allow some other players to catch up with me, so I’ve been concentrating on my professions both major and minor. So skinning, leatherworking, fishing, cooking, lockpicking and first aid have been getting the attention they deserve. This means that interactions with other players have dropped off as these sorts of goals are very much single player oriented. Also, for those of you who have been trying to catch up in-game with me to no avail, I’m in the Australian time-zone and I’m on either in the morning or the evening my time. I have time to play the game quite a bit at the moment seeing as I am between gainful employment, but this will probably change very soon.

I’ve been hanging around the Zoram Strand in Ashenvale because I remembered that it was a good spot to level lockpicking with the lockboxes scattered around the beach. Well my memory must be playing tricks on me because scattered is the right word; they’re rare and their respawn rate is pretty damn poor. I’ve killed enough naga to last me for a while and lockpicking still hasn’t cracked 100 yet. Oh well.

Mostly, my playing sessions are pretty short. I often just log on for half an hour or so, get a few things done and then log out. Even playing like this I’m already at level 23. It’s slow to be sure, but not as slow as I remembered it being. Hitting level 22 was great as I got Vanish and Distract, both crucial abilities for any rogue. Vanish allowed me to take down a horde hunter who jumped me this morning. We were both the same level and he started hitting me from a distance as his pet bear ran up to eat off my face. I vanished immediately and moved around behind him where I ambushed him with a 230hp critical strike. Quite nice timing to get off such a big ambush hit. That was over a third of his hit points and I also infected him with crippling poison so he couldn’t run away. I kept up a barrage of sinister strikes and the poor dear was gone before his pet even got back to us. Then I stealthed and waited to see if any retribution was forthcoming. He hadn’t called in any friends and I allowed him to rez and get away. I don’t find corpse-camping particularly appealing. Mind you, the same Undead mage keeps popping up at very inopportune times in Duskwood. He’s really giving me the shits now and it seems as if I have my own personal stalker.

Readers have been asking me what I plan to do in Emerald Dream. To answer all the emails at once, I have no idea. I may raid, I may PvP, I may walk around and smell the daisies. I may even get bored before level 60 and pull the pin on the whole thing. Does there have to be a long-term clear goal? I’m just enjoying myself. How’s this for a clear goal: I want to get leatherworking to 300. I’d also like to participate in at least one Vanilla 40 man raid. But who knows.

A comment on yesterday’s post from Milday:

“… Your experience with the warrior and the subsequent grouping that you were ‘forced’ to do in order to progress is something that lots of people claim to be phobic of. I’ve heard complaints about forced grouping so often. Last time it was while reading on the FFXIV main storyline, the end of which leading you to a dungeon that required you to have some players join you… What is so bad about that? Why do people feel entitled to being able to solo everything on a multiplayer game?”

People are afraid of rejection, Gevlon notwithstanding. They don’t want to group up because they:

Might be ignored when they whisper someone.

Might be seen to perform poorly and be afraid of getting a poor server reputation.

Might meet players they don’t like that pester them afterwards.

Etc, etc, etc. But what it mostly goes back to is the situation of not putting your hand up in school even when you are 99% sure you have the right answer. The risk of being wrong in front of your peers is not worth it. This is not irrational, because the humiliation is real and tangible, and a good many people carry this into adult life. And usually the ones who are the most vocal in their ridicule are the ones who are living in the most fear. It goes along the lines of, show me a homophobe and I will show you a closet homosexual. Deflecting attention away from ones own weakness or fears is a common tactic, particularly in video games. So we have players who ridicule based out of fear and players who are ridiculed. Quite a lot of angst there.

Blizzard got around this with the much maligned LFG system. Much maligned by players like me who don’t have any social anxiety hangups. But most probably a lifeline to players with social issues. If you’re reading this and thinking that it is ridiculous to have these sort of fears when you’re sitting at a computer literally thousands of miles from your antagonists, you need to try and have some empathy and put yourself in these people’s shoes. Perhaps the person who is afraid of being ridiculed in real life is driven to despair when they can’t even escape this sort of behaviour when they’re at a computer screen.

I have no hesitation in whispering people, putting calls out on general chat, or whatever. I even make a point to thank random players who univitedly buff me when they’re running past. You wouldn’t believe the positive response a whispered “thx for the buff” can get you. My friends list is getting so long I could start my own guild soon. And I didn’t used to be like this. In my early adult life just the act of stepping onto a bus used to fill me with social anxiety. I would always try and sit in the same place and keep my head down. But one day I decided that enough was enough and I sat in a different seat. And I looked at the people around me. Little steps, but they add up. If you’re freaked out about social interaction in a video game just take it in little steps. You’re not aiming to be the life of the party. You’re aiming to have a life.

Crippling poison has made a big difference in how I fight nasty mobs who run away and get their buddies just as they’re about to die. But I had entirely forgotten that poisons was a skill that you could level. So here I am brewing my poisons once again and having them drop off at inopportune moments. Plus all the bag space they take up. Playing in Vanilla WoW it strikes me that the rogue class began its life with great depth and since then it has been steadily whittled down to a one-dimensional sheen of its former self while adding seemingly endless new “skills” and “abilities”. I am sure that this is true for all classes in the game. Even hunters.

I was in the gnoll-infested caverns above Lakeshire in Redridge where I was hunting down some ore samples for a quest that I found in Stormwind. Suddenly I saw a dwarf warrior running towards me who had got himself into some trouble with a couple of gnolls. He just had time to type out a quick “help” and I jumped in to save him. He thanked me and I asked for a hand to take out the elite mob and his henchmen and we cleaned them up with some excellent play. He was level 23 and I am level 20 while the mobs are lvls 20-21 in that area. But their scaling is tough, remember this is old school WoW, and thus it encourages players to help each other when they get into trouble.

So this is an example of player interaction on a PvE basis. These areas as well as many of the quests are not soloable if you’re playing at the correct level. You need to ask for and give help and thus you meet players. Turns out this guy is a pretty hand tank, strike up another one for the friends list. And it being a PvP realm just makes the social requirements to communicate with other players even greater. Milady from Hypercriticism asked me the question of what I thought about playing on a PvP realm. I began my WoW career on a PvE realm but transferred to PvP when I started helping Gevlon on his projects at the time. For me PvP is clearly superior from both a gameplay and a community point of view.

I didn’t just casually run back down the road to Elwynn Forest to hand in my quest. A level 26 hordie was around and had knocked off a few players on the bridge while I had been in the caverns. I knew this from the conversation in general chat. A group had formed and had driven him out but where was he skulking now? I stealthed across the bridge and then kept to the trees at the side of the road until I was safely out of the zone.

I wouldn’t say that my heart was pounding but I was certainly on my guard. On a PvE realm you just run wherever you want to, (apart from the horde guards), which kind of puts the whole faction war thing in the ‘whatever, who gives a shit’ basket. We get the occasional level 60 blow in to a low level zone but mostly the incursions are perpetrated by players with corresponding levels. This means that they’re confident of their abilities and they’re up for a challenge. I applaud this and I’m happy to take them on when I happen across their path. In fact, perhaps I should make some low-level incursions of my own. Perhaps it’s time I gave The Barrens a visit.

I was on the Mathias and the Defias quest and I scooted out to Westfall where I found the agent lurking behind a tree. Pickpocketing the mob outside was easy and then I snuck upstairs where the two guards on the landing spotted me. Not to be deterred I ran to the top level with them in hot pursuit where I was cornered by the boss-man and the three of them took me down. So far all was going to plan. I rezzed on the top level, went into stealth and sapped the elite mob next to the chest. This would give me just enough time to loot the chest and sprint out of there. I began to loot the chest but it didn’t work. I tried again with some concern now and again I was unsuccessful. And then it dawned on me; at 53 my lock-picking skill wasn’t high enough.

Oh noes. I got bitch-slapped by the boss and I rezzed back at the spirit healer. I knew that I would have to head over to Redridge where the lockbox area is for low level rogues. I snuck past the nasty orcs ready to ambush me on the road and I made my way down to Alther’s Mill. The boxes were green for my skill level and I figured I’d have to get to a skill level of around 75 to be nice and safe for the other quest, so it took me some time to get my skill level up. I had about 4 points to go when I suddenly began to die.

Horde. A nasty Undead mage had snuck up on me. He was level 24 to my 20 and I had no chance after being ambushed. I came back and had a good look around to make sure he wasn’t there before I rezzed. Four skill points to go and a Horde mage out to get me. It certainly got the heart pumping. I positioned my rogue to open the boxes but I turned the camera angle around so I was effectively looking over my rogue’s shoulder. I was quite sure that the mage would try to sneak up on me from behind if he came back and that is exactly what happened as I spied his awful form on a nearby mound.

I went into stealth and took the long way around to get behind him as he set off his area-of-effect frost spell around the shorter approach. Silly mage. I got behind him and hit him with an ambush that dropped off a third of his hit points. But without any opening stun abilities at level 20 I was always on the back foot. I did get one stun off but being unable to re-stealth makes taking advantage of this tricky and what with his freezing and distance attacks I had a hard time of it. The four levels of difference didn’t help either. But it was close and at one point it could have gone either way until my energy ran out and he pinged me.

Back to the spirit healer I went as I didn’t fancy being corpse-camped. I waited out the sickness and then I snuck back where I spied him lurking behind a tree. Didn’t this guy have anything better to do? And I only had 2 points to go to hit 75. But each point was taking me on average about 10 opens to get so this was going to take a while. I put a call out on local chat announcing his presence and sure enough he scooted away when he spied incoming reinforcements. Thus I completed the task and then I hearthed back to Sentinal Hill in Westfall.

I repeated the same process as before only this time the chest opened as planned, I retrieved the journal and then I got the hell out of there. Handing the quest caused me to get the customary nasty poison effect but a bug meant that it dropped off me when I went into stealth. And now I have poisons, most notably crippling poison. Just the thing for nasty Undead mages.

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