World Without Levels

Holiday Hassles

ffxiv 2014-12-16 06-39-37-31 Today is going to be an extremely quick blogpost because I am pretty much under the gun.  Were I a proper and responsible adult I would have posted something last night.  However when I got home from work I was completely drained and while I hung out and played games for a bit… I also crashed significantly earlier than even my wife did.  Today is going to be an extremely day as we are officially beginning our Christmas shopping.  This is actually pretty good for us because in general we are those folks wandering around on Christmas Eve trying to find those last few gifts.  I like getting stuff just as much as the next person, but I really wish there was a way to turn Christmas into Thanksgiving 2.0.  The gift giving just seems to get in the way of what should be an otherwise amazing holiday.

There is the pressure to get something awesome for people who have literally not seen since last Christmas.  Then you end up with the gift of shame…  the gift card because really you have no clue at all what this person might want.  Instead if it were just Thanksgiving 2.0… we would share a meal together, and a conversation and not be constantly dreading the impending gift exchange awkwardness.  Personally I am one of those people that if I wanted it at all, I probably already bought it, and my wife is the same way.  So I feel like we are both exceptionally hard to buy for…  so mostly people just don’t try and we ultimately end up exchanging cash, either in gift card form or actual crisp bills.  Which brings me back to…  what exactly was the point?  A nice meal, a conversation…  those are the things that are really valuable.\

World Without Levels

Wow-64 2014-12-09 23-04-17-285 Yesterday a couple of my friends spun topics off of yesterdays post.  Lord Tridus commented that games should “Flatten or wipe out the level curve entirely and content now becomes scaled on gear”.  As Rowan stated in his follow up post, this system already exists and is alive and well in The Secret World.  The problem that I see with that system however is that you still have leveling in the form of total Ability Points gained, which are then used to purchase ability unlocks.  In theory it works, but the problem with the system is it becomes increasingly difficult to “restart” and try and go down a completely different path.  Ultimately this became a wall for many of my friends because the classes we wanted to play…  ended up being ultimately completely unviable when we reached the endgame aka “Nightmare” content.

Without a way to completely reset your character we had no way of really retooling after spending all of this time leveling ourselves into a corner.  Actually I experienced the same problem with playing Champions Online.  If you failed to follow the magical golden functional path, that game became an unplayable mess with you reaching a point very early on when you simply could not do the content you needed to.  The part of this equation that I feel has not been solved is how to grant abilities in a way that is not grindy.  I personally find The Secret World somewhat frustrating when I think about grinding out enough ability points to earn all of the abilities.  I spent probably hundreds of hours killing vampires in one of the higher level zones doing essentially just this…  that and farming gear to be broken down into crafting materials.  I just don’t see that as being the answer to the level problem either.

New Ability Gains

Gw2 2012-09-16 16-09-42-21 Ultimately the problem that remains is we need a new an interesting way of gaining abilities.  I think maybe Guild Wars 2 at least had part of this equation right, in that the equipping of gear SHOULD be what unlocks your abilities.  The component I would change to this equation however is that they “Teach” you abilities instead of only give you abilities while the item is equipped.  This completely changes what is considered a valuable item.  Sure a sword might not have as good of stats as the one you are currently wielding but if it gives you a new “Life Drain” ability that can be learned while completing content with it equipped…  that would make it worth keeping until at least you had learned that ability.  Random loot becomes interesting again because it might have an ability that you have not yet unlocked.

Ultimately this sort of system only works if you also have a limited amount of slots for you to put abilities in.  I think this is pretty much going to be the rule going forward that you should have no more than one hotbar worth of abilities at any given time.  This does two things for your game… firstly it makes it significantly easier for a new player to get into the game because they only have to learn so many keys to press at a given time.  Secondly it allows your game to be ported to a console significantly easier due to the limited number of button press combinations available.  The importance of making abilities in such a way so that no one ability is that much better than everything else is also key, that way there is a significant opportunity cost to each choice.  In any case…  I feel like a game without levels can work, but you also have to take away the ability grinds.  To me at least, learning a new ability from an item, feels significantly less grindy than simply racking up a currency that you then spend to unlock things.  I would love to hear other players thoughts on this concept as well.

Long Live BLEX

An Interesting Thread

Today is my last day before going on a two week break, and I am absolutely pumped.  However instead of talking about that, I am going to talk about an interesting thread I read yesterday afternoon.  In the thread Blizzard talked about a series of potential changes coming in 2015 to improve quality of life.  There was of course a mention of the new heirloom collection system that would make swapping heirlooms between characters on your account significantly easier.  My hope is they also make the acquisition of these heirlooms significantly more straight forward.  There was the announcement of a Legendary follower coming to our Garrisons as part of the legendary item quest chain.  At this point I already have what feels like an army of followers sitting in disabled status, so that isn’t really that important to me, but its a nice to have.

However as you wade into the post there are significantly more controversial topics.  For some reason a lot of folks on twitter seemed to stick on the fact that they were considering integrating WoW with twitter.  This is one of the features that I absolutely loved about Rift, that I could hit /tweetpic at any point and send a picture to my twitter feed along with some text.  Even more so I am hoping that they go as far as Rift did and allow us to see our twitter feeds in an in-game tab.  I loved being to read and respond to tweets while playing a game.  Now some folks are complaining that this is going to make twitter feel super spammy… and it probably will for awhile.  That said we learned to tone it down in Rift so I am sure folks will learn the same lessons in WoW.  WoW also doesn’t seem to give you an achievement every five minutes the way that Rift did, so that should help cut things down as well.

Long Live BLEX

The most controversial thing in the post was an announcement that Blizzard was considering creating a token system that would allow players to trade a month’s subscription on the auction house.  Now this system works extremely well in Eve (PLEX), Rift (REX), Sony Online Games (Krono), and Wildstar (CREDD).  From now on I have decided that I am going to start referring to this idea as “BLEX” or Blizzard Exchange, because it fits the Plex/Rex naming scheme.  A good friend of mine suggested “BLUX” for Blizzard Bux, which is also pretty great.  In any case this is not a new concept, but in fact one that is alive and working in many different games.  The system has always felt like a win/win for me, but I know there are folks out there that are extremely skeptical of it.  Essentially it allows two things…  firstly players that have more time on their hands than money, can ultimately play the game for free by purchasing BLEX for gold on the open market.  Secondly it allows players who have more money than time to purchase an extra months subscription and trade it off for in game currency.

Why this is important is that it almost instantly destroys the third party in game currency market.  When I first started playing online games… gold farmers were quite honestly an army of players who sold gold and platinum to clearing house companies for real currency.  While it was frustrating to see areas of the game camped by sellers…  this was more a nuisance than a really dangerous problem.  Then the account hacks started, as the criminal underground entered the business of selling in game currency.  The primary source for the third party sellers was the pay folks to compromise accounts and then attempt to cleanse the money through a series of throw away alts before selling it to a customer.  Every last bit of gold was in essence compromised because you could not tell the legitimately farmed currency from the stolen.  When you legitimize the purchase of in game currency this market quite literally goes away over night.  It becomes no longer worth the time to hack an account and steal currency, because the price gets driven down to margins where they cannot really profit from the sale.

BLEX is Good For Games

I’ve always seen these type of systems as a bit of an equalizer, in that if you are coming into a game your friends are playing months behind…  you can spend an extra months subscription to help catch up on the currency side of things.  In the games that have had the system it did not actually have any catastrophic effects on the market, in fact in many cases it drove the price of goods down significantly because they were no longer the sole means of money acquisition.  The nice thing about having a market traded transfer of gold is that the value fluctuates with the game.  When the REX system first went into play in Rift it was trading for roughly 900 platinum, now as the game has released additional content and the acquisition of money has gotten faster in game, that price has increased to around 1500 platinum.  Items sold on the auction house themselves seem to move significantly more quickly, considering that players no longer feel quite so pressed for funds.  During the Nightmare Tides expansion launch I crafted several pieces of armor that sold for a couple hundred plat a piece.

Rift however is not the only game I have seen this working in first hand.  The Krono system also has been really good for Everquest 2.  Prior to its launch there was an unofficial market of selling game time cards in open chat for platinum, much like there is an unofficial trade of purchasing items from the trading card game in World of Warcraft and then turning around and selling them for gold in game.  The release of the Krono pretty much closed that market down entirely and with it no longer being an unofficial process… actually reduced the cost of a months subscription time.  I watched the prices for Krono start about what folks were openly trading a game time card for a week before… and it quickly dropped down to something more reasonable for the players purchasing that account time.  So ultimately this works out decent for the folks trying to purchase game time with their in game currency.  I expect were BLEX to launch the currency tokens would start around 100,000 gold… and trend downwards for awhile.  What is interesting is there is always a monthly up and down cycle… towards the end of each month the prices spike as folks are needing to purchase the next months game time.

Doubling Down on WoW

Ultimately I see this discussion that is happening as a positive thing.  Blizzard has a strike against it in the RMT department, and fans are not quick to forget it.  The real money auction house was a pretty horrible concept, but thankfully this “BLEX” idea is one that has been well tested in the market already.  If they simply follow the same model that is working for everyone else, I feel like they will be just fine…  so long as they don’t “tweak” it to make it more insidious.  Essentially I see these changes as Blizzard trying to modernize their game.  It lacks a lot of the features that we have just come to expect from other titles… and previously I think the end game was always that Project Titan would come along and offer a modern MMO under the Blizzard banner.  However with that project now gone, and no new Blizzard MMO on the horizon…  I see all of this as them recommitting to World of Warcraft being their flagship MMO title.

There are a lot of things that I would like to see integrated into the game.  I still feel that it is in desperate need for a mentoring system, to allow you to play older content for real with your friends.  One of my chief frustrations with the instant 90 system was that it functionally said that nothing released before Warlords of Draenor had any “value”.  There is so much amazing older content, that I think players who have not experienced it…  are missing something fundamental about the World of Warcraft experience.  My hope is that they will devote the resources that had been lacking on making the quality of life changes needed to bring World of Warcraft back to truly top tier status.  When this game launched it took the  best ideas from all the games around it, refined them and applied a coat of polish to all of it.  It is time for Blizzard to do the same thing again, gather up the current generation of MMOs best features… and integrate them into the game.

Dirty Santa Playtest

Presentation Given

Yesterday the tension was all built up over a presentation I had to do at work, and now that it is over I feel like I am officially checked out mentally.  Friday is my last day before I go on an extended holiday break that lasts until January.  At this point I am just so ready to be not at work, and fortunately it seems like everyone else around me is in the same condition.  Unfortunately there are still a few things that need to be wrapped up before I can in good faith leave for break.  As far as the presentation went, by all accounts I nailed it.  In fact one person commented that I should have dropped the mic as I walked away.  Unfortunately we did not win the contest, but that is partially because even I did not think we had the best idea.  We had a strong showing, but our application is mostly for internal use… whereas the person who won, and that I actually voted for myself…  would be used by the public and be really cool for them.

There was a small cash prize riding on the line for the contest, and while it was cool it wasn’t really a motivating factor.  I wanted to give a strong showing for out team, just to do it.  What was kind of amazing is just how fundamentally humble the winners were.  Early in the projects life I had helped do some high level system design, and at various points along the way we added some help here and there.  The web group is a really cohesive entity, and we are constantly helping each other out.  Well when the team got their cash prize, they immediately tried to stuff some of it in the hands of me and another co-worker that had helped them along the way.  So much so that they would not take no for an answer.  The entire process gave me far more warm fuzzies with the way things turned out, than had I actually won.

Dirty Santa Playtest

didntplaytestthisatallBefore the presentations were given we had a big group outing where we went to an Irish pub and commandeered the back room for a Christmas party.  I mentioned the concept of “Dirty Santa” online yesterday but a few people had never heard of it, so figured I would give a quick explanation.  It is known by a lot of different names but around here it is mostly referred to as “Dirty Santa”, because it involves stealing presents from other players.  You somehow pick numbers for the people in your group, for us we went on number of years employed at the company, with the “newest” person going first.  When it comes your time you have two choices… pick a gift from the pile of gifts not yet picked, or steal from anyone in the group that has a present that you want.  Then that person has to go pick a gift as well.  To keep it from cascading forever we have a rule that any given gift can only be stolen twice… meaning the third person with it has it for life.  This often adds a strategic element to the game, especially if there is something everyone wants.

What is awesome about our group is that we pretty much bring gifts in one of two categories.  The vast majority are somewhat geeky, or at least are something a geek would care about.  The second category is alcohol which is always a fun gift.  Often times the gifts play on he vices of the group as a whole, so Legos make a frequent appearance.  I personally brought a Walking Dead starter kit with the first season and a couple of those funko random boxes.  My goal was for someone to end up with it who was not already hooked on the show…  since several of us watch it pretty much religiously.  I ended up walking away with the card game above, that I had actually seen before and wanted to play.  Right now I am leaving it at work and some lunch we are going to grab a conference room and play it.  It is really awesome to have a work family that you actually like, and its moments like this that reinforce my decision to stick around.

Roflstompy Good Time

Wow-64 2014-12-18 06-46-07-96 Last night we once again queued for LFR as a guild, and I have to say I am digging doing this.  In part because it assures that we will have enough people to remove any abusive troublemakers from our group, and two it lets us get our strategies down smoother in a completely zero pressure environment.  For the most part we just take over any group we are put into, and control the pulls and progress of the raid… and as such clear the content in what feels like record times.  I think last night we did both raids in less than 30 minutes.  I had a decent night overall picking up boots and bracers that were technically upgrades… but pretty horrible stats.  Then I picked up a really nice cloak that actually had semi-ideal stats for what I do.  I am at a weird place with gladiator dps in that I can feel myself starting to fall behind the other dps classes…  but I bring quite a bit of utility especially since we do not have a warrior tank.  The two biggest being that I am essentially constantly debuffing the targets armor… and at the same time stripping off positive buffs with my shield slam.  I am starting to feel like the Hemo rogues did back in Vanilla… I make the raid work more smoothly… even if I am not topping the meters myself.

Another thing I managed to do last night was finally get Gold on an invasion.  Sadly I got nothing of use from my epic invasion reward bag, well unless you count garrison resources, gold and apexis crystals as useful.  In truth I really do need all of the resources I can get right now because I am in the process of renovating my garrison significantly.  Last night I destroyed my enchanting hut, because as an enchant I found it of limited use other than for getting epic shards…  which we will ultimately be rolling in later.  In its place I erected a salvage yard… which is pretty much the best thing ever.  I love the completely random nature of salvage, and supposedly you can end up getting just about anything in the game including the Tier 3 armor sets.  Additionally I managed to get Phylarch the Green for my Garrison, which means more than likely once I have built up a stockpile of resources… I am going to wreck my Lumber Mill and replace it with a Trading Post.  More or less I am still enthralled with Warlords of Draenor, and am really into the raid side of things.  I am hoping we can make some good progress on the next boss tonight in normal after having seen it last night in LFR.

Kargath’s Hat

Festive Occasion

Today is going to be a really strange day, for so many reasons.  The group I am with at work is the first group in years that I have actually cared about holiday parties.  So when my boss had a party a few years ago, it was quite literally the first “work Christmas party” I have ever actually attended.  This year due to some odd circumstances we are not actually having a real party, but instead doing a Christmas lunch of sorts.  The plan is to have a long lunch at a local restaurant, and then in place of our normal Wednesday staff meeting we are having these product demos.  This year we had these team projects that we had been working on as we had time.  Each of them did something that we felt was needed in our environment.

In the meeting this afternoon we have to demo our progress, but I am taking this probably way more seriously than I actually should.  I have a product pitch like presentation, with a power point and everything.  My hope is that I can burn through the presentation pretty quickly, because once all of the products have been demo’d we are off for the rest of the afternoon.  I have a feeling that if any one person runs too long there will be much groaning, so I am trying to make sure things are polished enough to go quickly without stumbling on anything.  In any case today is going to be a strange day, and hopefully it will be a fun one.

Kargath’s Hat

Wow-64 2014-12-16 20-04-35-13 This morning I am struggling a bit to focus as I write my blog post.  In part I am groggy from having stayed up a little bit too late, but I am also struggling to figure out how to explain just how awesome last night was.  This so far has been hands down the best start to an instance raid wise I have experienced in World of Warcraft.  Generally speaking our guild and the raids connected to it, have taken a significant amount of time getting our act together before actually hitting the content.  With this raid we attempted to hit the ground running on the week the content was actually released.  Of course Argent Dawn our server did not cooperate… and the game was essentially unplayable for us on that Tuesday, however the following Thursday they managed to down the first two bosses.  Since then we have been progressing steadily each week.  Last week we managed to down our very first Heroic boss as well, but due to some bugs not a single person in the raid got any loot.  The bosses share separate lockouts, but it seems like last week you were only able to receive loot from one of those lockouts.

As such we altered the order in which we did the content so that we could take down Heroic Kargath first before doing any of the normal mode content.  That way if we were only going to get loot from one version… we would at least get the heroic version.  I can’t say we have this boss down on “Farm” yet because it took us a few tries to get him down, but it does feel like it was more solid than last week.  Last week was definitely a “by the seat of our pants” kill, feeling like we barely got him.  This week we had a few rough attempts but then on the time we killed him everything went pretty solidly.  I struggled a bit with staying alive this week in general, which is part really bad luck and part sluggish reaction speed.    When he died I got quite possibly the worst helmet I could use statwise…. which directly replaced the previous version I had…  but at least it has the festive green text saying “Heroic” on it.

Twin Ogron: Doubly Dead

Wow-64 2014-12-16 22-00-15-15This week on normal everything is starting to feel like it is easily farmable.  We downed Kargath and Butcher with ease, before moving forward to Brackenspore.  After struggling a bit last week, this week everything felt smooth.  I can say that pretty much every job on that fight happened flawlessly, but we also got some luck on the mushroom spawn placement.  In any case we one-shot Brackenspore before moving on.  Tectus on the other hand gave us a bit of a problem.  While we one-shot him last week… it was definitely a lucky attempt.  The way we were  “handling” things was far more “by the seat of our pants” than it really needed to be.  In fact the attempt mostly involved me running around like crazy dragging the bosses with me, trying to avoid crap as best as I could and keep the melee out of it.  If we were going to take on that fight on heroic, we needed to start developing a strategy and last night we did just that.  The first few attempts were nonstarters, but there was a moment when everyone started to grasp what needed to happen and just executed it.  While we had like 20 seconds to the enrage timer on our first attempt, this time we managed to down him with a minute and a half left, feeling like the fight is definitely in the sustainable territory.

The fight we struggled with last week of course were the Twin Ogron:  Pol and Phemos.  More than anything we really did not have solid strategies for dealing with things like the fire and whirlwind.  We made a half hearted attempt on Tuesday, and then managed to get some serious tries Thursday… which was enough to propel some research on the matter.  Our attack was two prong… firstly we changed up where we were fighting the Ogron, and secondly we now understood how the axes work and where the fire comes from.  Things went perfectly, and the new placement combined with understanding the patterns gave us our first Twin Ogron kill… and it was a one-shot.  In one night we managed to clear six bosses, one of which being a brand new kill… I feel like that is pretty much a banner night for our raid.  Now we need to do research for the next encounter, which I actually saw on LFR after last nights raid… and which is why I was up way too late.  It looks like it is going to be madness, but hopefully we can struggle on and make good attempts this Thursday.  Unfortunately I spent a token on every boss but normal Kargath, and the only piece of loot I walked away with was the heroic hat.  It’s amazing how being handed fistfuls of gold can make you so sad.

Twintania Down

Hitting Heroics

WoWScrnShot_121514_055933 I guess I have given the wrong impression over the last few posts.  I have nothing against Heroics, in fact I ran the shit out of them over the first few weeks of Warlords of Draenor.  That is of course how I geared up to 630+ for raiding purposes.  I would have been royally screwed without the various heroic, warforged and socketed pieces I picked up along the way.  With my alts however I was trying a mostly academic experiment to see if you could go directly into looking for group without actually having set foot in a Heroic.  I personally could not, but in theory if you had slightly better luck than I did…  you might just be able to do it.  That said when faced with a choice between furthering this little experiment, and actually being able to run LFR this week before the reset…  I chose the path that would let me run LFR.

When a guildie was asking for folks in guild chat to run a daily random, I signed up and for the most part it went smoothly.  By that I mean I did not seem to screw anything up, and managed to push out sufficient dps.  We have done enough of these by now that they pretty much always go smoothly, even when it involved two of us playing on alts.  I managed to pick up a neckpiece off the first boss, and a nice pair of shoulders off the guaranteed piece from the final boss.  Combined this gave me enough of a boost to be able to queue easily. which I did late in the evening.  I managed to get into the LFR after about 10 minutes and the entire thing was over in about 20.  From there I netted a pair of boots, so I am well on my way to being mostly viable on this character.

Twintania Down

ffxiv_12152014_225042 The highlight of the evening however is that we managed to push across the threshold and defeat Turn 5 in the Binding Coil of Bahamut… aka Twintania.  The night as a whole started off a bit strange, because due to him moving and needing to finish packing…  Tam was not available.  This meant we had to pull things together without him…  something we are not exactly experienced in doing.  Thankfully Kodra was a responsible adult and got us all going.  We had a slightly different makeup  than normal, which meant among other things dual White Mages instead of a White Mage and Scholar.  While both White Mages healed their little butts off… the difference was noticeable especially when both healers were busy mitigating mechanics like conflagration.  It is kinda hax to have a healer fairy constantly dumping out heals even whenever its master is otherwise occupied, and when that goes away it is noticeable.

It took us roughly an hour to get through to the final phase cleanly with everyone up and no one in jeopardy.  When we finally downed the fight it felt really repeatable… which is good because we are likely going to repeat it pretty often.  Firstly Tam needs to defeat Twintania to be able to progress into the Second Coil of Bahamut, but secondly I have a feeling that we would all really like to have Turn 5 weapons at least for glamour purposes.  I feel really damned proud of our group.  All told it took us four nights of attempts to down her, and that is saying alot that the fight is still this tough even with the echo buff.  I cannot fathom what being on the bleeding edge feels like in Final Fantasy XIV… but I am super happy to be following along a year behind and enjoying the content with my friends.

Screenshot Failure

ffxiv 2014-12-16 06-40-03-38 In my Boy Scout days, there was an entire troop of special needs adults that camped near us.  We had developed a bond with their scoutmaster since he was from a neighboring town, and over time we got to know all the scouts from that troop pretty well.  There was one named Rusty, who was constantly carrying around an old Nikon SLR camera snapping photos.  He would excitedly coo to himself “wooooboy that was a good one”, after each photo he would take.  After watching him take photos the entire time without ever reloading film, my dad a professional photographer happened to look at the counter on the camera.  There was no film at all in it, and the simple act of taking the photos made him feel happy.  Last night I was apparently Rusty, because while we had this epic night of raiding… and Cyl and I looking adorable in santa costumes…  I found out much to my frustration at the end of the night that not a single screenshot was saved.

For some time I have had this elaborate setup where all of my screenshots regardless of game got dumped into a single directory.  This makes the morning routine of blogging and snagging screenshots for said blogs much easier.  As a result for years I ran Fraps, and it just worked flawlessly.  However when I started streaming, I had to find something that did not have a negative interaction with OBS.  For that I have relied on DXTory, but lately it has been acting flaky as hell.  There was an issue with it where leaving it running in the background would cause it to stop listening to keypress events, and therefore not recording screenshots.  So last night before the raid I stopped and restarted it… making sure it was correctly bound to the Final Fantasy XIV process.  However at the end of the night… after taking so many wouldbe awesome screenshots…  the directory was empty.  I guess for the time being I will go back to FRAPS since I am not really streaming much anyways…  but just hoping that some of our guildies got some good shots.  The picture of Twintania down was captured by Ashgar, who gladly provided it for this post.

Deathknightly Values

Ogron Going Down

FunWithPhemos Last Thursday we struggled quite a bit with the Twin Ogron encounter.  It felt so completely random that I could not quite grok how to deal with the fire.  This weekend I resolved to fix this problem and did quite a bit of research to try and grasp exactly how the fire worked, because once we figured that out I figured we could easily down them.  Yesterday afternoon I watched what felt like a dozen different videos until I finally found one that showed the fire clear enough for me to catch what exactly was happening.  If you watch this video it clearly shows what happens to the fire when the axe lands on the ground.  As such I created this handy visual aide for our raiders, because it seems as though the fire travels in the direction the axe’s handle is leaning.  This means there is a relatively safe spot on the far side of the axe head.

By relatively safe I mean that you only have to deal with dodging fire from one of the axes.  It seems like there is some time between when the first axe falls and the second axe falls, which also added to our confusion during the encounter.  Essentially we need to move the raid behind the axe head and then be prepared to adjust to dodge the second axes incoming fire.  Now the fire does not travel in a straight line, which also makes it seem more random, but instead arcs outwards in a curve, but not one steep enough to curve back on itself.  My hope is with this tidbit of information we will rock the hell out of Pol and Phemos and take their candy.  When I realized how it was working I was absolutely pumped… and I am sorry to anyone I tried to explain this to yesterday.  I was a little over stimulated by the discovery, and probably made very little sense.

Deathknightly Values

WoWScrnShot_121514_055933 The focus of my weekend gaming was to finish the push of my Deathknight to 100.  Saturday night I managed to hit 99 which just left me a single level to push through on Sunday.  The problem is my focus shifted from acquiring levels, to instead acquiring gear as Nagrand is really my last opportunity to improve my ilevel before being confronted with the choice of running dungeons.  My side goal of course was to somehow manage to hit 615 ilevel before sitting foot in a single heroic to prove it could be done.  My friend Cuppy said she managed to do it, but as I got further through Nagrand my heart started to sink.  Each quest turn in that I did not get a blue or purple upgrade from was like a punch in the gut, because I knew more than likely I would not make my goal.  When I dinged 100 last night I still had quite a bit left to go of Nagrand, but I continued to soldier onwards in search of items to bring up my ilevel.

After wringing every drop of potential gear goodness from the zone… I was still way short of my goal sitting at only 609, so not even heroic ready.  I had one last shot at getting the level up there, because I had yet to do the quest that would give me a ilevel 640 ring.  I queued as dps for normal Skyreach and the queue popped considerably faster than I was expecting.  We steamrolled the place, and unfortunately I got no upgrades.  I did however complete the quest for the ring and it took me to 612.  I purchased a second ring which took my total “in bag” iLevel to 614, so one shy of being able to queue for LFR.  Now one of the problems with switching zones every two levels is the fact that I did not do much faction work in Spires of Arak.  This means I am shy of the honored required to buy the Arakkoa trinket.  Once I get that faction up a bit, and purchase that trinket I should be able to queue for LFR…  but I also raid tonight so not sure how all of this is going to work out.  I doubt I will be able to get in on the free epic goodness of LFR before the reset tomorrow.

Hatch Phase

ffxiv 2014-12-01 22-13-45-989 As I said above, tonight is our raid night in Final Fantasy XIV and I am hoping we are able to finally push past Turn 5 and get Twintania’s candy.  From what I have heard this is the roughest content we will face until Turn 9, and I am okay with that.  Mostly because I hope it means that turns 6-8 will be much faster progression than Turn 5 has been.  Twintania is probably the single most complicated raid encounter I have ever faced, and I like it.  It is kinda like having to learn five different boss fights, and as of last week we were finally up to the last phase which is reportedly the easiest to get through, or at least nothing compared to the twister phase.  My hope is that tonight we can see enough of it to absolutely wreck her.  Thankfully we have not come close to hitting the thirteen minute hard enrage for the encounter.

I realize at this point that Binding Coil of Bahamut and Turn 5 are quite literally a year old at this point, but it still feels super relevant.  In fact there are large swaths of the FFXIV community that can’t do it.  That has been the interesting thing about FFXIV raid content is that it remains difficult even with the Echo buff.  I am perfectly fine not being on the bleeding edge of progression in this game, but I am super happy that we are still progressing in our own way.  My real hope is that after struggling to finish this fight as a team…  the various extreme mode primals are going to seem easy when we return to fighting them.  We have learned to move as a group, and play off each others strengths… and quite literally have had a raid forged by fire.  I am pumped to see what we can do during a “normal” fight, instead of this insane assemblage of phases.

Stupid Zeppelin Tricks

AggroChat Episode 35

Last night we recorded our 35th episode of AggroChat, featuring myself, Ashgar, Tamrielo and Kodra.  Last night the show became mostly about raids and raiding.  I am not sure if this started with our progress in Final Fantasy XIV working on Turn 5 of Binding Coil of Bahamut or if this began with Tam talking about the new “It’s A Wipe” game from steam.  It’s A Wipe is essentially a raid simulator in that you are the raid leader of a group of players trying to make it through progression content.  Having lived this world… the more we talked about this game the more it seems like the creators of the game were raid leaders themselves at some point.  When Tam got into the section talking about the descriptions of the various players and their traits…  I could seriously associated names to each of the people he was talking about because we had those exact personalities in our own raids.

From there we wound our way through lots of digital card gaming with Kodra, as he talked about the new Hex and Hearthstone expansions.  Tam talked about the sweeping changes to the Infinity miniatures game and the ramifications it is having on the various factions.  Finally we delve into my relapse into raiding.  This past week I raided Monday in Final Fantasy XIV, Tuesday doing Highmaul progression content in World of Warcraft, Wednesday a casual foray into LFR with the guild, and Thursday Highmaul progression again.  All total that was four nights of raiding… and I was having an absolute blast.  As Kodra pointed out, I am raiding as much as I ever did in Late Night Raiders… just doing it in a more piecemeal and casual fashion.  I am really enjoying splitting time between Final Fantasty XIV and WoW and seeing how each game does raiding.

Stupid Zeppelin Tricks

Wow-64 2014-12-13 19-01-17-902 A few hours before the raid my friend Kinral mentioned that he had an impending invasion in his garrison.  I volunteered to do one as I had not gotten one done for the week.  In theory you can do as many invasions as you like, but as far as I know you can only receive rewards from one a week.  Additionally there is an achievement for having done all of the available factions, so I have been looking to spend my weekly garrison fight on a new faction.  Kinral thankfully had the Shadowmoon Clan, which is the one you fight during your “trial” garrison invasion.  We got all prepared to do this, teleported to his Garrison…  but for some reason he could not accept the quest.  So we ran out to the edge of the phasing and waiting as he logged in and out and fiddled with various bits to try and get the quest to show up.  While doing this Odie and I did what any bored players do…  start breaking out the Paper Zeppelins.

Yesterday I learned a very important lesson… firstly that you can outrun the paper zeppelins.  More importantly however that you can keep throwing more Zeppelins at the player and end up with an army of them following them.  The above photo only shows four, but I did managed to get all five chasing him at one point.  After some more figurations… we found out that Kinral had not upgraded his Garrison to the Tier 3 Town Hall…  which is really strange because when I teleported to his Garrison… I saw the Tier 3 castle layout.  He upgraded really quickly and we were able to do the invasion.  We were roughly 50 away from getting gold, and none of us got anything tangible from our loot bags.  So here is hoping that next week I can manage to get in on one of the gold invasions and get something cool from it.  I mostly just want to get gold so I can prove to myself that I can do it.

The Final Stretch

WoWScrnShot_121414_003037 While I am about to talk about Belgrave and my progress leveling… I had to share the above screenshot just because I thought it was pretty amazing.  I spent a good deal of time yesterday while recording the podcast faffing about in Pandaria, either farming Dinosaur bones for the 9999 mount or trying to get Zandalari Warbringer kills.  During one of the long stretches flying across the continent I noticed I flying against the moon and snapped a screenshot.  I really really love the Grinning Reaper Ebola charity mount, and especially when it is flying… because it seems so improbable.  Anyways onwards to Belgrave… last night I managed to hit 99 so I am in the final stretch towards 100.  Unfortunately he is not having the best luck in the world.  I keep completing these quests, and almost every time I am walking away with the default green reward instead of an upgraded version.  While Cuppy chimed in yesterday telling me that it was in fact possible to hit 615 without the Dwarven Bunker…  I think maybe she also had a significant amount of luck going into it too.  I plan on completing Nagrand and seeing where I am at the end of it… but I have a feeling I am going to be significantly shy of 615.

I have to say when you are used to getting upgrades from quest rewards…  you die a little inside each time you get a green.  Similarly not a single on of the lootables scattered around the zone have become upgrades either.  At some point I am going to make an attempt on the 620 sword on top of Oshugun.  Here is hoping that ends up purple, because it if does I will be set for awhile.  One of my big frustrations with Blizzards design through the years is their seeming inability to ever put a full set of gear in an area.  Since Nagrand is a gearing up zone basically…  would it not have been better for them to have enough treasures in the zone to make a full set of gear?  Better yet…  why is there not a blue set of Smithed gear that the player can wear while trying to gear up?  I feel like gear in general has been a frustrating point this expansion, especially considering most heroic gear has a chance of dropping from any boss in any dungeon… making it feel extremely generic.  I feel like Blizzard tried to do a lot of things with this expansion, but most of them are not working as intended.

Full on Melee

The Damai Method

Wow-64 2014-12-12 22-35-09-567 Last night I spent most of the evening working on my Deathknight, who is at this point level 98.  I am doing what I am lovingly referring to as the “Damai” method for leveling him, but in truth I know Kylana and several others did it as well.  The idea is that you spend exactly as much time as you need in a zone to jump to the next zone.  Basically if you are leveling your way through Draenor you are given a quest to jump to Gorgrond when you ding 92, Talador when you ding 94, Spires of Arak when you ding 96 and finally Nagrand when you hit 98.  The idea is to keep moving for maximum leveling speed, but unfortunately minimum content completion.  You do however want to stick around in Spires of Arak just long enough to get your outpost and save some goblin friends so you can unlock the Salvage Yard.

This method goes against every instinct I have, but I probably will be doing quite a bit of it to push up my army of 90s…  hopefully before the MC LFR helmet grab is finished.  My plan is to stick around Nagrand and cross my fingers hoping I get enough upgrades from my Dwarven Bunker to be able to hit 615 without much issue.  Mostly I am doing this to see if I can in theory completely skip Heroics jumping straight into LFR.  I am honestly not sure if this is even viable.  I might be screwed and have not gotten enough faction with the birdmen or the draenei to buy those two 615 trinkets.  If I am stuck in the same place I was last time, with needing to PVP to get into heroics…  then basically this is not a viable method and there is really no point in skipping content.  I will of course let you know as the weekend goes how well this worked because I fully expect to be 100 during that time.

Full on Melee

Wow-64 2014-11-25 18-07-48-63 One of my frustrations with MMO design in its current state, and all state for the foreseeable future is that having too many melee in your party is a massive liability.  During the entire time I have played MMOs there has never been a time when having a bunch of melee was favorable for any encounter.  More often it was spending time as a raid leader trying to convince players that preferred melee to switch over to their ranged characters for the sake of “balance”.  Balance generally means that if more than 30% of your damage is coming from melee you are pretty well fucked.  It frustrates me to no end because I really do not care for playing ranged characters.  I find them boring with their incessant finger wiggling and standing in one spot to cast a spell only to move again to cast another spell.  Nothing is enjoyable about that, and a large chunk of my problems with Deathknights at the moment is that they FEEL like a caster, not a melee.

While I know there are definitely players who prefer to play ranged casters, I have feel like we would not have this constant “full on melee” problem were it not that casters on average are less enjoyable to play?  This has been a constant problem the entire time I have played MMOs that the melee players always outnumber the ranged…  so maybe just maybe that means it is time to readdress the way ranged feel to play.  There is two games that I have been able to stomach playing ranged characters, and in both of them it was because you could cast while moving.  Granted in the case of Final Fantasy XIV this is exactly ONE class that  can do this…  but still the ability to move around freely while attacking is a big part of why I enjoy playing melee in the first place.

Brief Periods of Fun

Wow-64 2014-12-09 19-18-51-466 Granted folks are going to write in with comments telling me that in World of Warcraft most of the ranged classes have abilities that allow them to cast and move at the same time.  Here is the problem… so you are telling me for brief moments when I use a cooldown the class won’t feel like crap to play.  Apologies but that does not convince me that playing a ranged class is a good idea.  I would far rather stick to playing something that feels awesome all the time, rather than having to rely on cooldowns to bring me brief moments of happiness.  Ultimately I don’t have any good answers here.  Ultimately even removing the requirement to stand still to cast doesn’t go all the way into fixing my hatred of casters.  I really really dislike the concept of a cast time on abilities as well.  I like mashing buttons and seeing an effect when I mash it… and there is something primal and visceral about being up close with a mob rather than kiting it around like I am scared for it to touch me.

At the end of the day…  I accept the fact that I am melee and can only really ever be happy playing melee.  I just wish that I did not constantly feel like I was a detriment to my friends for choosing to play one.  Every game reinforces that by playing melee dps I am making a poor lifestyle choice, but I keep thinking that surely game designers can come up with a way that does not punish your raid for having an abundance of players standing toe to toe with the mobs.  Until that day however… as leaders we are going to have to continue furious horse trading to convince players to keep picking ranged casters so that we can have our balance.  But I can’t help feeling like we would not have this problem were ranged a more enjoyable choice in the first place.  Every time a bell rings, a melee loses its wings…  and becomes a ranged.

Boogey Bested

Bladefist Banished

Wow-64 2014-12-11 20-19-23-462 One of the cool features this expansion is that each of the raid difficulties shares a separate lockout.  This means you can go to normal with one group, heroic with a a completely different group… and then mythic yet again with a different group.  However for the case of our raid this also means that when we get a boss solidly on farm on Normal mode we can ramp up the difficulty and try it on Heroic as well.  Before last night we felt we solidly had the mechanics down for Kargath Bladefist, as we managed to one-shot it this past Tuesday before pushing forward and doing the same to Butcher.  Last night our raid lead decided before we returned to working on Brackenspore that we should at least give a few attempts at Kargath heroic.  Turns out this was a pretty great idea because on the first attempt we managed to make significant progress.

One of the things I like about normal and heroic being the same mechanics is that it allows you to get the key concepts in the fight down solidly before moving up a difficulty level.  Our biggest challenge seemed to be reacting fast enough, since everything the boss and his environment does is serious business.  I was the first death because I managed to get knocked back into a flame pillar and just evaporated.  Similarly we lost a lot of people to the berserker charge because in normal you can survive a tick or two while getting out of the way…  but in heroic it straight wrecks you.  On attempt four we managed to get our mojo working and downed him in what felt like a fairly solid and repeatable victory.  Unfortunately I am not sure if anyone in the raid actually got loot, as we seemed to mostly get double gold.

Boogey Bested

WoWScrnShot_120914_203003 Wednesday morning I referred to the next fight we worked on as the Brackenspore Boogey, and I still feel like this is an apt term.  The entire fight is this awkard dance between the tank swaps, and the burning of the fungal creep, and even the placement of the raid next to the appropriate mushroom and burning down the add quickly.  Each of those things can screw the raid up if not handled properly.  I have found myself falling back into being a rather vocal member of the raid, and unfortunately its a role I am not sure I can stop from doing.  When you lead a guild and a raid for as long as I have, you find yourself filling a vacuums of responsibility whenever you see them.  I felt like it would help if I started calling various things out, since this fight is all about awareness of what is going on.  So when I saw that the add had spawned, or the creep was getting too close to the boss… I was announcing this over Teamspeak.  Hopefully our raid leader and crew as a whole does not want to throttle me.

The awesome thing is… we went from getting wrecked to wrecking things rather quickly.  One of the positives about LFR is it gives you a time to work on mechanics when the overall risk is extremely low.  You can pretty much ignore every single mechanic on LFR but we treated it Wednesday night as a dress rehearsal for the real fight.  After Tuesday night I had some theories on how the tank swap needed to happen, and Wednesday night our two  tanks refined these to glossy perfection so that last night that was just a non-issue.  All that remained was dealing with the particular quirks of the fungal creep, pushing enough dps and interrupting on the add and dealing with mob positioning.  The only problem with the fight as a whole is that it is insanely long.  I am pretty sure our first try lasted around fifteen minutes, but that is mostly because we fought the moss longer than we really should have.  Our second attempt ended with us downing the boss, and it felt extremely solid.

That Click Moment

Wow-64 2014-12-11 21-10-10-172 If I had to sum up in one thing the reason why I enjoy raiding, it would be the “Click Moment”.  There is something magical that happens that I still can’t quite explain, but I have watched it occur over and over.  There is a clear moment when everyone in the raid grasps what needs to happen and just does it.  You can go from wiping horribly one attempt, to everything going smoothly the next, and it is as though some collecting cog just happens to click into place between those two tries.  I still find it phenomenal how a boss fight goes from utter chaos to a well oiled and repeatable machine in a single attempt.  Sure there are some boss kills where you kill the boss in spite of yourself, our raids first Sindragosa 25 man kill was this way with us barely killing her as the last person got frozen.  Most of them however there is this magical spark that takes a boss from impossible to farmable, and I still marvel each time I see it.

This week it felt like we reached that moment on three of the four bosses we downed, and quite honestly I feel like Tectus and Heroic Kargath are both repeatable… but more DPS race than anything else.  Twin Ogrons on the other hand… we are still very much in the utter chaos phase.  This fight has a lot of moving parts, with at least one of them feeling completely random.  Every so often during the fight Phemos will throw down his weapon, and from it will radiate fire.  The fire moves in a pattern that is not really predictable… or at least the problem is we have not quite groked how to predict it.  It seems to spread first in a star pattern and then sidewind through the room unpredictably.  Watching it while completely zoomed out it reminds me so much of Conway’s Game of Life simulation.  I keep thinking that it cannot be as random as it seems… and I feel like the “click” moment for this fight will be whenever we reason out how the fire works.  All in all however it felt like an amazing first week of raiding for me…  and I am hooked.

The Kill Count

  • Normal Kargath
  • Normal Butcher
  • Normal Tectus
  • Heroic Kargath
  • Normal Brackenspore

I can’t wait for the reset so we can wreck everything all over again and start making some serious progress on Twin Ogrons.  I feel like there is just a lot of research we need to do between now and then.  I am also looking forward to Monday night in Final Fantasy XIV because I feel like we are going to down Turn 5 finally.  We have functional mastery over all of the phases except the last one, and finally got to see enough of it to grok how it works.  Now it is just a matter of pulling together all of the moving parts and claiming victory so we can move forward into the Second Coil of Bahamut.  I guess I am a “Raider” again… and surprisingly I feel none of the frustrations that I did previously, even when we have struggled a bit to clear Turn 5.  It seems like I am now in two different raid groups that are about the ideal mix of casual and serious so that I feel like I am not being chastised for screwing up… but at the same time feel like everyone is working towards the same goal.  I am in a very happy place as a gamer right now.

L is for Loot Piñata

Kinder Gentler LFR

WoWScrnShot_120914_213518 Last night we opted to enter the “Looking For Raid” version of Highmaul as a guild, similar to how we did Molten Core, since that made the entire experience so much less chaotic.  We brought with us both tanks and a couple of healers, and since we have done the fights on normal now figured we would be able to push through any issues we came along.  Oddly enough the LFR tool did not make one of us the leader of the group even through we accounted for 15 of the 25 slots.  Instead it chose this shaman healer who’s name was some combination of “Faceroll” and “Ballerina” that I am sure he thought was exceedingly clever when he created the character.  I say “he” because the actions and commentary felt like a “dudebro” playing the character.

Moments after we started clearing he started barking orders generally starting off with “alright you fuckfaces”.  Moments later however he was gone from the raid.  The beautiful thing about doing LFR as a guild is that you can pretty much rapid-fire vote kick someone and have more than enough votes for it to succeed.  After that was over, the rest of the run went exceptionally smoothly.  I kinda dig being able to act as a force of good in looking for group, getting rid of the toxic players when we see them.  What I find amazing is just how willing people were to work within the parameters we set for them.  We treated LFR like it was an actual raid, with marking locations to stand in and this made the entire experience go solidly and by the numbers.

L is for Loot Piñata

Wow-64 2014-11-23 13-11-44-29 Maybe it is because we have done the normal version of this place, but god Looking for Raid seemed simple.  As in it felt like you could straight up ignore every tactic and just keep mashing buttons until the bosses fell down.  All told the actual combat time of the raid took maybe 20 minutes for three bosses.  I saw plenty of people looting goodies, so hopefully lots of folks got nice stuff.  The only problem I see is that there is little to no reason to do heroics right now.  Sure you get 50 Garrison resources for your first heroic of the day, and a bag of gold, but it feels like they really have taken away all of the reason to actually group up for heroics once you are over ilevel 630.  Previously all serious players had to do a handful of heroics a week to make sure they were capping out Valor points, but with that gone there is little to no reason to draw well geared players into the fray.

Quite honestly you can hit the LFR requirement of 615 relatively easily through doing the quests in Nagrand with a Dwarven Bunker giving you increased chance of getting blue and purple upgrades.  As such I cannot see any reason at all for folks to actually do the heroic grind once the rest of Highmaul has been released.  Unless the next part significantly ramps up the difficulty, this is going to be essentially Timeless Isle 2.0 in the form of a raid.  Granted I don’t much care about people getting easy gear, in fact I am looking forward to it as I try and gear my army of alts.  I loved the Timeless Isle for the ease of catching characters up.  That said the heroic experience in this expansion is really good, and while difficult is fun to do with your friends.  Maybe they are expecting heroics to be a guild only thing?  I have a feeling we are going to see a pass that maybe starts adding in some reasons for doing things, because it feels like they completely ignored the reward part of “risk vs reward”.

Social Engineering

ffxiv 2014-09-26 17-49-49-518 The problem that I can see is soon the queues for heroics will be insanely long, because Blizzard seems to be fundamentally bad at social engineering.  I say this because I am playing another game that is exceptionally good at social engineering and making players WANT to run older content.  Final Fantasy XIV has this long quest chain that involves giving players non-raiding ways to upgrade their main weapon.  It starts with the Relic weapon, and each upgrade bumps up its ilevel and its stats.  The most famous bout of social engineering comes into play when you reach the Atma farming step, which involves you going back to every zone in the game and running FATEs until an “Atma of the” item drops.  The reason why this is most definitely social engineering is that they purposefully kept the ATMAs from dropping in the zones that were already natural FATE running hotbeds of activity.  Thing is it works… there are now players in most every zone running FATEs as they work on the Atma weapon step for their characters.

Similarly they created the Nexus step that involves farming “light” from various activities like doing Hard Modes, Experts, and related large group activity.  Additionally they created the concept of “bonus light” which targets certain encounters that have especially long queue times.  When one of these bonuses is in place all these players come from out of the woodwork and start running it, I happened into Hard Mode Garuda during one of these periods and it was insane to see just how fast that encounter evaporated.  Now with the latest step it involves running various hard mode dungeons until you get a specific item to drop, thus getting tanks and healers…. and everyone else to start queuing for these encounters.  I realize that I am being engineered, but I don’t care because it works.  It keeps the game thriving and vibrant and keeps the overall queue times low enough to allow me to do whatever content I need to do at the time.  I never feel like I am being exploited, because they managed to have just enough of a reward to make the risk worthwhile.