What is a PvPer?

| Friday, January 31, 2014
The everlasting conflict between PVErs and PVPers is that the second group is quite happy to gank the first but there's no vice versa. - Syl on Twitter
 Pshaw, I say.

PvP and PvE are not separate groups. I usually do PvE. Sometimes I do PvP. The latter has about 95% of my gaming-related profanity. Strangely, in PvP my profanity is usually aimed at developers, while in PvP it is aimed at other players. As they say, "don't hate the player; hate the game developer who created such an unbalanced piece of total bullshit." Maybe that's relevant.

When I am in a PvP mood I do not gank. Just yesterday I was on my way to a mote cloud when I saw a level 80 fly toward it. He'd have beaten me to it, but he flew away. I was sad that I'd scared him off. Granted, I might have stunned him and taken the cloud for myself, but I wasn't going to press the entire extra button needed to kill him. Gear inflation is insane.

I take that back. I have ganked. Once upon a time that was a way to draw out the 60s. Swoop in and kill a quest giver or two, kill a few lowbies, and you've got yourself a battleground. Sadly, that no longer works.

In PvP I am often looking for a reasonably fair fight, or a fight that has a reasonable expectation of being fair. Those aren't the same, as anyone can tell from your average random BG that, despite being based essentially on random draws from both factions, has one failing in an almost impressive manner. I'd even claim that ganking and PvP are different activities, despite falling under the same mechanical umbrella.

Getting back to my pshaw, I suggest that Syl has drawn the lines all wrong. Since PvP and PvE are not separate categories of players, then what is the division? I propose decent human beings and bad people.

PvP has an obvious appeal for the bad people. They can directly inflict harm upon others.

Yet, is PvE immune? Is the loot ninja not a harmful jerk as well? How about the person who wipes the raid? What about the person who abuses the limits of vote-kicking to act as a parasite on a group, contributing nothing yet getting all the rewards for success? And surely the people who make glyphs are a universally awful group.

The problem is not PvPers vs. PvPers, but of horrible people vs. decent people. Maybe PvP has a higher percentage of horrible people. Fine. But do not stereotype an entire group because of that, or else you, Syl, will be in that group.

I'm saying you're a horrible person.

Lose your way to success or do something completely different

| Thursday, January 30, 2014
It appears that Ner'zhul is not a PvP powerhouse. My sample size is small because I had a hell of a time getting the informed consent forms from everyone in the BG and had to end the experiment early, pending an inquiry by the IRB. While there is a total lack of statistical significance, the magnitude of the difference between a 50-50 win-loss and what I experienced is such that I am confident that we are terrible. This suggests that the way to gear up is through repeatedly losing until I've been given more gear through honor pity points. That's a lot of losing that we'd have to do. I am, of course, part of the problem. And so, I am going to take the advance of Uncle Joe, "no person, no problem," and remove myself from this system.

At a 2-1 ratio, justice points can be exchanged for honor points. At 400-500 justice points per run, this makes random heroics a viable way to gain honor points. I've not calculated the time efficiency, but given the speed of instances these days and the shortness of tank queue times, I believe that heroics are close, if not possibly superior, as a way to farm honor. More important than the time involved, it's more fun to run something that isn't particularly hard and see some measure of success than repeatedly die to people with far better gear than me. Even if it weren't a psychological blow to die, waiting at the graveyard gets repetitive.

In a way, this makes sense. In PvE you can farm up gear from easier content to prepare yourself for harder content. You don't hit 90 and go wipe on Siege of Orgrimmar for a couple months. Instead you run easier content and build your way up. In this case, the easier content is PvE, since PvP has relative difficulty and can only be made easier by finding terrible people to play against. Then they feel bad that they're losing to slightly less terrible people. Before you know it everyone is sad and writing long emo posts about how their gear sucks and they used to fight with fishing poles. Indeed, PvE for PvP is surely the lesser of two sads.

A disjointed college essay about why the NSA should spy on games

| Monday, January 27, 2014
Remember when you'd need to write an essay about something but never quite had much to say? The general concept was there, but you didn't know or care enough to give it any depth. So you'd just keep branching out, giving shallow explorations of a dozen different related topics. Most of them would do nothing to advance your central theme. Those that did at least seem to advance it were so shallow that their actual contribution was negligible. If you were lucky this was a draft and the professor could point out the flaws. With a reality check you'd delve a little deeper and replace some of the width with depth. Sometimes it was the final draft. And sometimes it gets published.

This is what that looks like.
Virtual Worlds are Real:
Avatars have consequences offline. No wonder U.S. intelligence agencies are looking into them.

 In summary:
  1. The media mocks virtual worlds, thereby making it look ridiculous when government investigates them.
  2. These are new communication platforms and intelligence agencies should keep an eye on those.
  3. The appearance of avatars affects how we interact with them and therefore a virtual bin Laden would be a potentially useful recruiting tool.
  4. Online behavior affects our offline behavior.
  5. Offline behavior affects our online behavior.
  6. America's Army was an effective recruiting tool.
These are all worthwhile things to discuss. Given the headline and tag, points one and two seem to be the important ones. Point one gets a decent bit of space, while point two gets a few sentences. Surely this is where you'd want to discuss how to do this surveillance, based on the assumption that when governments see new forms of surveillance their second action is to spy on them. Is creating avatars in that world the best way to go about things? In most games that's going to give an extremely narrow view, restricted by in-game geography, social tools, and content. It's hard to properly interrogate the next bin Laden when he won't give you a guild invite, put you on ignore, and reported you to a GM for harassment. Some form of direct access to in-game communication seems like the logical way to go, but then you either need permission, something tech companies are starting to get wary of, or to break in, which has its own set of problems. The sixth point could tie into the first two. Surely it would be a good idea to keep tabs on players in Al-Queda's Army.

Yet there is the counter-point that is ignored: someone owns and controls these worlds. They monitor the communications. This isn't interception; it's directly sending messages to their servers, with their programs, and them sending it along. Even if intelligence agencies took no interest at all, there is still a Big Brother watching in the form of a company. They might not be eager to give the NSA access, but they're at least as eager not to give terrorists access. Virtual worlds just don't seem like a good place to discuss evil deeds, well beside EVE. On top of all that, shouldn't the agencies have defended themselves with some vague results? Not "we caught so and so", but at least "we've tracked some suspected guys and are continuing to track them." When even they aren't pretending it's worthwhile, that's a pretty damning argument.

The third point is a fascinating bit of psychology and definitely worth further study, but the recruitment angle is the exact absurdity that makes the media mock this sort of thing. Similarly, points four and five are worth studying. I've often been curious of how these virtual worlds with their different concepts of need and scarcity could affect our perceptions of real world economic systems, and how we bring those real world concepts into a place with a different context, where they may make no sense at all.

In conclusion: This is what happens when someone writes a book and has to promote it, not by promoting the actual book, but by trying to shoehorn everything into the latest media trend on why we should be spied on in every possible world.

When you get lapped it's hard to see just how far behind you are

| Sunday, January 26, 2014
Any runners out there? Not particularly good ones? Isn't getting lapped painful? It doesn't matter if it's a tenth of a mile track (my school had a tiny track) or a quarter mile; it just feels bad. But oddly, after the first one, the pain doesn't change much. It's hard to keep track after that. You're definitely losing and counting won't make you not be losing.

The other day I learned that prot paladins have started stacking haste. I'd never heard of this. It's something new to Pandaria. Clearly I've not done much reading on mechanics these days, by which I mean the past year or so, missing all sorts of important information. It's almost ironic. I can just picture myself laughing at a tank who thinks that DPS gear is good for him, and for a long time I'd have the facts on my side. Now I'd be that ignorant tank who thinks he should be stacking avoidance. Well supposedly we were supposed to stack stam anyway, but I always (usually) thought effective health was a load of shit.

I'd been a bit down about my potential prospects in PvP. I've not had anything near a fair fight in a few years. It's been a sort of downward spiral; at some point I stopped doing PvP, fell behind on gear, and never got into the habit again. Yet I had some hope; I could die my way through losing BGs to some gear, eventually. With my mostly altless playing these days I'd have time for it. That hundred thousand difference in health could go away, as could the vast gulf in damage.

I'd just killed Garr the Darkener in the Dread Wastes. He was kind enough to drop the pet this time. I headed for the other guy, a tough fight. There was a warlock there already. He had about 600k more health. That's when I started doing the mental arithmetic and trying to decide if that's closer to double or triple my health. I decided to see how the fight went for him, since it was tricky for me. It took a few seconds. I flew off to where I was going to farm rep for the Black Prince and spotted a rare on the way. I ran into the cave to fight it and a few seconds later the warlock showed up. I bubbled, stunned him, and ran until I was out of combat. That's my world PvP these days, not even bothering to pretend that I stand a change, just running for it and hoping they're too busy taking my kill.

I once had a fishing pole fight outside Everlook. I was on my shaman and had the overpowered Horde-only fishing pole. It was my fight to lose. And lose I did, because seals aren't weapon-based; they were a buff on the player. The paladin hit a lot harder, relatively speaking - it was a fight with fishing poles after all. We stayed far enough out that the guards wouldn't aggro. Just the two of us hitting each other with fishing poles.

I'd fought at Tarren Mill. Even after battlegrounds it still somehow turned into a battle ground. Someone would come to gank us and swarms of lowbies would gang up on them. There weren't so many AoE attacks back then, so we could just keeping biting at their ankles, figuratively-speaking, since we were Horde, not gnomes, and had no goblins yet.

I was in a farming group deep in the hives under Silithus when we ran into an Alliance group. It was no place for a fight, too many elites, too little space. We hastily backed away. I tried to drop another totem; we didn't have totemic recall back then. I was too slow. A single ball of fire went out from my searing totem. We died after putting up a moderately okay fight. The hives weren't properly linked to the zone and we reverted to the default graveyard for the Horde: the Barrens. The smart move was to use the spirit res and take a flight path; the debuff would probably be gone by then. The dumb move was to run, from the Barrens to Thousand Needles, to Tanaris, Un'Goro Crater, and finally into Silithus. I took the... well you guess.

People tended not to cause too much trouble at the cultist areas in Silithus. We all had stuff to do and some of that stuff involved fighting things that could easily kill us. This meant that we didn't want a fight, but if one started, we weren't going to waste time trying to do any more PvE. It instantly escalated into a full-scale war. We didn't need any sand for that, just something we wanted to do and someone getting in the way of us doing it.

We were about to win that arena fight. I had the match in my hand. Blessing of protection on the priest and the warrior would finish off the enemy who was attacking her. She'd heal up and then we'd have a wonderful 3 v some number that is not as big as three. I got it backward. I put blessing of protection on our warrior, preventing him from finishing them off. Our priest died. They healed up. One misclick and the entire match was lost. I'm not sure I ever recovered from that. Maybe from there it was straight downhill. Surely what they did to Alterac Valley did not help.

Before long I was thinking how next expansion I'd try again with PvP, with a nice reset to get me into things again. It never happened. I'd start late and that meant starting at the bottom of a mountain facing enemies who'd walked uphill up a hill, and despite what an old Pandaren would probably claim, they were the stronger for it.

At this point, I'm glad to even know what SoO even stands for.

PvP Should Have Gear Disparity

| Friday, January 24, 2014
The notions of balance, fair play, how to advance or now, they are all philosophy. As I said on Twitter, "As long as the eventual goal is to utterly crush your enemies, then use all the philosophy you want." Therefore, it is only logical that PvP should have gearing disparity. What is the point of winning if not to win harder the next time?

One might even argue that the point of war is to be able to win it. Look at how Israel fought, over control of the Golan Heights, an area which is felt was critical to its own defense, or the offense of an enemy. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in an attempt to protect itself from the US navy. Germany made a major push in the south of the USSR for the oil it needed to continue its war efforts. The notion of a preemptive strike is to start a war to prevent a war. When countries win wars they rarely decide to redraw the borders exactly as they were, but instead seek to increase their advantage, in anticipation of the next war.

Let's us consider this in the context of PvP. If I kill someone in WoW I do not do it out of a sense of malice. It is out of a sense of greed. I want a reward. That reward should exceed what I put into the fight, or it will not be worth doing. Simply getting gold might be nice, but would that actually get me anywhere? No. But gear, gear would help me to win the next time. I'd gladly forgo a bit of gold today for a victory tomorrow, and the next day, and forever after. That's called investment and it is the foundation of prosperity. It's also what wins wars. Any Starcraft player can tell you that.

Of course this has some side-effects. New players are in a tough position. Their gear is awful. In an open-world game they could try to compensate with numbers, in the manner of a hundred 0/0 marines taking on a 3/3 colossus. A brave gesture, perhaps even successful, but costly. Oddly, by trying to be fair and balance the numbers on each team, games often remove this possibility. The result is that new players may never join, or quit soon after.

Yet, is that not the point? If your enemy is too afraid to attack you, does that not mean that you have already won? And won forever? A long battleground queue is not a problem for a game; it is a victory. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot not stamping on a human face - forever.

The PvP Paradox of Accessible Gearing

| Thursday, January 23, 2014
As I looked at the mage I realized something terrible. First, she had a lot more health than me, at least 120k more. Second, that first frostbolt wasn't exactly tickling me. Third, ice lance on a frozen target, such as me, hurts a hell of a lot more than a frostbolt. I ran over and hit her a few times. I didn't have the damage to burn through her ice barrier, let alone her health, and I didn't have the health to soak very much damage.

I did the logical thing and died.

As more gear is available, significantly unbalanced fights become more common. By that I mean fights where gear is the largest determinant of success, as opposed to tactics, reflexes, or class differences, and furthermore, decides the winner regardless of those other factors.

If we imagine a game in which gear is highly exclusive, then surely we'd expect more unbalanced fights. If only one or five percent of a game can get extremely powerful gear, then we'd expect a lot of unbalanced fights; since any interaction between them and the rest of the community will be unbalanced. Yet that is only one or five percent of the interactions. Even if we expect those highly geared players to be more active and therefore run into less geared players at an unusually high rate, we're still going to be dealing with a minority of fights. A newly-leveled player will be weaker than a more experienced one, but the difference in gear will not be particularly vast if they aren't in the minority of high-end raiders.

On the other hand if gear is more accessible, though not a Push Button for Loot, then we'll see more unbalanced fights. Not everyone will take advantage of this increased accessibility, due to still being locked out or not caring enough to get the gear (maybe they prefer pet battles). Since there is a time and luck component, gear will not be evenly distributed, even under conditions of equal motivation. Some will still be poorly geared, while a large number of players will have far better gear than under the exclusive scenario. In effect, unbalanced fights are made available to more players as more players have an opportunity to gear past their peers.

Insta-Level would be a terrible waste

| Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Jessica Cook asks, "which class will you insta-level?"
My response: None, because it's pointless.

Leveling a class takes a certain amount of dedication. It takes time. Less time than it used to, but 1-90 isn't a trivial investment. Not to be confused with I-90 which is currently undergoing a lot of investment. Similarly, gearing a class takes a certain amount of dedication. Less than it used to, but spending time in the Timeless Isle and running a few tiers of LFR aren't trivial investments.

As I see it, if I'm not going to have enough fun to level a class to 90, then I'm probably not going to develop it much at 90. In short, I'm going to be doing some short-term funsies playing. I can do that at level 15 just as much as at 90. I can run instances, BGs, do some crafting and fishing, and generally do a lot of what a max level character would do. If it's just to try out a class, then again, why not do that as I level up? You can get a decent feel for a class once you pick a specialization and leveling to that point is trivial.

You may have spotted the flaw in my logic here. No, it's not the subjectivity of my experience and perceptions.

Something useless cannot be wasted. If I can find no productive use for the insta-level, why not use it for something pointless? Why not snap my fingers for a max level... uh. Class. I lose nothing by it except the ability to use it for what I just used it for. If the insta-level is only useful to me for making a useless alt and I make a useless alt, then mission accomplished.

I just don't know which useless alt I'd make.

Perhaps someone else would find it useful for joining friends without burning vast sums of money on a server/race change. Suggestion for Blizzard: I would buy a server transfer if it included a race change, hint hint. Joining friends could justify the investment of time in leveling, but why not jump up and join them sooner? Of course by that logic, why not have recruit-a-friend give the new player matching gear? It's clear to me that friendship destroys all rules and standards. Friendship does not give meaning, but instead removes it and leaves nothing but nihilistic anarchy. That is why I don't like the insta-level.

A Mixed Beginning

| Saturday, January 18, 2014
As I wrote my post that in part lamented the status of my paladin, I realized that my rogue main wasn't in such a great position either. Her guild isn't very active anymore. So why not play my paladin? I have nothing to lose.

So I hopped on over to level up. Eventually I'll finish the Jade Forest and write about my thoughts on the Alliance side of it. Pet battles meant that I hit 90 long before finishing the zone. Glorious 90.

I set off to the Temple of the White Tiger. I fought a legendary pet along the way, failing a couple times before recognizing that my pet selection needed some improving. The tiger let me into the Vale and in I went. Aha, a rare! I'd fought it before, a dangerous melee enemy. I wasn't geared for this. But paladins are not a melee-only class. I knew that with judgement, exorcism, and a lot of patience I could kill it.

I was interrupted in my kiting by a level 90 Horde paladin. A level 90 Horde paladin attacking the rare. I closed in to my now-safe melee range and killed it. The paladin did not kill me. I thanked him and looted the corpse. And then the third attack from the warlock landed and killed me.

PvP servers breed such paranoia.

Since it's the place to be, I went to the Timeless Isle. The shower of loot that my rogue had received was more like a trickle, but enough of a trickle that I was able to get into scenarios and heroics. Gear will come. Despite the slower pace, I might enjoy it more. Wearing plate rather than leather makes so much trouble so much easier to deal with; except those damn snakes. I'm also developing a healthy level of perpetual, comfortable, paranoia.

The giant groups aren't dangerous; those are the people farming rares or elites. They aren't going to cause trouble. Maybe they know that war is never in the best interests of the farmer. They know that a lone pissed-off enemy can be a major problem when fighting elites. It's the lone person who causes trouble, who sees that your health is barely higher than when you were 85, and who makes the economically rational decision to cause suffering to others.

And then there was the druid. I was fighting tigers near an ore node when he attacked me. I killed the tigers, stunned him, and ran away a bit. I bowed. If I could have said it, I'd have told him to take the ore, that he'd won it. I'd be a hypocrite to criticize him. He killed me anyway. I came back to find the node unmined and figured he was just a jerk. But then he started emoting sorry. Then I was just confused.

But that didn't mean I didn't use my cloaking device to get some distance before mounting up. I run with one on my belt, and if it's not on cooldown, another in my trinket slot. They've both come in handy. Damn it feels good to be an engineer.

An Immodest Proposal

| Friday, January 17, 2014
Ms. Sword and Glasses of Herding Cats is so happy about WildStar reducing the size of the breasts on their female characters. Even worse, she offers a terrible suggestion: putting the larger models in a cash shop. To top it off, she makes this insanely-biased, factless claim:
Most people either don’t care or are generally pleased with the decision, while a vocal minority are flipping out.
"Don't care" sounds a lot like "too scared to speak" while "vocal minority" sounds a lot like "the few who dared to stand up for having standards." I'm standing up. For too long we've had to deal with this nonsense and I've said nothing, beside some posts that I've probably written, but even if I have said anything, I'm going to say it again because it needs saying.

This is to you, Jessica Cook.

 I believe I speak for a lot of that "vocal minority" when I say this. Maybe they're afraid to say it, but someone has to say the words that are only being thought.

I think it is offensive that you would even suggest that a core gameplay element like absurd character models be stuck in the cash shop. Next thing all the armor skins (or lack of armor) to show off those absurd models will be placed in the cash shops. This is just a slippery slope toward needing to pay for the 'privilege' of sending creepy chat message. You can be sure I'll be boycotting this game until they fix their messaging toward women and make it a bit more against.

Pay attention to something other than your gear, such as yourself

| Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Once I learned anything at all about gear there was never a time that I was not making fun of what people wear. I was provided endless amusement by the rogues in spirit gear, the non-troll warriors in spirit gear (back in the day a troll warrior who stacked spirit literally never needed healing). Sometimes I'd offer very basic advice on what to generally look for. Most of the time I'd just laugh to myself. But I did not insult them about it, unless they had revealed themselves to be worthy of insult, because I don't believe in being a useless jerk.

When it all comes down to it, it's their character.

Of course once they try to join a group with me then it is in my best interests to be sure that they aren't poorly geared, or worse, poorly played. I'll overlook a gem or a clearly outdated reforging, since I sometimes try to not be a hypocrite and those things are minor oversights, not fundamental problems. And what are a few ilevels between complete strangers?

It was a long time before I looked at a character and cared not just how they had geared, but also how much they had geared. I knew about better and worse gear, of course, but I also knew that content was designed for a particular level of gear and that level tended to be lower than what people had, particularly early in progression. I knew that player ability and attentiveness mattered more to the group. I was that person who would yell at people for watching TV while raiding.

In part, this may have been because gear could only go so far. If someone couldn't beat content level X, then they could not gear much higher than tier X. There were always ways to get ahead a little bit, but you couldn't get very far ahead of what your next boss dropped. I knew that gear wasn't the fundamental problem: the player's behavior was. Not the player; I don't like to separate players into good and bad. Of course there is variance in reaction times and visual perception, but I think the game is generally tuned such that those are rarely an issue. It is behavior that matters; checking out a fight ahead of time, paying attention to the fight, being mindful of how everything fits together.

Focusing too much on gear, demanding a particular gear level, runs counter to this. When people fail they blame gear, rather than behavior. One of those can change before the next attempt, the other cannot. In the short term, worrying about gear is pointless. While neither of these commands are diplomatic, surely "Pay attention!" is more useful in the long term than "Gear up!" After all, gear eventually comes just from playing, but paying attention to one's surroundings is a conscious decision. Gear will sort itself out, but only players can fix themselves.

Account-Based Advancement

| Monday, January 13, 2014
I've been doing a lot of pet battles recently. I must admit that I enjoy them. The collection, the searching, the little tactics, all fun to me. I also like that it is account-based. This has a few advantages.

It gives me greater flexibility on what character I play, and even where. Of course the pet battles don't really use my characters, so in effect it doesn't matter which character I play because I'm not playing one at all, during the battles. Ironically, this makes either my paladin or druid the best characters for this. My paladin has the benefit of extreme map mobility, having all manner of tricks for getting around the world. My druid has the benefit of extreme local mobility, what with having instant flight form and travel form for those few places where I cannot mount. Yet I cannot mind that the game accidentally encourages the use of particular characters, since all gain the benefits.

If I happen to get a pet on another character, perhaps while out questing, that's great. This sort of shared inventory is helpful for that. It also means that I can park characters all over the place to keep an eye out for those spawns that aren't common. In those cases, I grab the first pet I see and figure I'll use a battle stone. I hate the idea that someone was denied any shot at all because I felt the need to slaughter the few available spawns in a hopeless quest for an instant rare.

As this notion of multiclassing (no classing?) spreads like some sort of zombie-as-metaphor-for-Communism I find myself wondering, how far has it gone and how far would I want it to go? These account-based activities in WoW are perhaps a first step. I have many titles that I earned on that paladin, all available to a stable of alts. Mounts as well, though thankfully, not the engineering ones. I'd not like that. Some pets, no longer available, are now available thanks to this sharing. All of these things that I think of as secondary are all things that I am glad to see shared among my characters.

Except perhaps the Insane title. I used to find myself wishing I could use it elsewhere. Yet, now that I can, I find it to be a silly idea. But that too is silly. It was not my paladin who earned that title. Certainly my paladin was the Bloodsail Admiral, and the extremely persistent pirate-killer; so persistent that by killing a different pirate faction I managed to get her to a positive reputation with everyone except those stupid Southsail Pirates. But it was my druid who made the Darkmoon cards. It was my rogue who farmed the junkboxes. Without them I doubt the title would have been possible. Surely it makes sense that those characters would share the title. It was a group effort, after all. But why should that stupid hunter get anything? Or that imposter new paladin who is Kelpsacovic in name only? Obviously I can choose which characters to give the title, so it's not as if some alt stole the title; I'd have to have given it.

That's what irritates me about this entire discussion: it is ultimately about feelings and feelings tend to be a messy, changeable, illogical thing, often with no basis in reality. I'd prefer to make decisions based on something concrete. In games the cost of working off feelings can be a few subscribers. In real life it can be lives and rights. I suppose that's my response to Tesh's question on Twitter. And I still don't have an answer for myself.

PSA: Notepad is the greatest program ever created

| Sunday, January 12, 2014
Did you know that Facebook stores unposted posts? Like many sites, it uses scripts to store what you type into its fields, even if you do not post. Some sites use this so you can recover from problems. Facebook uses it to gather more data about its users. I'm trying to develop the habit of writing everything elsewhere first, then post only the exact thing that I want.

Web pages in general, and blog comment sections in particular, are not perfectly reliable. They may fail to accept your comment, losing it in the process. Who hasn't run into an impossible or misloaded captcha and lost their comment as a result?

Excel can be finicky about the data it will import and the way it handles it, resulting in fun problems such as an entire spreadsheet contained in a single cell.

Games may have hidden preferences that are not easily changed from within the game, but are sometimes necessary. Or they may be of the sort that requires a game restart to change, so you have to launch it, change it, and relaunch it. If only you could directly edit those preferences

There is a solution to this: Notepad. It's a built-in bare-bones text editor. Use it to write your posts before you submit them. That way you can edit out all your unflattering grammatical mistakes before Facebook can use them for blackmail. Use it to save your comments before Blogger can devour them. Did you know that Google's servers are powered by the energy of failed posts? It's just like how you could hook up a battery to your landline and then write your number on bathroom stalls to get free electricity. Paste your oddly-formatted spreadsheets into Notepad and it can often strip out the problems. In my experience Excel can easily import text-based spreadsheets, even if you don't think you actually changed anything. And finally, preference files are often just long text files and may even have good labels, so edit away, on a copy.

Or as my grandmother sang to me as a child,

Posting can be,
a nightmare for me,
so remember the keys:
ctrl-a (pronouced cu-ter-ul)
and post

"It makes no sense" What is a character?

In response to Syl's Instant Class Switches - The Last Bastion of Character Restriction

What difference does it make to have one character that can do all things rather than many that can do one thing?

Kelpsacovic is the greatest character ever, at least for me. I have all manner of teleportation abilities, but not the silly city-based spells of a mage. Instead I have wormhole generators, dimensional rippers, a magical ring that takes me to Dalaran, and a remote control that takes me straight to the bar in Blackrock Depths. I don't know if they're useful, but they are interesting. I have a bank filled with odd gear, many items no longer available. Some look cool. Some are symbols of a time gone past: gear from Naxxramas, a sceptre to open the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj, a trinket that allows me to see the ghosts around Scholomance, the Brazier of Invocation, used to summon extra bosses in a few instances, part of the now long-gone Dungeon 2 upgrade quests. She is a paladin engineer, my first max-level paladin, made after Burning Crusade, tanking, healing, and wishing she were tanking through Karazhan.

Kelpsacovic sits alone on Ner'zhul. Her guild is a shell. My rogue, my new main, is on Zul'jin. Another paladin sits on Wildhammer, the result of a brief experiment with playing with real life friends. As usual, a bad idea; compatibility in MMOs is why we're friends.

Surely this is an argument for unified characters. Why should my paladin sit on some distant server, nearly discarded, held away by the ridiculously high cost of server and faction transfers? Yet anyone with a bit of sense can see that the problem here is not one of character, but of server. Greater server mobility, perhaps even unified servers, if such a thing is technically feasible, is the solution.

I have a rogue. I do not wish for her to be a paladin. Or like a paladin. Or even paladinish. Nor would I want my warrior to be the same as my druid. I am slightly sickened by the thought of switching classes as if they were mere specializations. What is the identity of that character? It is me. Of course it always is, but a class places boundaries on it, making it less me. Surely that is part of the enjoyment of many MMOs, to not be entirely oneself, but to take on a different identity. In real life I am no paladin, nor a rogue, lacking the personality traits needed for either. If I were offered a character that could be an amalgam of any classes in order to perfectly suit my personality, well that would be a terribly boring character. I do not think I would want to play it. It's a fine enough personality for real life, but these are games. To switch characters is to switch one's mask, but to merely respec into something else, well that is obviously just insanity.

Perhaps in some games that makes sense. If the class were merely a matter of armor or weapon choice then sure, switch them at will; you might even get away with not having separate progression for each. Yet when character is an innate characteristic, switching at will do not make sense. Are our avatars now some sort of gods who can take on particular forms, but never more than one, or any mixture of two? In that case, then there is no class, merely a fancy set of spells for a particular role, with no identity. To me, that sounds dull.

Of course it is always a bother when there are these little bits and pieces that don't quite work with separate characters. The old attunements could be bothersome, as are reputations. A little bit of the player creeps out and insists, "I already did that! What does it matter that I logged onto a different character?" And then the bags get all strange, wondering where you left your crafting materials: on the gathering character, the bank alt, the crafter, the bank of one of many? I once had an addon that would store my bank and bag contents so I could look at what I had on other characters, but eventually it was too out of date to function anymore. These would all be fixed by unified characters. Or would we just find new ways to create the problems? Perhaps I want to start over again, to try the leveling game. So I make a new character. Oh. There will never be a perfect way to do these things, but we can move toward a closer-to-perfect way; I'm just not convinced that removing class restrictions is the way to do that.

Maybe I will find myself proven wrong when a game catches my interest and executes this well, but until such time, I say, it still makes no sense. I wonder when they’ll notice.

The purpose of badges

| Friday, January 10, 2014
When I say badges I am referring to the ongoing system that began with badges of justice in Burning Crusade and now exists as justice and valor points. Honor and conquest points are a similar system, but I do not directly address them here. One could reasonably draw comparisons to the multi-class gear tokens of Ahn'Qiraj as well.

What is the purpose of this mechanic? That's the key question for everything in a game. Presumably a mechanic with no purpose at all would get thrown out. What if the answer isn't clear because it is meant to accomplish many things at once?

Clockwork may be the appropriate analogy here. A part that is used frequently will wear out faster than one that is used rarely. A constantly-spinning gear for a minute hand will wear out sooner than the track along which the cuckoo travels once an hour. Yet a part that is used constantly may also be simple and therefore easy to replace. Swap out the gears and it returns to operation. The clockmaker may have even anticipated this and designed the clock so that those parts that wear out soonest are also the most accessible. A part with multiple roles, that is pulled in many directions, will wear out faster. But with many duties, it is interconnected, and therefore harder to replace.

Consider mounts; they increase player speed and they serve as a conspicuous status symbol. These were once intertwined, when mounts were so expensive that simply having one at all was a status symbol. Blizzard eventually made the riding skill costly and basic mounts inexpensive. Fancier mounts are much more expensive or in some other way hard to acquire. The Mount part had been redesigned into two pieces: a simple Riding piece that just makes us go faster and a simple Show-Off piece that makes us look cool. These can now be easily changed as they wear out; Blizzard can produce an endless stream of expensive and exclusive mounts without needing to remake the entire mounting mechanic.

Then there are badges. What is their purpose?

In BC they started off as a way to fill in for missing gear; they helped insulate players from the cruelty of the RNG. At this, they failed. The badge gear was inferior. Worse, it created a cruel choice. Do you spend your badges to fill in for a missing slot, which may then be filled the very next raid? Which slot? The RNG could not only torment you by withholding loot, it could do the same by giving it and making the badge purchase seem foolish. Badge gear fell behind raid drops, so another tier of badge gear was released, without any restrictions. This meant that players could use it to gear past their raid experience. Were badges meant to be an RNG fixer, an alternative progression path, or a way for players to overgear in order to reach otherwise inaccessible content? Or all three at once? Doing multiple things with a single mechanic is dangerous, as any change creates that many more ripples.

Wrath of the Lich King seemed to carry on this system, until badges became necessary for buying tier tokens. They became a gating mechanism. Or a way to fill up heroic groups, by pushing high-end raiders into trivial content. They were used for five purposes (or more, I may have missed some), doing none of them well, and causing all manner of other social problems.

Now Blizzard has simplified things. Badges can give some early gear for a bit of a boost to get into LFR, because in contrast with Wrath and Cataclysm, running LFD is now apparently a terrifying thing that the developers want players to avoid. This badge-based gear skip is redundant now that the Timeless Isle exists, but that's not causing any problems.

Badges can be used for very expensive and very tiny gear upgrades. I find this terribly unexciting, and yet, brilliant. Your fruitless RNG attempts still yield the badges that can upgrade gear. As long as you have an item that isn't going to be instantly replaced by the RNG (surely you've gotten something) and it isn't maxed out (good thing the upgrades are so expensive), then you can keep getting something from those wasted kills. It isn't the loot you wanted, but it is some advancement, some sense that you're getting somewhere, however slowly.

Badges have been simplified, trimmed down to a nice, compact, extremely slow treadmill. What more could a developer want from an MMO mechanic?

Bottled Bad Luck

| Thursday, January 9, 2014
"Bottled Bad Luck - Don't drop it!"

Belghast brought up the idea of Bad Luck Tokens, patent pending, as a way to deal with long strings of bad loot luck. When a boss drops nothing for you, you get one. Save up enough of them, and you can mail them in for a cool prize, just like when you'd collect box tops from the cereal that didn't come with a toy, only to cruelly find at that those were "box tops for education", not "box tops for entertainment", which you didn't realize because you'd not yet sent in enough box tops to learn to read, and then everyone at the breakfast table laughs and laughs and you can't leave the table until you're excused and they won't excuse you because they're too busy laughing that you can't read and squandered your box tops on stupid things like notebooks.

Getting the item you wanted sounds nice, in theory. But in terms of the actual player experience it is a terrible waste. You want the item the first few attempts. Getting it is just fine. But eventually it's not about the item. It's about revenge. Simply getting the item is like when the villain releases the hostages and escapes justice. Or worse, they're caught and sent to prison and you never get to punch them in the face even once, while they gloat at you and get out for good behavior and Dexter isn't a real person.

I propose that, rather than a simple campaign of mailing in the tokens for the item, you instead get the item directly. Using a Bottled Bad Luck causes the targeted boss to shrink to player size, deal no damage, and die in only a few hits. And respawn instantly until you leave. Now you're free to kill it until the item drops, or all the items, without a week of it taunting you. Or just kill it until you're bored. Or don't kill it and leave it attacking you, fruitlessly, while you type mean emotes.

On the first kill the boss would drop normal loot, gold, and reputation. After that it would only drops items. Any particular item can only show up once and it is lootable only by the player who used the bottled bad luck. Bottled bad luck would only be usable on bosses that have been killed at least four times in any mode.

After the player is done killing the boss an NPC shows up and asks, "Was that justice?" You may answer either "Yes" or "No, it was vengeance". Either answer triggers a cinematic in which your character throws aside their lit cigarette into a line of gasoline that ignites the boss's corpse, and then walks away with a grim look (the line of gasoline, not your character).

Bring back the necromancers

| Tuesday, January 7, 2014
I have a rather paladinish perspective on things. I believe in helping those who need a hand and beating the crap out of the undead. Yet today's undead are so... dull. All the zombies now are essentially just humans that have ended up on another team. That certainly has some interesting implications and comments to make on tribalism and paranoia, but the zombies themselves are still dull. Part of the problem is realism and the misguided attempt to have it. We end up with diseases of some sort, which can only do so much to distort the human form. What ever happened to good old fashioned necromancy? It gives so much more possibility.

Of course it can bring up your usual dead people walking around, and even use some mundane chemical or biological explanation for it. That can get the scientists in the story and reading very excited. Think of when the Plague of Undeath first appeared in Warcraft 3 and it seemed to be just that, a plague, to be contained with quarantine and inspections. It turned out to be more. In the modern telling it starts as some disease that turns out to be much worse than we thought and then society collapses. But that's just "bad thing gets worse". That's not a story, that's a physical process, like fire, or plate tectonics.

Necromacy allows for a villain: the necromancer, or his cult. Now you have the story of the people who created it and spread it. This isn't just "scientist was reckless and made a big oops." This is evil, and toward what ends? Maybe it is power, knowledge, revenge. There can be an even greater power behind it. This also helps reduce some of the nonsense about how every time someone dies it's another enemy, since raising the corpses does take some effort on the part of the necromancer. If it isn't much effort, well then that's terrifying. It's one thing for a recent graveyard to wake up again, quite another for the ancient kings to arise with a wave of the hand.

These undead aren't stupid; they are mindless, being controlled by another intelligence. This means that a zombie survival story isn't a glorified version of "stranded in the wildness surrounded by really stupid wolves". Killing one means that your presence is noticed. You can sneak around, but you have to truly sneak, totally unseen and unnoticed. If you fight, you fight them all.

These undead don't have to be plain humans. They can be rearranged and rebuilt into other terrifying creations. They can be joined by other evil things, such as gargoyles, or reanimated t-rex. Who wouldn't want to see some evil wizard go into the museums and after a lot of weird yelling and lights a herd of skeletal dinosaurs come rampaging out?

The classic line in the zombies movies is that you can't join them. The book (good) version of World War Z had quislings, insane people who tried to join the zombies, but that was literally impossible. But people can join a necromancer's cult. Bandits cannot compare to the evil of the person who helped create the problem in the first place. The societal exploration can be expanded further when people can join the evil. What could make them turn their backs on society? How did they even find out about the possibility? Why didn't Twitter shut down @evilnecromancer? How will the courts and legislatures handle soul stealing?

Bring back the magic and get all your ridiculous scienceish zombies out of here.

Revolution 9

| Friday, January 3, 2014
For years, the zero has reigned supreme over WoW. 60, 70, 80, 90, all part of Club Zero. 85 snuck in, but that was the worst expansion in WoW, so that somehow supports my point if you squint a lot. All the raids were tied to the zeros. Starting at 60, you hit a zero and you got a raid. Without that zero you got nothing but hints and suggestions of something to come.

Shintar raised a good point the other day:
Oh, and I really wish they'd make the Shattrath cooking and fishing dailies available at level sixty. That "must be level seventy" restriction is very out of touch with the way the game works now, only giving people access to something that is effectively leveling content just as they are leaving for the next expansion.
The zeros used to be the cap. You stayed at them and therefore they were the ideal place for content you spent a lot of time in: dailies, raids, reputation. But these days the zeros aren't the highest, but the lowest. 60 isn't the big number after 59, but the smallest number in the 60s.

By the 8s or 9s players might be sick of an expansion. They were probably cherry-picking the best zones and have run out, unless they really like old content. Or with the odd leveling curves they've finally finished a second zone and need just a little tiny bit of a third, and then they'll run off partway in and spend a day trying to not fill up their quest logs before they finally dump the old zone in frustration.

Why not lower the raid requirements to the 9s? It's not like the old days when special abilities arrived at the 0s or new ranks every 2 levels. Odds are you won't even get a new talent point with those only appearing every 15 levels. With the raid requirements lowered and the already-functioning cross-realm raid-formation tool players could easily do a few raids during their last level before starting a new expansion. Players who want to raid at that level would see more players, of slightly lower power, but more than offset by significantly faster queues.
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