Friday, October 31, 2014

WoW Weekly: Prepping for Blizzcon

This image of my banker Martinfury has absolutely nothing to do with the content of this post. Or does it?
I really can't believe it's here. Which I suppose follows the cycle of the last two Blizzcons. You buy the ticket months in advance and then the wait is so long you kind of forget about it only to soon be faced with the reality of OMG that's next week. 

Having the experience of two Blizzcons under the belt definitely helps. Each year we've gotten smarter about our lodging, planned events and accommodations. While the limo from SNA may have been a bit overkill last year (and definitely made the experience of leaving California via a cab even less glamorous), and the two suitcases of beer was way more than we needed, sometimes you've got to splurge.

In 2012, Chris (@thronus) and I stayed at the Hilton thanks to some sweet lodging deals he was able to take advantage of due to his regular work travels. In 2013, with Dave (@kennylogouts) joining the posse and rounding out the #3WImigos, we decided to rent a house through Home Away. Splitting the cost three ways ended up being significantly cheaper than renting a room at the Hilton, plus it afforded us two bathrooms with showers, a full kitchen that we didn't use nearly as much as we could have, and a private patio.

This year we're again renting a house, though hopefully one that doesn't appear it's been the target of multiple break-in attempts; one where the marble counter isn't falling apart; one where cockroaches don't gather in the kitchen to bid you farewell on your last morning in town.

Also this year, we plan to utilize the kitchen for at least breakfast and late night snacks, something that's been made ridiculously easy through Safeway---they offer a residential grocery delivery service, and what's more, new registrants get the delivery fee waived on their first order! So we ordered a $125 worth of food and beverages and are set to take a lot better care of ourselves nutrition-wise than we did in previous years (yes, it only took me three years to follow some of my own advice).

We'll have the option of gourmet coffee, sausage links, bacon, eggs, toast, fruit, cereal, OJ and champagne---and that's just breakfast (yes, we do take bribes).

Given I'll be in California within five days, my game plans are pretty limited in scope:

  • Wrapped up gathering 300 Tricky Treats and immediately bought the pets. So very much done with Hallow's End!
  • Will likely try to kill Garrosh with some alts who haven't yet killed him for additional heirloom drops.
  • Will likely visit old raid content: Molten Core for Thunderfury; ICC for Invincible; Ulduar for Mimron's Head; Dragon Soul for a couple of achievements to round out the meta.
  • That picture of Martinfury up top? There's a contest running in our guild for "Best Transmog" and the prize is ONE YEAR of game time, the contest ending tonight at 11pm. Think he has a chance?

Going to Blizzcon? Let's meet up!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WoW Weekly: Looking Back on MoP - Guild Edition

Not embarrassed enough about those ugly boots to retake a screenshot.




WoW Weekly is a biweekly-ish, self-absorbed look into the things I've been doing -- or not doing -- in the game. From auctioneering and pet battling to mount farming and raiding.

Hallow's End is probably my favorite holiday event, but I haven't bothered much with it over the last several years. I completed What a Long, Strange Trip in spring of 2009, with the Headless Horseman's Reins the only item from Hallow's End that remained elusive...that is, up until it dropped almost exactly one year ago to the day.

I was pleased to learn that this year's Hallow's End received some love from the devs! While the Lich King's costume set definitely caught my eye, the real prizes in my mind are the two new battle pets, Cursed Birman and Widget, requiring a total of 300 Tricky Treats. Should be an easy enough objective given the variety of avenues to obtain treats.

To state the obvious, the expansion is winding down. Many of my guildies are working on alts or finishing up the cloak chain for the first/fourth/nth time, having exhausted patch 6.0.2 content fairly quickly. Overall, the last year or so of Mists of Pandaria was a really good year for the guild. The raid team I'd been building for the better part of summer '13 started to gain traction just before Siege of Orgrimmar was released; right around that time was when the raid merged into a guild.

We blew through Flex and cleared Normal shortly thereafter, placing Garrosh on farm status so as to help as many guildies as possible earn their Feat of Strength. We dipped our toes in the old-Heroic modes, claiming kills on Immerseus, Protectors, and Norushen before deciding to return to Flex which would allow more guildies to participate. We continued to raid throughout the summer, and will continue this up until Warlords releases. We capped off the current content with our first 25-player Garrosh kill the week before 6.0.2. The sweet part about that is almost 10 players earned their achievement that night.

Our members have the Thundering Serpent Hatchling (assuming they remembered to purchase it prior to the patch---we reminded them), many have the Reins of Galakras, and we're sitting in a pretty good spot in terms of guild activity, both current and what we're projecting for Warlords.

It's been a really good expansion overall, and this is greatly due to the people I find myself playing alongside.

With all of the changes afoot, and loads of new content on the horizon, it's time to refocus the WoW Weekly list to reflect current times. Other than earning 300 Tricky Treats, here are some other activities I've got my eye on:

  • Thunderfury remains elusive, specifically the binding from Garr. While I'd originally visited Molten Core weekly with just my death knight, the fruitless runs pushed me to throw the rogue into the mix for slightly higher odds. And since I posted this late, I can say not this week.
  • I'm one Warbringer mount shy of having the complete set. The goal is to acquire the last before Warlords. 
  • Not playing my warlock. Only pointing that out because I completed her legendary cape on Sunday. I had a lot of fun relearning how to play the warlock, with much credit due to the green fire line (Feat of Strength FTW!). I'd even briefly considered making her my main in Warlords,which was really the primary reason I went after the cloak (the fourth of my characters to earn it). 
  • With the introduction of 6.0.2, soloing got considerably easier. I've added the Lich King 25-H and Yogg Saron 25 to the kill list. Though the terrible odds at claiming a mount of either of these bosses likely means I won't run this weekly, it's good to now have the option without first having to grab a handful of friends. 
  • Planning for Blizzcon!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

When You Start to Like the Villain

Screengrab: Blizzard
In the Warlords of Draenor cinematic when Grommash was struggling to launch the damaged iron star, were you silently cheering him on? When you saw Grommash hurtle through a wall of flame to plant Gorehowl in Mannoroth's forehead, did you whisper yesssssss? Did Grommash's declaration of "We will never be slaves!" strike a chord in you, too?

Strange, but I found myself cheering for the expansion's villain, the first time I've done so in Warcraft. I wasn't prepared for Illidan. The Lich King marked my first end boss kill, and though seeing his rise and fall elicited sympathy (partially through the game, and admittedly in much more detail later on when I read the novel), I can't say I hoped he'd pull through somehow. Deathwing was no more than a bull in a china shop, so that made him easy to loathe. And Garrosh was set up to be so antagonistic that only trolls (the personality type, not the race) profess undying allegiance to the disgraced now-former warchief of the Horde.

Scholars of Warcraft lore know what happened with the orcs in the original timeline, and how that contributed to the molding of present-day Azeroth. Grommash drinks the blood, the clans follow and Draenor descends further into madness. In the cinematic, we meet the orc clans at that crossroads moment: drink the Demon Blood and become slaves to the Burning Legion, or refuse it and risk annihilation at the hands of Mannoroth and his army. So did you, like me, cheer for Grommash and the Iron Horde when the demon blood was refused? Did you feel a bit of sympathy for them, perhaps even like them a bit?

On one hand, perhaps Blizzard wanted to demonstrate the ferocity and cunning of these orcs; hell, their leader slew Mannoroth. It lets the players know that this is indeed a badass force we'll soon meet. On the other hand, it shows the orc clans at their most vulnerable point, where the wrong choice would lead them down a path of death and destruction, and the forfeiture of their livelihood as free people. The ironic and perhaps sad part of this is that these orcs are still heading down a path of death and destruction, but unlike their historical counterparts, they won't ever gain a foothold on our Azeroth.

The motives of the Iron Horde are simple and clear. Grommash even puts it out there for us in declaring, "We will never be slaves!" Good on you, man! Standing up for your people, not allowing a larger, more-powerful force to call the shots. The Horde and Alliance have both faced similar threats to their existence in the past, and this is really no different. However, Grommash takes it one step further with the follow-up line of, "But we will be conquerors!"

And that's where Mr. Hellscream and I part ways. I'm not an all-or-nothing type person. In other words, I believe you don't have to be a conqueror if you're not a slave, and vice versa. And it's that last line and the motivation behind it that pulls us---the players---into the mix. While Grommash's base intention is pure and honorable---to not be slaves---the methods he will employ to see that out have little regard for the livelihood of anyone who might get in the way of the end goal. Which seems to be total domination, not just of Draenor, but of many worlds.

I'm reminded of a comment made by actor Ben Foster, who will play Medivh in the Warcraft movie, about director Duncan Jones' approach to the film:

"What's exciting about Duncan Jones' take on this video game is that it shows both sides of the war. It shows both sides of a conflict, which is exciting to me. It's not just a video game turned into a movie. It's asking, hopefully, an important question of, where do we limit our compassion for what we consider to be the bad guys? - IGN Interview

With the Warlords cinematic, our "villains" are humanized early on. I mean, come on: if you knew what Grommsh knew then and there, would you have chosen any differently? It's a pretty cool origin story for the Iron Horde as I see it. It puts a key element to this story right into focus: both sides have a lot to lose in this fight. And I believe the best conflict stories are those that humanize both sides. Look at the Governor's arc in The Walking Dead, or even the actions and motivations of some of the main characters. Look at the entirety of Game of Thrones, and how the line between right, wrong, good and bad is so blurry it's sometimes impossible to see.

If the villain of your story has little more substance than a concrete wall, a tricky obstacle for the protagonist(s) to overcome, you're losing an incredible amount of story possibilities, and avenues to explore that just might cause your audience to become that much more deeply invested.

Do I like the Iron Horde based on what I've seen and what I know? No, of course not. But I can sympathize with their cause. And that their cause is now threatening my character's existence, I'm compelled to action. In a way though, it will be bittersweet when I cut down the final warlord, very much for the same reasons I felt sadness when Arthas fell.

Sadness, if for nothing else but the potential for a powerful enemy to have been a force of good.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pre-Expac First Impressions

img: Blizzard
As I write this, it's not yet been 24 hours since the release of 6.0.2. Like many players, I've spent a couple of those hours tooling around with the new content, enough tooling around to have an opinion which---YAY---I get to share here!

The Event

A quest chain with vanity rewards seems to be the go-to method for Blizzard as of late. Which is fine by me. While I would definitely enjoy a more disruptive event ala the Wrath of the Lich King zombie invasion, I'm not upset about what we got. If you were left feeling like, "that's it?" Don't worry, that's not it. Word is there's a lot of new content coming soon.

Models

I main an orc shaman, and while his old face doesn't have an updated equivalent, I was able to find a new face that fit well enough. That said, some of the new models are going to take some getting used to. I'm most definitely biased, and feel that Horde are the overall winners here---some of what I've seen on the Alliance side has made me cringe. It's still early, and I can't honestly tell whether my negative reaction to certain models and faces is solely because it's new, or if there's something else going on here. 

All in all, I'd like to see more facial customization options added to the game. I can't help but feel that some of what I've seen isn't quite done. For some of the faces, that's my hope.

Stats

Wouldn't have even noticed the squish if I weren't paying attention. I operate with a pretty clean UI and thus do not have yellow numbers popping all around my screen when I fight stuff...not even dem godly critz, yo. So really, I didn't notice until I looked up at my character frame and saw 80k health. I took note of it and went about my business. Which consisted of running the new UBRS, where I felt just as powerful as I did prior to the patch.

Storage

Between the Toybox, Void Storage and the Reagants tab (the latter of which I haven't yet utilized), I freed up several dozen spaces in my bags and bank. I'm anticipating the arrival of the heirlooms tab, and would suggest Blizzard also consider a Tabard tab and perhaps a Shirt tab (thank you Brawler's Guild). The freed-up spaces soon became a necessity because...

Soloing

I've soloed much of Ulduar in the past and wanted to see if there were any noticeable differences. Soon as I stepped in and saw the legion of trash before Flame Leviathan, I decided I didn't want to be there anymore. Instead of leaving without trying a thing, I popped ghost wolf and sprinted straight towards the boss area, hundreds of mobs in tow.

I killed Flame Leviathan---sans vehicle---before all of the trash could even reach me. Well then. If I was persistent enough to go after the Ashes of Al'ar I may as well add Invincible and Mimiron's Head to the WoW Weekly list

How's the patch treating you thus far? 



Friday, October 3, 2014

What's Next for Blizzard? - Blizzcon Predictions

Predictions: if you're wrong, you look foolish, and if you're right, no one cares. So I've got nothing new to offer you here, just my own speculation. For something more tangible for those of you lucky enough to hear many of these anticipated announcements in-person at Blizzcon, check out my Blizzcon Guide for Noobs.

With Blizzard stating they've effectively cancelled the mystery-MMO we've come to know as Titan, it's left a lot of fans wondering what's next for the game giant. Let's keep in mind that cancelling long-in-development projects isn't uncommon when it comes to Blizzard. We have quite a bit of precedence for it, actually. Analysts are even seeing it as a strength. The action in itself mirrors the Blizzard philosophy of "make games they'd want to play themselves." And as CEO Mike Morhaime said in the Polygon interview, releasing a game that doesn't live up to their expectations isn't an option.

Many players were hoping for an update on Titan's progress at Blizzcon this coming November. Without that prospect, and the likelihood we won't hear much about "what's next" in Warcraft beyond what we already know of Warlords of Draenor, it leaves me wondering what we might see this year. 

Hearthstone

There's little doubt we'll hear something about the first expansion to their massively successful trading card game. If not at Blizzcon, then shortly after. The developers have even said as much. With a reported 20+ million players in the game, Hearthstone is slated to receive support for years to come, especially with the growing popularity of esports and its impending availability to the broader mobile market.

Blizzcon Prediction: Details on Hearthstone's first expansion which will introduce the Death Knight hero; firm release dates for availability in wider mobile market.

Starcraft: Legacy of the Void

We know there's one more chapter in the Starcraft II trilogy, and what that will look like is hinted at heavily at the ending of Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm. Full disclosure: Starcraft is probably the Blizzard game I play the least, so I know even less of what I'm talking about here than normal. Either way, expect to hear about Legacy of the Void at Blizzcon this year, but probably nothing about a release date.

Blizzcon Prediction: Trailer for SCII:LotV with a game release slated for 2016.

Heroes of the Storm

If MOBAs are your thing and you were lucky enough to get into the Alpha, you already know how much potential this game has. With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard continues its tradition of expanding into new genres and kicking ass at it. I've played Riot's League of Legends and have a summoner near max-level, but there's something about the game that doesn't grab me. I've always been a casual, for-fun LoL player. However, with LoL, it takes a certain time investment---if you really want to progress---even as a casual player. 

Heroes of the Storm aims at broad appeal, like with Hearthstone, where they've created a complex game with a low barrier to entry. I feel it's safe to assume we'll get a vague release target (i.e. Q2 2015) at Blizzcon. My hope is that the game will transition to Open Beta shortly after, if not by the time Blizzcon arrives.

Blizzcon Prediction: Open Beta announcement, new playable heroes including Vol'jin and Deckard Cain, target release date announced.

Diablo III

It's going to be quiet on the Diablo front this year. Reaper of Souls spent a good amount of time in the spotlight at last year's Blizzcon. Considering the title just released for console, I doubt we'll be talking about what's next in Diablo.

Blizzcon Prediction: Diablo does not play a major part at this year's Blizzcon.

World of Warcraft

I want to learn where we're heading after Draenor. And we will eventually, but it might not be at Blizzcon. If that's the case, it means we'll be talking about the expansion we've been talking about since last Blizzcon. Which seems like a rather drab prospect, given---on average---the type of player/fan you're addressing at an event like Blizzcon. Unless they've undersold the expansion to us this whole time (an admittedly difficult notion to swallow with just how much information we have) and are set to unleash new information that will send us into a frenzy. In a good way, of course.

I also think this is a great opportunity to show where the movie's at. Significant time was spent at last year's Blizzcon---Duncan Jones and some of his crew even had a panel, and I assume we'll hear more this year.

Blizzcon Prediction: They'll announce the next expansion; the one after Warlords, but details will be scarce so as not to spoil the ending of Warlords of Draenor. Why? I don't have a whole lot to back that up, but here's someone who took a stance and ran with it. The remainder of the time will focus on what we'll be seeing the week after Blizzcon when the expansion launches. As far as the movie goes, I don't believe we'll see the trailer, but feel confident we'll be shown a short scene.

Additional Titles

With the cancellation of Titan, might there be room for Blizzard to announce another project they're working on? On the other hand, given Titan's demise, perhaps Blizzard will be more cautious about how and when they announce their large-scale projects. I don't think we'll see a new title announced at Blizzcon beyond what's been discussed above. The timing of Titan's cancellation was more about tempering expectations: they didn't want anyone going into the convention thinking they'd hear about Titan. Conversely, announcing the cancellation of a title at such a major event simply wouldn't be wise.

That said, I bet we see Blizzard's updates to the Warcraft RTS games; perhaps not the whole lot, but I believe we'll see an updated Warcraft 3 engine including art assets, as well as the functionality that will tie it to our Battle.net launchers. 

It doesn't really pay to argue these points, as I've essentially pulled them from my bum. But are there any predictions you'd alter/add?

Leave 'em below.