Wednesday, December 3, 2014

WoW Weekly: Not Complaining

WoW Weekly is a weekly-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.

Well, we're about three weeks into this expansion, and while I can't speak for you, I feel like I've done so much already: I've reached level 100; my character has established and upgraded his base of operations, now a damn-near-impenetrable fortress; I've showed a couple of warlords what's up; and I saw the storyline advance to where it sits after closing out Nagrand---which, I might add, featured a pretty badass climax. So much content I've gobbled up over the course of two weeks, and there's so much yet to come.

The expansion brought quite a few new features and saw tweaks to old systems---not to mention model and environment updates that bring Warcraft's visual effects more in line with modern-day graphics, even if they aren't quite there yet. It's been a significant improvement, to say the least.

Still, I look around Trade Chat, even guild chat at times, and I tend to see complaints more than I do praises for the game: how a certain class is faceroll OP, or how professions are broken, or why Blizzard didn't design X feature the way I want it to be designed. Listening to some players' laundry lists of  dislikes sometimes leaves you wondering if there's anything at all they enjoy about the game. Why they still bother logging in.

I rarely chime in when I see comments along these lines. Just smile. Slight head shake. Get back to playing. Don't get me wrong, everyone's got the right to complain, and even more so complaints are often valid. Still, when there's so much to like about Blizzard's latest content, why spend so much time complaining about the little things?

So, other than playing and wondering why people who hate this game so much still choose to play, in game I'll be:

  • Honing a strategy for garrison's 2 and 3. I've unlocked Level 2 on both my warlock enchanter/alchemist and my death knight jewelcrafter/miner. This allows me to craft my own gems and and enchants, and have mats on hand for anything I can't create myself. Additionally, I should be able to craft a ring or necklace in time for next week's raid.
  • My main character's garrison is reaching the point where resource generation is becoming less and less of a concern. Essentially, I'm waiting to tack off achievements that unlock the level 3 blueprints for my buildings. 
  • Ridding Draenor of its treasures. Frostfire Ridge, Gorgrond and Talador have been stripped bare. Spires, you're next. 
  • Raiding! Our 1-night group begins with a casual night this Thursday, after which we'll be honing and balancing for progression. This is by far my favorite element of Warcraft. 

What are you up to?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Don't Be That Player: The LFR Parasite

Many of us have been That Player at one time or another. From toxic players, oblivious raiders, elitist jerks and beyond, Don't Be That Player is a series that looks at different scenarios we've all encountered, and how they might be approached differently. 

You queue for LFR, hoping to join one already in progress. See, it's just the final boss who drops something you need and you absolutely hate the second and third bosses as groups can never seem to coordinate well, which often leads to a wipe. A few minutes later while you're out questing, the queue pops. You accept and get ported to the instance...and see that it's a fresh run. Drat. Except, you have a secret weapon. You quickly find the little green eyeball near your minimap that tells you you're in an instance. Right-click, then select "Teleport Out of Dungeon."

You hold your breath as the screen loads. Then you're back where you were moments before, quest objectives flanking you on all sides, and so far it looks like no one from the group has noticed your disappearing act. You knock out a few more quests, all the while eyeing your chat frame with the hope you won't be discovered. The first boss falls. The group wipes on the second boss, but quickly recovers and is onto the third. By this time, thirty minutes have passed. The third boss is more challenging than the second, but after a few wipes, some rage quitting and reforming, the third boss dies and the group heads towards to fourth.

Aware of the raid's progress the entire time, you right-click the little green eyeball and choose "Teleport to Dungeon." You port into the instance and join your fellow players in front of the final boss. The fight goes down without a hitch and when the boss falls the RNG gods curse you for abusing the system and you get no loot. Ever again.

But no, really, you may end up getting loot, but that's beside the point. You shouldn't be acting like the player above in the first place.

My Time is Better Than Yours

See, that player has determined that his/her time is significantly more valuable than that of the other 24 players in the group. They desire the ends, but don't wish to bother with the means of achieving those ends---even when they've essentially pledged to do so by entering the queue with 24 others in the first place. The LFR Parasite takes advantage of a flaw in the system that results in the exploit of their fellow players for personal gain. The LFR Parasite wins regardless---they don't "waste" their own time while reaping the benefits of a group they've latched onto. Worst-case scenario is their ruse gets discovered and they get voted from the group. Only to queue up again.

The LFR Parasite can be found in many forms in addition to the one described above. Other common variations include the Auto-Follow Parasite and the DPS-Queues-As-Heals Parasite. In all of these cases, the Parasite desires a reward that's only achievable with a group but doesn't wish to contribute effort of their own. "Well that's just another term for a 'carry'." No, it's not. The Carry may be there for a variety of reasons, while the Parasite involves specific intent to abuse the power of the group.

But what harm does it really do if one person decides to game the system in this way? The short answer is not much. LFR, by design, isn't tuned for 25 players at the top of their game. Anyone who's defeated the bulk of the Durumu encounter with seven people alive can attest to this. In other words, the absence of one person won't make or break the chances for the group's success in most cases. But what if three people did it? Five? Seven? Sooner or later, the impact will be felt and math alone dictates the percentage chance of the group's success will eventually plummet to zero.

It's not so much the action itself I take issue with, but the attitude behind that action, which I feel is a symptom of something much larger that permeates the MMOsphere: a blatant, callous disregard for how one's own actions could negatively affect fellow players. Heck, it's this disregard that really led to the idea for Don't Be That Player.

So you don't act like an LFR Parasite simply because it's not nice or considerate of your fellow players. I know when I enter an LFR that most players won't be dishing out top-tier DPS, but I do assume that if they're there, they'll at least try---after all, that is the purpose LFR: to participate challenging encounters with other players. If you're worried about the value of your own time in-game to the point you'll outright play the system to exploit other players, you're doing it wrong.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

WoW Weekly: Ready for Raiding

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.

We're almost two weeks in to Warlords of Draenor, and after this past weekend I feel like I've now spent a substantial amount of time with the new content. Queues on high population realms seem to have vanished as fast as your friendly neighborhood rogue and servers seems stable overall. Those facts made it so I was able to reach level 100 in the middle of last week. And that's where the real fun begins: the journey to raid-readiness.

I reached cap about three-quarters of the way through Spires of Arak, prior to setting foot in Nagrand. This is pretty typical of me, as I'll generally complete all of the quests in the zone prior to moving on. In the case of Warlords, it included the main storyline, side storylines and marked bonus objectives. It wasn't until level 100 that I finally replaced gear I'd been carrying with me since the Siege of Orgrimmar (gosh how that seems so long ago).

Garrisons, on the whole, have surprised me. While some of the fun I'm having is likely due to novelty, I think there's more to it than just that. Really, it was this past weekend where I felt I knew enough about my garrison and desired end goals to be able to start making a long-term plan. Once I reached level 3, I added a War Mill and a Frostwolf Tavern to the area. I'd originally had a Storehouse, but replaced that once the Salvage Yard became available, so I brought that back as well. The Lumber Mill doesn't produce lumber quite as fast as I'd like, so I'm keeping it around until I have more resources than I know what to do with.

So far, the Salvage Yard (at least that's where I'm giving the credit) has provided some nice benefits, including this upgraded quest reward---not to mention some decent armor and weapon upgrades for my followers. The Tavern in turn has provided some neat dungeon quests, one of which awarded me a peacock pet...ArWAAARRRK! Between the Inn and the Salvage Yard, and how they can potentially affect rewards reaped from both quests, mobs, and missions, I'm counting on a few more nice upgrades to take into raiding. For now I'm holding on to the Barracks, but not sure how long that will last.

On other ready-for-raiding news. I went through the Proving Grounds as soon as I was able, completing all three levels as damage (and later, bronze and silver while healing---instant dungeon queues for the win). Bronze and silver went off without a hitch; gold proved to be a challenge as I was having issues with generating enough burst during the last three rounds. I also accidentally earned Ready for Raiding: IV last night while in a PuG. So, I'm ready now, right?

I'm planning on some solid playtime this week---holiday weekends don't hurt that one bit. You'll find me:

  • Slogging through Vanilla Molten Core (already did the anniversary run---one's more than enough, thank you very much!) with the rogue and the death knight in search of the ever-elusive half of the bindings they each need. Persistence pays off.
  • Wrapping up the Nagrand questline. I've heard people whispering about how cool this zone was, with emphasis on the climax. Can't wait, given what I've seen in previous zones.
  • Farming Warbringers. Yep, you read me right, but shhhhhh! In the days after launch, Pandaria was a ghost continent and Warbringers were naught but apples hanging from a low-slung branches. Competition has stepped up, but it's still a great time to nab them for their mounts or excess Pandaria profession mats, which can still fetch a decent price.
  • If time allows and the main character gets to a place where I can afford to faff around a bit more, I may start Garrisons on additional alts. 

What have you got going on this week?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Overwatch Impressions From a Guy Who Loves Blizzard but Dislikes Shooters

Img: Blizzard

I figure the title's the best place for the full disclosure on this one. I have to reach back over ten years to find the last instance where I spent a good deal of time with a first-person shooter. That was Timesplitters 2, and I played the hell out if it. Before that there was Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom, but that's literally the extent of my experience with shooters.

Then, Blizzard announces Overwatch and I immediately wrestle with the dichotomy of my disdain for shooters and my love for Blizzard. Another team-based FPS. Hrmph. And in Blizzard fashion, a playable demo awaited. I've heard people mentioned Team Fortress 2 in the same breath as Overwatch---I can't speak to that. Seriously: I have zero frame of reference when it comes to the present-day state of these kinds of games. So I queued up in a line that turned out to be much, much longer than even Blizzard anticipated---there were Blizzard employees acting as stanchions, since the area they'd initially cordoned off wasn't nearly large enough to hold all of those who wanted to play.

TL;DR: it was a pleasant surprise. Looks like I'll be playing a shooter for the first time in over ten years.

The game is set up with two teams of six, one team having the role of Attacker, the other of Defender. To be forthright, I had little sense of what was going on in this regard. Luckily, my two friends and I were matched up with nine other players, six of whom had already declared themselves a team. Thankfully, the "team" willingly split up and we were guided by a dude who'd obviously been queuing all morning---he assisted us with character selection based on our familiarity with first-person shooters. He suggested a couple of characters to me who did damage, but ones where precise aim wasn't as critical to the success of the character.

I chose Pharah first, an attacker. The precise-aim-not-necessary advice wasn't quite accurate, and I didn't do too well in this match in which we were the attacking team. However, this wasn't because the game played awkwardly; it was 100% operator error. The controls themselves were pretty slick: aim with the mouse, and press the left-button for the main attack. Shift used her "Jump Jet," allowing her to hover or fly. WASD functioned as movement keys and Spacebar caused the character to jump. Her other two abilities, Concussive Blast and the ultimate Barrage were attached to the E and Q keys, respectively.

So you can see player controls are very similar to what you'd find in a mashup of an FPS and a MOBA-style game, and thus should feel relatively familiar to a player with even novice experience in these genres. The game itself is fast-paced, and to someone not used to playing this way, it was absolutely frenetic. I did feel a bit lost and ineffective as Pharah, though she seems like a character who, once you have a handle on, can be absolutely deadly. We ended up winning this match, despite my lack of skill hampering the team.

However, once we assumed the role of defending team, things changed. First of all, I got the impression that the defending teams in these matches have the advantage: during the minute or so countdown prior to the match starting, the attacking team is cooped up in a locked room, waiting for the doors to open. Not so with the defending team. They are free to roam the map and set up their positioning prior to the match's actual start. I don't know if this is a standard attribute of these sorts of games, but I felt it placed the defending team in a better position to be victorious. That, and the fact that the map objective we were tasked with defending sat behind a choke point that happened to be nearby to where our characters spawned after death.

Secondly, I discovered Bastion, who quickly became my favorite character (granted, I only tried three in all). This little robot has the ability to heal itself, remotely deploy mines across the battlefield, and coolest of all, transform into a powerful turret. I camped myself in partially shielded area and ripped through my opponents. We won that match as well, and I even earned Player of the Match which immediately convinced me that Bastion will see a significant nerf in due time.

And you know what? I'm just going to stop this post right here; the fact I'm even writing about a shooter right now---you'll just have to trust me when I say it's gotta be good if I'm taking the time to jot down some thoughts on it. It's a Blizzard game, after all: fresh, engaging, fun, intuitive, and challenging all in one. If you love shooters, or if you've generally stayed away from shooters for most or all of your gaming life, this is a game you need to check out.

Additional gameplay tidbits:

  • Not bound to one hero per match---players have the ability to select a new hero in the spawning area they return to after death
  • Heroes have distinct roles (each with unique abilities): offense, defense, tank and support
  • A full match lasts approximately 15 minutes
  • Many additional heroes and arenas to be added in the future
  • Currently no plans for a solo campaign; story elements to be developed outside of gameplay

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pumpkin Cookie Recipe

I'm opting for something a bit different this morning. I look outside into the snow-filled, bitterly cold world and think things that I won't write down here because I generally like to keep this area PG-rated. Then I look at my desk and see the pumpkin cookie recipe my better half sent to work with me, the one my co-workers have been asking for since I brought in a batch last month. Snow makes me sad, pumpkin cookies make me happy. Maybe you're not dealing with snow this morning, but perhaps something else unpleasant. If that's the case, bake these. You'll feel better, trust me.

Pumpkin Cookies – 2 Dozen

Note: access to an electric mixture helps, but isn't necessary

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2-3/4 cups Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
1-1/4 tsp ginger
¾ tsp nutmeg
Whisk all of the above; set aside

¾ cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter – softened
2-1/4 cups brown sugar  (packed)
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups (15 oz can) pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla

Mix BUTTER and SUGAR in bowl until fluffy, generally 3-5 minutes. Add EGGS, PUMPKIN and VANILLA – mix on low speed for two minutes (or mix gently if no electric mixer). Add this to FLOUR MIXTURE from above, mix until combined. Spoon onto cookie sheets---no greasing necessary---spacing roughly 1” apart. Bake about 12 minutes or until the tops of the cookies spring back. Cool completely before frosting.

If you've done it right, these will have a consistency less like cookies and more like cake: soft, fluffy and moist; not hard, dry and crumbly.


NOTE: This makes A LOT of frosting; can be halved for a batch of 2 dozen cookies, unless you prefer a generous amount of frosting on each cookie.

1-1/4 sticks of butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Splash of milk or heavy cream

Melt BUTTER in a small saucepan over medium heat until brown (3-5 minutes). Combine BUTTER, POWDERED SUGAR, VANILLA and MILK/CREAM; mix until smooth. Can add more MILK/CREAM to reach desired consistency. Apply to cookies once cookies have cooled.