Friday, August 29, 2014

Feckless Leader's Blizzcon Noob Guide

The #3WImigos at Blizzcon 2013.

Blizzcon 2014 is happening, so I've gone ahead and added to this guide, originally published in October 2013. I've had the privilege of attending Blizzcons '11 and '13, and this guide is meant to give first-time attendees a jump on what to expect at the convention.

Don't Be a Creep

Starting off with a new tip for 2014, one that should be common sense, but sadly isn't! 

In 2011, I didn't hang with many women at the convention. By sheer luck I was able to attend with a friend, but we didn't really know anybody. We weren't connected to the WoW Twitter community, weren't part of guilds that would have a presence there and I'm not exactly the most extroverted person. So the reality that women would be harassed by their fellow con-goers wasn't something I'd had to face. 

But then 2013 happened. I got witness firsthand some women I knew being harassed by guys. I saw some guys who were really wanted to get laid and were extremely gross about it. I saw a guy hovering a few feet behind a friend, staring at the back of her head with a disturbing look on his face just because she'd said a few words to him in passing. Or, in the most disappointing of cases, saw people we knew making unwanted advances after a couple of drinks. This happened nearly every night we were there! 

I mean this to mean what it means: the #3WImigos were watching then. And we'll be watching this year. 

Oh, and HUGS! Hugs are great...so long as the hugger(s) involved actually want the hug. A person's presence at the con is not a license for you to throw your arms around them. Take this into account when you're meeting anyone: women, men, devs, cosplayers, etc. How could you ever possibly decipher whether or not they'd even accept a hug? Ask. Believe me. It's less awkward than making an unwelcome advance. 

At the end of the day, I don't think any person really wants to call another person a socially inept degenerate. So don't violate their space and put them in that uncomfortable position. If you can't control yourself, save yourself the time and money and just sell your ticket right now. Hell, I'll even buy it off you

Get Your Badge on Thursday, or Early Friday

While you can wait to get your badge til Friday morning, people who grabbed their badges on Thursday night will have already formed a thousands-strong line into the actual con. There are several advantages to getting your badge on Thursday evening, available at the convention center between 4pm and 9pm: first of all, it saves you the bother of dealing with it on Friday morning, which can be a reward in itself. If you are looking to be among the first several-thousand to enter the convention center, perhaps to grab a close seat for the opening ceremony, having your badge in hand and getting in line early Friday morning is paramount to success. Plus, waiting in that line is cooler than waiting in just any line.

Getting Prime Seating

Seating is first-come, first-served. If you want a seat near the stage for any of the larger events (opening ceremony, xpac reveals, developer panels), it is best to arrive early. Really, there's not a bad seat in the house on account of the video screens strategically placed throughout the hall. The only event where sitting in the back had a disadvantage (significant sound delay) was the closing concert.

It's common practice for one person from a group to arrive at the convention early and save seats for their party. This might draw sideways glances from some folks, but I can assure you this was a very common practice. 

SNA or LAX?

Chances are you have your transportation all figured out, but in case you don't...

I flew into LAX the first time, and SNA (John Wayne) the second. LAX, as you probably know, is a rather large airport. I'd only recommend cabbing to the con from there if money isn't an issue. Otherwise, SuperShuttle or a similar service is the way to go. Sure, you're sharing a ride, but you can secure a round-trip for roughly $40.

SNA is a smaller airport, but still nice. It's about a 20-minute cab ride from the convention center. A huge perk is the lack of traffic and its significantly closer proximity to the main event. Depending on when you purchase tickets, flying into SNA may even be the cheaper option. I prefer SNA just because it's less of a hassle getting in and out of it, and also because the extra sleep you'll be afforded on your day of departure will have much value. Trust me.

Purchasing Plane Tickets

If you haven't purchased plane tickets yet, we're in the sweet spot.

A new study makes the claim that the best time to buy a plane ticket with the goal of the cheapest fare is 54 days before your trip. And if you don't hit that head-on, the best fares can generally be found between 104 to 29 days before the trip. While you can secure your ticket now, historically prices should decrease as we head into the summer months. Another study suggests that Tuesdays tend to feature lower average rates, while rates tend to climb as it gets later into the week. Nothing here is guaranteed, of course, but these may be good things to keep in mind.

Finding a Room

Blizzcon's own Travel Information post has a lot of really great information regarding lodging options in the immediate area surrounding the convention center. If money's not a concern, I highly recommend staying at the Hilton, but a stone's throw from the convention center doors. As an added bonus for those staying at the Hilton, the lobby is a social hot spot each night. For a more affordable option with equal proximity to the convention center, check out the Marriott. However, if you've waited this long it may be difficult finding a room at these locations.

Last year our group did something different and went in on a house rental through HomeAway. With the cost split three ways, we each paid the equivalent of the cost of a room for 1-night at the Hilton, but got an entire freakin' house for four nights. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious living room, full kitchen (COFEE MAKER), patio...your own space. Granted, we didn't spend much time there outside of sleeping hours, but we won't do it any other way---we've already got our house booked for this year. If you don't mind the .5-mile walk to the convention center (many of the houses are located in the neighborhood just south of the propery) and you have a group of friends you're going with or meeting, this option should not be overlooked. 

Visit the Booths Early if Swag's Your Thing

There are loads of vendor booths at the con (i.e. Razer, Jinx, etc.). At many of these booths, there are contests, prizes, and trinkets to give away. However, it was clear that these companies did not bring enough giveaways for every single con attendee. So if you're looking to maximize your swag, try to hit the booths earlier on Friday.

We didn't really visit many booths in 2013 compared to 2011. Yeah, it was cool (and uber-nerdy) to hold exact replicas of the Doomhammer and Frostmourne, but at the end of the day, your time is limited. And it flies. Use it wisely.

Mind the Schedule

There's a lot to do and see. Realm meetups, to lore panels, live PvP matches, game testing, the booths, the people---you may not have time for it all---and that's just the stuff going on during the day. There will also be a slew of events put on by fansites during the evening hours. There is never a shortage of things to do; in fact, you'll often have to choose one thing over the other as event times often conflict. That's why it's important to mind the schedule.

Bring a Backpack

My fellow attendee and I were a bit worried about the size of our backpacks in 2011 (traditional Jansport double-strap bags). In fact, I'd brought a smaller sack for the first day that wasn't very useful until I saw they were allowing normal-sized backpacks. Of course, this is where you'll be stuffing all that free swag or items you've purchased, but also it's wise to bring along a water bottle and a snack. 

Autographable Paraphenalia

Bring a Sharpie and something for Blizzard folk to deface with said Sharpie. I recommend perhaps the art book from one of the Collector's Editions. This year, I'm contemplating bringing along the original game guide that came in my physical copy of Vanilla. Because nostalgia.

Good Shoes

There will be lots and lots and lots of walking---even if you're staying adjacent to the convention center. While comfortable doesn't always translate into the most stylin', comfort trumps style here. Bring a trusty pair of shoes you know you'll be comfortable in while walking many miles and standing around on hard concrete for hours at a time and save your fancy shoes for the evenings.

Avoid Convention Center Food

Disclaimer: I can only speak for the food served inside the actual convention center---there are several options just outside of the convention center on the patios (as well as local food trucks, which I'll touch on shortly), and I can't speak to most of those. Our party tried the personal pan pizzas being served inside the con in a desperate attempt to battle hangovers. They were gross, to put it mildly. And didn't help the hangovers one bit. It may seem like a good idea when the tummy's grumbling, but it's one you'll likely regret.

Instead, head out the front doors of the convention center and if it's anything like last year, there will be several food options via food trucks parked out in the courtyard. The Viking Truck was one of our favorites last year.

Talk to the Blizzard People 

They will be out and about; if they were trying to avoid talking to players, it'd be real easy for them to do so. One of my favorite memories from 2011 was looking Mike Morhaime in the eyes while shaking his hand, thanking him for the awesome experiences he and his team have created for us. Last year was even more memorable. Once again I was able to catch Morhaime's ear for a few minutes, but I also was able to speak one-on-one with Rob Pardo, Greg Street, Corey Stockton, Russel Brower and Johnathan Brown (Zarhym). The highlight was probably a sit-down conversation a fellow #3WImigo and I had with Jason Hayes, Senior Composer at Blizzard. He talked our ears off. 

Evaluate Your Loot Bag's Worth

The novelty value of my 2011 loot bag was quite high when I initially received it, but it has continually declined as the con fades farther into history. Did I really need that Tyrael statue? Or the mini-Thrall or companion pet? The answer for me is yes, but maybe it's not for you.

The reason I bring it up is because those goodie bags, at least initially, can be of high value to those who didn't attend the con. By high value, I mean that I've seen some bags sell for the price of a con ticket in the days and weeks following the event. So while you might want to rip through that goodie bag to examine your hawt lootz, I'd suggest you first try to evaluate the contents' true worth from an objective point of view.

I didn't sell my goodie bag from either year, but I did sell a couple of items for a friend. On top of that, I picked up an item from the Blizzard store at the con that wasn't being sold anywhere else. A few months later I was able to sell it for double the purchase price. Food for thought.

Pace Yourself to Stay Up Late

I'm a late-to-bed, early-to-rise type of guy when it comes to the con. I don't think I turned in before 1:30am on any of the nights, and I was by no means the last one at the party. Note that this might be your only chance at attending the con, at networking with so many like-minded gamers---don't waste it. I can tell you that a friend who came with me to Blizzcon 2011 regrets going to bed so early. Especially when I texted him a picture of Morhaime and I at 11:45pm on Saturday night. Fortunately for him, he changed his habits and got his photo-op last year at Blizzcon 2013.

Bring Business Cards/Contact Info

Chances are you're going to Blizzcon partially because you find value in the Blizzard community, both the creators and the players. You have to try pretty hard to not talk to other gamers. Last con took place shortly after Real ID was implemented, so exchanging email addresses with people sufficed. It's pretty common to see people handing out business cards with their character, guild, and social media info.

6-2-1 Rule

Bim (@ShieldSpec) on Twitter suggested this nifty tip, one that I hadn't heard of before, but may be familiar to those who are regular con-goers. The closest experience I have is perhaps a large music festival, like Bonnaroo. But I don't think anyone was practicing the 6-2-1 rule there. Simply put: 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals, 1 shower. Easy enough, and helps to ensure you aren't tired, hungry or stinky, which will make for an better con experience overall for you and those around you.

Full disclosure: I don't normally follow the 6-2-1 rule. In practice mine tends to look like 5-1.5-1 rule. Seriously though, don't skip out on the shower. Your fellow Blizzcon attendees send their thanks in advance.

Note: while practicing this rule, it's also not a bad idea to pack a travel-size container of hand sanitizer.

Get Charged

Portable phone chargers will make your life easier. In 2011, I had a really difficult time finding a good signal, which caused my phone to be on overdrive at all times when I was inside the convention center. Couple that with the copious amounts of pictures you should be taking and your battery will be drained halfway through the day. Don't be like I was, running back to the hotel room in the middle of the day just to plug in the phone. Be prepared. Prior to last year's event I picked up a model like this for less than $10. Super handy to have at the con. You don't want to be tethered to a wall outlet for a half-hour because you forgot to charge your phone overnight. 

----
Update: I was on a lovely little podcast called Blizzcon Countdown prior to Blizzcon 2011 and spoke to some of these tips. Big thanks to Jim for having me. Click here to have a listen.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I Hope to See in Hearthstone for iOS: Mobile Game Mode


Will we see Hearthstone for iPhone and Android by the end of this year like Blizzard mentioned back in April? No one's really saying much, including senior game designers. Personally, I expect an announcement along those lines at Blizzcon in November, where I assume we'll also hear more about the game's first expansion/booster (not to be confused with the recent Curse of Naxxramas adventure). And I'm hoping that tucked in with these announcements is a new game mode that's specific to mobile phones. What I'm calling Mobile Game Mode. I know, it's a terrible name, but just bear with me.

What would Mobile Game Mode look like? Basically, it's Hearthstone without the play timer. Think Words with Friends. And if you're not familiar with Words with Friends, I'd describe it as a casual game of Scrabble-lite played at the collective pace of the two players. Games can stretch out over several days, or can be over in ten minutes, depending on how quickly a player responds to his or her opponent's move.

In order to play Hearthstone on iOS (iPad) right now, the player must connect to a wireless network. Mobile Game Mode would be set up in such a way that, like Words with Friends, connection to a cellular network is all that's needed to support game play. Players can take as long as they'd like to make a move, and once they play, their opponent receives a notification that it's their turn to play. The cycle repeats until one of the heroes dies. I see this as being aimed towards casual play, and would be unranked so it couldn't be abused for player gains.

I've absolutely no idea at all what sort of server infrastructure would be needed to support it, but I can't imagine it'd required more than what Blizzard has right now. And if Zynga can do it, I would think Blizzard could as well.

The bigger question I'm left with: is this mode something that'd even appeal to players, or is it just something I'd like to see because of my affinity for Words with Friends?

I'm curious to know...tweet at me or leave it in the comments!


Friday, August 22, 2014

Screenshots of the Past

I've been thinking about the past lately; specifically, my Warcraft history. No doubt I've been inspired by the impending 10 year anniversary of World of Warcraft, that inspiration spurred on by Alternative Chat's #10Years10Questions exercise. And there is a very sore spot in my Warcraft history, and it's related to how we players are able record our time in-game through images.

Screenshots.

Though I started playing in 2006, there's a void in screenshots from then until early 2009. I've only been able to locate two screenshots from around that time period, and they come from just before I opened my own account; the rogue pictured above is the oldest surviving screenshot of a character I played, though this one was on a friend's account and I've long since lost access.

In the process of wiping my PC in late 2012, I was wise enough to transfer my screenshots onto an external hard drive. However, the second time I had to perform serious maintenance on the PC in late 2013, the situation was much more dire, and I wasn't able to back up the machine. I effectively deleted a year and a half's worth of screenshots that I will never, ever get back.

While responding to Alternative Chat's project, I spent some time browsing through the 2009-2012 block. If you haven't perused your screenshots folder in some time, you should do that now. Cause you'll undoubtedly stumble across some images that'll leave you scratching your head, or make you smile, or even bring you to tears.

Like this image (there were actually a dozen in the folder in this sequence) of the first time I opened a ticket and got a live response from a game master. My excitement is almost embarrassing:
I lost a trinket in the Trial of the Crusader on a roll that tied with another player. The GM schooled this noob on how background rolling mechanisms work in the case of a tie. It's because of players like me that your ticket response wait time is over a day.

























Or this one, where I decided to take off my pants and pose on the beach of Sholozar in front of a rainbow:
No pants? No problem!

Here's one of the first raids I took part in after server-transferring into a raiding guild: 
I get to meet the levitating tree at Blizzcon this year. 
Or when I caught my character staring at an artists impression of Thousand Needles, painted and viewed years prior to Deathwing's return:
"I wonder if at some point in our history that place was filled with water..."

Or this image from playing alongside my significant other and the first character she ever played:
So ominous...
And this one after a night of questing comes to a close:
D'awwwwwwwww!
Today my significant other is a druid, as I convinced her to switch factions so she could join me in my Horde exploits:
Stala and her personal escort.
Given what I found in the small trove of screenshots that weren't destroyed over the years, I feel genuine sadness at the thought of memories that may never be jogged, absent the trigger of a screenshot. How do you go about documenting your time in Warcraft? If you've got some images to share and a description of the moment behind it that meant something to you, I'd love to see it in your blog.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Things to do Before Warlords of Draenor

With a couple of months left before the Warlords of Draenor release, many people might be running out of things to do in game. This post was inspired by Mr. and Mrs. WoW's blog post asking for players' three favorite things about WoW, or things you like to do in-game, especially as it relates to the down time we have before Warlords of Draenor releases. Here are some activities to consider if you're still enjoying the game full force, but would like something different to do.

Warbringer Farming

There are five Zandalari Warbringer spawn points located throughout Pandaria, and the mobs themselves tend to respawn anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes after they've been killed. Many classes can handle the warbringers with relative ease, and nearly any damage-dealing class in Normal+ SoO gear should be able to solo them. They drop rep tokens (which can be useful for alts), two kinds of bags with supplies to use or sell, and in rare instances, one of three mounts: Jade, Amber, and Slate Primordial Direhorns.

If I'm in a group I'll generally head to the spawn point in Kun Lai while my partner heads to Jade Forest, with them looping back if the mob is up in Kun Lai. Then, hearth to the Shrine and strike out again, one to Townlong and one to Dread Wastes. Finish up in Krasarang and repeat the loop, if you are so inclined. If you pay attention to spawn times and there's not much competition out there, it's possible to travel from kill to kill to kill with little time spent waiting for respawns.

Riches of Pandaria & Glorious!

Both of these achievements have you seeking out things. Tucked-away artifacts to find for the former, NPCs to kill for the latter. If you're max level you shouldn't encounter too many issues with the mobs for Glorious. Riches simply takes a bit of time; the nice thing is you'll get a hefty chunk of gold throughout the course of completing these, plus the chance at rare and vanity items from some of the mobs.

Given that we're at the tail end of this expansion, competition for mobs and treasures should be at an all-time low. Some addons you might want to check out to make this even easier: NPCScan, Finders & Riches, TomTom.

Isle of Giants

This can be rough as a solo player unless you're decently geared. Best bet is to find a friend or two who's also interested in farming 9,999 dinosaur bones and make the rounds til you get bored. I've been working on this slowly since the Isle went live, oftentimes chunking my gathering sessions into 500-bone blocks. Generally in the course of each farming session I'll loot a few battle pets and a Primal Egg, which will hatch into one of  three mounts (Black, Red, or Green Primal Raptor) three days later.

WoW Insider Did You Miss

I missed two of the three objectives listed by WoW Insider so far in their...writeups...series...thing... Whatever it is. This week I'll bust out the crate of rodents for the raid team so they can grab the Sumprush Rodent, as it's a pet many people haven't acquired because of the logistics involved in earning it. I also nabbed the Lobstmourne fist weapon. Because transmog. That one was a lot of fun and made me wish I'd discovered it organically while questing in Pandaria like I had with Old Man Thistle's Lost Treasure.

Farm a Legendary

There may still be enough time to earn a legendary from one of the previous expansions if RNG works in your favor. Here's a list of all the pre-Pandaria legendaries in the game. Please excuse the presence of the Tempest Keep legendary weapons---I couldn't figure out how to filter them out. The easier items don't involve longer quest chains: Thunderfury is relatively simple once you're lucky enough to have both bindings drop, and both Thori'dal and the Warglaives are rare drops from Burning Crusade raid bosses, and can be farmed weekly.

Try Something New

Maybe there's an aspect of the game you haven't delved into. Perhaps that's a conscious decision! For me, it's PvP. I just don't get into it very often. Personal preference, that's all. What about pet battles? Easy to get into, but difficult to become an expert. Maybe you've never filled out a character history sheet for your main. If you're looking for something to do before Warlords, there's really no better time to try something new.


#10Years10Questions: Part 3

#10Years10Questions is brought to you buy @AlternativeChat. Answer these questions yourself at her blog. Oh, and if interested, here's Parts 1 & 2
7. How long have you /played and has that been continuous?
I've logged about two year's played time across all of my characters, and yes, that has been continuous. The amount of time I play each week tends to ebb and flow with life, but I've had a consistent, recurring subscription since 2006, and I can't remember going a full week without logging on. 

I know, that might seem excessive, but it's been a source of enjoyment since I first picked up the game and I don't regret the time I've spent. Not at all. Even when I add up all of the money I've spent on the franchise (subscriptions, server transfers, faction changes, expansions, shop items, and Blizzcon trips), it's an amount I can justify, especially when considering what I feel I've gotten out of the whole experience. 



8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?
I do, though this wasn't always the case. In Vanilla and the Burning Crusade, I didn't have a good sense of the overarching story, partially because I wasn't paying close attention, and partially because I was oblivious to the deep history of the franchise and how it related to the events of WoW and its first expansion. 

Wrath of the Lich King finally pulled me into the story and I began to read all of the text quest, and have made that my habit the first time I level through new content. I have not yet gone back to finish the Cataclysm quests they added to Vanilla content, though I intend to someday. 

I'm absolutely stoked for Warlords, and as wacky as the time-travel stuff can get, I think it has the potential to be one of the best stories players have seen.  

9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?

Part of me wishes I would've gotten into the social aspect of the game a little earlier than I had, especially when it comes to Vanilla and BC, but overall no regrets that nag at me. WoW in its infancy was a one-time thing, now long gone. Though I was an active subscriber at the time, I didn't have a grasp on everything that was going on. I wasn't aware of how special it could be, and how special it would eventually become.

I've made some bad decisions with unforeseen consequences that may have affected some of the people I played with, but I'd like to think I've learned from those and apply that knowledge moving forward, in game and in life. It's amazing how guild management can parallel management in the real world.

Oh! Also, I abandoned a quest in the Hand of A'dal line during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion to make room for other quests before I knew what I was doing. Then they removed the ability to earn that title from the game. I totally regret that. 




10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?
It's definitely broadened my perspective on life, believe it or not, mainly through the people I've met in-game and throughout the community. Truly, they are more diverse than my own close circle of friends. So there's that.

In college, it helped me prioritize and learn to manage my time.

Then there's the challenges in managing and communicating effectively with a group who have allied together, while the motivations and desires of those within may vary wildly. There's always so much to learn and apply elsewhere.

I've learned a lot about group dynamics; about how five seemingly innocuous words can be interpreted on a spectrum; how something not important to me can be the most important to thing to someone else and how no one has to be wrong in the matter. It's helped me hone my communication and critical thinking skills. 

Leading raids taught me to first know my stuff before getting into the thick of things, to be alert and aware in a rapidly-changing environment. To make snap-judgement decisions in a stressful situation based on all the information you're able to glean over the course of a second or two.

Most importantly I have met life-long friends through this game, friends who won't disappear like their characters will the day servers go dark.