Monday, September 15, 2014

Interface > Addons: The Convenience of Selljunk

Screengrab: Curse
We all have our favorite addons. Interface > Addons highlights those I've found helpful throughout my years of playing Warcraft. Because when the default interface doesn't work for us, we change it!

I can't remember how or when I first stumbled upon SellJunk. Its page on Curse lists a creation date of November 17th, 2007 and boasts over two million downloads to date. It was probably sometime in 2008 or 2009 when I found it; perhaps a guildie tipped me off or I went searching out of need. Either way, SellJunk provides a valuable quality-of-life feature, even with the changes to bags and inventory space we'll see in Warlords.

As you probably guessed, the out-of-the-box addon streamlines the process of ridding your already-taxed-for-space bags of that annoying grey vendor trash. Simply interact with a vendor and you'll notice a button on their Buy/Sell screen conveniently labeled SellJunk. Click the button and the addon sells up to 12 grey items at once. Depending on how full your bags are you may need to click the button two or three times. There is also an option to instruct the addon to automatically sell all grey items upon opening the vendor window---no extra button clicks needed.

In addition to the convenience of easily selling grey items, there's also an exception list. To it you can add grey items you do not want to sell, i.e. you like collecting rocks; or conversely, add non-soulbound white/green items that you'd rather sell to the vendor than keep for whatever reason, i.e. low-level consumables, etc.

I can't guess how much time this addon has saved me over the years, but judging by my /played time it can't be an insignificant amount. It's especially powerful when questing/leveling or farming old content. Speaking of which, there's an extra feature for folks stuck with full bags out in the wilds, but don't have access to a vendor mount or pet: typing the command /selljunk destroy will destroy all of your grey items---as well as any other items you may have told the addon to target.

Convenience at its finest.

Is there an addon you know about that does what this one does, but better? Perhaps there's an addon I should know about. Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Personal Choice

The human above crafted this post.

"The term Follower is so apt a word...A follower implies the existence of a leader, and the act of following implies the absence of resistance."

It’s been roughly two years since I sort of stumbled into the Warcraft interest group (WIG) on Twitter. The WIG is my term for a loosely defined body comprised of anyone who primarily chats about World of Warcraft. Of course, the social community in WoW extends well beyond the boundaries of Twitter and that definition, but I'm speaking to my own experience in this space.

When I first created a Warcraft-related account for Twitter, I was at the cusp of an unsuccessful attempt (the second) to earn a spot on the WoW Insider team. In the process of getting myself ready, I bumped into a large section of people who loved talking about Warcraft outside of the game just as much as I did: fans, developers, and content creators. A lot of times those labels overlapped. It was the coolest thing ever. Players from around the world, from both factions, from different backgrounds with different preferences, all engaging with one another over a shared passion.

Well, that’s the rose-colored-glasses-wearing-bird’s-eye view.

The WIG on Twitter can at times appear as splintered as the average high school sophomore class. Which isn’t surprising: cliques are everywhere you look. They’re in your town, in your family, in your workplace. They’re probably in your guild. And they’re a pretty normal occurrence. As human beings we tend to have a natural desire to surround ourselves with people who reflect and reinforce our own ideals, who are more like us. Hell, it’s a survival mechanism. But it can be dangerous, as it is easy to forget there are others unlike you, with their own collection of experiences that shape their worldview.

When I found the WIG here, it filled a social void I wasn’t getting in-game. Sure, I played amongst friends, but their passion never seemed to match mine. The guild I was in was slowly falling apart, the list of in-game friends dwindling due to life responsibilities, boredom or a combination of the two. But I wasn’t done with Warcraft. I was still in love, still making the time, still wanting to be involved. The people in the WIG further inspired me to try different things, to entertain alternative viewpoints as they related to the game we love to play, to create content and share my own voice.

Of course, when you have so many voices in one place, there’s inevitably going to be differing viewpoints---which is good. True debate is healthy. The problem, though, as I’ve seen too often since becoming more entrenched here, is that there’s little true debate when two opposing viewpoints collide. In fact, the debates often resemble what you’d see from high school sophomores...who aren’t at all interested in joining the school’s debate team. Who've failed to understand that the main element of a debate isn’t about being right.

Just because a viewpoint differs from your own doesn’t inherently make it wrong. Just because someone holds an opposing viewpoint doesn’t make them uneducated, or any other lazy, ad hominem you can throw at them. These notions are antithesis of debate.

What does it mean when two people look at the same pieces of evidence, yet arrive at two wildly different, valid conclusions? In the real world it happens all the time and the earth doesn't come to a stand still. But within the WIG, too often it signifies one or all parties will cut the other from their lives (insert “that escalated quickly” meme). The term Follower is so apt a word based on what I witness here on a weekly basis. A follower implies the existence of a leader, and the act of following implies the absence of resistance.

Can we not have a mature conversation anymore? Can people not separate their own self-worth from the widespread acceptance or rejection of an opinion they hold? Must these arguments (and calling them arguments grants more validity than they have) consistently devolve into name-calling and blocking of one another? I’m not talking about cases where blocking is appropriate (harassment, willful douchebaggery); rather the instances where it appears respectful discussion is being solicited, yet it abruptly ends with the playground equivalent of “we can’t be friends.”

I feel sorry for people whose default response is to silence the voices that respectfully disagree with them. The voices that force them to more deeply examine their own opinions and biases. Not only is there the missed potential for personal growth---after all debates are supposed to be educational at their core---but you’ve just excised someone from your life for...what? Because their collective experience has led them to believe something that clashes with your own, and they’ve the audacity to express it?

I used to frequent a web forum devoted to conspiracies and the paranormal. But I stopped going there regularly a couple of years ago because of what became all too familiar: I’d fail to find even a single discussion that didn’t involve attacks targeting people's opinions and perceptions about a story or event. For whatever reason, people failed to address the actual subject of the discussion and would instead focus on the credibility or education of the person who brought the subject to the table.

Person A: Ooh that’s a nasty, deep shade of blue.
Person B: Idiot! Get glasses. It’s clearly black.
Person A: Well when I compared it to color swatches, it looked black at first but…
Person B: Gosh you’re clueless. I can’t hold a debate with you.

This. Gets. Nothing. Done. In fact, it's harmful.

The discussions end up far off from where they started, the thread author wonders why they bother any more, and the people who’ve deemed themselves an authority are fueled by their righteous indignation towards all those uneducated sops who are too dumb to see things as they do.

The negativity I see on Twitter week to week is emotionally draining. Perhaps, though, that’s partly because my in-game situation has changed. Trade chat is permanently turned off because I’ve manage to find and help grow a guild filled with excellent, mature and respectful players who have all pledged to be part of something bigger than the individual. In practice, this means they’re going to do everything they can to make sure their fellow players’ experiences are positive ones---even when things don’t go their way.

There have been countless issues worth discussing in the past year regarding the video game industry, and I’ve seen plenty of perfect examples of reasoned debate that ended with involved parties in disagreement, but avoided the now-we’re-sworn-enemies conclusion.

One of the truly sad parts in all of this is that some people have a message that needs to be heard, but that message gets lost in the tone of delivery. Anyone can yell on the internet, but that’s not the best way to gain an audience. What’s more, sometimes the delivery of the message is so disrespectful and aggressive that the message itself is damaged. What response can be expected if you grab someone by the throat, screaming about what they should/shouldn’t do to help your cause? Shitting on your fellow person in the process of getting a point across is immature, it’s insulting to everyone who’s unlucky enough to witness it, it’s often detrimental to the subject at hand.

This behavior has no place among adults.

Then again, maybe I’m simply standing in the wrong (or right) place. Maybe a number of people who see this post will wonder what the hell I’m even talking about. I envy you if you haven’t seen your online friends turn on each other like wild dogs over a difference in interpretation involving a friggin’ video game.

The nastiness is what tends to stick in my mind in place of the overwhelmingly good amount of interactions I witness here on a daily basis; mostly because the nastiness doesn’t have to happen. Each of us can choose a position while being respectful of the feelings of the people standing in opposite corners. But that starts with a personal choice to be better, to treat everyone with respect.

I offer our guild motto in closing: be excellent to each other. Remember that being excellent to someone and disagreeing with them are not mutually exclusive notions. And if you surround yourself with only like-minded thinkers---with followers---while silencing opposing voices, it doesn’t mean you’ve won the debate; rather, you’ve effectively killed it before it had a chance to become anything.

In a space that is social by design, the casualties of that action are likely much farther-reaching than you may realize.

You want evidence? Scroll to top.

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 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. 


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.


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:
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.