Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wrapping things up

Well, gosh.

It's certainly been a while, hasn't it?

I'm not sure when I last logged in to WoW. I did the annual pass thing - mostly for the free Diablo 3 - so I'm still subscribed. But I haven't felt any desire to play, or talk about it, or think about it. RPS linked to an interesting essay on the future of the MMO today. I think Mr. Johnson is struggling with the same questions that many of us struggle with. What was so amazing about our initial connection with WoW, or whatever MMO it was that you connected with?

I also think he comes to all the wrong conclusions, even though the correct one is obvious in his own essay. He talks about boss guides and boss videos getting in the way of formulating your own approach to an encounter, the casual/hardcore distinction, odd gameplay mechanics, all the sorts of standard things we talk about it when we're considering these things.

At the same time, throughout the piece, he's telling stories about memories of his time with Risen. Opening the gates to Ahn'quiraj, raiding Hogger with level 1 gnomes, seeing Ragnaros for the first time (and I encourage you to read the snippet of raid chat in that screenshot), all of that stuff. To be fair, he does talk about those social connections as being the biggest, most important part of why he got into WoW, and that's where I agree with him.

I realize that this isn't a new thing for me to say on this blog, but I do think that that social aspect is the most important one in the game for me, even though I didn't necessarily realize this in the past.

I like a lot of the people in my guild, but it's such a tiny guild on a dead server. Even when if I did log on, would anyone else be online? Probably not. Especially working the hours I do. And if there was someone online, what would we do?

I like raiding, but putting the raids together was an almost-constant headache, we either had too many people or too few. And to be honest, there was never as much chatter as I would have liked, either on vent or in raid chat.

At the same time, while I do like raiding, I have also really liked having those six hours every week freed up. Even if I sometimes still use it on gaming in one way or another, you know, it's nice to not have that obligation.

I remain pretty conflicted. At this point I'm honestly unsure if I'll even get Mists of Pandaria. I think they're going good places with the gameplay mechanics, but also kind of so what? Burning Crusade's gameplay mechanics sucked in a lot of ways but I was raiding three nights a week with a 25-person raid guild full of people I really liked. I logged in during off hours and farmed consumables just to hang out, really. Just to chat.

Now, well, I don't know. I should probably give up the pretense of this blog. I haven't even had the courtesy to respond to comments left here, and it used to be that comments got a response as soon as I knew they were there.

I guess I've never really felt like a part of the WoW blogging community, either. There have been times when it's begun to feel like that, and that was great in the same way that an active guild that I fit with socially was great. It never really gelled, though.

So I suppose I should just go ahead and say that Piercing Shots is taking a nap. I can't say as I think it'll return? It seems pretty unlikely, if not impossible. I do want to really sincerely thank everyone who has commented or emailed at one point or another, it pretty much always made me smile. And I think that the guides I wrote were helpful for a few people in Cataclysm, so that's pretty awesome. Nonetheless, I've reached a point where I just don't have anything to say, and that seems like a good time to close up shop.

Friday, April 27, 2012

On bumptiousness

Look I don't mean to be a boor here but I have to say I would like some accolades and adulation. A team of heralds, maybe. You know just some guys with big trumpety things wearing my custom livery in a tasteful sea-foam green with fine silver-thread embroidery. They could give a little tootle whenever I open up recount. This goes for when I'm healing too of course, I'm thinking maybe a cheering section for the HPS meters. I'd be ok with showers of rose petals. I wouldn't say no to that.

I mean, I've got my boyfriend, and I suppose that's nice. "Look!" I say, "look at all these damages I did! I did the most of them. More than the other people."
"Mm." he says.
"Boyfriend." I hiss (yes, we do address each other with relationship titles sometimes; "Mr. Friend" is popular as well). 
"Mm?" he says.
"Notice this recount! Admire it!"
"Mm." he says again. "Very nice. We could print out a screenshot and put it on the fridge if you want?"

The problem of course is that I'm well aware of how unbelievably off-putting and juvenile it is to do stuff like this. Literally juvenile! Kids are forever bringing over a thing for you to notice and praise. They'll put some masking tape on a lego and draw a smiley face on it and then thrust it at you until you exclaim in disbelieving wonder "by George it's a working philosopher's stone!"

So once you reach the wizened age of, you know, maybe ten or eleven you have to start figuring out how not to do this any more.

To be honest I still haven't really gotten a lid on it. But since I know it's really insufferable behavior, I try to tamp it down.

I'm pretty successful when it comes to not actually posting or talking about damage meters. I mean, I slip up! I definitely do it sometimes. But eighty to ninety per cent of the time, I'm able to suppress that particular impulse.

The real problem, the thing I almost always succumb to, is when a particular deadly cocktail is brewed. The ingredients are thus:
  • Insecurity in comparison with another person's in-game achievements
  • That this person is a fairly recent acquaintance
  • Who I would like to be friends with
So in effect I really want to go "I'm pretty awesome at WoW! So you should totally be friends with me!"

This results in awkward locutions about how proud I am of my guild's current progress of 2/8 heroic DS-10 while at the same time I'm aware that a great many persons or guilds would consider that level of progression to be embarrassingly poor. Even now I'm fighting back the urge to add little caveats and qualifications and clauses so that the theoretical readers of this post won't sneer at me.

It's tough!

I'm not alone in this, right? I am probably not the only person that has to keep a lid on their inner bloviator, right? I know this is a pretty random post for this blog, but I'd love to hear anyone else's stories or strategies for keeping this tendency in check.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beta screenshots!

Click any of these pictures to view full-size!

First: the new specialization selection screen! I love this change. "Are you new to the game? Great! Here are the buttons you should push!" Or at least some of them. Thumbs up from me, Blizzard!
Yes, I keep my bags organized. Nyah!

Next: the pet size bug! All the pets are showing up in their original size from taming, which makes the target dummies in Stormwind pretty hilarious, mobbed as they are but 7-story tall devilsaurs and hotel-sized fiery purple spiders.
Extra points if you know where his name is from!

The grim carpet of corpses outside the Wayward Landing (where pre-mades and people teleported from Stormwind show up). Pandaren corpses are also weirdly squished right now, like they were killed and then smooshed, looney-tunes fashion.

New waterfall effects need some work! Right now they look like they're flinging ping-pong balls into the void.
Also pictured: Enchilasagna the beta monk.

Here's an entrance to this spooky ghosts-and-zombies looking bamboo forest in Valley of the Four Winds. It really reminded me of similar looking scenes in Japanese horror and action movies. Big ups to the art and design teams for this.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ok internet, fine. You win. Ok? You win.

I have been trying really hard not to write a post about Ji Firepaw. I tried to scratch the itch by poking people with sticks on the forums, then stopped when I actually started getting angry and sad at the responses. I mean, it's silly for me to be writing this in so many ways. The change is already made! It's done! Good job, Apple Cider! My input is not needed! Especially because I would never in a million years have noticed the original as a problem!

But it just keeps going and the things being said are driving me nuts because I am immature. So fine. You win. I'm going to write this thing even though I should be writing about Grubtor. Or posting screenshots. Or anything else, really.

Alright so let's get a few quick, rhetorical jabs out of the way first.

Why do y'all care so much about the change? It's just a videogame guys! Didn't you know it's a videogame? You're not allowed to care about things in it. And frankly, if you're that upset by a minor change to one quest, maybe you should just find a different game to play. Maybe you should stop playing WoW is what I'm saying here. I mean if you're going to be writing blog and forum posts about it, clearly you've got bigger problems than this one level three quest. Didn't you know that there's poverty and starvation and civil war in the Sudan and radiation and earthquakes? You're not allowed to care about this since all that other stuff is happening. Anyway, if you don't like the change you're pretty obviously a dyed in the wool misogynist right? It's the only explanation. If you don't like the change, you hate women*.

Oh man. Whew. That felt pretty good. I know I know, sarcasm is the lowest form of blerbity blobbity bloo, but really. So very many people have been saying all that stuff without even the slightest hint of awareness and it's really been burning my omelettes, you know?

I continue to be gobsmacked - maybe gobwalloped - at the people that are claiming the NPC's character has been rendered "dull" or "gutted" or "stale" or "cardboard" or whatever other synonym. To begin with, if your character can be destroyed by a change this minor then honestly who cares about him in the first place? That is some painfully weak, uninteresting characterization that can be gutted by changing like 50 words. Like half a tweet dudes! Why is this a big deal?

Also, on what planet is the original text interesting? On what planet does it even make sense within the lore?

If you get sad or angry or doubtful or indignant or insulted in Pandaria you summon a demon. This is a whole culture of sentient beings that have developed around the reality that getting upset can call into existence powerful beings from another dimension that will try to kill you and everyone near you. Do really think that this culture doesn't have strictly enforced rules of protocol? Do you really think this is a culture where catcalling is going to be A-ok? Seriously?

But even if we grant all that - sure, why not, I'm magnanimous - it is not interesting. It's not a "unique flaw." It's not compelling. It is dull and expected. It is a confirmation of boring, old, Western societal mores.

Look at the forum threads on bnet. Look at the threads on MMO-C. Count the number of people saying "it's just a compliment," and "can't a guy compliment a woman" and on and on and on and on. Ji's initial dialogue is standard, rote stuff. In fact in the real world, men feel entitled to positive attention from women and often lash out in degrading, terrifying ways when they don't get it (that image is an XKCD comic remixed by a woman to more accurately reflect the world she lives in). It confirms the myths our culture likes to tell itself about women and men. It confirms the myths our culture likes to tell itself about how everyone's straight. Ji's culture should be wildly different from ours, and yet he behaves like just another dude from down the street.

Hey guys, you know what can make for an interesting, compelling character? A man that is so alien from our culture that he treats the genders equally. You know what would be really interesting? If that equality of treatment extended to his romantic liaisons.

I mean, we all know that's not going to happen. But the terms of the debate so far have been just unbelievably surreal, I felt like it fit right in.

Look. My boyfriend and myself really, really like the TV series Trueblood. Probably our favorite character is Lafayette. The show is based on a series of books, and Lafayette is killed in the first of those books. His character on the show was so popular, however, that the scriptwriters kept him alive in their adaptation. You know what I said to that?


You know what usually happens to the gay guy, or the black guy, much less the gay black guy? Yeah. Most of the time he dies. So throwing out that part of the source material to keep that character alive? Actually choosing not to kill the gay black guy? That is amazing. Stunning. Interesting.

Making a race of magical talking pandas that treat women the same way they're treated in the real world? Not even a little interesting. Making a race of magical talking egalitarian pandas? Compellingly original!

Finally, what is going on in your brain when your first worry is "oh my god they might take all the bigotry out of my game." Like the worst possible outcome in the world is that 10 million people can play the game and not have any of them be offended.

I mean to begin with, that is so far from a possibility that you should sooner worry about getting sucked through the monitor and turned into a low-level quest mob. There is plenty of every kind of awful thing for everyone! We can all have second helpings!

And even if that were to somehow happen then like really who cares? If there existed one perfect wonderland MMO that everyone could play and no one playing it ever felt badly about themselves... why is that bad? Really?

Look. Guys (and yes, I know some of you are women too). Some women have enough to deal with in the real world. Is it that much to ask that some of them be allowed to get to level three without having that real world intrude, especially since the WoW quest text system does not allow any kind of response? Is it really that important to you that this one NPC be boringly identical to legions of actual men? Is it really necessary for something to be unenjoyable for other people in order for you to enjoy it?

If it is too much to ask then you know what? Get over it. Get. Over. It.

However! Let it never be said that I am not gracious. You want more misogyny in your WoW? Fine, awesome, let's do it. We can make the big bad of the next expansion the dread Lord Misog'yn'Thoth <The Lecherous One>. The initial raid tier can be headed up by the Gross Demon Goreanton, who sits on his mighty throne of sandwiches and demands ever more to be heaped at his feet in tribute. The storyline will be about how Misog'yn'Thoth wants to subject women to chattel slavery and Horde and Alliance can band together under the joint leadership of Tyrande and Sylvanas to crush his initial footholds on Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms then chase his followers back to the dank realm of Neanderthalia. After the raid takes him to 10% the captive women around the raid space burst their own manacles and strangle him down to zero with his intestines and then Jaina immolates the remains. That's just a quick sketch really, I'm sure the encounter design team can work something out.

I would absolutely get behind that expack, y'all. That is some compelling storytelling or whatever.

*In case it's not obvious, this whole paragraph is just parroting what people are saying against the change. They are uniformly terrible arguments and are rightly excoriated. If you respond to this post as if I was actually advancing those views, you should be embarrassed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Aspect of the Iron Hawk is totally the wrong direction

Guys, I'm getting pretty worried about Aspect of the Iron Hawk. And Spirit Bond, for that matter! They're bad talents. The passive damage reduction tied to Shadow Priests' Shadow Form is bad. Passive damage reduction for Moonkin is bad.

Greg Street has himself written many times about exactly the reasons these sorts of talents are bad, especially when they're a talent or glyph. They eliminate having an actual choice between compelling options and instead provide the player with one unequivocally correct choice and one or more "traps." These other choices may look good to the casual or the less than completely thorough player, but the vast majority of players will be picking the single, mathematically best option.

This problem isn't unique to passive boosts, of course! A Cataclysm Marksmanship hunter that didn't take Readiness, for example, is absolutely just speccing wrong. There's no wiggling around it: if you don't talent into that button, you've made a mistake. The difference is that at least with Readiness, when you spec correctly you get a new button to push that has exciting ramifications for how you plan out your burst phases in a boss encounter.

With the current Aspect of the Iron Hawk, you get nothing of the sort. You simply take that talent because it's the correct choice. Then 15% less damage happens to you. The end.

Compare this with the relationship between Exhilaration, Crouching Tiger, and the Glyph of Deterrence.

Picking these three choices feels really good. They all synergize with each other in fun and exciting ways. Crouching Tiger lets you push the Disengage and Deterrence buttons substantially more frequently, while Exhilaration and the Glyph of Deterrence improve survivability value of choosing to push those buttons frequently. Considered as a whole, this set of choices rewards and encourage you to look for opportunities to use those abilities skillfully. You're going to be actively looking for excuses to use Disengage, ways to abuse Deterrence, encounter mechanics that present puzzles you can solve as a hunter.

Aspect of the Iron Hawk does none of that, and yet we'll be forced to take it, because it will overall be more effective in getting guild-first kills.

Think about the thousands and thousands and thousands of damage that happen to you during essentially any progression encounter. There are rare exceptions like normal Baleroc, but for the most part there is plenty of unavoidable damage to keep the healers busy. That's part of how they punish you for taking avoidable damage: on a progression encounter, your healers are already going to be stressed, so making mistakes means you can die very easily.

Iron Hawk just shaves 15% off the top of that constant, ongoing damage. There is no way that the healing from Exhilaration and the DR from Deterrence will catch up to that. It's just impossible. Spirit Bond, in addition to itself being a dull and dreary passive talent, is a joke compared to Iron Hawk.

Iron Hawk needs to go. I am 100% behind Mr. Street's stated goal for Pandaria when it comes to compelling choice. I think the current talent model is looking good, and I think the philosophy is looking good in Diablo 3 as well. But we've still got a few of these reprobate abilities sitting around, and the last thing we need to do is add more of them.

Or well, that's my opinion anyway! If anyone can make a good argument in Iron Hawk's favor, I would be delighted (if somewhat incredulous!) to hear it.

Great changes to the CS window

Read the official notice here.

I'm a little nervous for Blizzard with that "make a suggestion" button. I hope they're aware of the flood gates they're opening with that one.

I love that there's a "report player" button though. I really think that will help people be more comfortable when someone steps over the line and it's time to get a GM involved.

That's all! I think this is a great step.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oh and if you're in the beta

Update: added a third thread.

Please take a look at my two three current threads:

First is a bug report on not being able to put individual traps on my bars in my secondary spec. Please try to replicate this, and post in the thread if you can.

Second is a feature request for a built-in button to toggle between Aspect of the Hawk and Aspect of the Fox. If you agree (or disagree!) with this idea, please respond to it with your thoughts.

Finally: flat Damage Reduction talents/abilities. Passive "take xx% less damage" and "do xx% more damage" talents and abilities are boring, and they reduce the other talents to the status of being traps to weed out the clueless and the less careful. We should really be getting rid of these.