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Elsewhere, in Gaming…

March 31, 2014

Dear Reader,

I’m actually sitting in one of my classes, now, writing this.  It’s a little shameful, I know, but it’s a “research day,” so I’m mostly just sitting, debugging their research processes.  I just helped a student find the “article request” form for the inter-library loan system, which I think’s pretty great; now that he’s done it once, he’s a LOT more likely to do it again.

Most of the others are just perusing the online article databases, finding their sources, working quietly.  I’m not a huge fan of the “silent classroom,” but once in a while, it’s good to know it’s still possible.

Elsewhere, though, in my gaming, I’ve found myself moving back to some games I’d played before.  I’m still working on gearing Stubbornly, my boosted 90 druid.  I’ve gotten all but 4 pieces of purple 496 gear, but in the last several days, no leather gear has dropped.  None.  I’ve gotten 5 cloaks now, plenty of plate, cloth, and mail, but it seems since I got plenty of leather at first that the RNG has decided to even the score.

It might not be so bad, but three of the missing pieces are my helm, legs, and a trinket, so I’m not exactly ready to start healing seriously without them.  I decided upon boosting to boost into feral so that I could more easily navigate the isle to pick up healing gear, and I’ve turned all the “first” tokens for each slot into healing gear (and thus my healing set is better), but without even green healing gear in some key places, I don’t think it’s safe to try a dungeon or H Scenario.  I’ve checked the AH, but having spent a lot of money to get my professions to a workable level (Enchanting is becoming profitable around 575, but JC is still in Cata era and hemorrhaging money), I don’t have a ton of cash to drop on supplemental gear.  Sure, a green wouldn’t cost me THAT much, but even “that” much is somewhat limiting at the moment.

So I’m progressing, but slowly.

Elsewhere, though, I’ve gone back to some previous game I’ve played.  For one, the start of the new Path of Exile season went by in the first week of this month, but I was busy playing WoW and Hammerwatch, so my buddy and I didn’t pay it much mind.  Now that we’re through with Hammerwatch, though, we’ve decided to give it another go.  He’s playing a completely new class, but I’m back to my ranger, who I enjoyed thoroughly until, you know, I died.

There’s a lot of weird new features.  Monster types are no longer limited based on boards; you could have virtually any type on any board.  Their power, of course, is scaled to the appropriate level for the board, but gone are the times when my buddy I knew where suicide bomber mobs were and thus wouldn’t worry about them elsewhere.  Now, every corner may have a suicide bomber behind it.  Additionally, scattered throughout the world are special areas, small, “extra hard” challenge dungeons.  Each one has monster modifiers and environment affects associated with it. We found two where monsters reflected about 20% of elemental damage (which was a laugh since we’re both physical damage dealers) but also had icy spots on the floor that would slow your move and attack speed.  Later, we found one where all monsters had 30% extra armor and reflected 20% physical damage.  We took that one very, very slowly.

That seems to be the biggest change, too; the game has become a little more strategic and cerebral; you have to really consider the dangers and how to overcome them.  In the “physical reflect” dungeon, we progressed mostly through my using my fire trap over and over again with my buddy occasionally finishing off a mob with a hit or two.  We had to think about what we were doing instead of just slogging through; so far, I like it a lot.

For single player, a very odd old development came up.  I have downloaded Origins, EA’s “we get to monitor your play” program, and noticed that, years ago, I had registered the old Maxis title Spore to EA online.  As a result, even though those CDs are long gone, I was able to download the game and play it.

Spore never really had a chance the first time.  I bought it while I was playing a variety of other games.  In 2008, I would have been raiding Kara or, depending on when it was released, leveling in Lich King, so I have no doubt WoW swallowed the experience for me.  I did recall it being overall enjoyable, though, so I figured hey – why not give it another run?

So I did.  It’s been fun.  I enjoy the kind of silly, somewhat cutesy atmosphere.  I also enjoy the overall less intense nature of the game.  I’ve been playing hardcore, limited-lives, or raid-like environments for a long time, so just running around eating fruits and killing other creatures (I don’t want to make things extinct, but I will if I have to) has been pretty relaxing.

So I’ve been on a bit of an old-school kickback as of late, but I’m enjoying it, which is all that really matters.  What old games would you go back and play if you suddenly found yourself with more time to game?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (who doesn’t have more time to game)

Post Traumatic Raid Leading Disorder

March 28, 2014

Dear Reader,

So two weeks ago at the end of the flex raid, my NWN buddy announced that, unfortunately, he would be out of town for the next flex, so it would be cancelled… unless someone wanted to run it for him.

I’m not sure what possessed me to jump right in, but I did. I waited a few polite moments to see if anyone else would jump up, but to no avail.  So I spoke up.

I’ve been a raid leader before, of course.  I’ve written about it at length from time to time.  I led 25 man Naxx runs back in the day with a very casual guild.  I led Kara runs from time to time.  I even led some alt ICC runs when my guild was knocking down the heroic mode bosses.

This experience was fine.  My NWN buddy was going to set the roster for me, which he did, and I could grab a few others to come along.  Still, something about the stress of everything else going on around me – job hunting, house selling, etc – started to plague me, so I started getting a little nervous.

Again, let me stress that this wasn’t due to any actions from outside forces.  I just started getting stressed and a bit anxious about the whole thing.  Then, when we got in and had an extra phase on the very first boss, I really started to feel nervous.

It turned out okay, I guess.  We didn’t finish – the first time in ages – but we did get through Blackfuse, at least.  I had a ton of help from a guildmate of mine (also a good friend of my NWN buddy).  He took care of most of the actual strategy and raid analysis; I just put the raid together at the start.

This correspondence isn’t really to complain about the event, though; it was what it was, and I had a lot of support.  Instead, this is more about the fact that this is another way in which I’ve clearly changed.  As my hardcore raiding tendencies have declined, I think my raid leading tendencies have, too.  I always used to sit in raids and think how I could do things differently, but I’ve not noticed that with my NWN buddy’s flex raids, and now, having had a week at the helm, I can say I don’t really have any desire at the moment to be in a leadership position.

I’ve written before about how big life changes have forced game changes in me.  When I left NY, I lost a lot of my patience for glass chewing (not all of it, though, as last night showed).  Games seemed to be more important to me – not intellectually – but my emotions ran more rampant when things went wrong.  I suspect since I lost being a “teacher” when I moved away from NY, some of the pleasure I got from that was reinvested into gaming, and thus my failures there felt more meaningful, even if intellectually I knew they were not.

Now, as I’m moving away from Illinois, I’m noticing this other shift.  It’s been happening while I was here, of course, as my general malaise towards gaming has expanded and contracted, but I just don’t feel as invested in games at all as I used to.  I don’t want to lead, don’t worry about having tough challenges (hard mores, etc), don’t feel the old urges with what I “should be” doing, and so forth.

Perhaps it’s just getting older, but I don’t really believe that’s it.  I think it has more to do with my environment.  As it’s been necessary to adapt to my new place, some of my need to challenge myself electronically has vanished.  The adapting, it seems, was enough of a challenge on its own.

People sometimes “escape” to games because of their troubles in the real world, and but perhaps one of those troubles is simply a lack of engaging challenges.  If that’s why you get into gaming, then when life provides those challenges for you, perhaps your gaming suffers.  Who knows?  But being a raid leader that night made it clear to me that I’ve no desire to do that any more, which is worth knowing, though it may not be “good” to know.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (who made his own bed on that one)

Hammerwatch Review

March 26, 2014

Dear Reader,

What a pleasant surprise.  Hammerwatch, a Gauntlet-style indie game, has captivated my buddy and I for about 10 hours (so far – we’re not done yet) for a super-cheap price (we got it for 5 bucks each).  The game is a pure dungeon crawl; the entirety of the story is “The bridge broke!” This opening line propels you and potentially your multiplayer partner (now basically essential for any game I purchase) through 4 “acts” of the dungeon, each with three floors and a unique boss.

The overhanging danger is that the game plays like an unforgiving old-school dungeon crawl.  There are a finite number of lives that, if extinguished, end the game.  It is actually possible to fail in this game, which has earned it the title of “hardcore,” but really, it’s not.  It’s just old-school.

I bought the game on a whim, moreso because it had a functional multiplayer than anything else, but what my buddy and I found was a real gem.  We’re both hard-to-please, grumpy video game veterans, but we’ve had virtually no lasting complaints about the design so far.  It is set in an old, 8-bit graphic style, but some of the old-school graphics are still really cool looking.  The different classes, too, really change the gameplay.  There are two ranged and two “melee,” though one of the melee becomes a mix of aoe ranged and melee after a few floors.

And secrets – oh, the secrets.  They are everywhere.  There are secrets within secrets, even – that’s an actual message in the game: “You’ve found a secret within a secret!”  There’s breakable walls, illusory walls, switches, short memory puzzles, and all sorts of engaging, fun gameplay that helps punctuate the huge swarms of monsters that need to be put down (seriously, there’s rooms with 200 monsters and monster spawn pits, just like Gauntlet).  The overall experience is engaging both to killers, explorers, socializers, and achievers; it’s a perfectly-balanced experience fun for all players.

My buddy and I started with a paladin, a tanky melee character, and a mage, an aoe-based medium-range character.  The paladin has a shield that can block non-magical projectiles and has high armor, which reduces incoming damage.  It later gains a charge, a group heal, a passive stun off melee attacks, and a whirlwind.  The heal made an absolutely HUGE difference late in the game.  My buddy started with the mage, who shoots a short-range fireball that has a small aoe burst at the end that ignites monsters for burning damage.  It later gets an aoe meteor storm, an aoe ice spell that deals no damage but slows, an ice shield that slows attackers, and a flame breath medium-range aoe cone.

As you can see, dear reader, both classes play extremely differently.  Since he had a tank and a healer, my buddy was able to largely ignore the CC aspects of his class and focus on the dps, and I was more able to focus on defense and movement skills so that I could move around and gather up mobs while staying a little ahead of them.

We played the game through in one shot, though of course we both died plenty (he more than me, for the record).  In the end, though, we were able to save some money and, later in the game, use it to buy extra lives.  We finished the game with more than 60 lives stored up “just in case.”

As I’ve documented plenty, I don’t often play through games more than once.  However, this game got an exception; my buddy and I both immediately decided we wanted to try the other two classes.  This time he played the second melee class, the warlock, and I played the ranged class, the ranger.  We don’t know a whole lot about the classes yet, but my buddy was, at first, very unhappy with the warlock.  However, upon purchasing his first new ability, he was suddenly much happier.  “This class makes sense now,” he said, satisfied, and since then has been a little ball of destruction and self-healing.

So if you see Hammerwatch on sale (or even at full price, if you’re not a cheapskate like I am), I’d strongly recommend you snap it up, especially if you have friends with which to play it.  I imagine that the more people that play, the more fun it is, and having one of each class could really make for an interesting experience.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (paladin/ranger)

Content Knowledge and Available Resources

March 24, 2014

Dear Reader,

Still on the topic of the content knowledge and its groupings, it struck me over the weekend, as my wife searched several times for druid leveling guides, that there’s a whole lot more published for the upper tiers of play than the lower tiers.  This, to me, is both intuitive AND counter-intuitive, depending on how you look at it.

I’ve leveled a lot of characters now.  Not as many as some, of course, but I have every class except monk at 85 or higher, and multiples of a few classes.  Each time, I wanted to try a different way of leveling, so I would go an look for resources on how to level whichever particular class I had chosen.

It was always pretty scant.  You can find some “beginners” guides to WoW, and even some leveling guides for each class – Icy Veins, for example, has them – but a VAST MAJORITY of the published material was in the forums, and, of course, a vast majority of the forum material was out of date.  The few published leveling sites often had piecemeal information, and not a lot of it.  It might only cover levels 85-90 (like Icy Veins), or only cover a single spec, or cover all specs without discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each one.

Contrast that with raiding guides, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Every class, every spec, has pages and pages devoted to them.  There are guide wholesalers, like Tankspot, or class-specific guides, like you’d find on Elitist Jerks, or even online programs that do the mental work for you, like Ask Mr. Robot (who remembers be.imba.hu?).  You can find far, far more information about how to play in the last three “knowledge tiers” than the first five.

At first glance, that makes no sense.  The people in the greatest need of help are the beginners.  WoW’s still got a terrible attrition rate over the first ten levels; my friend who I’d mentioned had started playing logged in twice and quit – and that was with me helping her (and doing a good job of not being an overwhelming jerk, I assure you).  If you come into WoW at this point and don’t have the first two knowledge tiers down (over-the-shoulder gameplay and basic MMO gameplay), then you’re probably going to just give up.

Of course, there’s “in-game” help, but if you’re so new to the genre that you don’t know the most basic elements, you might not realize that there’s both in-game help and Internet guides available.  Note this is different from the Dunning-Kruger effect, one of the most commonly frustrating behaviors we see in games, where the ignorant don’t know how bad they are and thus overestimate their capability.  Here, instead, the new players have so little knowledge that they don’t even know where to look for the knowledge they need.  They are, essentially, game illiterate.

On second glance, though, it may be precisely that problem that produces more guides for upper-tier players.  Since many people want to raid, and a subset of those want to raid knowingly, and many people who write know about that subset, writers who want to share their knowledge with a “like-minded” audience would naturally produce pieces targeted in that way.  Boss mechanics can be tricky, and, as Ferrel likes to say, raiding is a game of narrow margins (I don’t have the book here for an exact quote), so it makes sense that guides would be produced to maximize knowledge and efficiency of raiders.

Regardless of why, it’s clear that the early game needs more support than it’s getting.  Whether there’s a good reason for that or not, I feel we as a whole should consider not just our current audiences but our future audiences, those who will be reading our blogs after all of you dear readers have decided to pursue something new.  That, I think, may the key to our longevity.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and taxed, both mentally, physically, and financially)

Knowledge Groups and Content Tiers

March 21, 2014

Dear Reader,

Stubbornly isn’t my second 90, but he is the second 90 that I’ve really wanted to continue playing.  It’s amazing how much knowledge is lost during the long months of raiding, knowledge about how to go from a fresh 90 to a raiding 90.

Of course, nowadays there’s not as much difference as perhaps there should be.  In a comment on my last post, Shintar posted a humorous video showing a frustrated casual raider who’d ended up in an LFR with a lot of boosted 90s.  The boosters apparently hadn’t done their research on their classes nor bothered to gem or enchant a lot of their gear, and as a result, a lot of solid players were incapable of doing even the most basic of bosses.  

It’s easy to forget how hard it is to move from one playing field to another in MMOs.  I’ve spoken about this plenty before, but I think it bears mentioning again: there’s an absolute ton of content knowledge about this genre, and then about each game within in it specifically.  Take Kurn’s Guide to Being a Kick-Ass Raider.  That covers just one aspect of the genre, and it’s 84 pages long.  Ferrel over at Epic Slant Press has written two books now on aspects of the game: Guild Leading and Raiding.

I wouldn’t begin without any forethought to try to list all the various areas of content knowledge needed to play a game like WoW.  That’s a post for another day (or several days), but I would say that each “tier” of play requires it’s own group of content knowledge, and that while the practice of those tiers may not be very helpful for the next tier, the knowledge from each tier is absolutely required.

Here’s the groupings as I see them:
Basic over-the-shoulder gameplay knowledge (movement, camera control, attacking, etc)
Basic MMO knowledge (questing, crafting, talents, etc)
Leveling knowledge (zones, character development, etc)
Social grouping knowledge (guilds, dungeons, role systems, etc)
End-game gearing knowledge (key stats, factions, dailies, etc)
Raiding knowledge (strats, builds, rotations)
Heroic raiding knowledge (much like the last tier, but more detailed and practiced)

While there may be some overlap, each of those tiers has distinct knowledge that’s required to move on to the next tier.  And once you’ve spent enough time at a higher tier, the curse of knowledge takes over and makes it harder and harder to help people at lower tiers while maintaining patience and understanding.

I’d forgotten how much there is to do when you want to make a level 90 character ready to raid.  Just getting professions up and running to have a steady income is taking forever, and I’d like to have that ready to go before I start the gearing cycle, particularly because I want to be able to DE useless junk that drops to help with my enchanting.

Perhaps more should be examined regarding those tiers and what, precisely, is needed from tier to tier and where the most common lapses in knowledge exist.  That could really benefit designers in developing better instructional tools to improve their player retention from tier to tier.  I suspect each of these tiers acts as a potential “exit” location for frustrated players.  Making those tiers more closely knit could help reduce that.

It’s a thought.

Stubborn (and thinking)

Wowsers!

March 19, 2014

Dear Reader,

Hey, that was our 500th correspondence!  Wow!  Read below for the actual post (;

Stubborn

Boosting

March 19, 2014

Dear Reader,

There’s been an enormous amount of talk surrounding the level 90 character boosts.  The post I saw that I most agreed with came from Balkoth of his eponymous Word.  My thoughts on it mostly follow what Extra Credits said about microtransactions in 2012, and while this is no “micro” transaction, a lot of the same logic follows.

What you want to sell is convenience.  Things like extra banks space and character loadout save slots.  Those are great.  They’re utterly unnecessary, and at first every player feels like the default amount is going to be plenty, but sooner or later, anybody’s who’s dedicated to the game is going to find it totally worth a few dollars to have those extra features.

Even things like selling leveling speed is okay… it just means that players blaze through the content faster.  It doesn’t unbalance your game or affect any of the other players.  All it does is make it more convenient for some of your players to see the later stages of your game if they choose.  (emphasis mine)

I’ve leveled a lot of alts.  A lot.  Not as many as longtime reader Cain, apparently, who I just battletag friended the other day and have seen, not joking, probably 15 different characters for, but still a lot.

I’ve paid for a lot of server and faction transfers, too.  Those add up.  If you figure I’ve paid on average 14 dollars a month for the sub over the past 8 years, let’s see… um… that’s – good lord.  Nevermind.  I don’t want to calculate this out.  I’ve paid a lot, let’s just leave it at that, and say that I’ve probably paid about half as much for various transfers as I have the subscription.  It’s a lot.

To be able to not only skip paying a faction and server transfer AND the time it takes to level is a VALUABLE product for people like me who have more money at this stage of my life than time (though that well is pretty limited at the moment, too!) but who end up looking around for guilds where they fit in, but who’ve had more failures than successes in that search.

And it’s not like I’m skipping content.  I’ve seen it, over and over again, and don’t really want to see it again.  So when I took my NWN buddy’s advice and ordered Warlords of Draenor, I immediately started wondering what to do with my free boost.  I don’t have a lot of non-85+ characters.  I considered leveling a new toon to 60 for the professions boost, but when my NWN buddy guessed the time it’d take, I admit that I balked a little (pun intended).  In retrospect, that may have been a mistake, but we’ll see.

I knew I wanted an ally druid on my new buddy’s server, so I just bit the bullet and generated one.  Stubborn is reborn as Stubbornly (though Stubborn’s still there on Shattered Halls), and to hopefully make some money, I began leveling enchanting.  That’s why it may have been a mistake not to just get to 60 first; I did just fine at first but since have hit a wall that can only really be remedied by time; there’s not enough mats available on the AH to purchase.  The prices haven’t been terrible, mind you, the mats just aren’t there.

So I boosted a character.  I’m going to head out to Timeless Isle with my wife’s fresh 90 (not boosted, just happened to have gotten there recently), and we’ll start the gearing cycle all over.  Who knows; maybe that’ll carry us to the end of the expansion.  Only time will tell!

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and rushing off to an accredidation meeting)

 

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