Wednesday, September 11, 2019

WoW Classic | A Conundrum

One of my biggest problems with retail World of Warcraft was that they never seemed to work on the features that would have actually made the game more approachable and sociable. Guild features, for instance, were never fleshed out to anything meaningful. Eventually, we got guild perks (for a while) and guild banks but those really are the bare essentials.

It's been 15 years and Blizzard is only just now talking about a mentoring system. Just the ability to temporarily drop down in level so that you can play seamlessly with your friends. We know they have the technology to do it, the Timewalking events make that much clear.

That said, it wouldn't really help my situation in WoW Classic. My Tauren Warrior sits at level 27 while my family's characters sit at levels below that. I primarily rolled this character to try out tanking with a group that includes no randoms and it's gone great. Unfortunately the other people in my life aren't complete shut-ins and don't have as much free time as I do to keep leveling up. If I want to group and do content that is still somewhat relevant to us then I'm essentially forced to stop playing.

We've finished up Wailing Caverns now about two times. Its the only dungeon we can reasonably access that can handle our current 12+ level gap. I have no real interest in doing it again but it was a nice little romp. A couple of thoughts:

  • I greatly underestimated the maze it used to be back then. Or maybe I just have a poor sense of direction. It's a good thing I live in a time where Google Maps exist.
  • I greatly oversitmated the "platforming boss". If you don't know, there is a small gap about 3/4 of the way through the dungeon. Failing your jump means you have to walk a bunch to try it again. I keenly recall this being a massive chasm 15 years ago that required pixel perfect platforming skills. Turns out it's very much not. It's like a foot across. Sometimes I can't tell if I really sucked at this game or not.
  • The shield from the turtle never drops. Never dropped then. Never drops now. #nochanges
  • Tanking is very easy when your 8 levels higher than everything else in the dungeon. 
  • 3 manning and 4 manning these dungeons, even at the appropriate level, really isn't that big of a deal. Seriously, these dungeons use to be multi-hour affairs me and my friends would congratulate each other on. I really do used to suck.
  • Playing with real life friends is so much better than randoms. This was already known but I really forgot just how much better life is when you're experiencing it with people your constantly worried will go on a barrage of hate speech any minute. Crowd control! Focused targeting! Not going afk for 20 minutes! I'm never playing a game with randoms again!

Now, about the inability to level; this isn't that huge of an issue. I can, after all, level my professions (done), do low level quests (also done), or level an alt.

So an alt is now in my future. I'm struggled deciding which class though. I have zero desire to group with randoms in any sort of committed way, so dungeons are mostly out. So strong soloing classes are mandatory. I've also done a lot of the early Horde quests, so something on the Alliance side makes sense as well. At this point I'm strongly considering pushing forward on a Human Mage.

I actually started leveling a Human Mage on retail right before Classic came out. Mage was my second main (although an Undead one) and Classic seems like a good time to remember those old memories. My first ever character was actually a Warlock, but I found the gameplay so boring I quit WoW for about a year. ( I was also convinced Everquest 2 was going to win the MMO war of 2004. It didn't.) Pet classes always feel fiddly to me. DoTs feel even more indirect. Soul shards and life tap management feel like paperwork. Not to mention that Warlocks spent a decent portion of Classic as rogue-fodder on PVP servers and not much else.

Anyhow, what drew me to mage at first was the flavor. An undead who can light people on fire is as aspirational a career goal as any. Wizards were stuffy old dudes with long beards who had to memorize their spells everyday. But WoW Mages felt different. Druids, Hunters and Shamans were all naturey. I lived in a rural area and hated it; if I wanted outdoorsey nonsense I could have left my bedroom. Warriors were as bland as you could make a thing. Literally everyone on my server was already a rogue. Priests and Paladins were some Alliance bullshit. So a wizarding we would go.

What made me fall in love with the class was, oddly enough, movement. Playing a mage in PVP always felt to me like playing a game of basketball. It was about movement, restricting your opponents movement, and area denial. Blink, Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, Polymorph, etc. Instead of an elderly man chanting and drawing on the ground in sidewalk chalk, I felt like an athlete hauling ass around the battlefield and controlling the show. This was the end of my high school, and therefor, athletic career. WoW doesn't have the physicality of a real sport, but it showed me that video games could certainly have the same mental approach.

I've mentioned in a previous post that I was attracted to playing my Priest because healing was such a compelling and different way of playing. We've all played how many hundreds of hours of killing things. When a video game lets me choose a different paradigm completely it has my interest. And a mage in World of Warcraft offers that. Granted, they are still really good at killing things. But take dueling a rogue:
  • each player strategically using and reacting to each cooldown, 
  • mentally keeping track on the timing of each other's abilities, 
  • carefully controlling positioning (me as far as possible from the rogue, them on my butt for backstab damage), 
  • using abilities in odd ways (like using Counterspell to keep a Rogue in combat and preventing a free restealth),
  • looking for tells in their actions (is he trying to get to my front instead of the back? He wants to gouge me and reset the fight).
 So in the end it was still a thinking man's class, but a type of mage that wore sneakers and not flip flops. This sort of memory feels very personal and very in the moment. Some of WoW Classic's nostalgia was going to still be effective. The background music in the Barren's, old Orgrimmar, etc. I'm not sure if the memories of playing my mage will be the same.

I guess we'll find out as long as my squad keeps dragging their feet.

Friday, September 6, 2019

I Cheat | WoW Classic - Day 11

Stonetalon Mountains are complete and my handsome Tauren Warrior is 26 going on 27. Leveling has slowed to a crawl for a couple of reasons. Mostly it's because I play a warrior, I die a lot, it's kinda their gimmick.

I tend to be "well-rounded" in my gaming interests. There are few genres I don't enjoy, and very few modes of play I can't stomach. The major exception to this "exploration". I rarely get the urge to simply wonder a digital landscape. I have to be in the right frame of mind, and when I am, I'd rather go explore the meatspace around me. It's usually a sign that I need to start planning a vacation.

 So when I play a game like World of Warcraft I use a guide. Frankly, I use a guide for every game. But for World of Warcraft we get the benefits of add-ons as well. For as far back as I remember I used a website called The sketchy gold selling name is noted. Falling back into my old habits I tried to use the add-on version of this site but I began running into roadblock after roadblock. The guides never did a great job of acknowledging the different capabilities of each class. Some quests just aren't doable at certain levels for certain classes, namely warriors who struggle to solo elites or huge packs without the corresponding gear.

So now I've downloaded another add-on named Questie. This one basically imports the newer quest marking features from retail WoW, telling you where you can pick up quests and where the objectives to complete them are. You can customize the addon as well. I know of several people who turn off the objective markers, for instance.

This works well for me. I don't want to tedious run about at the speed of slow looking for a quest that may or not be somewhere. It holds no value to me. I want to see the content. I have the Lorekeeper titles for both Alliance and Horde on retail. I use Wowhead's uploader tool to see if there are quests that I missed.

In video games I like structure. I like to know what it is I need to do, and I like to do it until I'm good enough at it to pass on to the next stage. My favorite game is Mega Man X. Go right, jump and shoot. Love it. Shooting at various breakables until you unearth the hidden powerups? No, that's what I use a guide for.

Occasionally I get grief for this. It's unpure or whatever. I don't care. I've learned a while ago that I'm much happier when I take from a game the parts I like and ignore the parts I don't. I'm not cheating on a workout or on a diet. It's a game, it's fine.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Nintendo Direct Reactions

Nintendo came out of left field with a massive Nintendo Direct and I had thoughts on it. So many thoughts I decided to give my brain a rest and regurgitate them out of my mind and into cyberspace. This frees up space for things like deciding what I'll do for lunch. Which is probably a sandwich. Maybe some soup.

People who play first person shooters with a controller should be put on a list. People who play multiplayer first person shooters with a controller should be put on the list in bold lettering. I don't know what should be done with that list once we have it, but I want to know who these psychos are.

Luigi's Mansion 3 Multiplayer
Sounds cool, but the chances of me convincing the three people I know with Switches to buy a copy of this game at release and playing with me is asymptotically close to zero.

Trials of Mana
Never got into the series, but would really like to. I'm a sucker for "archive" releases like this. I will definitely buy this at some point. I will probably even play it too!

Super Kirby Clash
"Free to start" is fine by me. I miss the day of game demos and and it always scores bonus points for me. Will give this a try.

Banjo-Kazooie in Smash
This was already known so no surprise here. We had a Nintendo 64 growing up but I honestly can't say I remember if we own this game or it's sequel at any point. 3D platformers were never my cup of tea. Babysitting the camera feels like the developer's job, not mine. The Banjo Games are playable on Xbox Game Pass and I've given them a shot, but I don't feel they particularly age well. I got two unexpected niche characters in Joker and Dragon Quest Hero so I'm glad to see a character other people are excited for.

Terry in Smash
I don't think anyone was actually excited about this. That's not true, there are hundreds of Fatal Fury fans still around and they just got their moonshot. Happy for them, and I'm glad an important game series is getting a bigger platform like this. He's in Capcom vs. SNK 2 which I played for about a month on my Dreamcast. I don't expect that to help me in actually playing the character as I'm still bad fighting games.

Doom 64 on Switch

Jedi Knight 2

Tokyo Mirage Sessions Ported to Switch
Nintendo's war on the value of my WiiU collection continues unabated.

Deadly Premonitions 2
I don't know what this is, but "cult horror mystery game" seems right up my wife's alley. She likes murder things. It worries me.

Divinity Original Sin 2
An all-time Hall of Famer on my "One-Day I Will Play This or Anything Else in This Series. Probably."

SNES Games on Nintendo Switch Online
This is the part I'm most excited for. 30 year old games I rent for a year. Sometimes I suspect the modern day games industry isn't really aligned with my interests.

SNES Controller for $30
I've had terrible luck with knock SNES USB controllers I've bought off Amazon. If this thing actually works on for emulation on my PC it's an instabuy. I know there are some other reasonable wireless SNES controllers out there, but I'm counting Nintendo's usual superior build quality here.

Tetris 99
I like Tetris. I hate Tetris Battle Royale. Tetris isn't improved my multiplayer, only it's business model. Fleshing out Tetris 99 into an actual Tetris game makes me happy. Not sure there's enough here to warrant a purchase yet though. I know there's a "retail" release that comes with a year of Switch Online coming out soon. Seems like something I would buy with a good promotion on Black Friday.

Xenoblade Chronicles Port
I can't tell if Xenoblade Chronicles has become the Skyrim of Ports or if there are several hundred Xenoblade titles being released with similar names.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
This will be World of Warcraft Classic, Part 2 for me. Love love love. Me and my boy Scoot are going to Zip Zoom all over this game.

Plus I'll get to play with my wife, she loves the series as much as I do.

Sans from Undertale in Smash as Mii Gunner
Never played Undertale, love the soundtrack though.

Devil May Cry 2 Port
What? Even more inexplicable since the PS4 and Xbox One got the trilogy as one disc.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Curry Dex
You can collect all the curry, but not all the Pokemon. Game Freak has to keep making Pokemon games and it seems like they're getting sulky about it.

Puzzle Quest HD
A bad game in disguise as a good one. I've almost wrote a review twice on this game since I've started this blog. It's tedious, it's too simple to be interesting, and there's so much randomness that you end up with limited agency when actually playing the game. But Puzzle RPG sounds so cool people will buy it anyways.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

WoW Classic: Getting Comfy Edition

My gauntlet of social obligations are completed and have left me feeling ... dehydrated. And in surprisingly good spirits. My ability to operate socially can be limited. A couple hours here and there and I can be one smooth operator. But anything more extended than a night out and my batteries quickly drain to zero.

So today (and much of last night) are when I revert to my beloved shut-in status. A cloudy mid-60s mood has taken over the Casa de Everwake. I have a campfire scented candle rolling, a plate of hotdish leftovers, and a Tauren Warrior who just completed the Barrens at the dizzying level of 22.

Right now WoW Classic is very much in my wheelhouse. It's familiar, it feels good to play it, it feels good to have a goal in my life that both feels important and without real consequences. There are very few experiences that can consistently bring me into the mental state of flow.

The feeling of just "locking in" to a task and pushing until I reach my goal or have my flow broken is a feeling that I've been chasing all my life. I guess I'm a flow junkie. I think everyone knows what I'm talking about, although I'm sure we all experience it much differently and from different sources.

Unfortunately for me, I tend to receive this flow from experiences I can't always recapture at will. Growing up it often came from sporting events, baseball in particular. But when I decided against pursuing the sport in college those opportunities dried up (slow pitch softball beer leagues don't really hit the same spot). Writing once served that place for me as well, but doing something professionally, particularly under the duress of the 2010 Great Recession, knocked a lot of the enjoyment out of that for me.

And playing World of Warcraft used to get me there as well. For me, WoW has unraveled in a lot of ways. The story lines no longer interest me, thematically the world feels bland and uninspired, and the sociability of the whole thing isn't. But at some point the beautiful second to second gameplay just took a nose dive. It's hard to get a handle on exactly when that happened. The obvious perpetrator is the ability prune. Classes simply got too simple to be interesting anymore. And while that's true to an extent, playing Classic is proof that for most specs the day to day overworld rotations are more complex in retail than they are live.

But they are not more fun.

They are more complicated, but to me they also feel way more fiddly. Every DPS class seems to have some form of combo points or some standard "Long Cooldown > DoT > Medium Cooldown > Situational Ability > Filler" rotation. The pacing to every fight in retail simply feels off. Fights either take too long or aren't long enough. Rotations are either glorified quick-time events or brain dead stupid. Classic, for whatever reason, seems to be interesting with every mob I engage. (Except for Ret Paladins. They were always boring to play.) I'm sure there are other outside factors affecting this feeling, but moment to moment Classic just feels better. 

These "core gameplay loops" don't have to be complicated: at their core Mario games are about pressing A to jump. I think WoW Classic rotations are just complicated enough to be interesting while being somewhat brainless enough that you can multitask watching Netflix or chatting with others. WoW Retail asks enough from you to make multitasking difficult, but isn't interesting enough to complete hold your attention.

When I originally played WoW, I leveled while chatting with friends on AOL Instant Messenger or while chatting with my college roommates as I played on my laptop. Nowadays I play while talking to my wife or watching a Twitch stream. WoW Classic hits that sweet spot for me in so many different ways that no development team could ever really be expected to accommodate. But I'm glad I got an opportunity to get my flow back.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The End of Blaugust

My friends from college have flown up to my new house for the weekend, a long standing tradition we call "Friends Weekend", so I'm typing this post in a state of what one might call slight inebriation.

Very slight.

So it's probably a good coincidence that I'm feeling reflective as we wrap up Blaugust (even if my typing is a bit unsteady). My goal with this blog was two fold: 1) get into the habit of getting my thoughts on paper and a steady clip every single day and 2) participate in a culture of blog MMOs that I have been reading for over 15 years but never contributed to myself.

I feel like I was half way successful on both of these fronts. I did successfully set aside time each day to get a blog post out. I'm genuinely proud of myself. This has been a busy month for me and I had very many opportunities to give myself an excuse to not write. I did it anyhow.

What I don't like is the overall effort I put forth during the month. Some of these blog posts were just "throw something up to get my daily credit". I can do better than that. Some of the posts about things I was excited about were not as well written as I am capable of. Rust can only count for so much, I can put more effort into this.

I also think the writing everyday is a great idea. Posting everyday is not. Going forward, I want to focus on one hour of blog writing a day. If I have a post come of that, good. If not, it's important to me to hold back until it's ready.

On my second point, I got to interact with some really cool people. I've read more MMO blogs than I ever have. Some bloggers that I've been reading for many years commented on my posts. It's damn cool.

But I could also give a little more. I want to leave more comments on people's blogs. It feels great when I get them and I want to return that. I want to participate more in discussions that other blogs take up as well. WoW Classic fit that bill this time but I want to continue more of that.

A goal I wasn't expecting, but stumbled upon was this idea of mindful gaming. A number of authors this month commented on how having blog makes you play games much differently. You're constantly looking for blog ideas. I think that's a good benefit, but what I want is a more thorough understanding of what I'm doing anyhow. I'm in my 30s now, life is picking up speed and I feel like I'm getting more days and weeks where I can't frankly remember what happened. I don't like that. We've only got so many days on this Earth and I want to do a better job of not taking that for granted. Gaming is important me, and I want to do a better job of finding that value in it. This blog is a hell of a tool for doing that. It's also going to be great as a diary when I go back to read it.

I have to say that this Blaugust was a huge success. I reached my goals, and I feel invigorated to go even harder. I really want to thank everyone who organized and participated in this. It's been an incredibly opportunity, and it's added honest to God value to my life. I'm thankful for that.

Here's to keeping it going.

Friday, August 30, 2019

WoW Classic: Day 4

So it's probably not the most amazing thing anyone has every seen. But I saw the best example of social design in a while last night.

In the Barrens there is a not particularly well designed-quest called Ignition. It's a quest that you find in a random area of the world, where you talk to a NPC, get the required quest objective items and then come back. Then you get a second quest where you then do a short escort quest. Doesn't sound too bad so far.

Unfortunately, it's a quest that makes you reconsider if Blizzard even knew they were making a multiplayer game when they added it. Once you turn the quest it, you have about 5 seconds for everyone else in your group to also accept the escort quest or they get left out. The NPC then has about a 15 minute respawn timer.

So last night, knowing that this quest was going to be a problem, I sought out other local players to help complete it. One player had already been bitten by this quest design and grouped up quickly with me in order to give a second try. We then filled out the rest of the three members of the group of hopefuls. 

We were waiting for the NPC to spawn and started a nice conversation. One player was watching Matt Mercer's Critical Role channel on Twitch, a Dungeons & Dragons show. I hadn't seen the show, but this led to a conversation about D&D, miniatures, and other similar streams. 

Finally, the NPC spawned, we began the quest and off we went. Except for one thing. One player wasn't quick enough and didn't get credit. It was the original guy I had grouped with who hadn't gotten credit before. I felt legitimately heartbroken for him and offered to stick around another 15 minute respawn cycle to help out. 

And so did everyone else. And we just talked. Two of the members turned out to be from Florida and were concerned about the impending hurricanes. We commiserated about our histories of natural disasters and other topics as well. Eventually the NPC spawned again and our final player finally got the quest credit.

So it was a small moment of half an hour in a night where I had played for hours. But it illustrated what I loved about World of Warcraft and was everything that I had hoped Classic to be. I want to be clear, this quest was terrible design. Nobody should try to make a game like this. But it happened to work out because 5 people were already invested and willing to dig in and do a quest twice despite the experience/hour ratio.

Whether Blizzard wanted it or not, whether Blizzard honestly realizes it or not, it's reintroduced the game that I've been missing for oh so very long. And I can't wait to log in to play it again. I honestly can't remember the last time I felt this way about a game.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

WoW Classic: Day 3

Unfortunately, I didn't get to make much progress in WoW Classic today. I'm hesitant to keep leveling too much as I don't want to leave my family behind. I'm 17 and already very close to leveling out of Ragefire Chasm. Unfortunately, my abundance of free time is not shared.

One thing I've noticed is just how much one dies in this game. Granted, I'm dying because I'm a warrior and that's just the class. But every time I hit the graveyard I see 5-10 other people on the way to retrieving their corpses. It feels more like respawning in a battle ground than the overworld.

It's really amazing to me how my interest in playing Retail just plummeted. Retail feels so disposable. I don't care about any of the gear, the storylines, or the content. Dailies are just a thing you do because that's what you do when you log in. Retail feels like a solved puzzle. Group content is just this thing you do as fast as possible with as little talking as possible. Failing incurs social derision and nothing else.

Everything just means more in Classic. The difficulty and the "purity" of it all just makes people buy in more. Failure here is a social opportunity, a chance to bond over the difficulty of the content.

Classic is so much better because it has Retail has a foil. When Everquest launched it's progression servers I was interested but never really got involved in it. Everquest, despite the tremenouds changes it's taken over the years, is still Everquest. Retail WoW is an 180 degree change in design philosophy from Classic, and they stand in contrast to one another.

Classic launching during Blaugust was pretty opportune; a way of looking both back and forward for me. I'll have more company over this weekend so I won't get to play very much, but my I'm looking forward to my last couple of blog posts this month being retrospective about both this month and the last 15 or so years.