Monday, November 18, 2019

Good News vs. Bad News

Good News: I just got back from a trip in San Antonio, Texas and it's a beautiful city to walk through. It has a river system surrounded by walkways that rolls through the heart of the city. The landscaping and architecture is almost Disney World-esque. The food and the weather were decent enough.

Bad News: I got the flu on the plane.

Good News: Planes are loud enough that people in the cabin won't hear you violently throwing up in the plane's lavatory.

Bad News: That's probably not true, and the poor people in the backrow were just being very polite.

Good News: Being bed-stricken leaves plenty of time of for playing Dragon Quest on my Switch.

Bad News: A nasty case of the spins means I'm lucky not to just drop the Switch on my face.

Good News: I felt better on Sunday to give Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night a try on Xbox Game Pass.

 Okay News: So far it's just kinda okay.

I only made it an hour and a half in due to my flu-derived madness so this is not a complete review. I also have never beat Symphony of the Night, but I played through all the Game Boy Advance Castlevanias so I do believe I have a decent background in these types of games.

The first thing I noticed was just how bad the graphics are for a game that's not too overly ambitious in this department. There is a lack of anti-aliasing that very prominent here. The options menus says it uses a form of AA but it must be a very low-resource intensive version of it. 

The jaggies are very prominent even when playing on my 1920x1080 monitor. Additionally, this game has a lot of clipping.

The main's character's feet seem to clip through just about most floors in the game. This has me worried about how accurate the hitboxes are for actual attacks, although my playthough hasn't shown that to be too awkward on the surface.

I think the game's overall art style looks pretty good. I was getting some gothic Trine feelings from the game.

The actual gameplay seems fine. Castlevania has always felt a little bit unresponsive to me. I tend to prefer a more Mega Man or Super Meat Boy level of tightness to character movement that Castlevania is not necessarily about. That's a preference thing, but one that tends to stick with me.

I feel that I've barely scratched the surface into any of the game's systems so far, and most of the enemy types are just copy and pastes from the Castlevania series. So I'll have more to say on this once I get further along.


Hopefully I feel better enough today to get more gametime in. Although, I'm very, very behind in housework at the moment as well. I'm also playing through Dragon Quest 1 on the Switch, but by it's nature, there's not going to be a lot to say about it until I've completed it. I also have about 800 posts in the RSS reader to catch up on.

I have a very busy day planned.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Outer Worlds Complete

Previously, my excuse for not posting in a while was that ArcheAge wasn't inspiring me to say much about it. Now we have the opposite problem. During a busy week, my time was spent engrossed in The Outer Worlds instead of writing.

After approximately 24 hours of game time we've hit the final credits. I do believe I've hit just about every quest and experienced every major decision. Most people seem to have 30 hours for a complete run so I suppose it's possible I may have missed something, but I feel like I had a complete playthrough on Normal difficulty.

So I haven't really played Fallout 3/4/New Vegas so I don't have a great point of reference to compare Outer Worlds with. (I did play bits of Fallout 1/2/Tactics back in the day but I was young enough not to remember much of it.) But in a vacuum I thought it was a competent western RPG that occasionally rose up to great. The voice acting was top-notch for instance, but lacked the dedicated motion capture that Anthem had that really sold the talking bits. The combat was fine and fluid, but I don't feel like my skills or weapon choices had interesting impacts on what I was doing. The overall story was good, but nothing we hadn't really seen before. Some notable exceptions were some of the companion quests, with Vicar Max's questline as an unexpected peak.

Once I started dumping points into the various Dialogue stats, I found the writing rising to the occasion when it needed to. There is a "sorta secret ending" in the game that had me laughing so hard I was nearly in tears. I can't remember the last time a video game did that. The game is genuinely funny, and often (but not always) strings together coherent conversations regardless of how wild your inputs may be. Your choices in the game have some obvious cause and effect that is enjoyable to see play out. However, there are couple of points, one major one in particular, where the game takes a baffling turn in response to one of your choices you are forced to make. I don't want to go into spoilers, and not everyone's play through will run into this, but it was a clear case of the developers wanting to create a cool event and then backing the dialogue choices into causing it.

It was a fun run, particularly when I effectively spent $1 on it. I tend to grade things on a 5-star system.
  • 5 - A game so good even people who normally don't play video games should give it a try.
  • 4 - A game everyone who owns a console or a decent computer should at least give it a shot.
  • 3 - A game that fans of a particular genre or IP should give a go.
  • 2 - A game that can probably be ignored by everyone.
  • 1 - A game so bad that you have to play it.
I think Outer Worlds is something like a 3.8, rounded up to 4. In a vacuum that's pretty darn good, particularly in a genre that can be as difficult to pull off as Western RPGs are. But considering how many RPGs I play nowadays are so encumbered by their business aspects, it's just refreshing to play a game, enjoy it, finish it, and uninstall it. I've longed for this pedestrian exchange many times on this blog, it's nice to have it fully realized. The game was being developed before Microsoft's purchase of Obsidian added it to the Xbox Game Pass, but it's my hope that subscription services will let single player stories like this stand on their own again, without being swamped in microtransaction bullshit.

I'd like to go into detail about more Outer World specifics, but I'll give people a little bit more time to play through the game themselves. In the mean time, if you were on the fence and have a dollar to spare, I think it's well worth your time.

My goal for the month was to finish 5 Game Pass games. So far that's one down, which is not exactly on pace. Even worse, the next game that I picked up, F1 2018, isn't exactly a game you can "beat". It's a racing sim version of the real life Formula 1 racing series. I've enjoyed previously racing games by Codemasters before, but haven't paid much attention to Formula 1 in general since the 90s. Now that me and Mrs. Everwake have been watching cable again, I've been pleasantly surprised to enjoy some racing coverage on our early Sunday mornings. I've excited by it now, although the current season is almost over. That's probably for the best, as auto racing tends to be a little bit boring to watch, but much more fun to play. Anyways, I'm playing through a race weekend every day, so if I can finish up one full season of the game I'm going to consider that "complete".

Also a negative for my game completion goal: after I finish up this post I begin packing for a 5 day trip to Texas. A good opportunity to use my Switch and escape the Minnesota winter, but not an opportunity to do much PC gaming. I could take my laptop, but it mostly just runs Excel really well, and I suspect Microsoft hasn't added achievement for that program yet.

Either way, I imported a physical copy of the Dragon Quest 1+2+3 remaster for my Switch, and I'm looking forward to grinding out some levels during a very long layover. Going from Outer Worlds to Dragon Quest 1 is certainly some whiplash, but sometimes it's nice to have reminder about how far we've come.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Novemeber Goals - But Mostly Outer Worlds Talk

Last month I decided to try out the 'Goals for the Month' gimmick. It didn't go well. I didn't actually accomplish a singe goal. Yikes. In my defense that was mostly Blizzard imploding and me not wanting to stand in the blast radius. I also didn't get any traction in Breath of the Wild, stopping at my usual place about 5 hours in. I had to evacuate my flooded basement's contents to my workshop area, so fixing up the Japanese PlayStation 2 wasn't really possible.

It's easier to set goals in an MMO, so this post is bit harder to write than last month. ArcheAge didn't pan out in my opinion and so I mostly have Outer Worlds and Minecraft. I don't know enough about Minecraft to actually have goals, and I'm not inclined to look up to much as the exploration of game mechanics has been fairly compelling. 

I'm about 8 hours into Outer Worlds and having a good time. I'm actually enjoying the Bethesda-lite aspect of the game. The game world itself is as large as it needs to be, in contrast to Breath of the Wild which I've complained about as mostly filler. BotW's filler has a purpose, it lends a sense of size and gravitas to the world, but that hasn't translated into enjoyable gameplay. Outer Worlds is made of smaller levels. There seems to be exploration for those who are so inclined, but its also easy to get where you need to go and get on with the story, which is what I'm here for. 

And the story has been perfectly fine. Where BotW is about immersing yourself into the world, Outer Worlds is about immersing yourself into the people. It initially seemed odd to me that I would be so interested in character-based storytelling than world-based storytelling. In the real life meat space I operate in the complete opposite. But digital worlds have never held the same allure to me. My idea of a perfect vacation is to grab a hotel in the middle of city, drop off my stuff, and just start walking. Only Skyrim has ever given me that sort of pull in a video game. Video game worlds always feel a bit too designed for me. Real cities are never that well planned, and nature hikes certainly aren't. I'll admit it's not a strong reason, but it is how it is.

 I found the gameplay to be mostly fine. I find first-person melee to be clunky so I've went a full "Long Gun" build. The shooting is mostly fine, although it's clearly built around use of the slow-mo effect to hit constantly rotating weak points on enemy mobs. I often completely forget about the slow-motion mechanic, and just try to treat the game like a pure shooter. I do tend to play games the way I want, instead of the game that the developer's offer. Sometimes that leads to problems, but it's mostly fine here, at least on the Normal difficulty.

 I was up until 2 AM last night playing Outer Worlds, and I'm chomping at the bit to get back into it this morning. So I guess my goal is to finish the game before the end of the month, but I suspect that will not be much a problem. 

I think my goal is to play through at least 5 games on the Xbox Game Pass. I've always been a dabbler, playing a little bit of a game and then moving onto the next. Subscription services is likely to feed into that. But I do get great satisfaction out of a complete experience. It's not about getting my "money's worth", but more about being mindful of what I play. 

And maybe I'll finally get that PS2 fix up as well.

Friday, November 1, 2019

BlizzCon and Live Services

I didn't want to write too much about Blizzcon, partly because everyone else in your RSS feed is already doing that and mostly because I just feel very 'meh' about the company right now. But I thought the 'sorta apology' tied in well to my post from two days ago about game subscriptions. The apology that kicked off the festivities was fine. But we've heard some variation of "We hear you, and promise in the future to make it better" for as long as Blizzard has been a company. It might as well be their motto. It rarely matches with any actual action taken by the company. It is unusual that it was attached to the word 'sorry'. They don't usually break that word out until they've hit the 'mainstream press is noticing' level of notoriety.

(On a side note, I feel my usual ambivalence towards their actual announcements. My backlog is very full and my ability to care about games that I can't actually play yet just isn't there. That's been true for nearly 3 decades for me, so that's just business as usual.)

Back on track, in my last post I mentioned my excitement at game subscription services. A low monthly fee that acts as a content discovery vehicle is something that works for me. But Blizzcon does remind me of one negative aspect of these subscription services, as well as just any live service in general.

I cancelled my World of Warcraft subscription after the big brouhaha. As I mentioned in my post at the time it wasn't some form of formal boycott, nor did I feel like I was sending any sort of message towards Blizzard. Video games are entertainment and its hard to enjoy something tied to a company behaving badly towards something that actually matters. I removed WoW from hard drive to free up some much need disk space.

But GOG's rerelease of Warcraft 1 and 2, as well as Diablo 1 remained on that hard drive. Granted, I didn't play them, but I didn't remove their icons from my desktop either. Being tied to the hip with a misbehaving company on a subscription feels worse than having a static game. After all, I already paid for Warcraft 1. That deal is done. There is no outstanding relationship with Blizzard on that one.

But a subscription fee, or just a live game with microtransactions is a different deal. It's a relationship. But by it's nature it's always a one-sided one. My side of the relationship is an emotional one. I'm fulfilling my need to be entertained. Maybe more if we accept that video games are art and can deliver emotions beyond just bliss. But the company's side of this relationship is pure business. Sure there's some give-and-take. Microsoft wants to populate their service with games people want to play. That's acting on feedback from their playerbase, but only to the extent that it increases sub numbers.

Blizzard is in this place now as well. Blizzard hasn't been in the business of caring about player feedback in a non-business way for a while now (see the entirety of the Battle for Azeroth beta). Changes made to retail WoW are focused on increasing subs and nothing more. Blizzard leadership relented and shipped WoW Classic purely because it made too much fiscal sense not to.

This makes it either a one-sided relationship, or at least a very shallow one. Not a problem on the surface. But companies like Blizzard, Microsoft, etc. are motivated to pretend there is more to it than that. Blizzcon is a way to monetize product announcements marketed as a community event. As their CEO said during his apology, Blizzard is motivated to bring gamers together through 'epic entertainment'. Quite a grandiose statement. One that would be more believable if WoW's 15 year old social features were more robust than instant messaging programs from two decades ago. There is no 'higher standard' at Blizzard. There is no 'grand vision'. It's just a video game company that made it's name years ago because it was willing to put the spit shine on releases where other companies would have shipped subpar work out the door. That hasn't been the case for nearly a decade now.

Blizzard gets to charge a premium for its relationship with it's userbase. Blizzard gets to force users to use it's launcher to play its games, and innudate that launcher with it's own adds because of its relationship with it's userbase. It's a tangible, but emotional connection that means real dollars for the company. Blizzard had to make an apology because being perceived as special is worth real world dollars. Otherwise, 15 dollars for a WoW subscription, plus 50 dollars for an expansion every so often, doesn't make a lot of sense in the world of Game Passes, Humble Bundles, and Free to Play titles.

Live services and subscriptions have made content cheaper than ever and that forces companies to find something else to charge a premium for. For Microsoft, Game Pass will subsidize hardware sales and Gold Live subscriptions. For Blizzard, it's an emotional attachment to the IP and the company itself. For me, Blizzard lost the ability to charge that premium.

Users leaving a company because of various reasons has and will always be a thing. But for the next several years it seems most video game companies are really going to need to be on their best behavior and their reputation and reliability are going to matter more than it ever has.

I know this was more rambly than my usual posts, but this has been in the back of my mind for a while. I don't really want a closer relationship with random corporations. I'm perfectly content with purchasing a thing and then said company fucking off. But that's not really the reality for much of the current gaming landscape. Subscription services, I hope, are the way to make the best of that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

ArcheAge and Subscription Services

I think like a lot of people, I juggle various hobbies in my day to day life. What I have been noticing is that I tend to cycle through hobbies pretty consistently based on the year. The months of August-through October tend to be a pretty slow period for me when it comes to video games. I suspect the rise of college (American) football and enjoying the Fall weather tend to be the major culprits. Video game releases seem to be pretty slow usually as well, waiting to until the last week of October and November to release the big hitters.

The difference nowadays is that I have a video gaming blog so there is a new voice in the cacophony of my head telling me to pay more attention to the hobby so I have something to write about.

ArcheAge was an attempt at making that happen and it just didn't.

As I expected, the mandatory world PVP pretty much ended my time with the game. The main gameplay loop of very short battles followed by a whole lot of running wasn't endearing. Both the overarching storyline and the individual stories in each zone are so generic as to not exist. The housing and crafting weren't anything special either. Having overworld housing versus instanced housing doesn't really seem to change anything fundamentally in how I played. I just bought a real house in the past several months so all of my "nesting" efforts are going to that, not a digital equivalent.

The mandatory world PVP is honestly just bizarre. Like every other game with world PVP it comes down to numbers > ganking > gear to determine the outcome of every incident. It's been several decades now and it's still one of the most boring formulas we have in gaming today. ArcheAge brings nothing new to the table. It's clear the developers held no desire to make a good PVP game, they needed to distract from the anemic gameplay and give whales a since of purpose.

The positives of a game with an upfront cost and no subscription fee is that I can change my mind at anytime. I already emptied my bags and placed my character at the beginning of a new zone to ensure little to no friction when I start again. There's also effectively no storyline to care about, so there's no reason to worry about getting lost in the quest text. Compare this to Everquest II, a game possessing charm ArcheAge can only dream about, that I don't play because of the perquisite chores needed to get a character up to questing speed again. Clearing out full 55 slot bags, rereading through 6 hotbars of abilities, and skimming storyline summaries from the Wiki is a to do list, not a distraction.

Like many in my RSS feed, I took Microsoft up on its $1 Game Pass offer in order to get a hold of Outer Worlds. With only a couple of hours in the game I see no need to yet offer my thoughts, but I did want to talk about the concept of Subscription game services.

This weekend I bought yet another hard drive, an 8 TB external HDD that I will likely pull out of it's external enclosure and hook up internally inside my computer's case. I like to keep large portions of my game library installed so I can just jump in at any time. I'm also a bit of digital hoarder. I have about 100+ games on GOG and I keep them all backed up on a hard drive. I also run a Plex server and keep several terabytes of content ready to go at all times.

But I also have subscriptions to most major streaming services, Google Play Music, YouTube Red, Netflix, Amazon Video, PBS, HBO, etc. I usually rotate in an extra niche video streaming service when I can. The local library fills my need for books. And now add the explosion of gaming related subscription services to that list. I tend to use these subscription services as a content discovery system. Most stuff I watch/listen/play will just be consumed. But I will purchase a hard copy of anything I love.

Sometimes it's messier than that. I have zero problem paying for media, but not every industry and company presents their content in a consumer friendly way. I often use a site called MangaDex to read most Manga even though it's technically piracy. A subscription service for ten dollars a month that works on my Kindle would be a no-brainer for me. But that service doesn't exist. So instead, I read fan-translated copies and then hit Barnes and Noble for officially published work when they have their 2-for-1 sale. It's tough to feel bad for the Manga industry, if MangaDex and it's predecessors didn't exist than I would have simply ignored the whole industry and it would never have saw a dime from me, instead of the several hundred dollars I spend a year on it. Help me to help you and all that.

Video games were in a weird place when it came to subscription offerings before this year. The model had been tried before. I would subscribe to GameTap back in the day, even though it's shady business practices regularly got my credit card flagged as attempted fraud But the ability to try out a large number of games for a low monthly fee was an attractive proposition even in the mid-2000s. Brick and mortar rental stores (and GameFly) were also effectively the same thing, but those were in my childhood and college years, a low monthly fee wasn't for content discovery, that was just all the money I had.

Steam sales and Humble Bundles were effectively my subscription service. Purchasing decisions feel a bit less fraught when you could pay $2.50 for a 40-hour AAA title that was only 2 years old. Video game prices aren't quite as slim as they used to be, but you can get quite bit of quality hours/dollar ratio in the video gaming world.

But the equation has changed in a very decisive way now that video game subscription services are either the same price or less as a month of World of Warcraft. And I welcome it. I have nearly 2000 games spread across multiple digital frontends plus hard copy console games. I would own probably a tenth of that amount if subscription services had existed this past decade. Effectively, it's easier to know what I want when you make it easier to know what I want. No matter how cheap these games were, weeding out the "losers" for 15 a month would have been a valuable service.

Instead of spending $60+ on cable TV with ads, I can simply watch Netflix. Instead of driving to a Blockbuster that reeks of smoke to pay my late fees on a movie I can simply pull up Amazon Prime. Ten years ago I didn't even know what manga was, now I read it nearly every night as I fall to sleep. YouTube lets me watch highly polished videos about obscure topics that interest me. A service that flatout didn't exist when I was a boy. Today's entertainment landscape, at least for me, is in such a better place. This paradigm genuinely enriches how I spend my leisure hours.

I suppose this is just a long-winded way of saying that I'm genuinely very excited about the rise of subscription services in gaming. Granted, I reserve the right to withdraw my statement if this ends up killing traditional single-player games, but I suspect it will not. There are cracks in the armor. Nintendo killing off it's virtual console releases for the Nintendo Online subscription is worrisome. But those games were better off emulated anyways. But in general, I think this is the biggest change in the video game industry since the rise of Steam and digital storefronts. I think this will have a positive impact on how I play games on a day to day basis. And maybe I'll be less likely to fall into my yearly rut when it comes to excitement about video games.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

ArchAge Unchained

So I went in blind on the recent ArcheAge Unchained released. I know next to nothing about the game and never played its previous incarnation. In brief my thoughts on the game are simple: every time I sat down to write a blog post I ended up wandering away and doing something else. Needless to say, it's not made much of an impression.

That's not entirely fair, but it's close enough. I had to actually log in again real quick to figure out what level I had reached (28). So far the game has been as cookie cutter as one can get. Accept a quest from a NPC, walk 100 feet to kill or collect, walk back and turn in, get breadcrumb to next quest, repeat.

There are some storyline missions about people who find a magical door and become gods and then screw everything up. This is mostly told through cutscenes of static images with a Ken Burns effect applied. My own character's motivation seems to change on a whim, looking for revenge against man who killed the friends and family I don't recall every actually meeting. I learned that skimming the quest text is the more prudent option.

I'm also a bit disappointed graphics wise. The game looks quite bad for only being a couple of years old. The textures are PS3/Xbox 360 level and no amount of anti-aliasing seems to get rid of all the jaggies. At max settings the game never dips under 100 FPS and the view distance is quite good. Like most MMOs the UI doesn't scale for 4K displays and I'm forced to play in either cumbersome Fullscreen  mode or Windowed with too small to see UI elements. No matter what I do, I can't get the game to play on my 1080p monitor either.

As I'm playing, I'm struck by the fact that Rift looks just as good as this game. Maybe that won't hold up to a side-by-side comparison but I'm very underwhelmed by how ArcheAge looks on good hardware.

There's also a nasty sound bug. At some point in your gameplay session you will hear a loud pop and all game sound and music will go out until you restart the game. Turning your sound quality to the lowest seems to fix it, but now my character continuously makes the same grunt every 0.5 second I'm in combat. The music is odd but catchy. This has lead to me muting in game noise while keeping the game music on full volume. That's a new one for me.

Character skills are interesting enough. Character creation asks you to pick a starting skill tree, analogous to an individual talent tree or spec in World of Warcraft. By the time you are level 15 you'll have three trees you can pick skills and passives from. I think it works well and I've built a sword-and-board warrior who alternates between one-shotting mobs and killing them in less than 7 seconds. I don't recall ever having died.

One thing I appreciate is that your "filler" abilities don't need to be spammed like in most games. You simply hold the appropriate button down until you need to cast something else. Both my wrist and 'R' key are thankful.

I didn't take part in the land grab on Sunday. ArcheAge doesn't have instanced housing but simply allows you to grab materials and money and plop a house down in the overworld. It's a neat idea but so far there has been no in-game explanation of any of it. Or of crafting for that matter either. Or what the ArcheAge Pass even does. Or what any of the currencies mean either. I was able to figure out how to upgrade my equipment from a combination of trial and error and reading general chat. I still have no idea what most of the buttons on my (tiny) UI even do. To say the game is non intuitive is an understatement. Google searching for answers is also often not helpful. There just isn't very much info out there for ArcheAge and a lot of it is out of date or needlessly verbose. I'll get to experimenting eventually, but I've simply not been in an experimenting mood yet.

Apparently level 30 is when I'm whisked way from the comforts of the leveling zones to the warfields on forced world PVP. Needless to say I did not know about this when I bought the game. Perhaps it won't be a big deal and I can mostly level in peace. But it probably will just be a giant pain in the ass and will mark the end of the ArcheAge experiment. It's not 2004 and there's just no real need to stick with a game that's underperforming. I want to make an honest effort at the leveling cap, see what the big deal is with farming, and see if the game has anything else to surprise me with. But so far things aren't looking bright.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Weekend Full of Water and Vacuuming

I've not had a ton of time to enjoy any gaming these past couple of days. My basement partially flooded and I'm still spending hours vacuuming water out of the carpet. The carpet is probably a lost cause and that'll be about $500 to replace and install. The joys of home ownership.

Breath of the Wild
After finishing up the Xbox 360 version of Portal I renewed my efforts in Breath of the Wild. I finished up most of the side quests in Kakariko and Hateno Village as well as nabbing most of the Korok Seeds in the adjacent areas. I've been using the fantastic interactive world map from to track down all the discoverables in this game. I don't particularly enjoy aimlessly wandering around digital worlds, at least not ones as empty as the Breath of the Wild map, so being able to cut to the chase and get to the actual content in a reasonable amount of time is a blessing. Much like my Skyrim playthroughs, I'm in no particular hurry to get the main quest up and running.

ArcheAge Unchained
ArcheAge Unchained, the buy to play version of ArcheAge, launched today and I decided to throw my $25 in the bucket to see what it gets me. So far it's been this:

I never played any of the original so I'm curious to give this a shot. I honestly don't expect the developers/publishers of this title to behave and keep the usual microtransaction tricks at bay very long. My hope is that I'll get a couple of months out this before I get pushed out for the whales. A perfectly fine value for $25, and I might even get proven wrong.

It's my understanding that this is more a sandbox MMO than a theme park, and I can honestly say I have next to no experience with a sandbox. Hopefully this game represents this subgenre's best foot forward and I can see what I've been missing.

I did manage to find some time during the weekend to play a little Minecraft, although when you're spare bedroom is doing it's best swamp imitation my attention was a bit divided. Me and the wife are slowly building are humble abode. We aren't making any progress in the tech tree or whatever game system is there, we are simply building our house and the areas nearby. I've never really "decorated" in a game before, outside of emptying my bags of furniture into whatever free housing I got in Everquest 2. But this has been enjoyable. Maybe I'm just in the "nesting" part of my life. At least my Minecraft house doesn't flood.

It's a pretty standard grey block of a house because at this point I don't know how to do much else and I've felt no real compulsion to look up anything fancier. Ignore the zombie near the stairs; I evicted him soon after this picture was taken. The moochers never pay any rent.

Over the course of our relationship, my and my wife have collected a number of stuffed sheep.I often buy here one when she's feeling particularly stressed out so we've gained an affinity for the creatures. Happily, Minecraft let's us have our own digital flock. Apparently, dying their wool changes their color permanently. Video game logic.

I find navigating small elevation changes in Minecraft to be surprisingly clunky. I suppose that's the nature of game with very few curves in it. Much like the Romans, I enjoy building roads into territory that doesn't really belong to me. In the background you can see the much more impressive structure built by a coworker of my brother. We are not keeping up with the Jonses.

Nvidia might be bankrolling new PC Game Remasters
So shelling out the extra 50 bucks or so for a 'RTX' 2080 instead of GTX 1080Ti has proven to be not really worth it. These two cards are mostly comparable from a pure throughput standpoint, but the newer RTX line can do "ray tracing". So far, only a couple of games really support it. With the PS5 and next Xbox promising ray tracing support there is hope that this number will increase, but for now it's not doing me much. The only game I've played which really uses it is Anthem. Anthem probably would have looked damn good either way but also wasn't exactly a barn burner in terms of gameplay.

One thing I did enjoy though was the RTX enabled version of Quake II that Nvidia released. The game really did end up looking completely different and I ended up messing around with it for a couple of hours.

If Nvidia wants to remaster some old classics in order to advertise their graphics cards then i see that as a win-win. I haven't played Minecraft with ray tracing shaders on but they look pretty incredible from what I've seen. If you can make Minecraft look good then I'm pretty eager to see what we can do with the likes of Duke Nukem 3D or the the old Thief games.

Riot Announces 15 Years of Games At Once 
I have played exactly one game of League Legends in my lifetime. It was an introductory 5 vs. Bots match that was mandatory to continuing on into the real game. One helpful teammate was devastatingly unhappy with my character choice. Another called me a "bastardo" for stealing his kill. I suspect that's a Portuguese to English cognate, but I don't speak the language. We won decisively. I then played something else for the next 10 years.

More competition is always good, but since Riot makes Blizzard look like a competently run company, I'd rather steer clear of an unusually long burning car wreck. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Portal Back to 2008

Apparently abandoning WoW Classic has opened a mid 2000's sized hole in my heart because I played Portal all weekend. That was certainly not the plan. In my last post I mentioned that I like to be playing around 3 games at a time: a multiplayer game, a long-form RPG/strategy game, and a shorter 'actiony' game. We've all been on the 'overwhelmed by the backlog train' so I'll skip that discussion. I decided to simply list every platform I had either hooked up or installed into a notepad file and then use to randomly pick one out of the hat.

The winner was the Xbox 360 I keep hooked up for all the games that never made it to the Xbox One's Backwards Compatibility program. My 360 collection isn't particularly large, I tend to only buy Xboxs (Xboxes? Xboxii?) because my college friends use them for multiplayer games. So the few physical games I have either tend to be shooters that I would rather play on the PC, or long RPGs that don't fit my criteria. I logged on to the Xbox One to collect this half moth's Games with Golds and decided to look through the digital games on there. We had a couple of promising prospects, Ikargua and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but Portal struck out at me.

Portal should probably fit under 'game I would rather play on PC'. But while the end puzzles do ask for some dexterity, even my meager controller skills were up to the task.  Portal also isn't particularly 'actiony'. But it is a short and cohesive experience and I have a lot of room in my gaming life for that.

What attracted me in particular is the extra challenge maps added to this version of the game. The 360 version has 14 extra maps that weren't added to any other version and I wanted to give them a shot. I'm sure there is a mod to add these to the PC version but I didn't want to bother with any of that just for an evening long experience.

Except what was supposed to be an evening ended up being two evenings and change. I decided to play through the first couple levels of the campaign to get bearings and that turned into a full playthrough. Then on to the challenge maps which were pretty good. And now that you mention it, I never actually played through these developer commentary tracks...

It was nice, not just to play through an old favorite, but to unhook from the 'live services' machine. Two gameplay sessions without fussing about DLC or patch notes or bugs or busy work mechanics. Just pure distilled gameplay like momma used to make. It's nice to know that even though Valvue doesn't make games like this anymore, I can still go back and play it anytime without problem. Not true of a live service game where you either need to hope for a rerelease or hope that the game isn't deleted or altered forever.

Come to think of it, I never actually beat the Co-op missions in Portal 2 either. Now that we know how to change FOV sliders to avoid Mrs. Everwake's nauseous reaction to first person perspectives we may give that a shot this weekend.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Post WoW-Classic: A Breath of Fresh Air in a Blocky World

Boy after losing my daily driver in WoW Classic it's harder to be regular with the blog posting. Not that I've been playing less video games by volume, our first dumping of snow has seen to that, but because it's difficult to realize when I have "enough" material I want to post about.

Most of my group's playtime has actually shifted over to Minecraft. I have very little experience with the game. I played the new Windows 10 version for a couple of hours but I often wash out of sandbox games with no initial structure. We are playing the old school Java version off a server ran by my brother.

Much like my previous experience, things did not start well. I found a quick tutorial online for making the initial tools and off we went. I spawned not particularly near anyone else and had no idea for how to actually find them either. So I crafted up a sword and went exploring. I quickly came upon a room with four chests in a desert. Slowly but surely digging my way down I finally reached the bottom ... where apparently I set off some form of trap. This exploded me, the treasures chests, and all of my gear, erasing about two hours of gameplay and starting me back at square one.

Thankfully, before I decided to find the extent of Microsoft's refund program, said brother used his magical Admin-powers to teleport me to civilization. I began crafting a house, which I soon tore down to make an even bigger house. Said bigger house is incredibly empty because I use all of our resources just getting the house. The parallels with my real life weighed heavily in my mind. I tamed a dog. I accidentally killed a man and two llamas.

Overall I found the experience pretty engrossing. I am however a little bit stuck on what I should be doing next. In between bouts of college football I think I'll be spending quite a bit of time reading the Minecraft wiki and getting a handle on all the various systems the game has to offer. My wife is enjoying decorating and building the household but I barely have the energy to do that in my real house. What I do love is that there is no keeping up with the Jonses aspect to the game. I don't need to worry about keeping equivalent levels or trying to finish content before it gets invalidated by the patch. If it weren't for the hunger system, I'd never log off the world, simply keeping it idle in the background.

I'm also making headway in the main story of Breath of the Wild. I have real tendency to go off in search of Korok Seeds and Side Quests in lieu of actually making progress ... and then dropping the game because I don't like the pacing of it. I'm going to try to keep my eye on the ball here and keep progressing towards the Divine Beasts. It's honestly been a decade since I last beat a Zelda game as I couldn't stand either Wii iteration and the motion control nonsense. But with a sensible control scheme and a comfy aesthetic I think I'm ready to dive into this game.

So I have a multiplayer game and a long-form RPG going. I really do like to have a third game to play in bite sized pieces. Usually it's more of an actiony game but with most RPGs trending towards ARPG rather than turn-based that's less of a requirement. I did get a supporter pack of some sort from a contest my Destructoid. I don't actually remember signing up for it but I'll take free stuff. I haven't played Planetside 2 since it's launch but it can't hurt to check out Daybreak's latest offering this weekend. I'll give 3-4 hours and then make a judgement.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

TLDR: I Quit the Blizzness

Well this one kinda hurt.

Off and on Blizzard has taken to selling some of their old servers. I've wanted one forever but never had the money went they went up for sale. There aren't very many opportunities in our hobby to own an actual physical piece of a game we love. I was pretty excited to frame this on the wall next to an old Warcraft III poster over top of my gaming PC.

Then this morning happened.

Blizzard isn't close to the top 100 most corrupt businesses in the world. In the grand scheme of things not letting their platforms be hijacked by a contractor's political message isn't "that" big of a deal. A company that's continually falling flat on their faces in the West and is desperate to find growth in China and will play by the CCP's rules in order to do so isn't new. A lot of companies do that.

It's a silly thing. Nothing Blizzard is doing is different from what western companies have been doing for the past 3 decades. But we care more about this one because Blizzard was special. It created games, worlds, and memories that we could pour ourselves into. Turns out Blizzard wasn't really worthy of that love. Or at least it became unworthy. Blizzard has always courted and received this expectation that they were special and worthy of our loyalty. A lot of us ended up treating Blizzard as an organization we respected and high hopes and expectations for.

People can have whatever opinion they want on all this, but the fact is that I just feel a little dumb. Blizzard is a big nameless, faceless organization that I put a bunch of emotional expectations into and expected it all to work out. But it doesn't work. Blizzard, or the people in charge thereof, decided that expanding their economic foothold into China is worth so much more than the freedoms and lives of a couple million people. I'm sure they wouldn't put it that way! 'In the long run these economic moves will create a better world for everyone' is a thing we've kept saying since 1997 with not much fucking proof yet.

So I ended the purchase order on a thing I've been wanting for a long time. That sucks. I uninstalled all the Blizzard games on my computer. Feels bad. I'm going to need to find a new way to keep in touch with my family now that WoW Classic is off the table. That really, really sucks. But it's all still selfish at the end of the day. None of this will bring freedom and prospecrity to the globe. It's not even going to make Blizzard rethink their position. I just don't want a reminder of the hours I poured into a company expecting anything other than what I got.

I have the memories. I have the fun I had. I have the feeling of accomplishment and all the people I've met through their games. But what I don't want is a reminder of the time I asked for more than what strangers would ever give. In the eyes of this company I'm also nameless and faceless; just another money pinata.

I want to refocus up. My bookshelves and hard drives are filled with the blood, sweat, and tears of people who worked their asses off to make a thing they really liked. I've been in a rut of playing the same things over and over again because it was familiar. I've went through a lot of life changes recently and I took refuge in the familiar. This is a perfect opportunity to change that.

I want to expand the experiences I get, whether that be in media or the dreaded metaspace. I want to focus on the game I've got in my hands more than they game I want the next patch to make it be. I want to focus more on what someone has made rather than what they should have done instead. And I want to accept that the work itself is more important than the people who made it, not because I want to accept dealing with shitty people, but because I want save that kind of investment for the people who are actually in my life.

I'll be back one day. Diablo 3 didn't magically become a bad game this morning. But this whole brouhaha was a nice reminder to be more selective on the people and groups that get to matter to me. Blizzard is a generic video game company who deserves no more loyalty than any other. And they don't deserve a place on my wall.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

WoW Classic - Level 42, Mounts, and Fishing Quest

The misery of past years of have finally passed. For now we traverse through the mists of Azeroth in style.

With the auction house's economy still fairly anemic, scraping together the coin for my kodo took some penny pinching, not buying the last 8 levels worth of abilities from my trainer (thank God Mortal Strike is given from the talent tree, and thus, free), and a generous 6 gold loan from Mrs. Everwake.

The extra speed has immediately seen itself useful. I was able to make the (now) quick trek to Feralas and Dustwallow Marsh to finish off the Fishing Quest. This opens up Fishing all the way to 300 skill points and returns some blessed bag space. My Blacksmithing sits at 165, lagging behind all my other professions, and desperately needs an infusion of Iron Ore to get back into shape. Normal leveling has ceased to provide enough of an ore drip to sustain profession leveling and now I need to focus on farming. A task much easier done on the back of a kodo.

In more meta news, me and my crew of 3 ended up accepting Blizzard's offer of a server transfer from Pagle to Windseeker. Assuming the census record websites are correct, Pagle heavily favors Alliance, probably on a 3:1 scale. Questing in Stranglethorne Vale was quickly becoming a problem as a member of the Horde. Blizzard is desperate to get rid of layering on its servers but its clear this is going to leave some servers a mess. Not only is questing and resource imbalances going to continue spiraling out of control, but world bosses and PVP are going to be adversely affected as well. Windseeker is definitely a smaller server but its more balanced and seems to still have plenty of population. If we can get the gates of AQ40 open and battlegrounds don't become too one-sided then I suspect Windseeker will make a fine home.

I'm starting to pull ahead of Mrs. Everwake in the leveling game, so it makes sense for me to concentrate on other projects at the moment. I'm going to get Cooking and Fishing as close to 300 as possible this week, and get the 225 First Aid quest done as well. From there, I can start leveling my Alliance mage in retail to 120 and possibly knock out out some of the first levels in the Warcraft 1 campaigns.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Gaming Goals - October 2019

Technically I'm writing this on October 2, not the 1st like most blogs do it. But I've looked all over this blog's organizational flowchart and nowhere does it say you're my supervisor.


1. Get to 60 in World of Warcraft Classic
We're not pussyfooting around this one. It's been my primary game for a month now and it's time to see it through. I obviously have no idea how fast the different phases of Classic will be rolled out and I really do want to see this content while it's "current". This isn't because such a thing will be particularly important in WoW Classic, but it's been so long since I've been ahead of the curve in a game and I don't want to squander this opportunity.

All of my other goals really flow through this one. I rolled a tank so I could run group content and I want to see raids at max level that I really never got to see back in the day. I want to collect as my profession recipes as possible and craft for myself the more powerful Blacksmithing recipes. I want to level a bunch of alts and that will be much easier if I have gold flowing from a high level character.

Also WoW Classic has just been a tremendous joy and two months later I want to keep going.

2. Level an Alliance Character to 120 and Experience BfA Alliance Content in World of Warcraft Retail
The last time I didn't experience at least most of the story in a WoW expansion was probably Warlords of Draenor for understandable reasons. I've completed all story content horde side but now it's time to take care of all this Alliance side. I had actually began leveling a Human Mage right before WoW Classic hit but even I didn't expect just how much I would be playing Classic to the detriment of Retail. My mage is around level 68; helpfully boosted by some Brewfest quests. With full heirlooms cracking on through to 120 shouldn't be an issue. And with the recent patch removing reputation requirements from most of the story content I think this can actually be done pretty casually this month. Even if I don't finish it before October ends, the goal is to have this done before 8.3 hits.

3. Begin Warcraft 1
This is turning out to be a very Warcraft-centric month! Slightly before WoW Classic's release, Blizzard partnered with to release some of their older games. Now that WoW Classic is here, I want to go through the Warcraft storyline in chronological order. This includes not just the RTS games but also the books, comics, etc. This will be a much slower process but I think it will be fun. I've never actually played all the way through Warcraft 1; it's obviously a bit bare bones. Warcraft 2 is vaguely recall using cheat codes to beat back in the day. But I remember almost nothing about the experience. We had a copy of the game in the big box PC format they use to come in, so it must have been nearly 20 years ago. I'm also ashamed to say I've never beaten either Warcraft 3 or the expansion. But I've already got my pre-order of the remastered version. I expect it to release around Blizzcon so I'm sure it will be out long before I'm ready for it.

4. Finally finish Breath of the Wild
I've been saying this for a year now and it's never happened. While the purchase of a Switch Pro controller does make this slightly more likely, I'm just going to be too busy with other projects this month to worry about it.

5. Get the Japanese PS2 Up and Running
A couple of years ago I purchased a broken all-white PS2 while in northern Japan. The goal is to fix it up and have a way of playing some of the Japanese PS2 and PS1 games that I own. I've not actually opened it up yet, but I suspect it's that the laser is broken. Replacement parts for that are cheap and I should finally get this one checked off my list.

I've never actually done one of these 'Gaming Goals' post before so this is a bit of a test. My interests also tend to be varied and go off on tangents. I'm also a sucker for limited time events and with the holidays coming up I'm sure their will be no shortage of those. I'm also considering changing these posts from a monthly thing to a weekly or even shorter thing. I tend to think of my video game playing in chunks of about one play session. I usually sit down and decide what it is I want to accomplish during this particular play session. Maybe that's something I begin incorporating into a standard blog post. Not sure, I guess we'll keep trying it and figuring it out.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

WoW Classic, WoW Retail, and Overwatch | A Weekend Recap

Who knew cooking 350 fish would take a while?

These past couple of days have been the eye before the storm. I haven't focused much on leveling recently, I'm still sitting at 35. But I have raised all my secondary professions up to about 225, main professions to 180, and finished off all the various Warrior quests.

I love WoW's secondary professions (first aid, fishing, cooking, and in retail archeology). I don't really know why. I don't even use the end products from these professions all that much. But on every character I sink serious time into I also dedicate time to get these skills up. Granted, in classic WoW having high level first aid and cooking is a boon for a warrior. A bandage is quicker than eating, and stamina buffs from cooking keep me alive better.

I had forgotten that the last hundred skill points or so in each secondary profession is actually gated by a quest back in those days. My fishing will be stuck at 225 for a while as the fishing quest requires fishing up a rare drop in four different zones before moving on. First aid has a minigame at 225 that requires you to bandage up an emergency ward of war casulties and perform triage by bandaging the worst hurt NPCs first. Cooking isn't so bad as it's basically a bog standard kill quest in Tanaris. Although you do have to buy a stack of cheese from somewhere else. But I already anticipated that.

Having barely got my mage to max level before the Burning Crusade hit, I never experienced much in the way of individual class quests. I can't quite remember what the Mage's class-specific quests were and I don't recall ever doing any for any other class.

Most of the Warrior quests aren't actually useful to me. I'm pretty well geared from all the dungeons we've been running and most of these quests give greens. They are also incredibly slow and inconvenient. The four quests require traveling back and forth between both continents and a dungeon run through Razorfen Kraul. But it was nice to do these quests anyhow. They were obviously designed as time sinks but I enjoy having some Warrior-specific armor in the bank. It's not the gear I need, its having the trophy and the experience.

Additionally, there is also the Berserker stance quests. These are a bit more straight forward. Swim to an island just off Ratchet, join a Fight Club-esque crew and fight your way to the boss for your Berserker Stance and Intercept abilities.You get this quest at level 30 but I didn't bother to do it until level 34, so the gauntlet was a piece of cake. The follow up quest is a bit more annoying. This one requires you to travel to both continents again and kill level 40 mobs. For a quest you get a level 30. We will go ahead and sit on this one a while regardless of how good the weapons you get from it are.

And lastly I played a bit of Overwatch over the weekend. They gave out a Lego-themed skin for a character that I never play, but I always treat these events as excuses just to give a game I don't play often a try. In a recent patch Overwatch added a role queue very similar to what you find in WoW Retail's Looking for Dungeon tool, allowing you to pick between a tank, healer, or DPS. If you play as a much needed role (i.e. tank or healer) than you get a bit of boost win or lose. This is usually 20-25 of the game's currency or even an entire loot box which are usually only given out on level ups.

Much like Warcraft's PVP, I'm not much interested in playing a DPS. This is especially so in a shooter. I've been shooting baddies in FPS since Wolfenstein 3D and I've pretty much had my fill. Being able to play a different role, and get nice bonuses for doing it anyhow, had me stick out all 9 wins needed to unlock the promo skin.

I dare say I had fun. Quite a bit of fun. More fun than I've had in a multiplayer FPS since Counter-Strike 1.6. This weekend I primarily played the healer Mercy and analogue to the Medic in Team Fortress 2. All of the interesting bits I've explored in the past about healing in WoW PVP were absolutely true here in Overwatch as well.

This leads to an odd idea I've had off and on: from a PVP standpoint, Blizzard has kinda been making the same game since Starcraft 1. The interaction of complex abilities from a variety of classes/factions and how they interplay with certain map objective types. Obviously lots of video games do this, but Blizzard tends to do them in a very similar way but in different genres. This is something that really needs its own blog post with specific examples so I'll end things up here. But this week's Retail Wow's weekly event is a PVP battleground bonus event, but I have no motivation to play it when I can go onto Overwatch and get the updated experience.

Friday, September 27, 2019

WoW Classic/Retail | Brewfest and Pigboys

Today was a big day of gaming!

My morning was dominated by retail WoW's Brewfest holiday. For some reason I'm simply in the mood to grind out all of these toys/pets/transmogs. I've completed the introductory quests on six different characters now. I think that should be enough characters to eventually purchase every item I care about. The first day of Brewfest will give each character about ~180 tokens. Each subsequent day I believe gives ~50 tokens. With nearly a week left I think we will comfortably get them all.

Ram Racing is the main draw here. You get put on a ram vehicle that requires you to whip the mount a certain amount to get to speed and maintain it. For the actual racing, you simply jam the button about once a second and refill your "energy" by running into barrels of apples, apparently these rams eat very quickly. The key is to figure out the fastest racing line between point A to point B and back again while running into enough Apple barrels to not run out of energy and end up stuck going painfully slow. Both the Horde and the Alliance have a different layout, but the racing line for both is very close to a straight line, albeit partially disguised as more complicated by the terrain. Wowhead has a perfectly good guide for both factions.

There's also another ram racing quest that asks you to bark for one of two rival brewing companies by riding to 4 checkpoints in Orgrimmar or Ironforge. There are no apple barrels so you stuck at slower speed going through a city you've seen a million times before. These are boring.

Lastly, there is a very quick boss each character can kill once a day for a chance at various prizes. This is done through the Looking For Group system like many holiday bosses, and each kill takes literally under a minute. The main prizes here are two Brewfest specific mounts, a kodo and a ram. I've got the kodo thus far, and I'm hoping for the ram soon. Each mount has about a 2% drop rate which is not as bad as it seems since you'll get so many chances at it each year. There are also some transmog items. Notably, there is an on-use item drop that will create an Iron Drill in the ground. Anyone who clicks on this will get teleported to the bar inside of Blackrock Depths. Curiously, this item isn't a toy, so it takes up inventory space. Also, I don't know why anyone would want to go to the middle of BRD that badly.

The new addition this year is the Brewfest Chowdown. Each game requires four different players before it will begin, and only one person will win. Kinda like the water squirting games you see at amusement parks. You start with a plate of 2-4 sausages. Pressing 1 will eat one of the sausages but also cause a random amount of your "choke meter" to go up. If you get to 100 choke points, you will be locked out from pressing any buttons for 3 seconds. Sometimes. It's random if eclipsing 100 points causes you to choke or not. It seems to happen the closer you were to 100 in the first place. Pressing 2 will let you drink a brew that will cause your choke meter to go down by about 40 points. You get three charges on this with a 10 second cooldown. Once you finish your plate, you press 3 to get another one.

Someone come play with me!

It's unfortunate that their is so much randomness in the minigame. It's not that difficult to play it perfectly so Blizzard is clearly relying on the random chance to differentiate winners and give slower players a chance to win. Blizzard relying on randomness to give a simplistic system more robust gameplay has been pretty much World of Warcraft's problem from it's inception. My server's chat was complaining about it pretty hard. Can't say I wholly disagree. Either way, 5 wins gives you a trophy.

It's a damn big trophy and also gets your character a little drunk. I plan on breaking this out after killing a flag carrier in a battleground. Feels like the right about of obnoxiousness.

I've gotten both of the mounts to drop, if you're curious as to what they look like:

Great Brewfest Kodo

Swift Brewfest Ram
Unfortunately, they are very simple reskins of two very common mounts. I doubt I'll break these out very often.

In Classic me and my group just finished up Razorfen Downs. I'll go ahead and say it was quite boring. I'm quite well geared at this point as the tank and with a competent healer and two dps who can CC there just wasn't much challenge. We had one bad pull where we ended up with 6 mobs and I was able to tank without even hitting Shield Wall. In fact I haven't hit Shield Wall at all. I have no idea what the move even looks like. Perhaps it's time we either got more aggressive with our pulls or started taking dungeons that are much higher levels than us. Even with us four manning everything, we just aren't feeling the challenge I'm craving.

And last but not least, I finished Molten Core and am now Exalted with Hydraxian Waterlords ... on retail.

I doubt anyone will be Exalted in Classic for several more months. I've been farming Molten Core for a long while now in order to finish the last Classic Reputation achievement. Feels good to have that one off my gaming checklist, it's been on there for a while.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

WoW Retail | 7.2.5 and Brewfest

My weekend was admittedly not as focused on gaming as usual, as I ventured into the terrifying realities of the meatspace in order to acquire a companion pet.

Herberta would not make a good hunter pet. She doesn't seem particularly interested in fighting and mostly seems to sleep a lot. She does follow you around however. Dismiss Pet does not seem to be an ability I've learned in real life.

I did get some gaming in these past couple of days. I finished off all the Battle for Azeroth reputations and grabbed the last of the Essences I'm going to bother targeting. Technically I need to do the "Paragon" mechanic where I can continue to earn reputation with a faction. Every 10,000 additional reputation gives you a loot chest with about 4,000-5,000 gold, some war resources, and occasionally a faction specific toy/mount/pet. In the cases for the Tortollans, they have two additional cooking recipe ranks that I'm interested in. I enjoy collecting as many of a professions recipes/ranks as possible but I'm just too burned out right now. The Tortollans are already the slowest faction to level in BfA, made worse by the incredibly poor variety of world quests they have. The "Another Turtle Made it to the Water" minigames are grating at this point, the Concentration mini-game is insulting to my intelligence, and the walk the disappearing sparkly path is just dumb. The 2x reputation buff week will return again in a couple of weeks. Perhaps I'll be more likely to give a shot then.

The Brewfest holiday has finally arrived and allowed me to finally finish the year-long meta achievement for my proto-drake that everyone else got nearly a decade ago. There are a variety of cosmetics and pets available so I've been running some of the ram racing dailies on alts, but I just don't feel committed to get everything. Transmog tends to be something that I set and forget on my characters. The Brewfest transmogs only last for the duration of Brewfest themselves, which makes them feel useless.

 7.2.5 dropped today and with it the conclusion of the War Campaign. Everything after the line break is spoiler territory.

The "Battle for Azeroth" ends with a fizzle and another enjoyed lore character bites the dust. I'd say this beginning to feel like Hamlet but Shakespeare meant to tell his jokes. The 7.2.5 quests are all about gearing up for another invasion of Orgrimmar followed by....nothing. The cinematics were nice but World of Warcraft is a video game, not a movie. The actual gameplay here was so laughably token that I don't know why they bothered.

7.2.5 hints at some promising gameplay changes. The dissolving of faction warfare makes sense. We've had it for 15 years and can always enjoy it again through Classic now. The trick of course is that you have to replace it with something interesting. I have some doubts that this current dev team is capable of that. I'd genuinely love to be proven wrong, both Legion and BfA had some interesting changes to the WoW formula. But I suspect whatever is coming next will be closer to what we saw in War Mode. A change that seems to have been made to make the developer's lives easier than an actual interesting change for players.

The storyline at this point is just whatever. I've been slowly reading through the three original Dragonlance novels lately and the tone feels very similar. These are stock fantasy tropes and nobody at Blizzard seems particularly keen to move beyond that. The 7.2.5 cinematics seem to be preparing us for something huge and game changing and I actually feel disappointed about that. I would rather they take a page from Classic's playbook and play to their strengths, which is world building, not story writing. BfA went for a very cinematic tone but that's never once been Blizzard's strength. Use their expertise in game play, systems, art, and music to create the canvas from where players tell their stories. Easier said than done but at this point the storyline in World of Warcraft feels like the storyline in a Call of Duty game. It's there, I'm confident there are some people who love it, but at a certain point it became a developer's bullet point rather than something inherent good on it's own. Blizzard either needs to do what it takes to make WoW a narrative based game like FF14, or get back to having it in a supporting role that simply gives context for our character's actions.

With that said and done, I think it's time to take the pupper out for a walk.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

WoW Cl....Retail?

My Warrior in Classic is still level 31 and I don't think I've done anything more robust than checking a few auctions and turning in a couple of quests that had sat completed for a while.

Retail has two important events happening this week. Firstly is the double reputation on world quests event. I've had the various BfA reputations sitting close to exalted for some time now. I had made a concerted effort to reach revered with all of them in order to obtain flying. Since then, I've been logging in once every three days or so to clear out the emissary quests and get the free rep/gold/resources for little effort. With normally annoying reputations like the Tortollans and Rustbolt Resistance suddenly much less of a problem, I've been logging in every morning to clear the maps of world quests.

As of today I have everything but those two reputations on exalted. The Rustbolt Resistance should be done in two days time and Tortollans done tomorrow. Additionally, I finished the achievement in Nazjatar that unlocks the third rank of that particular essence as it's minor trait so prove to be a decent boost for my character. Unfortunately, I realized I don't actually have enough currency to purchase that essence until tomorrow. Bad luck.

The second major reason I'm logging into retail is the Brewfest event. Turns out, I never play World of Warcraft during the month of September. I know that, because I've every other holiday achievement completed since 2011. I'm not sure what it is about the fall that makes me WoW averse but its been pretty consistent for a while now. I'm guessing its the combination of Fall weather and college football that makes me less likely to sit in front of a computer for long stretches at a time. Maybe fall has just lacked tantalizing updates on the WoW front. Either way, I have WoW Classic to thank for helping finish the meta-achievement I've been sitting on for closing in on a decade.

Tomorrow should also be the end of my interest in Brewday stuff. The meta-achievement is what I'm after. The large amounts of pets and transmog gear isn't overly important to me. The mounts with a 2% drop chance are never something I'm particularly fond of grinding out.

So I suppose that leaves the question of my interest in retail after my reps are done. I suspect I will be on the sidelines until the next pet xp bonus event. I might not stick my head in the door and see if the Timewalking stuff is interesting but next week is Warlords of Draenor dungeons, not exactly an expansion I have nostalgic feelings for.

For reasons, that I can't actually remember, I had preordered the Link's Awakening amiibo some months back.

He's undoubtedly a handsome fellow, but I've never had the fondness for The Legend of Zelda that others have. My plan was to eventually get the Link's Awakening remake but I wasn't necessarily in a huge hurry to do so, particularly since I still haven't completed Breath of the Wild.

But tomorrow will be spent with me and the wife in the car for a ten hour trip. I expect my next couple of days will be a bit busy as well. I don't want to spoil the details, but the impact on my free time could be a bit ruff.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

WoW Classic - Level 32

As I finish up a run of Blackfathom Deeps with the Familia de Everwake, I'm struck with a reminder as to why the Scarlet Monastary dungeons were so popular.

It's because they were short.

My neck and shoulders are stiff and I've got a case of the grumps. The dungeon run went well, we only had one wipe, but that's just a lot of time sitting for me. Out of all the things I missed form WoW Classic, the time commitment required from basic dungeons isn't one of them. I've always preferred shorter but more often play sessions. That's really the one major design choice of Retail WoW that I unilaterally preferred over Classic.

Granted there are a lot of great reasons to have super duper long dungeons in the game. It makes them feel like real honest to God dungeons and not just another level in a linear video game. It's a good choice, it's just one that's a literal pain in my butt. I'm going to start keeping the foam roller in the computer room if this keeps up.

With all that said and done I'm a healthy and hearty level 32 now. The best part of doing all these dungeons with our group is that I'm the only mail wearer/melee attacker. My little guy is rocking blues in about every slot a level 32 can have in Classic.

But good God this gear is so ugly. Leveling has always left characters looking like clown fiestas but usually there is a certain charm to it. Casters just look like absent minded academics who were really late to work. Blizzard's 2004 rendition of chain armor looks like snake skin after it's been shed.

In more alarming news, I'm 8 levels away from my mount and currently stuck at 8 gold. I think we may be hoofing it for a while as the mount plus riding skill cost 10 times that. Back in the day when Classic was current content, I got the money for both my level 40 and level 60 epic mounts by playing the auction house. This was before auctioneer was an add on and you could make pretty good money by buying materials in the morning when demand was lower and then selling them for more in the evening; this is particularly true if you buy out every competitor and immediately relist that stock at a much higher price.

I got impatient for the last 100 gold I needed for my epic mount so I took a more direct approach. I would look up Darkmoon Faire cards on the AH, note their prices, and then immediately offer them in trade chat for 20% more. Someone would whisper me, I'd buy the card off the AH, and then teleport to whatever city they were in.

Unfortunately, the economy at this point in Classic just isn't robust enough to support these kind of shenanigans. Drops are still so rare and buyers so few that there isn't enough confusion and laziness to take advantage of yet.

Oh well, 60% increase in movement speed matters but it's not the end of the world if I end up hoofing it into my mid 40s. It might kill me a little inside as I get passed by someone lower level than me on their mount but that's just how it's going to be.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

WoW Classic - Lazy Sunday Edition

WoW is hitting that perfect pace for me. Nice, slow, gradual leveling. Killing anything and everything in my way. Occasionally get a nice XP boost with the turn in of a quest. Enjoying the music and ambience. It's a beautify, steady drip of nice.

Which makes for terrible blogging material.

Progress on my warrior is still a bit slow. I've only hit 29 this morning. Instead, as I had predicted in my previous blog post, I have become enamored with my Alliance mage. Compared to a warrior the leveling is just crazy easy. Killing from range and the easier pulling makes the content trivial. I can count on one hand the number of times I've died on mage. My kill count on my warrior is a number to high to contemplate.

There is more downtime; drinking for mana is slower than bandaging damage on my warrior. But I also like that bit. It lets me throw a couple of dishes in the dishwasher, tidy up the living room, answer chat messages on Discord. The very design of warrior is "go go go". Use lose rage if you dwaddle between pulls.

The mage is much more my preferred style of pace. If I wanted action I would play a real video game. That statement isn't totally fair, PVP I think holds it's own as a competitive action game. But day to day overworld work does not.

I'm playing on Pagle, a US server with an apparent lopsided Alliance-Horde ratio. Finishing quest objectives Horde side is difficult sometimes. On the Allliance side, Westfall is borderline unplayable. More players than potential spawn points was the norm making some quests only completable during offpeak times. Whatever effect layering is supposed to have simply isn't getting the job done.

Shadowfang Keep is in the bag. Gameplay wise the instance is a pretty standard experience. The setting is one of my favorites though. The spooky undead vibe the first two Forsaken zones have is always a treat to me. Additionally, SFK is the first real plot line in Classic I've come across that actually has some payoff in the future. While I always felt that the Cataclysm version of SFK was a let down, the role the Worgen curse and the Gilnean Kingdom have on many of the future expansions was really neat to see.

The one downside: The narrow confines of the instance made playing as a Tauren claustrophobic. Having to readjust my camera several times a pull was quite uncomfortable. Combine that with a hunter with a minimum range for her shots and it was difficult to position some pulls in a way that made everyone happy.

Either way things seem to be chugging along just fine. The vast majority of my gameplay has been WoW Classic. I played a couple hours of Breath of the Wild in my never ending quest to get into that game. I found the purchase of a Switch Pro Controller to greatly impact my enjoyment of the game. Those Joycons have the buttons positioned just like the DS and 3DS, which is to say far to close together for a normal sized human adult. The Switch, which should have come in the damn box with the console, actually makes playing on the system for longer than an hour at a time possible without hand cramps.

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.