Monthly Archives: February 2007

The six degrees of inner turbulence: Losing time

There’s been a lot of kafuffle recently about the nerf/fix (delete as appropriate) to the druid bear form in World of Warcraft, amongst the complaints is the fact that many people have been collecting bear tanking items over other potentially good items, and that these are now redundant if these people can’t tank Heroic and end-game instances. This got me thinking about the problem of druid itemisation, and how it seems to affect the feral druid far more than, say, a Balance/Restoration druid. The obvious difference is that Balance and Restoration have a shared common interest when it comes to itemisation: they both need high Int, with spelldamage for one and healing for the other, which, although not necessarily optimal for end-game builds, can be found together on a lot of items. For a pure healer straight +healing will be better, but for a hybrid DPS caster and healer, items with +spelldamage and +healing are abundant and pretty useful.

Now if we consider itemisation for the feral druid, several problems arise as things currently stand. Firstly, we can consider the two forms, cat and bear, to be the two areas which the feral druid switches between, cat for DPS and bear for tanking; contrast and compare with moonkin for DPS and caster form for healing. We could probably pick the shared stat for bear and cat form as Stamina, seeing as it’s a useful stat for both melee forms, but after that things rapidly separate; bear form requires high armour, and one of the main reasons we see feral druids with multiple sets of gear is that the items that are best for bear form really don’t give anywhere near optimal performance in cat form and vice versa. Rings with armour stats are invaluable to bear form, but pretty much useless to cat form, for example.

Ok, so feral druids have to collect multiple sets of gear, ‘So what?’ I hear you cry, many classes have to do the same; warriors for example, with tanking and DPS sets. A fair point, until you consider the role of the feral druid (which is not, as many forum posts would have you believe, to respec to pure Restoration and get to the back and heal). The role of the feral druid is versatility, the ability to DPS well enough not to be a burden and then switch to an off-tank role if the situation requires it. The problem here is two-fold. In instances this versatility is often only required if something has gone wrong, the majority of encounters are simple ‘tank and spank’ routines, and the feral druid can be a tanker or a spanker. Generally the spanker role is given to a feral druid, and if an unexpected patrol arrives the feral druid switches from spanker to tanker and helps to keep things under control. However, instances are fairly easy affairs, you learn the mobs, you work out just how many world buffs and consumables you need to beat it, and you organise things in a military fashion. Job done. Rarely is there an encounter where you do not know what to expect from each time you do it to the next. This is where having a multi-role class would come in to its own.

Except the feral druid wouldn’t come in to her own, and thus the second problem arises. With itemisation as it stands, the feral druid needs two sets of gear to make her effective in each role, and you can’t switch gear in the middle of combat. Does anyone see a problem here? Yes, you at the back with the black blazer. Indeed! The multi-role use of a feral druid comes in to its own when switching roles in combat, when the unexpected were to happen mid-combat, the druid could switch roles to compensate. Except her gear won’t change with her.

And this, it seems, is the problem with defining a feral druid’s role in the game. They’re prevented from DPSing as well as a pure DPS class, or tanking as well as a pure tank class, because they can do both roles to a lesser extent. Fair enough. The problem being that, during combat, they can only really perform one role or the other due to itemisation, and not as well as a pure class. So they become a sort of lame version of two classes, with no advantage over taking the pure class required for the encounter. If you know you’re going to get adds when you take on Geoffzilla the boss, then take an extra warrior in that raid slot. Need to DPS down Geoffrah the Everliving quickly? Take a rogue or mage.

So, are there any solutions to this problem? Of course there are, but they’re probably non-trivial to implement, otherwise they’d be in the game already. Firstly, encounters could do with having the random element added to them. Instead of Geoffzilla and Geoffrah, what if you had Geoffzilrah, who sometimes would bring lots of adds with him, and other times he’d need to be DPSd down quickly instead, and you had no way of telling until you got there. A multi-role fighter might be more useful in a raid slot, in that case. It shouldn’t be too hard to conceive of encounters where someone who could switch from DPS to tank and back would be a boon, even if not essential. And then there’s the itemisation: it seems unfair to have gear that’s solely designed for druids, but we have class gear already, so it’s not too far a leap to make druid class gear slightly different again. In this case you’d want something like +cat, +bear stats, much like the +spelldamage, +healing of caster items, where the item confers the appropriate useful bonus in each form, +cat adds to AP, +bear adds to armour or stamina, for example.

It’s not an easy problem to solve, and that’s probably why there seems to exist such controversy around the druid and their ‘defining role’ in the World of Warcraft. The class has the potential to be an exciting combination of roles, helping to fill gaps and tackle unexpected encounters by changing the dynamic of a group at any time, even mid-combat. I don’t think druids want to be the centre of the raiding world, I think many would be happy to be the filler in the cracks of strategy, quietly helping where they’re needed to bolster the overall effectiveness and survivability of a raid or group. Perhaps in the end, though, their role is to cause controversy and keep the Blizzard Community Managers busy with moderating the class forum, in which case druids should probably expect another nerf soon, because they’re far too good at that role…

Melmoth plays a Feral druid, a Holy paladin and an Enhancement shaman, and probably suffers from multiple personality disorder from playing so many non-hybrid hybrids.

No he doesn’t.

Quiet you!

Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?

I haven’t particularly been keeping track of my honour gains during the Burning Crusade, and was quite surprised when I glanced at the PvP tab of my character last night and found I had 15,000 honour points. I had a bit left over from level 60 (possibly around 4-8,000 points, I can’t really remember), but hadn’t expected to have gained much more, as barring the weekend’s battlegrounds and Halaa fighting I’d only been in Eye of the Storm a couple of times and participated in a few world skirmishes. At this rate, I’m fast closing on the 22,000 points needed for a Grand Marshal’s weapon, though of course now I know this, I’ll be bringing up the PvP tab every couple of minutes and shouting at it if there aren’t another thousand honour points there (just as a watched pot never boils, so a watched honour point total never increases. Although the fact that honour points are only calculated overnight might have something to do with the latter.)

Presuming I do get the requisite number of points, the next question is: main hand or off hand sword? To figure out which would be the better option, I had a look around to find what other swords would be available (so if there was a nice off hand quest reward I could get the Grand Marshal main hand sword, and vice versa).

The first step was to discount weapons that have an x% chance to drop from a mob somewhere. I think I’ve briefly touched on my dislike for random loot before; if I run an instance, something nice drops, and I win the roll for it, that’s a bonus. If I start obsessing over a certain item, run the same instance 17 times until it drops, then someone else in the group wins the roll for it… that way madness lies. (For those keeping score at home: during last night’s Underbog run with a Priest, Warrior, Paladin, Warlock and Rogue, the bosses dropped a Shaman totem, spellcasting Druid chest armour, Paladin belt (woo! one entire usable item!) and Shaman/Hunter chest armour. Total ‘phat lewt’ personally obtained from the whole of Coilfang Reservoir so far: one trash green.) Also discounted were crafted weapons, with most of the nice items like the Felsteel Longblade needing the enormously in-demand Primal Nether. So far as I can tell, that basically leaves the PvP weapons (the Gladiator’s Slicer/Quickblade from the arena or the Grand Marshal’s Slicer/Quickblade for honour points), and the main hand Vindicator’s Brand, obtainable when Exalted with the Aldor.

I’m not really one for reputation grinds; I haven’t made it to Exalted with any faction yet, but then there hasn’t been too much incentive before. About the best you could hope for in most cases was a few crafting recipes; I made a bit of a half-hearted stab with the Argent Dawn, as they had a nice epic amulet on offer, but gave up after, over a couple of months, I’d amassed seven of the required tokens, and needed another four hundred and twelve. Still, it looks like gaining reputation with most of the Burning Crusade factions is somewhat less onerous than, say, Timbermaw Hold; I remember the days when raids swept through Felwood and Winterspring annihilating countless millions of Furbolg to gain Timbermaw reputation… I’ve been banking my Marks of Sargeras ready for when I hit Honored with the Aldor, keeping an eye out for cheap Marks at auction (found about 2 so far, I was hoping someone might list a stack of 100 for 20 silver, but hey) and swapping Signets with Scryer guildmates. It looks like there’s a fair amount of reputation to be had from quests in Netherstorm and Silvermoon as well, so I’ll hopefully make it up to Exalted. It’s not going to be quick, though, so I’ll probably grab the Grand Marshal’s Slicer when I hit level 70, work towards the Vindicator’s Brand to eventually replace it, and perhaps get a Gladiator’s Quickblade for the other hand if I can pick up enough points in an Arena season. That should at least guarantee that, on the next instance run after I get the Slicer, a very-nearly-but-not-quite-as-good sword drops, and I can come here and swear about it some more.

Weekend of Warcraft 2 – This Time, the World!

Apart from battlegrounds, I finished off a few quests in Terokkar, and moved on to Nagrand. While out and about, I like to keep an eye on any world PvP going on; after a promising start in Hellfire Peninsula, Zangramarsh was a bit of a let-down, and Terokkar managed to be less exciting still. The idea in Terokkar is to capture five towers in the Bone Wastes, and if your faction take control of all of them, for the next six hours they gain a 5% damage and XP buff and the ability to to get spirit shards in Auchindoun. In all my adventuring in Terokkar, I saw the towers go neutral precisely once. It was around 1am one morning; I toddled over to see what was happening as a troop of Horde level 70s on flying mounts swooped past, so I gave a quick shout to see if anyone else in the zone was interested in trying to take the towers (they weren’t), and decided against planting myself on the last neutral tower and bellowing “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” (I’m not sure that scene would’ve been so effective if the Balrog has smirked and flicked Gandalf aside with one finger…) Terokkar suffers from giving no great individual incentive to take part in the fighting, unless you’re intending to venture into Auchindoun; the buff is nice, but everyone in the zone receives that, so the temptation is to let other people do the fighting, you’ll still get the benefit.

Nagrand, on the other hand, has been rather fun. At the centre of Nagrand is the town of Halaa, which can be captured in the same way as other world PvP objectives, by having more of your faction than the enemy faction standing on top of it. To make life slightly more interesting, the faction controlling Halaa also gets the services of 15 rather beefy guards, which make a direct assault almost impossible. To counteract them, the other faction can take control of up to four Wyvern posts near the town, and take part in aerial bombing runs much like those done in Hellfire Peninsula, lofting fire bombs for heavy damage to enemy players and guards. Meanwhile the defenders can sally forth to temporarily knock out the Wyvern posts. All in all, it can get pretty chaotic when there’s a fight in Halaa!

There’s the usual 5% damage buff from being in control of Halaa, and, more importantly, killing enemy players in the area nets you tokens for that all important shiny loot, so there’s a real incentive to form up a raid and do battle. The main obstacle, as with all world PvP, is that it can be difficult for the less populous faction to amass enough players to mount an assault and take control. Halaa potentially offers a way to counteract this, by adjusting either the number of guards or their respawn time depending on the number of attackers and defenders, but I don’t believe this happens. On my server, although the Alliance have a numerical advantage and tend to hold Halla, especially during quiet times, the Horde amassed enough of a force to take Halaa several times over the weekend. One battle royale saw the Horde hold out in the face of a major Alliance raid for a couple of hours; despite weight of numbers, and with the dumb guards thinned out fairly quickly by heavy bombing runs, the Alliance didn’t have the organisation to launch a co-ordinated attack (quelle surprise, in a pick-up raid… to be honest, about the best you can hope for is that everyone’s in the same zone), so the Horde were more than up to the piecemeal incursions until sheer attrition finally got the better of them. Such fights are good for everyone; plenty of kill tokens all round, and with the town changing hands, both sides get to use the NPCs there to cash in the PvP and PvE tokens obtained in the area at some point. With a bit of luck, there’ll be another rumble next weekend.

Weekend of Warcraft 1 – Battlegrounds

This weekend’s Warcraft adventures started out on Friday night as I noticed it was bonus honour weekend for Warsong Gulch, and I thought “I haven’t been comprehensively humiliated for a while, or driven to despair by the idiocy of my fellow man… I know, I’ll join the Warsong Gulch queue for a pickup battle!” The queue was only a couple of minutes, but predictably enough our heroic band employed standard Alliance pick-up tactics, which as far as I can discern involve opening the map and attempting to draw spirograph patterns with the dots representing your team. I must be missing the plugin that leaves a trail as they move… 0-3 loss to the Horde, and I was back in Shattrath. Back in Shattrath… that gave me an idea! I imagine many people, like me, have their hearthstone point in Shattrath, with the relatively short flight times to the other Outland zones, plus portals back to the old world cities; the trouble is, if you use your hearthstone to get back to Shattrath, then take a portal to Stormwind, you either have to wait an hour before you can hearthstone back to the outlands, or have to trek down to the Dark Portal to return. However, by joining a battleground queue at the battlemaster in Shattrath, you can wander over to one of the old world capitals, check the auction house or whatever for five or ten minutes, hop into the battleground when it’s ready, and when you’re finished you’re back in Shattrath again. I found it quite useful for nipping back to Ironforge to open some lockboxes for a guildmate (there seems to be a bug in the postal system, where unlocked boxes get locked again when you send them back) and get class training without ‘wasting’ the hearthstone.

There didn’t seem to be many people PvPing in the 60-69 range; four or five instances of Warsong Gulch at most, as I recall, and no pre-made Horde opposition. I guess many players are busy levelling up; also, the Grand Marshal’s rewards at level 70 seem to have been toned down rather compared to the level 60 versions (comparative to other available gear), so I imagine there are fewer people just grinding for those. Even so, the queues were nice and short (ten minutes at most, usually five minutes or less) which alleviates the worst frustrations, though ironically when using a battleground as a way of getting back to Shattrath, I joined every battle at the very start when I wouldn’t have minded a 30 second loss.

I tried Alterac Valley once, as I thought a bit of XP might be a nice bonus on top of the honour, but of course you’re part of a raid, so the net XP gain for an entire battle is about as much as wandering out into Terokkar and killing a couple of mobs while queuing. Still, not a bad honour gain, though from a long queue.

I also popped into Eye of the Storm a few of times. I have high hopes for this battleground, but didn’t really get to see the best of it, as in every fight the Horde ended up outnumbered somewhere around 14 – 9. This meant they inevitably got pushed back to their starting location, and after about five minutes were limited to either not bothering to come down at all, or leaping to certain death at the hands of the slavering pack of Alliance below. On the plus side, this was about the easiest honour I’d ever “earned”, but it felt pretty cheap. Not that I was honourable enough to back off, or leave the battle…

Forum posters know nothing of The Crunch!

I apologise in advance to readers who’ve never seen The Mighty Boosh, as this post will get slightly weird…

I browse the WoW BlueTracker to keep up to date with official Blizzard postings on the WoW forums. The only slight drawback is that official Blizzard postings come in two flavours: useful information, and thread moderation. Most of the time, it’s easy to spot which is which; if you’d like to play along at home, try and guess which of these threads contains useful information, and which is idiocy being moderated…
1) “19/02 Latest hotfixes
2) “Total ignorance from blizz!!!”

My problem is, I can’t help reading all the threads. I’ll hover my mouse over the link to “Total ignorance from blizz!!!” entirely certain that the original posting will be deranged burblings about how class (x) is totally overpowered, or class (y) is totally gimped, or some even more ludicrous scenario about how the developers of World of Warcraft drove around to the poster’s house, broke in, drank all his milk, stole his carpets and slapped him in the face (elements of game design being a “slap in the face” is a staple of the forums, and nine times out of ten, something will be “ridiculous”. Except nobody can actually spell “ridiculous”, so things actually end up being “rediculous“, “redickulus” and “throatwobbler mangrove” (pronounced “ridiculous”)), and yet still I’ll click and read. And then wonder why I wasted seventeen seconds of my life doing so.

However! Today I discovered the secret of “ZOMG NERF” threads. What you need to do is watch episode three of the second series of The Mighty Boosh, “Nanageddon“, and read every post in the voice of Tony Harrison.

(Tony Harrison is a member of the council of shaman, and is a disembodied bright pink head with tentacles. I did warn you about the ‘weird’ bit… His catchphrases include “this is an outrage!”, and “this is a disgrace!”)

If the post actually contains “this is an outrage”, ten million bonus points, otherwise you can just add it yourself while reading…

There was not 1 single top team that I could find OF EITHER FACTION that didn’t put a paladin in every single match of their 5v5’s. THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!”

Then you just lecture the poster that they know nothing of the crunch, and knock them from the flying carpet.

Continuing Adventures in Second Life

Girding myself for another encounter with sentient hair-beasts from outer space, I returned to Second Life. This time, I was prepared! Thanks to Van Hemlock, I had a travel guide. My first port of call was Spaceport Alpha, an International Spaceflight Museum with an impressive collection of rockets. It’s very well done, but somehow felt slightly lacking… You don’t get an awesome sense of “wow, that’s *big*” scale when you can manipulate the camera so easily to zoom in and out and pan around, and it’s all very static. I wanted to climb into a rocket, and blast off into orbit, and land on the moon, and drive around there in the buggy and play golf at low gravity, and, and… Now I know full well I’m being an ungrateful git, and it takes a lot of effort and care to create these things, they’re provided to the world for nothing, and I’m casting a cursory glance around and going “it’s kinda OK I s’pose”, like someone going to a museum and saying “well, it was all right, but I wanted to climb into that suit of armour and ride around on an animatronic version of the dinosaur skeleton shooting lasers at robotic Egyptian mummies”.

After Spaceport Alpha, I went to the Lost Gardens of Apollo. And… they’re… very nice again. Very beautiful, but I’ve been strolling through virtual landscapes in various guises for a long time, and without something to actually do there, I’m afraid I lose interest fairly quickly. It did look like a lovely setting for a date, though, for couples who can’t always get together in First Life.

My final spot for the night was The Shelter, a “newbie friendly” club. The first thing that caught my eye was a jukebox; wandering over and clicking brought up a web interface, and selecting “Comfortably Numb” there, it was soon playing, and I was strutting my stuff on the dance floor… OK, so maybe not the greatest choice for dancing (don’t talk to me about the Scissor Sister’s cover), but still. That piqued my interest more than beautiful, but largely static scenery. Another great thing about The Shelter was the very friendly people, happy to help those getting to grips with Second Life. Unfortunately, I have a terrible sense of pride, and find it incredibly hard to admit there’s something I can’t do with ‘technology’… however, by nonchalantly lounging around in a chair and paying attention to other conversations, I did learn a few things.

So I’ve seen a bit more of the world, and there’s some good stuff there, but nothing’s quite hooked me yet. I still haven’t quite adjusted to the pace of Second Life, and its need to shunt a lot of data around, so I’ll sometimes be frantically clicking away trying to interact with things that haven’t necessarily loaded, shouting “COME ON! COME ON!” OK, so not the shouting, but I find myself in the position of certain users of my own systems who expect thousands of rows of data to be manipulated in picoseconds (“I clicked this button, but then nothing happened so I clicked it again and again and again then I clicked it again then still nothing happened so I clicked this other button and then this other button and then these two buttons here and then I clicked it again and then lots of things happened and now it’s gone weird”).

Van Hemlock’s Examination of Purpose has it spot on:
“I’d have to say the Second Life is a lot like the greater Internet itself – many things to many people, and best appreciated by identifying a particular aspect of it you like, and narrowing the focus somewhat. But just rolling up to ‘The Internet’ as a whole, and wandering aimlessly for half an hour is unlikely to be a particularly satisfying or rewarding experience in and of itself.”

Thinking back to my early experiences of the Internet, as I recall I’d been playing around with Gopher and newsgroups (getting into a flamewar about something, no doubt) on dumb terminals, as Computer Scientists were wont to do, when a friend showed me… The Web! A Star Wars fan page, probably, with pictures! And colours! And stuff!

This is 1994, so Google didn’t exist, and I was surfing with Mosaic. I can’t remember what the home page was set to… either something worthy like the University site, or possibly there was no home page, Mosaic just said “‘Ullo! Type in a URL!” Either way, in those earliest days, the only way I could find pages was by following links from other pages (which raises the question of how I started at all… I really wish I could remember). As Wired put it at the time, “By following the links – click, and the linked document appears – you can travel through the online world along paths of whim and intuition. Mosaic is not the most direct way to find online information. Nor is it the most powerful. It is merely the most pleasurable way.” It was a fun way of killing half an hour between lectures (or killing an hour instead of going to lectures), but not much more than that.

It didn’t take too long before I stumbled across Yahoo!, then there was Alta Vista, Google a couple of years after, and the rest is history. I tinkered around learning HTML, and made the obligatory “Hi! This is my homepage!”, with list of links to “cool stuff”, and that’s something I’d like to do in Second Life: get into the building and scripting side of it. I had a look at a few tutorials, and played around for a few minutes in a sandbox, so I think I have some of the very basic concepts. The problem now is thinking of something to do… Years back, some computer magazine gave away a free 3D modelling program, and I followed the tutorial, and got moderately competent (I like to think) at making and manipulating basic items. I think I ended up with a teapot, or a table and chairs, or something equally exciting. After finishing the tutorial, I thought “I can make anything at all, now! Whatever amazing construction my most fevered imagination can produce!” Turns out my most fevered imagination got a bit stuck after putting a pyramid on top of a cube. With HTML, after making my amazing page of links, I had a couple of vague ideas, but after finding out 38,000 other people had made Led Zeppelin fan pages, there didn’t seem much I could add to the world of “Under Construction” signs and lurid background GIFs. I’m sure I’ve seen a quote along the lines of “every fleeting thought you’ve ever had is somebody’s lifelong obsession… and they have a web page”. It wasn’t until, at work, they wanted someone to help on the intranet that I got back into it, so maybe Second Life will be the same. I’ll make my pine box that says “Hello World!” when you click on it, and leave it there until they need my help with a “Virtual Online Meeting Space”, or whatever they’re working on at my company…

Oh, and to keep those Google hits coming in, if you’re looking for “Slave Pens blue loot”: don’t bother, it’s rubbish. For a sword rogue, there’s a 1/5 chance of some half decent gloves on the final boss, everything else is junk (other classes may have differing opinions, the value of your loot in the auction house can go down as well as up, your sanity is at risk if you do not keep up repayments). Have I mentioned how much I hate random loot at all?

Second Life Adventures

I became the three millionth Resident of Second Life last night!

Fret not, loyal readers, I know many of you are here for World of Warcraft (I can tell by the referrals… though when I say “loyal readers”, I mean “people who arrived here after Googling ‘Eastern Plagueland capture’ or ‘taunt warrior’ and probably buggered off again in pretty short order when they found there’s no worthwhile information here”… mind you, they probably wound up less confused than whoever arrived from searching on “no sun up in the sky” “stormy weather”. Maybe I should stop the lyrics-as-post-title approach. Anyway!) I’m not abandoning WoW, but I heard a whisper that my company might be looking at Second Life; exactly what for, I’m not sure, probably Virtual Meetings or something equally fascinating. Still, it could be more fun than spreadsheets, so I figured I’d install the client and get to grips with it, so I could nonchalantly proffer myself as a Second Life expert if the opportunity arose. (Granted, I’d have a fighting chance of nonchalantly proffering myself as a Second Life expert based entirely on having read a couple of Warren Ellis’ columns, but I figured a bit of first hand experience couldn’t hurt.)

It’s… interesting. After zapping through the “character creation” process on the website, I logged in to join the other four billion Residents, and… found myself staring at a floating hairstyle. I didn’t remember selecting the “levitating wig” avatar option, so gave it a while, but the rest of my body didn’t seem to turn up. A quick logout and login later, and there I was in all my “Nightclub Male” glory. Except the hair. Which turned up a couple of minutes later. It was probably still off gallivanting around on its own at first.

Now, I know that a comparison of Second Life to something like City of Heroes or World of Warcraft isn’t terribly fair, with SL streaming all sorts of textures, audio, video, etc. to the client while the CoH server just says “there’s a Crey Medic over there”, and the multi-gigabyte client goes “right-o!”, and rifles through its library to find the appropriate model. (I apologise to any non-technical types for going into such complex detail there.) Even so, everything seemed incredibly clunky… Walking through treacle (god forbid trying the “run” option), pausing frequently for strangely pixellated objects to resolve themselves into something vaguely understandable, flying around with worse lag than a Hamidon raid… The driving section of the movement tutorial gave the same awesome sense of speed and control as drinking three bottles of vodka and taking a spin on a ride-on lawnmower.

During the “appearance” section of the tutorial, I was encouraged to go looking through the library of objects, so briefly enjoyed putting on a Tux t-shirt, tinkering with clothing colours, avatar size and the like. Still, having created characters in City of Heroes, there’s only so much fun to be had with body scaling sliders. Rummaging around other bits of the library, I found “Green Hair”. “Haha”, I thought, “wouldn’t it be terribly amusing to have bright green hair!”, and dragged the item onto my avatar. And sure enough, I had bright green hair… superimposed on my “Nightclub” hair. Randomly clicking around, I couldn’t seem to remove either object, but eventually removed the green texture and made myself totally bald in the “hair” settings, leaving only the wig which I seem to be stuck with (I’m beginning to think it’s some kind of sentient hair-creature from space).

Attempting to continue the tutorial, I found the handy “GO HERE AND CLICK ON THIS!” tutorial screen had vanished, and no amount of “touch”ing various panels brought it back, which stymied my progress through the Communication and Search sections. In an attempt to reset things, I used the “Teleport Home” option, and found myself in… the world at large! I probably didn’t miss anything earth shattering in the tutorial, but I might create their six trillionth Resident in an attempt to finish it off sometime…

So, here I was, in the limitless environment of Second Life! What to do? I wandered in aimless circles for a bit, teleported over to the deserted Reuters building, and decided… it was time to go play WoW for a bit. I’ll be back, though and if anyone has any suggestions of places to check out, I’d appreciate it.

You must pick one or the other, though neither of them are to be what they claim

I’d been putting off the decision of whether to join the Aldors or Scryers for a while, and finally made my decision over the weekend: I’ve thrown my lot in with the Aldors. I looked around the city, chatted to a few people of the two factions, found out what their true aims and goals were, assessed how these aligned with my own aims, and decided that (i) the Aldors have a nice sword, if I ever become Revered with them, and (ii) a couple of friends have gone Scryer, so we can trade tokens between us. As Tobold noted, there’s not really that much difference between Aldor and Scryer, but at least it’s a slightly more interesting use of factions that the previous “hey, here’s a timesink so you can spend a few months watching your reputation bar slowly edge upwards” model.

The backstory of Warcraft is a bit of a sprawl. From the original “There’s some Orcs! And some Humans! And they don’t really like each other and poke each other with sharp sticks!”, the subsequent RTS games, board games, roleplaying games, card games, novels, breakfast cereal and tie-in floor wax have developed the entire Warcraft universe with its many and diverse factions, so you now have the noble, brave Orcs, some of whom were corrupted by the evil demons to be bloodthirsty savage Orcs, and the Undead, nobody likes them, they’re evil, well, except maybe the Forsaken, who are probably still evil but in a slightly different way, and the Humans, some of whom are fine and noble and others rather unpleasant, and some started fine and noble in fighting the undead but then went a bit bonkers in the nut so you’d better kill them too, and then there’s the Night Elves, High Elves, Blood Elves, Guive-Guive-Guisarme-Elves… For an RTS game, this is great; it lets you pit pretty much anyone against anyone else in whatever combination takes your fancy. For a roleplaying game, either pencil and paper or a single player CRPG, it allows all sorts of subtle and intricate interactions, betrayels, uncoverings of true motives and other good stuff to keep a story moving. The MMOG, though, suffers a bit of a split personality. On the one hand, all players are either Alliance or Horde. The two sides hate the other, grrr, and attack on sight (on a PvP server, at least; on a PvE server everyone’s much more polite, and will attack on sight, grrr, provided the enemy has indicated they don’t mind being attacked. Otherwise it just wouldn’t be sporting.) On the other hand, there are some *real* enemies who everybody agrees are a bad business, padre, such as the Undead Scourge in the Plaguelands and the insectoid unpleasantness of Ahn’Qiraj, and both sides can fight against these under the guidance of neutral factions like The Argent Dawn and the Cenarion Circle.

Now all of this is understandable from a game perspective. By divvying up players as Alliance and Horde, you’ve got your two PvP teams, with some story behind them and some reason for fighting other than “you’re the red team and you’re the blue team”. For PvE, to save having to create double the amount of content, you add in the neutral factions, and hey presto, everyone can go to The Scarlet Monestary/Scholomance/Ahn’Qiraj.

It’s all a bit arbitrary, though. The Argent Dawn show that it’s quite possible for a human, a tauren, one of the forsaken undead and a gnome (this is turning into a “… go into a bar” joke) to work together against a greater evil, and they’re more than happy for a human or a tauren player to work with them… but the human and tauren player can’t work together, because they’re Alliance and Horde. You can’t pull off that classic storyline of “we may have been enemies in the past, but the only way to overcome the current situation is to work together”.

What would be more interesting is if more of the world worked like the Aldors and Scryers; perhaps even having the Alliance and Horde as a whole as factions you could gain or lose reputation with. You could follow your own path in the world, aligning yourself with organisations as you saw fit. PvP wouldn’t just be Horde vs Alliance, but could depend on more local context. Of course there are any number of difficulties with such a model, especially considering it would have to work for both roleplayers making decisions based on story and character and hardcore number crunchers calculating the optimal route to increase their power, so I can understand why Blizzard have taken the slightly easier route of making the Alliance and Horde experience virtually identical in the Burning Crusade, regardless of whether you align with Aldor or Scryer. A range of different, but equally good options would be great, but failing that, choice alone doesn’t make up for quality; I’d prefer to just have a really good vanilla ice cream than the choice of 23 badly made flavours.

World (PvP) Gone Wrong

I’ve been doing a bit of PvP on and off, getting a [Band of the Victor] in the first few days of the Burning Crusade as vast hordes of… err… the Horde and Alliance clashed in Hellfire Peninsula. Things slowed down after that, but with the odd outpost capture now and again and a kill or two, I recently picked up a [Mark of Conquest] (replacing a [Darkmoon Card: Heroism] *sniff* That’s my entire epic collection replaced now. If two things can be a collection.)

I’ve wittered on a bit about PvP before, and to reiterate: I like PvP. Nothing else gives a visceral rush like fighting other players. The closest PvE comes is maybe taking on a boss in an instance, but that’s usually just a case of “when (x) happens, do (y)”, that’s the nature of a computer controlled opponent. Actually, the closest PvE comes is probably a bad (or deliberately funny) pull, ideally with voice chat for the added commentary… “OK, going to take the next group now, pulling… AGH! BUGGER! WRONG BUTTON! watch out for… hang on… come back, come back, AGH! PATROL! COME TO ME! TO ME! No, *my* to me… get the… oh, no, he’s summoned another… AHHHH! PUSH BUTTONS! USE POWERS TO CAUSE DAMAGE! I’M COVERED IN BEEEEEEES! It’s no use, I’m done for, save yoursel… oh, you’ve vanished, feigned death and bubbled.” Anyway! PvP: good. But I need a purpose, or a structure for it, which is why I don’t play on a PvP server. Where’s the adrenaline rush from randomly happening on another player, and attacking them for no particular reason with no gain on my part or loss on theirs?

World PvP is an attempt to give purpose to attacking other players while out and about, with mixed results. The early Outlands PvP objectives all seem to revolve around capturing towers, as introduced previously in the Eastern Plaguelands. If the aim was to get players fighting other players, the Plaguelands would have to go down as a total failure. For each tower your faction holds, you gain… a 1% damage bonus against the undead, ooOOoOOooooOO! OK, it’s quite handy, but nothing to really get worked up into an epic do-or-die battle over. On the other hand, you could get a quest to capture all four towers. And the reward for that? GOOOOOLD! (Always believe in your soul, you’ve got the power to know, etc.) And that *is* something worth fighting for. Except, as Tobold pointed out, if the objective is merely to capture (not hold) the towers, the last thing you want is to kill the enemy.

Hellfire Peninsula adopts the same general ideal (capture three towers, get a 5% damage buff), but with one important modification: there’s a quest to take all the towers with a reward of three tokens, but killing an opponent near the towers also gets you a token, and what do tokens make? Prizes! If there’s one thing worth fighting for more than gold, it’s shiny loot. Like I mentioned, the first week of the Burning Crusade saw a rare old scrap in Hellfire most nights, with the Horde tending to come off second best due to the population imbalance in favour of the Alliance, one of the inherent flaws in world PvP. It didn’t take long for things to quieten down, though; people got enough tokens for the items they wanted, moved on to other zones to quest, and as the faster-levelling players got to maximum level, the first hint of a tower turning neutral would frequently attract a few Alliance level 70s on their flying mounts. Occasionally the Horde would come out in force with their own higher levels, but the usual pattern would be for a small group of Horde to grab the three towers then move on before the Alliance zerged over, hence it taking me much longer to acquire enough tokens for the trinket.

Zangramash has a similar layout with a different twist, in that after capturing two towers, you need to buy a flag from an NPC and take it to a graveyard to capture it for the 5% damage buff. Like Hellfire you get tokens for any kills around the towers, but there’s no quest/reward for capturing anything, just the damage buff. Never saw a single enemy player flagged for PvP in Zangramash…

It seems pretty obvious, but in order to get people fighting on a PvE server you need to give them an incentive both for capturing towers (to get them there in the first place) and for kills (to get them fighting once they’re there). With the Plaguelands lacking the latter, and Zangramash the former, only Hellfire Peninsula has really worked so far. I’m now questing around Terokkar and Nagrand, so it’ll be interesting to see how the world PvP plays out there.

Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky, Eye of the Stormy weather

Another fairly uneventful Weekend of Warcraft. Ran through the Blood Furnace without too much trouble, undoubtedly due to my inspiring leadership and masterful tactics (either that, or because we averaged level 66 for a level 61-63 dungeon. I’m thinking it was the tactics, though, we wouldn’t have had a chance without me running around periodically shouting “engage kill mode: EXTREME!”) Only a couple of stealth detecting mobs, so I was merrily sapping away, only coming ever-so-slightly unstuck once when the druid said “You do know you’re not in stealth, right?”, just as the three Orcs who’d been watching my decidedly unsubtle approach started poking me with spears.

I also popped into the new Battleground, Eye of the Storm, for the first time as it was bonus honour weekend. It’s essentially Arathi Basin (there are four towers to capture, the more towers you hold the faster you acquire “victory points”, first team to a certain number of points (2000, possibly) wins) with a dash of Warsong Gulch (there’s also a flag that spawns in the middle of the ground, taking it back to one of your towers gains extra points). It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays; first impressions are that it’s nicely frenetic, but that might just be the novelty as both teams run around randomly shouting “AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” and falling off cliffs. I’ll certainly head back there in a couple of levels time for a bit more tower-capturing fun.