My Mascot (Promptapalooza Day 8)

We’re just into week two of the Promptapalooza blogging event, and the prompt from day 8 caught my eye “If you had a mascot to represent you, what would it be?”. The prompt was given to Rambling Redshirt over at Beyond Tannhauser Gate, so please read their response if you haven’t already.

The Mascot of Gaming Sans Frontières has always been this Balance druid, a k a Boomkin.

Ever since I started playing World of Warcraft in 2007, this has been the character I most cherish in the game. Sadly, I cannot remember with any clarity why I chose to play Balance; I think I had notions of playing a “ranged druid” so this was the only choice. Back then information wasn’t so readily available on the Web about the game. I even bought guide books for the game and the first expansion to pour over when I wasn’t actually playing.

There was something particularly charming and fantastical about the Boomkin. The silly dance, the way they walk and move. I do wonder if I saw a Boomkin in the game somewhere when I first played it on a friend’s account. I certainly would have seen pictures of this shapeshift form though. Perhaps it was that this form, unlike most of the others, is not a fairly tropish copy of wildshaping druids from Dungeons & Dragons.

The role of Elune, goddess of the moons, in night elf society and Warcraft lore is one of the more interesting aspects of the game to me. The shapeshift most obviously associated with the goddess is the Moonkin. A druid becoming a spellcasting sort-of-owlbear struck me as something rather unusual, I suspect.

Thus his image, taken from a contemporary screenshot when I first started the blog back in 2011, became the de facto mascot of the blog. I have thought, at one point or another, of rotating this between images from different MMORPGs; or even creating a more ‘appropriate’ composite of a selection of the many, many characters I have played across those games. Yet it has remained just my boomkin representing, to me, not just a single character, or even a single game, but rather an entire genre and many years of happy gaming.

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Alternative vs standard routes in dungeons

We had one of *those* moments last night in Gnomeregan. It was our first Horde dungeon group run in WoW Classic for quite some time. The dungeon of choice for this levelling group was Gnomeregan as we’d barely poked our characters noses for the first time before I had to log off the last time we played.

All these dungeons are pretty familiar to us all, whether from the original early Burning Crusade versions we ran so many times together, their evolved forms from Cataclysm or now the Classic modes. In Classic, we’ve levelled from 1-60 Alliance side and done all of the 5-person group content at least a few times, in some cases rather more than a few.

How long before our Hordies are treading and retreading these halls….?

What doesn’t change is that we tend to have certain ingrained, default routes and paths that we follow. If there’s a choice to move through an area on the left or right hand side, and no need to clear both, then we tend to always go the same side. Take the ramps in Gnomeregan, you can either do the raised left or lower middle. We have always taken the raised left-side, well at least in my memory *always* – I freely admit I may not have the most reliable memory. Sadly I have no screenshots from the BC days to prove or disprove this.

Last night we did the middle route, for whatever reason, and it felt weird – like some great exploration – to do something different in a well-worn dungeon-path. That’s not to say that we approach every aspect of dungeon running in a purely linear or invariable manner. In Classic’s dungeons especially there are often choices of optional boss-fights, and even different orders in which a group can tackle the dungeon‘s challenges. As horde players we also couldn’t take the ever-so familiar short-cut through the gnome base inside the dungeon, but rather had happened to discover (maybe for the first time?) the side passage that bypasses this base.

A not so well-trodden path

This is about the smaller choices, like a path down a ramp, or which of parallel staircases to take in climbing upwards; these can easily become rote and embedded standards that we always follow thereafter. Occasionally, one of us will suggest the heretical “let’s go right instead of left!”. I suppose there is a kind of efficiency behind this default behaviour of following the same paths – the familiar is often quicker to repeat as there’ll be less chance of a nasty surprise. Still, it’s good to be mindful of this and to, once in a while, do something different.

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Contributing to Ahn’Qiraj

Since last week the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj event has been live on World of Warcraft Classic’s servers. I wasn’t playing at this point in Vanilla WoW so it’s not an event I’ve seen before.

More precisely, given that the long list of raid and large group content required for the attunement to even enter the raid of the same name, means that realistically all I could join in on would be the Ahn’Qiraj War Effort quests – crafting and gathering repeatable hand-in quests in major cities.

I quickly rode around Dun Morogh to gather some copper and some linen cloth from nodes and mobs there to make some items for the lowest tiers of hand-in quests: copper bars and linen bandages.

Caves offer the perfect combo of ore nodes AND humanoid monsters

Handing in the two lots of 20 linen bandages and the one lot of 20 copper bars, I was surprised to see that some of the counts were a long way off completed. Given how optimised and well-prepared the player base is for Classic compared to the wild, uncharted days of Vanilla, you’d expect players to have quickly racked up the totals needed (well except things like Purple Lotus).

Even the most basic of items were only about 30% done. I guess those totals are pretty high still. The hand ins gave my dwarf some rep items and a couple of random item boxes. That’s not going to yield anything useful as a level 60 given the low-level mats he handed in, but the one cloth green item might be of use to an alt.

Overall it’s not an event I expect to see much of even though I’m around this time as its heavily stacked towards raiding guilds, and as written recently that’s not my thing. I’d love to be in Silithus when the Opening of the Gates event (see linked Blizzard Watch article above) happens – not to have a meaningful role but just to see what happens. We’ll have to see when that happens, and a more experienced mind thinks that could take a while. Then there’s whether I’m even able to log in during the limited ten hour ‘war’ event in Silithus to see the arrayed forces of the Qiraji in action. /crosses fingers

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MMORPGs – just for fun

Roger of Contains Moderate Peril had a post last week about compartmentalisation of the playerbase in MMORPGs. The feelings expressed spoke to my own situation in all these years of online gaming. MMORPGs are very broad games and have players of all abilities and commitment levels playing in them.

Happiness is duo-fun

Roger writes about player skill and motivation in his post:

I am motivated primarily by having fun and have never seen any game as some sort of personal trial or path to spiritual enlightenment.

This fits my primary motivation as well, I’ve never played MMORPGs as some kind of skill or reactions improvement exercise. From what I’ve seen of raiding, at least in World of Warcraft, there’s an element of this. All the players in the raid are expected to look after their characters gearing, but also to improve when necessary their gameplay skills. Watching boss strategy videos, running mythic dungeons to practice their class/spec, taking feedback from the raid leaders and working on those deficiencies in-between raids. It may all be done in a friendly tone and with a good measure of leniancy or acceptance of the limitations of others, but this kind of progress is needed if the group is to move forwards on any kind of progression. Guilds that ignore performance entirely are likely to “burn out” when stuck on the same raid fight or tier for a long period of time because not enough of the group is making these exact improvements.

Later in the post Roger writes about the experience as a non-raider of going along with the ‘B’ raid team. I’ve had a few experiences of raiding in World of Warcraft, but it never fitted with my idea of fun gameplay (ignoring pug raiding which is an entirely different beast with its own issues). I’d go along to see the story, as usually WoW storylines end in one or more raid instances, but then in going along to see the story I’d inevitably be so busy with mechanics that I wouldn’t necessarily ‘see’ much.

I am a competent enough dungeon and small-group player I would suggest. I can heal heroic and mythic (0) dungeons in World of Warcraft. Beyond that I have little interest in more ‘challenge’ – the whole mythic plus concept is alien to my reasons for gaming. My recent post on level-sync’ed Cataclysm dungeons reminded me of running those dungeons back in that expansion’s heyday. They were pretty brutal, a call back to Burning Crusade heroics, perhaps? At the time we soldiered through them but it was pretty painful given how tightly tuned some of them were.

Level-sync’ed dungeon fun

Challenge alone, or a dislike of it, isn’t the issue here. If I’m playing in a dungeon with friends, and the group is gelling well, then I can happily take a good measure of challenging boss fights. Wipes do not deter me if there’s a chance of success and if we’re collectively having fun. I think the scheduled nature and time taken more than the skill or commitment aspects are the things that puts me off raiding the most. That and also the size of the group – so many more individuals tends to lead to more conflict and arguments. There’s also a lot of ‘banter’ in the raid groups I am aware of, such banter tends towards ‘locker room’ style humour and is really not to my tastes. Belghast posted the first Promptapalooza post for Blaugust on the subject of changing a fandom, and that’s the thing I wish we could change about online gaming fandoms – the macho put-down culture. It so easily goes too far.

I do a lot of meetings and project organisation at work, so for my hobby and freetime to be dominated by scheduled ‘fun’ really isn’t for me. Granted I’ve had regular tabletop RPG games for weeks or months at a time, but that’s not a high-performance gaming situation and the groupsize is much smaller. If I want the large group boss fight experience, I can get my fill from world boss fights, public quests or zone-wide activities in a number of different MMORPGs. All of that avoids the need for group organisation, loot rules, disagreements over who will tank or heal and the like.

Casual large group content done right

Several friends have been really keen on joining the raiding scene in World of Warcraft Classic. But to me it’s just another exercise in appointment gaming, so I’m not that tempted…

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Low intensity gaming

Our dungeon group has been on hiatus for nearly two weeks and I’ve chosen to take that opportunity to really step away from my usual, quite intense, gaming habits. After a day of sitting in front of the computer to work from home, spending most of the evening at the same computer to play World of Warcraft, Everquest 2 or another MMORPG isn’t always the healthiest choice.

Moo Squad have been resting

This break coincides with a few other factors dragging me away from the usual gaming haunts: the weather has been pretty awesome, and husband and I have been indulging in some nostalgic point & click gaming marathons – we’re most of the way through the first Broken Sword, and before that played through Cruise For A Corpse.

Another background reason for this though is that I have some leave planned mid-August and intend to use it to do some intensive writing on my next Dungeons & Dragons module for publication. I’m keenly aware that the last time I went into this mode I ended up with some repetitive strain injury-style symptoms – aching fingers and cramps. Given that I have to type away all day long on a keyboard, this is not something I can risk, and the obvious thing I can do is rest up in the evenings and weekends more by *not* gaming all the free time I have available.

That’s not to say I’ve given up on MMOs completely. Far from it, but I limit myself to much shorter sessions and do not play them every single day. It’s good for not reaching any possible burnout point as well probably as well. One activity that really suits this current mode is the Overseer system in Everquest 2. It’s super low-intensity gaming. I log into different alts, take the rewards of any completed missions and/or set off new missions. Sometimes I log in twice a day to allow the optimum expiry of cooldowns on missions or agents. It involves switching between alts, trading rewards back and forth, bank sorting and some comparing between alts of which character has what agent with the needed combination of agent traits.

There’s the typical MMO thrill of receiving a useful reward, such as a new agent with a trait I haven’t available is a particular positive outcome. There have also been a lot of gear upgrades for my poorly equipped heroes. When I’m feeling like more intense gaming again I must get around to finishing the adventuring timeline on my main, but that requires running the solo dungeons which are non-stop fighting.

Looks like an upgrade

I do also do the odd emissary run in WoW Retail, say if a gold emissary or a weapon-reward chest emissary is up. These are usually easy and quick to complete, though we do have quite a number of alts that can run these sets of world quests, so I have to resist the temptation to overdo those as well.

World Quest boss fight

Do you have a favourite low-intensity gaming activity in an MMORPG?

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Blaugust Promptapalooza draws near

I signed up to the upcoming blogging community event, Blaugust “Promptapalooza”. It’s a new take on the usual August-long blogging fest, taking on the form of a relay between the signed-up bloggers on a day-to-day basis.

Logo courtesy of aggronaut.com

It’s an interesting twist over the usual blog-everyday event, which we actually had early this year in the form of Blapril. There’s a list of bloggers and topics up on aggronaut.com on this guide post. I’m scheduled to post on day 26, nearer the end of the event. As with any blogging community event like Blaugust, I’m hoping I’ll be inspired by some of the other posts to write some blog reply posts to others’ contributions as we head into the month.

Here’s to a happy month of blogging!

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Dungeons that are still a challenge

Not all dungeons are equal, or specifically not all boss fights are created equally. We were looking to run a level-sync’ed dungeon with relatives yesterday afternoon, with our duo recently having set up camp in Jade Forest (now level 82), the Temple there would have been the obvious place to romp through. Sadly the summoning stones did not work with the new level bands (in Battle for Azeroth) or maybe the one at Temple of the Jade Serpent is specifically bugged as it wouldn’t allow us to summon the other two characters for the run (content was originally 85-90). Rather foolishly we decided to plump for a Cataclym dungeon instead, in the current game Cataclysm and Mists are in the same widened level band of 80-90.

None of us could remember much about Blackrock Caverns, but it is a short flight from Stormwind so off we popped to summon and crack on with the run. We’d figured that the summoning stones for Cataclysm dungeons (originally levels 80-85) and indeed the stone worked fine. Almost as soon as we stepped inside I found our death knight tank’s health was plummeting rapidly rather a lot. Pre-healing seemed to be the best tactic – slap all my layered healing on as soon possible after each pull, at least in the modern game healer aggro isn’t much of an issue!

Generally it went ok at least until the second boss. Some trash groups are particularly nasty – part way through I remembered certain groups being *nasty* if your group was undergeared. The Evolved Twilight Zealots and the Defiled Earth Ragers can both turn into deadly encounters. The former require a lot of healing on the tank given the high spike damage, and the latter require the group to stack for the meteor attacks. With said meteors I thought at first I was missing a telegraph to dodge as I was being one-shot by these small-area blasts – but the linked WoWHead article reminded me of the old tactic: stacking on these mobs is a must.

Nasty mob is nasty

The second boss, Karsh Steelbender, was a real test. We wiped more on this than we have in recent memory on any content – endgame or otherwise. I remembered it being tough to tank as a Paladin back in the expansion’s era. It’s a real test of the tank’s precision movement and timing, and of the healer’s gear/output. We did, thankfully, manage to defeat him after a good number of wipes, thankfully the corpse run is non-existant in the modern game or we’d have given up completely.

Victory pose

Other than the nasty damage from the meteors of the Ragers the remainder of the dungeon went ok. Tough enough to heal on my monk, but we made it through. It was good to run a dungeon we’d not run in the longest time, though memories of why we’d not played this dungeon to death back in the day or in more recent leveling static groups were quickly refreshed. We ended the dungeon with a chorus of “Should have gone to Jade Temple!”

Next time!
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That can’t be sensible

Sometimes my MMORPG characters find themselves in pretty rediculous situations; for instance in combat in a location that is really not a sensible place to be fighting an opponent.

My Dirge in this screenshot (taken angled from above at quite a sharp angle) is fighting some glowing wisp-like creatures for crystals drops to give to a fussy magic initiative over at the nearby settlement. These creatures all float around the top of these enormous veined crystal shards that lance jaggedly into the sky in the Plane of Magic. My character can fly, so reaching them is easy enough. Thankfully he is so sure-footed that he can stand on the sheer face of this crystal while fighting them, better not tell his insurer about this act of bravado…

In real life I have suffered at times from mild vertigo. Thankfully that’s not something that bothers me in MMORPGs. That said how sensible is it to jump off high-up surfaces with abandon? My Fae lowbie illusionist has functional wings, though at his low level all they allow him to do is slowfall. It’s tempting to jump off any available heights just to enjoy the benefits of this, like the high platforms of Kelethin for instance.

It’s easy to forget, while my main flies with abandon or when the Fae alt glides with impunity, that my shadowknight cannot yet fly in the latest expansion. The zone-in tower upon which you arrive to Luclin via the Combine Spire is high up. It’s perfectly possible to fall to your character’s death if you charge dive off the platform, as you would if taking off on a flying mount. There are also some serious changes in elevation within the moon’s zones, falling down cliffs is a thing until you unlock flying.

Questing underneath the very nose of hostile, alert and deadly guards would be another rather foolish endeavour that my heroes have been known to take on. This old screenshot of my shadowknight back in the Plane of Magic questing in the hostile sphynx settlement is a good example. Even with flying, getting too close to one of those red-named guards would see him eating dirt in a matter of two seconds unless he managed to flee very quickly.

I guess adventurers wouldn’t be worthy of the name if they didn’t throw caution to the wind from time to time, or even rather frequently!

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MMORPG terms that I never use

I’ve heard recently a few terms in the MMORPG sphere that kind of grate on me, without there necessarily being a solid reason why. I’m not talking about the obviously offensive language that some in the genre use so casually, but rather innocuous lingo or short-cut terms that I just avoid using.

Blueberry, World of Warcraft

Voidwalker in action

I was frankly ignorant of this term until earlier this year. I’ve not played Warlock that consistently so that may explain my blissful ignorance, but apparently a lot of players call the Voidwalker pet a ‘blueberry’. I just find it an utter misnomer – this demon’s shape and colour aren’t that reminiscent of this particular fruit to me. Whatever the origins of this, I’m not a fan of this term.

‘Toon’, various

My Dirge _Alt_

One of various terms used to refer to a MMO character. I do use character, ‘main’ or ‘alt’ regularly as ways to refer to my in-game avatar, but you won’t find me using ‘toon’ ever when talking about my beloved characters. I guess I find the term inappropriate as it makes me think of cartoon, and honestly I do not draw the mental link between the character through which I interact with an online game and an animated character I passively watch in a TV series or film. There’s info on the origin of the term in the MMORPG sphere readily available, knowing why it is used doesn’t make me want to adopt it.

Hate, Everquest 2

City of ‘Hate’ is ok

I’ve seen mixed usage of the interchangeable terms relating to this core tanking mechanic in EQ2. Certainly online sources refer to it using the two standard terms I’m familiar with from WoW and other games: aggro and threat. So tanks will talk about threat generation, bad DPS players may ‘grab aggro’ (or threat). But, I’ve seen the term ‘hate’ used in the same context in EQ2, perhaps it is also used in other MMORPGs too for this same mechanic. For whatever reason I just find it grating when used for this mechanic instead of aggro/threat. Naturally the word is used in other contexts such as content (Neriak, City of Hate), and that’s ok – I didn’t say this was a logical reaction.

Feel free to chip in in the comments if you have any pet peeves among terms along a similar vein!

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Keyboard vs mouse

I’ve written in the past about MMORPG user interfaces and their complexity. However easy we as gamers might think these games are to play, if you can get an external perspective, as I have playing World of Warcraft with elderly relatives.

One aspect of this I’ve not covered is the weirdly complex user interfaces most MMORPGs have – a combination of mouse clicks through the graphical user interface (menus, hotbars, etc.) and usually some keyboard input (pressing hotbar numbers, WASD movement, etc).

Like many older MMORPG gamers, I had a gaming history in another genre. I played, among other styles of games a lot of first-person shooters in the 1990s. That gave me keyboard movement skills that translate very well to most MMORPGs. Being able to strafe, for instance, can be a real asset during “avoid all the bad stuff” boss battles.

This’d be a good time to strafe…

Those earlier shooters all had a ‘console’, a command line that gave you access to an arcane set of commands that could allow a player to interact at a more fundamental level with the game. MMORPGs also have a suite of text commands in their DNA, and the extent that these are useful, overlapping with the GUI or mostly redundant varies from game to game. These are accessed via the chat window, so as well as a text-based communication interface, in most MMOs the chat window is also a means of interacting with the game.

Everquest 2, as one of the more complex system-heavy MMORPGs that I play, makes a lot of use of the chat/command line window for functions that are entirely mouse-driven in other games. Searching for an item, for example, is started via a popup window, but the results are printed in the chat window. The /who command is entirely limited to the chat window, a useful feature when hunting for a guild or particular individual.

The command line also provides certain specific efficiences and conveniences that, for me as a fast typer, couldn’t be replaced by a UI that easily. Being able to switch characters via the /camp #charactername# command is a simple but very frequently used shortcut to minimise time spent on the character select screen.

World of Warcraft’s command line is somewhat pushed into the background by a combination of the default UI and the widespread availability of add-ons that provide windowed UI improvements. The chat window commands are mostly relegated to /emoting at other players or crafting macros that are then accessed via a mouse-click on a hotbar icon.

As someone who has spent decades playing games via both mouse and keyboard input, I find it natural to mix the two and jarring if a game focusses too much on one above the other. It’s a big reason why I’ve never been that big a console gamer, I find joypads as the single means of interaction to be very limiting. It’s also a reason why I tend to find action MMORPG user interfaces somewhat chaffing, they often severely limit access to the chat window and console to a secondary UI mode (which then blocks any movement or normal character control). Tab-target MMOs allow for a lot more freedom in combining mouse and keyboard seamlessly.

Posted in EQ2, MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 3 Comments