Author Archives: Ember

Dungeons and Dragons at TfB

It all started with someone saying they had never played Dungeons and Dragons. It seems weird, working for a video game company that exists because of D&D, but many people didn’t get the opportunity to play growing up. I did. And I had even run games before, though for much less discerning players than a group of people who *make* games for a living.

4 years later, we have had two full campaigns and a short lived run through some Savage Worlds, but here we are, playing D&D again. I have played in some of it, but mostly I have been running games. Not just because it’s the easiest way to make sure we play and everyone is having fun, but more because this is what I find fun. Presenting a situation to players and watching them destroy it in the most beautiful ways.

I believe playing and running D&D games makes you a better game designer.

There are different kinds of DMs (dungeon masters) and different kinds of campaigns, but most of the players I have encountered agree that that whole point is to have fun. I have tried planning out everything meticulously and it rarely works. If I have a country road ambush, and I need the players to ride along a road at a specific time to have something specific happen, but I mention in passing while setting the scene that a monarch butterfly flits by – one of two things will happen – 1. The players will chase off after the butterfly certain that it is important because I mentioned it. Or 2. Turn around and ride the other direction because someone forgot to buy arrows or their cat is on fire back in town.

Over the years leading up to my career in video games I learned a great deal about D&D players. They might as well all be named Murphy. They will absolutely go the wrong way, do the wrong thing, at the absolute worst possible time. The job of the DM though, is to make sure they have fun doing so.

I learned to only vaguely plan what I wanted the session to be. It will always be shorter or longer than I imagine. They will have an easy time with extremely difficult monsters while dying to the fluffy bunnies of cuddles. They will bash down doors that weren’t locked, they will fall down shafts that have ladders, and they will drown in small ponds. They will also roll natural 20s (an automatic success) on unopenable chests, leap 40 foot crevasses, and drown bosses in pools of holy water without ever once touching him.

What makes D&D so much fun? What makes me enjoy running these games so much, despite it taking hours of my limited free time, excessive amounts of money for every book WotC prints, and so much mental preparation? Because I can always say YES to the player.

In video games, we are often limited by our tech or our scope. If the player in a game wants to go off the beaten path and chase down bunnies – they can’t always do that. And if we do let them do that, that takes time and money that could be spent on “more important things”. But in D&D – not only can the player do so, but I can twist the story and plan to make it so it’s important and what was intended ALL ALONG. There’s always an answer. Everything’s always connected even if it wasn’t intended to be that way.

To give a very immediate example – last night I presented my players with a room in a magical dungeon. The dungeon is magical because it creates challenges that are specific to THESE characters. This room was targeting towards our resident sorcerer, who’s day job is creating gaming supplies like cards and dice. The room was a handsomely appointed tavern room (yes, in a magical dungeon, it works because magic) with a single table and two chairs. The player immediately sat in the chair, while his party members stood back and watched, and a ghost appeared in the opposite chair to play him at a card game. As he spoke to the ghost he learned the specifics of this challenge. He had to win three bets against the ghost, before he lost 3. Of course, he lost 3 first. Now, I as the DM, didn’t have a concrete plan beyond – the ghost will attack him if he loses. That was it.

The ghost turns aggressive and attacks my player. Of course, his party members join the fray, but as they are level 1, and the ghost is quite challenging, they didn’t kill it. It however reduced my player to 0 hit points (in D&D this doesn’t mean he is dead yet, just knocked out and dying.) At this point, I could have the ghost start attacking the other players, they did after all attack the ghost. But that’s so… normal. So instead, the ghost reverts to its previous non-aggressive form and vanishes. I didn’t plan that. I thought of it in the moment.

As they revive the player, he once more sits down to play the ghost, who returns and acts as if nothing has happened and is willing to play again. They know they hadn’t beaten the room’s challenge and earned the reward. Only this time, the players change their tactics. They all start cheating like mad. Slight of hands, distractions, perception and insight rolls are flying around as they try to help the player win 3 rounds of poker. Of course, he succeeds this time – it was easy as he had 3 extra cards in his hand.

They successfully overcome the challenge and the ghost leaves, giving them access to a door that rewards them with a magical staff specifically made for the player. I didn’t plan most of it. I had exactly two words written down for this puzzle – “gambling game” and then a second note made later that said “v ghost.”

On the surface it seems like a really weird thing to have in a game. It’s not combat (well, it had combat, but it was solvable without combat.) It allowed them to fail and retry without “reloading” or sacrifice. It was still challenging, but not mindless. And yet, it’s exactly the kind of thing we frequently did in Skylanders (there was just a card game, and at times the players inexplicably had to beat them to proceed.) And mostly, the interactions, rolls, and events were generated on the fly to adjust to the players, their actions, their health and stats, and the general feel of the room.

Video game development is a weird beast. Very rarely does the plan set down at the beginning actually lead to the game at the end. Much like the adage about war, the battle plan never survives the encounter with the enemy. On the 4 Skylanders games I built levels for, never once did the order of levels survive 5 months without being changed. That’s not the first 5 months. That’s every 5 months. 5 months from CRC (the first attempt at a final build) at least one level would be moved forward or back to fix some weird issue with a story point, a mechanic, or a toy production issue. Being able to quickly think on your feet and improvise solutions using nothing but what is already in the game is a very valuable skill.

D&D is a group storytelling experience, in that the DM is taking all the threads of story being told by the players, weaving them together, then weaving them into a larger epic narrative. Many video game designers want to achieve this same goal. I have found these are generally the better designers in the game industry and often make exceptional games. They let the player affect the game, story, and experience, even if that means things break in unexpected and horribly broken ways. D&D makes me a better designer because experience DMing has taught me that saying yes to the player and allowing them to do ridiculous game breaking things often leads to the most interesting stories that get retold for years afterwards. It’s not my epic tale where I force them along a prescribed set of actions (that’s a book) it’s the group of us, working together to create hilarious adventures.

Not to mention that having a regular group of people willing to stumble and bumble through mechanics and puzzles is a really great testing ground for level design. In addition, playing with people from work leads to really amazing friendships and the ability to work really well together even when not in dungeons.

Removing Content from a Live Game is Shitty Design

Actually, I suppose I could remove “from a live game” and the statement would still be true. But devs of “non-live” games don’t really mess with their games after launch other than bug patches, and maybe DLC – but I can’t think of a single time someone removed something.

Live games are games that constantly update. Content patches and expansions. New things all the time. They are games you never finish and are more like hobbies.

There are 12 classes. There are 36 specs. There are 24 appearances per artifact. That means there are 864 artifact appearances. (Holy shit, that’s a FUCK TON of art. That’s YEARS worth of work on art. Like – if they did ONE a week for a year – that would take 16 artists a year. Counting Holiday weeks. At 5-6 yr art veteran pay average (85k) – that’s 1.4 MILLION DOLLARS worth of art. And that’s a severe lowball for just modeling – that doesn’t take into account concept, vfx, sfx, programming, rigging, animating… Holy shit guys, they probably spent 5 million on artifacts easy. And before people say “Oh but 5/6th of the appearances are just texture swaps…” Textures take a shit ton of time. Especially in WoW – since the textures carry a large portion of the artistic weight.)

My mind is still reeling from that staggering amount of time and money spent on making these appearances, which overrides any of my other arguments for why they shouldn’t be removed. Only the Joker would light 5 million dollars on fire just to keep it out of other people’s hands.

Woof. OKAY. Moving back to my original points and statement.

There is never a good reason to remove content. Seriously. Give me one. It’s already been made, paid for, tested, and shipped. People have played it. Some people love it, some people hate, a large majority are meh on it. It’s done. What is the benefit of removing content?

How about the reasons for not removing it?

  1. People who missed it – can get it later. Check out my post about Exclusives – I know it’s about buying stuff at conventions – but the same ideas apply. You can’t be assured everyone has the time to play every aspect of a game in a limited time frame.
  2. Everyone paid for the game. Now only a selection portion is getting the whole game despite paying the same amount. (See this post.) The idea that only certain people who “work for it” is elitist and selfish. Those who work for it first, get it first. Players who come along after should still have to work for it (and they do) but they shouldn’t miss out because they prioritized Family Familiar instead of PVP.
  3. Oh and as always – rarity in WoW is bullshit and not real.

Also – let’s take into account that unlocking all of these appearances is individual. So – for example – the PVP ones require 12 pvp prestiges. From what I have dug up, it looks like this is per character. Not per account. And according to one enterprising WoWhead commenters – takes 45 weeks doing the PVP world quests every 6 hours, every day. So, that’s about 12 years right there. Or literally not having a job, family, sleep, or anything else to do. The expansion will likely last two years. So. You get two. Which two do you want? My immediate reaction to this – what’s the fucking point?

I want to collect things in WoW. I collect pets, mounts, transmog. I get Loremaster and achievements. I like PLAYING the game. I don’t like feeling like it’s a JOB with a deadline. I’ve already missed out on things – the ZA bear which all 9 of my guildies got but I missed out on, the MoP phoenixes, the MoP battle pet, the Naxx mounts, the Tiger Mount, titles, Ateish… Each item is on a list on my heart. Each one is a blue sphere of sadness. And those blue spheres, they are starting to add up. They are outnumbering the yellow sphere’s of joy.

Why bother when I can go play Persona 5? It’s 100s of hours of gameplay with new game plus. Breath of the Wild, I have played over 100 hours and barely scratched the surface. I kinda want to go back and play Skyrim too. And these games don’t punish me for having a job, child, and hobbies other than it.

If I pay for a game, then the content gets repeatedly removed before I have a chance to get it – is Blizzard just taking my money, calling me a shitty casual, and taking away the toy I paid for? That’s a pretty abusive and toxic attitude to take towards someone who has literally spent thousands of dollars on the game, thousands more on merch, recruited over 20 players, brought back over 20 players, and supported websites, fan artists, and all manner of extra-game things.

Further – those people I try to recruit or bring back – I have lost 4 of them to them seeing a thing, thinking it was beautiful/amazing – then finding out they can’t get it, getting bummed out and just giving up.

Why keep playing if I am just going to keep missing out? Fear of Missing Out only works if I care about missing a thing AND HAVE THE ABILITY TO GET THE THING THROUGH NORMAL PLAY. These grinds and achievements, especially when multiplied across alts, are not normal play. It’s unhealthy play, that does not take into a positive work/game/life balance.

The only thing that will kill WoW, is WoW, and right now, it’s doing a pretty damn good job of it. If I walk away, it effectively pulls the plug on 5 accounts. (3 are mine, one for my boyfriend, and a final one from at least one person I know who only plays WoW because of me.) But even worse, it means the next time I get all excited for a patch or expansion and talk about it, those 5-10 people I am friends with who occasionally re-sub because I am talking about it and they get interested, they won’t.

Casuals are the lifeblood of this game. They are the ones who carry the game between content lulls. They pay more than the bleeding edge mythic assholes who demand special treatment. Cater to one, not the other. Removing content because of some arbitrary deadline is catering to people who require feeling Elite and superior and actively punishing the players who are the larger base of support.

Defenders of Hyrule

Immediate Warning – This post WILL contain spoilers for the Defenders of the Triforce Escape Room event. Do NOT read this before doing it or if you ever plan on doing it. That would be cheating.

Escape rooms have always interested me, but I am not super great at getting off my couch and getting TO them. So when work set up a thing where we would go to Defends of the Triforce for free, I jumped on it knowing all my friends would go to.

Let me also be upfront about my love for Zelda. The Legend of Zelda was the first game I played obsessively as a kid. Ocarina of Time is one of my all time favorite games ever. I have a Switch and Breath of the Wild. I was READY for a Zelda event.

The first thing that struck me was – the production values were actually significantly lower than I expected for an event that costs $50+. The “room” was really 8 tiny tables crammed into a space, with small stools and 6 people per table. (Seriously, the tables were small. There was a binder as part of the game – and if it was open, it covered 80% of the table.) There were painted and crafted “areas” to match areas from the game. But these were like 1 day build sets. I might be critical – but as someone who did stage building in college, plus helped build temp structures in the desert – these were slapdash at best.

I should also admit, I’ve never DONE an escape room before. I don’t know if they are all like this – but if so, someone with some real stage experience should come along and do a better one. Just sayin.

So we sat down in our team (with silly green hats) and got our instructions. While I am here, let me mention the hats. That didn’t fit very well, but we were forced to wear… AND THEN HAD TO GIVE BACK. So I very much hope the rash I have on my scalp isn’t contagious or there it goes. (Seriously – don’t do this. People have very funky heads.)

The timer started and so did we. The first puzzle involved a series of small puzzles that lead to a word puzzle. I sat there looking at the puzzle and figured it out. We had only found 4 of the 6 words, but I knew what the next step was. But we couldn’t skip ahead? We had to have all the solutions. Ugh. Fine.

Remember how I said that there were 8 tables? Right – so 8 teams. And your WHOLE team has to go to the various areas set up around the room. So we all go rushing up to Zora’s Domain, and one of our party is lagging behind. Despite him being 4 feet away, the performer INSISTED that we wait until we were all huddled up to his satisfaction. I bring this up because – in a timed event – being nit picky about these kinds of things means wasting time. The PUZZLES are what should take the time, not needless subjective rules discussions about what constitutes the whole team “being there”. It wouldn’t be a big deal, if it hadn’t happened EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. Like literally, minutes lost because we weren’t all huddled up. No offense, but I don’t like people that much. On top of this, if you went to an area and there was already a team there, YOU HAD TO WAIT. Now – let’s be real, I am not a patient person to BEGIN with, but if you put me in a time crunch situation then STOP me from doing what I need to do, I am gonna be crabby. (And I was.)

So we get the next puzzle and proceed on. It seemed relatively simple – we needed the two stones, so we solved the two puzzles and went to see the Gorons. This performer was also needlessly particular. And not very good at being a Goron. He sent us away, saying we didn’t have what he wanted. After 5 wasted minutes re-checking our work, one of our member noticed a tiny point of a triangle wasn’t colored in fully. So we went back – sure enough, that was what had prevented it. After talking to others, ours was NOT the only group that had this happen. It’s a puzzle game – not a gotcha game. It was frustrating to see the “easier” puzzles designed in such a way as to trick the player and make them fail.

There were some exceptional moments (here comes the spoiler)

Like once, we needed a rupee. We had 49, but the price was 50. I was holding a pair of green scissors in my right hand, and a laminated instruction sheet in my left. I could FEEL the rupee sticker inside the instruction sheet. But it was laminated. The tag on the scissors said “Cut the grass!” The instruction sheet had grass printed along the bottom. It literally broke my brain, intentionally destroying this thing to get the rupee out. A truly amazing moment. I am actually SAD that not everyone on my team got to experience it.

Another when we had a bit of an arrow, an opened chest and instructions to Pierce the Spade. Jerry jammed the arrow into a sticker, which was covering a hole, and popped the false bottom of the chest out. I fucking LOST it. The call back to the earlier clue and puzzle. The hidden catch. So good.

But all too often – the puzzles were either instantly obvious or so blindingly opaque that no one in our group of 6 VERY intelligent people even knew where to START. And talking to the performers across the BOARD was an exercise in frustration. I understand they are likely college kids doing an evening job, but at least make SOME attempts. Only one of them remotely TRIED to be in character, and all of them were oddly anal about procedure. For example – as you completed steps you got stickers, and there were spots on the papers for the stickers, but they were IMPOSSIBLE to get off their backings! (Says the lady with NAILS.) But twice we were not allowed to continue until we had peeled every sticker and stuck it on the thing. This probably added up to about 3-5 minutes of WASTED time.

All of my issues go back to the waste of time. Putting people under pressure like that requires that everything goes smoothly and doesn’t waste their time. Doing so frustrates and angers the person who is trying to do a fun thing. It ends up feeling like bureaucracy and not fun. If it’s too short without all the annoying delays, then add another puzzle and cut down the time.

In the end, we got stuck on the final step. The clue I felt was WAY vague and when we asked for help, we were given another clue that lead us down an incorrect path. FURTHER, even when the correct answer was revealed, I tried it on MY thing and it didn’t work. There HAD to be a better way to do the final puzzle so it worked, made sense, and wasn’t able to be mistaken as a wrong answer.

Further, I found out AFTER the event, one of the other teams was literally IN LINE – waiting their turn, with the solution to the final puzzle, when the timer went off. They were deemed Non-Winners. What the shit? No.

It may sound like I didn’t have fun. That’s not true. It was great fun. Because of the themeing and the friends I was with. If I had done it on my own, with random people, and it wasn’t Zelda themed, (and having had to pay for it) I would be so turned off of the entire experience I would never do it again.

I feel like, much like Breath of the Wild but that’s another post, the Defenders of the Triforce is being carried by Zelda, when on it’s own would not command the price or critical acclaim it gets. I liked it, but it could have been (and probably SHOULD have been) significantly better with only minor tweaks.

Who matters most?

So apparently it’s a thing right now, where because a Mythic World First Guild decided to stop being a Mythic World First Guild that people are clamoring that Blizzard do something, because won’t you think of the poor Mythic World First Guilds?

As usual, I have some strong feelings about Mythic Raiders, raiding in general, and Blizzard’s “catering” to players.

When things come up about Group X vs Group Y in WoW, it always boils down to one thing – Whoever is talking thinks they deserve something, and the other side thinks they don’t deserve that thing.

So. Who deserves a thing in WoW?

Who deserves the gold? Who deserves the gear? Who deserves the mounts? The pets? The Titles? The Legendaries?

Does anyone disagree the answer is – People who spend time and money?

Those are literally the two most important things in most people’s lives after all. Time and Money. They are a weird balance board. It fluctuates at high and low ends of the spectrum obviously, and has weird connections to seemingly unrelated things. But despite how much I hate goblins – they aren’t wrong. Time IS money.

We can’t say “Well anyone who pays for WoW deserves all the things.” (Though I do actually think that SHOULD be true.) Because… well, we all pay for WoW right. If I have to run Stratholme 166 times to get my Baron Rivendare’s Charger, I don’t want someone else getting it just for logging in. (Honestly, I really don’t care, as long as *I* have the mount.)

So for WoW, the real thing isn’t money. Because we can’t BUY a thing straight up. And it’s actually not “fair” to gate things behind money like that. See, WoW is based on the precursor to Mobile Games Monetization. (It really is, even if they don’t have a direct route to a la carte purchasing – which they should if they wanted to make bank, but again I digress – the ability to buy with Dollars things that can be traded or sold in game for everything means that it’s doable.) Mobile Games are based on two ideas – more players is always better, even if 90% of the players pay nothing. And two (this is the important one for this conversation) Players are either going to give us time or money. That’s why all the “currencies” in mobile games are used to speed things up.

Do you want to spend a month farming a thing – or pay $10? As someone who earns more than $10 an hour – it’s TOTALLY worth it for me to throw $10 at a game (especially if I like it, support your game devs) over waiting a month. (Also I am wildly impatient.) There are people like me who don’t mind the money. There are other people who are super proud of reaching the same achievement without spending a dime.

But in WoW, this transaction – money to thing I want in game – is not direct. It’s very roundabout. I have to buy tokens, wait for tokens to sell, then trade gold for carries. For the sake of this discussion though, let’s assume this is not REALLY doable (since it’s cost prohibitive, and limited by Blizz since you can only buy so many tokens.) (Also, it’s how it was BEFORE the tokens, and I feel it still holds true.)

So then, if we all pay the same amount of money into Blizzard, shouldn’t we all get the same amount of stuff? All the mounts? All the pets? All the gear?

Hurm. That’s not very fun though is it? We enjoy the seeking, the striving to get a thing we want. So the currency Blizzard is asking for isn’t money, it’s time. They want us to spend TIME getting an item. Here’s where the breakdown happens though: Elitism – and players who think they deserve something because they “worked harder” for it.

If we go back to the mount example. An Elitist would say “Because I ran the dungeon when it was current, because I got the mount when it was a 1 in 1000 drop, I deserve it more than someone who farmed it at level 80.”

But they didn’t earn it the same way I did. They were just LUCKY. At 15 minutes a run, times a 166, it took me 2490 minutes to get my mount. That’s 41.5 HOURS. At minimum wage (in California), that’s over $400! FOR PIXELS! Someone who ran it at level, could have gotten it on their first run (okay probably not but rng is rng).

So which one of us DESERVES it more? Hint – both of us – we both worked for it, just in different ways.

Ah. That’s the key right there. We got the same result – we just got it in different ways. Also he got his like 6 years earlier than I did.

People talk about Mythic Raiding like it’s the people Blizzard is making the game for. It’s not. They make the game for all of us. If it was just for Mythic Raiders, do you REALLY think Pet Battles would be a thing? At all?

People talk about Mythic Raiding and say “Well if you were willing to devote the time to it, you could do it too!” Actually, it’s not about time. It’s about skill, what we find fun, and willingness to be unhappy while working towards a goal. How much time does a Mythic Raider spend playing WoW? 40 hours a week? Like a job?

My slash played, since 2005 when I started playing, averages out to 5 hours a day. That means in a week – I spend 35 hours playing – on average. Obviously some weeks are more (Legion launch!). Some are less (Person 5 get here faster!). But in the end, I spend almost as much time playing WoW as I do working.

The real question is – why is their 40 hours of play being valued at a higher rate than mine? Why is my 40 hours leveling and capturing pets not a valid path to a best in slot piece of gear? (Since that is ARGUABLY the goal of a game like WoW, a loot treadmill.) Why isn’t it valid that someone who PVPs 40 hours a week earn gear on par with Mythic Raiding? It is just a loot treadmill right? Aren’t we on the treadmill? Why don’t we get the loot?

Less than 1% of players saw Naxx. So they remade it for Wrath. And nerfed it. People were pissed. Why? Blizz was “catering to casuals”. No – Blizzard was catering to PLAYERS. People who paid money for their game, paid the sub, and likely spent just as much time as everyone else in game – but maybe weren’t driven to focus on raiding as the end all be all of the game.

Do I think people running a raid 40 hours a week deserve mounts/pets/titles/legendaries? Oh yes. Do I think people running dungeons 40 hours a week deserve mounts/pets/titles/legendaries? Yep, them too. Do I think people leveling pets 40 hours a week and beating the Celestial Tournament deserve mounts/pets/titles/legendaries? Hell yes, that shit is hard.

“But Joyia, if you make it so that people can get the best gear from running dungeons – people won’t run raids!”

Ahhh, that’s where the Mobile Game Monetization comes back in.

Mythic Raiders == the Whales. They put up with all the “pain and suffering and omg why would you do this this isn’t fun at all” and get the loot fastest. Us “filthy casuals” who spend just as much time in game if not more – we get it too. Just slower. And over a greater length of time. The currency here is just pain and suffering.

That’s why the progressive buff in ICC was such a great thing. (The Mythic raiders don’t need it or care, my little casual guild can progress to the end!) That’s why Badges of Valor were such a great thing. (You got it in a drop, that’s cool, but if I keep killing bosses I will get it in 3 weeks!) That’s why NOT REMOVING CONTENT LIKE THE GROVE WARDEN AND ICC MOUNTS IS SUCH A GREAT THING. (Seriously Blizz, put that shit back.)

We ALL pay to play the game. We ALL pay in time – casual and hardcore is NOT determined based on time spent – but rather the bullshit required to defeat a SINGLE aspect of an impossibly large game.

We ALL deserve the rewards and cool things that comes with it.

NaNoWriMo 2016

When I was 12, I got into an argument with my brother. See, I had showed him my “book” I was writing. And I said I wanted to be a writer. My brother was an artist, in that he drew, sculpted, and painted. He told me “Don’t be an artist, you don’t want to end up like me.” We argued because I insisted being a writer wasn’t the same as being an artist. To me, it wasn’t.

I see now what he meant, but even so, I still think I am right. It’s not the same. It is, in some ways, you have to be creative, determined, and dedicated. You have to practice and work at it to improve. But at the same time, his art required a dexterity of hand I did not have. My work required finding words fascinating and enjoying finding the right one.

In college I took all the English classes, including the one creative writing class. I wrote a 40 page story for my Humanities semester project. I loved writing stories, often writing down my own little head fantasies. I was in high school before I found out other people didn’t do that – have little plays in their heads.

I went off to Video Game school, determined to learn a skill that could be leveraged into a career. But I never stopped writing.

I never finished writing though. I would write for a few days, then not do it for a month, come back and the story in my head had changed. So I would write and rewrite. I would get distracted by games or tv shows. Work and side projects. There was always something.

A few times, I managed to press forward and get a hundred or so pages on some story, but it would always have flaws that kept me from FINISHING something I was writing.

This was about the time I saw NaNoWriMo for the first time. That was it. That was what I needed. A tight deadline. It needed to be a constant pressure on me to keep.writing. So I tried it for the first time 2009.

Except my job went into crunch and I had barely enough time to sleep much less write. I tried writing on the ferry and commute, but at the end of a long day of work, I was spent. There wasn’t anymore *juice*. I got about 10k words written.

It was weird – how much I felt like a failure. I hadn’t even signed up on the site. There was no one who KNEW I was a failure, but I felt like – that was it. I wasn’t a writer.

The next year, not crunching, in a much better place, I decided to try again. I planned my novel, got all my characters ready. I was good to go. I was unemployed too. PERFECT FOR WRITING. Then I literally got a job, and won a trip to BlizzCon. In November. I ended that one at around 5k words.

Even more of a failure.

The next year I just ignored it. I wasn’t a writer. And I was going to BlizzCon again.

The year after that – I had just had a kid, are you kidding me?

Then in 2013 I thought, okay, surely I can do it this time. I even had a different plan of attack. I would write it in tweets. It would take about 100 tweets a day, but it was so doable. I loved tweeting!

I managed to make about 200 tweets. Wah wahh. BlizzCon again. Man, was that convention a real killer. I would end up 5 days behind without even TRYING.

2014 I had the worst year ever and just completely ignored it.

2015 I decided to write about 2014. Turn my pain into art. I got 2 days in and realized, nope, there wasn’t enough distance yet. Just thinking about it made me sad and depressed. So I killed that one too.

Then it was October this year. I still really wanted to give it a legit go. This year though, I needed to do something different. The planning it out and trying to write it thing wasn’t working for me. So instead of doing one long novel, I would write short stories. But more than that, if I got bored with one I would just BAIL on it. Even if it wasn’t complete. Just keep writing. Write the 50k words and be done with it.

So day one, I started with a writing prompt from pinterest. I had a little plan in my head for what I was going to write this short story for, then get on it.

4 days later, I was still writing on the same story, and it was going places I TOTALLY didn’t expect. A week after that (the 11th) I hadn’t written on it in a week. WELL.CRAP. But I had a free night, and I didn’t feel like playing WoW so I started hammering on it. By the end of the night, I was only a day behind.

That was the moment. Realizing I could write over 10k words in an evening? Oh yeah, I could do it. And even better, it was fun. I felt energized and happy. Like I had accomplished something.

I was more consistent for the rest of the month, writing every few days for long blocks of time. And I finished early. Nov 27th, at 4am, I finished the book and the 50k words. I hadn’t meant to stay up to 4am, it just kind of happened. (Gamers – it was 100% a 1 more turn thing.) And even funnier, I had written one long story. I never moved off the first prompt. It had gotten interesting and I was enjoying watching it unfold. I was entertaining MYSELF by writing.

I had done it. And it was like – my brain went – Oh right, no, I can do this. This is easy. This is fun. And it’s something I like.

I took the next day off writing. But by Monday evening, I was antsy again. I decided that while my first draft was “settling” over December – I would do it again. 50k more words in 30 days. And it doesn’t seem insurmountable. It seems easy. Totally doable.

So here are the things I learned from finally succeeding:

  • Sometimes you can over plan.
  • It’s more about staying the course of writing every day than writing the right thing.
  • Writing the right thing comes in the revision stage. That will take longer.
  • Sometimes you have to just write – [Ugh – explain this later] and move on.
  • Sometimes you just have to write [And things happened – but they end up here.]
  • DO NOT RESEARCH. It will kill your progress.
  • Give characters stupid names. It’s fine. Replace them later.
  • I write better in long blocks. I will get more done in a 4 hour writing session than 4 1 hour sessions.
  • It’s possible to not know the answer to a question a character asks – and as you are writing their response you write out the answer. Without having known it. It’s super weird.

I decided to trust Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and let my work sit for a bit before the first revision. I am actually very excited about going back and rewriting parts and reviewing it. I also found my brain expects me to write. I can do it faster and easier now. Like this whole blog post took 30 min.

Maybe I am a writer after all.

Wasteland Weekend 2016

It all started with my friend, Ryan, asking us to save Bottle Caps for him. We asked him why, and found out about Wasteland Weekend. A 4 day event in the desert, intended to serve as a living homage to Mad Max and the world created by George Miller.

“You are a crazy person.”

“My idea of camping is a hotel with slow wifi.”

“I am pretty sure I would just spontaneously combust in the desert.”

These are all things I said, back in 2013 when I first heard of Wasteland Weekend. Fast forward to 2015, during which time, Ryan and I decided to see how the amazing friendship thing we had would work as maybe a more than friendship thing. Only now, I was sitting there watching a person, who had previously not been that important to me, but was now extremely important, pack and prepare to head out to the desert.

I was NOT happy. I had seen pictures from previous years. Bandaged eyes, sunburn, and cuts and scrapes. Even worse, he was turning off his phone for the whole time. I wouldn’t even get a “I’m alive!” text for 5 days. While he was gone, I SCOURED the internet for Wasteland pictures. I stalked social media, found people to follow, and inspected every face, looking for the one I loved so much. A friend of mine on twitter was there. And she had her phone on. And lived tweeted the event. The tents, the hanging out, the Thunderdome, a wedding, food, all of it. She painted a very different picture than the ones I was expecting. I started thinking… could I do this? Could I go with him next time?

A year is a long time in a new relationship, but so far, we had meshed together as if we were always meant to be. So maybe. It was a thing I needed to think about. Time passed and we kept making plans for future things. Things 3 and 4 months out. Instead of me expecting to be broken up with at any moment, I was finding myself making plans for things that were a long way away.

Then, one night, slightly drunk, I informed Ryan that I wanted to go to Wasteland Weekend with him. I was terrified. What would I do if it was horrid? How would I deal with the heat and sun? I was torn. I didn’t want to go, but I kinda did. I wanted to SEE this thing. Tickets were purchased. Now I was invested.

I did a ton of research, turning to Pinterest for information and ideas. Planning would save me. Ryan started talking about costumes and tents and masks. Every time the subject came up I wavered and considered asking him to let me out of it. But surely anything can be endured for 5 days right?

We ended up being crazy people and moving in together much sooner than expected, to help us both add stability and peace to our lives. After a bit of work crunch, the preparation for Wasteland began in earnest, as the event was RAPIDLY approaching. I still wavered a bit, in my own head, but I was determined to make the best of it. I bought 4 long sleeved athletic shirts from Old Navy, after all – I wouldn’t have to worry about sun screen coverage if everything was covered with cloth! I got several pairs of pants to “wasteland up”. I started making old key necklaces, bottle cap earrings, and such. I got my camel pack and Ryan attached the awesome shoulder armor he made for me to it.

Suddenly the days were all gone and we were packing for the weekend. I had no idea of what to take, so I ended up panic throwing things in the car. Five bottles of sunscreen sounds about right for 5 days in the desert right? Two bottles of rum? How about a first aid kit, solarcaine for when I got burned, and advil pm for when I couldn’t sleep. The trip down to California City was pretty much me staring out the window an anxious bundle of nerves.

We got down there super late at night and stayed in a hotel, one last shower before we headed out into the desert the next morning. I AM A REDHEAD. I burn in INDIRECT SUNLIGHT. I hate heat. I get crabby when I am sweaty. WHAT.THE.FUCK.AM.I.DOING. I am 90 percent certain the only reason I didn’t panic attack out that morning was I was too TIRED.

People keep asking me – Did you have fun? The answer is not nearly as straight forward as yes or no. How do you boil down a set of completely surreal, torturous, and outlandish experiences down to “Yeah, it was fun.” This is usually followed by a “Well, will you go back?” to which I answer – a solid Maybe***. Yes that’s 3 asterisk contingencies.

So one of the things about Wasteland is – it’s in a desert. It’s not a permanent location. It’s just a large open sandy area. No bathrooms. No showers. No water. There is ONE concrete slab that has been graffitied. That’s it. It’s all in, and all out. The Rust Devils, the tribe I was joining, run a bounty hunting game. They are inside the city walls. There’s city walls built with buses, junked up cars, sheet metal, and ply wood. Outside the city is Tent City. Our camp has to be “on theme” – meaning it has to look post apocalyptic – more specifically very Mad Max-ish. The tribe has been doing this since 2012, so they have a bit of practice.

Wednesday morning starts with everyone heading out to the camp site at oh my god it’s early o’clock and starting to unload the uhaul. Then we put together the three car ports. One is the bounty office, one is the dining area, and one is the lounge. They are arranged in a U shape, along the boarders of our camp. We cover the tops with canvas and netting.Then, along the outer walls, we attached old rusted sheet metal, and wooden fence bits, to form an outer wall. The old busted limousine the tribe owns, The Mutie Beauty, was parked along the left wall, so she would be seen by anyone as soon as they entered the main gate. In the center of our camp, one of our more clever Rust Devils put together a wooden tower, which allows for a birds eye view of the whole city.

Ten minutes in to Wednesday, I am already coated in sunscreen, sweaty, and covered in dirt and sand. I didn’t have goggles, so I just wore my sunglasses. Thank GOD I had prescription sunglasses. I swapped from my normal flip flops into a super old pair of Timberland boots. A pair I almost DIDN’T BRING. I cannot express how glad I am I did. By around 6, we had the camp mostly together. Someone mentioned that we only had an hour or so of sunlight left, and I started to panic again. We hadn’t put our tents up. We were waiting on someone to come back to put their tent up first, and they weren’t back yet. Oh yeah, and at this point the ONLY food I had had was raw hot dogs. I mean, I like raw hot dogs, but after 8+ hours of physical labor, I am fucking hungry and this was NOT acceptable. So I pushed to get the tents set up. After a moment of discussion, people agreed to positions and we got it set up. By this point, I was on the brink of tears. I was tired, physically exhausted, hot, hungry, and 100% out of patience. I was snapping at people I liked and I needed to lay down away from everything for even just 10 minutes.

Ryan got our tent set up, I immediately crawled inside, laid down, dirt and all, and just let myself cry a bit to feel better. Oh did I instantly start to feel better. After about 30 minutes, I got up, grabbed a plastic cup, my bottle of rum, poured a drink and went to rest in the shade. The temperature started to drop and suddenly I had to pee. I had been drinking water all day and sweating all day, but hadn’t had to pee. It was surreal, realizing that I hadn’t had to pee because I was SWEATING it all out. Fortunately the Rust Devils pay for a private porta-potty. So at least THAT was a bonus. Around 9 pm, we finally ate – pulled pork sandwiches. I scarfed two of them down so fast, I barely even remember how they tasted. There was chatting and such, but mostly I remember heading to bed.

Thursday morning came EXCESSIVELY early. It got super bright, then it was already getting hot. I could hear people talking and making noise. I crawled out of my tent because it was too warm and I needed to pee. Getting dressed in a tent you can’t stand up in is NOT an easy task. I walked into the main part of our camp to grab an energy drink and someone, I don’t actually remember WHO, asked me to help them do something. The look I gave them can only be described as WITHERING as I grabbed the garbage can lid we had tied our porta-potty key to, and stomped off. It turns out – this was around 8:30 am.

So it turns out, I am allergic to baby wipes. Or at least the regular ones – not the “free and natural” ones I used on my kid. I was allergic to disposable diapers as a baby, so when I had my kid, I got all the super duper hippy organic stuff even though I generally don’t believe in buying organic. But I didn’t realize this until Saturday. So Thursday morning, I took a wet wipe bath, which included wiping down my face. I reapplied sunscreen and headed back to camp.

People were bustling about setting up the final touches. Dogface was trying to cook bacon, but it was so windy already, the stove wouldn’t stay hot. So – no breakfast. The event starts at noon, so I went to get my costume on, wake Minion up, and get ready for the starting time. Of course, in reality, it was more like 1. I had my camera and took pictures. Our whole camp was there and talking, joking, and having fun.

After the opening parade, we settled in to open for the day. We do bounty hunting, and how it works is – you sign up, we give you a finger, then we take your picture and make a poster of you. That poster is then stapled to a board, and OTHER people can grab your poster, then they come find you. You talk and play rochambo, then if the hunter wins, you give them the plastic finger, and they bring it back to us at the Bounty Office, and we give them caps for it. There are printed Hunter caps and a few Last Chance casino caps. Our neighbors across the street run a casino with caps – playing games like roulette, craps, and black jack. The rewards are things like – shots and such. No real money.

People start showing up. All kinds of costumes and personalities. Skimpy outfits, complete body covering outfits, vault dweller suits, punk rock looking costumes, everything. There was a woman in a wedding dress. A man wearing a loincloth and nothing else. Weapons of all kinds – bats with nails, swords, guns, scythes, etc.

I wasn’t on shift, so I sat in our camp and just watched the insanity. And it was insanity. People would walk up and hug each other, and only once they started talking did I realize – they didn’t know each other. People would walk into our camp and offer us food or alcohol. One of our tribe members pulled out his 5 gallon metal gas can, that was filled with home made rum.

As the day went on, the wind got more and more aggressive. Then the alert went out – a sandstorm was headed in, with high winds. We started securing the camp. Have you ever tried to run a generator or a printer in a sandstorm? It doesn’t work. So we shut down the bounty office and hunkered in.

They couldn’t keep the stove going, so once more, food was scarce. I discovered, thanks to a well prepared tribemate, that Lembas bread is apparently a real thing. Only it’s called Mayday. The afternoon and early evening was spent wearing a pair of over my glasses goggles and avoiding being sand blasted. Luckily for us, our camp was quite secure, and with one minor incident, we didn’t have to scramble. Other camps were not so lucky. Losing towers, having to take down their tents, and effectively being hammered by sand for a few hours.

When the wind finally died down after dark, we shook off what sand we could and settled down for a drink. After much chatting and talking with people who stopped by to visit, we headed to bed, only to discover we hadn’t covered the vent on our tent. So our tent had about an inch of sand in the whole thing.

I went to bed, tired, a bit drunk, but marginally feeling better about the trip than I had been.

Friday, once more I was woken up early, crabby, and exhausted. My face felt tight and swollen, but I assumed it was just the sun. Even though I had not gotten burned, I am still very sensitive, so it made sense. Food was functional, so breakfast sandwiches were had. I got wrangled into doing the opening shift, so I got dressed and ready pretty early.

Then came the two hours of awesomeness. We run a bounty hunting game, and use an app to take the player’s picture, then print out a poster with them as a Wanted Person. So I got to take pictures. I got to talk to all these interesting and fascinating people. Their costumes were endlessly beautiful and unique. After 2 hours, I really didn’t want to stop. I did though, because I was tired and hungry. Although I had been bribed by one gentleman, who asked me to hold his poster for a while. He gave me a shot of fireball for it. Deal!

That afternoon, I took my parasol and walked about with Minion. Minion is Ryan’s “wasteland name” and as I found out, people generally stick to them in a dedicated fashion. It’s almost like roleplaying. I wasn’t Kim anymore, I was Ember. This also lead to a very strange form of fluid hierarchy of power. Logically, I would have been low on the ladder, since I was new. But for some reason, I floated up. I am not sure if it was my extrovertedness, my nosiness, my bright feathered shoulder, or my smile. Hell, it may have just been my blunt and assertive nature. Whatever it was, people were automatically deferential and respectful to me outside of the camp. Inside, it was like being in the middle of a family with a bunch of loud siblings.

As we finished an AMAZING tri-tip dinner, we found out the band, Ahtck was about to perform, so we headed over to that. It’s weird, being at a festival where there are so few people, you can just stand in a loose crowd to watch a show. I am not a fan of heavy metal, but Ahtck is really good and as most of their songs are Wasteland themed, very appropriate. The singer started with a comment on all the Wastelanders we had lost over the year, and I have FEELINGS on that I need to write down later. The concert began and it was probably the best one I have ever gone to. It’s very different, standing to watch a show, when the person you are standing with likes to hold and touch you. Minion kept his arms around me the whole time, but loosely so I could twist and kiss him. This of course, inspired Dogface to yell “GET A ROOM. OR A TENT.” which became a joke.

After the concert, we went back to camp, hung out around our fire for a bit, then headed over to Ghoulcrest, a hunting tribe. They had a two story structure and allowed us to go up to the Members only top section. It was amazing, in the cool night air, chatting with people, and staring up at the cloudless sky. You are so far out in the desert the stars are so clear and easy to see. I could see the cloud of the milky way. Just beautiful and perfect. If I go back, I have to take a picture with it. We returned to camp, drunk and silly.

One perfect example of how the rules had changed – a man walked into our camp, walked up to me, took the lid off a jar and held it out to me. Inside was a red liquid. I looked at it, took it, then asked “What is it?” “Truck Punch!” he replied. “You know, calling it truck punch makes it sound like an alcohol fermented in the engine of your truck right?” I said. “That’s exactly what it is!” he laughed. And I took a drink. It tasted like strawberries, wine, and cream soda.

Here I also met a guy named Tauntaun. I made the obvious joke of “Well – you don’t smell THAT bad on the outside.” since it was likely he hadn’t taken a shower in 3 days at this point. He laughed and said “I will keep you warm at night!” I pointed at Minion and said “That’s his job.” The dude immediately responded in a laughing manner, nodded at me, then told Minion “You are one lucky dude.” Yes, yes he is. And I am one extremely lucky lady.

Here’s where I made a mistake. I hadn’t been drinking as much water as I needed throughout the day. It had been 76 and cool, and we had run out of coke zero. I drank too much and asked a tribemate if it was time to do the Tetanus Shots. The Tetanus Shot is the Rust Devil’s signature shot and the previous TWO days many a comment had been made about “You’re not a Rust Devil until you’ve had a Tetanus Shot.” I felt I had done my time. I was ready to stop feeling like the newbie. UNFORTUNATELY, the mats to MAKE a Tetanus shot were not present. I got upset, for some stupid reason – I think that I felt like people had made this comment, but were now preventing me from getting them to STOP and preventing me from feeling like I REALLY belonged here. I was still just a girlfriend. I ended up a bit more belligerent than normal. Lucky for me, my emotions swang to sadness fast enough I ended up storming off to bed. Minion came to talk to me, and I think I was just at my limit for the day for dealing with anything and everything. He offered to take me to a hotel, and instead I stayed and just went to sleep.

And boy did Saturday morning hurt. I woke up feeling awful. And not just hung over. I was, but that was only part of it. My eyes were practically swollen shut. My whole face was one big swollen puff ball of pain and itchiness. So I walked to the porta-potties, trying to figure it out, went to wipe my face with a wet wipe and almost screamed at the pain from it. That’s when I figured out – I am in fact allergic to regular wet wipes. OW. I headed back to camp and tried to drink some oj to help with the hangover while I thought about what to do about my face. My stomach was having none of that, so I ended up puking my oj back up into the garbage can. Lucky, it was just the oj. The Great Demander, a professional photographer who works the event, happened by and saw me, swollen face and all, and brought me some Benadryl.

Have I mentioned how *nice* everyone is at Wasteland? It’s like one big family. I mean, yeah there are assholes, but here they are clearly enjoying themselves and thus being nice. People are totally willing to barter and trade. Willing to do anything to help. Even share Benadryl.

I spent most of the morning feeling awful, but by my shift in the bounty office, I was feeling much better. The swelling had gone down and I was game for just about anything. The afternoon passed in a blur of sunscreen, good food, chatting with crazy people, taking pictures, posting bounty posters, and just hanging out. It’s also really funny to walk up to people with a bottle of water, hand it to them, then turn around and say, “Fill me up!” as they pour it into your camel pack. Note – building your costume off a camel pack base – excellent fucking idea.

Saturday night, I went easy on booze, but they finally had the stuff for tetanus shots, so I took one of those. It’s fireball, rum, a Tabasco sauce, with the rum floated on top and lit on fire. It was great, until the Tabasco went up my nose. WHEW that burns. We had dinner of ribs and ravioli which were both crazy good. I got to feeling exhausted, so we headed to bed. By this point our tent smelled like dead feet, dead farts, dead animal, and funk. This is where I discovered the problem with trying to go to bed SOBER at Wasteland. It’s SO LOUD. People are playing music, talking, etc etc until late at night. And tent walls do NOT stop it. Minion also decided to start telling me a story about seeing a Tarantula by the porta-potties. I informed him that if he EVER wanted me to come back he needed to STOP SPEAKING IMMEDIATELY.

At 4 am, I forced Minion to walk me to the porta potties, came back and took a Advil PM so I could get SOME sleep.

Of course, at the crack of fucking dawn on Sunday, here goes people talking. Including overhearing a story about a woman who was sexually assaulted, but Wasteland taking care of their business and her. It was a scary story, with the best possible ending. I got up, feeling like my entire world had shifted. I hadn’t cleaned out from under my finger nails in days. I didn’t even try to put on deodorant anymore. My hair had more sand than anything else in it. It shockingly didn’t look that bad. I really wanted a fucking shower. My definition of “dirty” was so dramatically shifted – pretty much unless it was a pile of dirt – it wasn’t too dirty to touch or even eat. My teeth crunched with every bite from the sand in my mouth.

We ate breakfast. Have I mentioned how GOOD all the food at Wasteland was? I am not sure if it was the cooking or the sheer level of hunger I built up each day. Midway through breakfast, here comes a tribe member telling us the wind is going to pick back up. We need to start breaking down now. As hard as it is putting UP a camp in the desert, that’s how hard it is taking it DOWN. In increasing wind. About an hour into breakdown, I felt like I was more in the way that helping, so I went and took down our tent, and prepped our stuff for leaving. It was around that time I noticed… I wasn’t sweating. Like at all. It was 90 degrees, noon-ish, and I wasn’t sweating a drop. I needed to rest, so I sat in the shade of a van, and drank water. The longer I sat, the worse I felt. First like I needed to vomit, even though I wasn’t hung over. Then came the chills. Did I mention it was 90 degrees, I was wearing a long sleeved athletic shirt, and pants? I should not have been cold. I felt even worse, realizing I was sitting on my ass while other people packed up the camp. I got up to help. Have you ever tried to lift something and your arms just said “Nope.”? That shit sucks.

I ended up sitting more than helping at this point. Finally, our camp doctor came over, put his hand on my head, realized I wasn’t sweating and forced me into the uhaul truck to sit in the ac. It really didn’t help.

Around 3 pm, we had nearly everything packed, and headed back to town. We had to haul out all our garbage, so we had to find dumpsters that weren’t overfull. Then we headed to the storage unit. We can’t take this shit home, so we pay to store it there. Once there, I helped by organizing and sorting things and getting it all to fit. I am super at Tetris, so this went really well. About halfway through I started sweating again, and I can’t even tell you what a relief THAT was.

Wasteland is in the desert, and it’s “bring everything in, take everything out.” So we brought alcohol, but somehow, despite drinking the whole time, we brought more alcohol home than we took. Weird.

We finally got everything packed away. The discussion started up about who was driving the uhaul back. I wasn’t on the list, I didn’t have my license, and I had been promised a shower, so fuck it, I was out. I just walked away. Minion caught up with me and we headed back to the hotel. There was the comment though of “I have to get Kim to a shower before she stabs me.” which is making some pretty large comments considering I didn’t have a weapon on me, or anything sharp at all.

We got back to the hotel, and I got in the shower. It maybe wasn’t the best shower in my life, but it was DEFINITELY in the top five. I wiped my face with the wash cloth and it instantly went a dark brown. I just kept scrubbing until it was white-ish again. I washed my hair 4 times, with two rounds of conditioner. Once out of the shower I started rubbing burt’s bees foot repair into my hands and feet, and blood orange coco-butter into my legs, hands, arms, and neck. The lotion sunk in like water into the desert sand.

We went to eat Chinese for dinner. The poor waitress couldn’t keep our water glasses full. This was goodbye. That night I slept like the dead.

The next day we headed home, discussing the trip and events. I talked about what we would do “next year”. So maybe that answers the “Am I going back?” question? *** These contingencies were – 1. Bigger tent. 2. Have our own dry food supply. Our own drink supply too. 3. Camp.SHOWER. This is of course, assuming Minion and I don’t break up. If we do, love you Rust Devils, BUT OH HELL NO. The final tally on Sunscreen bottles was 1.5. I miraculously didn’t get sunburned. I am still digging sand out of my nose and ears. I think my hair may never recover.

Was it fun? There were fun MOMENTS. I wouldn’t call 12 hours of manual labor, not showering for 5 days, constantly battling the elements, not eating properly, having to worry about what exactly electrolytes are and why you need them, and then having severe dehydration FUN. None of that was fun.

Seeing Minion happy? That was fun. Meeting all those weird people, making new friends, discussing costuming, D&D, games, WoW, Savage Worlds, Rum, and drinking until my liver cried – all very fun. Having people compliment me on my shoulder armor? Awesome. Having someone ask to buy my necklace – super cool.

The thing that most sets the ton for how my trip to the wastes was – here I was, a week later, wistfully thinking of my new friends, wishing I could see them, and wondering when I would see them again. Then taking over the Rust Devil’s twitter account and making a plan for how to grow it.

Maybe it was fun.

Piracy and Legacy Servers

Let me start by saying – I am a game developer. I get paid to MAKE games. I have made games that sold millions of copies. I have made games that barely sold at all. I have been at a studio that got *house buying sized bonuses* and at studios where it was more like “The studio will be closing on Friday.”

When someone pirates a game – I have conflicting feelings about it. You are taking my work, my 70+ hour weeks, spent crunching and killing myself, stealing it, and enjoying it for free. At the same time, my brain is also able to comprehend that pirates are not buyers. 1 pirated copy of the game does not equal a lost sale. Pirates aren’t going to BUY the game regardless. If they can’t pirate it, they just won’t play it. It still fucking bothers me though. It’s still theft.

The WoW social media community is having a bit of a fuss over Legacy servers and the shut down of a large private server. So here’s my point of view. A game developer’s point of view.

FIRST: Private servers are piracy. They are theft. They are stealing Blizzard’s work.

FULL.STOP. The server got shut down BECAUSE IT’S THEFT. They didn’t make the game. They didn’t make the art. They didn’t design the levels. They took someone else’s work and recreated it, and acted like they had done a ton of work. THEY DIDN’T. If I retype the Lord of the Rings, that doesn’t give me the right to sell it, make movies of it, etc. Hell, if I just print it out on my printer, that doesn’t give me the right to SELL that print.

Second: 150k pirates stealing WoW – Vanilla or otherwise – are NOT equal to 150k subs for WoW.

You can’t make the argument that 150k people playing on a private server is 150k people who would be willing to play a legacy server run by blizzard. Sure, there was probably a small subset of people who are already subscribers and just went to play there because they miss Vanilla. BUT it’s likely more than HALF of those people were just pirates who wanted to play WoW but DON’T WANT TO PAY BLIZZARD FOR IT.

Third: Game development, especially with 16+ year old code-bases, is NOT easy/simple.

People like to argue – “Well a bunch of fans did it, why can’t Blizzard?” For one, Blizzard has to make it work within their code base. They would have to do it right – without major game breaking bugs or exploits. They would have to have it work with Battle.Net and all of the tech they use. It’s also not as easy as just “rolling back” to a specific revision. We know WoW has been in development for at least 16 years (probably more like 20). I have worked on 5 year old code bases that were already a tangled awful mess of “what the fuck were those programmers thinking?” I SHUDDER to even think of Blizzard’s. Do you realize how many devs they have currently working for them? How many they have had who have left? They mentioned at BlizzCon they use FOUR different versions of source control. FOUR. That’s a NIGHTMARE. Hell, with that much time, that many versions of source control, and the sheer volume of changes to the game, I would be astonished if they even thought about trying to build a legacy server, much less TRIED. And don’t kid yourself, it would be for less than 100k players at MOST. That would be the population the first 3-4 months. Then it would drop to 50k or less.

Programmers are the most expensive part of a dev team. That is the majority of what would be needed to get legacy servers running. It is simply not cost effective to get a legacy server running, because it the number of subs would be so low, they wouldn’t make their money back. Remember that whole Pirates Copies Don’t Equal Sales – if a FREE WoW server only attracts 150k players – then a paid one would attract less than half of that. (I actually would peg it more around a 10th of that.) Add to this the fact that the BEST programmers suited to this task would be the ones who have been at the company the longest – as they have the most first hand knowledge. That means that they would be pulling their best people off NEW content to work on OLD content for a fraction of the player base. You think garrisons cost you a raid tier? Legacy servers will cost you an EXPANSION – and would KILL the live game in the process.

Let’s look at the example Cataclysm gave us – they went back and reworked zones to bring them up to Wrath levels of quality. And how did that go? It didn’t. Blizzard even admitted that they ended up spending too much time and resources reworking old content THAT PEOPLE DIDN’T PLAY. They said they should have made more end game and high level content.

Finally: Vanilla wasn’t that great. Nostalgia is a weird thing.

Do you like Paladins? Not in Vanilla you didn’t. Remember being an out of combat rezzer? I do. I sat there and did NOTHING and wasn’t allowed to roll on gear unless no one who was killing the boss wanted it, and rezzed people who died. Remember trying to corral 40 people into a raid that took hours and hours and you could only raid if you were willing to play WoW 40+ hours a week? I do, because I couldn’t raid. I had school, then work. I had things I had to do. I wanted to raid.

Bags were only 14 slots. No dungeon groups, just hours in trade trying to form a group. Soul shards, ammo, materials for spells. Keys for UBRS. Shields with shadow power. Hunter pets had to be leveled and friended. Spell Ranks.  Only one way to level – grinding. Only one way to play – grinding.

So no, I don’t think Blizzard should waste time and money they could be spending on PAYING customers (like me!) and making us NEW content on revamping old content for thieves.

Game Developer Barbie

“It’s really not that big of a deal.”

“FUCK YOU. IT’S A BIG FUCKING DEAL. It’s the BIGGEST FUCKING DEAL.”

I will admit, my response was probably not the most polite or appropriate for the situation. But I was not wrong. Mattel announced new Barbies today. And while the news of new body types (holy hell they added a curvy barbie!!!) was enough to draw me to the site, what made me gasp with joy was the Game Developer Barbie.

She’s got a computer accessory. She’s got long red hair, with headphones snugly in place. She’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a light jacket. She’s got sneakers on her flat feet. She’s me. (Actually, if they made the curvy version it literally WOULD be me.)

She’s me. I’m a game developer, and this summer, I will have a Barbie doll that looks just like me, dresses just like me, and DOES MY JOB.

When I was in High School, I was one of the smartest kids in my class. They made us talk to a guidance counselor about what job we wanted so we could plan out our college path to get there. After 30 minutes of her trying to convince me to be a Doctor, Lawyer, or Teacher, I finally just said, “Look, I am gonna go to college, I will figure it out there.” I was steered away from being a writer (“You don’t want to be a starving artist do you?”) They pushed the Doctor and Lawyer hard – as expected for a poor area. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something amazing.

I went to college and my “plan” became Take as Many Classes as Possible, and Figure it Out Later. 4.5 years later, I was planning on being an English Teacher. Then I discovered the Guildhall and literally said “Wait, I can make games? They have schools for this kind of thing? I am going THERE.” And I did. But that moment struck me because no one – in all my years of playing video games, ever once said “Why don’t you try to make them?” I owned a computer, and worked on them, but never once thought – hey let’s make a game. Hell, I BUILT LEVELS for Heroes of Might and Magic and Neverwinter Nights, and never once thought, I should get paid to do this. Because no one ELSE did. Games were a “waste of time”. Always.

Barbie makes it so people WILL think about it. I remember thinking about careers like being a vet, a stewardess, a tv anchor, all because that was what Barbie did – AND I DIDN’T EVEN PLAY WITH THEM.

Further, I remember way back in 4th grade when we were asked what we wanted to be when we grow up. I said something weird and my teacher responded with “Pick something Barbie could be.” Yeah, it was a bit sexist because she didn’t say that to the boys, but her heart was in the right place trying to direct me towards real careers. I then switched to insisting I would be a mermaid, because I had an Ariel Barbie doll.

This is important. Very important for the next generation of girls. I wish I had had that vision when I was a kid. I would have been making games since I was 10.

Shityards

No, I spelled that right.

Sorry, once more we are getting into a profanity fueled rant. But COME ON. Who is running this thing at Blizzard? Did we lose design leads and not know it? Is someone sneaking mind altering drugs in the water coolers?

I want to start by saying – I have 6 max level garrisons. I have 6 more not max level. 4 of my max level garrisons have ALL max ilvl followers. I.love.garrisons. I love followers. I love missions. I love logging in 3 times a day (before breakfast, at lunch, and before bed) to cycle through my stable of alts to accept and resend followers on missions.

I get WHY some people don’t like garrisons and garrison missions. I do. It is very chore-like. It does require an addon in the worst way. (Once more, thank you Master Plan.) It does feel increasingly like the only thing to do in WoW. (So not true, but I get that people feel that way.)

But I am not one of those people. So the Shipyard, it should just be an extension of that same feeling though right? Right? Not even a little bit. I hate them. I am DONE with them. I already told my guild if they require I have the ring or get gear from the chests – give up. I am not doing it.

First off, level design. The shipyard isn’t even in the same phase as your garrison. You have to LEAVE your garrison to get to it, and it unphases you, then rephases you. It takes approximately 40 seconds to run from the garrison mission table outside, mount, then ride down to the ship one. The path makes sense for reality, but this isn’t reality. Level design is the art of making things flow and this feels like a backed up toilet. Cut a back door in the main building, and run a path down to the docks. BOOM. Best part – that space on the map – not even being used. It clears out the SUPER wonky jammed in path from the front that feels so weird by the Menagerie. Yeah, it will only cut off at best 20 seconds, but that’s enough time it makes me less likely to mount or hearth to get around it.

Ship Limit. I am frustrated by the 20 follower limit. Everyone except for my main, who NEEDS the stables, has the barracks because of this. And even 25 is too low. I want 100 followers. So what about ships? Oh we only get 6. It’s like they took the most frustrating thing about missions and made it worse.

Ship types. This is so confusing and clunky. I get it’s mirroring the classes on followers, but the thing is, we have WAY more of those. We also get it as players. A tank tanks things. Dps kills lots of little minions. It spoke in a language we as players were familiar with. I do not get ship types at all. I haven’t checked WoWHead, so I have just been building even numbers.

Ship destruction. So here’s the worst part. If a mission fails, there is a chance the ship will be destroyed. Yep. That ship that cost oil and garrison resources will just boom, with nothing to show for it. Not only did you fail the mission, but now you are FURTHER behind because you lost that ship you had been leveling. You can make them unsinkable – at the cost of a counter, so you effectively GIMP your ship to make sure you don’t lose it. Oh and it’s not just one ship. You can lose both ships if it’s a 2 ship mission. As for the chances of this occurring, I have no idea. But I have had 2 90%+ success chance missions fail and lost BOTH. SHIPS. I haven’t even gotten to the 15 missions yet to upgrade my yard.

Shipyard parts. Because inventory space is not ENOUGH of a premium, let’s throw more stuff in their bags. I feel like I should tattoo this on every designer at Blizzard – IF YOU CAN KEEP IT OUT OF THE BAGS – DO IT. There should be a review process that makes it so a council of 25 devs and 25 players all approve something taking up a bag slot. If they can’t agree that it’s worth it – BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD. Oh and the parts? Yeah, hope you like raiding and doing all the stuff in Tanaan, because that’s the only way to get the blueprints for those.

Forced failure. Are you kidding me with this Blizzard? I learned this my SECOND MONTH at the Guildhall. Do not teach the player by FORCING them to fail. Just don’t. It feels like crap. AND it just teaches the player that the game is willing to CHEAT to make a point. Even better – the mission required to complete the legendary? With 3 epic ships perfectly decked out – you can get to 91% success. Those are some awfully nice epic ships you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to them.

Run out of oil. Where do you get oil when you run out? I haven’t figured it out. I spent 4 days doing no missions because I had no oil and my garrison missions weren’t offering me any.

Blockades. A friend of mine spent a week trying to level up his ships to do the Hellfire Citadel mission. The morning he was ready, he woke up to a blockade preventing him from doing it. That he didn’t have the appropriate counters for. Because he had refitted his ships for the HFC mission. What.Kind.of.SICK.GAME.IS.THIS.

Shipyards are one big black feel bad for WoD. It’s like they threw out everything they learned from garrisons and put a new designer in charge. Did they decide WoD was a lost cause and move everyone to the new expac without cleaning/tuning/polishing up what was being finished?

Oh god… that’s what they did isn’t it?

TO THE SKIES!

In the tone of my last post about flying – here’s my response to the announcement about flying in Draenor today:

FUCK. YES.

Let’s break down why this is an EXCELLENT solution. In fact I would say it’s possible it’s a PERFECT solution.

How do we get flying? Getting the Loremaster of Draenor, Securing Draenor, 100 Treasures, Explore Draenor, and rep achievements.

It solves the exploration vs non-exploration issue.

Many people commented that they LIKED being forced to ride around while leveling. It gives them a better sense of the world. It helps them learn the zones. It makes it feel like they are exploring. The thing is – once we hit 100, our priorities change. We start wanting to go to specific spots. We try to bypass enemies. We WANT short cuts. But by requiring the Loremaster Achievement – it shows that the player who gets flying HAS done the story. They did the ground footwork to complete the zones.

It makes it so only level 100s can get it.

You have to be 100 to get the Securing Draenor achievement done. Bam. Locked out to level capped characters without it being just a “ding” bonus.

They aren’t charging gold for it.

It’s not a gold sink. (It could be though.) It doesn’t punish poor players or players who want to spend their gold elsewhere. More, it means that it’s not a thing that can be bought with real money.

It doesn’t allow players to cheat around the treasure hunting.

By requiring the 100 treasures achievement, players HAVE to get out there and find at least a large number of them. Maybe not all of them, maybe not all the annoying jumping puzzle ones, but a ton of them. Enough that you feel like you have done the work.

The rep grinds don’t seem to be THAT important, but hey, it means we have to put some work in. I don’t mind WORKING for a reward. Especially one as good as flying. It’s not easy. It’s not too hard. It focuses on getting the players through the content they want us to experience, the way they want us to experience it, but then opens the game up to how WE want to play afterward. And players are going to do it. I bet TONIGHT there will be a huge rush of people getting out into the world to get to work on these achievements.

I like this solution. I would go so far as to say I love it, it’s the correct way to do it, and they should do it this way in the future. Make us work for it. Not RNG or gold based, but achievement based. It’s a really great compromise between the two sides of players who want to fly and designers who want us to stop flying over their content.

I can’t wait to get back to the skies, archeology, and exploring the world.