Random the Third

Time spent leveling to 85? Three days. Time spent grinding dungeons to have enough gear for heroics? Four days. Time spent grinding heroics to get enough gear for raids? Two weeks. Time spent learning a single boss in a raid and finally downing him? Two weeks.

Finally downing a boss only to have him drop THREE pairs of plate tanking boots? When you have a single BEAR tank? Skull bashing frustrating.

Random is not fun. I have said it before and I will say it again.

So if random is so terrible, why is it used so WIDLY in Massively Multiplayer games? It is an archaic and ancient method used by designers to increase difficulty, include “surprise”, and artifically inflate playtime.

My Issues with Random Drops in WoW:

1. Random is a complex idea, frequently misunderstood.

Casinos are completely based on the misunderstanding of random. People pay money into a slot machine believing they will eventually hit the number needed to win.

I frequently have to explain the difference between random chance and probability to players. So why stick to this misunderstood random? We are not trying to con players out of their money. If they are playing, we already have their money. If the general group of players don’t understand random then when they hit a bad streak they will feel a sense of betrayal, like the game is cheating. Or that the game “hates” them. One of a designers common issues is how to match player expectation with what is happening in the game. Why not remove this and instead put in a progressive random, or a even a weighted random that takes into account the player’s time and dedication to the task? This falls in line with player expectation.

2. Random is not fair.

Quell the urge to say life isn’t fair. Games are not meant to parrot life. Even the Sims did not stay true to life. When the player is competing against an AI or the game there is no reason not to be fair. It has a dedication to be fun. I don’t want to endlessly make futile attempts at something while watching another player succeed with seeming ease. This creates a stepping away point, where player one says, “Screw this, I can go play a better game.”

In a game where the acquisition of the newest thing is the goal and success identifier, the player who gives the greatest amount of effort should be rewarded first. If a player spends all their time focused on a single goal, and then spends a great deal of time, proving their dedication, shouldn’t they be rewarded, as opposed to someone who accidentally stumbles on it through a mathematical coin toss?

3. Removal of Random allows the experience to be defined.

If we remove the random element we can truly design the experience the player has. We take control over the fun and can tailor it to be precisely what we want for that point in the game. Also this allow a definable goal or time line to completion. The player knows how long they will be at a task.

The ability to determine the length of time allows the player to set goals and builds excitement towards the reward. As a player gets closer to a reward, they work harder, faster, and more diligently to get closer to it. As I near the required number of badges to buy an item I am far more likely to persist and keep coming back every day to get my daily dungeon done.

4. The inflation of time is unnecessary.

Portal proved a game doesn’t have to be long to worth it’s cost. I would even go so far as to say Portal is so exceptional because it’s experience is so cunningly condensed into it’s purest form then spread over an appropriate amount of time. As the industry gets better at making games, there are more games worth the time to play. But our time is limited. We don’t need artificial inflation of time to keep the player playing. Make each experience engaging and worth the time spent to play it.

In MMOs, it is all about keeping the player playing and thus paying. Interestingly, using rng to artificially inflate the playtime of the game actually drives possible customers away. It also makes the game stale for older customers. If I got 1k gold for every time a friend of mine quit playing WoW because they just didn’t feel like doing the grind any more, I could open my own gold selling business.

The interesting thing is seeing people who will grind on a dungeon for an item for 2 or 3 weeks and never get it. They invariably cancel their account and then return at a later date, only to get stuck in the same situation. I also see where people reach this point of frustration, get convinced to run it one more time, and then get the item, at this point their interest is renewed.

5. Blizzard is ALREADY combating this problem, just not consistently.

One of the big themes that was beat into us at the Guildhall was make your design decision consistent. If you can’t do x in the game, that’s fine. Explain it, and go on, but don’t change the rules, without re-teaching the player. If a barrel that explodes is red, it needs to be red the whole game. You can’t change it to blue without telling the player and giving them a reason why.

Blizzard already has a progressive random integrated for their quest items. They already use badges, crafting, and reputation rewards as partial backup for bad drops. They just need to make it consistent across the board.

There is no reason to cling to this outdated design idea. The difficulty should come from challenges, not in gearing. The surprise comes from new experiences, new raids, new classes, and maybe getting that item early. With the sheer size and scope of classes, raids, professions, dailies, quests, achievements, and even pvp, there is no reason to artificially inflate the playtime. The play time on WoW is already insanely high and they add new content every few months. Even with tweaks to speed old content, there is still more here than a standard player could ever hope to experience. So why not at least give them the chance to see more of it?

It may take a bit more code and a bit more design thought, but doing away with rng would also make a better game. And isn’t that our goal as designers?

There is no pause button…

I have never been so glad to have the mom I do. Wow Insider’s breakfast topic today dealt with how do you explain WoW to muggles? (Muggles being non-WoW players in this case.)

Several issues were immediately brought up and then rehashed through the comments. I just wanted to take a moment to consider them and talk about what they really mean.

1. People don’t get that it isn’t a single player game.

Several people brought up how they have problems explaining to their parents/friends/significant others that the pretty avatars running around the screen are in fact all being played by other people. The first time I showed my mom WoW, I immediately explained, “You see this guy here, see how his portrait looks? See how his name looks? Okay, see this other guy here, see how his name looks? The first guy, he’s an npc. The second guy, he’s a player.” She then looked around the screen and commented, “But, most of the characters on the screen, they look like players!” I laughed at the surprise in her voice. From that point on, she really grasped that I wasn’t alone in the world.

2. There isn’t a pause button.

When I am not in game, the world keeps on turning.  Players keep logging in and things keep happening, even when I am not there. I can’t pause, because it isn’t a game that relies on my existence. This is where the sports analogy can really take over. To really explain this, most people said things like, “Think about it like the Superbowl. You can’t ask the players to stop playing while you go pee. The game is gonna keep going, you have to pick the best time to run pee. This might be the half-time show. Might be when  player gets injured. Might be when the coaches call a time out.” In WoW, you can’t just press pause and get up to do something. You have to be “safe”. If you are in a battleground, group, raid, etc, you can’t just jump up. You have to wait for half time.

Luckily for me, my mom was used to playing Tetris and understood that even being able to pause the game, when she came back, her flow and mindset for the level was broken and likely would mean restarting. So when she came up to me while playing WoW (or more accurately at the time DAoC) and I said “Sorry mom, busy!” she would say “When you’re in a safe spot, I need you.” And she was cool with that safe spot being 30 minutes or an hour out.

3. The people you are playing with are important and friends.

This is always the point where my husband rolls his eyes and says “Second job…” But my mom always stressed the importance of honoring your commitments, being on time, and being respectful of others and their time. I hate saying I will make a raid and then missing it. People will often respond with, “But it’s just a game.” From the number of comments that other people made, this is a very common issue. Responses to how to explain this generally fall into the sports metaphor. Many commenters likened being a part of a raid team with being a part of a bowling league or team. If you don’t show up to play, no one gets to play.

I show up to raid early, prepared and ready to pull. Nothing annoys me more than players who show up 15 minutes late, without consumables, and goofing off, essentially treating it as if it weren’t important. If it were a single player game, it wouldn’t be. But you have 9 to 24 other people, who deserve respect, waiting on you.

Another thing that came up in the discussion was the implication that these other players aren’t “real”. As if they matter less as people because the major connection with them only exists in a virtual world.  I always consider the fact that a real person, likely much like me, sits behind the avatar in game. But I have had people say things like “Well, your ‘friend’ who may or may not be real.” Chances are I have spoken with these people enough in game that if I call them my friend, I know them well enough to have made that decision. Even more so, chances are they are on my facebook, I have seen pictures of them, or maybe even hung out with them in real life.

4. Yes, it’s a video game… That doesn’t make it any less important to me.

I always love it when people ask me how much I play WoW and I respond with 3-4 hours a night if I head straight home from work, plus 7-8 per weekend day if I can. They are genuinely horrified. Couldn’t that time be spent doing something better?!? I can’t resist laughing. This is the point where I ask: Do you watch TV? Do you watch movies you get on Netflix? Do you play golf? Do you play basketball? Do you hike/bike/swim? Usually the best one they respond with is “Oh of course I watch tv, I watch x show, and x station” etc etc. See the thing is, unless I am playing WoW, I don’t watch tv. WoW is my hobby, just like building boats is Gibbs’ or bowling is Abby’s. Just like my grandpa sat around listening to music and playing his guitar. Just like people who go out and run for an hour every day. Just like people who go and sit at a bar and socialize. The only difference is, I go and socialize with people who live in Canada, New York, Florida, California, and everywhere in between.

I especially like when people are like, you pay 15 bucks a month to play a GAME?!? My retort: You paid how much for those golf clubs and greens fee? You paid how much for that paintball gun? You paid how much for all that camping gear? Football teams spend how much on players???

WoW is no different from any hobby or sport. There are people who get it and people who don’t. To try to explain it, you have to use their words. For most people the sports analogies work pretty well to explain WoW. I am a member of the team. Raids are the games. Dungeons are the practices. The Guild Master or Raid Leader is the coach. My computer is my speed and agility. The internet, my stadium. My guild, my team. In the end, I am the equivalent of a minor league player, who loves the game.

14th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards

So apparently all Activision developers are enrolled in the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. One of the things they do is like the Oscars, but for video games. As an Activision employee, I was enrolled (though it appears anyone who works in the industry can apply, which is pretty neat) and today received an email asking me to vote on the nominees to determine who would receive the awards for various areas. It’s a pretty neat idea and as games have moved into the area of art, they deserve the recognition.

However I have some issues with the entire process. First off, what pool of games is this pulling from? Minecraft is no where to be seen, so one assumes “indie” games do not count. Also there doesn’t seem to be any consideration given to the size and scope of games in comparison to each other. Angry Birds was a fantastic game. But does it in any way, shape, or form compare to Red Dead Redemption?!? The sheer scope of the games puts them in a different class from each other! (The movies have “shorts” much like this should really keep casual/small games in their own category.)

Second, when the academy votes on movies, they have to take time to view all the movies before voting, while there is no such ability to do so for these games. They ask you to cast votes on things you are certain of. So it is on an honor system. But then, I felt terrible because I had to pick a game with an outstanding soundtrack from a list of games I have never played. I ended up choosing the one that was a sequel to the game I felt had a great soundtrack.

Third, the nominees are heavily focused on about 4 games. Now to be fair, this *can* happen. Look at Lord of the Rings Return of the King. Or this year with The King’s Speech. The thing with the game nominations is that it really feels like people just took one game they played and nominated it for every spot, regardless of how appropriate it is. What this leads to is categories like Innovation in Game Play, where *none* of the games are particularly innovative despite the fact that there are games out there that were wildly innovative. Back to my Angry Birds example, it’s a great game, but physics is not particularly innovative. Half Life 2 did it how long ago? Boom Blox did the exact same thing how long ago? I ended up voting for Heavy Rain, despite the fact that I feel it isn’t really a “good” game because at the very least it tried to be innovative. (Not that quick time events are innovative, but at least the heavy weave of the story, the character outcomes, and such were mildly innovative, though the case can be made that Indigo Prophecy did it first without the quick time events.)

I like the idea of an awards show. Even the Spike awards as an idea appeals to me. But it needs to be a thoughtful consideration with clearly defined areas that allows all games to shine. Unlike movies, games can be wildly divergent and should be compared to their peers. Also the terms need to be clearly defined to the voters. There is a great deal of adjustment that needs to take place for these awards to truly mean something and to be fair.

What’s in a Name?

Writing for video games is one of the hardest mediums to write for. Bypassing entirely the fact that development teams think they don’t need a writer, the writers being brought in exceptionally late, and/or assuming that anyone on the team who can put words on paper counts as a writer, there are a ton of minor issues with traditional writing that make writing for a game difficult.

One major issue that is very common is the assumption that story can only be told in text blocks. Bioshock has proven this to be completely untrue. Story can be told using models, textures, sounds, and even enemy set ups. This is part of an idea that when making a story the designer is also making a world. Everything in the game has to be a part of the world and a part of the story. Nothing should be put in the game that doesn’t support the world and the fiction.

If the design of the game requires something like zone or area names, then it logically follows that each of these names should be selected to support the fiction. Brand names, character names, place names… every single proper name in the game should be carefully considered and chosen to support the fiction. Nuka Cola in Fallout 3? Perfect. Pokeball to put Pokemon in? Perfect. Sinclare Solutions? Spot on. Each name supports the world.

That means the person on the team who knows the world best (hopefully an evil overlord of design), if not a writer, should at least be working with the writer to generate proper names for every single thing within the game. From characters to unique items. From places to technical terms that need to be renamed for the players (eg spawners). These molecules of flavor are just as important as a good footstep sound effect and a well placed combat area for making the world feel real, consistent and coherent.

I feel… anxious.

I haven’t even had the VCR plugged in for the last 4 years or so. The hundred or so vhs tapes have just been sitting on two spindly media shelves taking up space in my hallway.

I boxed them up. I have the vcr ready to give away to someone tomorrow.

I feel… anxious. A bit upset. I feel like I am abandoning old friends. I mean seriously, how many times did I watch that copy of Lion King?

It’s a bit easier for the ones I have a dvd copy of. The buffy tapes, while heart twinging, went into the box much easier than Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer.

I just keep repeating to myself: You didn’t watch them. You don’t need them. You hadn’t watched any of those movies in 4 years. Look at your hallway, isn’t it pretty without all those shelves? I need to de-clutter. I need to purge the unused stuff. As soon as I had them boxed up I immediatly took the shelves out to the dumpster. (Hopefully they will find a new home.) I had to. If I had kept the shelves, I might have changed my mind. Too late now.

Deep breaths, small steps. I can do this.

Higher Education

CBS News published an article about College Students not learning in college. A study, following students over the course of several years, concluded that students were not improving on an assessment. Queue the worried concern and the sudden desire for a “No College Student Left Behind” and so on. There are so many issues with both the study and the article, I am not even sure where to start.

How about assessment tests? I am good at standardized tests. The first time I took the TCAP (Tennessee’s version of the test that makes sure you are at least “high school” level) I made it into the 99th percentile with a little Advanced indicator in every subject. Meaning I scored a perfect score. In the ninth grade. I was given a “pass” to never have to take the test again. I shrugged and thought nothing of it. Until my senior year, when due to a clerical error I was scheduled to retake the test (they filed my scores under the wrong name). I showed up with a note for the proctor to explain why I wouldn’t be taking the test (I had helped the guidance councilor find my scores) to discover a room with about 50 students in it. All of them stressed, worried and clearly not at their best. A passing TCAP is required to graduate. All of these seniors were on at minimum their fourth try to pass the test. (A 50% or proficient score was required.) In the room were several people I knew. They weren’t dumb, or idiots, or even trouble makers. They were spazzes though. At that moment I became very aware of one very important difference between me and these people about to take this test. Tests don’t bother me. I am good at figuring out the answer if I don’t know it. I am good at looking at the 4 choices and picking the correct one by process of elimination. If I get a wrong answer, oh well, I know I will get enough right answers that a few wrong ones won’t matter.

My point is that a standardized test is a terrible way to gauge knowledge of a subject. Some people just suck at taking tests.

Can you name all 50 states? Can you recall the Bill of Rights? Can you name the first 10 Elements on the Periodic Table of Elements? Can you recite any 14 lines of Shakespeare correctly? Can you recite any 14 lines of Poe correctly? Do you remember the Pythagorean Theorem? Do you recall the chemical makeup of salt?

As a video game developer, *none* of these bits of information are vitally important to the day to day job I do. And my job requires all kinds of weird knowledge. But at various points in my history I was forced, usually *wildly* unwillingly to memorize all of that information. To what point and purpose? I am still not sure. The important thing to me is that I *know* where to find this information. I understand how to look at the formula and get to the solution. I understand the importance of cadence, rhyme, and couplets to Shakespeare. I understand the importance of the Bill of Rights. I understand Geography and can recognize a state as belonging to the United States.  Again, I can look at something and generally managed to figure out how it works or why it is important.

Point number 2, memorization and regurgitation is NOT learning. It’s a temporary measure to attempt to remember something. It does not explain why something is important or understand how it works.

Brace yourself… not everyone needs a college degree and college isn’t for everyone. I love school. I love learning. I love breaking things down, rummaging about their internals, and then putting them back together, metaphorically. I have been jokingly called Hermoine Granger and I took it as a compliment. (Though she stressed way more than I ever did.) I love reading. I love writing (I know, it’s obvious). I loved research papers. I am all for people learning, broadening their minds, and absorbing new information. But most colleges are a structured program that requires a great deal of input from a student, on a school’s schedule, often requiring overworked and underpaid teachers to do the best they can with what they have.  A student is really only going to get so much out of this kind of program. Realistically, they are only going to get out of it proportionally to the amount of effort and time they put in.

But not everyone is cut out for college. It’s just like they always say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I hated working retail. Three of the managers loved every minute of it. They loved working with people, customers, items… everything about the job. I barely have the patience to do my own hair every so often. I get it cut about once every year or so. I know two people who are *fantastic* stylists and love their job. They wouldn’t do anything else. And they are both *very* successful. Not everyone needs to go to college and college is not the only path to success. Nor is college the only way to learn. In fact, I would agree with a friend of mine who said what you learn is not as important as learning how to learn. I was hired as a tutor in college and proceeded to tutor people in subjects I never took. How is that possible? I would skim the chapter, begin to understand, take a second look and then talk through what I had just learned with the person trying to learn. It annoyed people to no end I assure you.

We need to stop trying to get everyone to follow the cookie cutter pattern and accept that people learn differently and have different goals. We need to focus on practical knowledge and training. We need to be aware that people learn at different rates and through different methods. Trying to set a bar and insisting that everyone passes this arbitrary bar is a sure fire way to fail at increasing the national happiness and intelligence. We also need to stop the mindless push to make higher education the new High School. It is really one of those things where parents need to accept that their 18 year old is an adult and let them make their own mistakes.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Recently I decided to start reading more books that fell outside my “normal” reading patterns. The first book I picked was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery book by Stieg Larsson. I chose it, as the main character, the titular girl, Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker, and earns her living working for a security firm by finding out people’s darkest secrets.

Overall I think the book was a good book. Worthy of a spot on my shelf, and it has lead to me acquiring the second in the series. (I will buy the third when it is released in paperback.)  If you like mysteries, I can suggest it as one of the best I have ever read. If not, perhaps a look, but maybe with a bit of a check first.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. (Or if you don’t mind being spoiled.)

First off, I love the character Lisbeth. She is a wildly intelligent hacker, that clearly has had a very rough life. Her social skills are painfully absent. She trusts no one and has very odd sense of right and wrong. Through the course of the first book, we see her sense of fair play that borders on psychotic. She always does what she feels is right, regardless of whether it is legal.

She seems completely unable to understand people’s intentions or responses towards her. Her antisocial and standoffish behavior seems to draw others in the book to her. I find it interesting that unlike most authors, who will give their characters “abilities” beyond the norm to assist them, Larsson realizes that her ability makes her that much more incapable of handling things. He makes her exceptionally strong, while giving her extremely profound weaknesses. He also doesn’t seem to mind heaping misfortune on her. One of my favorite qualities is her inability to have compassion for a victim. She is furious at a character for fleeing. Even going to far as to blame the victim for not doing something about the crimes sooner. But then in the very same scenes, proceeds to cover up a serial killer! She also scoffs at the notion that society or upbringing can be blamed for anyone’s crimes.

The book is very dark and is far more along the lines of a Law and Order Special Victims Unit than a standard mystery. The author is not one to shy away from detailed gruesome details. It makes for uneasy sections, but then, it really solidifies the reader to Lisbeth’s side.

I also really liked the fact that the book is very Swedish. They didn’t change or edit it (at least not as much as some others) to make it more “American”. The constant issue with characters not owning cars and having to rent them. The fact that square footage is generally included in a place description (how many Americans can even tell you how much square footage their home is?). They always speak of money in kronor, although I think they converted the numbers to the American equivalent without taking into account the exchange rates now…  Otherwise the numbers all appear to be shockingly low. $20k driving a company into the ground?  Regardless, it’s nice to read a story that is allowed to be told from a different culture and viewpoint.

The ending, while “happy” does not feel satisfying. Much the way that I dislike Law and Order Episodes where the outcome is unclear or the guilty party is not punished for their crime, this book leave the reader with a hollow victory. Yes, the serial killer is dead. But was he brought to justice? Were his crimes brought to light? Was he forced to suffer the atrocities he committed on others? The grand cover up just annoys me more. As I pondered why, especially since the characters give such convincing reasons why it should be covered up, I realized that my biggest issue is none of the characters grew as people from their experience.

Harriet was no more able to face the truth of her childhood than when she ran away. She was just as irresponsible and weak willed as she was at 16. Mikael is just as flaky as he has always been, and just as self centered. He ignores Lisbeth’s feelings to the extend he might as well be just as oblivious as her! Does he consider the women who have died? Does he lose sleep over the person he was friends with that turned out to be a serial killer? Do ANY of them stop to wonder about the man’s girlfriend?!? No, he is far more concerned with his vendetta against the guy he libeled.

After reading the first part of the second book in the series I discover that Lisbeth is in fact the *only* character that grew as a person!

All in all, it was a good book. I am reading the others in the series, but I am wary of suggesting it to others, as it could be a bit squeamish.

1001 Video Games You MUST Play Before You Die

It’s a book. http://www.amazon.com/1001-Video-Games-Must-Before/dp/0789320908

I saw it, got excited, and decided to pick it up, quite a while ago. First off, any book like this *should* be subtitled with “As of 20## year.” Dozens of games are release every week and you never know when a new one is going to be a new Must Play. After all, Minecraft a year ago was barely a peep, and now I would say it is definitely worth the title of a Must Play.

I skimmed some of the index, of course great favorites were present. However, once I got the book home and took some further time to read it, there were dozens of terrible terrible games included. And some wonderful games that were truly great passed over. Not to mention that with 1001 games to list, one will likely have to list a huge number of lesser games. The book, while not great by any means, gets the idea across. There are games worth playing, even if they aren’t up your alley.

Of course, 1001 is over kill, but still, a 100 or so wouldn’t be amiss. (My List, not theirs)

Bioshock, Pac Man, Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, King’s Quest, King’s Quest 6, Zork, Pong, Lego Star Wars, World of Warcraft, Warcraft 1-3, Dune, Command and Conquer, Suikoden, Xenogears, Plants vs. Zombies, so on and so forth. Even if you get snobby and don’t count Facebook games, Windows games (like solitaire) or such, you are still gonna have a ton of great games.

I can forgive terrible games. What I can’t forgive is the serious omission of *critically* acclaimed games. No mention of Dark Cloud, Dark Ages of Camelot, Heroes of Might and Magic, but here we see Knights of the Old Republic 2?!? Really? The buggiest game ever released, and it gets mention? Heavy Rain, but no Indigo Prophecy, from who Heavy Rain stole the story? A slew of Final Fantasy’s, each more redundant than the last, but no Legend of Dragoon, with it’s innovative timing attack mechanic? No addition of Alan Wake or Mirror’s Edge, but we have three virtually word for word ports of Bomberman? Table Tennis makes the cut, but no Xenosaga?  I am shocked Valkyria Chronicles and Persona 4 made it in!

The most obscene of these errors is the inclusion of Suikoden 3, which while a decent game, with an innovative mechanic that allows the story to be told from 3 points of view, but NOT including Suikoden 1 OR Suikoden 2!!! We have every Zelda, even the terrible ones, every Mario, even the terrible ones, Guitar Hero METALLICA, enough Tennis games to choke a horse, games that aren’t even games but MODS of games, indie games that aren’t really games because they don’t have defined goals, Bass Fishing, Wii Sports Resort, 4 Wipeouts, 6 Resident Evils, 3 Space Invaders, and dozens of other sequel prone games that didn’t deserve their second!

To this DAY Suikoden 2 sells at $150 FOR A USED COPY. Clearly this is a game WORTH owning and playing at that cost.

All this has done is confirmed my belief that games reviewers are idiots. And that even if you have 1001 games, you are gonna miss a few diamonds, in addition to getting a ton of filler.

BlizzCon The Aftermath

EDIT: This post was mostly written the Monday after BlizzCon, but wasn’t posted due to the hacking.

One thing about conventions, you are always gonna sit in line. We started our BlizzCon experience sitting in a massive line outside the convention center. Everyone standing around had their passes on, many with their names. Most conversations started with the question “Horde or Alliance?”. Then asking about classes, number of 80s, and if you raid or pvp. Of course this caused small groups to break off and discuss their specific World of Warcraft love.

An hour later, after meeting several interesting people, a liar, and witnessing an e-peen contest, we were on the move towards the doors. First greeted with a huge statue of a Terran Marine and large sign marking it as Blizzcon. In the distance was a second sign proclaiming Starcraft 2. The hall, extremely massive, had been divided into 4 sections, a Main Theatre, Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft. We knew the opening ceremony was soon, so we just glanced at the huge banks of computers as we moved towards the main theatre. There about 10,000 chairs sat in front of a huge array of massive screen. We managed to find a seat near the back and waited for the event to start.

Being there, in a room literally filled to the brim with people who were fans of all the same things I was. Of course we noted the interesting costumes. We talked excitedly about what we hoped to see. I looked through the schedule planning on what all I wanted to see that day. Veterans of the event kept telling us to go to the Loot Elemental or this or that.

We listened to the opening speech, excited beyond measure. Even the Demon Hunter video, for a game I likely won’t play that much, was thrilling. Once it was done Pinecone and I decided to take a pass of the convention floor. We walked the whole thing. There were huge statues from the various games scattered throughout the halls. And so many people. Lines snaked and meandered through the room, none of them seeming to even have ends, though one can assume they knew where they were headed.

We found our way to the Steel Series booth after browsing the halls and met up with the woman in charge of the contest. She took our picture (it was later posted on Facebook) and then asked us if we had time to go around to the partners booths. We figured we had nothing better to do, might as well. She also dug out two of the SteelSeries Cataclysm mousepads. You know, the giant ones that are specially designed to just work better? We both thanked her profusely. I snagged the Worgen one, and handed the Goblin one off to Pined. (I love the Worgen, but wish all the Goblins had drowned.) We followed JoJo through the crowd winding over to the Brady Games booth.

Apparently at BlizzCon they do a “Quest”. Where each day you go to all of the booths, and if you do, you get a little tag that lets you scratch off and maybe win a prize. Brady Games was our first stop. We just walked up to the table, bypassing the HUGE line of people waiting. The Brady Games rep gave us two scratchers, insisting we need not do the quest. We scratched and got Green, (the colors were based on the item colors in WoW) and so got patches. They were so swamped the rep asked us if we could come back later when they weren’t busy. We agreed, and headed over to Jinx.

A bit of background… I love Jinx. I am a Champion of Jinx’s site, mostly from purchases. I order at least one huge order every year and occasionally small ones. They are the reason I can go for 3 weeks wearing nothing but WoW shirts without repeating. In fact my t-shirts all come from one of three places: Jinx, Think Geek, and Woot.Shirt. I own all of their WoW hoodies. The Jinx booth, as the others had a huge line. They, once again, jumped us to the front. The nice guy from Jinx smiled through me gushing about the company and how much liked it, while handing us order forms. This is what I was here for. I quickly marked several of the new t-shirts and a hoodie. I couldn’t *wait* to wear my shiny new murloc hoodie. I pulled out my credit card and waited with a smile. Pinecone marked an item or two and handed his form back as well. The rep looked at my form and nodded. Then looked at Pinecone’s and goes: “Uh, dude, don’t you want more than that?” Pinecone looked a bit surprised, as I thought, wow hard seller here. After making some comment that he couldn’t quite afford more than that, the rep laughed and says “No no dude, it’s all free. Here.” And hands the form back. I blinked. I had almost $200 worth of stuff marked already. He made more waving motions. Well, if you insist I thought…

We walked away from the Jinx booth with quite the load of gear, both of us, wildly shocked and a bit dazed. We made our way over to the arena competition area and got some lunch. As we sat and ate we watched one of the pro arena matches. Now, I am one of the first people to say that people getting paid to play WoW is just absurd. But what got me was the fact that the team was a druid, shaman, warlock. I have played all three. I played a warlock at 70 raiding and 80 raiding. I played a shaman at 80 raiding as heals and elemental. My MAIN is a warlock. And I could *barely* follow what was happening. He was using spells in ways I had never considered.

After this, we wandered the hall a bit more and then headed over to the main hall once more for the Dungeons and Raids panels. Three cheers for being able to admit that you built some bad ideas and correcting them. After this, I was quite exhausted and wanted to head back to the hotel to drop off our loot. Once done there, we headed back to the convention center, and stopped in to the Lore panel. (Yes, I saw Red Shirt guy ask his question, it was pretty funny to be present for that.) We then camped our chairs for the Live Raid, and met Murky, a wonderful girl. She and I talked about mini pets and such for quite a while. I also stopped by the WoW magazine booth and renewed my subscription for a lovely green murloc.

The live raid was hilarious, despite not really being a raid, or even that interesting as far as mechanics. We went back by the Brady booth, now cleared out and introduced ourselves again. The rep was excited to see us and gave us free Razer headphones and a SteelSeries mouse. Once more loaded down with loot, and thoroughly excited, we decided to search for food.

Pinecone and I headed out, and decided to eat at Mortons. While exceptionally good, I am fairly sure I like Boca better. We then took a stroll down to Disneyland’s entrance, stopping along the way to talk to WoW-ers and take pictures of costumes.

Thus ended day 1 of BlizzCon. We headed back to our hotel room and took the time to log on and run Horseman from my teeny Netbook. (Did I mention I had installed WoW on a Dell Netbook, so we could make sure to run the Horseman event every day? It’s hilarious playing WoW on a screen that small, but I got the horse on TWO of my 80s, so it was worth it.)

We got up the next morning and headed over, excited to see more. The line was much much shorter and as such we were fairly close to the beginning. Only this time we were surrounded by a group of idiots that were very clearly the source of trolling on their server. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long and we were inside, once more bee-lining to the Main Theatre. We watched the Cataclysm cinematic panel in awe, from our great seats right up front. I, of course, got goosebumps at the Worgen cinematic. Nothing really beats seeing it on a 15 foot screen with an insane sound system. As we were still tired, and had *great* seats, we decided to sit, and took turns venturing out into the convention hall. During this time I took pictures of costumes, statues, computer banks, huge posters and so on. I also took a moment to pick up an item or two from the Blizzard Store.

The Q&A panel might have been more interesting if it wasn’t all about Pallys, so we got up once more, visited the large meeting stone, made our mark on the wall, then decided to head back to the hotel. Exhausted we decided to just head on back to the airport, so we wouldn’t have to rush. We packed up our loot (now our suitcases were near to bursting) and headed to the airport.

TSA has a shockingly understanding attitude about women dressed up as murlocs. They laughed, asked me what I was supposed to be, and waved me on through.

Our plane was delayed twice, though we got to play WoW on the Netbook, taking turns back and forth. It was great fun.

After PAX, I can say BlizzCon is a very focused show. It’s all about Blizzard products. I felt a bit bad, as I am not a huge Starcraft fan (and thus didn’t care Fruitdealer was there) or Diablo fan (the demon hunter trailer was cool at least). I enjoy PAX and I like that I can enjoy PAX with a majority of my friends. But really BlizzCon seemed almost lacking in that respect. I am very glad I took Pinecone, as my husband would have been quite annoyed to sit through all those panels, and likely would not have taken me bypassing all the SC and Diablo stuff with such grace. (Not to mention all the loot would have been lost on him.) I suppose it might be different if it were an expansion announcement year. Or if I took part in one of the contests. But I think, if I have to choose a convention, I will choose PAX. (And GDC of course, but that one is work related!)

I have to say though… if you are going to go to a convention, doing it as a contest winner is the way to go.


Buddhism has this great part to it called “Detachment” or non-attachment. The extremely paraphrased idea is that we can lead holier lives by detaching ourselves from worldly things. The idea being that is we are not attached to something it’s loss does not cause us the pain and such that we would have if we were attached to it. By not having pain at it’s loss, we are less likely to engage in behavior that would hurt us and others.

When cleaning out my bathroom and back bedroom over the break, I, as always, had the thought… “Good lord, I have too much crap…” So, I cleaned, and didn’t throw out too much, though I chose a few things that headed out to the dumpster, or have been placed in a pile to be donated.  I kept thinking I should go through this and throw things away. I would hear this second voice in my head saying, “Well yeah, but later. If we stop to cull we will never get it clean.”

In true Ember fashion, I thought about it quite a bit, then promptly forgot. Until I did my weekly check of Lifehacker. Lifehacker is a great little Gawker Blog that talks about all kinds of tips and tricks to streamline your life. Due to the New Year, they were running articles on organization. One of the articles was a re-post from a minimalist who writes a blog that details how she lives a minimalist life. She had a list of 100 everyday things she doesn’t own. I thought, oh this will be interesting!

Turns out, not so much. She doesn’t own a couch, but instead sits on the floor. She doesn’t own a desk or computer chair, rather she sits on the floor and uses her coffee table as a desk. No kitchen table or chairs, they just use the coffee table. No tv, they use their laptops. No bookshelf, dvds, etc, they use their laptops. The further this went on the more I was like, “Well yes, that’s all very nice for you that your entire life can be packed into a car, but I am not in college anymore.” I like having my favorite books in physical media. I love snuggling down on my couch and watching a good movie. I like sitting around my kitchen table eating or playing board games.

But it got me thinking. What can I logically change to digital? What can I logically get rid of? One of the items MissMinimal listed was she didn’t have a stereo, so no need for that or cds. I have probably 100 or so cds. I generally rip them onto my computer, then toss them on the shelf. Occasionally a few sit in my car, but I always prefer to have the car copy be a burned one. So why keep cds? Why buy physical copies?

Well, my normal reasoning is that if my computer dies, I want to *not* lose my music. The thing is, I have a *ton* of music on my portable harddrive that isn’t on cds. So what I really need to do is do proper backups of my harddrive and portable harddrive and just nix the cds all together.

That’s gonna be hard for me. I like having things. I like having a physical item. But I need to do this. I can’t just keep collecting stuff forever. There are things that are great for hanging onto, but there is a great deal of stuff I need to cut out of my life.

The more I thought about it, the more I noticed a thing or two I wouldn’t mind not having anymore. I mean, do I really need that ceramic thing I painted back in college? Do I really need those 200 or so vhs tapes that I haven’t watched in 4+ years? I mean yeah, I still have a working vcr too. I should probably get rid of that too. I have a PS2 (one of the fat ones) that only works about half of the time. It is unreliable enough that we got a PS2 slim to replace it.

While I don’t agree with MissMinimalist, I DO agree with another poster who suggested the 1 In 2 Out method. The idea is that for every 1 thing you bring into the house, you take 2 out. At first, it’s really easy. As time goes on though, it gets hard. And you eventually reach a point where you stop buying new things that aren’t vitally important because you don’t want to have to take 2 things out!

Here’s to less unimportant stuff. I will try to remember to update back with what I do get rid of.