Monthly Archives: August 2011

Gambling: A tax on people who can’t do math.

While in High School I participated in after school activities which led me to having to walk to the local public library every day and wait for my parents to get off work and pick me up. As then went on for 4 years, I had plenty of time to stop and read the books as the case may be. One such book explained probability and gambling. It broke down each game and explained why gambling was always a bad idea. Lotteries, casinos, poker, it was all stacked against the player. I resolved to never gamble, or if I did, only with small amounts of money that didn’t matter.

Many years later, I learned the truth of probability through WoW and it’s item drops. I understood that having a 1 in a 1000 drop rate didn’t mean I had to kill 1000 things to get it, but rather that each time I killed something I had a small chance of seeing said item. After 161 runs to get Baron’s mount, I was pretty sure I understood chance and probability.

Then with Cataclysm, a new item was introduced that peaked my interest.

The Mysterious Fortune Card. (MFC, henceforth.)

What makes them so mysterious? Once Cataclysm hit, I found out they were essentially “gambling” in WoW. They are an item made by inscribers that a player can flip over and receive an white card that sells for some value between 10 silver and 5k gold. I checked the “drop” rate on the 5k card and it seems to be around 1 in 10k. Yeah, so not worth it, I thought, and moved on.

When I leveled my scribe, I herbed, milled, and started making inks. Only to realize that Cataclysm had only added about 20 glyphs total. In fact, there only seemed to be two items worth making, Darkmoon Cards (a combine set can be turned in for a trinket, which is very very good) or these MFCs.

To explain a bit, Inscription, a profession, allows a player to take a stack of 5 of an herb and “mill” them, turning them into powder. Any mill can produce Ashen Pigment, which makes Blackfallow Ink and rarely Burning Embers, which make Inferno Ink. Generally a single mill of the high end herbs produces 2-4 Ashen Pigment, and 1-3 Burning Embers.

The Burning Embers and subsequent Inferno Ink are used to make the very valuable Darkmoon cards. Because the recipe to make them however requires 10 Inferno Inks and is random as to which of the 32 cards it drops, anyone trying to make full decks will need a huge amount of ink.

However, the Ashen Pigment and Blackfallow Ink are practically worthless. They aren’t used for anything other than trading down to lower inks to make glyphs, and even that, is a risky market at best as anyone trying to sell those glyphs will be competing with leveling scribes. So I decided what the hell, I’ll make MFCs.

I checked the auction house, to see how well these cards were selling. 15 gold EACH. Wait. What? Yep. 15g Each. Okay… So it takes 2 pigment to make one card. I get 2 pigment from a single mill generally. So that means, as long as I buy the herbs at 2g each, I can spend 10g to make 15g. I like that return. So I bought down 400g worth of herbs from the auction house. I processed them (by milling them) then spent another 600g to buy volatile lifes (which are used to make the Darkmoon Cards). 1kg spent.

I ended up with around 250 cards, plus two Darkmoon Cards. I banked the two Darkmoon Cards to make my trinkets, and listed all of the MFC. I listed them in stacks. 5 stacks of 20 cards selling for 14g. (Discount for bulk!) 5 stacks of 10 for 14.5 g. 10 stacks of 5 for 14.75g. And finally 50 stacks of singles for 15g each.

Three hours later, I logged back on to the character to find: ~3000g. HOLY FUUUU. *ca-ching* And note this is completely WITHOUT ANY PROFIT from selling the Darkmoon Cards!

So I of course dumped most of that money back into buying more herbs. Process. Make cards. Sell cards. Loot gold.

The price fluctuates, generally ranging from 12g to 15g. The stacks always sell, many to the same player. I also enjoy watching two or three sell, then about 15 minutes later, watching 3 or 4 more sell. I proceeded to do this for the next week or so, spending a great deal of time milling herbs and making cards.

Then Basil screwed me.

BLAST. Now everyone would understand MFC were a TERRIBLE investment. I mean, people understand if a slot machine has a 5% house advantage, they aren’t going to buy the cards that have a 98% house advantage! That would be idiotic. Sure enough, the market tanked instantly. Not only because people stopped buying, but also suddenly it went from me and one other player listing to 50+ listers. In addition the cost of herbs skyrocketed. Bah. My money making scheme gone. Oh well.

Several months later I was leveling my herbalist mage and got a rather huge stack of whiptail (one of the best Cataclysm herbs for milling for ink). I had learned the MFCs could be turned into food and had been using that on my warlock for a while. I figured my mage could use a darkmoon trinket, and so started sending her the whiptail to process for Inferno Inks. She processed, then made her cards. Over 200 MFCs. Man, that’s alot of cookies, I thought. I wonder how the AH prices for these are.

15g??!?

Did everyone FORGET? Do they seriously sell again? No, I thought, surely there is no way. People aren’t that dumb…

Or maybe they are, I thought less than an hour later when all my cards sold at 14g each. True the Darkmoon cards sell for half of what they used to, but then, so do the herbs.

I can generally get them between 1-2g each now. This past week I process thousands of herbs, and made over 1k cards, which I then turned around and sold for about 15k, so about 5k worth of pure profit. The best part is, I can barely keep stock up on the AH. I buy ALL the whiptail below 2g each. I process it all. I put cards up and usually they sell out before more whiptail is available. I am contracting specific farming players to farm for me. I have an alt named Bellagio! I camp the AH at work to buy more Whiptail. I got an addon that allows me to click mill and walk away.

Turns out, I am not the only one. Well, I guess I have a goal now.

Mechanics vs. Play style

As a game designer, it is generally accepted that at least 30% of my job is getting the player to do what I want. (Some would say even 90%.) Want the player to slow down and be cautious, make the area dark and play some kind of sound off to his side. If I want the player to move, I drop something nasty where his feet are. So on and so forth.

Blizzard generally does this very well. They want people questing instead of just grinding on kills. So they make it more worthwhile to do a large number of close quests instead of just killing mobs. They want the player to limit their playtime, so they add in the rest bonus to “reward” the player for switching to an alt, or not playing for a while.

Mechanics are used to alter  play style. If a player is rewarded for doing something, they are going to continue to do it. This is especially true when the rewarded play style is the path of least resistance. Players will always find the path of least resistance. Period.

So what this brings me to is raid boss design in World of Warcraft.

Blizzard seems to have forgotten that their game is about playing with your friends. And sadly, not everyone is friends with players who are awesome at WoW. In previous raid expansions there was the “dead weight” slots. These were raid slots that needed nothing more than a warm body in it. A decent raid team could “carry” several players without too much problem. This number changed based on the size and skill of the rest of the raid. It was generally accepted to be 2 slots for 10 man and 4-5 for 25 man. There were even achievements to support this “play style.”

Why was this so important?

Because it meant that even if you were friends with a really nice, but completely brain dead guy, you could still raid with him and do well. No, you wouldn’t be bleeding progression. No you wouldn’t be getting every achievement or even hard modes. But you could fight and see the raid.

But someone at Blizzard decided he was sick and tired of carrying his brain dead buddies. So the raid boss design stopped being about play style and started being about mechanics. (Either that or was just really annoyed at Sarth 3D zergs.)

Sartharion with 3 Drakes:

This fight perfectly explains the mechanics vs. play style debate I feel is very important to WoW raid boss design.

Mechanics: The players clear out the trash, then pull the main boss, with all 3 mini bosses still alive. As the fight progresses, the three mini bosses join the fight and the players have to deal with added fire, void zones, damage, etc etc.

Sarth 3D as it was dubbed was very difficult for 10 mans. It required 3 tanks, which is too much for a 10 man raid. It caused a great deal of raid damage, which required 3 healers. Now, more than half the raid is just there keeping the raid alive, meaning that without 4 amazing dps, the fight would be un-winable for most 10 man guilds. (To be fair it was done, just by a bleeding edge guilds.

Then some enterprising raiders discovered something very interesting.

Play Style: If instead of focusing down each of the mini-bosses as they joined the fight, the players could just focus Sarth and as long as they could burn him in the 90 seconds before the second mini-boss spawned, they would kill him before he became invulnerable.

So they ignored the mechanic of the fight and brute forced it. They made the game about they way they like to play. Burn hard and fast and win, or not quite hard enough and die to purple fire. Even with a decent group, this strat was not easy. My guild at the time would always wipe 4 or 5 times before pulling it off. But we could do it. And it was fun for us. It was still a challenge because pulling that much dps that quickly was not easy.

Of course, once this strat hit the internet, everyone did it this way. It was much easier, if less consistent than the normal strat. Does that make it inherently bad? I say no.

As a game designer it is my job to get the player to kill the boss. Not to jump through hoops until the boss dies. It is supposed to be fun and challenging. Sarth Zerg was still challenging, it just stripped away all the excess “fluff” of the fight and made it what it should have been. A toe to toe battle to the death between us and this huge dragon. It also made us feel like we were playing the game on our own terms. We were playing the game the way we wanted to.

Now, in Firelands the fights are tightly tuned. No more “dead weight” spots. Not only that, if even one person fails, the entire attempt fails. Brain deads need not apply.

Even more so, the fights are very very mechanics based. There is no edge for play style changes to strats. Trying to alter the strat even the smallest bit leads to an insta wipe.

The correct answer is somewhere in between the two ideas. Where people can try to do things their way or strictly stick to the intended way. It makes it feel more like a conversation between the designer and the player.

Blizzard says “Bring the Player, not the Class” but what if the player I want to bring is not awesome? What if the player I want to bring is a good friend but only a mediocre dps? Should I replace my friend with some douche bag who can pull 20k?

The big thing to be worried about when trying to force a mechanic instead of play style is that the path of least resistance might be right out of the door and never playing your game. A bad thing for any social game.

Red Leader Standing By!

About 3 weeks ago my 25 man guild finally made the decision to downgrade to 10 man raids. It hurt. This guild *just* went from 10 man to 25 in ICC. For most of Cataclysm we have managed to keep ahead of the raiders leaving and replacing them. Unfortunately, OLN suffers from the fact that we are casual.

We don’t require attendance. We don’t require specs. We don’t have DPS thresholds. We are here to have fun with all our friends, not to chase server firsts. The problem is, only about 2/3rds of our raiders are the kind of people who go and learn every bit of info on their class, min-max, and know every boss video before we ever walk in. the other 1/3rd are very nice people, but aren’t pushing the envelope, can’t be bothered to show up, and our realm sadly does not have a good pool to pull raiders from.

As all raiders are pretty aware, the days of really only needing 8 of 10 or 20 of 25 of the raiders on point are long gone. Even the smallest mistake can lead to a wipe. One person not notice and keep nuking Magmatron? Kiss the raid goodbye. Miss the jump, die in the water, and you were the interrupter on your Nef platform? Game over. Firelands is just as bad. Didn’t see that trap? Too bad, the tank is already dead. Accidentally attacked the wrong foot? Even one person can lead it astray. Regardless of how you feel about this design (I hate it, just fyi), it has had an effect. Finding 10 competent and focused raiders is much easier than finding 25.

So we took our good, consistent, and still present raiders and put their names in a list. 16 raiders. Uh oh. There are only 10 spots. Lucky for our raiders our GM and Officers had no intention of just booting 6 people. However we don’t have enough to form 2 10 mans. So the GM decided we would be rotating people around.

This first week of this was TERRIBLE. We had several people raid 5 days that week, and several people only raid 1 day. The natives were restless. I spoke in a message to my GM and was like “dude, you need a system.” His response: “I KNOW! I just don’t know HOW…” So I decided to apply my game designer brain to this problem.

Our raiders broke down to 3 tanks, 4 healers, and 9 dps. First thing I did was cut “normal” raid nights to Tuesday through Thursday. Previously these were our 25 man nights. So now they are our standard nights. Sunday and Monday, our “cleanup in 10s” nights, became “wipe learning” nights. Sunday and Monday teams are formed based on who is on, and which boss we are trying (so stacking the proper dps for those fights).

Generally the tank situation just worked out. And if all 3 did manage to show up on the same night, they would just discuss it between themselves and sit out. They handled themselves essentially, but we decided to set it up to “rotate” them around. So Tank A tanks Tuesday and Wednesday. Tank B tanks Wednesday and Thursday. Tank C tanks Thursday and Tuesday. But they can switch up as they want or need.

With healers, we were really lucky in that handle fairly well on their own as well. One of our heals even has a super tank offset, so he fills both roles. So that just worked out.

But 9 dps… That makes life tough. They were the hard part.

Joyia’s Plan:

Split the DPS into 2 teams.

Team 1: Warlock, Warrior, Kitteh, Boomy, and a recruit. (Most times it is a great shadow priest, but this spot can be filled with any ranged clothie or mail wearer.)

Team 2: Warlock, Pally, Rogue, Mage, and Hunter.

Then, have the teams switch off nights.

So Week 1: Tuesday is Team 1. Wednesday and Thursday are Team 2.

So Week 2: Tuesday is Team 2. Wednesday and Thursday are Team 1.

Seems a bit complex, but here are the reasons:

1. It stacks the dps to be most efficient in gear drops. With the exception of clothies, each ac is only represented once.

2. It stacks melee vs. ranged and aoe vs. single target. I also stacked the weaker dps with the stronger dps, and the more likely to die with the more likely to survive, so neither dps team is “better” in a sense. They are quite well balanced and hit the same numbers. The aoe vs single target damage makes gimmicks like Rageface still do-able. It balances classes with high burst with classes with slow ramp up.

3. People who run earlier in the week have a good chance of getting several easy bosses and loot. People who run later get 1 or 2 bosses, but have to wipe on progression, however this means they might get to be in the kill group.

4. Even if the week goes badly, raiders know it will only be 1 week before they see another loot drop.

5. Each dps is part of a paired set. So if one warlock is going to miss her night, the RL can just contact the other warlock and ask them to show up. Regardless, most of us are connected on RealID so any holes can be filled quickly.

6. The warlocks are the two toons working on the legendary. Since they are in different groups there is no poaching embers.

7. If you are on the team not running that night, just can just log on at raid time, and check to see if the team running needs any holes filled. If they form up, you can go do dailies, randoms, or even level alts.

 

It just worked for us. Now, 3 weeks in, we have downed 2 new bosses, in two weeks, and are making great strides on Aly. Everyone is learning all the fights. The dps teams are becoming teams and learning to work well with each other. We have even started making red team vs blue team jokes. Because there has still been a ton of overlap on tanks and heals, including alt runs on off nights, with both teams making up the alt run, we are still a community as opposed to cliques. None of the raiders have left, and most seem to like it as well. By taking Sunday and Monday off the schedule, we don’t have to worry about people showing up those nights either, but generally we have 10-11 people on for those nights, then usually someone just offers to step out. 10 man’s are a bit easier to do this with.

Now this doesn’t perfectly fit with every guild. The team balancing just fell into place for us, but with a bit of thought, and even possibly scheduling which bosses are being done on Tuesday and then on Wed/Thurs to balance the number of bosses downed. It’s a slightly odd way of doing it, that might work.

What are we supposed to use? Harsh language?!?

I was a bit distracted by Transmogrification but something else radical happened in WoW last week. Threat was essentially singled out at a bad mechanic and buffed to the point of being inconsequential. Of course, as with all things WoW, some people loved it, some people didn’t care, and some people cancelled their subscriptions immediately. *queue nerd rage*

I reposted the threat changes on my guild forums and it was met with happiness and ambivalence. No one was opposed to the change. In fact a few people responded with, well this will make randoms so much easier.

Of course, I try not to comment on things I haven’t done. The only comment I made on this was “Cata raiding, meet Wrath Tanking” because that is what it sounded like to me.

So this weekend, I decided to try out a bit of this change.

On my DK, I tanked quite a bit in Wrath. I ran a random every day on her, and used her to help guildies farm up ToC and FoS/PoS/HoR gear. I could easily go into a HHoR and tank the instance with my ICC geared buddies, who would nuke away to their heart’s content. Only occasionally did I have to use my taunt, and only occasionally did I have to use things like blood boil as a reaction. All in all, it was pretty easy. I didn’t mind doing it. There was still some skill, tabbing around, keeping my dots up, cooldowns, and the occasional army, but tanking wasn’t so difficult I was unwilling to do it.

When Cata hit and I decided to level my dk, I, of course, thought, “Oh! I’ll just queue for randoms! Insta queues, plus I am helping others get dungeon runs, it’s a win win!” I had this feeling for all of about 60 seconds and then the ugly truth raised it’s head. I was level 80, in level 80 gear. Not terrible for BRC and ToT, but not sufficient to deal with level 81 and level 82 dps who had replaced large chunks of their Wrath gear. I spent 90% of my time chasing mobs (does anyone understand what threat reduction skills are for? Does anyone understand run TO the tank NOT AWAY?) and fighting to keep threat. If I targeted a different mob, even just to taunt another mob, the first one would be ripped away. Of course, dps would die, healers would get upset and leave, and I would feel like crap. Maybe it’s my level and gear I thought. So I leveled up to 83, replaced all my Wrath gear and got down to business. Oh god, Stonecore… after about 5 or 6 runs, I was done. I sent all my dk’s gold to my main, emptied her bags, and cleared her mailbox. She was effectively going on the shelf of unused characters.

When they introduced the CTA bags, I thought, OH! I should go level her now! Surely things are better. Haha, the naivete of youth. Not only were things not better, they were arguably worse. It was a dark time for my dk. I knew how to tank, I just couldn’t actually do it. No amount of death and decay, no amount of outbreak+pestilence, no amount of runestriking and death striking. Those dps were going to pull aggro without trying and there was *nothing* in my arsenal I could do about it.

So I didn’t play her. Until this weekend. Nervous and a bit stressed, I decided not to change anything, to just go in the way I was and see if this 300 to 500 actually made a difference.

Oh did it make a difference.

The only time the dps (including one rather shockingly well geared for regular VP level 85 mage) pulled aggro was on a multi-pull and even then, as the mobs ran through my D&D they would snap over to me. I made it through VP with very few mistakes (most of which were me not remembering how to position mobs). The experience was… dare I say it… enjoyable. Imagine that, enjoying playing a game. Enjoying it enough, I queued again. I went and bought some upgrades and… queued again. At this rate, I was going to max out my jp for the week.

Of course, as with all changes, I looked at the screaming of the ragers to see what the possible “side effects” of such a change were.

“It’s going to be soooo boring to tank.”

Because pressing 1-1-1-1-2 is so exciting, amiright mages? Because staring at five green bars, waiting for them to turn yellow and then clicking on them is the height of adrenaline rush. Because doing the same dungeon for the third time that day is brand shiny new!

Okay, nothing is that bad. But then, neither is tanking without having to worry about threat. There are still cooldowns, there are still adds to pick up, there are still huge pools of bad to stay out of. Only now, the most annoying part of your job is gone. The part that not only annoys you, but also annoys the whole group. No more dps having to stand around wishing they could do their job. No more healers having to heal the sudden clothie tank. Just a meat shield doing his job, while everyone else gets to enjoy doing theirs.

“Way to dumb it down to Wrath levels Blizz…”

Why do dps have 45 minute queues? Why, even at the HEIGHT of CTA, did I still have 25 minute queues? There are 4 tanking classes: Pallys, Dks, Warriors, and Bears. That’s almost HALF of the total classes. Ever seen one of these classes wait in the dps queue? (I have.) Tanking is hard. Tanking is thankless. And tanking is generally not fun.

So there is a tank shortage. Blizzard tried the bribe. It didn’t work. So now, they had to try something else. Honestly, the difficulty needed to be nerfed. The player base simply did not have enough of the kind of people who wanted to do that job at that stress level. I don’t think it was dumbed down, but I do think that by removing one of the more annoying aspects of the equation, it made it easier to understand at do at a level good enough for randoms.

Tanking is still going to be difficult in raids. It is still going to be a challenge in heroic modes. It is not going to be a faceroll (especially since people still have their rotations). But it is easier, especially for people who don’t have the gear or experience.

This is going to solve the tank shortage problem much better than a bag with extra items. It has already brought me back into the fold of tanking on my DK.

Meddling Kids!

Recently I have found myself in the position to give advice to people. Thankfully the advice is usually something I have had personal experience with. I have no idea if the receiver wants said advice, or even listens to it. But the fact that a few people seem surprised at what I have to say really makes me wonder… How do they not know this? Well here is a bit of my collected wisdom.

High School only lasts for 4 years.

Seriously. I know it *feels* like forever. But not matter how great or how horrid it is, it will all be over in 4 years. (Assuming of course you don’t fail and have to repeat.) This leads to point number 2:

It gets better.

After High School, everything in life kind of opens up. Want to go to College? There are thousands of Universities waiting to take your money. Don’t have the money for it? There are student loan companies, scholarships, grants, etc to help you get there. Don’t want to go to college? That’s an option too. Learn a trade, or just dive right in and find a job.

The best part is, at this point, you can do what you want to become financially independent and move away from your parents. The first year of not living with your parents is the toughest and most amazing of your life. You will spend too much money and have to borrow something from someone. (Toilet paper, shampoo, laundry detergent, laundry change, gas money, etc etc.) It’s insane. And great. And after that year, you will understand why I say it gets better. The worst part about High School and youth is the inability to control things that affect you. Once you get out of HS and into your own place (even if rooming with someone else) that all changes. You have control.

Don’t stress it. And if you find yourself stressing it, find something that chills you out.

It’s the idea behind “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” which I take objection to because it follows it with “and it’s all small stuff”. BS. There can be EPICALLY HUGE things you sweat. Car accident? Failing a required class? Company getting ready to do cutbacks? BIG STUFF. The problem with worrying is that it makes it hard to sleep, which makes it hard to function, which stresses you out, which makes it hard to sleep… and so begins the negative feedback loop. It’s not an easy cycle to break either. Theoretically a person should be able to say, “Don’t worry about.” and then, resolve to not worry about it until they can do something about it, and things would get better. But that never works. Which is why it pisses me off when people say that.

My solution – find the thing that chills you out. Something that makes your brain shut down, makes you feel even marginally better, and distracts you. Now, to be fair, you can’t use this as a permanent solution, but, if it is Friday night and you can’t do a thing until Monday, stressing about it all weekend is NOT going to help. Exercise, listen to music, drink a cup of cocoa or hot tea, play a mindless video game, play a stupidly difficult video game, hang out with friends, etc etc. This is going to be different for everyone. Everyone has different things that make them feel better. Be sure your activity is safe, not exacerbating the problem, and doesn’t do more harm than good.

My calming method: I make a cup of Earl Grey tea, then sit down and do some herbing, skinning or mining in WoW. It’s brainless, requires just enough concentration to keep my brain from drifting, but doesn’t require so much it is frustrating. Occasionally I will level an alt, but usually it’s herbing. This also hits a secondary calmer for me. Retail therapy. In college I would go to Best Buy, buy like 5 dvds and then go home and watch them all. Unfortunately, my worries were generally either money or could be about money so this was a very negative calmer. Yeah it made me feel better, for about an hour, then I would start to feel even worse. The best part about WoW retail therapy is that I am spending in game gold for in game items. And honestly, the feeling of going out and spending 100 bucks at Best Buy over going and spending 10k gold in game, it’s the same.

Just be careful with your de-stressing tool. Always keep in mind the “doesn’t do more harm than good” rule. Alcohol, drugs, random sex, etc, may de-stress you for a moment, but will always, ALWAYS, lead to more stress. They are dangerous and harmful solutions.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. At level cap.

I really wish I could say life was fair and people are easily recognizable as good guys or bad guys. But that is not the case.  Lucky for me karma really does seem to exist. And revenge is sweet, despite never quite being what you expect it to be.

My life example: I dated a guy for 3 years. He was wonderful. I was certain I was going to spend my life with him. Not so certain though that I was willing to sleep with him. I didn’t want kids after all, and life had soundly taught me that people who have sex will have kids. I didn’t want that yet. Turns out, he didn’t agree. And proceeded to sleep with another girl. Needless to say, I did NOT take it well. Flash forward 6 years. Yes, it took 6 years. I happen to be in town visiting my parents and run into said guy at the local Walmart. I can only consider it a win that I was at my slimmest, looking amazing, and he looked like he had a very bad reaction to peanuts or shellfish. I had just gotten a job as a video game developer, a career he had talked about maybe wanting to do one day, but instead, he worked at Best Buy, for the Geek Squad. I was married to a great guy. I was happy and content, and totally didn’t care about this guy, or anything that had happened anymore. And he did. Oh you could see it in his mouth, tight around the corners, the muscle that clenched in his jaw, the narrowing of his eyes. I don’t know if he felt bad or if he suddenly wished he hadn’t done the thing he did, but, at the very least, he was jealous right then. His jealousy made me feel good, but I didn’t care. I had my revenge,  but it didn’t matter to me anymore.

I think about this often, not because of the idea of getting my revenge, but rather the realization that it didn’t matter. Now when I get that horrid betrayed or hurt feeling, I remember that feeling of not caring. Yes, it’s a big deal now, but in time, I will see it objectively as a learning experience. And I will be a better person for it.

Organization renders any goal possible.

Wow, that’s weird statement, but wildly accurate. Trying to find a job? Get organized. Money problems, organize everything and budget yourself down to your last penny. Everything in life can be organized, sorted, and researched into submission. If nothing else, at least you will know everything about what is going on so you can make good decisions.

Don’t be a dick. Also known as Wheaton’s Law.

Seriously. I know it’s hard. I know it can be hard to keep your mouth shut. I fight with it all the time. And I fail more often than not. But this is truth. You never know when that person is going to be able to help you later. Also, it generally makes you a more well liked person.

Do your job well, even if, and especially if, you hate it.

Minimum wage jobs are the suckiest thing ever. Soul crushing jobs are called that for a reason. But that doesn’t mean you should goof off and not do your job well.

Why? Because at the very least, at the end of the day, you can go home happy knowing that you did a good job. Make that your mantra. Today, I did good work.

Also, I have found through person experience that doing your job well, gets you noticed, gets you promoted, and gets you into a better position.

Do not, under any circumstances let fear keep you in a bad place.

Abysmal job that you hate getting you down but you can’t quit because you can’t pay the bills? Horrid bosses who are known backstabbers? Terrible relationships that you cling to because the thought to being alone is that much worse?

Don’t do it. Trust me. Life is hella short. Find another job, make it priority one. Shed the mate you have and find another one and work at making it work. Be yourself and be honest. Always. If you give into fear, and stay in a bad situation even when you are wildly unhappy, nothing is going to get better. Make changes to make things better. It is possible to be poor and happy as well as alone and happy. If you aren’t sure you are in a bad place, ask for advice, others will know better than you.

Courage is a hard thing to muster, but there is a reason it is something that gets you noticed. I once worked at Toys R Us. I was in a good position with good pay. But I watched my great job turn into a hellish experience over the course of two months when a new manager came in. I went to Borders that night, applied for and interviewed for a job, got it, and accepted it all in one night. The next morning I started at Borders, when I should have been at TRU. I walked over on my lunch break and quit, essentially telling my old boss to take a long walk off a short dock. I took a $4 per hour pay cut. I had to get up 3 hours earlier than I was used to (I hate mornings). But the simple change of cultures from one of fear, aggression and hurt, to one of calm, intelligence and mild craziness, made all the difference. Yeah, I was broke all the time, but the quality of my life was immeasurably better.

A note of warning, be sure what you consider is a “bad place” isn’t something  you can change or work with. Personal relationships can have bad moments, that is not a reason to get a new spouse or so. But that is a reason to check and work with them at being better.

Anger is a habit, as is joy.

Ever met one of those annoyingly upbeat and happy people? Ever wonder why they are annoyingly happy and upbeat? It’s not because everything is perfect. No one is perfect. No one’s life is perfect. It means that they are so used to looking on the bright side of life that they can’t see the other. They notice the good things first. We fall into habits, and our moods are as much a habit as anything else. Work at being in a good mood, and you will find yourself, more often than not, being in a good mood.

To thine own self be true.

It’s cliche and trite. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Don’t ever try to be someone you are not. Accept yourself, your flaws, your awesomeness, and work with what you have. I spent so many years trying to fit a mold I wasn’t made to be. I fought against my true self every step of the way. Until finally, I was just too tried to keep trying. So I stopped. Shock upon shocks, people still liked me, without pretending. I was awesome, without trying to fit my icosahedron in a square hole. The very minute I got over this, the better I felt. And each day it was better, because I was me.

There is probably more, but these are all good things to remember as you try to make it through life.

Catherine vs Katherine

First off – I didn’t actually *play* Catherine in the strictest sense of the word. Rather I sat and watched my husband play it. I do this quite frequently. I generally have one of two reactions – 1. I determine that I would hate playing the game, stop and consider why other people like it, and then go back to playing WoW; or 2. I watch him play, engrossed, until he does something “wrong” and then I itch to yank the controller away until he is done playing then play it myself so I can do it right.

Demon Souls and Brothers in Arms were part of the first category. Valkyria Chronicles and Persona 4 were  part of the second.

Catherine is the first game that has fallen solidly between the two. The game is a action puzzle game, by Atlus’s Persona team. I was very excited about the game, because I am such a fan of Persona 4. The action portions of the game consist of what is essentially a huge puzzle block tower the player must climb. The “social” portions are of the player and the other characters in the game hanging out at a bar.

Honestly, after watching him play a few stages, I was completely convinced not only would I not want to play this part, but I would be bored to tears. The methods of moving up the tower are unchanged, regardless of the trick blocks, enemies, and boss events that try to break it up. Once you have figured out the general moves, you have figured out the game.

However, the “social” part of the game was utterly fascinating. The surreal encounters, the background characters, the strange effects thrown about, it all added up to an exceptional world that was interesting. I could crawl into the world portrayed and spent hours simply getting to figure out all the weird stuff going on. I do think however that the point of the mysterious murders will be lost on most American players.

*Spoilers*

So the Boss is killing young men who are of the appropriate age and economic status to get married and have kids, but are unwilling to do so because they like their freedom. They want to remain independent and “having fun” as opposed to settling down.

It doesn’t make a ton of sense to American Culture, but in Japan, where a negative birthrate is literally affecting the stability of their culture and society, it would seem completely logical. The Boss is taking out the men who are causing this problem. Essentially saying, “Get with it, or get out of the way.”

*End Spoilers*

The game also does some very interesting things with it’s Order and Chaos meter, in addition to using it to determine the one of 9 possible outcomes. I love that the “canon” of the game changes based on your order/chaos level and responses to questions. It makes me wonder though, if they did a sequel, would they do it like Persona, and ignore the previous entry’s “canon” or chose one to make it the “correct” ending?

While I didn’t play Catherine myself, I do believe it is an interesting game to experience. There is a demo, which should be played, but even so the game stands true with other Atlus games as beautiful, fascinating, relatively fun although possibly grindy to play, with interesting insights into Japanese culture. Though mostly it just made me want to play Persona 4 again, or think about what awesome things they might be doing for Persona 5.

Guild Etiquette Part 7: Updates

It’s been 2 years since I sat down and wrote down what I truly believe are the 6 most important things a GM has to deal with. However, WoW is not a static game. So these things need updating every so often!

Part 1: Newbs

I am more and more convinced that as a guild you have to recruit and invest in people you know are going to be in your guild for the long haul. Not every recruit is going to be this person. But when you identify this person, hang on to them. They *will* *be* the perfect stone that fills in the hole when you lose someone important.

Newbs are great. But remember, even if the newb is awesome, fun, fits right in, and seems like they are gonna be a permanent fixture, they might not be. Never allow your guild to get in the situation of relying too much on a single person. Are the main tank and off tank a “set”? (Friends or even a couple?) Do not, under any circumstances, allow them to be the only tanks. Train and gear other tanks. You never know when people might take a break from the game. Or worst case, decide to hold your guild hostage.

Part 2: Noobs

Still pretty up to date. Of course, I caution GMs to look for “troll” noobs. These are people who do this on purpose. Excise them, immediately.

Part 3: Guild Chat

This is still completely true. Of course there are culture exceptions. Since writing this, I have joined a rather large guild. They pretty much admitted at the beginning that their guild chat rivaled trade. There were multiple players who seem to have Tourettes of the finger. I identified these people and put them on ignore. Easy as pie.

Part 4: Consideration

Be considerate with guild items and repairs. Many guilds now have guild repairs thanks to the Cash Flow perk. Check with your guild about the thoughts on using that for things that aren’t “guild” deaths. In my guild, we have a sufficient amount of funds that the GM doesn’t care. Some guilds might not.

Check the guild website occasionally. Especially on Tuesdays. And if someone says something in gchat you are unaware of, and you ask a question, only to have them reply, I posted on the forums about it… do not pass go, do not collect $200, go to the forums and read what they posted. They are trying to help the guild, be aware and support it.

Part 5: Who gets to go?

Wow, this is so applicable now. My formerly 25 man raid team has been cut down to a 10 man. We have 16 active raiders for 10 spots. After a week of struggling and just switching people out at seemingly random, I decided to take matters into my own hands and proposed a system that divided the dps up into 2 teams. (10 of the raiders are dps.) Then scheduled the boss kills accordingly so that the difficulty was split between the two teams. This insured that each dps would get a chance to see at least one boss kill each week. And then the teams would switch off bosses each week.

Yes, it’s complex. Yes, it’s weird. But it worked. And it allowed us to stack the teams with the proper mix of melee vs. ranged, aoe vs. single target, and armor classes. The tanks (3) and healers (4) generally sort themselves out with no problem as there is usually one night someone can’t make it. It boosted our progress and helped everyone figure out when they would be raiding and when they could play other toons.

Part 6a: Epics

I am now also convinced that KSK is the *best* loot system when you can’t do small group loot council. KSK is essentially a system that randomizies a list of all the raiders in your guild. Then when an item drops, the person at the top of the list gets first dibs. (Of course sticking to people who can use that item.) So if that person takes the item, they get “suicided” to the bottom of the list. If they pass, the next person on the list gets the option. It’s glorious. Easy, simple, and does not allow for inflation.

If you miss a raid with KSK, you simply stay frozen in your spot and the people who did show up move around you.

We even implemented a system that allowed us to punish people who signed up for raids and didn’t show by knocking them down a spot on the list.

When you hit a new raiding expansion, you simply re-randomize the list. When you get a new raider, you just roll them up a random number and toss them in. At the height of loot going out, when nothing was being sharded and everyone was getting upgrades, it took me 2 raids to move from last, back up to first. Loot gets evenly distributed. Everyone knows where they are on the list.

Part 6b: Legendaries

Hello can of worms!

How to decide who gets your guild’s Legendary:

1. “Best” class. The current Legendary is a dps caster staff. First, you should chose a pure dps. Why? Because that’s all they *can* be. They will *always* be using the staff for it’s intended purpose. I love my priest and I love dpsing on her. But most of the time in a raid, I am gonna be healing. The legendary is wasted on healers.

2. Tenure. Do not give the staff to someone who has only been in your guild for <3 months. They could take embers and leave. Or even worse, get the Legendary and leave.

3. Attendance. Don’t pick a person who is known for disappearing for long periods of time. Don’t pick a person who only makes one raid a week. You want to get to a legendary as quickly as possible and try to get more than 1. Focus, and work on getting it for that person who is *always* there and ready to raid.

4. Always make sure the raid has one of the collectors in it. In my current guild we have 2 people collecting embers, because we have 2 teams of dps. No this is not the most efficient way, but it works with our system. We just have to make sure there is always one of the two people in the raid.

5. Someone willing to do the leg work. Legendaries are not easy. They take time, money, and a great deal of extra work. If the person isn’t willing to shell out their own 9k for the sands, then they shouldn’t be offered the staff.

Take these ideas and sort your possible legendary wielders, and have the list approved by officers. Then post it, so the guild knows what is going on.

Harry Potter – It All Ends

I remember hearing about Harry Potter, this new kid’s series that “promoted witchcraft”. I laughed and moved on, after all, crazy people love to blame books, movies, and video games for a whole host of things. My cousin later gave me a copy of Book 4, The Goblet of Fire, which had just come out. I was fairly happy, but didn’t have the first 3 books, so I tossed it on my shelf and didn’t think much more about it.

Fast forward about a year later and here I am, in a bookshop in Oxford, England, and my friend is buying a CD. I look down and there is a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The movie buzz had already begun so I was aware of the US/UK name switch, so I bought the copy of the book. It seemed like a neat thing to have and a good souvenir. A few days later, I had finished the book I had brought on the trip and was getting ready to fly home. So I pulled out Philosopher’s Stone and tucked it in my book bag.

By the time my plane landed in New Jersey, I had finished it. I was enraptured. It was *such* a good book. Walking through the NJ airport, I noticed a book store, with Chamber of Secrets prominently displayed. *yoink* I bought the book and then settled down to read. Over the next two hours every single flight was delay or canceled. Most of our group was sweating the idea of spending the night in NJ. I was wondering if I should run back to the book store and see if they had Prisoner of Azkaban.

Our flight was one of the only ones that left that evening, and I finished Chamber of Secrets before we landed in Memphis. On the ride home (remember, after being in England and Ireland for 11 days) I asked my mom if we could stop by Barnes and Noble to pick up Book 3. She pushed it off to the next day.

I blazed through Book 3 that next day and started Book 4 that night. In total it took my less than 16 hours total over 3 days to read the first four books. And Book 5, wasn’t out yet. It wasn’t even close. I convinced my mother to read the series and she was as hooked as I was.

Thus began the great bonding my mother and I had over midnight movie showings, midnight book releases, and discussing the finer points of Harry Potter philosophy.

One of the best instances was right before Book 5 came out. My mother worked at a religious school, and I had been hired to help with data entry tasks. A well meaning nut came into the office to hand out fliers and try to convince us to come and help her group picket the various bookstores in the area in protest of that “witchy” book being released.

I, in my usual, I don’t like idiots fashion, tossed the flyer into the recycle bin within seconds of it touching my hand. The woman noticed and immediately went on the offensive. Didn’t I know that that book teaches young impressional minds about magic and witchcraft? Didn’t I know that it claims that “there is no good or evil, only those with power and those too weak to seek it?” (To be fair, that is in the book, but it is said by Lord Voldemort, so I am pretty sure it kind of proves it’s own point by the end.)

I could not resist. Reaching down into the recycling bin, I snagged the offending flyer and stood up.

“You know what? You’re right. This is a terrible thing and we should do something.” I proclaimed as her eyes lit up. She looked thrilled. She just knew she had convinced someone to her cause.

“But why are you stopping at Harry Potter? There are plenty of other books that are just as bad, if not worse. We need to let these people know we don’t want their spell books in our stores.”

“Yes!” She agreed fervently.

“I mean, look at fairy tales! In Disney movies alone they have that fairy god mother. Beauty and the Beast is just as bad.” I started making notes on the back of the flyer as I proceeded to list every single Disney movie I could think of and why it’s magical events were obscene and should be removed, for the children. The woman’s face faded from excitement to a confused look.

“Well, I don’t know, I mean, those aren’t that bad…” She said in a low voice, clearly unsure of this new step.

“No no!” I insisted, “We have to be through. Like that Bible. It has to go too.”

Her shocked face very nearly made me laugh with glee, I didn’t though, it would have ruined the whole thing.

“Well, Jesus turns water into wine, that’s very clearly magic. As is walking on water. Oh, and he raises people from the DEAD. That’s Necromancy! One of the most vile branches of magic.” I finished with a flourish of the paper.

The woman opened and closed her mouth several times. She made some kind of squeaking sound. Then turned and stormed out without a word. My mother looked at me, a bit shocked, a bit proud, a bit disappointed.

“I can’t believe you did that.” She said.

“I can’t believe you didn’t expect me to do that.” I responded, as I returned to my work, once more toss the flyer into the recycling bin.

We spent the evening eating out, then sitting in a line at Walmart discussing the books with some other rather lovely people.

We got Book 5 at midnight, then drove home, with me reading the first chapter in the car out loud. I stayed up reading until at some point I fell asleep, the book flopping forward onto my chest. When I woke up a few hours later, I simply righted the book, and continued on.

Book 6 I got from Amazon, release day delivery, at 8 am, when I went down to my apartment complex’s office only to see the poor girl working the office that morning sorting through what looked like a hundred or so identical Amazon boxes. I helped her sort them, finding my own, and then went back to my house, and spent the whole day reading.

By the time we got to Book 7, I was working at Toys R Us. I was the SRS for the store, and was a part of the group that received the large pallet of books two days before release. It was wrapped in black plastic, and at some point, in transit, had been knocked, so the top half of it was shifted slightly and the plastic was torn. As my office was the only lockable space large enough, and still usable, I ended up with it there. And managed to shimmy a book out of one of the boxes. Three cheers for doing something completely illegal that would have gotten me fired, but I really didn’t care. I had to know how it ended.

Two days later I waited in line at Borders and bought my copy to go home and read it all the way through. I stayed up all night, and was quite exhausted the next day. But it was done. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series, but there was a sense of loss. No more Harry Potter. No more Ron Weasley. No more Hermione Granger.

But wait! There were still movies! I clung to that thought like a drowning man clinging to a branch.

Now, here in the Summer of 2011, I have seen the last movie. I have felt the whirlwind ease. I have cheered over Voldemort’s fall. I am sure I will read the books again. I am sure I will have movie marathons. I can’t wait to have children and experience the stories again through them when they are old enough. Harry Potter is as much a part of my life as College or High School. The movie posters for 7 Part 2, said “It All Ends.” And it was, an ending, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone, or it’s never going to come up again. I still have a red and gold scarf. I still have my Dumbledore’s Army shirt.

There are many things I could talk about, why the books are superior to other book series (the philisophical ideals presented, the growth of the characters, the compelling prose); why the movies, despite being so variant in tone and direction are superb to other movie series (the tone reflecting the audience, the different viewpoints and small shifts in the story better detailing the world beyond the books, the actors themselves growing into their roles and doing bang up jobs); or simply say, this was truly a series, both book and movie, for our age and era. Harry may not be a classic yet, but I am sure he will be.

Thank you J.K. Rowling, and Harry Potter, for allowing me into your world. The movies may have ended and new books may have stopped being written, but the story lives on in all the hearts and lives it has touched.

I know I will always wish that I were 11 years old and see an owl carrying a small parchment envelop, with green ink, bearing my name.

Transmorgrify!

Blizzard announced stuff about new 5 mans, a new raid, and cross-realm raiding. Is anyone talking about that? No. Why? Because they also announced a thing that changes very little, and yet somehow changes *everything*.

I remember getting an armor dye drop back in DAoC. It was black, and for metal. It sold for about 100g. A veritable fortune at the time in that game. My healer wore a rather lovely mix of dark green armor, so it was worthless to me, but amazing for someone else. When I later started playing WoW, on my very first character, I got some hideous brown robe and immediately asked my friend “Oh god, where do I get dye? This thing looks like baby poop.”

“You don’t.” He said, then explained that everything in WoW was set. I was exceedingly happy a level or so later to get a green robe to replace the other. Now, I am aware that many people think this is a girl thing, but it’s not. I even know a rather masculine man (he was a football player, so huge) who refused to wear any “of the Whale” items, because that implied he was fat. But regardless, for many of the same reasons people chose certain races or sexes in the game, we wish we could chose gear.

Guild tabards are hotly debated among officers to “look good.” People will match their pets to their mounts. (My hunter was furious when they took away her pet while mounted.) Everyone who went from Vanilla, with lovely armor sets, to the rainbow barf that was leveling in Burning Crusade had some moment of thought along the lines of, “Ugh, my character looks ridiculous.” Our characters are an extension of ourselves. We wouldn’t go out into public looking like that, why would our characters?

So why did Blizzard insist on limiting the armor colors and styles? Why didn’t they have an appearance tab like LotR Online and other MMOs? Why didn’t they add armor dyes? Why didn’t they give the community what was begged for?

They claimed the reason was dedication to the art. They wanted things to look correct. No pink hello kitty Darth Vaders here. And the Silhouette theory. This is best explained by looking at just the outlines of characters. Can you tell what kind of character it is by the outline? Then the Silhouette theory is working. The idea being that you could just glance at someone and tell, are they friend or foe. Are they Horde or Alliance? Heavy or Medic? This is why the shoulders in all the armor sets are so distinctive and large. So that player can not only tell at a glance who is who, but also how well geared they are.

It was a good argument… With a few gaping holes.

1. What about Noggenfogger? It changes everyone’s silhouette! As does Deviate Delight. Arrr!

2. What about Orb of the Sin’dorei? I love my orb. I used to be a Blood Elf. But then I faction changed to play with friends. I miss being a blood elf. So I use my orb with shocking regularity. I love using it in Tol Barad. Has it ever saved my life? Not even once.

3. Rated Battlegrounds.  For those who don’t run them, every so occasionally your team will get matched up against a team of the same faction. So it just slaps a buff on you that says “Horde” or “Alliance”. That’s it.

The other comment made was that with the armor sets being static, you could tell someone’s “epicness” just by looking at them. Which was great, back in Vanilla. But ever since Wrath, and the great design shift to allowing everyone to see raids, this has created a huge problem. Yes, those shoulders DO look cool. And everyone else and their BROTHER is wearing them. It was the sparkle pony all over again. Everyone looked the same. (I think this is also the time that “town gear” also rose to wide spread popularity, where you carried a set of gear just for wearing about town.)

Apparently though, Blizzard re-thought their stance and came up with an amazing compromise. No, we still can’t dye our armor. BUT we can make it look like another piece of armor in the same armor class. And the masses rejoiced.

I have never been so glad or my hoarder mentality of tier sets. I have never been so glad I have my bank stuffed to the gills with old and interesting armor. There is literally NOTHING in my bank that isn’t soul bound. Everything else sits on my bank alt.  Joyia has all 24 slot bags, and not a single space to spare. But she also has all the warlock sets. I will have these ugly tier 11 shoulders looking like tier 5 so fast it will make Joyia’s head spin!

Ah Corruptor Raiment, I have missed you. I cannot wait to have my shoulders bedecked with skulls once more. My hunter is gonna wear this one. And I will no longer have to deal with the fact that my dps is lower because I refuse to use one of those noisy guns! I may even try to raid with her now! I have all the starter DK gear sitting in my DK’s bank. My priest will be looking all angelic in this set. I am already excited about wearing these armor pieces again. I am already thinking of running old instances to get nifty looking gear.

But that just changes me right? That doesn’t change the whole of WoW. But it does. I already have friends who are planning on re-subbing when the patch hits. They are already planning THEIR ARMOR SETS. The invites for old school raids have already started. People are already compiling lists of nifty items and where to get them. Oh and the Destiny sword I have been listing for a month that hasn’t been selling? Gone for 500g. So I listed a Brain Hacker. I couldn’t sell it for 100g 3 months ago. Today, it went, in 15 minutes, for 500g. Lovely Dresses (despite not having stats so possibly not being eligible for the transmogrification) all sold for 100g each. This feature isn’t even in yet and people are already creating ripple effects in the game.

The best part about this change? It sets a precedent. Blizzard said no and gave reasons. Then later came back and said, okay, we found a compromise. No Pandaren? No dual faction races? There could be more compromises. Breaking the armor silhouette sets them up to break the race silhouette. This could be the beginning of a whole new World of Warcraft.

Now, I have to go stare lovingly at my t5 warlock set, sighing over the thought of wearing such lovely gear again.