Looking good

One of the questions I had when pondering the rare mob collection project was how to improve the quality of the screenshots – pictures or it didn’t happen, after all.

After a bit of hunting around, I found that there a few console only settings in Warcraft related to the screenshot quality. If you type these commands in the chat window and press enter, they are changed permanently everywhere. (You don’t get any feedback that anything happened, but it does work.)

The first is choosing between JPG (the default) and TGA. TGA is a lossless format, so the image quality is higher and non compressed, but it is a fairly arcane format – you’d want to convert it to something more useful like PNG to use it on WordPress et al. In any case, the command to change it to TGA is:

/console screenshotFormat tga

And to switch back to JPG:

/console screenshotFormat jpg

Sticking with JPG is more convenient, but the default quality is pretty average. The good news is there’s another console setting that bumps up the JPG quality until it’s barely different from the TGA files (confirmed by much internet commentary). Wowheads screenshot submission guidelines state the default JPG level is 3, but we can bump it all the way up to eleven 10:

/console screenshotQuality 10

I tried this and while the difference is noticeable if you look closely, it’s not as huge as you might expect. One byproduct is the filesize grows from about 500KB to 2MB, but with some judicious resizing the filesize gets more reasonable.

So it seems changing the quality setting is not quite enough. Which means learning more about doing some post processing on them. There are some great photography-inspired tips in this excellent article on Blizzard Watch which seems a good place to start.

Aside from the framing tips, the main advice seems to be about adjusting colours and contrast, to get the details to really pop and sparkle. The main problem I see is that the screenshots are too dark, so I played around with an image of our second RFC run to see what could be done. Here’s the default shot:

The heavy contrast is quite nice, but it does tend to hide much of the detail

Using Irfanview (which admittedly is more of a viewer than an editor), I mucked around with adjusting contrast and saturation, but in the end found that the ‘auto adjust colours’ setting did a pretty good job:

Details are much clearer, at the cost of some depth

Finally I used the ‘sharpness’ setting to see what that would do:

Things like belts, tabard edges, and moustaches(!) are picked out, though there is also some jagged edging

Hm. I like that you can see more once it’s adjusted, but it does wash it out a fair bit. I guess using the default settings isn’t a great plan – more to learn and more experimenting to come. Either that or I should just start taking screenshots in daylight…

On rails

I normally cycle to work each day, but today had to catch public transport. It was about 10 minutes before BfA launched when the tram pulled up, and I was greeted by an unexpected sight.

Classic. I was on it when BfA went live (the tweet storms were in full flight), so made sure I was in the right carriage too.

Anduin’s Gnomes have planted a monitoring device.

The tram was pretty full, but not nearly as busy as Brann.

Have fun everyone!

Meta Blaugust blogging

With Blaugust fully rolling now, I thought it might be ok to post a meta post about blogging – or more specifically questions about blogging and commenting.

(I guess this could be better asked on the Blaugust Discord, but I don’t really use or get Discord, and anything posted there is only visible to the Discorders. Which is why blogging is so great – it’s public and a permanent record).

One of my biggest confusions with blogging is commenting. Whenever I see a post that stirs the imagination, I think about commenting, but then decide it would be better to make a full post here. The logic is normally that there is too much to write in a comment, and comments tend to be seen by a tiny fraction of blog readers.

On the other hand, comments can be the heart of a blog. It’s how you know people are reading, and reading enough to care to respond. Veteran blogger and Blaugust mentor Bhagpuss is pretty clear on the matter:

I one hundred percent recommend and advise any reader to comment, whether or not they also blog or plan on starting. Comments are the life-blood of blogs. Bloggers love comments and commenting leads to blogging. Do it!

But! He also goes on to say:

I’ll start commenting and within a few sentences it will occur to me that a) the comment is going to run long – most likely very long – and b) it would make a perfectly adequate blog post! At this point, out of blogging solidarity and politeness, I usually change the comment to something along the lines of “Great post! I was going to comment but then I realized I ought to make it into a post over at my blog”.

This is exactly what happens. Though I rarely get as far as starting a reply.

Is the best etiquette to post a reply, but link to your post if you make one? That sometimes seems like it might be a bit rude, hijacking someone else’s post, but it does seem a good compromise? I certainly like seeing a link posted as it leads me to find great new bloggers, or great posts from existing blogs.

It might also be the only way to guarantee the author knows you have posted a response. The state of link-backs seem perilous at best, which is a real shame. There could be terrific post somewhere engaging with one of yours, but you may never see it.

Interested in thoughts on this – feel free to comment or post a response! And then comment. With a link. Argh!

Mists iLevel reference

I had trouble finding a ready reference to the ilvl ranges for Mists, so after hunting around all the usual sites came up with the following. I’ll revise this post if the numbers change.

Update 2012.10.03: Revised Heroic iLvl (was i440), JP iLvl (was i450), JP/VP rep requirements (no rep for JP gear, less for some VP gear), and added crafted weapons iLvl.

Source Requires Drops Comment
Quests n/a i372
Dungeons i358 i425-i450
Scenarios i425 i463
Heroics i435 i463/i476 i476 off final boss only
LFR i463 i476/i483 T14 tokens i483
Raid (N) i476 i489/i496 T14 tokens i496
Raid (H) i489 i502/i509 T14 tokens i509

So progression is pretty clear: Dungeons -> Heroics -> (LFR) -> Raid Normal -> etc. You can skip LFR by grinding out enough rep and VP to get into norlmal raiding.

Rep vendors sell i458 gear for JP (no rep required), and i489 for VP at Honored (neck/ring/cloak/bracers) and Revered. So planning your reputation priorities will be important.

Crafted epics are i476-i496. Crafted weapons are i463.

The Watcher

Thinking more about how people could learn the game without YouTube or Tankspot, it seems that an Observer mode would be an excellent addition. Some mechanism which allowed you to join a fight in progress as a watcher only, hovering above god-style, kind of like you can hover around when dead and see what’s going on.

I’d love to be able to follow a Warrior tank who was running my chosen bête noire, to learn how they handle the adds and time their cooldowns. Or to hover over a new wing of Naxx once our guild ventures in for the second time.

This would allow you to watch and learn fights that are new, or that you’re struggling with. It removes the element of surprise when encountering a new instance or boss, but then very few approach a new fight without first watching a strategy video or reading a debrief. In fact Observer mode would be much more involving than those kind of meta approaches.

You’d probably need some kind of way to allow or disallow observers, so as not to be encumbered with additional stresses or having strangers judge your skills. But given people Livestream their attempts already, I’m sure it would be a pretty popular feature.

eSports depend on the ability for an audience to join a game as observers and hence participate in the event like they were at a real sports game. The venerable Quake engine allowed god mode overview for tournament play, Starcraft II will feature some kind of observer mode, as well as replays, so why not offer it in WoW too?

April WoW Fools

Best April Fools post? El’s Cataclysm Aquarium! Please please please make it so, Blizzard!

Storing dead fish in bags or bank vaults is smelly. And nobody can see your rarest catches**. Fish tanks allow anglers to keep their rarest catches alive – and gain rewards from doing so. They also let other people see precisely what rare fish you have caught!

The aquarium finally brings the best of “social fish-gaming” to Azeroth.

**If you fish, you must watch this video! He’s caught everything.

Blizzard also pulled a nice swift one in the Armory – a ninja-looting Level 80 Tuskarr Warrior? They must have known Bane was a fishercow 🙂

The Greatest Fisherpeople in Warcraft

GTAIV, WoW, and cocaine

The Observer published a crushingly personal account of addiction to GTAIV combined with an equally crippling cocaine habit.

It’s a depressing and hard core world the author portrays – gaming day-in day-out, whilst keeping a cocaine habit going, and pretty much losing any connection to the world outside. There’s been many stories of WoW addiction, but the combination of an actual drug with a virtual one is the real killer.

Coke is to acid what jazz is to rock. You have to appreciate it. It does not come to you… And soon I realised what video games have in common with cocaine: video games, you see, have no edge. You have to appreciate them. They do not come to you.

There’s a same-but-different story on wow.com interviewing a player who is two dings away from ‘beating’ WoW: completing every in game achievement. He managed that by having a /played time of 491 days. That’s a staggering figure. In some ways this seems a parallel to the Observer tale, except there seems no equivalent story of a life gone off the rails. Perhaps there should be.

Both have that common gaming description of being in the zone, reaching an almost zen state of playing and the exultant state of emotional well being that brings:

Some achievements are a bit stressful and took some time, but at the end of the day when the [WoW] achievement frame is popping up, my heart is filled with peace and love.

I felt as intensely focused as a diamond-cutting laser; Grand Theft Auto IV was ready to go. My friend and I played it for the next 30 hours straight.

These are feelings I’m sure all gamers have experienced, though (hopefully) not with the same intensity, or the same consequences. There’s a joy to being so focussed in the moment and when everything comes together just so.

At the same time, there’s the danger of overdoing it. The WoW interviewee has some eerie parallels to the “first taste is free” tactic of the drug dealing fraternity:

We started with some easy stuff like LEEEEERRRRROOOOOOOYYYY!!!!!111 for warmup but went early to the battleground stuff. It was so much fun; I think we did that eight hours in a row before we felt asleep. =D The next day, we explored some zones, fished in some schools and stuff before we queued for battlegrounds again. The beginning time was absolutely amazing.

Games are an escape, a release valve, a way to zone out and forget the pressure of the day to day. The parallels to drugs are made strikingly clear by both these stories.

Adult taste can be demanding work – so hard, in fact, that some of us, when we become adults, selectively take up a few childish things, as though in defeated acknowledgment that adult taste, with its many bewilderments, is frequently more trouble than it is worth. Few games have more to tell us about this adult retreat into childishness than the Grand Theft Auto series.

I’m utterly unqualified to talk about drugs of any description, but the notion of retreat and escapism, be it via music or gardening or gaming or drugs, appears almost universal. Everyone seeks it in some way, just some methods are healthier than others. And of course it’s only when it’s taken to these kind of obsessive lengths that even healthy pursuits become ugly.

The point that hit home hardest for me was when the GTAIV player started talking about how he stopped seeking out books and stopped writing, two experiences which had previously been his lifeblood.

When the minds of the reader and writer perfectly and inimitably connect, objects, events and emotions become doubly vivid – more real, somehow, than real things. I have spent most of my life seeking out these connections and attempting to create my own. Today, however, the pleasures of literary connection seem leftover and familiar.

I’ve had a very similar experience since starting WoW. I’ve barely read a novel in two years, staying up late to immerse myself in the game world instead of the worlds created by words. The closest I’ve come is reading graphic novels, which don’t demand the same immersion and concentration (but can be just as rewarding).

Mind you he doesn’t necessarily resent this change  – not the games anyway (the cocaine is a different story) – believing that gaming has given him “not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories”, and that “today the most consistently pleasurable pursuit in my life is playing video games.”

Perhaps the most terrifying element of his story is that even though he’s off the coke, gaming still has a iron grip on his soul:

These days I have read from start to finish exactly two works of fiction – excepting those I was also reviewing – in the last year. These days I play video games in the morning, play video games in the afternoon and spend my evenings playing video games…

…For instance, I woke up this morning at 8am fully intending to write this article. Instead, I played Left 4 Dead until 5pm.

This is someone who’s recovered from something far worse. It just doesn’t seem like much of a recovery, and that’s a scary thought.

Achievement metagaming

I’m plodding around Azeroth on Kodo in pursuit of my Elder title, visiting all sorts of far flung places with nary a soul around. Other than other Achievement seekers, of course. Which is kind of sad – Ashzara for example is a beautiful zone, populated by precisely no-one, all the lonely NPCs in tears waiting for someone to kill or appreciate them. Thankfully Cataclysm brings the Bilgewater Cartel goblins to Ashzara, who make their home there.

In any case, the Lunar Festival is a nice leisurely journey, and it certainly brings home the ginormous size of the world. It also illustrates one of the fundamentals of playing: the metagame. The idea of attempting the Lunar or any other festival without resources like wow.com or Wowhead is frankly unimaginable:

Bane: Hey there, guy-with-a-great-huge-halo-shooting-up-in-the-sky, how you doing?

GWAGHHSUITS: *spinning around with enthusiasm* Hail oh great PC! Thanks for visiting me. In fact, you know what – have this artfully crafted coin!

Bane: Whoa, thanks old guy! Hey – are there more of you ‘Elders’ around?

GWAGHHSUITS: Sure are – and they’ll give you free stuff too!

Bane: Great! I should go visit them. Um, where are they?

GWAGHHSUITS: There’s one somewhere in a dungeon somewhere. And another in a place you’ve never heard of. Just nearby. Kind of. *looks shiftily around while scuffing the ground with his worn leather boots*

Bane: Ummm, can you be more specific?

GWAGHHSUITS: Nope! Good luck! /ignore*quickly turns his back on the annoying PC*

Bane: …

Of course it would be possible to find all the Elders, but it would be a royal pain too.  I guess someone once did it da solo, and more power to them, but players with that much perseverance are few and far between.

Whilst you could argue this means the game isn’t complete somehow, it seems more likely that this enormous community pool of knowledge that has formed around Warcraft is one of the things that makes the game, as BigBearButt observed. It’s social networking, and it’s been around since before that term became the property of Big Business™.

The amount of free info and time that people have committed to Wowhead and Wowwiki is phenomenal. It’s created a community of contributers, bloggers, editors, Auctioneers and passionate players. I barely move in game before referring to LightHeaded, zooming off as directed via TomTom, or using the Lunar Festival pack for TourGuide.

In many other games this would be cheating. And maybe the boss encounters suffer a bit from needing guides rather than teaching. But I’d argue that overall, the metagame makes WoW miles more fun – it doesn’t reduce the challenge, just the frustration.

‘It’s very rude of him,’ she said, `To come and spoil the fun!’

Question of the day: do you watch the LK cinematic or not?

On the yea side of the argument, our Guild is so far from actually doing this encounter ingame that it may as well be a different game. By the time we do get there, there’s not going to be anything to spoil, because it will all have been out in the open for months. So why not watch it now, while the buzz is alive.

On the nay side, seeing the Wrathgate cinematic while levelling was epic and great. I didn’t get to it until way after most, but managed to quarantine any advance info or spoilers. The problem is that the Fall of the LK is a much bigger deal, and I can’t imagine it not being common knowledge no matter how hard you try. Kind of like trying to not find out the winner of the Superbowl until you’ve watched it a day later.

Luckily, for now anyway, Blizzard have pulled the video on copyright grounds, so I can ponder a little longer (before giving in!).