Hunter’s Mark

In my ongoing quest to avoid BfA, today I was further pondering the rare hunting project and how it might work.

Should it be a single character that does all the ‘collecting’?

It seems like that might be a good policy, creating a specialised rare-hunter, with a backstory and attitude to match. The name will be important, to capture the flavour of the endeavour.

When to start?

Before flight is available it’s quite a challenge (or at least pretty slow) getting around finding the rare creatures. So it’s tempting to start this with a high level character, and go back flying around one-shotting the vanilla mobs. But it’s been great fun doing it on foot with the new Alliance team, so maybe clearing each zone as it happens is more appealing, and makes the hunt more in-character.

Gruff Swiftbite
Which class?

A druid might make sense, with the travel forms and tanking spec to help with the tougher fights. Or maybe a Paladin for similar reasons. But my heart thinks a Hunter is the natural choice here. A soloist at heart, carefully tracking and researching wild prey.

I considered Marksmenship as a spec, the idea of a sharpshooting sniper appealing, but BeastMaster is probably closer to my head canon for this character. Having a trusted companion along for the journey makes it more appealing – especially one that can tank 🙂

Gug Fatcandle
To kill or not to kill?

This is a tricky one. Sometimes I find rares and feel like they should be left in peace, especially the free roaming animals. I despise the idea of hunting in the real world, so celebrating it in game is a bit contradictory. Then again, this is a game, and Hunters hunt. Maybe I can play it by ear, sometimes letting live and let live, sometimes finishing the target for the good of Azeroth.

Slark
Screenshots

One of the harder things is getting a good screenshot before the dead mob dematerialises, or before another character on one of those @#$@# low level sidecar mounts arrives to ruin the photo. And do you have the name (and nameplate?) of the mob showing or not? It’s a good record of who it was, but I guess that could also be achieved by the layout of the blog page recording the deed.

I’d also like to learn how to make screenshots look better – mine are often too dark and badly lit. The gold standard is Bendak’s screenshots at Eyes of the Beast, which all manage to look spectacular, so I assume he’s doing some post processing on them. Further research required.

Mother Fang
Blog presentation

I’ll probably shamelessly steal Cymre’s layout and have a page per zone with all the rares collected there. Simple and effective.

Should I do this?

I think I should! It’s a long term thing, a fun side project, and for some inexplicable reason I can imagine it best playing it as a human, of all things. Maybe Hell can freeze over after all.

Developing appreciation

It’s been nice reading the various Developer Appreciation Week posts on the Blaugust blogs, the surge of positivity is very welcome.

The obvious candidate for me is Blizzard. Warcraft has provided endless hours of entertainment, fun, laughter, obsession, joy, sorrow, and accomplishment, and continues to do so even now. Most recently I’ve discovered the cleverness of level scaling in dungeons, which has meant our lowbie guild can all be completely different levels but still play together – something that must have been very hard to implement into the creaking framework of old WoW code, and yet appears seamless to the player.

Overwatch is also a brilliant game, the perfect antidote to the long termedness of an MMO. Jeff Kaplan in particular is a great front man, communicating extremely well and obviously loving what he’s doing, but the entire team have achieved incredible things. The game is constantly evolving and updating, which is all due to the dedication of the dev team no doubt.

On a slightly different note, I’d also shout out to the team that have put out 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Our tabletop group have loved the current version, which managed to simplify the rules somewhat and also introduce a bunch of great new mechanics like Inspiration – basically a free re-roll granted by te DM to a player for particularly clever role playing. It’s a simple idea that escalates the enjoyment instantly without bogging things down. They have also managed to make all the classes feel exceptionally heroic, with every class feeling powerful and different, and the official modules have been entertaining for DM and players both.

Finally I’d call out gaming bloggers again. So many great, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, curious writers who are passing on their love of a game, or many games, to all the readers out there. And through that enthusiasm they in turn highlight what a great job so many of the developers are doing. It’s a virtuous circle, and may it ever grow stronger.

Expansion paralysis

It’s happening again.

Instead of diving into the latest expansion with arms open and eyes wide, I’m doing everything to avoid even logging in to my only 110 character. This happens every time, and I’m at a loss to explain why.

Running dungeons with the Alliance guild is one thing, but everything else I’m doing is pure avoidance. So far I’ve rolled up one of each Alliance race, tried them out, deleted them. Settled on a Dwarf Hunter alt, then decided the name would be better for a Panda, but do I really want to play a Panda? Maybe a Human. But wait, I’m an actual human, why would I play one in a game.

Then I thought I should level a Highmountain Tauren – the character model is beautiful, especially those massive antlers, and it would be fun to unlock their epic looking cosmetic armour. 90 levels before I’d have to face BfA – that should be time enough to get used to the idea!?

Realising this was kind of ridiculous, I caught up on a few blogs, thinking that working my way through the great Blaugust list TAGN put together would focus me on the task ahead. But instead, reading through them made me start to ponder rolling up some characters in some completely different MMOs.

Armagon Live’s enthusiasm for SWtOR (and the great transmog in that post), along with the long term commitment to the game from blogs like Going Commando, make me enthused to don a lightsaber and jump back in again.

Likewise the ongoing chronicles of GW2 from Bhagpuss (who even when wary of the direction the game is taking makes it sound interesting) lures me to GW2, and it’s hard to resist the deep appreciation Blaugust creator Belghast has for ESO. Or Syp’s relentless enthusiasm for LotRO and DDO. Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, my DnD group are playing The Curse of Strahd (aka Ravenloft revisited), which led me to thinking I should maybe play Neverwinter Online in order to flesh out ideas for the tabletop game.

Meanwhile my Horde Hunter stands patiently waiting but gets no closer to being played. Does anyone else have this problem?

Ah well. If nothing else, my BfA avoidance scheme has made me appreciate the gaming blogosphere all the more. Even though we can’t play every game, the enthusiasm of the blogging community means we can get close. Thanks all!

Battle for…Deadmines

Tonight our troop of Alliance debutantes headed into our first dungeon, the deadly Deadmines.

Deep beneath the mines of Moonbrook in southwestern Westfall lie the Deadmines. Despite the demise of the Defias Brotherhood’s leader Edwin VanCleef at the hands of Alliance militiamen, the Deadmines is still the Brotherhood’s most secure hideout since Cataclysm. Here the survivors of Edwin’s crew toil alongside new recruits, so that the Defias juggernaut ship can be complete and the kingdom of Stormwind can be brought to its knees. All this is happening under the vigilant eyes of “Captain” Cookie… and Vanessa VanCleef.

Going back to Deadmines raised some old memories. Way back in the day I was escorting a Guildie through Deadmines in search of a Rogue twinking chest (is twinking still a thing?), and as he was busy looting while I one shot everything in sight, my young Rogue friend coined a nice term for what I was doing: PVE Ganking. The Defias mobs had zero chance, like an 80 whacking on a freshly minted level 1 in a PVP zone. That quickly joined our other favourites – Bag Rage (need more slots!), Drop Logic (“Maybe you have to kill the tar monsters in the tar for the teeth to drop?”), and Threading (for when you move through a group of mobs without pulling a single one).

It’s a great dungeon, and a great first dungeon if you’ve never seen one. Plenty of mobs and bosses, fun mechanics, and the lovely moment when you bust through the mines and emerge into a huge cavern with a fully fledged pirate ship ahead.

It’s also pretty funny for a dungeon – most are pretty standard heroic fare, but this one has ogres wielding kobolds as weapons, goblin bosses riding ogres in turn, and a murloc boss who tosses slowly rotting food whilst sitting in a cooking pot.

Cookie crumbled

Plus that murloc boss drops a weapon that is so ridiculous that Blizzard had to make a special rule to forbid it from being used for transmog.

The full Paladin fantasy

It was a great reunion for our group of players who used to play together regularly, with plenty of laughs and ridiculous situations, especially the revelation that our new player hadn’t realised he could change his characters appearance when he was created, so he has whatever the randomiser came up with – we had wondered about the haircut choice. But he’s a real character now, a budding hero of the Alliance, so he can’t possibly be changed.

One for all

We also had a friend join from Chicago where he’d moved many years ago, which was a great reminder of the power of gaming and MMOs to bring a dispersed group together. As the freshman noted, Warcraft is almost “a weaponised banter and nostalgia machine….really if you were all spread out it would almost be mandatory to play something like this.” We are, and it almost is.

Rarified

One of the goals I’ve always had in Warcraft was to hunt down every rare – or ‘silver dragon’ – in the game. It’s a fun goal, and a great way to tour some of the more out of the way caves and bogs and mountain tops.

Edan the Howler. No relation to Eden the commenter, I hope.

Plenty of people of done it of course, and I’ve started various blogs in an attempt to screenshot each find before inevitably running out of steam. Cymre at Bubbles of Mischief has the best presented list that I’ve seen – a labour of love with screenshots and many pages of adventuring.

Hammerspine and cowering captive

With the new Alliance Guild, it’s been fun tootling around Dun Morogh searching for the four rares that patrol the zone. I’ve found and, uh, murdered three of them, but the fourth – Great Father Arctikus – seems to have some kind of pathing bug that means he’s inside the mountain stone rather than the caves below. Oh well. His time will come!

Bjarn. Note friend approaching from the right…
… seeking revenge!

One of the other reasons for this project has been it’s away of paying tribute to the friend who tempted me into WoW way back in the Burning Crusade days. We discovered rares together in the game, and I remember taking a hardcopy of a Prima Guide to photocopying shop to make an A3 print of the list of rares it contained. We took a sheet each, and planned our assault on each rare with great care. My friend is no longer with us, but hunting rares sometimes brings him back.

Legion disbanded

Day two and I haven’t managed to logon for BfA play yet, missing the launch rush completely. Which doesn’t really worry me, as like many others I plan to level nice and slowly, investigating all the nooks and crannies and getting the most out of all the little details to be found. I like BarelyReadableDiary’s turn of phrase: “taking a ‘loremaster’ style approach to levelling”. Perfect.

Along with that post, there’s been a bunch of nice reflections of highlights from Legion. One of my favourites is from my Warlords Guild leader, Navimie of Frostwolves, who asked her guildies to supply a screenshot of a special moment from Legion. Such a great way to commemorate an expansion from many different angles.

Zeriah and Cinder have also published some nice thoughts on Legion and what they’re looking forward to in BfA. I think my lists would be:

Legion moments
  1. Highmountain Tauren – competing as my favourite zone ever.
  2. Unlocking the Underlight Angler – a fairly predictable highlight!
  3. Flying – I fully support keeping us grounded as I think it really opens up the exploration game, but the sense of freedom when you can fly is also special.
BfA anticipation
  1. The story – everything about the lead up has been pretty epic, fascinated to see where it all leads.
  2. New Allied races – the Dark Iron Dwarves look fantastic. Not quite sure how I’ll manage that given they’re Alliance. Maybe that’s a good use for the 110 boost.
  3. Participating all the way through – a bugbear of mine has always been a tendency to only play at the very end of expansions, which leads to missing a lot of content and playing catchup. This time I hope to stay vaguely current throughout.

Looking forward to logging on and getting started – maybe by the weekend, and hopefully before the end of Blaugust!

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!

Rolling Alliance

Our Alliance Guild is planning to take on Deadmines soon, our first dungeon and the first dungeon ever for our new recruit. I’m used to running Ragefire Chasm as the the launch dungeon, so this will be a fun change. We’re planning to travel to each dungeon in order to understand the lay of the land better – it will be interesting to see how long that lasts.

It’s somewhat strange to be starting from scratch like this just when a new expac launches. It’s also somewhat typical for me – with each release I always seem to find a reason to not join the levelling rush and so end up way behind. But given we’re planning to run each dungeon at level, and only one a week, there should be plenty of time to adventure into BfA too.

I still find it very odd playing Alliance. The only race I feel comfortable with is the Dwarves, probably because they were the first race I ever played – before discovering my true home in the Horde. The Worgen are interesting though their animations seem like a missed opportunity – they’re somehow not bestial enough. I can’t tolerate a Human for more than a few levels before blanching at the…regularity of them. Maybe the Kul Tiras variant will be more interesting? The Dranei voices kill them for me (as well as their space story), and Elves, well they’re Elves. I enjoyed the Gnome animations, but along with the Goblins, their machines and environmental terrorism are too off-putting to play long term.

Who *are* these guys?

And Stormwind, ugh, I was lost in the streets for an age when I first arrived. Ironforge on the other hand is quite magnificent, the scale and majesty is amazing. I stumbled upon a place called ‘Old Ironforge’ beneath the throne room by following a cobwebbed corridor down and down and down and suddenly emerging in an ancient place, with some kind of lorekeeper tending massive tomes. I love finding this kind of stuff, just by random exploration.

Having said all that, there’s one definite plus for the Alliance – they have many cows!

Serious faces: on

Slightly more prepared

One day and eleven hours to go for BfA, as I write this. I’m not really that prepared, having looked at finishing Legion Engineering and Mining and failed, and also failing to participate in enough fishing raids to level the Underlight Angler much. Once BfA launches it will be nigh impossible for a while, until people start backfilling content.

I did finally empty out most of my bags. Where by ‘most’ I mean half – I can’t quite let go of all the special bait and fish!

After the new PC build, my addons are also mostly under control. I decided against ElvUI for the time being – it’s a nice set and forget system, but it is very hard to customise and tends to take over everything. So I’ve slowly built a passable UI using some core components: Bartender4, Shadowed Unit Frames, ThreatPlates, Adibags, and of course FishingBuddy. I’ve thrown on TitanPanel too, which is fun though I’m not sure ‘required’, though many swear they become dependent on it. Just need to find a minimap and chat fixer and we should be good to go.

The other thing I wanted to get a better handle on before launch was the lore backstories. Luckily Blizzard Watch have our backs here. Super lore-watcher Anne Stickney (why hasn’t Blizzard hired her?) fills us in on the undeath of Sylvanas, while equally knowledgable Matthew Rossi goes deep on Saurfang.

There is also a super useful BfA timeline article, that outlines the plot points and has links to all the novellas, comics, and animations that bring us to the launch. I’d missed the comics, and all three are excellent and flesh out a lot of the storyline – especially Jaina. Recommended reading!

Training wheels

Gloriaboboria recently posted some impassioned thoughts on how Warcraft could (and should) go about attracting, and more importantly retaining, new players. It’s a common problem in established MMOs, and one not easily solved:

A running theme I’ve seen among newer players giving feedback, including some I’ve introduced to the game like my own brother, is that they’re entranced by the initial portions of the game, love it, rave about it, but eventually fall off around level 20-30 and leave and don’t come back. That’s not even halfway to the level cap.

There are so many nuances and interlocking systems in an MMO that it feels like a new player has no chance. If they want to play an MMO, it seems like they’re better off jumping in on a new one where there is an entire playerbase learning the ropes and sharing knowledge.

The problem with this of course is that new MMOs struggle to gain traction. Even heavily promoted and well executed games like Wildstar floundered after launching with much fanfare. So playing one of the established games with an already strong community becomes a better choice. At which point we’re back to the problem of complexity.

One suggestion from Gloriaboboria is a mentoring system:

It seems like a monumental issue to try and tackle and yet we already have examples from other games that at least make attempts to rope new players in via mentoring systems. I’m not saying the mentoring systems in games like FFXIV and Guild Wars 2 are perfect, because they aren’t, largely because they aren’t monitored in any way. But at least they EXIST. Take a page from their notebooks and set up a basic mentoring system in WoW.

I agree this would be sensible – whenever I’ve logged onto GW2, I’ve noticed specially designated players who have been granted some kind of mentor role. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but it seems like a smart idea that rewards your dedicated players with an enhanced in game role and also helps new starters.

Warcraft has done well by streamlining the gameplay experience, making it as seamless as they can despite the ancient code base and massive history. The class trials seem like a good idea too, though throwing someone into a level 100 scenario for a test drive is more for experienced players than new. But there are still mysteries for the new player that are nigh impossible to unravel without help. How does a guild bank work? Why is the bag UI so bad? What’s a Beastmaster Hunter compared to a Survival Hunter compared to a Marksmanship Hunter??

And perhaps the greatest problem of all – how to Dungeon? How to Raid? The two pinnacles of content are also the two things that have the greatest barrier to entry, and are the most likely places to suffer a crushing experience that will make you leave the game and never come back.

I’ve long considered starting a guild that is for mentoring dungeon and raid groups. A few level locked tanks and healers, with an open policy to guide and help new players learn the ropes when it comes to coordinated group play. It wouldn’t take long to get new players comfortable with the concepts, and give them the confidence to get out there in Dungeon Finder and LFR to enjoy the high level content.

The problem is there are no good in game tools to support such a concept. Using the forums is hardly effective, and in game advertising is more or less limited to general chat and the broken find-a-guild systems. Blizzard seem to have acknowledged some of the problem in creating their new Communities system in BfA, but it still seems to focus mainly on existing players and friends.

Maybe one day I’ll give it a try using the tools available, but it feels like there should be more systems in game to support the mentoring role. Then again Blizzard are probably not too worried about recruiting and retention at the moment given the huge reaction to the BfA preamble. Only a few days to go!