You are all cheaters! .. or are we?

Raph has been sparring with Tobold on the topic of RMT, and now Raph threw a curveball: Information not provided within the game is cheating. Of course, I disagree. Otherwise this would have been a very boring blog post.

The central idea in Raph's argument is that information is a mechanic. Poker would be a very boring game if everyone knew what cards the other players have. Card counting, card marking, spotters, or other methods of knowing your opponents' cards is considered cheating. Likewise, strategy guides, videos and searchable database sites provide information about a computer game. So using that information is cheating, right?

Wrong. There are variations of poker, like Texas Hold'Em, where other players do get to see some of your cards. And you are allowed to plan your next move according to that extra information. Nobody's forcing you to look at those exposed cards, but you'd be a fool if you didn't.

Raph continues by addressing a common counterpoint:

Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.

* But everyone has access to the info, which makes it OK. This may not have been the case back in the mud days.

So if everyone cheats, it’s OK. :)

If you consider playing Texas Hold'em cheating in poker, be my guest. Just don't be surprised if other players do not share your opinion.

We are not playing the same game as in the MUD days. MUD admins were well within their rights to say that using information sites is cheating. It's their game and their rules. These are different games with different rules. These rules do allow players access to more information, whether it's in-game, via vendor-approved APIs and web services, web sites or from other players. The games are balanced with the assumption that players have access to all this information, just like Texas Hold'Em is balanced on the assumption that players see some of the opponents' cards. And this is an ongoing process. It wasn't that long ago when people were making the argument that WoW addons that display the name and the estimated casting time for an enemy spell were a form of cheating. But now WoW gives you that information out of the box. The developers felt that not only was using that information allowed, but that it would be required in the future. For example, at the Reliquary of Souls. A part of that encounter relies on the flawless reaction to enemy casting, and reacting flawlessly does (in practice) require knowing the spell being cast and the estimated casting time. Otherwise it would be too difficult and stop being fun.

To his credit, Raph does acknowledge this:
Because of this, designers have increasingly simply designed around the assumption that the info will be shared — that players will cheat.

But still insists that it's cheating:
In the case of something like WoW’s Armory, they simply threw up their hands, and instead said “this isn’t cheating anymore” by providing it themselves.

If you feel that seeing some of the other players' cards in Texas Hold'Em is cheating, you're free to stop playing and find a vanilla poker game. You, the player, are not the authority on what is cheating and what's allowed. The organizer of the game, or the house, is. Whether that organizer is a casino holding a poker tournament or Blizzard maintaining a WoW server is irrelevant. It's their game with their rules. If you disagree, you are free to try to convince them otherwise, or to find an another game.

Finally, Raph says that this change is a bad thing, that we are losing the ability to teach them those lessons that come from hidden info.. Personally, I'd say that those lessons weren't worth much anyway. Lessons that rely on hidden information are only challenging for the first few tries. Security by obscurity is worthless after the veil of secrecy has been lifted. Once you learn those precious few gimmicks, the encounters are trivial and therefore boring.


Reliquary of Souls

Reliquary of Souls
Reliquary of Souls,
originally uploaded by Shalkis.
Rest in peace. This was definitely one of the more interesting fights I've seen, and a landmark of the philosophy behind 25-man raids.

The boss itself is guarded by a very short BWL-like gauntlet, which measures the raid group's ability to move and AoE as one. It also serves as an exercise in mana management, since it's very much possible to go OOM at the gauntlet and have no mana for the boss itself.

Reliquary of Souls is basically three completely different fights stringed together. Between every phase the raid is swarmed with weak ghosts, which restore your health and mana upon death. They are effectively a reset button between each phase.

First, there's the Essence of Suffering. His aura nullifies all healing and he aggroes on the closest person for 5 seconds at a time. These abilities make him an exercise in survival and movement for everyone, not just tanks. In practice, everyone tanks him for 5 seconds, and then hands off the boss to the next person. Sounds simple, but it is harder than it sounds until everyone understands how he works.

Phase 2 is Essence of Desire. She has an aura which keeps reducing your maximum mana, so naturally there's a DPS race involved. She must die before your healers have zero mana and can't prevent the tank from dying. She also has a Rune Shield which can be dispelled and a feedback ability that deals back 50% of the damage dealt. But the interesting parts are her other abilities: Deaden and Spirit Shock. Deaden increases damage on the target, so the tank must spellreflect it back to Essence of Desire to boost DPS. Spirit Shock is a quickly-cast spell which disorients the person with aggro and deals a large amount of damage. If the tank gets hit by it, Essence of Desire switches targets and casts the next Spirit Shock faster. The trick to killing her is to interrupt all Spirit Shocks while allowing the tank to reflect all Deadens and maintain maximum DPS. In other words, an exercise in total focus and seamless raid coordination.

Finally, there's Essence of Anger. He has a stacking aura which keeps dealing more and more damage as well as a timebomb-style ability called Spite. While he has a cone-like ability that burns rage as well as mana, this phase is not about tank survival per se. It's a frantic DPS race against mercilessly increasing raid damage, much like Buru phase 2 in Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj.

The combination of all these requirements in one fight makes it definitely one of the most memorable fights in World of Warcraft, because it tests all aspects of a successful raidgroup: gear, coordination, knowledge and focus. Those that can get past it get access to the next three bosses and the final 3 pieces of tier 6 sets.


Schizophrenic set design

The Hunter’s Mark recently discussed hunter set bonuses, so I'll do the same for mage sets.

As a rule, mage set design has always been.. schizophrenic. There's the sets with simply awful bonuses: Magister (dungeon set 1), Sorcerer (dungeon set 2a), Ironweave (dungeon set 2b), Vaulted Secrets (AQ20), Incanter(dungeon set 3a). People who designed those sets have no idea of overall mage gameplay. No intelligent mage is going to stand still and let his Mana Shield absorb hits while chaincasting Flamestrike. Not only it's suicidial, it also fails to provide adequate DPS due to having to recast Mana Shield. Even a Mana Shield amplified by set bonuses is only going to take 2-3 hits at most from non-raid mobs before crumbling, which means you have to recast it. Recasting Mana Shield leaves no time to take advantage of the reduced cast time on Flamestrike, so you end up doing minimal DPS and using all of your mana while doing it.

Then there's the okayish sets, like Arcanist(tier 1), Enigma(AQ40) and Tempest(tier 6). Definitely worth collecting, but could be eclipsed by careful itemization. If you head to Molten Core wearing Magister, Arcanist is certainly an upgrade. It's less so if you have cleared Zul'Gurub or gotten most of the better level 60 blues. Still, the decent 8-piece bonus of -15% threat helps a lot.

Enigma has a spec-specific set bonus, but makes up for it by having pretty hefty stats and a nice proc for boss fights if you didn't have Spell Hit capped (most mages didn't).

Tempest is currently the set with the highest itemlevels of mage gear, so it's best by default. It might eventually be eclipsed by stuff that drops from the Sunwell Plateau, but will hold up pretty well until that. The 2-piece bonus is a bit underwhelming when compared to the equivalent Frostfire one, but the 4-piece bonus is exactly what mages need: more damage.

Then there's the nifty sets, worth having for simply the set bonuses: Netherwind (tier 2) and Frostfire (tier 3). All set bonuses are useful and the items themselves are nothing to scoff at. Furthermore, the set bonuses are useful for all mages, regardless of spec.

Finally, there's the bizarre sets. Aldor (tier 4) is mediocre as a PvE set, but has a few of the most useful set bonuses ever for PvP. Pushback immunity and shorter cooldowns on PoM/Blastwave/Ice Block. Either of those bonuses would have been welcomed with cheers if those were put into the Gladiator set(s).

Then there's Illusionist (Zul'Gurub), an another oddball set. It has the bread-and-butter spelldamage bonuses, but then mixes the promising set up with reduced mana cost to buffs and Flamestrike cast time reduction. Even pre-nerf, Arcane Intellect and Arcane Brilliance mana costs were a non-issue. When you are buffing, you usually have plenty of time to do so. And since you can conjure your own mana drinks, you always have ample mana. Then there's the Flamestrike bonus. An okayish generic set which has a spec-specific set bonus in the end? And to get the said set bonus, you have to wear Hazza'rah's Charm of Magic, which boosts Arcane damage, not Fire. Is Illusionist a generic set, a fire mage set or an Arcane mage set? I really cannot say.

Finally, there's Tirisfal (tier 5). If there ever was an argument why mages should get alternate sets like most of the other classes, Tirisfal is it. It's exclusively designed for Arcane mages. For all others, Arcane Blast not only provides substandard DPS, it also is an order of magnitude more expensive than the other nuke spells (Fireball, Frostbolt). No sane frost/fire mage would ever want to make it even more expensive.


Mage Class Concerns

Vaneras has requested feedback on the mage class. I've posted on the thread as well, but here's the short version: Inferiority Complex.

Oh, you wanted the long version? Quoting Wikipedia:

An inferiority complex, in the fields of psychology and psychoanalysis, is a feeling that one is inferior to others in some way. Such feelings can arise from an imagined or actual inferiority in the afflicted person. It is often subconscious, and is thought to drive afflicted individuals to overcompensate, resulting either in spectacular achievement or extreme antisocial behavior, or both. Unlike a normal feeling of inferiority, which can act as an incentive for achievement, an inferiority complex is an advanced state of discouragement, often resulting in a retreat from difficulties.
Overcompensation? Check. Extreme antisocial behavior? Check. Advanced state of discouragement? Check. Retreat from difficulties? Check.

Is it simply in our heads? Most of it, yes. But there are some real issues, some of which I listed on the feedback thread. Since the thread rules forbade me from discussing them at length or offering suggestions, I'll do it here. Since 95% of my non-RP playtime is either raiding or preparing to raid, I'll ignore 5-man PvE and PvP completely. Off we go then.
Provide a brief description of the areas you feel are most in need of improvement (you may list a maximum of three issues and each issue should be described in one or two sentences).
  • Itemization. With the change to Evocation, Spirit is even more useless than it was before, yet it's still very "expensive" to have on an item. This makes all items designed for mages objectively worse than the corresponding warlock items. Even if the differences in individual items are small, they do add up when you compare full sets of gear.
    To fix this, Spirit either needs to removed completely, made significantly cheaper or made worth having at the current cost. Cheaper Spirit would also benefit healers, who do have spell rotations which allow Spirit to work.
    Spell Peneration is an another "junk" stat. Although it's rarer than Spirit and can be useful on some Black Temple bosses.. most of the time it's useless. One way to make it more useful would be to re-introduce the concept of negative resistances. If your Spell Penetration reduces the resistances of your target below zero, he would take extra damage. This would make Spell Penetration useful in fights where the target has zero resistances, such as.. almost all of them.
  • Comparatively low DPS, in both single-target and AoE. Partially caused by poor itemization. Even with our top-of-the-line gear and min/max:ed talents, we get outdamaged by hybrids on single-target DPS and by warlocks on AoE DPS. I admit that while this can be more about individual skill, (lack of) class synergy and gear, the effect is still real and feeds the inferiority complex.
    But there are some issues that truly require Blizzard's attention, such as Seed of Corruption. The spell itself is pretty nice. A decent amount of AoE damage that doesn't require active targeting and can be chaincasted from a distance. The trouble is that Seed of Corruption scales with other AoE while mage spells do not. Any source of damage can trigger the Seed of Corruption, so if there are other sources of AoE damage present (such as mages), the Seed will detonate immediately for 1200 damage (non-crit, without spelldamage). No AoE spell in the game can compete with the Seed of Corruption in such a situation. Either the scaling needs to be removed or introduced into other spells.
    Single-target DPS inferiority can be divided into two subcategories: Melee and shadow priest + warlock. Melee should always do more DPS than mages because melee DPS is more hazardous than ranged, but the huge variety of melee buffs and procs tilts the favor heavily to melee. Melee classes benefit from increases to their base stats, while the +crit gained from Intellect is mostly neglible. Therefore paladin, shaman and druid buffs benefit melee much more than they benefit casters.
    The other side of the inferiority is shadow priests and warlocks. A competent warlock can already outdamage a mage, but a warlock coupled with a shadow priest can rack up numbers that mages can only dream about.
    Unfortunately, figuring out a way to fix this without introducing more imbalances is hard. Mages do need some classes to buddy up with. Elemental shamans and moonkins could be viable candidates, but the synergy needs to be reciprocal. Aside from Winter's Chill (which is only benefical to Frost Shock) and Fire Vulnerability (which is only useful to Flame Shock), there isn't that much that the mage can provide. The one common thing that these three classes do have is the need for spell crit. Elemental shamans have their totems and Moonkins have their aura, so mages would need something similar. Like a Winter's Chill that worked with all spells.
  • Mana economy. To try to keep up with other classes in DPS, mages need to sacrifice mana efficiency completely. The design philosophy behind mage tier 5 set and the whole Arcane tree is a perfect example. We need to literally burn much more mana (which we don't have) than other classes to do less damage than they do. The upcoming reusable mana gems will alleviate this somewhat, but don't remove the problem altogether. Mages would need a lot more intellect to wean their addiction to mana potions, and increased +spell crit from the intellect wouldn't hurt either. Add in additional scaling mechanisms as Master of Elements and 3-piece Spellfire set and we might have something viable there. To get that intellect the stat needs to be made cheaper, just like stamina was made cheaper for the Burning Crusade. Warlock gear would delegate those freed item points to stamina (which provides them a dual benefit), while mage gear would get much more intellect-heavy.


Raid Lockouts & Casual vs. Hardcore

Tobold recently discussed the effects of raid lockouts on casual guilds, so I'll cover the hardcore side.

One important aspect of raid lockouts what also ties into Tigole's mention of fostering competition between guilds: Raid lockouts act as a pacing mechanism for inter-guild competition. If you need a certain gear level for an upcoming raid encounter, you can't just raid the previous raid encounters nonstop and have your whole raid equipped to the brim. Since you get just a certain amount of items per week, you can't compensate for lack of skill with extra time spent to progress. A perfect example of this is the Chinese guild The Seven, who killed Illidan in just 52 days. An average guild might spend 52 days just farming Karazhan to get gear to kill Gruul, The Lurker Below and/or Void Reaver. If Blizzard wants to encourage inter-guild competition in PvE, they must also discourage long raids and other unhealthy playing habits to avoid bad press. And that probably means that raid lockouts are here to stay.

Yes yes, I love Icy Veins as well!

Since everyone else (and their dogs) have commented about the mage changes in 2.3.2, so must I. Let's get the easy parts out of the way first.

Trainable Ice Block: A vital skill for any PvPer who wishes to live at least 10 seconds. The same reasoning which allowed Improved Arcane Explosion and Evocation to become core class skills applies here as well. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that it wasn't done sooner. Previously I was worried that removing Ice Block would remove one of the few spells that make the frost tree distinct from Fire and Arcane. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Conjure Mana Gem (rank 6), which restores 1800-3000 mana and has three charges: Again, a no-brainer. The current rank 6 Mana Gem was simply pitiful, enough for only a few spells. This one is equivalent to a Super Mana Potion, only on a different cooldown.

Then the juicy part. Icy Veins:

Icy Veins (NEW Frost Talent) decreases casting time of all spells by 20% and increases the chance your chilling effects will freeze the target by 25%. Lasts 20 sec. 3 min cooldown. It is now in the Cold Snap position in the talent tree.

Although Blizzard did break Frostbite completely, a fix is scheduled to appear just in time for this gem of a skill. 20% Spell Haste for 20 seconds is a very nice DPS increase, especially if it also affects the Water Elemental. Some testing is required to see whether this stacks with other periodical Spell Haste effects, but I wouldn't be surprised if some Black Temple & Zul'Aman-farming troll frost mage was already drooling about the concept of being able to chaincast Frostbolts almost as quickly as the Global Cooldown allows.

As for the PvP side, +25% proc rate for Frostbite is pretty significant. Coupled with the casting speed increase it means that a well-timed Icy Veins allows the frost mage to both disable his opponent and follow up with a devastating Shatter combo before he is able to react.

..which is why I doubt that this talent survives the outcry.


The dog who yelps..

..is the dog who is smitten. Apparently 2.3 introduced changes to Warden that to one writer are quite worrying:

The changes to Warden effectively remove our ability as a community to police Blizzard's activities, and may lead to undetected violations of personal privacy, among other possibilities.

Now.. which privacy watchdog group is this? Or a concerned citizen? Perhaps some government entity?

Nope. A company that develops farmbot software. While an argument should not be discared solely on the basis on who is making the argument, I'm too cynical to think that there's no ulterior motives hiding behind the scenes.

With that out of the way, let's tackle the argument itself. Yes, polymorphism is used to obfuscate the inner workings of a program from it's users. Yes, Blizzard could snoop personal data from your computer without you knowing anything about it. But why would they? They already have your personal information, including your credit card number. As a business, they have no interest whatsoever in snooping what's on your computer. Unless you're trying to cheat in their games, that is..

However, a lone programmer could try to sneak in an unauthorized modification (and risking detection by bypassing all of Blizzard's Quality Assurance processes along the way) and collect your data for his personal benefit. So I'd consider that risk to be fairly miniscule.

But how about the whole notion of having a program in your computer that you don't know what it does? Is that a cause for alarm? It depends. Unless you are one of the few that use an Open Source operating system and have read through all of the source code in it.. making a fuss out of Warden is a bit hypocritical. Your computer is filled to the brim with software that might do things that you have no idea about. Quoting Microsoft's 10 immutable laws of security:
If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.

If you don't like unknown software doing stuff you don't know about on your computer.. don't install it.

(via Slashdot and WoW Insider)

Edit: Broken Toys is on the case as well.


The rise, fall and re-emergence of IGE

Tobold noticed this interesting article about IGE's past and present. Apparently Blizzard's one-hour timer on gold transfers has really hurt IGE, and it had to flee to tax-free Vanuatu, out of reach of litigous players, disgruntled gun-toting gold farmers, scared-off investors and banstick-wielding legistators.

Of course, should Blizzard's efforts continue to interrupt the flow of (virtual) currency between IGE and the gold farmers one might find the island nation quite isolated..


Farewell to Karazhan?

Relmstein talks about bringing decent players back to Heroics.

However, one thing that worries me is that if the jump from non-heroics to heroics is made easier, Blizzard may end up killing Karazhan. Yes, I know that they're adding badges to Karazhan bosses, but the gear itself is at best at par with current Heroic rewards. Why should one spend loads of time in Karazhan when one can finish Heroic Mechanar and a few other instances in a fraction of the time and effort required? In addition, Heroics only have a one-day lockout timer while Karazhan resets weekly.

Blizzard originally intended the epic fire resist sets to be the carrot that would drive raiders to Heroics. However, just like a kid who hates vegetables because he's being forced to eat them, raiders opted for making new strategies for A'lar, the encounter that supposedly required all that fire resistance. Personally, I did pick up a few pieces for Krosh Firehand tanking (and I know that this fire mage ogre ignores Fire Resistance completely, I took the pieces for the stamina), but couldn't bother with the rest. The helm, the ring, the amulet and the cloak are hardly upgrades from even level 70 blues. The upcoming Zul'Aman-skinned items seem to be at par with some of the better craftables (like Spellstrike), so they may end up being somewhat popular. Since you won't be needing Revered reputation for Heroics anymore, you'll be hitting Heroics even before you have finished your Karazhan attunement. Aside from a few individual pieces (like the Lightning Capacitor for fire mages), Karazhan may end up being a dead-end in PvE content progression.


Loot Whoring for Fun and Epics

Sometimes calling someone a loot whore is entirely justified. The question is whether loot whoring should be punishable. In my opinion, that's entirely up to each individual guild. If the guild agrees that the availability of homemade pornography should be a factor in loot distribution, go for it. The resulting discussion on the exchange rate between crotch shots and DKP should be interesting.

Otherwise.. it's /gkick time for both the loot whore and the corrupt guild officer. (via Manic Graffiti)


Carving up the world

Tobold suggests suggests that zones should be instanced and made cross-realm to overcome player density inbalances. While instancing zones like in Guild Wars might solve one problem, fragmenting the world does not come without cost.

The most obvious one is loading lag. When you step into an instance, you get a loading screen. The client loads new graphics, sounds and models into memory and discards old ones. But that's not all that happens in the background. The state of your character is transparently transferred to a completely different server, the instance server. Aside from chat channels, mail and group/guild management, nothing that happens inside the instance affects anyone else. Interacting in-game between players on different instance servers is impossible. Now why is this a bad thing? Kalimdor, Eastern Kingdoms and Outland (which includes Draenei and Blood Elf starting zones) are all on different servers. Nobody expects to interact with someone on the other side of the sea. But normal zones are adjacent to each other. You can see to Hinterlands from Hillsbrad Foothills. A player standing on the Hillsbrad side can shoot someone on the Hinterlands side, and the Hinterlands player can seamlessly run from Hinterlands to Hillsbrad and slash the other player with his sword.

Now let's take a look at the same scenario when Hinterlands and Hillsbrad are in different instances. The Hinterlands player could not see anything that happens in Hillsbrad, and vice versa. If they are on the same faction, they can chat using guild chat or other global channels. But that's it. No other interaction is possible.

Then why do game developers use instancing if it limits interaction? Scalability. One instance server is as good as the other one, so you can have a whole army of servers ready to split the load to. In a sense, splitting the world into different realms is just instancing the three world servers. No current hardware would be powerful enough to handle real-time interaction between 9 million players. Current world servers "crash" if you have 600 players in the same zone, which is not that hard to achieve during world events, especially on PvP servers. Fortunately, nobody cares if they end up in Alterac Valley #13 instead of Alterac Valley #10. Or end up on the wrong world server after returning from a battleground (don't laugh, it has happened). Except.. when you have a friend that's currently playing on AV #10. Sure, you can queue specifically to AV #10, but you might not get a spot. And if the developers allow you to freely join any instance server you like, the scalability benefit they got from instancing quickly dissipates.

What about always putting the same party/raid/guild to the same instance server? A good idea, unless your circle of friends is larger than a party/raid/guild. If you have played on a specific WoW realm for an extended period of time, you probably know dozens of players well and know hundreds by name. You might as well call it a realm instead of an instance.

But why couldn't instance servers talk to each other and seamlessly delegate responsibility when the player moves past the Hillsbrad - Hinterlands border? They could, but the issue is how much information the instance servers should share and at what point the Hillsbrad server no longer needs to care about the player that went to Hinterlands. Inter-server information exchange is relatively slow when compared to information exchange within a server, so the transfers need to be kept to a minimum to ensure a tolerable and relatively lag-free playing experience. Distance would be the obvious limiting factor. No matter what you do, a player in Silithus can't directly interact with a player in Winterspring. But where's the cutoff point? The disparity of load is an another issue. You'd probably need more servers for Shattrath City or Orgrimmar than you do for Winterspring. Except when you have a player-created event in Winterspring which is about to be attacked by other players..

Since demand for processing power depends entirely on player actions, it's always somewhat unpredictable. So any such system would have to be able to reassign servers dynamically to respond to sudden changes of demand. Such a system would in theory allow a single, shared world which could handle a large number of players. There would be no need for instances.

Just don't ask me how to implement it. If I knew, I probably would be busy making the Best MMORPG Ever.


The Complaint

"It dinna work!"
"As explained before, The Royal Apothecary Society disclaims all responsibility resulting from the use of our.."
"I did exactly as ya told me. I took two doses before, den increased my adrenalin output to de specified level via combat, den took two more doses immediately afterwards."
"..products, especially those that are deemed to be experimental by senior members of the Royal Apothecary Society. Furthermore, the Royal Apothecary Society has a policy of not offering any assurances on the validity or the feasibility of such a product. If you wish to make a complaint.."
"Look at dis! Is did yer idea of a healthy trollish ear? It's as thin as paper! A small swipe and it tore right off my head!"
".. regarding the Royal Apothecary Society, including but not limited to myself or my superiors, you may do so.."
"..as soon as a suitable opening is found on one of the Dark Lady's attendants' schedules. You will be informed in time of your appointment and are required to bring any evidence you may have of the alledged derelictions of duty.."
"Are ya even listening?"
"..as well as any other material that would be of use when deciding such a matter, including but not limited to malformed body parts.."
"Ya bet it's malformed!"
"..that prove that the regenerative process was interrupted in violation of our specific instructions.."
"It was just a leetle elf, nottin' to worry about."
"..by any outside influences, humanoid or bestial.."
"And had a kitty dat may have took a bite out of me.."
"..which are beyond the Royal Apotheacry Society's control. Furthermore, you are required to prove that the Royal Apothecary Society was supplied.."
"If ya could just mix up a new batch.."
"..with all requested knowledge prior to the formation of the business relationship, including but not limited to information about previously undisclosed wounds, such as.."
"We could call it even and I'd be on my way."
"..severe musculature loss on limbs which would cause the regenerative effect focus on such wounds instead of desired body parts."
*sigh* Very well. Let's forget de complaint. Could you mix up a batch dat would heal both my ears and my arm?"
"I am authorized to agree to such a request, provided that the Royal Apothecary Society is provided with adequate compensation.."
"Of course I'll pay. And I'll get anyting ya need for it."
"..as well any and all materials which currently cannot be provided by the Royal Apothecary Society without prior authorization from the Dark Lady. In addition, instructions provided by the Royal Apothecary Society must be followed without fail. The Royal Apothecary Society disclaims any responsibility from use or misuse of products whether the instructions are followed or not. To achive desired results in an inferior specimen.."
"..the specimen's natural blood flow must be accelerated to the highest flowspeed that such a specimen is rated for. The specimen must not be allowed to sustain any injuries during the regenerative process, for an interruption of the process could result in side effects, including but not limited to, loss of conciousness, diminished mental capacity, uncontrollable hemorrhage, paralysis, stroke and death. Clients are advised to proceed cautiously even after signs of activity have ceased on the specimen."
"Here's de payment. When will it be ready?"
"The Royal Apothecary Society has a policy of refraining to disclose any specific timetables. The clients will be informed when the requested products are available."
"I'll come back later den."
"May the Dark Lady watch over you."


10-man raids and "helping" Team B

Wife Aggro and Tobold recently touched upon the issue of the 10-to-25-man jump making guilds form Team A and Team B, which usually leads to a lot of drama. It's not like this topic hasn't been discussed before, but I'd like to offer one more viewpoint.

Like many other guilds, my guild has Team A and Team B as well. I currently only "need" one item from Karazhan, so I'm solidly in Team A. However, due to scheduling issues I'm unable to attend Team A's raids at all. So I'll raid with Team B to help gear out my guild mates, even if I personally gain nothing from it. However.. whenever I attend a Team B Karazhan run someone else gets left behind. I'm sure that a 300 DPS fire mage or a 500 dps warlock would be glad to have any gear from Karazhan. But because I'm in the raid, they get nothing. No Violet Eye reputation, no raiding experience and no loot. But I'll get a Void Crystal or two, which I currently have no use for, since my weapon is already enchanted and the next upgrade is months away. So am I really helping my guild right now? No.


Matters of Faith

The soothing rays of the sun wake me. I spend the first few hours of the day scouring every inch of my spire. If there was a way up, there must also be a way down. I carefully examine the drawing, because it seems to be my best hope for now. It has three concentric rings, surrounded by runes and joined by a few lines. I try to remember how the inscriptions on the translocator orbs back home looked like. There are some similarities, but this crude drawing won't respond to my touch. I break a small chunk from the bread to serve as my breakfast.

Then.. the runes of the drawing light up. Rings of light rise from the inscription and I hear a familiar three-phase hum. Someone's coming. Friend? Foe?

The figure materializes before me with it's back turned. It has a blueish robe filled with intricate patterns of grey runes and ornate shoulderpads with similar patterns and.. blue dreadlocks! It's the troll! Where's my weapon? That damn troll took it.. I'll just use my own body as a weapon. I sprint towards the she-troll and ready my shoulder for the impact. She hears my footsteps and turns, but way too late. My tackle forces her off-balance and tumbling towards the edge. I press my advantage and pin her to the ground, leaving my arms free to choke the life out of her. But before I can get a good grip, her left arm shoots up to my neck, and my shorter arms no longer reach hers. Her grip is cold and I'm.. having trouble... breathing. Each breath I take... is filled with freezing cold air. My... strength... escapes me.

"Get off me."

I look down. I was not just seeing things in the cave, this she-troll is hideous, even by their own standards. Dim red eyes, burn marks everywhere. One ear missing and the another hanging on a few strands of flesh. A gaping wound on the neck. A featureless expression on her face, if you can call it that. Her grip tightens around my neck and the cold intensifies. I gasp, but all I accomplish is to fill my lungs with even colder air.

I slowly fall to the side and try to breathe. From the corner of my eye I see her get up. I hear flesh tearing and her other ear drops in front of me.

"Are ya Horde?"

"*cough* What are you blabbering about, freak?"

"Let's do dis in de long-winded way, den. Are ya loyal to de Nation of Quel'thalas and Regent Lord Lor'themar Theron, who rules by de decree of Prince Kael'thas Sunstrider, heir to de throne of Quel'thalas?"

"*cough* Of course."

"Are ya aware of de Regent Lord's edict dat proclaims dat Quel'thalas has entered a mutual defense treaty wit de nation of Lordaeron, led by Dark Lady Sylvanas Windrunner, de Nation of Durotar, led by Warchief Thrall, de Nation of Mulgore, led by Chieftain Cairne Bloodhoof and de free trolls led by Shadow Hunter Vol'jin?"

"*cough* *cough* Yes."

"Are ya aware dat dis alliance is commonly referred to as de Horde?"

"*cough* Yes. Get to the point, beast!"

"I ask ya again.. are ya Horde?"

She points her left hand towards me, opening her three fingers like a claw, conjuring a blue mass of sparkling, whirling energy. The sky seems to darken, and the winds swirl towards the spell, which seems to dominate my field of vision.

"If ya are not, I am well within my rights to end yer life right here, right now. Are ya Horde?"


The energies intensify and swirl around her arm.

"Are ya aware of de penalty for an unprovoked attack on a fellow member of de Horde wit an intent to keel?"

"You threatened me in Silvermoon! You are the one who should be on trial for treason!"

"But I dinna attack ya."

"You only got what you deserved, beast!"

"And wat exactly is dat we deserve?"

"All of you beasts should be put to the flame! Beasts with tusks who grovel before their heathen gods like worms! Vile green brutes who the humans should have exterminated during the war! We eat cows, we don't invite them to our dinner tables! And just because they call themselves the Forsaken shouldn't spare them from burning in righteous fire!"

"All of you beasts should be put to the flame! Beasts with tusks who grovel before their heathen gods like worms! Vile green brutes who the humans should have exterminated during the war! We eat cows, we don't invite them to our dinner tables! And just because they call themselves the Forsaken shouldn't spare them from burning in righteous fire!"

She is using my voice, replicating my words exactly, with every intonation in place. The graceful movement of my lips do not fit on her grotesque face. I feel sick. If she would repeat those words, even in Silvermoon..

"Such cruel words. However.. I believe in second chances. I tink ya are.. salvageable."

She presses her fingers together and a shockwave of energy shoots outward, barely missing my head.

"Ya still cling to de lies of de Alliance, even after dey left yer people to rot. Dose who attacked de lands which formerly belonged to Zul'Aman are not de Horde as it exists today.."

"An orc is an orc! And a troll is a troll! Even a freak such as yourself!"

"Are dey now? Tell me, wat was de color of de orcs dat ya fought against before? Gray? Green? Blue? Brown? No. Dey were red. And not just plain red like mine. Seethin', burning red. Each and every one of dem. And as for de trolls.. did ya known dat Shadow Hunter Vol'jin's tribe was banished? Did ya know wat deir crime was?"

"I can hardly think of anything the trolls would be beneath of doing."

"We have done more dan our share of mistakes, ya. But to answer my own question.. dey refused to grovel before a heathen god like worms. Dey refused to practice de old ways yer people know so well. To dis day, all trolls of de Horde are forbidden from practicin' cannibalism."

"Why are you telling me all this propaganda? To brainwash me?"

"I have no such intentions. However, ya lack.. faith in yer fellow Horde."

"So you want me to worship you? Never! Let me go this instant!"

"Me? Of course not. Dis is no prison, and I am not yer jailor. Dere are no bars, no locked doors, no guards. Yer equipment is waitin', nottin' has been stolen."

"Not a prison? How am I supposed to get down?"

"Ah, but dere's de trick. I doubt dat ya'll believe me even if I told ya, so... I tink it's better to show ya."

She starts walking towards the platform.

"I checked that already."

"De platform itself is nottin' special. Dis is a leap of faith of sorts."

"You seriously expect me to jump?"

"Expect? No. But dat's wat ya will have to do."

She takes a step past the platform and falls. I hear her robe flutter in the air and I crawl to the platform and look down. She's gone. A trick. All of it. She's trying to fill my head with lies. To confuse me enough to kill myself. There must be a different way..


Too good to be true?

Taken from the preliminary 2.3 patch notes:

  • Damage coefficient reduction is removed from Improved Fireball/Frostbolt. (Source)
  • New spell : Ritual of Refreshment. It will allow players to pick up their own stack of food/water, similar to a Soulwell. (Source)
  • Evocation restores 15% of your total mana every 2 seconds instead of being a spirit-based mana regen increase. (Source)
  • Arcane Meditation is being increased to 10/20/30% mana regeneration. (Source)
  • Ice Barrier gains additional benefit from spell damage bonuses. However, the base absorb values of ranks 5 and 6 have been reduced. (Source)

  • New Recipe - Field Repair Bot: Dropped(?) by Gan'arg Analyzers in Blade's Edge Mountains
  • New Field Repair Bot is able to buy/sell
  • Flying Mount added for Engineers. Regular and Epic version.

  • Fish Tracking may be learned from a journal, fished from crates
  • New fish added near Karazhan and Zul'Aman

  • New Daily Quests
  • New recipes added for fish found near Karazhan and Zul'Aman.

Mage and Engineering buffs in the same patch? Who are you and what have you done with Blizzard?


Meditations at the Edge

Wh.. where am I? I'm.. back at Eversong. I feel.. numb. That troll really did a number on me.. I have to find a physician. Maybe there's someone in the capital..

Where are all the guards? How would they dare desert their posts? Why are the gates open? And what's that smell? Oh no.. burning flesh! I try hurry inside, but my legs have lost their vigor, and I think I'm missing a tendon.

The capital.. A thick plume of smoke rises from somewhere near the Sunfury Spire, and there's blood on the cobblestones. Are we being invaded again? I crouch and reach towards the blood. I hope it's trollish. My hand is gray and withered. I need a physician.. and soon.

A scream interrupts me. I turn, and see a lady, wearing the colors of the house Sunfalcon.

"Miss, no need to be alarmed. I am a ranger, and will defend you as long as I'm able." At least, that's what I try to say. All I hear is gurgling. I sprint towards her. But why? There's no immediate danger.. She tries to run. I jump and grab her. She tries to struggle. Tasty.. What?! What am I thinking? My.. claws sink into her supple flesh. I cannot control myself. I wish to scream, but I know it won't help.

"Vile abdomination!", I hear from behind me. My head turns, and I see a Magister in golden robes, conjuring a spell.

"Kill me!", I yell. The fiery blast tears through my chest, and I feel cold. Cold?

The pain in my elbow draws me back to reality. My body aches and the wind bites into my flesh. I'm lying on a rocky surface with barely any clothes on me. I open my eyes, and the night sky fills my vision. Where am I?

I'm.. still in Thousand Needles. Or rather.. on one of them. There's "needles" as far as my eyes can see, and I have a hard time approximating my location. However, this one seems to have a wooden platform built into it. I don't see any ropes, elevators or other means of escape, though. There is a curious drawing on the rocks, apparently of tauren design. And.. a brown leather bag. I pick it up and open it. I slowly reach into the bag and my hand finds a bottle. Judging from the blue color, it seems to be a mana potion, so I drink it immediately. Judging from my thirst, it's been at least two days since my defeat in the cave. I absent-mindedly grab a loaf of bread from the bag and sit down for my meal. What happened after I passed out? Who brought me here? And why here, of all places?

RP, PvP and improvisation

Drama in four easy steps, Defias Brotherhood-style:

  1. Hold an RP event

  2. Interrupt the said event with an opposite faction raid

  3. Accuse the defenders of being carebears

  4. Accuse the attackers of being OOC
Add some forum trolling for flavor and leave it to fester for a while.

Apparently some people still think that RP and PvP are mutually exclusive concepts. If you PvP, you can't be RPing. And proper RP doesn't include PvP, especially the sort where you lose. I've seen the same arguments before on my first server, Argent Dawn Europe. Fortunately, there were some guilds who showed the third way. That RP can be adapted to PvP, and that PvP raids can be motivated by RP. A lesson that has been forgotten by too many. What better way is there to kick off some random RP than to having to organize an ad-hoc defense? But no, instead of even trying to actually react to the actions of other players, their actions are labelled as OOC only because they don't fit in your idea on how the event should have progressed.

If you want total control over your RP, I suggest that you stick to writing stories. But if you want to improvise and actually play with other players.. I'll see you in the game.


Paying 10k for.. nothing

In a move that surprised nobody but the buyer, Blizzard has banned the player who bought a Black Temple-geared, Twin Blades of Azzinoth-wearing rogue for $10,000.


Gold sellers changing tactics

Apparently Blizzard's mail filters are so effective that gold sellers have switched to using the Auction Houses. Of course, this should be easy to detect as well, just monitor the AH for wild anomalies in item prices.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Defias forums keep supplying me with drama, and today is not an exception. This time someone's quitting the game and blames Blizzard for banning a pedophile-friendly guild.

Granted, that's only a small part of his argument, and I even agree with him on some of the points, particularly on Blizzard's habit of making large parts of the world obsolete. However, like in many other quitting posts, the point is not about making valid, constructive criticism. Instead, he opts to disguise his opinion as the general consensus of the player base. Because he mentions all the alternative games and singles out a few people for praise, I think he's only testing the waters. I think his purpose is just to see how many people would follow him. In other words, a last-ditch attempt in attention-seeking.

Well, he's got mine. Flamewars are fun to watch.


Out of Your League

Being a Farstrider was not exactly as glamorous as Lieutenant Dawnrunner had claimed it to be. Yes, one of the first assignments was to reclaim our land from the vile Scourge, the barbaric Kal'dorei and the sadistic trolls. A noble and just cause, one that I had been privileged to be part of. And as a token of appreciation for Lordaeron's help, my superiors had ordered me to assist in the defense of Lordaeron. Seeing the camps, the hanged and the empty graves revealed all too well the truth about our former.. "allies". A fate of slavery, disgrace and death that the Prince was wise to reject. All in all, re-enlisting had seemed like a good choice. Until now.

Dust. Wind. Cliffs as far as my elven eyes can see. Man-horses and mongrels everywhere. The wisdom of my superiors eludes me. I try, but I cannot see how I can serve the High Home in this ravaged place. I should be waging war against the Kal'dorei in Ashenvale or recovering manuscripts written by ancient masters in Azshara. Not.. scurrying favor with the bull-men.

Airin growls. She has discovered an unusual smell. I slight nod from me, and my graceful lynx bursts into action, her fur-tipped ears perking up. I can feel her excitement, and it's almost intoxicating. Maybe it's one of the Kal'dorei or even a dwarf? Maybe they'll leave me alone if I bring back some proof of an enemy scouting party..

Airin blazes through a narrow passage, and stops to wait for me. There was a small clearing behind the spires. As I catch up, I see that the clearing has been stained red. Airin slowly manouvers past the two bodies, not even stopping to smell them. The bodies belonged to harpies, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what killed them. No lacerations, no crushed bones.. but it's as if there's something missing from them.

Airin growls again. She's found something. An empty bottle. Airin resumes tracking the scent while I examine the bottle. Clearly the type used by alchemists. A few drops of a greenish liquid are still within, but I cannot identify the substance by smell alone, and I am not going to taste it. Beyond the opening lies a sloping path upwards, towards a cave. There is an another bottle at the top of the slope, and yet another at the mouth of the cave. Cries of the harpies echo from the cave. Airin carefully steps into the cave, moving as silently as only the finest felines can. Three more dead harpies lie on the path. Whatever entered here had no problem dispatching them. Airin's ears perk up right before the cries of the harpies crescendo. They are fighting the intruder. I hear sharp claws tearing flesh. Airin continues on her steady pace. She is no stranger to the ways of the hunt. Wait until the prey has tired itself out, then strike. I ready my bow.

The cries stop. With my nod, Airin dashes around the corner, and moments later I hear her vicious growls, a thud and her claws tearing flesh. I run past the corner and aim. Airin has felled a some sort of a humanoid and ripping apart it's back. Torn cloth flies in the air. Airin grabs the humanoid's neck between her jaws and drags it away from the cave wall, allowing me to make the finishing blow. The blood has colored the prey's blueish flesh purple. I see two-toed, bare feet. A troll. My lucky day. But then I hear something I have not heard before.

Airin yelps in terror. It takes me a moment to realize why. She's been impaled by.. something. Her precious blood drips along the shaft of the troll's weapon. Then she yelps as she is impaled yet again. She goes limp, but the beast won't stop. It impales by beautiful Airin again. And again. And again.

"You'll pay for your crimes in blood, beast!", I find myself yelling in my native Thalassian. I release my arrow and immediately prepare an another.. but it was right there.. behind me!

I reflexively shield myself with my bow as I turn, but to no avail. It impales my elbow with something cold. I dive to my left and out of it's sight. I grab my Sin'dorei Warblade from my back, but my elbow is complicating things. I'm having trouble holding it high. I will not be able to do much damage, but this will have to do. I hear the beast's footsteps, and some sort of a grating sound.. like metal on stone. Of course. Not even a troll could have much strength left after that beating. It is handicapped as well. As it walks around the corner, I swing my sword low. Just as I'm about to cut it's feet off.. the blade strikes an invisible barrier, elicting a small hum. I look up towards the she-troll..

Ow! The bitch slashed my face! How dares she?! A low hum reaches my ears and I roll behind a rock, slamming my injured elbow to the cold stone. The patch of stone where I lay just moments before freezes instantly. Great. A troll witch. I look at my bloodied hand.. since when was my blood black? And it's awfully cold in here.. I need a breather to bandage my elbow and then.. the witch will taste justice. I look around, spot an another cave entrance and sprint towards it.


This cut really stings.. what did it hit me with? And how can such a small cut bleed so much? I need to get this quickly under control. With my good arm, I grab a roll of bandages from my pocket and roll it over my face. There. That should stop the bleeding. I take a look at my elbow and to my surprise, I see an icicle sticking through it. I grab the thick end and slowly pull it out. By Sun, this hurts.. After three very long seconds, the icicle dislodges from my elbow and shatters on the floor of the cave. I wrap the remaining bandages around my elbow. After this I will need to pay a visit to a priestess. Or if I'm fortunate, I'll encounter a Blood Knight in a good mood..

I listen to the scraping sound. The she-troll is moving closer, dragging her weapon along the floor. I sneak a peek around the corner. Her tattered robes are stained with her blood. One of the shoulder straps has been torn, and the other one is barely holding the robe together. Blood slowly flows from her neck, and her dreadlock-covered head is resting on her shoulder pad. Good old Airin. Even in her death throes she managed to inflict a mortal wound to her foe. The she-troll keeps her weapon behind her, but it seems like a some sort of a sword. A long one, judging from her posture. Her other arm hangs limply. But how is it still standing, let alone walking? I have seen trolls succumb to less grievous wounds.

She clumsily swings her sword up front, and then drags it back behind her along the floor.. Are my eyes deceiving me? The blade seemed to cut the air itself, revealing the darkness behind. What sorcery is this? The she-troll does it again, and now I see the blade clearly. It's as black as the darkest night, drawing my gaze in..

The she-troll stops. It slowly raises the blade and starts to cut the air.. Gah! She's cutting my face again! How? The cut on my face reopens and black blood seeps through the bandages. Is this the "voodoo" the Forsaken mentioned? How am I supposed to fight that? I turn back behind the wall and try to stand up, but my legs are powerless. Augh! She's doodling on my chest with her cursed blade! I need to get away.. I need to get away.. I crawl along the wall, trying to find an another entrance. I hear the scraping sound again. I turn around to my back.

The she-troll is deteriorating in front of my very eyes. Her robe is moth-ridden and her skin ashen gray. The blood has dried and is as black as mine. The sleeve on her limp arm is torn, revealing her gray bones underneath. One of her ears drops to the floor unceremoniously , but she does not bleed. She keeps swinging her sword in front of her, leaving a trail of black.. smoke in it's wake. The scraping sound is loud, loud enough to tear into my skull..

"I killed you! Stay back! Stay back!"

I blink, and she is standing right next to me. The pungent stench of death fills my nostrils. she raises her sword-arm across her maggot-ridden chest, starts the swing and..


The (moral) choices we make

WoW Insider has an interesting discussion about the appeal of the Horde.

To me, the Horde just seemed like the more interesting faction of the two. Not only pretty much everyone wants to kill them, they also struggle with themselves. Take Thrall and Grommash Hellscream, for example. Their stories present very interesting questions. Can you stay honorable when your enemies have no honor and your own people are all too ready to be ruled by their instincts? Can you turn a life of violence into something positive and not lose yourself in the process?

To me, whether someone thinks of themselves as moral is a moot point if they have never been tempted. You can truly be moral only after you've successfully resisted the worst in you. The Alliance are in general raised to believe that they are moral, honorable and just. But in their day-to-day lives, those morals are never put to the test. And when they are, the results can be disastrous. Can one forgive dragons who were unable to save your son? Can one stick to your promise to pay the craftsmen who built a city for you, even if you couldn't really afford it? Can one recognize a common threat instead of clinging to old hatreds? Can you admit that your way might not be the best way to deal with an overwhelming threat, and that your end may not justify all your methods?

Sylvanas Windrunner is also one of the more interesting characters in WoW. Can you cope with a situation where unspeakable evil was done to you? Can you overcome your bitterness, self-hatred and not lash out at everything? Can you still appreciate the beautiful things in life, even if those things never will be yours to enjoy ever again? I like to think that Blizzard is exploring these same things. For example, one of the lowbie Blood Elf quests ends up with the player delivering a memento from the past to Sylvanas. Although she claims she doesn't care about things like that anymore, she still feels for the Highborne.

I've tried to explore the same aspects with my characters as well. My first character was a Forsaken priest who tried to cling to his humanity through all the hatred and evil he witnessed. Shalkis, on the other hand, is trying to balance her desire to do good with her violent nature. She may be megalomaniacal, scheming, bipolar, violent and sadistic. But evil? No. If the common good requires slaughtering a city full of her own kind worshipping a long-lost god, she'll be knee-deep in the dead. If someone needs some children rescued from the Arakkoa, she'll be happy to help. If the common good requires her to set aside her prejudices and smash Scourge together with humans, dwarves, gnomes and night elves, she will. If the best chance for peace includes joining forces with glowing thingamajics, a human mage, snobby elves and buffoonish squidfaces, she will do it with a smile on her face.


RMT driving away core players

Nerfbat argues that RMT drives away players that an MMORPG requires to survive. In other words, core players, the early adopters, the enthusiasts.

Nerfbat compares RMT to monthly subscriptions. If a company uses subscriptions it's overcharging the casual players and undercharging the hardcore. RMT on the other hand is closer to microtransactions. You pay for what you use. If RMT is prevalent in a game, the casuals will most likely get more bang for the buck while hardcore players end up paying much more to stay on the bleeding edge. If the L33t Sword of Uberness drops only from The Nigh-Impossible Boss of Doom, they'll kill it. If it can be bought for 50€, they'll buy it. To them, it's all about getting everything out of the game. If RMT is banned, the hardcore will get a lot of value for their subscription. This is one part that keeps them playing: great value for their money.

But why would a company cowtow to the hardcore? Surely the casual player market is larger.. It is, but the hardcore are the early adopters, the grassroots recruiters, the review-writers and the fansite creators. They have extensive knowledge of the game, and the casuals do listen to them. They are the initiators of the network effect that attracts the casuals into the game. Without them, there is no casual market. Their opinion can literally decide a game's fate.


Block inter-account gold transfers?

Tobold has come up with an idea to distrupt gold farmers, and it's surprisingly simple: Block gold transfers between accounts by mail.

Roleplaying subconciously

According to the Daedalus Project, the avatars used affect our behaviour within the game. For example, players using beautiful avatars were more likely to initiate contact and players using tall avatars were more confident and aggressive in negotiations.

In other words, people roleplay subconciously.


Shake that booty!

The best parties are always at private servers.


The Karazhan Mistake?

Foton has taken a look on Blizzard's comments and argues that Karazhan is popular because the shift to 25-mans is too hard.

I've touched upon the subject myself and there's a discussion about raiding on my realm's forums. Although the approaches are different, the identified problem is the same: It's too hard to move on from Karazhan. WoW Jutsu's statistics confirm this. 66% have cleared Karazhan, but the popularity of the instances drops very rapidly after that. It's not that Karazhan is popular, it's the only choice for too many.


Ni Hao

There's a new WoW music video maker in town, and the first track is out. No wonder that Nyhm likes it enough to make a guest appearance.


Anyone who stops people grinding through constant killing is corpse camping!

This comment and other gems are available at the latest trainwreck in action, courtesy of the Defias Brotherhood forums.

This story is as old as the PvP servers themselves, but it deserves retelling. A boy meets a girl. The boy and the girl go and blackmail people. They gank someone. The gankee refuses to pay up, fight back or leave. They gank him again. The gankee posts on the forums. The feeding frenzy begins


Ghost towns?

Kill Ten Rats is wondering about ghost towns in WoW and Asheron's Call. To me, there are two factors that decide whether a city becomes a ghost town or not. And geography is not one of them.

Geography only matters when your only means of transportation are your legs or your mount. WoW has many other forms of transport. You can fly, ride a zeppelin or a boat or teleport. The reason why Silvermoon, Darnassus and Exodar are empty is that they're dead-ends. The contrast becomes obvious when you look at Orgrimmar or Ironforge. Orgrimmar has numerous flight paths to almost every Horde outpost in Kalimdor, and has two zeppelin routes to Eastern Kingdoms. Ratchet is just a short flight away, and provides yet another path to Eastern Kingdoms. Conversely, Ironforge is only a short flight away from Menethil and has ample access to most Alliance outposts in Eastern Kingdoms. In other words, Orgrimmar and Ironforge are travel hubs, while Silvermoon, Darnassus and Exodar are not. The contrast becomes even more obvious when you compare these cities to the current de-facto capital, Shattrath. Not only does this cross-faction city provide flight path access to all Outland zones (the only zones that matter to the majority of players), it also provides portals to every other capital. It is a travel hub on steroids. Even if you didn't have anything to do in Shattrath itself, you most likely travel through it.

So, if you wouldn't want to go to ghost towns to travel past them, why would you go there? Auction houses? Every capital except Shattrath has one. Class trainers? Nope. Stormwind has a shaman trainer and Undercity has a paladin trainer. Profession trainers? At pre-60, that is the only valid reason for a jewelcrafter to go to Silvermoon or Exodar, but that doesn't help Darnassus. After level 60 you can do your business in Thrallmar, Honor Hold and/or Shattrath. That leaves other players. But nobody goes to Silvermoon, Darnassus or Exodar because.. nobody goes there.

Unless the designers can provide a compelling reason to go there, the three cities will remain ghost towns. One such compelling reason would be new boat paths. The two boat paths to Theramore and Menethil at Auberdine should be moved to Teldrassil or Azuremyst, and there are two unused harbors at the outskirts of Silvermoon. If these harbors would be the only link to Northrend, the population of these ghost towns would change overnight. Flight paths should also be enabled, although this would require "de-instancing" the Draenei and Blood Elf zones.


Flying in Northrend

To be frank, I was somewhat disappointed when Blizzard said that flying mounts would not be usable in Northrend until level 78. In my opinion, flying in Northrend at low levels should be hazardous, not impossible.
Blizzard's primary motive in disabling flying mounts is to prevent players from skipping content. One should not be able to just take off at the starting zones and fly straight off to Icecrown Glacier. But banning flying mounts altogether is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Just like having T6/T7/Arena gear will give you an advantage while leveling, so should a flying mount give you some benefit, especially the epic ones.

Fortunately, there are ways to limit the advantage gained from flying mounts without banning them altogether. Here's a few suggestions:

  • Liberal amounts of air defense, especially around points of interest. Just like in Warcraft 3, flying over a fortified Scourge base alone should be fatal. Some sort of homing attacks that could only be avoided by flying behind obstacles would be ideal. Such as.. ziggurats' energy blasts. The bases should also have gargoyle patrols. This would encourage the players to land some distance away from the base and fight their way in.
  • Winds. The usual counter to air defense is to fly beyond it's reach. Winds are a way to prevent players from skipping content by flying over everything. If you rise above the air defense, your mount should slow down and get a fatigue meter for struggling against the freezing winds. Eventually, your mount would lose conciousness and fall. Of course, a skilled player should be able to wake up their mount and regain control before crashing into the ground. Afterwards, your mount would be too weak to fly unless you let it rest for x minutes. For added realism, the strength of the winds should be related to your distance to Icecrown Glacier. The closer you get, the stronger the winds become. And when you finally reach level 78, you can acquire your 375 riding skill and ride the winds unencumbered.
  • Air superiority zones. In some zones the airspace should be swarmed with hostile airborne units. For example, the Dragonblight could initially be heavily patrolled by blue dragons. Those developers who designed the Netherwing Ledge races, you know what to do. You would be better off just moving along the ground to avoid attention. Later on you would so some quests for Dalaran to cull the numbers of dragons and gain temporary air superiority. Or smack some sense into Malygos to turn blue dragons neutral.


Learn From the Masters

Bask your eyes in the ultimate in raid specs.


WoW is the new Everquest?

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. What makes this funny (in a sad way) is that Tigole and Furor were active (and vocal) Everquest players..


More character customization, please

Nerfbat hates current MMORPG character customization, and I can't blame him. Either the artists cop out and force the players to screw up their characters' propotions or they offer a very limited set of options from which to choose from. You then spend 90% of your time looking at the characters from a faraway viewpoint where you can't even see their faces, even when they're not helmets or or other armor. And when they do, it feels like you're surrounded by clones. Everyone wears the same gear and thus look the same.

However, there are games that do customization right. Wrestling and boxing games are a good example, and GTA: San Andreas isn't bad, either. These games do allow you to customize everything from body shape and facial features to clothing. They have presets but allow the player to fine-tune their avatars up to the most minute detail. But this model also has caveats that MMORPGs can't ignore. In most fighting games, your character's clothing has no effect on his statistics (except in Def Jam series) and all action is up-close and personal, leaving ample opportunities to marvel at your avatar.

MMORPGs are a bit tougher, because your gear is a direct gauge of your character's strength. Even if a particular item looks like crap, you have to wear it for the stats. And most of the time, there are only a few or no choices if you want the best gear. A tauren warrior in full tier 5 gear will always look like every other warrior in tier 5. In WoW, this problem is made worse due to the fact that only a few of your items change the way your character looks, especially with casters. A robe covers your pants and boots, and gloves cover your bracers. Your ranged weapon and your offhand are hidden when you're not using those. That leaves your main weapon, robe, gloves, belt, shoulderpads and your hat. And if you wear a tabard, that hides your chestpiece.

Having the tier 0-2 sets available as different recolored versions is a good start. So is having both robe and vest versions of cloth gear. But a better solution would be to increase the ways to customize your character. Animations should be changed to display pants and boots under robes. All enchants should be visible, and so should ranged weapons, gems and trinkets. But WoW could also steal one idea from the venerable Ultima Online: being able to wear clothes over your armor.

One other improvement would be decals. Decals are partially transparent detail textures on top of the existing textures. Other games use decals for tattoos, facial hair, logos, scars, fractures, bullet holes, scorch marks and other additions. With these, even a fully armored character could be made to look distinct from others.


An Inevitable Outcome

"..and make sure that you pick up the next shipment of bandages from Nutral. Oh, and don't forget the letter to Baron Revilgaz about our purchase order. Those jumper cables will be direly needed if the Betrayer makes a move."

"I'm on it. Is that all, Sha'nir?"

"For the moment, yes. Also.."

Sha'nir did not finish her sentence. She heard a scraping sound from outside. Like metal on stone. She glanced over the shoulder of the human volunteer and at the tall figure standing in the doorway of the Shattrath Infirmary.

"Can I help you?"

The figure took a step forward. As Sha'nir's eyes adjusted to the light, she could see the figure better. It was a slim one, obviously a female. It was wearing a blue robe, tattered with blood. The right arm was hanging limply and the left arm was lazily holding a long sword. The tip of the blade was being dragged along the floor. The arms ended in large, ornate shoulder guards. The head was resting on an unnatural angle on the left shoulder guard, with dirty dreadlocks covering the face. An undead?

Before the figure could answer, it collapsed on the floor.

"Quick! Get my kit and prepare the table!"


Sha'nir's report on unnamed female troll admitted into the infirmary at the eighteenth hour of the sixteenth day of the month.

Third and fourth ribs broken on the right side. Right shoulder dislodged from it's socket. Right elbow shattered and flesh peeled off. Deep lacerations on abdomen, possibly caused by a large feline or other wildlife. Superficial horizontal cuts on both sides of the face, neck and torso. Small amounts of salt found in several wounds. A horizontal burn mark on the left side of the face and a small, deep burn mark in the middle of the chest. Several tendons on the neck severed. Both ears cut off by a large blade. Severe blood loss. Numerous vertical cuts on the back. The formation of scar tissue suggests that these wounds were inflicted much earlier than others.

Treatment: Subject stabilized. Elbow reinforced and immobilized with temporary metal bars and shoulder re-attached. Wounds cleaned and bandaged. Head supported and tendons stitched together. Prescribed Strong Troll's Blood intravenously. Subject is still unconscious, but is responding to treatment.

At the time of admission, the subject was wearing an enchanted blue robe with gray trims. Andrion Darkspinner indentified the material as Frozen Shadoweave cloth, but declined to identify the subject. The subject was also holding a long, deep purple, ornate sword. Superficial examination revealed that the sword is enchanted, but offered no hints on the subject's identity.


Gold selling ads on Nihilum's site

After months of denials, Nihilum has finally introduced blatant goldselling ads on their site.


The Grand Crusade

Aah.. there they are.

Shalkis adjusted the zoom on her goggles to get a better view. With a quiet whirring sound, the ragged band of humans came into view. Their numbers had halved since they had fled from their ill-fated assault on Brill. Among the withered plants lie at least a dozen of the survivors. A few of the figures were standing and judging by their gestures, having a heated conversation.

Shalkis adjusted the zoom again. Unsurprisingly one of the figures was Seiken Trollbane, but she did not recognize the others, but there was one of the humans' holy men among them. Apparently Trollbane now had official approval for his.. crusade. Of course, by now it was obvious that the crusade had turned out less glorious than they thought. She had heard that the bulk of the forces were now maggot food at Arathi. Additional reports spoke dismissedly of the combat prowess of these forces. Just a few soldiers, but many apprentrices, younglings, old people, feeble human females and other rabble. These were the hard core, the zealots. And even among them, the morale was obviously crumbling.

Shalkis heard a growl behind her. Before she could turn, the growl was followed by the dull humming of her barrier. One of the mangy beasts inhabiting the area had made the grave mistake of picking her as it's next meal. Without looking behind her, she extended her arm and grabbed the wolf's muzzle with her hand. Her soft whisper was followed by a muffled yelp, and the beast struggled for a second to free itself from her grip. The struggling stopped. She released her grip and pulled her arm back. With her other hand, she broke away the bloodied icicle extending from her palm.

With the distraction out of the way, she was free to monitor the humans once again. The wounded were being helped back to their feet. The conversation had stopped, and the Trollbane was standing in front of the others, barking out commands. Whatever disagreements they did have were now resolved. Those who still had horses mounted them.

They started to move at a walking pace south, towards Brill. Surely they were not foolish enough to attempt an another assault against the heavily guarded town? She followed them, making sure to keep at least a hill or a tree between herself and the humans. When they reached the outskirts of Brill they broke formation and started running, past Brill and towards Undercity. But a few of them could not run anymore.

This is insane, even for him.

That move made no sense whatsoever, but one should not doubt such obvious blessings. If Trollbane really wanted to die, all he had to to was to ask. But to bring so many down with him.. She took off her goggles and strapped a wooden mask to her face. The pale glow from her hands illuminated the grim features of her mask.

Shadra, bless these fools.

A frozen missile erupted from her hands and pierced the lung of an elf. The next one found his heart.

For they have listened to the lies of the infidels.

An another bolt struck the leg of a dwarf, shattering it and sending him tumbling down a hill.

And know nothing of your grace.

An icicle impaled the dwarf, halting his fall and his life.

Let them fall into your web, and not to the darkness.

A female Draenei's head was engulfed in ice, causing her to fall backwards and shatter her head on the gray cobblestones.

Let them not be judged by the sins of others in the afterlife.

A gnome was completely encased in ice. Shalkis saw him futilely gasp for air.

And may their next life be a trollish one.

The frigid winds shattered his prison, along with him.

A single voice yelled from inside the city. She still couldn't understand Gutterspeak, but she knew the meaning of this particular phrase.

Once soldiers of Lordaeron..

The yell was answered by a chorus of voices behind her.

Always soldiers of Lordaeron.

What followed was inevitable. In a few minutes, there was nobody left to bless.


Mage vs Warlock itemization

I've been watching the "debate" about Evocation with some amusement. Like most mage issues, this is about feeling inferior to warlocks. And in a way, is more of an itemization issue than a specific skill issue, not unlike the one protection paladins face versus protection warriors.

Simply put, a PvE mage needs more types of stats than a warlock.

+Spell Damage
+Spell Hit Rating
+Spell Critical Rating
+Mana per 5 seconds

+Spell Damage
+Spell Hit Rating
+Mana per 5 seconds

Each item has a set amount of "item points" at their disposal, depending on item level and rarity. These points are used to "purchase" stats. Different stats also require different amounts of points. For example, Stamina is cheaper than Intellect and Spell Damage is cheaper than Spell Critical Rating.

If we assume that mage and warlock items have the same amount of item points at their disposal, warlock items will always have superior stats, since the item points are spread between fewer and cheaper stats.

If you are a smart mage who wishes to optimize your damage, it is very tempting to skip mage gear and use warlock gear exclusively, even if you won't benefit from all that stamina as much as a warlock could. Many have done exactly that, and I'm one of them. I'm offsetting the negative sides of this choice with a liberal use of consumables.

In a sense, the mage itemization is also a vicious circle. If you are running out of mana even after all of the tricks mentioned in the original thread and here, you might feel tempted to stack up on spirit, but that gimps your damage. Since you do less damage to the raid boss it won't die as quickly and thus the fight gets longer. Which of course requires more spirit gear for you _and_ the healers.


Corpse graffiti spam - a way around spam reporting

Apparently the gold spammers are now using hacks to transport a bunch of gnomes to Ironforge and having their bodies spell out the URL of the goldselling site.

While many commentators find this hilarious, there is a very strong reason why the goldsellers are doing this. With the current reporting feature, the spammers are up against every single player that doesn't like spam. With the corpse graffiti, only a GM can stop the spam. It's much easier to overwhelm a bunch of GMs with spam than to overwhelm all WoW players.


Azeroth Movie Top 3

Beware the wrath of Murkzilla.

If it walks like a duck..

Apparently Wandering Goblin isn't convinced that Affinity Media is out of the goldselling business.


Beyond the Dark Portal Novel

Apparently the novel version of Tides of Darkness was fairly good, since there's a sequel in the works. The new novel will follow the plot of the Warcraft 2 expansion, including Grom Hellscream's antics at Azeroth and the shattering of Draenor. Too bad Tides of Darkness isn't available as an ebook (hint hint)..


Poor downtrodden gold farmers

Anda's Game, a goldfarming sob story by Cory Doctorow.

Won't somebody think of the poor girls in the sweatshops?

(Via MapWoW)


WoWDigger, an alternative to Affinity Media sites

Well, that didn't take long. Just mere days after Affinity Media almost got a monopoly on WoW database sites, IncGamers (owners of WorldofWar.net) launched their own database site. Unsurprisingly, their announcement emphasizes IncGamers' anti-RMT stance. A good move.


WoWHead sold to IGE?

There goes the neighbourhood..

Update: The official announcement is out. John Maffei, the (former?) Senior Vice President of IGE says that Affinity Media has nothing to do with IGE anymore. I'm trying to verify that claim now.


Serpentshrine and the Eye attunements removed!

Lo and behold, someone at Blizzard is listening.

After a lot of thought and deliberation, we’ve decided to remove the attunement requirements to enter Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep: The Eye. While many of our attunements in the Burning Crusade have been good progression checks, a few of the attunements have turned out to cause unnecessary stress on guilds either doing the content or attempting to do the content.

Gold farming in raids? Unlikely.

New York Times has a new article about gold farmers. Most of it is the usual whining about poor downtrodden farmers working in sweatshop conditions and being harassed by racist westeners. However, the article gets more interesting near the end. The writer laments how mean old Blizzard has shut out the farmers from a large part of the game: raiding. And then offers a solution: Goldfarming guilds. 24 skilled goldfarmers who take you (for a price, of course) to the raid instance of your choosing, kill the boss for you and let you loot the item you wanted.

This caught my attention since several guilds do this already, although not for real-world money. Pre-TBC it was not uncommon to see a high-end raiding guild advertise runs to Molten Core, Blackwing Lair or even Temple of Ahn'Qiraj. You paid them a certain amount of in-game gold and they would let you tag along and grab any epics that their own members did not need.

However, I think this article has more hot air than glimpse of future gold farmer tactics. Why? Gold farming raid groups are a very risky business. TBC had already diminished these "charity" runs since the importance of a single raider increased when Blizzard shrunk raids to 25 people. The goldfarmers would have to be overgeared for the instance to complete it while being handicapped by the presence of their customer(s). Getting that gear requires a whole lot of effort and thus carries a significant risk. Playing and gearing up 24 hunter bots takes a whole lot less time than playing and gearing up a 24-man balanced raid group in full epic gear. And all that effort can go to waste if Blizzard bans your goldfarming guild. Getting your main raid group banned would be a devastating blow to many gold farmers.

There are also limiting factors. The raid timers prevent you from killing a specific boss several times in a week, so only one of your many potential customers would even have a chance to get that piece of loot each week. If the piece doesn't even drop you have an unhappy customer on your hands. Unhappy customers don't like to pay you money. Raid IDs prevent the customer from joining other raids, so you can't sidestep the problem with multiple groups, either.


Diablo the Movie

Apparently Legendary Pictures did negotiate rights for more than one Blizzard franchise..


The Trollish Art of Diplomacy

Shalkis had spotted a contingent of Red Blade works exiting the jungle outpost of Grom'Gol. Windclaw tilted his head quizzically. The raptor was as intrigued as his mistress. With a tug of the harness, Windclaw darted into the jungle. It was not time to reveal herself yet.

Shalkis directed Windclaw on a small hill overlooking the road to the Arena. She sent the raptor away and sat next to the tree. She adjusted her goggles to get a better view of the road without compromising her position. And waited.

Eventually the orcs came into view. Young orcs. Old orcs. Strong orcs. Weak orcs. Even Taerak. Leading the group was a female orc with a wolf at her side. She must be the Matron. Akesha. As Shalkis had guessed, they were heading towards the Arena. And there was only one group that called it home. The Second Gurubashi Empire.

The Empire and the Red Blade? Odd. Ever since Tziak had taken over, the xenophobia had run rampant within the empire. Why would they even allow the orcs inside their Arena? It had to be a trap. And although the orcs would probably consider it dishonorable to even think to avoid a head-on confrontration, they would always appreciate some tactical advice. Shalkis dug deep into one of her pockets and retrieved a small whistle. If the Empire was indeed there, one extra raptor call would not be considered odd.

In less than a minute, the familiar figure of Windclaw appeared from the bushes, his fangs gleaming with fresh blood. He had eaten his fill, and would not mind waiting outside the Arena. She mounted the blue raptor and rode to the road and towards the Arena.

The orcs had taken up positions at the southern end of the Arena, and the Empire was at the north side. The ramp was filled by Blood Elves. Their presence was not surprising. A few months ago the Empire had sent a crate of elven heads to Silvermoon. Now they sought to return the favor. But since they were still not completely accepted into the Horde, they could not act rashly. There would be no point in charging the trolls, only to have the orcs charge them. They had to wait for the orcs' approval.

Rlaris, one of the Blooddrinkers was acting as an announcer. The standards had indeed been dragged through the mud if they allowed him into the esteemed ranks of the Blooddrinkers.. Once they were trolls of the highest honor, champions in the fight against the Hakkari, upholders of the law. Now they were simple thugs..

Shalkis heard the words and could not believe her ears. A negotiation for peace? Preposterous. There had to be a trick. Something that gave the Emperor leverage to force the orcs to submit. The Blood Elves around her were as sceptical as she was.

The two forces circled around the arena edge towards the ramps. As the orcs passed her, Shalkis spoke.

"A word of advice about trollish politics. Always prepare for a fight."

The warning had been given.

The orcs settled on the southern end of the Arena floor, and the trolls on the northern end. Akesha and Tziak approached each other, flanked by bodyguards. They were ready to start. But one of the orcish bodyguards eyed the crimson sand with suspicious eyes, aimed his flare gun and fired. The flare landed on the western part of the arena, right next to the ramps. And right next to the brightly burning flare was a very surprised assassin. An orc, but her tabard was one of the Sixty Thieves, an organization that recognized no wows or racial unity, only the will of the highest bidder. The female looked around sheepishly and leaned on the arena wall. Maybe this was Tziak's plan? To get an orc to assassinate Akesha to spark a civil war among the orcs? No.. there had to be more to this.. What about that Forsaken at his side? He was in plain sight and clearly in the favor of the trolls. If he acted it would be too obvious. There had to be more.

The trolls were shouting insults, mocking the blood elves and claiming that they had ridiculed the orcs' ancestors. No doubt it was true, but.. the orcs remained relatively calm. A few stinging rebukes were uttered. This can't be Tziak's grand plan, either. A shouting match?

Shalkis adjusted her goggles to get a better view, but the two negotiatiors had started to walk back towards the ramps. Was it over already?

At first the trolls did not notice him and walked right past her. Akesha, the matron addressed the blood elves. Tziak did the same, although he spoke no words himself, but instructed Rlaris to speak for him in Orcish. The Blood Elves were asked to leave. They of course resisted and wanted their revenge. But for a change, the cooler heads prevailed and the Blood Elves moved back to the entrance of the Arena. With the issue of hecklers somewhat resolved, the negotiations continued.

Oh yes.

Shalkis adjusted her goggles to get a better view. She could not hear Tziak's words from this distance, but the reactions of the orcs were more than enough. Their anger grew, word by word. Distrust turned into dislike, apprehension turned into disgust. Slow, calculated gestures turned into sharp, rash movements. What could he be saying to them to anger them so? And yet, he seemed oblivious to the effects. His face was hidden by his mask, but his gestures were as disinterested as always. Then.. Akesha's surprisingly strong voice echoed in the Arena.

"You all heard, Tziak admits he plotted to kill me."

That.. was Tziak's grand plan? To admit his treachery to people who value honor more than their lives? Before Shalkis could fully grasp the meaning of Akesha's words the warcries of the orcs.. and the elves filled the air, along with blood, fire and death of various colors and forms. The trollish bodyguards were cut down in seconds and the masked face of Tziak vanished in the veritable sea of angry orcs. Scores of elves were already jumping into the arena, raining down death and destruction upon the shocked trolls. In less than a minute, there were only orcs and elves standing on the Arena.

"What a mess", a male voice spoke in trollish. Shalkis was sure that she had heard him before.. but when she turned she did not recognize him.

"Ah yes. Tziak still has the touch. I have to admit that this was quite impressive. Not only has he allowed the Alliance to roam the vale, he also brought the wrath of thee orcs and the elves upon the trolls.", she replied.

That comment sparked an angry glare from the unknown troll male. But before he could act, he spotted the orcs walking up the ramp and wisely stepped aside.


The orcs were celebrating, brawling and drinking at Orgrimmar, under one of the few palm trees still left in the city. A veiled figure, dressed in blue from head to approached them.

"Matron Akesha of de Red Blades, a few words if ya will..."