For some time now I have been reading Tobold's excellent blog on World of Warcraft. In theory it is a blog about multiplayer online games in general, with specific attention to whatever game Tobold is currently playing. In actuality, he isn't playing other games and the focus has become almost exclusively about Warcraft, referenced with his MOG experience. If you are not familar with the blog, by all means check it out. His insights are usually keen and it helps that I often agree with his thinking.

However, I must take him to task at this point for something I consider a rather serious character failing. In recent posts he has mentioned the high traffic volume he gets not and how this is partly due to the many blogs that link to him. Yet he does not maintain a link list and only links to other blogs if he is specifically mentioning them.

Personally I could care less if he maintains a link list. But he has attributed  blog links as a factor in the readership he now has, without any reciprocity. In the world of blogs, this is a major failing in my opinion. Ordinarily I would just exclude the blog from links and be done with it. But the blog is just too damn good to not mention, so I highly recommend it with the above reservations noted.

While I am recommending blogs, I would also direct your attention to Blessings of Kings, with reservations of an entirely different sort. The blog is about the Paladin class, which means it is an alliance blog. However, it is another example of the sort of writing I wish there was more of about warcraft. Many blogs are basically loot logs and that holds my interest for very short periods of time. Considered and thoughtful writing about the game and the different aspects of Warcraft will hold my attention for considerably longer.

BOK's recent post about Shamans and Paladins is interesting and worth a look for all the shaman out there.


Gearing Up

May 31, 2006

Greig has been level sixty for some time now. With a few weeks of raiding under his belt, he is fairly well-equipped. In fact, the only gear he can't get now better than what he has will be found in the main raiding instances, ZG, Molten Core, BWL and AQ. Which means that character development will be a slow process until level becomes possible again with the release of Burning Crusades. 

It occurred to me that there might be crafted items that would allow a little more flexibility in the upgrading Greig's equipment. My hunter, Stomp, is a 300 blacksmith now and has some pretty good recipes. However none of these are as good as the gear Greig has now. I began researching recipes that would provide improved gear and quickly found out two things; there are not very many recipes to be found and the ones that are available require materials impossible to acquire outside of an instance. 

That is, if you can even get the recipes. Many blacksmith recipes require a certain level of reputation before your can purchase them. Faction reputation can be gained through a fairly lengthy process of grinding, but it does not require raiding. As Stomp is revered by Cenarian Circle, there are several recipes he could acquire but the vendor is located within AQ. Furthermore, the material for these recipes can only be gotten by running the instance. These recipes in essence are simply unattainable. It seems clear that crafting is a very real viable means for casual players to acquire epics. Whether the crafter was a player or an NPC, a player could complete a series of quests or adventures that would provide them the required materials. The length and complexity of the quest series would reflect the quality of the reward item. However, every player completing the chain would receive a tangible upgrade of their equipment. 

Blizzard is starting to do some of this. The Tier 0.5 upgrade quests are an example of how this would work. But the approach needs to broadened significantly, and there needs to be content developed that would allow casual players to earn gear that rivals the gear found within Molten Core and Black Wing Lair. 

The Field of Duty quests are a step in the right direction, yet getting more than one at a time is difficult and the quests are elite and require small groups to complete. A casual player could not solo these quests expediently. The rewards are significant and there are genuine epic items that are obtainable. Refining the process further could make it possible for a casual player to solo a quest series and still earn epic gear. 

Obviously, raiders will have strong objections if they feel that casual players are getting epics without the effort. So attention should be paid to the effort involved in complete quest chains. 

Beyond the Field of Duty quests, there are other quests that provide epic items. The Shaman Skyfury Helm is an epic item quest reward. In this case, the difficult of the quest is not that difficult, but then the item does match the effort. With further refinement and attention to content, the dilemma of the causal player could be resolved without alienating hardcore raiders. 

Along with tweaking the quest chains and the rewards that can be obtained, the crafting professions should be expanded so that more items are craftable and that the materials are obtainable without the difficulty of running a 40 person raid. Items could be made available that actually required a player to earn reputation with the particular vendor. These quests could be actions conducted on behalf of the NPC and the player is rewarded with the materials needed to make the specific item. The material gather could also be made part of the quest chain.  Yet at the end of the series, the crafter has a new item to create and has gained the ability to obtain the materials on their own. If the crafter wanted to make another of the same item, the quest chain could be repeated. 

There are probably many different ways to address the problem. These are some of the most obvious to me and seem to require little development. Quests and quest rewards are already part of the game's fabric. Cutting that fabric to fit multiple styles of play is what needs to happen now.

Shaman Review

May 15, 2006

For the most part I am quite pleased with the announced changes from the shaman review. With the exception of changes to windfury, all the changes are improvements. The reduced mana cost of totems is particularly nice. I have yet to fully study the adjustments to the talent tree, but I see nothing to get riled up about. In fact, the totemic focus talent makes a great deal of sense. So in all, the changes seem to be helpful. Given the grumbling I have heard from other reviewed classed, I was surprised that almost all the shamans I know are fairly pleased with the changes. Change can be good.

The Problem of Grouping

April 18, 2006

Everyone who plays World of Warcraft should be familiar with the problems of pick up groups. After spending an hour or more putting the group together, the odds are quite good one of the players is a complete numbskull and will find an endless variety of ways to get the entire group killed repeatedly. This will also be the person who ninjas the best loot and suddenly remembers an aunt is flying in and they have to go the airport. Or the dentist, or chemotherapy. Whatever the reason, the blue item drops, they need after everyone else chooses greed and then poof, they are gone. 

Sometimes those are the good pick up groups you get. 

Recently I joined a larger guild and I was hoping that this would make working in groups less painful. In fact, things are worse. 

Even with a hundred players in the guild, putting together a five man group is only slightly easier now than it was before joining a raiding guild. There is the added dimension of guild dynamics that are never a factor in pick up groups, and there is no way for a new guild member to know the sordid history of the guild they just joined. But after a few raids, you will know all too well. 

As of this moment, I have gone on four raids with my new guild. One of those raids was AQ20, the others were all Zul Gurub. The total time I have spent grouped with this guild is close to 25 hours now. By my rough calculations, less that half the time has been spent actually fighting mobs; much less that half. The rest of the time has been spent either waiting for the raid to fully form, or just standing around inside an instance for up to two hours waiting for new members to arrive after a wipe. 

After four runs with this guild we have killed only two bosses. Even worse we have at least three wipes per boss even when we did manage to kill the boss. This past weekend we made five attempts before killing a boss that everyone swore they had killed scores of times before. People do dumb things sometimes during raids. Sometimes it accidental and sometimes its just a stupid mistake, and I find both easy to forgive. But this weekend, a player actually was running his pet towards a Boss while we were waiting for a new member to arrive just to see how close he could get the pet without it being attacked.  

What is really disturbing to me, however, is that during one of the raids where we killed a boss, I won an epic mace. Somehow, this made up for all the insipid bullshit I had to endure. Am I really that easy?

Instances are the primary way to get better gear in World of Warcraft. Actually, it is the only way. While you can craft gear yourself or buy from a crafter, the items are not as good as what you can obtain in an instance. Before level 60 it is easy to get crafted gear or dropped items at the auction house that are superior to what you get from grinding or through quests. But this is not true the last three or four levels before sixty. After hitting sixty, instances are the only way to upgrade your gear.

This is another drawback to Blizzard's insistence upon using instances for the end game. Crafting is pretty much rendered useless unless you are an enchanter or alchemist. As the server population ages, most people will get all the high end enchants for their gear. The market eventually evaporates. Alchemy remains viable in that the items are consumable and as long as people are running instances, players will be consuming potions.

In order to run instances, this means working in groups. This is not such a bad thing in theory, particularly if you are in a well run guild. However, most guilds are not well run, much less organized at all. As a result, guilds convenient for recruiting group members just before you start spamming the chat channel.

Even in a guild with one hundred players, I have yet to run a five person instance with more that three guild members. The guild does not organize instance runs beyond Zul and AQ20, and there is no system in place for group development. I don't see how a guild can aspire to running Molten Core without first developing a system for running smaller instances.

Obviously there is no glamour in running Black Rock Depths or Sunken  Temple repeatedly. But the skills necessary to run Sunken Temple with out any deaths are exactly the same it takes to run Molten Core. The only thing changes is the scale. A guild that cannot or will not put together a system for completing quest chains that prepare the guild for running Molten Core has little chance of succeeding in Molten Core.

What is amazing is that no one seems to realize this. I imagine even a small guild could achieve a great deal by putting together successful runs in many of the smaller instances repeatedly. A guild that can run five and ten man instances repeatedly as a group will not only have better equipped players, but they will develop the cohesion and the organization it takes to run twenty and forty man raids. What is startling is how few guilds are able to do this.

There are a large number of players who are level sixty on my server. Some players are sporting epics, but I haven't seen very few full sets of Tier 1 epics. In fact, I can only recall seeing three players with full Dungeon 1 sets for their class.

My experience with guilds is limited. Yet, I am constantly surprised that guild leaders are not aware of the valuable experience they could be gaining by using smaller instances as training grounds for the instances that everyone wants to run. They also don't understand that a great deal of success in the smaller instances can be a powerful recruiting tool. Imagine entering Origammar and riding up to the bank and seeing four or five players decked out in full sets of Dungeon 2 armor. Maybe that guild only has twenty players, but their numbers will certainly grow. I sure as hell would want to join.

Herb Collecting

April 7, 2006

I have wanted to do some dedicated herb gathering for sometime now. Specifically, I want to gather some Mountain Silversage for Greg to use making potions. I checked a couple of online databases and decided that Unger Crater was the best place to start. However, after 45 minutes I had only found one spawn for Mountain Silversage and gave up on Unger. I went back to the database and found that the Ironwood Stompers drop silversage with some regularity.

This reminded me that the stompers actually drop a variety of herbs with some frequency, so I grabbed the next flight to Felwood. I spent the next two hours grinding all the elementals in Felwood and was fairly pleased with the results. I obtained multiple specimens of seven different herbs in that time, as well the normal cash and vendor items that drop. While moving between mobs, I was also to collect herbs that available in the area in addition to those that dropped from mobs. Beyond that, I was further rewarded with an Essence of Water and a Living Essence. Altogether it was time well spent.

From a practical point of view, gathering herbs for potions makes a great deal of sense. It takes only time to collect herbs and if you have a sense of where different items bloom, then you can reduce the time it takes looking for them. Purple Lotus, for example, tends to bloom in nooks and crevices. They rarely bloom in the open, unlike Sungrass and Gromsblood which are most often found in grassy meadows.

The downside though is that gathering herbs is very time consuming. A region usually spawns three or four varieties of plants at best, so making a complete set of potions often means traveling to several different regions.

The other option is to just buy the herbs from the auction house. Quite often this is an acceptable alternative. Sungrass and Blindweed average 3 to 4 gold for a stack of twenty. But several of the pots that have value in the retail market, require Mountain Silversage. This particular herb is hard to find and prices reflect this, average 13 to 15 gold for a stack of twenty. That is, if you can find a stack of twenty on the auction house.

Now that I have been thinking about it, there are several locations where elementals drop herbs. These mobs are farmed far less frequently than elementals which drop the essences of earth, fire, water and air. Tanaris,

Swamp of
Sorrows, Felwood and Ungoro Crater all have elemental mobs that drop multiple essences. The next step is to do some dedicated farming of these mobs and see if this doesn't prove to be a more time efficient method of gathering multiple herbs.

The Patch

April 3, 2006

After a full week of playing with the changes in patch 1.10, I feel that little has changed in the game. At least there aren’t any changes to the game that I find beneficial.

One of the first things I noticed was the prices of many things skyrocketed literally overnight. The cost of an arcanite bar at the auction house has been consistently averaging 23-24 gold per bard for several weeks. Last Tuesday, the same bar of arcanite was nearly 50 gold.
Stonescale eels quadrupled in price to 4 gold apiece and stonescale oil is selling for 40 gold a stack. The same stack of 5 was about 15 gold before the patch.

I havent worked any of the new quests for armor upgrades, but I have been told they are expensive and not easy to do. Not that they are particularly difficult, but that they are tedious. My game friends have been grumbling almost non-stop about the quests themselves and the strong, mostly negative impact they have had on the economy.

Elixir of Superior Defense was no bargain at 13 gold for 5 pots, but at 40 gold they are bordering on ridiculous. Likewise, the cost of arcanite makes many of the items that call for arcanite bars in the recipe absolutely unattainable. When I had my Invulnerable Mail chest piece made, the cost of arcanite bars was 640 gold. Those bars would cost over 1200 gold today. Which means that the chest piece I had made for 750 gold including labor would not cost over $1,600 gold to have crafted.

So it seems that the cure is worse than the disease. In creating quests to help more casual players achieve improved equipment, Blizzard had driven demand for the materials in those quests through the roof. This not only means that these quests are expensive to pursue, they may be beyond the means of many casual players. Beyond that, those same players will be able to afford fewer items at the auction house, further limiting the gear they might have access to.

Which leaves me wondering if anyone on the Blizzard development team understands anything about casual players, let alone have a clue about how to make the game more engaging for them.