Sunday, July 30, 2006

Quitting Travian

My village is still growing, and I just destroyed all the 43 troops of my neighbor again, losing only a third of my troops. But Travian doesn't really hold my interest any more, my options are too limited. There aren't any tactics involved in war, you just send your army out, and the bigger army wins. It is only a matter of time before the bigger army is attacking *me*. Even if I have the largest village in my neighborhood, and grown faster than anybody else there, further away are much stronger players. So I hit the big red self-destruct button, and my village will evaporate in 72 hours. I'll just make sure that nobody can farm any resources from me in the remaining 3 days by building up my cranny level to as much capacity as my warehouses have, and building defensive troops.

The timing is right to quit the game now, I'm on my last week of holidays. My initial impression that Travian can be played by doing moves only twice a day was only true before I had troops. As soon as you can raid, the amount of resources you can gain by raiding depends on how often you raid. If you send out your troops every hour or so, like I was able to do during most of the holidays, you give a huge boost to your economy. And of course being present most of the time is very important for all sorts of warfare. So when I'm back to work, I can only play Travian much less efficient than during the holidays.

Travian was fun for a while, and I don't regret having played it for a month. But in the end it doesn't have enough options and possibilities to hold my interest for much longer than that.

Tobold the raider

I guess I'm not a casual player any more. My level 60 warrior and priest were in a casual guild, which was allied with a raiding guild, so I was participating in raids with that raiding guild. Now this alliance split up, and I left the casual guild to join the raiding guild. Staying with the casuals would have meant no more raiding, and I didn't want to lose that aspect of the game.

The problem with casual guilds is that they are so much less well organized than raiding guilds. Raiding guilds have a regular raid schedule, with systems on who gets a spot on the raid, and how loot is distributed. Casual guilds in most cases just have a forum and a guild chat. There are very few casual guilds having a calendar to organize 5-man instances or other non-raid events. Standing around stupidly and looking for a group is my least favorite part of WoW, events organized for a fixed time and place are much more my thing. So now I'm a raider, who would have thought that?

Actually I think I'm still more interested in 5-man casual content, it is just that I have run out of it with my level 60 characters. I've visited the level 60 5-man instances often enough to have all the gear I want from there and know the places inside out. And what else is there to do for a level 60 character? Grinding some faction really isn't my cup of tea. So the choice I had with my level 60s was basically retire or raid. I *was* thinking of the retiring option, only playing lower levels, but I'm looking forward to playing the Burning Crusade in 4 months or so. If I retire the level 60s now, I will have lost the social network needed to enjoy the level 61-70 content later this year. So I'm planning on going back to my previous schedule of raiding with my level 60 on the weekends, and playing the lower levels during the week. We'll see how that works out.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

WoW Journal - 30-July-2006

I finally finished all the quests in Stranglethorn Vale, except for the elite ones, which I skip if the reward isn't for my class. I also finished Uldaman, after the third or fourth run, with the help of a level 50 paladin. The final boss is level 47 elite, with lots of adds, a particularly hard fight. No luck with loot, in all the runs I didn't find a single item I rolled need on. The items I could wear were are giving lots of stamina and spirit, but no or very little intellect.

So I'm level 45 now, and there are several zones where I can go now: Tanaris, Feralas, The Hinterlands. I started in Tanaris, doing the artisan cooking quest, so I can advance cooking past 225 now. I also did another hidden quest in Dustwallow Marsh, given by Stinky Ignaz, who is hiding north of the northern watch tower. Escorting him back to safety was the last quest in a series of quests for Angus Stern, the cook of the Blue Recluse in the mage quarter of Stormwind. After doing all those quests you can go back to him and click on him, and a small event starts, where he holds a feast in your honor. You get a moist towelette as reward, and clickable food appears on the bar and the tables. Not highly useful, but nice. If you ever plan on throwing an in-game party, you might want to do the quest series first, invite everybody to the Blue Recluse, and hand the quest in when they are there. Sure to impress your guests.


My priest is level 43 now, and already did his first expedition to Uldaman. And I don't really like that place. The difference in level between the start and the end is too big, and even with the backdoor you can't really advance directly to the end. So either you go with a lower level group, have fun in the first half and then get beaten to pulp in the latter part, with the final boss fight being simply impossible. Or you go with a group able to beat the final boss, and then you have to kill lots of mobs that are far too easy for you.

I prefer places which are either linear, but with not so much of an increase of difficulty from start to finish, like Shadowfang Keep for example. Or places where the easier and more difficult parts have different entrances, like Scarlet Monastery. It is a lot more satisfying to form a group able to beat the whole dungeon in one go, without being bored at the earlier parts.

The additional problem with Uldaman is the main quest, where you first have to go to find the shattered necklace, then go back to the city, go again to Uldaman to find the paladin, then go back to the city, then go back to Uldaman for the 3 gems, then go back to the city, before you get the final quest for the final boss. As most people have to rely on pickup groups in this level range, and pickup groups always disband when going back to the city, you need to find a lot of groups for Uldaman to do that main quest. I find that annoying, especially since Uldaman isn't a very popular dungeon, and it isn't that easy to gather a pickup group for there.

What I do like is the story that is told in Uldaman, which gives you a lot of background on the history of the creation of Azeroth, and the Makers. I just wished the game flow was smoother there.

Friday, July 28, 2006

FilePlanet - MMORPG Trials

FilePlanet has put up a page linking to all the MMORPG free trials or free games which you can download from them. That includes free trials for World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, and Dungeons & Dragons Online, and other major games in the genre. There are also a few less good games, but maybe some people like these generic Asian killstealing games. In any case, all of these games are free to try, and some are even free to play in the basic version, like Anarchy Online. Check it out!

Travian Journal - 28-July-2006

Another discovery in Travian: In combat the village with the *smaller* population gets a bonus. I'm still fighting my neighbor, who has received 50 heavy cavalry as reinforcements from some friend. So when I raided him yesterday I lost half of my troops, but killed 16 of the cavalry. Today his cavalry was down to 27, seems I'm not the only one attacking him, but he had built 17 legionnaires as well. So I decided to kill his troops, not only to prevent him from attacking me, but also to prevent him from gathering resources by raiding the same villages I want to raid.

The "combat simulator" indicated that with my 20 legionnaires, 20 praetorians, and 45 imperians, I should be able to kill his 17 legionnaires and 27 heavy cavalry, and still have a good amount of survivors. But I had forgotten to put our village sizes into the combat simulator, and in reality he gets a fat bonus for being only half my size. So the combat ended in mutual annihilation, neither of us has any troops left. Well, I don't mind, being bigger means that I can build troops a lot faster than him. Only if he gets more reinforcements lent to him will he be stronger than me. But 50 heavy cavalry cost a hell of a lot of resources, and I hope that whoever owned those doesn't want to repeat the experience.

50 Million Euro per month

According to GameSpot, Vivendi Games, the business division of Vivendi to which all the World of Warcraft money goes, made nearly 300 million Euro ($375 million) of revenue (that's not profit) in the first half of 2006. That is a solid 50 million Euro per month. And not all of that revenue comes from World of Warcraft, or even Blizzard. But it is safe to assume that the majority of the cash is coming from there, as the other "solid performer" quoted in the article was Ice Age 2 : The game, and I don't see that one raking in many millions.

So why we still don't know how much money, and especially profit, World of Warcraft is making, we know it is "less than 50 million Euro per month". I already mentioned that people simply calculating 7 million subscribers times $15 tend to forget that the over 4 million Chinese subscribers pay a lot less than the Americans and Europeans. But Vivendi Games is not only making money from monthly fees, World of Warcraft has been in the top 10 PC games sales charts since it came out nearly every week, so even at the reduced price nowadays the box sales add a good bit to the income.

What always surprises me is how relatively little of that money is invested back into the game. It seems obvious to me that Blizzard could easily sell one expansion set per year, SOE has been doing that for years with much less successful games. WoW's first expansion coming out only 2 years after the release is horribly slow by industry standards. And even the free content isn't added any faster than games like Everquest 2 add content. A lot of the unhappyness of the casual players could be mitigated if Blizzard was adding *both* raid content and casual player content, instead of concentrating on the former. With 50 million Euro per month it should be possible to hire a bunch of programmers and do more.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Comments back to unmoderated

My sincere apologies, when trying to delete a spam comment I accidentally turned on "comment moderation", and all your comments from the last couple of days got stuck in a loop waiting for my approval. Thanks to the reader who pointed that out to me!

I released the 25 comments that were on hold, and turned comment moderation off again. Sorry, my bad.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


One of my readers, Tide, has developed an application with which to track the reputation of a player, named Playerep. (No idea why they spell that with only one "r") The application is in the beta version, but they just developed a World of Warcraft addon to use the service from inside the game. The idea is to judge other players on scores like competence or fairness, so that you can easily identify good players to group with.

Of course the problem is that the other player does need to be a Playerep member, and thus the service will only become useful when many more people sign up. Other WoW addons like GEM or other group-finding tools suffer from a similar problem. In the case of a reputation tracking utility, it is likely that the griefers simply won't sign up.

Well, have a look at it. Maybe this is the next big thing in MMORPGs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WoW Journal - 26-July-2006

I'm still playing my lower level priest exclusively. He now got up to level 42, mainly by doing quests in Stranglethorn. I'll be glad when I see the last of that zone. But I also did some dungeon excursions, that's what I made the priest for. After several tries I not only finished the Scarlet Monastery main quest, which unfortunately gives only very bad loot for priests, but I also managed to win Whitemane's Chapeau, something I really wanted to have. Not because of the stats, although they are good, but because of the looks. Up to now I was wearing cowl or a sorcerer's hat. Now I'm really looking like a priest. :)

The one thing that playing on a new server didn't do was turning back time. Not only not for me, but neither for anyone else. Most of the experienced players did a mad rush to level 60 and are now starting to raid, much faster than on the first servers. Where that is really noticeable is in the demand for things that can't be rushed, like arcanite transmutes or mooncloth, which have a long cooldown.

Thanks to the farmers the prices for runecloth on the auction house are low, you can get a stack for as little as 1 gold 20 silver. That means I can make runecloth bags for less than 2 gold. But they sell for 4 to 5 gold, an excellent profit margin. I now hit 300 tailoring, and learned to make mooncloth and mooncloth bags. I'll make some for myself first before selling them, but I guess the profit on those is even bigger.

Travian Journal - 26-July-2006

I survived the night raid on me. The attacker had 200 soldiers, but no catapults to destroy anything. And my troops weren't there to be killed, as planned. The raider did get some resources, because I failed to check that he was Teuton, the aggressive race in Travian which gets a bonus against crannies. Guess I'll better build another cranny then. Anyway, he only got a handful of resources, less than what I got by raiding that empty village just to get my troops out of the way.

Now lets see if I can scare him a bit. I sent an attack force consisting of 1 soldier, which will arrive at his place before his raiders are back. I figure he is going to see that he is being attacked, but he doesn't see how many attackers there are, so I hope it worries him a little. Silly kind of revenge. :)

Travian Journal - 25-July-2006

Strange happenings, somebody is sending an army my way from very far off. I got a report that he sent scouts to find out about my resources, troops, and defences. Then I get a message that his army will be attacking me at 4:30 am next night. Lots of advance warning, because his village is far away. Haven't got a clue why I am being attacked, he doesn't belong to an alliance of which I have attacked anyone. And why would you want to raid somebody where your army takes a whole day to walk there, and then another day to come back?

Anyway, I decided that the best strategy is to be not home when he arrives. I used up all of my resources, and the resources I'm producing up to 4:30 am will fit into my crannies and can't be robbed. And I found a small, inactive village some hours away which I am raiding with all of my troops, so they only come back to my village after the attacker was there. So the idea is that the attacker comes and nothing happens, as there are no troops to kill and no resources to rob. I'll see tomorrow if that plan worked.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Travian Journal - 24-July-2006

I learned a lot more about warfare in Travian. Up to now I'm coming out ahead of the competition, but the system is not a very pleasant one. It all started by me wanting to know more about the other players around me, and pushing my tech tree far ahead to develop cavalry scouts, of which I'm apparently the only one in the vicinity owning any. When you send out a single scout on an "attack", you instead get the option to either scout an enemies defense fortifications or his resources, and in both cases you see his number of troops.

So I'm scouting out everybody around me and notice that my neighbor is preparing for war. I had 20 legionnaires, cheap allround troops to defend myself and do raids on inactive villages. My neighbor, whose village has half my size, was building up troops to a level of 50 legionnaires. At that point I realized the flaw in the Travian system: You can hide your resources in crannies, so nobody can steal them. But hiding troops is a lot more difficult, you would have to send them as "reinforcements" to the village of alliance partner. So if my neighbors 50 legionnaires attack my 20, he could start repeatedly attacking me, and it would be impossible for me to build up an army.

So I first build 20 praetorians, specialized defence troops. But then I thought that attack is the best defence, and build 30 imperians, specialized attack troops. I sent another scout to my neighbor when my troops were ready, and got lucky: My neighbor had obviously just attacked somebody else, and lost some troops, he was down to 30 legionnaires, but building more. So I hit him with all I got. I lost about a quarter of my troops, but completely eliminated all his troops. And since then I attack him every couple of hours, so he can't build up an army bigger than mine. It's a cruel game.

The map of Travian has changed, because inactive villages disappear after a while. So there are less and less inactive targets to raid. Having to attack an active player instead was just a question of time. And sooner or later somebody with a bigger army than mine will come and more or less kick me out of the game, turning me into a "farm". I'm not really in favor of games where it takes months to build something up, and then you can get everything destroyed in a single attack.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Draenei Shaman and Blood Elf Paladins

When the Alliance wins a battleground, you can be sure that somebody attributes it to them having paladins. In the other direction, if the Horde wins, it's just because of shamans. Well, bad losers will have to think of a new excuse soon. News reports that in the Burning Crusade expansion set, the Alliance will have access to shamans, and the Horde to paladins, both via the new races.

From a point of game balance, that is nice. From a point of storyline, it erases one of the last differences between Horde and Alliance. Playing Alliance now I already sometimes have the problem that I forget that I'm Alliance and run to the Horde windrider master in a neutral town. Once you left the newbie zones, which are different from each race, the differences between races are so small, they become insignificant. When Edward Castronova claimed on Terranova that the Horde is evil, and playing an evil avatar was an expression of personal evil of the person playing Horde, most players strongly disagreed. You choose Horde because you haven't done the Horde quests before, or because you like the look of the orc's wolf mount. But when actually playing that orc shaman, he is exactly as good or as evil as your human paladin would be. Might as well be able to play a Horde paladin.

Friday, July 21, 2006

WoW Journal - 21-July-2006

My low-level priest has reached level 40 now, with a mix of questing, grinding, and dungeon groups. As my highest Alliance character up to now made it only to level 42, the new priest will soon be my highest Alliance character ever, and be able to do some quests I've never seen before. I'm looking forward to that.

The only negative thing about that priest is that my guild is giving me inferiority complexes. Half of the guild members are already level 60, some since weeks, and they have started raiding Zul'Gurub. With guild chat being forever about raiding or doing high-level instances, I feel as if I'm missing something because I'm "too slow". Silly. In fact I'm not even slow, a run of CensusPlus reveals that at level 40 I'm well ahead of the curve. But the other guild members are mainly kids of less than half my age, and all the time in the world during summer. I'm sticking with them because I would like a guild that does high-level instances and raids when I'm ready. But sometimes I dream about making a guild with the name "Over 25", which invites players only after sending in proof of age over 25. :)

Not many of the level 60 online are real players. During daytime, of the level 60 online up to 65% are hunters, with a Chinese sounding guild name. But to dispell the impression that all gold farmers are Chinese, I recently got a random spam tell about where to buy cheap gold *in French*.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

World of Warcraft: Flying Mounts

Blizzard updated their The Burning Crusade - Bestiary with more information on flying mounts. The page says: "After reaching level 70, players will eventually be able to obtain a flying mount for their characters.", but doesn't say how. I still hope it doesn't require some stupid long grind quest, or a quest where you need to hand in resources worth several thousand gold pieces. But my trust in Blizzard making the flying mount accessible for even the casual player is low, it will either be very grindy and expensive, or you'll need to hand in the head of the end boss of the toughest level 70 raid dungeon to get the mount.

WoW patch 1.12 on test servers

It seems that World of Warcraft patch 1.12 is now on the test servers. The major changes that this patch brings are all about PvP: cross-server battlegrounds, and new PvP objectives outside of battlegrounds. Unfortunately both of these new features will suffer from the Horde : Alliance imbalance.

Cross-server battlegrounds are a good idea, because they get rid of the "rounding error". The problem previously was that if less players of one faction signed up for a battleground than was needed to start, the battleground didn't start at all. Which meant that battlegrounds that needed a lot of players, like Alterac Valley, weren't always available. By adding up the handful of players wanting to play AV on each server over several servers, it is now much more likely that at least one AV battleground will be open most of the time.

That pretty much eliminates waiting in a battleground queue, ... for the Horde. Alliance will still be waiting in line a lot. There are between 1.5 to 2 times as many Alliance players as there are Horde players on all servers, and thus the number of battlegrounds opening up is limited by the number of Horde players. So if there are 200 Horde players and 300 to 400 Alliance players wanting to do battlegrounds, all the Horde players and 200 of the Alliance players will be able to play, and the 100 to 200 remaining Alliance players will be forced to wait.

Blizzard "balances" that by the other new PvP feature, PvP objectives in Silithus and Plaguelands. These favor the Alliance, because there are no restrictions to the number of players able to participate on each side. Thus Alliance will "win" these by default, due to greater numbers. I don't really understand what that is supposed to add to the game.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

WoW Journal - 19-July-2006

More experiences with groups full of overexcited kids, I'm starting to wonder whether that is due to me playing during the day on my holidays, when more kids play and the adults are still at work. It seems that "ninjas" are a widespread obsession, although these kids never even experienced a real ninja-looter. Ninja-looting was still possible in Everquest, but with the WoW loot system the only thing you can do is rolling need on something you don't really need.

My priest is now level 38, and I was in a Scarlet Monastery group. A leather pants with +int and +sta dropped, and the druid in the group rolled need on it. As the item was better than what he was wearing, that was totally okay with me. That is what the need button is for. But two of the kids in the group seemed to think that rolling need on *any* green was called ninja-looting, and complained and harassed the druid without end, until the druid left the group and hearthstoned out. I then just left as well, as I was sick and tired of the bickering. Well, at least I got the Illusionary Rod from Doan.

I had several attempts at Scarlet Monastery now, but we always got stuck half-way through, in the armory, before even reaching Herod. Somebody had to leave, or people were fighting over unimportant green loot, really annoying.

Last night I ended up disappointing a group. A group was looking for a healer for Razorfen Downs, and as I hadn't visited that dungeon for a very long time, I signed up. We did the ultra cool skeleton rock concert, killed Glutton, and were half-way up the spiral to the end boss, when suddenly I had a migraine. The headache wasn't so bad, but I started having blind spots, and couldn't really follow the action on the screen any more. So I had to excuse myself and log off in the middle of the dungeon, and go to bed. Terribly sorry, I hate to kill a group like that.

Monday, July 17, 2006

WoW Journal - 18-July-2006

I'm writing a bit less often in the next 3 weeks, due to being on holiday. But I'm still playing WoW, on the laptop. Due to the laptop being slower, and probably not able to handle big raids, and due to me needing a break from raids, I'm playing only my low level priest during the holidays. So I got him up to level 37 now, and skilled up his mining to 195. The last couple of days I mostly spent killing yeti and ogres in Alterac Mountains, which is a good place if you want to skill up mining at the same time.

But I also joined one group to Razorfen Kraul, to finish the quest for killing the boss there, and it was a somewhat unpleasant, but memorable experience. The mage in that group was a bit overly obsessed with loot. First we found only random greens, and by some statistical fluke the warrior won 6 or 7 greed rolls in a row. As most people don't understand statistics, some group members started accusing the warrior of using a hack, and were hard to convince that such a hack doesn't exist. Then the druid rolled need on a cloth item "for his healing set", and the warlock rolled need on a blue dagger with stamina and spirit bonus, and the mage became very unpleasant, accusing them of ninjaing items they shouldn't roll for. As if you keep anyone from rolling on anything remotely useful in a pickup group.

Then we killed the rare bat in Razorfen Kraul, and she dropped two necklaces, a blue bind on pickup one, and a green bind on equip one. The mage rolled need on both of them, won *both* rolls, and then refused to reroll on the BoE one, which other people in the group could have needed. Talk about ninjaing. I could have lived with that, but he continued to be very unpleasant about loot distribution, constantly saying how he had another level 60 on the server and that he knew better than us n00bs how loot should be distributed. A real asshole. So when the group leader asked me whether it was okay with me if we kicked the mage, I agreed. We continued to kill the end boss, and do the escort quest for the goblin back out, with just 4 people, and it went just fine without that mage. But he continued to harass us with tells and complain in the global Looking For Group channel about us, until I set him to ignore and stopped listening.

Makes you wonder why some people who can't share play a massively multiplayer online game.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Installing WoW again

I'm on holiday, with my laptop. And the place where I am staying has a computer on which I want to install World of Warcraft. I had a box with original WoW CDs with me, and installed it. But then of course I still need to patch the game to 1.11.2, and I didn't want to download the patch, because the connection is slow and has a limit on volume. So I cleverly had downloaded the 450 MB patch that turns any version of WoW into 1.11 at home, and burned it onto a CD. Unfortunately something went wrong with this plan. When I start the patch, after some time he finds some file with a bad checksum and aborts. Doh!

So now I'm trying plan B: I'm copying WoW from the laptop to the computer via wireless. Which is unfortunately horribly slow, and with the installed WoW being over 6 Gigabyte, this will take a while. I hope copying all the file works. Otherwise I will have to reinstall again and do the slow patch instead.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

WoW Journal - 13-July-2006

In only played two hours of World of Warcraft yesterday, but I think I found the fastest way to level mining, going from 0 to 125 in that short play session. I abandoned skinning for being boring, and learned mining from the mining trainer in Ironforge. Then I first headed out into Dun Morogh, to mine copper. There is a lot of copper everywhere in that zone, with particular concentrations in the Frostmane Troll caves and the Gol'Bolar Quarry.

Copper mining and smelting got my skill up to 65, at which point I learned to smelt tin and bronze. I found 30 tin ore in the auction house, which I first smelted into tin bars, then made bronze bars out of it, which brought me up to about 95 in skill. Then I headed into the Wetlands, into the Thelgen Rock spider cave. In that cave there are tin veins, the occasional silver vein, must more importantly special veins of incendite ore, for a quest. Incendite has the same difficulty level as tin, and it respawns relatively fast. So by mining everything in that cave I quickly got my skill up to 125, which is the level needed to mine iron.

Of course this mining play session didn't net me any xp. But now that I have enough skill for iron, I can head over to Hillsbrad and camp the yeti cave. The yetis are green to me, thus still give easy xp, and the cave has several iron spawn points, even if the spawn rate isn't great. And once I hit level 36 or so, I can move further north into the Alterac Mountains, where ogres give good xp, and iron and mithril can be found.

I'm not sure whether jewelcrafting will use the same type of gems that are found sometimes when mining. So for the moment I'm hoarding all the gems I find. But I'm selling the metal bars, which provides me with a nice income.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

WoW patch 1.11.2

Here is the only item from the World of Warcraft 1.11.2 patch notes that you need to know:
  • The Looking For Group channel is now defaulted off. Players will need to join the channel to access it. (/join LFG)
Doh! Why don't they just return it to the previous non-global state, where the LFG channel had its (limited) use? Making it global was a mistake, now turning it off by default further limits it usefulness.

The well-known background of the World of Warcraft developers as being players in well organized raid guilds apparently makes them totally unable to understand even basic truths about playing without a social network. If you are part of a good guild, or similar network (like a network of official playtesters), you don't need a looking-for-group functionality. I would really like to force some of the developers to play through a couple of their dungeons on a server where they don't know anybody, relying only on the pickup groups you can find with the games own LFG functionality.

What WoW needs is a LFG system which is not chat-based, but works in a separate window. Players could either flag themselves there as looking for a group, for everything, or for one or several dungeons or quests. Or they could set up groups with specific limits, like a minimum level, minimum 1 warrior and 1 priest, etc., for going to a dungeon or doing a quest, and other players could see all the groups they would qualify for and sign up for them. I've seen such a system in Dungeons & Dragons Online, and it worked very well there. Why not in WoW?

New car

After over 5 months of waiting, I finally got the new car I ordered in January. Woot! My first new car, including new car smell and everything. Up to now I always had used cars, because buying a used car which is 1 to 3 years old is a lot cheaper, and still gives you a relatively modern car. I got my last car when it was 3 years old, for half the price of a new car, and drove it for another 6 years. But now that I'm middle-aged, I really felt I needed a new car this time, which is a common, but mild, symptom of mid-life crisis. Mild, because I only got a new Toyota Corolla, and not a Porsche/Ferrari/Jaguar. :)

The new car is a lot more modern than my last Toyota, but quite similar in shape and size. Now I got a CD player instead of a tape-deck, a fully automatic air-conditioning instead of a manual one, and a fancy LCD computer display showing me average fuel consumption and similar data. The only thing I'm not totally happy with is the color: I'm pretty sure I ordered the car in "blue metallic", but what I got was "light blue metallic". Okay, the light blue metallic still looks pretty good, and I'm so not going to give the car back and wait for another 5 month for them to give me one in the darker blue. But still it is a bit annoying.

The new car drives a bit more powerful than the old one, because I took the version with the bigger 1.6 liter motor. So now I have a few more kW for a car which is a tiny bit smaller (10 cm shorter) and thus lighter than the previous one. But the main difference I notice when driving is that the view is slightly different. Silly, but it seems I sit a bit higher in the new car, and the shape of the windows and frame around me is slightly different, so now the viewing angle and the blind spots are different. I'm sure I'll get used to that fast enough.

The car arrived just in time for the holidays, so I'll drive about 2000 km in the next month and see if everything is allright with the new car. Not that I'm terribly anxious about having gotten a lemon. Toyota is famous for boring, but reliable cars, and I have a free 5-year warranty, including Europe-wide breakdown service. So my main concern for the holidays is how to get all the suitcases in the trunk, which isn't terribly big, due to me having chosen the Sedan. But as most of the time I'm using the car just to drive to work, the trunk size wasn't as important as the looks, and I just don't like the look of a hatchback.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Travian Journal - 12-July-2006

I've been slowly building up production in Travian, and now have a village size of over 100. After upgrading my resource production, I started constructing building in my village: warehouses and granaries to be able to stock at least 24 hours worth of production, crannies to be able to hide away at least half of the content of the warehouses, a marketplace, an embassy. And then I started to get into the military part of the game, building a rallying point and a barracks, and hiring a bunch of legionnaires, the most basic troop type. Currently constructing an Academy, which will allow me to research other troop types.

So I used the soldiers in boring mode to raid inactive villages. First I tried the very small villages, with a size of 2 to 5, of which I had several in a distance of half an hour. That quickly made me realize that the advantage that I thought Travian had, that I would only need to look after the game twice a day, doesn't really exist. The resources you get from a raid are limited by the carrying capacity of your soldiers, 40 resources per soldier. So with for example 10 soldiers and the raided village half an hour away, you can raid 400 resources every hour. Raiding only twice a day is barely worth it. If you have several inactive villages to raid within range, it would really be best to start a raid every hour. Of course I can't do that, as I work during the day, and sleep during the night. But obviously other people are more active, and can raid much more often than me. So I end up in the same situation as in MMORPGs, where people with more time than me advance faster, without being better players.

I don't think I will play Travian for many months to come. I don't want to spend too much time on it, getting into big alliances and the like. The game is not enough strategic to make that worth it. But as I am on holidays starting on Friday, I will be able to do more "farming" of inactive villages, build up my village even further, explore different troop types, new buildings, etc., with the goal of learning all there is about the game, not necessarily winning it. That might end with me attacking a neighbor of similar size than me, and waging some real war, even if I know that this is likely to end badly. But just building up my economy and waiting that some powerful alliance comes and starts farming me is not my idea of a fun game. And for really "winning" Travian I would need to be part of such a powerful alliance, and I don't think I have the time for that.

Video Game Generation on 45 minutes Strat run

Both of my level 60 characters are stuck on the 45-minutes Strat run part of the tier 0.5 upgrade quest. The people I play with, and who would probably be able to do that run in 45 minutes, have better things to do with their time, as the reward isn't worth it. And the people I could get into a pickup group are unable to finish the run in 45 minutes. And it seems I'm not the only one with that problem. Well-written rant on Video Game Generation on the 45 minutes Strat run.

Well, I just stopped caring. I recently calculated what epics "cost" me nowadays. When I do a typical raiding weekend, MC in two days, plus Onyxia, I spend a total of a bit over 50 gold for repairs, major mana potions, greater fire protection potions etc. (counting the potions at market value, even if I make them myself). And as that nets us about 20 epics for 40 people, on average I get one epic every second weekend. Which means that each tier 1 epic costs me just 100 gold. That is incredibly cheap compared to the price of epics on the AH. And it is also very cheap compared to gold cost of the tier 0.5 upgrade quest. And a MC run, even with the occasional bad wipe, is still a lot less frustrating than trying Strat in 45 minutes with a pickup group. I would even argue that a MC run is a lot easier than a Strat 45 minutes run.

So while I agree with the Video Game Generation rant on how we were promised content for the casual gamer and instead received a quest series which can only be finished by somebody in a good raiding guild, I just gave up on it. The dungeon set 2, or tier 0.5 armor upgrade quest series is just a waste of time.

Why games shouldn't be free

I'm still playing Travian, a free, browser-based game. After having built up my production, I finally built a handful of troops and explored the combat system. And found that I have two options: suicidal or boring. The suicidal option is to attack another active player, who will then retaliate, starting a war which will cost both of us so many resources, that even the eventual winner will have fallen far behind the other players in the region. The boring option is the one everybody is taking, attacking one of the many inactive players.

You see, Travian is free. So you don't need to think whether you want to try it, you just do. But as the game is relatively slow after you used up your initial stack of resources, many people simply get bored and don't come back. So the map is littered with inactive villages in very early stages of development, no defense, no crannies, just sitting there and waiting to be raided. So everybody just sends his troops to "farm" those inactive villages, with the only risk being that you arrive after somebody else already plundered the spot.

The other problem of Travian is that because it is free, you just need a couple of other e-mail addresses to set up several villages instead of just one. Then you use the secondary villages to send goods to your primary village. That is considered cheating, and there are special "multihunters" around trying to catch players who do that, but that sort of cheating is so easy that it is hard to prevent.

It is pretty obvious that problems like these wouldn't exist if Travian had a monthly fee. Inactive players would stop paying and their villages get deleted. Cheating with multiple villages would be expensive, and thus less widespread.

In most MMORPGs inactive players or multiple accounts are less of a problem. But even there I noticed that the game being free, or having a free trial, tends to attract a lot of younger, immature players, often behaving badly, as they have nothing to lose. So I wonder if having free games is a good idea at all. Maybe instead of having free trials or free games with "premium" services that cost money, online games should have free trial servers separated from the servers for people who pay.

Monday, July 10, 2006

WoW Journal - 11-July-2006

Does anyone know what exactly triggers the war effort event in World of Warcraft? I had thought it would start 30 days after the server opened, which was what happened on my previous attempt to start on a new server. But this time the even started just 27 days after the server opened up. I wonder if it is triggered by somebody doing a quest step for the Ahn'Qiraij sceptre.

In any case, the war effort starting had the usual effect on the economy: resources disappeared in no time from the auction house, then reappeared at much higher prices. And at the same time the supply of green items on the auction house substantially increased.

Of course I had saved up all the bandages I produced when skilling up first aid, and the light and medium leather I had gotten from skinning. I handed in the bandages and some of the leather, until I had 105 commendation signets, and tons of greens. I exchanged the commendation signets for more green items, kept what I could use, and put the rest up for sale, together with the remaining leather. Soon money was pouring in. I think I'll spend some time fishing and cooking for the cooked fish part of the war effort, as I'll need the money for buying a mount at level 40.

After all the transactions for the war effort, I went questing. I set my hearthstone to Southshore, then went to Thandol Span. First dived under the bridge to get the letter from the dead dwarf, which starts one quest. Then up again, and used a swiftness potion to jump onto the freestanding western column. Got the quest from the dwarf there to transport alcohol quickly to Southshore, and used the hearthstone to do it without problems. Handed in the letter from the dead dwarf to his wife, who sent me to the king, who sent me to the sculptor, who sent me back to Hillsbrad to gather granite. The granite is in the yeti cave, which is one of the best grinding spots in the low 30s, especially if you are either miner or skinner. So I killed a lot of yetis, leveled to 34, got a lot of medium leather skinned from them for the war effort, plus bits of yeti fur and granite for quests.

Right now skinning is quite profitable. But I'm still wondering whether I should abandon it for mining. I'd be at a good level for mining, I could gather copper and tin easily, and then get iron and mithril while killing yetis and ogres in Alterac. I never had a miner able to mine thorium, and the idea to be able to find the extremely overpriced arcane crystals is tempting.

Peaceful online gaming

I blame the Americans. Just kidding. But did you notice how all multiplayer online games seem to be about violence? There are MMORPG where players either kill each other in PvP or kill computer controlled creatures in PvE. There are all sorts of shooter and strategy games where players can't do anything but attacking each other. There are a only a handful of peaceful online games, A Tale in the Desert, The Sims Online, or Second Life, and despite getting lots of coverage from the media, there aren't very many people interested in playing these.

I've read an article in The Escapist about playing Animal Crossing with strangers, via Nintendo DS wireless connections, but where is Animal Crossing Online? Where are the massively multiplayer games in which each player controls a village, city, or factory, and interacts with other players without the option of attacking them? Where is "Sid Meier's Railroads Online"? Or Zoo Tycoon Online, where players can trade rare animals with each other and compete to build the biggest zoo? Where is a version of EVE Online after galactic peace has broken out, and players can shoot neither each other nor are there any pirates to attack. I'd like to play Ports of Call online, a shipping simulation we used to play many years ago on my Amiga. Or economic games like Industry Giant. Hey, I would even play The Sims Online, if somebody made a half-decent version of that game, the current one is atrocious.

In my Real Life ® I have all sorts of peaceful interaction with other people, be that social or economic, and there is no violence whatsoever. In my virtual lives I either fight with or against other people, with social and economic interactions being of lesser importance. And I think peaceful online gaming could be a huge market opportunity, as not everybody enjoys violence, even if it is just pixelated. Maybe Will Wright's Spore will be the game I'm looking for, but the intro flash animation doesn't look very peaceful to me, and "galactic dominance" seems to be the final goal of the game. Do games have to be violent to sell?

Opportunity cost in WoW

In MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, your main investment is time. People might complain about the $15 monthly cost, but provided you play more than 3 hours per month, at a US minumum wage of $5.15 the time you invest in WoW is a lot more valuable than the monetary cost. And you need to spend your time wisely, as with all investments. You might want to have one character of every possible class at level 60 in tier 3 epic armor, with an epic mount, and all factions to exalted, but you're not likely to get there anytime soon, and you have to prioritize.

Whatever goal you pursue has an "opportunity cost", of another goal you can't reach at the same time. For example after over 2000 hours played I still don't have an epic mount on any character. I'm sure if I really wanted I could make 10 to 20 gold per hour farming stuff, but that would mean 50 to 100 hours (2 to 3 weeks at my rate of play) of time spent not going after other goals, which interest me more. In 100 hours I could explore a new class by leveling a new character to 30 or so. I could go on about 20 raids, or 30+ instance dungeons. Or I could make some serious improvement to one faction reputation, not that I'm likely to, I don't like grinding faction.

So what are the goals that you decided to put on a backburner? The things you would like to do/have, but never find the time to, because other goals are more important?

Sunday, July 9, 2006

WoW Journal - 10-July-2006

Another weekend on the raid circuit, two raids to Molten Core, one to Onyxia, with my low level priest played in between. Nothing really exciting on the high level side to report. In the two MC raids we killed everything up to and including Majordomo and decided not to waste our time on Ragnaros, due to low average fire resistance. Not my fault, my fire resistance is now 148 unbuffed, which isn't half bad for a priest. The MC raids weren't perfect, we had a couple of unnecessary wipes, but in general it was okay.

The Onyxia raid was short, we killed her on the first attempt. While my fire resistance and absorption capacity with potions was good, it turned out I wasn't claw resistant. Somehow my healing drew aggro on me in phase 3, and Onyxia critted me for 3500 points, and killed me with a second strike immediatedly afterwards. I still have to survive a combat against her, but at least we won in the end.

Onyxia dropped the priest tier 2 head piece, and in Molten Core we had found a robe and a crown of prophecy. Neither of these went to me, but at least the top 2 priests in the DKP list are now full epic, so more stuff will hopefully trickle down to me. Not that I'm complaining about my amount of epics, with 3 prophecy parts and the Will of Arlokk staff I'm already quite well equipped. But there are priests in the guild with more DKP than I have and not a single epic, due to our strange positive sum DKP system.

As the next 4 weekends I will be on holiday, and my laptop isn't exactly raid-enabled, I'm basically taking a month break from raiding now. That will kill my DKP score, relatively speaking, as in a positive sum system everybody else's score will go up. But I hope that those priests who already have more points than me and no epics will receive a lot of drops, as only if everybody above me already has the item I can get it. The break from raiding isn't unwelcome, I'm starting to get bored with MC and Onyxia.

But a break from raiding doesn't mean a break from World of Warcraft. I should be able to continue to level my low level priest on the laptop during the holidays, if I find the time between other holiday activities. My priest hit level 33 this weekend. I finished all the quests in Duskwood, including the elite ones. My only complaint about those quests is that there are far too many times where you have to run from Raven Hill to Darkshire and back, even if you group your quests as efficiently as possible. In the end I refused to run that any more, and instead took the shorter way from the cemetary to the Westfall flight point and took the gryphon to Darkshire.

The only dungeon I did this weekend with my low level priest was Gnomeregan. Good group, but the guys were in a hurry. We didn't do the lower level quests outside the instance, like Techbot, but went directly and on the shortest way to Thermaplugg. No wipe, we killed the end boss, I got nice xp, but neither the quest rewards nor the bosses in the dungeon dropped anything remotely useful for a priest. I could have taken a blue cloth robe as quest reward, but it didn't have +int bonus, and I didn't consider it useful.

Unfortunately that character is now in the level range I hate the most, the "Stranglethorn Hole", where the game has the least variety of places to go and zones to explore. As I've been avoiding Stranglethorn with my last characters, and know the Horde quests there better than the Alliance quests, I went to the Stranglethron rebel camp and got quests there. That sent me to the Kurzen camp, and one of the most unpleasant mobs in the game: Kurzen Medicine Man. These have powerful heals, often appear in pairs healing each other, and regenerate mana so fast that they can keep up self-healing forever if you try to solo a pair of them. In the end I grouped with a rogue, and used Mana Burn to drain them of mana, and we managed to kill enough of them to get 7 Jungle Remedies each for our quests.

I also did the two first parts of the tiger and panther killing quests in Stranglethorn, plus the first raptor part. But now the remaining quests are a bit too high for a level 33, I think I'd better look elsewhere for level 30 quests. Maybe Hillsbrad. I think I'll skip Desolace this time, and the Shimmering Flats of Thousand Needles I've also already done far too often. If I can't find any nice quests, I'll just start grinding yetis and ogres in Alterac for a couple of levels, which is boring but easy, and is relatively fast leveling.

Approaching level 35 I will have to decide whether I want to keep up tailoring and skinning as tradeskills. Tailoring was good for early money, but there are too many tailors now, and profits aren't good any more. Do I want to skill up tailoring just for making runecloth bags for myself? Do I want to switch to herbalism / alchemy, knowing that it will block large parts of my inventory and bank? The announced jewelcrafting sounds interesting, but I'm not sure whether I can already learn a craft which combines well with it. If gathering jewels from veins doesn't destroy the veins, a combination with mining sounds good. But if you can do only either mining or jewel gathering from any given vein, I might want to keep tailoring to craft cloth items with sockets. Decisions, decisions. Anybody got some clever advice?

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Jewelcrafting info

Blizzard published some info on jewelcrafting, the new tradeskill to be introduced in the Burning Crusade expansion. It seems that the gems will be coming from the already existing ore veins, just using a different skill applied to them.

Some features are nice, giving you a real choice. For example the sockets you put the gems in are colored. Now you can either put in gems with a matching color and end up with a bonus, or you can ignore the colors and the bonus and put in gems giving you the stats you really want. I'm also quite happy with the information that tailors, blacksmiths, and leatherworkers will gain new recipes for socketed items.

But of course the final judgement has to be reserved for the time that this change actually goes live.

Friday, July 7, 2006


People are unable to a surprising degree to recognize changes in themselves. They get around that problem by ascribing all changes they see to being changes of the environment. Thus are born the "good old times", and nostalgia for many things that don't deserve it. Now nostalgia has hit the MMORPG world with a vengeance, with the original Everquest opening up so-called "progression servers", where you can play EQ1 just the way it was in 1999, without the expansion sets. The expansions will be opened up one by one through player actions.

I can recognize a bad idea if I see one, so I'm not playing. But quite a lot of people are gripped by nostalgia and are playing on the progression servers. At least a while. I've seen quite a number of different blog entries and message board discussions about it. But usually after a while the nostalgia fades, and people notice that the graphics are kind of bad, and that EQ1 death penalties suck.

I remember the "good old times" of Everquest, and I had a lot of fun then. But most of the fun was due to exploring a game concept that was new, and an unknown world with unknown possibilities. The reason I'm not even trying to go back there is that I know that I can't. I have changed, my innocence is gone, my demands in computer graphics quality have gone up, and my tolerance for grind and bad game mechanics has gone down. The exactly same game that had be glued to the screen six years ago totally fails to excite me now, because I have moved on, and so has the frame of reference.

Nevertheless I'm not immune to nostalgia. My regular attempts to restart a second WoW career on a brand new server is certainly driven in part by my memories of the "good old times" when World of Warcraft was still about playing together with friends, and not about DKP systems. But there are also more realistic reasons, like player level demographics. When I tell here about my adventures with pickup groups in low level dungeons, that is something which would be a lot harder to realize if I tried to level a character on an old server, especially on the Horde side. Going to a new server, playing Alliance, and playing a priest, are decisions that are *designed* to enable me playing in the small group style which I have identified to be the most fun for me.

Of course some people's nostalgia is motivated by their feeling that some expansion set or change to the game has made the game much worse than it was. I've heard about some crazy Star Wars Galaxies players planning to create a reverse engineered pre-NGE SWG private server, not that I believe that this would ever work. In Dark Age of Camelot the "Classic" servers, which let you play without the terrible grind of the Trials of Atlantis expansion, are apparently very popular. So maybe in a couple of years we will see "Classic" WoW servers. I don't think I will play on those.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

WoW Journal - 7-July-2006

It is surprising how after nearly 2 years of WoW I still end up finding new aspects of the game. Last night I played with my low level priest in a way that was slightly different from anything I had done before: farming the Scarlet Monastery graveyard with a group. Now I had farmed the SM graveyard solo with a level 60 when that was still one of the more profitable ways to make gold. But when going to an instance with a group it was usually not a farming operation, but for quests. And 99% of the groups I've been in visited a particular instance only once, with only a few exceptions where I went with the same group twice to get some loot that didn't drop the first time. But with last night's group I farmed the SM graveyard 4 times, and we stopped somewhere in the middle of the 5th run.

It all started with me getting a tell inviting me to a SM graveyard group, last slot for a healer. I love that kind of invites, because it means I don't need to stand around waiting forever for the group to be complete. We travelled to SM with only a small incident, avoiding the entrance to Undercity because of group mates which stupidly had a PvP flag on I got too close to the zeppelin tower, and got killed by the guards there. Fortunately the graveyard is right next to the Scarlet Monastery, and I just rezzed there and called it a shortcut.

So we arrived at the Scarlet Monastery, and started killing. Me as priest, one warrior, one warlock, and two rogues, a good group composition for fast killing. With the SM graveyard having 2 chests, both of which can potentially be locked, having a rogue in the group is good. On the first run we meet a rare boss, Azshir the Sleepless, who drops a Necrotic Wand, which I win with a need roll against the warlock. Great, the thing has over 10% more DPS than my previous wand. We continue straight on into the crypt, kill the boss there, get an off-hand item for the warlock, and decide to go back out to reset the dungeon. But on the way out we run into the new boss, Scorn, patched in with the Scourge invasion patch 1.11, which as we find out is summoned by killing the end boss of the SM graveyard. We weren't prepared for that and most of us die. I try to run for the exit, but that only ends in me being out of range when the surviving rogue loots Scorn, so I don't even get a chance to roll for his nice necklace.

Well, we run back as ghosts, meet up again outside of the instance, and I reset the dungeon, having been promoted to group leader after the original group leader had to relog once. This new "reset all instances" option in the group menu is quite useful. So we do a second run, no rare boss this time, kill the mobs, empty the chests, kill the end boss, and this time we are prepared for Scorn. Scorn in level 34 elite, with us being level 30 to 32, and he has a nasty frostbolt multishot, but this time we prevail without losses. He drops a nice dagger with good damage, and a small bonus on damage and healing spells, Scorn's Focal Dagger. I'm not even interested, but both rogues and the warlock are. Of course the warlock claims that it is a caster dagger. Now that is a good argument for a guild group, but in a pickup group you can't expect to get far with that. Of course both rogues roll need on the dagger, as it deals higher damage than their best dagger, and one of them wins the roll over the warlock. The warlock is angry, just says "wtf!", leaves the group without another word and logs out. Bleh!

The rest of us decides that we don't actually need the warlock. We go out, reset the instance again, and successfully run it two more times in a group of four. Works like a charm. All in all a very profitable venture, I make over half a level in experience, the wand, a couple of greens, and lots of silk and cash.

The rest of the evening I spend soloing. I do a couple of quests in Stormwind, finishing the Defias quest line by exposing and killing the traitor in Stormwind castle. The part where you need to provide some silk and two apples to a gnome for him to disguise his robot as female human to lure out the traitor always makes me smile, since I realized what exactly he needed the two apples for. :) And of course the Seal of Wrynn quest reward is nice. I also do the Stormwind parts of the Missing Diplomat quest, but stop that quest line before it leads me to the Wetlands, the fight in Menethil Harbor is too tough at level 30.

Finally I travel around on the Legend of Stalvan quest line from Duskwood. That involves lots of traveling and only one fight against a level 32 mob at the end, but the 4100 xp quest reward for the final step make me ding level 31. All in all quite a good evening.

Gold farming racism

I caught myself using the term "Chinese gold farmer", but after some very derogatory anti-Chinese remarks I heard in WoW chat, I realized that this is a bit racist. The assumption that all gold farmers are Chinese, or all Chinese are gold farmers, is pretty ridiculous. Even my favorite webcomic, PVPOnline from Scott Kurtz, is making fun about it.The only excuse that I can offer is that I once did a WHOIS lookup on, and the company is in fact registered in Hong Kong. But that doesn't tell us who the employees of IGE are or where they live. And IGE, while being the largest gold farming company, is far from being the only one.

Why do we assume that somebody who is farming gold for selling has to be Chinese? There are quite a lot of third world countries like Mexico, Malaysia, or the Phillipines where you could base a gold farming operation in. You just need people willing to sit for hours on a computer for low wages and having a bare minimum of English. Come to think of it, that description might even fit an US American high-school kid. :) So what has gold farming to do with China?

Rewarded for being 40

One thing that struck me when comparing Molten Core with Zul'Gurub was that the two places are pretty much equal in difficulty. My guild's chance to wipe due to some hickup is as high when killing a MC boss than it is when killing a ZG boss. And for me as individual participant in the raid the difficulty is also very much the same. The only difference is that for MC you need to gather twice as many people, and then you get much better loot in MC than in ZG.

On yesterdays raid from two bosses we only got one real epic, the Will of Arlokk. We got two Primal Hakkari items, which can be exchanged for epics, but a) you need to have good faction for that, and then b) the epic item you get is slightly worse than MC loot. Compare for example MC's priest set, the Vestments of Prophecy with the ZG priest set, the Confessor's Raiment. And even if you consider the Primal Hakkari items to be as good as Molten Core loot, in most cases the ZG bosses just drop one of them plus one or two blue items, while the MC bosses drop at least two epic items each.

So as long as you can get 40 people together, going to Molten Core instead of going to Zul'Gurub is a no-brainer. Better loot for same challenge, great. Only when numbers are low, or you are waiting for MC to reset, or you are just looking for some variety, you are going to Zul'Gurub. Nobody would ever suggest that a guild first needs to get equipment from ZG to be able to go to MC, it is not a stepping stone on the way to BWL and Naxxramas as MC is.

So what the players are basically being rewarded for when going to MC is for their ability to form bigger groups. Which is something that I find strange. A 5-man dungeon is often more challenging for the individual player than a raid. But the 5-man dungeons yield the least good loot, and then the quality of the loot improves with the number of players. Now getting 40 players together at the same time is certainly not easy and requires some organizational talent. But that talent is only required from a few people, the guild and raid leaders, not all 40 participants. No wonder that raiding is so popular, the majority of participants is being rewarded with epics for the organizational skills of someone else. Organizing a good group to Scholomance yourself would be more difficult, and give you less reward for the same number of hours spent.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

WoW Journal - 6-July-2006

I had a quite interesting evening, playing both of my priests again. My low-level priest was doing quests in Duskwood, when he met a mage on a field full of worgen. I buffed the mage, he buffed me, and then he asked me whether I wanted to group with him. As I needed to kill those worgen for a quest, I agreed. Now a mage / priest duo is interesting. The mage ran around and aggroed half a dozen worgen, then killed them with AoE spells, while I kept him alive. Reminded me a lot of the old days when I was quadkiting in Everquest with my druid, just that in WoW it goes a lot faster.

Then I switched to my high-level priest and joined a Zul'Gurub raid. That is something I rarely do, because my guild does the 40-man raids on weekends, and the 20-man raids during the week, and I'm usually not staying up long enough to raid on a weeknight. But occasionally I make an exception, just to see other places than MC and Onyxia. On this trip we killed the panther boss and the tiger boss, but failed to kill the hydra in the water around Hakkar's island.

The good news is that from this raid I received the Will of Arlokk staff. The bad news is that I only got it after a nasty discussion, because some people claimed that this was a staff for druids only. Excuse me? A staff with +35 spirit bonus doesn't exactly shout "druid" to me. But the argument was that "priests get Benediction", so they wouldn't be qualified for any other staves. Now I've read the guide how to get Benediction, and I don't see me getting that staff anytime soon. We will have to kill Majordomo a couple more times before I could even get the first piece for the quest, and then there is WoW's most difficult solo event, which you can try only every two hours, and if a stranger just happens to run and does anything, you lose. And then you still need to assemble a raid to kill Kazzak in the Blasted Lands. So the assumption that all priests get the Benediction staff is simply wrong. That is like saying tanks aren't allowed to roll for weapons, because they get Quel'Serar.

Well, in the end I got the Will of Arlokk, and it is looking great. The staff has a very fancy large snake head, and looks better even than Benediction. Now I actually *look* like someone equipped with epics. :) The only problem is that I'll have to gather the materials for another +22 int enchantment again. I hadn't thought I'd find anything better than the Trindlehaven Staff for some time, so I wasted the materials to enchant that one a few weeks ago. Well, I still have the bank full of enchanting materials, I just need to get some more Greater Eternal Essences.

Massively multiplayer (role-playing?) games

Every two weeks I spend one evening playing Dungeons & Dragons v3.5, old-fashioned pen and paper role-playing. My character is a mage under the delusion of being the greatest mage of all times, and as he finds himself in a relatively magic-poor environment full of unsophisticated barbarians, that illusion is easy to keep up. So I'm casting spells often just to impress non-player characters, and use my magic in many imaginative ways. And then I come back to World of Warcraft and ask myself how the heck the "RP" part ended up in the MMORPG acronym.

On most servers there is not even the faintest suggestion of role-playing. None of my characters has a background story. People chose their classoften mostly for functional reasons, a mage is made to deal a lot of damage, not not impress anybody with magic. Race is chosen often either for looks, racial traits, or just to start in a newbie area you don't know yet. And close to nobody reads the lore. Actually people don't even read the quest description further than the short summary at the top, you can often hear people asking in General chat for information which is clearly given in the body of the quest text.

I'm not really tempted to play on a role-playing server, because I don't think people will be much different there. Lots of people on a RP server have a background story and try to role-play, but the effort usually fails because everybody is so wound up in their own story that they completely ignore the story of the other players. There aren't many people willing and able to encounter somebody, and play along to that guys story. Roleplaying on a RP server is usually limited to small groups of friends that agreed upon a common story to play along, but the other 3000 players on the same server are completely ignorant of that story. In any case it isn't possible for players to change the world with their stories. The story of you and your friends which culminates in slaying the evil dragon Onyxia only creates a short and limited illusion of you having slain Onyxia. In reality she exists in infinite copies and even for you she will resurrect every 5 days.

"Role-playing" in the context of computer games, single- or massively multi-player, has long since been reduced to the idea that the player plays a single avatar, and that this avatar has stats and skills which develop with time. But that is just the "rules" part of classic pen and paper games. But a role in pen and paper is not just the rules governing what skills a character of that class can use, and how they evolve. Many pen and paper role-player regard such rules as something which should be minimized, lest the game evolves into a rules-lawyering fight. The important thing is the story, and how the players act in relation to the story and to each other. And the story is largely independant of the rules, we once played a Warhammer campaign using rules from a different fantasy RPG system, because we liked the setting, but not the Warhammer rules. And one Call of Cthulhu of ours went horribly wrong, because the players were still in a monster-bashing fantasy mind-set and started hunting the werewolf with a hand grenade in a silver teapot instead of being in any way afraid of him.

Playing World of Warcraft involves knowing how your spells and abilities work, and how the mobs will react to you using them. If you look at most situation in the game from a "role-playing" point of view, they are utterly unrealistic: You can kill a mob in plain sight just a few meters from his friends, and as long as they are outside of some artificial aggro radius they won't join the fight. A slain monster rematerializes a few minutes later out of thin air. You get a reward for delivering a secret information that another thousand players before already delivered. The game world is not so much persistent as static, continually self-regenerating to its initial state.

Maybe we should follow Lum the Mad's suggestion to call our games MMOGs instead of MMORPGs. Because unless you *define* role-playing as being just about character stats, a MMORPG has not much in common with real role-playing.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

WoW Journal - 5-July-2006

I was playing World of Farmcraft last night, farming the same spot all evening long. I was following a reader's advice to try to find the pattern for the robes of arcana. I had checked the AH first, and found there was a pattern there for over 5 gold, and several robes for over 2 gold, but I still thought it might be worth getting the pattern myself. The pattern for the robes of arcana drops either from the voidcallers in the Tower of Althalaxx in Darkshore, or from the Defias enchanters in Duskwood. As the drop-rate is similar, and I remember the tower being quite nasty to solo, I searched for the enchanters in Duskwood.

The best spot I found was Addle's Stead, the farm just south of the road when you enter the zone from Westfall. In and around the house and the barn are about a dozen spawn points which either have a rogue or an enchanter. My priest being level 28, and later 29, and the Defias being level 25 to 27, the only dangerous part was the barn with its 4 spawn points. But I found that if I killed the guy closest to the door and then ran away, I could kill the other three on the second attempt, as without the guy in the middle they aren't linked any more. I also tried classic "spawn breaking" tactics, but found they didn't work in that situation, as the 4 mobs in the barn always spawn simultaneously, even if you killed them one by one.

After a bit over an hour I found the pattern for the robes of arcana. But I had also noticed that the area had 4 spawn points for chests, and that the Defias gave quite good loot, and the xp weren't bad either. So I just kept farming the place for the rest of the evening. I didn't find a second pattern, but ended up with a bag full of greens, lots of cloth, good cash, and dinged to level 29. The gameplay was more like Everquest than World of Warcraft, but for a change for one evening that wasn't so bad. You can learn a lot about a camp spot, and how exactly mobs behave, if you farm it for a longer time than strictly required for doing a quest. Thus the only quest I finished there was getting the Defias docket from the Addle's Stead farmhouse (not the barn) for the Missing Diplomat quest line.

I don't know yet if the pattern is going to make me any money. The spider's silk you need for the robe are relatively expensive, at 25 silver apiece on the AH. So making the robe costs around 1 gold. I put up three robes for 1 gold bid, 2 gold buyout, undercutting the other tailors by 40 silver. But at that time there were 8 other robes on the AH, and the owners can always further undercut me. But for playing in a different way for once, the evening was well worth it.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Hours to full epic

I was playing pen and paper D&D yesterday evening, but everybody in my D&D group also plays World of Warcraft, and so we started WoW and showed off our characters. The best equipped among us played a couple of other characters first, and finally settled on a druid. He is "full epic", having mostly tier 1 epics or equivalent, with a few tier 2 epics thrown in. Looks very impressive, and of course the character has great stats. But while he was showing his character, one of the addons automatically displayed his /played time, and he had played that druid for over 73 days, or 1750 hours. That is more than one man-year of work on a job!

My priest only has three tier 1 epics, and two tailored epics, but I also only have 22 days played. And I'm not really sure if getting to full epic is worth the other 50 days. I'm not sure it would actually take 50 days, but between the raiding, the necessary farming to pay for potions and repair bills, and grinding faction or farming for resistance items I can imagine that it takes a lot of hours. My warrior has 40 days played, and only one tier 1 item, but it is him who is doing some of the farming for the priest. On the other side I can take a new character on a new server and get him to level 60 in less than 15 days of /played time, and that is without pushing it. My level 60 priest actually only took 13 days to 60, with a bit of twinking.

So I am wondering if going for "full epic" is really worth it. What is more fun, having one character fully equipped in epics, or having played 5 characters to level 60? As always I'm targeting maximum variety, not maximum power. At the moment I'm still doing a mixed approach, raiding on the weekends and leveling during the week, but I don't think I'll miss raiding terribly when I'll be out on holidays.

Purpose becomes destiny

I'm still trying to figure out why most guilds in World of Warcraft feel so different from what guilds used to be in previous games. Being a scientist I try to do that by looking at data, in this case the guild recruitment ads that are spammed quite frequently on the new server I'm playing on. The ads are spammed in the LookingForGroup channel, because many people still have that one turned on out of necessity, while the LookingForGuild channel is unused, as it can't be heard by the large number of players already in a guild.

The new server is now 20 days old, and while there are already a handful of level 60 characters, the median level of the people online yesterday was about 16. (That is half of the players online were over level 16, half under) But in spite of this low level population, 9 out of 10 guild ads I saw mentioned endgame raiding, half mentioned helping each other, 2 were based on a non-english language, and none mentioned playing together before level 60.

In other words, the generally considered purpose of a guild in WoW is raiding. Reaching level 60 is considered to be easy, with no organization necessary to support it, except for occasional help with some quest or giving somebody an item you don't need. People generally solo, they sometimes group with guild mates because finding a good group in guild chat is easier than finding a good pickup group, but playing together is considered optional. When the leveling game ends, the only content left is raiding, and that requires an organization. Guilds are a necessity to raid, thus raiding becomes a guild's purpose. And if you organize something to a specific purpose, you often arrive there, and raiding becomes the destiny of the guild.

The difference to the other guilds I've been in in older games is that I had never made it into a "raiding" guild, while in WoW nearly every guild is one. The purpose of my previous guilds was playing together with people you knew, the online equivalent of friends. People took care not to drift too far apart in levels, because that would have made playing with friends difficult. Raiding didn't enter into the equation, because most of us didn't think we would ever make it there, although we were aware it existed. I'm not saying that this old style of guild was better, we certainly had our fair share of guild drama, but somehow it felt less mercenary. And the turnover, people hopping from guild to guild, was much lower.

So I wonder if the quality of guild live in WoW could be improved if guilds could be given another purpose than just raiding. For example in A Tale in the Desert the purpose of the guild evolves with the "level" of technology, doing easy projects together in the early game, and cooperating on larger projects like building pyramids in the later game. I also liked the idea of guild bases in City of Villains, where everybody during his adventures can pick up items that serve to equip and enhance the base, which is then something fought about and defended in guild vs. guild PvP. I do think that if World of Warcraft had guild housing, ways could be found in which everybody in the guild, regardless of level, could contribute to building up the guild house. And by giving a guild a cooperative project which goes beyond farming epics in raids, a greater coherence of the guild could be reached.

Travian Journal - 3-July-2006

I've decided to occasionally blog my progress in Travian. That is probably not a brilliant idea, because it is a competitive strategy game, and "the enemy" might read it, whoever he might be. But I'm relying on not being *that* famous, and the potential opponents not googling me (because "Travian Tobold" might well find me on Google). In any case, Travian is a lot slower than World of Warcraft, so there won't be that much to report.

My village on server 6 is now one week old. Which means that my 7-day "newbie protection" is ending now, and my neighbors could now attack me and try to steal my resources by raiding me. No, no, that's not the same sort of raid as in WoW, in Travian a raid is closer to the original meaning of the word, a small attack with the purpose of stealing stuff by force. There are two possible ways to avoid being "farmed" by somebody else: have troops for defense, or try to make sure that the raider doesn't get much from raiding you, and moves on to a more profitable target.

Now troops I don't have any yet, I haven't even built barracks. My village is Roman, and the Romans have good troops, but they are a tad expensive. Also if I use my resources to build troops, I can't use the resources to increase my production, which would slow down my economy. Of course if I had troops I could try to make them pay for their cost by raiding myself, but when the troops are out raiding, they don't defend my village any more. And it's easy to make enemies when raiding other players, unless the other player is inactive.

So currently I'm going for the "unattractive target" strategy. That involves two parts, having very few resources on stock, and preventing the resources I have from getting stolen. Having few resources on stock is in any case a good idea, in Travian you should always invest your resources in increasing your production as soon as you have enough resources for the next upgrade. The trick is to build production of wood, clay, iron, and food in the same proportion that you are using them, so you aren't blocked from building something because of lack of clay, while your iron stocks are overflowing. I'm trying to keep my production on a ratio of 5:6:4:3, which seems to work reasonably well. In any case if you run low in one particular resource, but not the others, building up e.g. clay production costs very little clay, but lots of the other resources, so by building whatever is fastest to build you balance out naturally.

For preventing resources to be stolen Travian has a special building called a "cranny". I think I slightly exaggerated here, because I built up my cranny to level 6, allowing me to hide up to 360 resources of each type from raiders. Even against Teutons, who have a bonus against crannies, I still hide 240 resources of each type. My production levels are around 40 resources of each type per hour, so I can hide up to 9 hours of production away from non-Teuton raiders. So as long as I use up most of my resources before and after work, and before and after going to sleep, I'm pretty well covered. Of course the cranny also did cost me some resources, thus being a drain on my economic development. But I'm thinking of it like some sort of insurance. If no raider comes, lucky me, but if somebody raids me, I'm covered for most of my losses, the raider goes home with little or no loot, and hopefully doesn't come back.

The plan for the next week is to keep increasing production, and not to build any buildings in the village, except maybe upgrading the cranny as needed. That isn't terribly exciting, but I figure that if I stay patient and build up my economy first, I can easily afford good troops later. If I build troops now, I only risk losing them before they earned more resources in raiding than their cost is.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

WoW Journal - 3-July-2006

Another weekend playing my two priests, but this time the level 60 priest was more successful. I did one Onyxia raid and two Molten Core raids with him. For the first time my guild managed to kill Onyxia, after three wipes. The only annoying thing was that during the three wipes I had used Greater Fire Protection potions to good effect and had always been one of the last men standing. But on the successful attempt I had run out of potions, and died from the first deep breath in phase 2.

At least we learned one thing: the "dots, more dots" is not just a funny quote from the crazy raid leader audio file. By watching the dots on Onyxia I found that Onyxia has Decursive installed, and the dots you cast on her last a lot less long than they should. So I had to basically spam Shadow Word: Pain on her, with only a few bolts from the wand in between dot casts.

Molten Core was also relatively successful, I got my third piece from the prophecy set, the vambraces. Starting from 3 pieces one gets the first set bonus, so now my flash heals are 0.1 seconds faster. Might actually be useful, although I'm not one of those priests that just spam flash heal, I use all of my healing spells, depending on situation. Sometimes a 2.5 second greater heal is better than two 1.4 second flash heals, but not always.

In spite of all those successes I'm a bit burned out on my level 60 characters. After each raid I repair, restock potions, move to the entrance of the next raid dungeon, and log off to play my low level priest. I only play the level 60 for raiding, not because I like raiding so much, but because I'm still trying to maximize variety, and I couldn't raid with my low level character.

The other priest made it to level 28 over the weekend. He also made it to 225 tailoring skill, which is the maximum he can have at this level. So now I'm fully kitted out in self-made mageweave bags. I'll try to earn some money making those, but even on a young server making money with crafting isn't easy. But at least reaching this level in tailoring didn't cost me all that much money, often I could sell the items I made to skill up at least at cost.

Highlights of my adventuring with the low level priest this weekend were two nice dungeon trips, to Blackfathom Deeps and to Razorfen Kraul. I would have liked to find the rod of the sleepwalker in BFD, but Lord Kelris didn't drop it. But I did have the quest to get his head, and thus earned the Gravestone Sceptre as reward, which is a very nice wand for that level. I think I'll do at least one more BFD run another day, I haven't finished all the quests there yet, and there is always the chance that the rod of the sleepwalker drops next time.

Razorfen Kraul I wasn't prepared for, I just got a tell from somebody looking for a priest. Level 28 is actually a bit too low for there, but it worked out all right. Just that I didn't have the quest to kill the end boss, and the quest can't be shared, so I missed out on that reward. I didn't find any special loot in RFK either, but of course at level 28 the experience points in there are rather good, especially with a very fast group like the one I was in.

At level 28 I'm well ahead of the average level of the players on the new server. Thus the people I'm grouping with now are those who advanced faster than the average, and that often means better players. I didn't have a single "pickup group from hell" this weekend. My new guild there is nice enough, but it seems mostly younger people on summer holiday, playing WoW all day long. I'm close to the lowest level in the guild, and there are already two level 60s. The advantage of that is that somebody donated 52 mageweave cloth to me for my tailoring, which helped a lot. But the disadvantage is that I have little opportunity for guild groups before I catch up with them at 60.

In 11 days I'm going on holiday for three-and-a-half weeks. I will take my laptop, and I think I will have internet access. But I don't think I'll be playing my level 60 at all. Holidays are for other activities than just sitting in front of a computer, and the laptop is a bit underpowered for raids. But I am tempted to play the low level priest a bit, to not fall too much behind. I just have to take care not to overdo it.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Priest respec

My level 60 priest used to be specced 15 discipline and 36 holy. But after playing him in raids and groups for a while I noticed that the top end holy talents are actually not that good. The lightwell I can only use every 10 minutes, and I have no control over who gets healed with it. Often it is somebody who didn't listen when I explained what a lightwell is, and who is just clicking on it with full health to see what happens. The spirit of redemption wasn't as useful as I thought, when I die I lose my target, and by the time I'm transformed into the angel and have reacquired my target, I already lost a part of the 10 seconds in which I can heal for free. So usually I only get 1 greater heal fired off, and not three as I had thought initially. And in a group situation, when I'm dead its often a wipe anyway, the spirit of redemption very rarely saves the situation.

So I decided on a new template: I'm putting 21 points in discipline, which allows me to get the spirit buff. That leaves 30 points in holy, which is enough for all the essential talents there, but leaves out lightwell and spirit of redemption.

Interestingly I found that if you have the spirit buff talent, you get the group spirit buff from your trainer. For the stamina buff and the shadow resistance buff I had to buy a book to get the group version.