Thursday, August 31, 2006

Travelling light

I already told how anti-terrorist measures are forcing me to travel with a clear plastic bag as hand luggage. But of course I am not the only one, everybody else also had to check in most of his luggage, and take only a minimum of hand luggage. And it turns out that this has advantages. I've never boarded and got off a plane that fast before. No more people blocking you from getting to your seat, because they are still trying to cram an oversized "hand" luggage into an undersized overhead storage compartment. No more having to help elderly old ladies to stow a bag that weights more than her. Most people don't even use the overhead storage any more at all, the thin plastic bag easily fits into the seat pocket.

And, to give credit where credit belongs, the people working for the Transport Security Administration (TSA) in the USA did a great job to get everybody through the security checks as fast and efficient as possible. I passed immigration, security checkpoint, and customs in just half a hour, and easily caught my connecting flight in Atlanta. Today I'll travel back to Europe, and hope that everything will go as smooth in this direction as well.

Short trips to the USA are a bit annoying, because for one day of meeting I end up travelling four days, from Tuesday to Friday. On the positive side I arrived early enough on Tuesday evening to still have time for a shopping trip to the mall. So I stocked up on DVDs with American TV series: the complete first seasons of "NCIS" and "House", plus two series I know less well, but was willing to try, "Las Vegas" and "Law and Order". I didn't buy any of the modern fantasy stuff, I watched an episode of Alias on the plane and found it horribly constructed. I'm more into series that are a bit closer to reality, even if I am of course aware that nothing on TV is real. Good that I was travelling light, that way I had room in my suitcase for the stuff I bought.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Burning Crusade talents and spells

Blizzard added a page for talents and spells in the Burning Crusade expansion to their website, so you don't have to rely on leaked screenshots from the alpha testers. Currently 6 out of 9 classes have their talents and spells for the expansion displayed, only priests, druids, and hunters need to wait a bit more.

Logitech G15 keyboard for WoW

It all started with the patch notes for World of Warcraft 1.11. I read them, and found the curious entry there that WoW would now support the Logitech G15 keyboard. G15? What the heck is that? And do I need one? After some research it turned out that the Logitech G15 is a highly desirable backlit keyboard, with lots of extra keys for gaming, plus a LCD display. And the LCD display shows all sorts of useful information as soon as you start up World of Warcraft.

Now all of the information displayed is also available from inside the game. There is a screen with character stats, including number of arrows or shards left, durability of your gear, and how many free bag slots you still have for loot. Another screen gives you a warning whenever you received a tell, or got overbid in an auction. There even is one screen to show you your position in the waiting queue if your realm is full, or when waiting in a battleground queue. The advantage of that is that if you are just waiting, you can ALT-TAB out of WoW, and still get notified if the wait is over, or somebody wants to speak with you.

The Logitech G15 keyboard has 18 programmable keys, which you can switch between three sets, for a total of 54 programmable macros. Now it has been widely reported that some guy got banned for using such a keyboard. But more research revealed that he got banned for playing unattended, and that using the G15 to lets say just cast a series of spells is legal, as confirmed by Blizzard representatives. You just need to be present and able to respond to tells from a GM. That is useful, because if you always start your combats with the same series of spells, you can put them on a hotkey now. And because the G15 hotkey macros can have delays built in, that works a lot better than using WoW macros.

So I decided that I need such a keyboard. But getting one wasn't all that easy. Logitech has problems making enough of them, it seems that every gamer wants one. And as additional problem I of course wanted a keyboard with a US or UK QWERTY layout, so I had to order one from the UK. Most of the third parties offering one via Amazon UK wouldn't ship to continental Europe, and when I finally found one who did, I paid a rather hefty shipping fee. The keyboard arrived yesterday evening, and it *is* looking coolm with its blue backlit keys and the LCD display. After downloading the latest drivers, the LCD display worked perfectly with World of Warcraft. I'm not quite sure whether I will use the programmable macros, not because of any banning risk, but because I don't like to automate games too much. But there are different ways to use the additional G-keys of the G15 for WoW hotkeys. I'm looking forward to experimenting with that when I get back home from the US.

(This blog entry was written from a public internet terminal in the airport business lounge.)

The meaning of terror

As the words "terror" and "terrorist" are nowadays used so often, in every newspaper and TV news, the meaning of the word becomes lost. Most people think that "terror" is about suicide bombs, airplanes, and killing lots of people. But in fact the bombs are just a means to an end. And the end is the real "terror", the fear under which we live every day, long after the bombs.

I am going to fly to the USA tomorrow. The chances that the plane that I am on is going to be bombed by terrorists is so low as to be practically non-existant. The risk of dieing in a plane crash, with or without bomb, is statistically much lower than the risk of dieing when traveling the same distance in a car. Nevertheless I will have to be at the airport 4 hours before the plane leaves, due to increased security checks since some terrorists were caught in London with liquid explosives 2 weeks ago. I am not allowed to take any hand luggage, except a transparent plastic bag containing not more than 1 book, 1 journal, my passport and ticket, baby food if I have a baby and am willing to sample the milk to prove it isn't explosive, and medicaments if I can provide a doctor's certificate that I need them. The newspapers said 2 weeks ago that the terror attack had been prevented, but in fact the terrorists were quite successful in scaring everybody. They don't even *need* to blow themselves up for that any more. Even a dimwit like the shoe bomber can cause millions of airline passengers to have to remove their shoes at the security check every day since 5 years now, and counting. Sooner or later somebody will find out how to produce explosive underwear (I'm not going to describe how to do it, but it is surprisingly easy with cotton underwear), and we will all be forced to fly naked. You have to ask yourself at which point the "terror", the fear of an attack, and the negative effects of reacting to that fear, become worse than the possible bomb.

Well, for me that means that I will be travelling light, not taking my laptop. Theft of valuables, especially laptops and iPods, from checked-in baggage has shot through the roof. And if I can't use the laptop during the waiting periods in the different airports, because I had to check it in, there isn't much use taking it anyway. I'll see if I can get access to the internet in the hotel without a laptop, but don't expect too many blog entries this week. I'll be back on Friday.

WoW Journal - 28-August-2006

I was doing lots of different things in World of Warcraft this weekend, playing three different characters. My Alliance priest leveled up to 56, doing quests in Azshara and Felwood, after having finished with Un'Goro. To me Azshara always seems like a half-finished zone. There are very few quests in that zone, much less than for other zones. There is also a huge mountain with two cave entrances, one marked with Alliance flags, the other with Horde flags, which is obviously destined to become a battleground one day, but is empty right now. And there are some interesting corners with no quests at all, or just a quest fragment leading to nowhere. For example there is a group of shipwrecked people in one of the canyons on the south coast, which give you a quest to repel a naga invasion. But I haven't seen any quests leading you towards this rather hidden group of people. Nor do you get any reward or follow-up quest when you managed to beat off the naga. The whole zone reeks of unfinished business.

As I recently wrote, I'm not quite sure yet what I will do when my Alliance priest hits level 60. Doing level 60 content with him will be pretty much the same as doing the same content with my Horde priest, with no variety of play style on offer. And I don't want to start a new character before the Burning Crusade expansion comes out, as I'd rather do a new character of a new race, so I get to know the new quests from the new starting zones. So in the end I had the idea to reactivate my level 60 Horde warrior. He was leading a life of semi-retirement, just being used as herbalist / alchemist, and not going adventuring any more.

After some analysis I concluded that the reason why I don't play the warrior, who after all was my first level 60 character ever, is that he is spec'd as a tank. That is useful in small groups, but not good for soloing, not fun in PvP, and my guild already has a lot of tanks and so I couldn't go raiding as a tank either. So I rummaged through my bank and put on more damage-oriented gear. And I unlearned my protection talents and went for a build with 18 points in arms and 33 points in fury. So now I'm dual-wielding instead of using a shield, and deal a lot more damage per second.

So I went soloing with my newly spec'd dps warrior, and I liked it. I gathered a lot of the new items for the Argent Dawn, to exchange for insignias. As I already had a lot of reputation with AD, I managed to get up to revered. And at that point I was able to "buy" an 18-slot backpack for just 14 insignia. When I was still on a protection build, solo fights took very long, but I hardly got wounded at all, even if there were adds. As fury warrior the fights are much shorter, but I need to take care to not get too many mobs at once. For farming stuff, the dps warrior build is a lot more efficient. And I think that by just switching gear I would still make a decent tank for a group, although I haven't tried that yet.

What I did try was PvP, in a group with my guild. We did two battles in Arathi Basin, and won both. The opponents were mostly better equipped than I was, as my warrior only has the tier 1 gloves, and the rest of his equipment isn't epic. But we had Teamspeak, and voice communication gives a big advantage in battlegrounds. That was fun to try some PvP, but I'm not going to do much of it before the expansion. I'd rather wait until the honor system is completely revamped, and I can get PvP rewards by slowly building up points, without being forced to compete on a relative scale with people who play all day.

With my Horde priest I did an uneventful Molten Core raid. But the other day my guild went to Blackwing Lair for the very first time. That was the first time I tried the Razorgore encounter. That was a lot of fun, even if we wiped repeatedly and never even got close to finish all the eggs. We had read up on the strategy for the encounter, which involves trying to kite up to 40 angry mobs, but the plan failed somewhere in the small details which you can only learn by experience. This is a very technical fight, and for a guild like ours (huge and semi-casual) this will be an obstacle very hard to overcome. We will need to find the perfect strategy, and then arrive at the perfect execution, with not a single player messing up. With 200 people in the guild, and the composition of the 40-man raid group not being constant, that is rather hard to achieve.

My Alliance priest is, more by accident, in a rather strictly organized tight uber leet guild. If I wasn't a priest, they would have kicked me out long ago, due to slow leveling. As it is, they keep me in reserve, a bit like a spare wheel, you never know when you'll need another priest. :) Anyway, this guild is on a relatively new server, not yet 3 months old. And *they* have beaten Razorgore (without me, of course), on the first attempt. And killed Vael on the same first BWL evening, after a few wipes. Obviously it isn't a question of gear, there is a limit of how many epics you can get out of MC in 2 months. But that guild is much smaller, less than half the size of my Horde guild, and the participation rate of everybody in raids is much higher. Plus they are all experienced raiders from other servers. If everybody knows what to do, and you always raid with more or less the same 40 people, these encounters are a lot more doable.

This observation makes me feel unwell. Whatever "challenge" the developers put in our way, the players will find a way to overcome. But these achievements have a cost. If you can only succeed if you raid always with the same people, you end up kicking out those from the guild who can't play that often. If you can only succeed with certain mix of classes, some classes have a hard time getting into a raid guild. And if only certain talent builds are considered viable, guilds even start fighting over specs. In my leet guild there recently was a big fight because some priests had put some points into shadow, and that caused a huge row about them being "disloyal" to the guild. The harder you make the encounters, the harder the players become. It stops being all fun and games, and becomes dead serious. I noticed that Molten Core for my Horde guild has become more relaxed. Even if a mistake is made, or we have a bad pull, due to us being better equipped and more experienced now we usually recover without wiping. And that limits the amount of stress and the exchange of angry words. With BWL we risk some unpleasantness, when we wipe on Razorgore every weekend for several weeks, and people get frustrated. I'm sure that once we are all level 70, we could do the same encounter easier, having a bit more leeway for small mistakes. To err is human, and encounters that don't allow for error quickly become inhuman.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Downranking heals

I'm always trying to improve my game play, which mostly means becoming a better healer in World of Warcraft. As I have two priests now, one level 60 with lots of epics and one level 55 with a mix of green and blue items, I can compare the stats of the two. And surprisingly stats like intellect, and the resulting health and mana, of the two priests aren't significantly different. When I compare the bonuses from gear, the main difference is that with the epic gear I have a lot more bonus to healing, nearly 400.

Now when researching that a bit closer, it turns out that a healing bonus depends only on the casting time of a spell. Any healing spell that has a normal casting time of 3.5 seconds gets 100% of the bonus. A 1.5 second spell gets only 42% of the bonus. Gear and talents that shorten the casting time do not reduce the bonus. And surprisingly casting a lower rank spell does not reduce the healing bonus either.

Thus in the last raid I used Heal (Rank 4) a lot. With my bonuses it heals about 1250 points, as much as my highest rank Flash Heal (Rank 7). But the mana cost is much lower. With heal I get just over 6 points of healing per mana, while Flash Heal only gives me 3.5 points of healing per mana. Due to my gear Flash Heal has a casting time of 1.4 seconds, and Heal one of 2.5 seconds. So Heal is noticeably slower, and when the damage is coming faster, I need to switch to another spell. But for most of the raid using the lower rank Heal spell was fast enough, and made my mana last a lot longer. I'm also using the highest ranks of Flash Heal and Greater Heal sometimes, when the situation requires it. But for now the downranked healing spell has become my main healing tool.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Reports of PC gaming's death have been greatly exaggerated

Sorry for stealing the words of Mark Twain, but every time a new console is coming out, somebody announces the death of PC gaming. And the more I see, the less I believe it. When the Playstation 2 came out in 2000 it had a launch price of $299, and was considerably cheaper than a PC. It also held a dominant market position, and if you just bought a PS2 and no other console, you weren't missing much for a couple of years. But fast forward to end of 2006 and the situation has changed a lot.

When the Playstation 3 comes out in November, it will cost twice of what the PS2 cost, $599 for the full version, $499 for the "lite" version. I am certain that the PS3 will sell very well, but it will *not* hold such a dominating market share as the PS2 did. The XBox 360 ($399 in the full version) already has a year head start, and has some strong game brands. The Nintendo Wii ($250) coming out at the same time as the PS3 offers some interesting innovations and games beyond what the PS3 can do, and could well win the next generation console wars, due to being much cheaper. But it is already safe to say that the console market will be much more fragmented in the new generation.

Meanwhile PCs have become a lot cheaper. $650 buys you a "gaming" PC from Dell, which would run a game like World of Warcraft smoothly enough. And the use of PCs for other things than gaming in a private household have multiplied since 2000: surfing the net, downloading music, managing and printing digital photos, editing and sharing videos, all these applications have grown a lot, and made the PC a lot more useful than the home office + games machine it was 6 years ago. If you had neither a console nor a PC, and were on a less than $1000 budget, would you really want to buy a console and forego a lot of the additional options you have with a PC? The price of a console is now bigger than the difference between a basic desktop PC and a cheap gaming PC. Plus PC games are cheaper than console games.

The market for personal computer games isn't fragmented at all. Everybody has a "wintel" PC, the market share of Apple is tiny, and there aren't any major games that run only on Apple or Linux, and not on a PC. Whatever console you buy, there will be a bunch of "exclusive" games on the other consoles that you can't play, there is no way to have both Halo and Final Fantasy, without buying two consoles.

In the end, the PC is here to stay, consoles are just developing too slow to keep up with the pace of everchanging applications for private use. And as long as most people own a PC, PC games are here to stay as well. Single-player PC games sales might be declining, but MMORPG sales and subscriptions are on the rise, and millions of people play cheap or free online games on the PC. The battle about the PC's share of the total video games market will have its ups and downs, but reports of PC gaming's death are truly just an exaggeration.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Should a healer deal damage?

Here is a tricky question: Should a holy spec'd priest in a raid try to deal damage when there isn't anything to heal for the moment?

Personally with my priest I often come out of a 4+ hour raid to Molten Core and haven't dealt a single point of damage. The only exceptions are Onyxia phase 2 (Dots! More dots!) and Ragnaros. But all the other trash mobs and bosses in Molten Core or Zul'Gurub I never even try to deal damage. And I have three reasons for that.

First reason is focus. If I start concentrating on dealing damage, I stop focusing on the health bars of whatever raid members I am assigned to. If I'm healing a main tank I would never even have the time to deal damage anyway. But even if I am healing a group of other players, I need to stay focused, because if some mage or rogue in my group gets aggro, he needs healing *fast*.

Second reason is resources, that is mana and time. If I cast damaging spells, I use mana. And if then suddenly we get an add and the fight turns out to be longer and harder than expected, I might have wished I still had that mana for healing. And both casting spells and using a wand blocks the countdown timer for some seconds. If I'm shooting my wand and somebody I should heal gets hit, it takes a lot longer to stop shooting, and wait until the countdown timer is done and I can cast healing spells again.

Third reason against dealing damage is aggro management. When I just heal I usually never get aggroed. But after having dealt damage to Onyxia in phase 2, I sometimes end up getting summoned by her and ripped into pieces in phase 3. Every dead priest is bad news for the whole raid.

But I argued with other priests who say that it is a healers duty to deal damage when he isn't healing, so as to maximize the damage output of the raid. I'm not sure if the tiny amount of damage a holy priest can deal is really worth it, especially if I would use my spells, which have a lousy damage to mana efficiency. What do you say?

WoW expansion every year

Blizzard's chief operating officer Paul Sams announced that not only was the Burning Crusade going to be in time for christmas, but there would be one WoW expansion every 12 month. Seems that WoW is going to dominate the crucial christmas business every year for some time to come.

I am delighted by this news. I think one expansion per year is a big improvement over the previous one expansion after two years schedule. Only a steady stream of new content can keep players in World of Warcraft, and the first expansion is already nearly too late.

Stealing intellectual property

Be it piracy of games, music, or movies over the internet, be it the discussion of virtual property rights, there is a heated debate on intellectual property going on. In most cases the users don't consider stealing intellectual property as a crime, while the industry is working very hard to criminalize it. But what if it is the industry that is stealing from the users?

I just uninstalled two addons for World of Warcraft, Selfcast and Scrolling Combat Text. I used both of them for a long time, but now patch 1.12 added their functionality to the standard user interface. And these are just the last two of a loooooong list. From additional hotkey buttons to raid ready checks, the current World of Warcraft interface contains a lot of ideas that were originally the intellectual property of the addon creators. And Blizzard just stole them, there is no record of Blizzard ever paying anything, or even just giving somebody credit for an user interface improvement idea.

Of course there are advantages of having certain improvements in the standard interface, easily available for everybody, especially improvements that make characters somewhat more efficient. You can easily argue that a character using Selfcast has a tiny advantage over somebody not using it in PvP, as you don't lose valuable split seconds for changing targets. I certainly wouldn't mind WoW introducing the Decursive functionality into the standard interface, as the difference in time it takes to dispell a debuff on a whole raid with and without Decursive isn't even funny any more.

Nevertheless I find it problematic when well known addon developers suddenly realize that the addon they worked on for many hours is suddenly obsolete, its functionality having been stolen by Blizzard, without any recognition for the authors. One sure has the impression that Blizzard monitors what addons are being used, and always steals the most popular ideas. Of course Blizzard probably is using their own code, and isn't stealing the code from the independant developers. But with something like scrolling combat text it becomes hard to argue that Blizzard came up with that idea by themselves, it is so obviously copying the functionality of the addon. Not even giving the addon writers a pat on the back is not a way to treat people who put so much work into improving your product.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Healer, Tank, Random

The vocabulary of MMORPG players is changing all the time. Since a couple of months I hear more and more the term "random" used in the looking for group chat, as in "LF4M DM: tank, healer, 2 random". Initially I took the word at face value, and when somebody was looking for a "random" to go to a dungeon I wanted to go, I applied with my priest. Then I learned that a priest does *not* qualify as random, nor does a warrior. The exact definition of random varies, but it is either anyone who is not a priest or warrior, or for some people anyone from a damage dealing class. Some people do accept a paladin as random, some don't. As a druid or shaman you might need to argue with your talent build to qualify for random.

There is something slightly derogatory behind calling all damage dealers random. It suggests that there really is no difference between a mage, a hunter, a warlock, or a rogue. Damage is damage, and in many situations it doesn't matter who applies it in what way. Additional abilities like polymorph, varying degrees of area of effect spells, banishing, tranquilizing shots, or opening locks might make one class more desirable than the other for a specific expedition. But often that difference is small enough for the group to decide to rather go with any damage dealer, instead of waiting a long time for a specific class. We would *like* to get a mage, but we'd rather accept a hunter than stand around waiting.

That attitude is markedly different from most groups attitudes towards healers and tanks. Only very few groups are willing to accept alternatives to using a priest as main healer and a warrior as tank. Curiously you have a better chance to get the healer spot in a group as a shadow priest than as a restoration spec'd druid. And few people ever bother to ask the warrior whether he is actually having the gear and the talents for tanking.

Something similar happens in my guilds raid chat, only that the damage dealers are called "dps" there, which sounds less insulting than "random". As long as we have enough warlocks for banishing, enough mages for AoE and water, and enough hunters for tranquilizing shot, we don't care much what class the remaining damage dealers are. But in all fairness we are treating restoration spec'd druids and shamans as healers.

Anyone got an idea why a healer is a priest, a tank is a warrior, but for damage dealing you just need a "random"?

Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn

Thanks to Lunedust for the information that UO is planning a complete revamp of the game client, called Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn. There isn't very much information about it out yet, but the website states:
We are completely re-building the Ultima Online client with new graphics and a new easier-to-use interface.
It is an in-place upgrade. That means you will be able to keep your characters, items, houses and everything else you've earned over the past nine years.
We are committed to maintaining extremely low system specs. They will be higher than what UO launched with in 1997, but will still be far lower than almost any other MMORPG on the market.
The launch will happen in 2007.
There are many, many more surprises in store.
In its heyday Ultima Online had 250,000 subscribers, but as it was one of the first big commercial MMORPGs it is getting a bit old now, and subscriptions have decreased by half. Obviously the developers think that this can be reversed by bringing the graphics up to scratch.

Ultima Online has a long and rocky history. When it came out the game offered unlimited, non-consensual PvP, where everybody could attack and kill everybody, and even steal his items. There were player-killers and people who hunted them, thieves and player-run police forces. And a part of the population liked the game that way. But a larger part of the population didn't appreciate being ganked and robbed by some player killer, and lots of players were leaving the game because of that. So in April 2000 the game was changed and effectively doubled in size. From now on there was one PvP half of the world, called Felucca, and one non-PvP half called Trammel. The two halves were identical in size and shape, just the PvP half was painted in a darker look. Unfortunately for the PvP fans, over 90% of the population moved to the non-PvP half. Felucca became a pretty much deserted place. The player killers left because there were no weak victims to be ganked, and the player-killer hunters ran out of gankers to hunt. To this day you can find people on MMORPG message boards grumbling about how the introduction of Trammel "destroyed" UO.

I haven't played Ultima Online for many years, so I can't really say in what state the game is in now. But when I left UO was still famous for being more open-ended than other MMORPG. There are no levels in UO, just skill levels, and skills are capped at a maximum skill of 100 per skill, with a second cap of 700 over all skills. Thus you could max out 7 skills, but then you would be unable to advance any further without unlearning a skill. As these skills could well be tailoring or blacksmithing, it was totally possible in UO to create characters that were pure crafters, without any adventuring skills. With UO having player housing, and the ability to turn houses into shops, the game had a player-run economy, which often was very interesting. But the lack of levels, quests, raids, and other staples of the MMORPG fare are not for everybody.

Electronic Arts, the owners of Ultima Online, managed to announce a sequel and then cancel it 2 years later not once, but twice. Both UO2 and Ultima X: Odyssey never saw the light of day, both cancelled because the original game was still making money, and EA feared a sequel might hurt the original game. The now announced Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn is not a new game, but just a new graphical interface to the old game, and probably some other additions and improvements. A previous attempt to upgrade UO to 3D graphics wasn't totally successful, as the 3D client was buggy and had performance problems. So people are understandably sceptical whether the new client will be better, and whether Ultima Online with new graphics can bring back lots of new players to a rather old game. I personally would have preferred a third attempt at a sequel, and a closing down of the old game. Major conversions of old games rarely work, the "New Game Enhancements" (NGE) conversion of Star Wars Galaxies was a major catastrophe and rather accelerated than halted the exodus of players. But I sure wish the UO development team the best of luck, maybe they can prove that updating an old MMORPG can work.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Getting there versus being there

I noticed that among players of World of Warcraft there are two classes of approach to playing this game. One is concentrated on playing, on the process of getting there. The other approach is more concentrated on the result of being there. For example somebody more focused on the process might decide to go to Scholomance, just because he has a quest there, or because he hasn't visited that place for some time and thinks it would be fun. Somebody focused more on the result would check his equipment, find that he needs the tier 0 headpiece to complete his set, find out that the tier 0 head drops in Scholomance, and go there with the specific purpose of getting this piece.

I generally prefer focusing on playing, and take the results as they come. Which probably explains why I never completed any set. :) The advantage is that if you visit a dungeon for fun, you are more likely to have fun. While if you are only interested in the final result, it can be frustrating if the final boss doesn't drop the item you want, or somebody else wins it.

But currently I am wondering whether this approach was such a wise choice when creating my last new character, the human priest I leveled the last couple of months on a new server. The reasoning behind my choice was concentrated on having fun leveling that character. I choose Alliance because there are more Alliance quests that I've never done. I choose a new server because I wanted to visit dungeons in groups, and preferred a younger server population with more people of my level. And I choose a priest because getting into a group with a priest is so much easier than with any other class. And this last choice was probably a mistake if you think of the probable result instead of focusing on the way there.

My Alliance priest just hit level 55 last night. Which made me think of visiting BRD to get attuned to Molten Core. I'm not all that far any more from being able to participate in raids to Zul'Gurub and Molten Core. Even before that I will soon be visiting Dire Maul, Scholomance, Stratholme, and Blackrock Spire. At which point I realized that I am not really looking forward to all that. Visiting these places with an Alliance priest will be largely identical to visiting these places with my Horde priest. Even the dungeon quests are mostly the same for the two factions. Having a second priest doesn't add to my options, if I wanted to heal a group in Scholomance, I could already have done that without leveling the new character.

I will still continue to level to 60, too late to give up now. And the first visits to the level 60 dungeons will probably be fun, as I haven't been there for a while. Even the first raids might be interesting, just to see how a different guild does the same encounters. But I don't think I will be spending hundreds of hours on my Alliance priest after he reaches level 60. In hindsight it would have been better to play another character class. Something which is still popular in groups and raids, like a mage, but would have given me the option of visiting the same places in a different function.

Well, I'm still planning to play a mage some day, but after the expansion comes out, and I can play him with one of the new races. Both blood elves and draenei can be mage, and I really wouldn't want to start a character of one of the old races again, I know all the old low level quests inside out. I don't know when, if ever, I will get around to doing that, I'll probably first level up my Horde priest to 70.

WoW patch 1.12

I don't play a rogue. And I rarely do PvP. So I just downloaded a very small 16 MB patch 1.12 that seems to not change anything in the game for me.

Anyway, the patch reviews the last class that hasn't undergone such a talent review, the rogue, and I can only assume based on previous form that the review is for the better. But the major change in the patch is the introduction of cross-server battlegrounds, and new PvP objectives in Silithus and Eastern Plaguelands. Besides that there are only minor bugfixes and some streamlining on how things like haste and slow or aggro reduction works.

The cross-server battlegrounds are a very positive and necessary change, which should lead to battlegrounds being open all day long and every day. Waiting queues for battlegrounds can only become shorter due to that change. Unfortunately they still won't disappear, at least not for the Alliance, as you still need as many Horde players as Alliance players to open a battleground, and Alliance still outnumbers Horde by about 1.6 to 1.

I'm less convinced about the usefulness of the new PvP objectives in Silithus and Eastern Plaguelands. On a PvP server they must be annoying, interfering with the ability to solo quests in those zones. On my PvE server they don't bother me, but they don't excite me either. It seems that the winner is a foregone conclusion, with so many more Alliance players on each server. With no limits to the number of participants, the more numerous side will usually win every battle.

And of course there is the fundamental question whether it is a wise move to invest time in PvP now, when you know that the whole honor system and ranking system will be completely revamped in 3 months, when the expansion comes out. If you can reach some level where you get some reward, you will probably be able to keep that reward after the change. But if you are just half way there, it is unclear whether you won't lose all progress when the system changes.

Has anyone heard anything about patch 1.13? I wonder if there is going to be one. This might have been the last patch before the Burning Crusade, and I'm not sure how Blizzard is going to count version numbers after that. Is BC going to be version 2.0 and the first patch after is 2.1?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Funny breaking up letter

There is a funny breaking up with WoW letter on Aeropause. The complaint is a familiar one, the writer likes to solo and is disappointed with the forced grouping of the end game. But the way in which he describes playing WoW like a romantic relationship is well done, funny, and insightful.

Soloing is a pure interaction between a player and the game. As soon as you start with groups and raids, the interaction between players come to the foreground, and the player/game interaction is less intense. Now me, and many other people, do prefer interaction between players, because players are less predictable than artificial intelligence. But you can use the same argument, players are less predictable, to explain why you would prefer a pure player/game interaction. You know where you are with a game, and the game never complains if you turn it off.

The post also mentions in passing that while the expansion will bring back soloing, that will only last a limited amount of time, and then its back to the familiar raiding end game. In a way that is inherent to games with leveling and a level cap. Leveling is transitory, and therefore more suited to soloing. At the cap there is the highest concentration of players that all have the same level, which gives you a much better probability of being able to organize large raids. World of Warcraft could not have a level 35 raid dungeon for 40 players, because by the time you have 40 playes organized for raiding it, half of them have leveled up so far that the loot in that dungeon aren't worth going there any more. So we all know that the expansion will bring solo and small group content up to level 70, and mostly group and raid content at the new cap. As Saylah said in the comments on yesterday's post on player numbers after the expansion comes out, there is a significant risk that most of the players coming back for the Burning Crusade expansion will be gone again after a few month, when the soloing content has run out again.

1up on WoW raid changes

Very interesting article on 1up, with 3 raid leaders each telling the advantages and disadvantages of reducing the raid cap from 40 to 25. Pretty much agree with them, smaller raids make raiding more accessible to a larger number of people, but if you built a guild around 40-man raids, this is seriously going to change guild life.

Priest build

My level 60 Horde priest is spec'd like this, and I'll probably change to the same build for my Alliance priest when he gets to level 60. This build has 21 points in discipline, giving me access to Divine Spirit, a very useful buff. And it has 30 points in holy, giving me Spiritual Guidance (which turns the spirit into healing power) and Spiritual Healing, which adds a big 10% bonus to healing. I'm not pretending that this is the ideal build, it is just something that I am happy with, but feel free to comment.

In an earlier build I had more points in holy, going up to the 31-point talent of Lightwell. Unfortunately I found that Lightwell wasn't quite as useful as I thought. The amount of healing per mana of Lightwell is awesome, but getting people to use it intelligently was hard. In spite of repeated explanations there always was somebody in the raid who while on full health was thinking "oh, shiny!" and clicked on the Lightwell, wasting a charge. The cooldown meant I couldn't use the Lightwell in every combat. And even in the best case the Lightwell is only good to heal people that are wounded, but not getting hit any more, because getting hit breaks the heal over time effect.

I was similarly disappointed with the talent just under Lightwell, which transforms you into an angel when you die, and gives you 10 seconds of free healing after death. Unfortunately you lose your target when dieing, and the transformation takes a bit of time too. So by the time I was an angel and had my target back, the timer often was down to 6 seconds, and I couldn't get more than 2 greater heals fired off.

I'm happy with the spirit buff I now have instead of the holy top talents. But of course the usefulness depends a bit on how many other priests in your guild have the spirit buff. Having at least two spirit buffers in a raid is useful, much more isn't.

The greatest weakness of this priest build is that it is totally specialized on healing and maximizing mana. There isn't a single talent in there that would help me deal more damage when soloing. That does work well for my Horde priest, because I have a level 60 warrior on the same server for farming if needed. But I might be forced to respec when the expansion comes out, because I will probably do quite a bit of soloing from 60 to 70, and I don't think this build is viable for soloing. Especially given the fact that the epic gear I'm running around with is also giving lots of bonuses to healing, and doesn't do much for my soloing capabilities.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Best selling PC game for July: World of Warcraft

On the list of best selling PC games for July 2006, World of Warcraft takes spot #1. Which isn't bad for a game in it's 23rd month. But it made me think about the demographics of WoW, in terms of new and old players.

It used to be that Blizzard announced new records of subscription numbers nearly every month. But this has slowed down. Beginning of this year WoW had 6 million subscribers, and in May it had 6.5 million, and it seems it never hit the 7 million subscribers mark. It is probably fair to say that the subscription numbers of WoW are stable for the moment, neither rising nor falling much.

Now if we put record sales and stable subscription numbers together, we arrive at the conclusion that lots of players are leaving World of Warcraft every month. Which, frankly, isn't surprising. WoW is a very good game, and MMORPGs tend to keep a players attention for longer than single player games. But people leaving a MMORPG after over a year-and-a-half isn't unusual.

A MMORPG has two parts: the "basic repetitive unit", which in the case of WoW is a combat, and the content, which in the case of WoW is the quests and the zones. World of Warcraft did an excellent job in making combat fun, and quite different for the different character classes. But as the "basic repetitive unit" term implies, you do quite a lot of combats in every game session. If you played World of Warcraft since November 2004, you have done thousands and thousands of combats, and even if you played alts of different character classes, there isn't much more what is new to discover in combat.

The content is both a strong and a weak point of World of Warcraft. The total amount of content when the game was released was already huge, which is good. But the rate at which new content was added to the game wasn't all that high, and much of the recently added content (like Naxxramas) is not accessible to the majority of players. So WoW is living on borrowed time, people leave when they get bored. And they get bored when neither combat nor content is offering them anything new.

That is somewhat different than what happened with Everquest. I personally, and many people I know, left Everquest because while there was still a huge amount of content I hadn't seen in the game, that content didn't seem accessible. If you don't level in a month of playing, you just tend to give up. Of course some people are more resistant to such frustration, or level faster because they can play more hours per month. New Everquest expansions didn't tempt me, because they only offered new content for levels I had no hope of ever reaching.

That brings us to the World of Warcraft expansion, The Burning Crusade. It is pretty safe to say that most of the players who left WoW did so after reaching level 60. The content of the Burning Crusade *is* accessible to the average player. For anybody who enjoyed leveling his character from 1 to 60, but didn't enjoy the level 60 end game, the expansion promises more of the fun leveling content from 60 to 70. And for everybody who liked the level 60 raiding end game, the expansion promises a new level 70 raiding end game, with new raid dungeons and new phat loot. Thus the expansion offers something for pretty much everybody.

So it is predictable that the Burning Crusade expansion will cause quite a lot of players to resubscribe to World of Warcraft, renewing their cancelled subscription. Because lack of content is easily remedied with new content. The number of people who found leveling to 60 too hard and wouldn't want to level to 70 is probably rather small. The downside of lots of people resubscribing will be an increased load on the servers. Blizzard seems to be aware of that, and announced an increase in server capacity and numbers of players per server by 25%. But the first week after the release will certainly be rather chaotic. Maybe *that* would be a good time to take a break from WoW. :)

WoW Journal - 20-August-2006

After already getting the Halo of Transcendence for my Horde priest on Thursday, I continued to get Boots of Prophecy on Friday, and the Girdle of Prophecy on Sunday. Wow, that is way more than average yield of epics. I have a total of five pieces of Prophecy now, which adds a set bonus of an additional 2% chance to crit heals. My total healing crit chance is now just under 17%. Not that I am a big fan of healing crits, more often than not they just result in overhealing.

With all those epics, I now have 3287 health and 6731 mana, unbuffed. I regenerate 92 mana per tic when not casting, 24 when casting, plus an additional 29 mana per 5 seconds. I have a total of +376 bonus to healing. When I switch to my fire resistance gear, I have 165 FR, unbuffed, but I lose about 1000 mana for that. Pretty awesome stats. Of course I'd like to get a full set of prophecy, but even that wouldn't improve those stats markedly. The 8-piece bonus for prophecy is a joke anyway, a crit chance only for the prayer of healing spell, which you aren't likely to use in a raid.

My Horde guild is doing very well. The first raid to MC was textbook. We killed 8 bosses in 4 hours, without ever wiping. I never know whether it is so much easier now because we are more experienced, or whether it is because we all have better gear now. Probably it is a combination of the two. The second raid wasn't that successful. Majordomo died easily, but Ragnaros refused to die. My guild has already killed him, and we got him into single digit percentage of health left in every fight this time. It's frustrating when he submerges the second time with just 2% health left and the sons kill you. After 5 wipes we had to give up. Well, we'll win another time.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Healer needed!

How often have you read "healer needed" in the looking for group channel? How often have you participated in groups or raids which started late, because they were waiting for more healers? Fact is there are not enough priests and druids in World of Warcraft. You would have thought that this was a problem that solved itself, with players realizing that more priests and druids are needed, and then making new characters of those classes. But unfortunately very few players do that. While the percentage of priests on a server tends to slightly go up with time, it doesn't reach sufficient numbers even after the server is over a year old.

The reason for the lack of druids is bad game design coupled with simple statistics. There is only one race in each faction that can become a druid, the night elves for the Alliance and the tauren for the Horde. This is one of the unfortunate cases where artifical game lore gets into the way of playability. Druids aren't such a bad class for soloing, and more people would play them if they were available for more races. But often a player decides that he already played a night elf hunter for example, and wants his next Alliance character to be of a different race, to start in a different zone. Or he doesn't like to hear constant cow jokes, and doesn't want to play a tauren. If for any reason you decide to play another race, you can't play a druid, and that is a pity. If in the expansion blood elves can become paladins, and dranaei can become shamans, I don't see why they couldn't have become druids as well. That would have given a good boost to the druid population.

The lack of priests is due to their perceived lack in soloability. People tend to flock to classes which are perceived to be good in soloing, like hunter or dps warrior, in spite of the well-known problems of getting accepted into a group or guild later. What Blizzard would need to do to increase the number of priests would be to make another class review, in which their healing power remains unchanged, but priests get some new, cool, obvious soloing powers, for example making their bubble damage the attacker with holy damage, or making their smite do double damage against undeads and elementals.

Now somebody is going to cry out that priests are already powerful enough, and that making them stronger would break the game balance. But what *is* game balance? If a population of players is given free choice among 8 classes (per faction, soon to be 9), and less than one eights of them choose a particular class, I would define that class as being underpowered. Classes would be perfectly balanced if players would choose them in equal numbers. Making priests even better healers wouldn't change anything, as that is obviously not the criterion of choice. Only by making priests a bit more active, and more powerful in soloing, can that class be balanced against the other classes.

Dell battery recall

My problems with the battery of my laptop not working any more after just over 1 year might still have a happy end. There is a Dell battery recall going on, and it just happens that my bad battery is one of the serie to be recalled.

Actually I had tried that battery recall site before blogging about my problems, and had come up with a message that my battery wasn't eligible for an exchange. But then I remembered that I have 2 batteries, and that I'd better check both of them, so I went back to the same site. And there I saw some advice about being careful to not confuse your zeros with "O"s. So I entered *both* battery serial numbers, this time using a zero in the last block where I previously had entered an "O". And suddenly my bad battery was eligible for an exchange. Grrr, why can't serial numbers be printed in a font where the zeros are plainly different from the "O"s. Or the software programmed to accept either.

Anyway, I was then asked for my address, and then sent to a screen which told me that a new battery would be sent to me in up to 20 business days, aka 1 month. I don't know if whoever delivers the new battery will take the old one back, or I just throw it away. But at least it seems I don't have to pay anything, and that is nice for the replacement of a $200 battery.

Video games in Europe

It isn't always easy to be a European video gamer. Many games are getting released first in the USA, and come to Europe either several months later, or not at all. If it is a PC game, you might be able to import it. But for World of Warcraft for example Blizzard won't accept European credit cards to pay for the a subscription on a US server, and importing US WoW involved paying somebody in the US to open an account for you. And console games from the US are protected with regional coding, like DVDs, and you can't simply pop an imported US console game into an European console, you need to either mod the console or buy a US console.

The reason why Europeans get most games later is that publishers are unwilling to distribute the English version before the localized versions in other European languages, and translating the game into German, French, and a couple of other languages takes a while.

But things are getting better for the Europeans. The local video game industry is on the rise, growing faster than the US counterparts. While the "Games Convention" in Leipzig (the 2006 convention starts next week) will be smaller than this years E3, next year the E3 will be much reduced in size, and the Games Convention 2007 is likely to be the biggest video games event worldwide.

And there are even some games which you can get in Europe before you can get them in the US. Especially if you speak German. For example I pre-ordered the Settlers 2: 10th Anniversary Edition, which will come out next month in Europe, but hasn't even got a US release date scheduled. But it is not just German simulation games any more that come from Europe, there is a surprising number of high-quality strategy and shooter games coming out of Europe nowadays, for example Far Cry or the upcoming Crysis. One of the best adventure games in recent years, Runaway, came out of Spain. The MMORPG EVE Online is from Iceland.

But more importantly US publishers are discovering Europe as a potential market. Mythic Entertainment was the first MMORPG company that supported Europe as well as the US, and ended up having more subscribers in Europe than at home. Even World of Warcraft has more European servers than US ones. Before WoW, the overall size of the European market for MMORPGs was thought to be 280,000. Then WoW sold 380,000 copies on the first weekend, and has now over 1 million players in Europe. So game companies noticed that there is money to be made over here. While the European market is smaller than the Asian one, European players pay more money for the same game than Asians, and piracy is less rampant (but higher than in the USA).

It has to be seen how digital distribution will change the availability of games in Europe. Right now many digitally distributed games are still restricted to North America, probably due to deals with publishers. But the more digital distribution becomes prevalent, the less power the publishers have, and the more likely is it that game companies decide that they don't want to miss out on the European market. English being widely spoken in most countries of Europe, just selling the English version of games over the internet without localization would be very cheap and profitable. Good times ahead for the European video gamer.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

WoW Journal - 18-August-2006

Another milestone in my raiding career, my Horde priest got his first tier 2 item, the Halo of Transcendence. As I was still wearing the blue Devout crown, that was a really nice upgrade. I don't even mind that the priest headpieces generally look so silly, some sort of upturned collar. What I really would have liked would be the Halo of Transcendence being displayed as a real halo. That would have looked cool, Saint Tobold of the blessed heal spamming. :)

I don't usually raid during weeknights, as we usually start too late for my taste, and then the raid goes on until after midnight. I prefer to be in bed by 11, due to having to get up at 6:30 the next morning. But of course I make an exception for Onyxia raids, as these are much shorter. And there is a certain sense of obligation, not everybody has the Onyxia key, and getting enough players, especially healers, together for killing Onyxia is always a challenge. We waited over 1 hour in front of her lair before we had enough healers to try it.

Getting the tier 2 item was a bit of luck. There are half a dozen priests with more DKP in my guild, and as we have a highest-DKP-wins system I don't usually expect to get anything but items that the others already have. But as I said, we didn't have all that many priests in this raid, only 4. And of these 4, only one was ahead of me in the DKP list, and he already had the halo, so I was next in line.

I guess that the tier 2 headpiece is the first tier 2 item of most people. It is a lot easier to kill Onyxia than to kill Ragnaros or Razorgore. And even the upgrade from tier 0 to tier 2, skipping the tier 1 headpiece from Garr in MC, is probably not that unusual. While most guilds are likely to have their first Garr kill before their first Onyxia kill, it takes many months to kill Garr often enough to get everybody his tier 1 helmet.

My Horde priest now has quite a good collection of epics. Three pieces of the prophecy set, the halo, tailored truefaith vestments, the epic tier 0.5 gloves, and the Will of Arlokk staff. In addition I have two tailored flarecore epics, the gloves and shoulders, but I only wear them when I need fire resistance. But sometimes I wonder if the main effect of epics is looking good when somebody inspects you. The difference in stats between the halo and the devout crown is 4 more stamina, 3 more intellect, 7 more spirit, 10 more fire/frost resistance, and +48 in healing. Very nice, but not a huge step change, not something that turns me from useless to useful. My favorite epic is the Will of Arlokk, because it is my only epic that is hugely visible as such, and gets me noticed in a crowd. Benediction is arguably better for a priest, but that is one item where I'd be willing to let all the other priests in the guild get it before me. Benediction looks boring, and while being better, I don't feel I'm gimped without it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Toyota Corolla - 1 month later

My new car is now a bit over a month old, and this afternoon I'll go to the garage for a quick inspection. Just a routine inspection after 2500 km, to check if everything is okay. But that is the opportunity to also do a review of what I like and don't like in this car.

Generally I am very satisfied with my Toyota Corolla. The car is definitely big enough for me. By choosing the bigger 1.6 liter motor I have 81 kW (110 horsepower) and the car still accelerates sufficiently when loaded and driving uphill. The trunk, which on first sight looked a bit small, turned out to have hidden depth and be big enough for the holiday baggage.

There are only two minor annoyances. One is that the gas tank is too small. It has a nominal volume of 55 liters. But this morning the empty light turned on, I filled her up, and only managed to get 42 liters in. As the consumption is a bit over 8 liters per 100 km (30 mpg), I can only drive 500 km before running empty. That happens to be how much I drive per week, so I have to fill her up once per week. The previous car lasted a day or two longer. The car probably still drives 100 km with the empty light on, but I'm not the type to risk that.

The second minor annoyance is the instrument board. It is of the type that is totally invisible when the car is turned off, and becomes visible by being backlit. The problem is that whenever I turn on the headlights, the car comes to the logical conclusion that it must be dark, and dims down the backlight of the instrument board. When it is really dark that is okay. But sometimes I turn on the headlighs because it is grey and raining during the day, and then I can't see the dimmed instrument board any more.

Well, I guess every car has its minor peculiarities. I can certainly live with my car for the next couple of years.


I am using GMail since over two years now, and up to now it did a good job of sorting the spam into the spam folder, and the non-spam into my inbox. With my e-mail address being prominently displayed on this site, I get a lot of spam, up to 100 per day. But as long as it goes into the spam folder automatically, I just click on the spam folder, click delete all, and I'm rid of it. GMail spam filtering presumably works by comparing your mail with the mail of other GMail users, and if enough other people marked that mail as spam, it gets sorted into the spam folder. That works well as long as the spammer sends the same mail to thousands of recipients, and thus the chance of somebody else having received the same mail as you, and having identified it as spam, is high.

But since a few weeks I get a new *type* of spam. It looks like random text copied and pasted from books, plus a picture file which contains the actual spam advertising. And GMail seems to have trouble identifying these mails as spam. I wonder if the spammer is sending a *different* random text, with the same spam image attached, to his recipients list. That shouldn't be all that hard with some software. And because the text in each mail is different, and doesn't contain typical spam keywords, it is hard to identify as spam by the anti-spam software.

Well, GMail is still doing better than my McAfee Spamkiller on my secret private e-mail account. That one gets very little spam. But yesterday I had two mails, one World of Warcraft newsletter from Blizzard, and one of those random text plus spam image spam mails. Spamkiller promptly put the spam in my inbox and the newsletter into the spam folder. :) I just hope that GMail never sorts real mail into the spam folder, because I usually don't even look at the spam before deleting it.

Survival guide for the Web 2.0

Business trends often have grand sounding catch-phrases, which are used so often and in so many different ways that in the end nobody knows what is meant. The current second boom of internet business ventures uses the term "Web 2.0". The basic idea behind that is that in Web 2.0 the user not only consumes content, he also provides it. Thus typical Web 2.0 phenomena are wikis, social networking sites, sites like FlickR or YouTube where users show their photos or videos, and of course blogs. Web 2.0 is more participatory, the user doesn't just receive content, he also creates it, or at least passes it on. That much increased role of the user is not without danger for him. So I would like to give two pieces of advice:

The first advice is to protect your anonymity when creating content. Do not use your real name on the Web 2.0, and limit the amount of really personal data you give out. Obviously that makes participation on sites like MySpace or Friendster difficult. But believe me, your identity is a valuable good, which needs protection. There are numerous stories about people who got expelled from school because they revealed they were gay, or posted photos of themselves being underage, drunk, half-naked, and smoking a joint, or because they posted not-quite-serious threats against their headmaster on MySpace. Youth is definitely the time to try out some stupid things, but you better make sure that this stupidity isn't recorded for eternity, and that photo of you flashing your boobs / smoking a joint doesn't turn up 30 years later while you are trying to get elected into some public office. If you absolutely need to give out your real name and photo on the Web 2.0, make sure it isn't connected to anything you wouldn't want your mother/boss/spouse to hear or know about.

Anonymity is even more important if you are already grown up and have a job. Like the famous blogging Delta stewardess, a blog can get you fired. Especially if you blog *about* your company and your work. So avoid using your real name, job title or description, or photographs from which you could be identified. But even if you just blog about life in general, some flippant remark on your blog might well be construed as being against some company guideline and can get you into deep trouble. Much easier to blog under a pseudonym, a nickname, which can't be traced back to your real identity.

The second piece of advice I would like to give the readers and writers of the Web 2.0, is to be aware that there are different kinds of knowledge. There is the scientifically measurable and verifyable "explicit knowledge", the facts. And there is the more personal "tacit knowledge", which is based on a persons beliefs and opinions. In a textbook, serious newspaper, or dictionary you would expect mostly the first kind. But the Web 2.0 is dominated by the second kind.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. For example if you are wondering whether the trunk of the new car you are looking to buy is big enough to hold your child's stroller, the explicit fact of the trunk having a volume of 400 liters doesn't really help you much. The opinion of somebody who reviews the car on his blog and reports that he found the trunk too small or badly shaped is more relevant to you. That is especially true for things that can't be measured, like "fun". If you try to describe for example a MMORPG by listing things like number of quests, number of races and classes, and "feature lists", it would be very difficult to explain why World of Warcraft is so much more successful than lets say Horizons. It is very hard to describe with measureable facts what makes WoW more fun than Horizons. We often use subscription numbers to describe a MMORPG, just because that is one of the few bits of explicit knowledge we have about these games. If you are an "average person", the statistical chance that you would prefer WoW is high. But if you know a blog with game reviews, and found that in the past the reviewer tended to like the same games as you, his opinion about some game being fun might be a lot more relevant to you than its subscription numbers. There *are* people out there who would enjoy A Tale in the Desert more than they would enjoy World of Warcraft.

Where it gets dangerous is when people start confusing one type of knowledge with another, confusing opinions with facts. When for example I write that WoW had too much raid content added in the last couple of patches, and that this is hurting the game, because the majority of people are casual players, that is only my opinion. But everybody is an expert on the internet, and some other expert will tell you that only additional raid content can save WoW from a mass exodus of bored players. Neither of these statements is a "fact", in the absence of parallel universes it is impossible to scientifically test the longevity of WoW with more casual content against WoW with more raid content. You can weight opinions on the base of supporting arguments and experience, but in the end you can only agree or disagree with them, there is no absolute truth in the matter. If somebody can't grasp a fact, it might well be possible that he is stupid. But most of the people being called idiot on the Web 2.0 just happened to have a different opinion. Calling somebody names on the internet just proves that you can't tell opinions from facts, which is more likely to reflect badly on you than to hurt the guy you called a retard.

And it gets worse, a lot of the information on the Web 2.0 is just plain wrong, because somebody strongly believes in something that is not true, and reports his beliefs like facts. The internet doesn't have a monopoly on falsehoods that people believe in, remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction? Believing in something that doesn't exist can start a war. We tend to believe written words faster than we would believe spoken words. And we tend to believe what the "experts" say. As the internet mainly holds written words, and posing as an expert is easy (Hey! You even believe that I am an expert on MMORPG!), that makes it dangerously easy to spread false information. But even newspapers with editors and legal departments checking every word sometimes end up writing things that are false. So if you get your knowledge from the Web 2.0, from somewhere between UFO sightings reports and instructions on how to build a perpetuum mobile, you have to learn to take all information with a grain of salt. Your first assumption about everything you read on the internet should be that it is just an opinion, a belief, and not necessarily a fact.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

WoW Journal - 16-August-2006

I just realized how little the character stats matter for a priest. My Alliance priest is level 52 now, and was doing the Blasted Lands quests where you hand in various monster parts for a +25 buff to one of your stats. But you can only have one of those buffs up, so you need to think a bit when and in what order you hand in the quests. So what +25 stat buff would I want to have on my priest to help me soloing faster? The surprising answer was: none of them.

I already explained several times my solo combat tactics. I pull with spells, raise my bubble shield, and finish the mob with my wand (during which time I regenerate mana). So the first two stats are quickly eliminated from the competition: Neither strength nor agility adds anything to the damage of spells or wands, they only increase the damage output of melee weapons, bows, and guns. So while warriors, hunters, or rogues would be highly interested in strength and/or agility, for a priest these stats do absolutely nothing.

Next on the list are stamina and intelligence. These two stats increase your health and mana pool, respectively. But curiously the size of my health and mana pool doesn't play any role in my chosen tactic. My health is always above 90%, my shield is nearly always up, and when it breaks, I stop shooting and recast it, giving the mob only one or two hits on me. Whether I have 1000, 2000, or 3000 health doesn't matter at all here. And the same is true for my mana pool. As I regenerate mana during combat, I never completely deplete my mana pool when soloing, and the size of my mana pool has very little relevance. Only if I need to kill a mob fast (usually a caster with a large damage output, which I need to kill fast with spells) or when I get adds and can't regenerate much during combat do I use all of my mana. But in standard soloing combat I can fight for hours without my mana ever dropping below half. Note that this is only true for soloing, in groups, and especially in raids, combats are often a lot longer, and as priest your role is that of a pure healer, so you can't regenerate mana while shooting your wand. So in a group the size of your mana pool becomes extremely important, because if you run out, it could mean a wipe. All of my gear has some intelligence stat bonus, for that reason. Intelligence *does* increase my spell damage slightly, by improving my spell crit chance, but +25 int only increase my crit chance by +0.25%, so the effect is tiny.

The only stat that has any influence at all on my soloing priest is spirit. Spirit determines how much mana I regenerate. Unless you have specific talents, you don't regenerate any many while spellcasting, and in the 5 seconds after your last spell. When idle, a priest regenerates 12.5 mana plus Spirit/4 per tick, with a tick being 2 seconds. So +25 spirit just adds 3 mana per second to my mana regeneration rate. That helps to reduce downtime, but the effect isn't huge.

Secondary stats like armor, attack power, or defence also play no role for a priest. Although I'm not quite sure whether armor protection is applied before or after damage absorption by the power word : shield, if it is before, the armor would make my bubble last longer. But cloth never has high armor values, my armor damage reduction is around 15%.

Of course other classes depend much more on stats, especially melee fighters. The equipment of the main tank has a significant impact on the success of a whole raid. As a priest you can afford to be a lot more relaxed about epic loot distribution. Epics are nice, but when I put my 175 fire resistance gear on, which consists mainly of green and blue items, I'm still not gimping myself all that much.

Good summary of the effect of the different stats is found at and on WoWWiki.

Minions of Mirth

Sane Mike wrote me an e-mail about a free MMORPG named Minions of Mirth, and I promised to check it out last weekend. But then I was rather busy with other stuff and never got around to it. And when I had a look, I couldn't think of anything more intelligent to say than what Sane Mike wrote in his mail. So I'm just hosting this as a "guest review", Sane Mike reviews Minions of Mirth:
I have just started playing Minions of Mirth and I think this could be the game for people like me. Mom is an MMorpg developed on a shoestring with a small player base yet it has a very rich and detailed world with lots of quests and characters. The graphics and sound are closer to EQ1 than WOW but still very respectable and all the main features quests, alliances, guilds, crafting etc are in there. The game is very moddable and there is player developed content. It is very solo friendly (you can even play an offline version) but there is also a global chat channel where all players on all shards can talk to each other.

It lacks the polish of a big name MMORPG particularly in making the game accessible for new players. When you log on first there are no helpful question marks over quest givers heads and such. Thankfully there is good in game help and the community though small are a friendly helpful bunch. The good news is that the interface is both straightforward and powerful once you get used to it. One particularly nice feature is a help bot called MOM that you can chat to and ask questions. For example:
"/tell mom where is chancellor wiggins?" is a good way to find chancellor wiggins.

My biggest concern about the game is that there are so few players - The server typically has only 20 to 30 players on it. There are group quests but it must be hard forming a group of similar level people.

You can play for free up to level 20. Premium access is a once off subscription of €30 and that goes up to level 100. I am still on the free server so I don't know what the game is like at higher levels but I have seen screen shots of epic monsters and such. Given the once off subscription model and the small player base I can only assume this game is more a hobby than a business enterprise. Never the less it is surprisingly good and seems to have fairly regular updates. I have seen reviews comparing it favorably to the original Everquest.

The game is available for download from here:


Sane Mike

Monday, August 14, 2006

Is Everquest dead?

Tatiana sent me a link to the Everquest Newbie Forums where one newbie wants his money back, because he says the game is dead. Concurrent users estimated at about 5000 by one poster, although that might be too low. But even the semi-official subscription score keeper Sir Bruce on his site shows a big drop in EQ subscriptions from the over 400,000 it had for years to just 200,000 now, and that is probably counting every holder of a multi-game SOE Station all-access pass as EQ subscriber, whether they are playing or not.

The most favorable thing one can say about EQ is that there is still activity at the higher levels, from the older players. But given that leveling up in EQ is a lot harder and takes a lot longer than in World of Warcraft, you can feel the newbies pain when he can't even find enough people of his level to form a group. The only servers where there is still a population of lower level players are the new progression servers, where the expansion sets start out being turned off, and are getting added over time.

Now I can offer 3 explanations on why Everquest is dieing. The sensationalist one is that "WoW killed EQ", which is probably not really true. The more second realistic explanation is that EQ is getting old, with neither the graphics nor the gameplay being likely to attract many new players in 2006. Of course you can combine explanations one and two and say that many ex-EQ players moved on to newer games, not necessarily WoW, but there are lots of others. The final explanation is the negative network effect. If people play a MMO because of the other players, then everybody who leaves removes some motivation for the remaining players, until the whole enterprise falls together like a house of cards.

Of course Everquest is not technically dead until the servers are shut off, which could still be a few years ahead. In business terms it is a cash cow, the investment in EQ has been paid off long ago, and now subscription fees minus running cost result in pure profit. We will probably still hear some news next year of servers combined and other efforts to streamline the game and halt the decline. But in the end it isn't surprising that even a MMORPG ends. Sooner or later the players have seen all the content, and newer games are beckoning with better graphics and different gameplay. Even World of Warcraft will probably be in terminal decline after 7 to 10 years of existence. In a way that is sad, because you have to be there at the right time to experience a game. I can still read old books, see old films, or even play old single-player games if I can make them run on the new hardware. But you can't play old Everquest any more, because a MMORPG is mostly about the players, and the people have wandered off.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Laptop batteries

Over the years I got quite used to the concept that computers are outdated after two years or so. But if you don't mind using an outdated computer, for example because you aren't playing games with 3D graphics, you can use a computer for many years. There are no "consumable" parts in a computer, unless something breaks down, a computer can run forever. So it came to some surprise to me that this is *not* the case for a laptop computer.

My Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop battery broke down, refusing to charge any more. The fancy LED display it has to check the charge has lights 1-3-5 blinking, which is the batteries way of saying "error". And some research on the internet resulted in the stupefying information that this was not unexpected. The battery is of the Lithium ion type, and you can't charge and decharge those indefinitely. If you did, at some point some resistance would build up internally, and the battery literally explodes. So all Li ion batteries have fancy electronics which shut the battery down after about 300 recharge / decharge cycles.

Even more surprising is that some amount of charging and decharging happens even if you have the laptop connected to the AC power supply all the time. So even if you never use your notebook in a mobile way, and just have it sitting on your desk connected to the mains power, at some point, a bit over a year usually, the battery will break down anyway. And then you will have to buy a new battery, which at $200 apiece is a nice little side business for the laptop manufacturers. A notebook battery is a consumeable. Only thing you *can* do, and that is what I am doing now, is to remove the battery while running the laptop from the AC power supply.

PvP changes in Burning Crusade

Part 2 of my comments on the Gamespy preview of Burning Crusade, on a totally different subject: PvP. If the information in the preview is correct, the current stupid honor ranking system will be abandoned, to the great joy of players everywhere. Instead there will be a much simpler system, where you buy loot with honor points and battleground tokens.

The advantage is obvious: It doesn't matter any more whether you PvP continuously, or you take breaks and do other things instead. Two people achieving the same amount of honor kills and battleground wins end up with the same amount of reward, even if one of them did his PvP in just one week, and the other took a month for it. You also don't see your PvP rewards diminishing because other players just played more than you in the same week. PvP becomes a bit like PvE, where you know how many mobs you have to kill to level up. Wonder when we get a honor point rest bonus. :)

To balance this good idea, Blizzard also makes a very bad change to PvP: Neutral towns in the new zones, which need to be captured in PvP to have access to the quests and vendors there. That looks good on paper, but is of course catastrophically unbalanced given the generally prevalent Alliance numerical advantage. The neutral towns will be in Alliance hands 80% of the time on most servers. Worst case scenario is that the neutral cities are so important that people start moving server, just so that they are on a server where their faction has the advantage.

It seems that based on the Warcraft RTS games, Blizzard still believes in WoW's strength as a PvP game. But in fact the WoW PvP is sub-par, and it is the PvE which is so great that it has attracted so many players. Neutral cities, where people are basically forced to do PvP to reach a PvE goal is not going to be popular.

The end of 40

GameSpy has a The Burning Crusade Preview in which it is announced that all the new raid dungeons introduced in the expansion will be capped at 25 players. The old 40-man dungeons of level 60 will still exist, but there will be no level 70 dungeons that need 40 players.

Now this is welcome news. I wrote before that I considered groups of 40 as being too big. If you want to have groups of 40 regularly, you either need a medium sized guild in which everybody turns up for every raid, which is a bit stressful, or you need a huge guild with 200+ players, in which you don't know the other players, because there are just too many of them.

This change of the raid number cap from 40 to 25 will have a huge impact on guild life, and how the end-game is played. Guilds can become either smaller, or with less strict rules on raid attendance, and that makes the game more casual player friendly. There will be more raiding guilds, and a higher percentage of people able to participate in raids. Very positive changes, and I am really looking forward to that.

Upgrading the laptop

Playing World of Warcraft on the laptop during my holidays ended in me being not happy about the laptop's speed any more. Now upgrading a laptop isn't as easy as upgrading a desktop PC, but it is possible. And analyzing where the problem was, I concluded that the reason that WoW lags on the laptop is probably the memory. I'm not a hardware expert, but if you press CTRL-ALT-DEL to get to the Windows Task Manager, and go to the Performance tab, you can see your "Commit Charge", the amount of memory needed, and your physical memory. If the Commit Charge peaks at over the amount of physical memory, Windows starts using virtual memory on the hard disk, and that is very slow.

So I decided to upgrade my laptop from 512 MB of RAM to 1 GB. There is a small computer shop not far from where I live, and I decided that I better let them do the upgrade. I've never changed memory in a laptop before, was too lazy to learn it, and didn't want to risk breaking something. That turned out rather well, because I would just have bought a 512 MB laptop memory stick and tried to put it in. But there are only two banks where you can put memory, and they were both occupied with a 256 MB RAM stick. To get to exactly 1 GB of RAM, I would have had to buy two 512 MB sticks and throw the two existing 256 MB sticks away. So the computer technician did something more intelligent, he ordered a 1 GB stick, and only replaced one of the 256 MB sticks with it. That was only minimally more expensive than two 512 MB sticks, and now I have 1.25 GB of RAM.

I tried it, and World of Warcraft is running a lot smoother with more RAM. Especially in cities, where my framerate previously would drop into the single digits, I can now play without lag. Laptop RAM is more expensive than desktop RAM, but the investment was well worth it. I still think about replacing the laptop with a faster model eventually, but I think now I can postpone that decision until next year.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Effect of gear on PvP

In one recent comment thread the discussion turned towards whether PvP would be more fun if everybody had the same gear. I think it would. Look at the following picture that I found on some Scandinavian guild site:The problem is obvious: the premade team shown in the picture above, in the very best epic gear, will win every battle, even against much more skilled opponents. And where is the fun in that? The people in the screenshot have a higher meta-level due to gear, so it is like a bunch of level 65s beating up level 60 opponents. Not a fair fight, not skill-based, and thus not fun.

I find it problematic if time spent in PvE to acquire raid loot leads to people winning PvP. It leads to people that are only interested in PvP, or not having the time or guild to raid, to be effectively excluded from winning in PvP.

Defining addiction

The big story this week is the one about the doctor claiming 40 percent of all World of Warcraft players are addicted to the game. But when you read the story with an open mind, you will notice two things: 1) The number of 40 percent is pure guesswork, with no scientific work or study supporting it. 2) The person claiming this happens to run an addiction treatment center, and is obviously fishing for customers.

Addiction makes for good headlines, because it sounds so serious, and is so badly defined. Lets take the loosest possible definition: An average person trying this is defined as addicted when he wants to come back for more. Under that definition you could probably claim over 90 percent addiction rate of World of Warcraft. At a medium definition level ("Person is defined as addicted if he spends most of his free time pursueing this activity") you might well get to something around 40 percent of addiction level. Unfortunately neither of these definitions has any scientific basis. Long before video games existed hobbyists obsessed about their stamp collection or model railroad, without newspaper articles claiming "model railroad addiction runs rampant!!!".

The scientific definition of addiction is: "Addiction is a chronic disorder proposed to be precipitated by a combination of genetic, biological/pharmacological and social factors. Addiction is characterized by the repeated use of substances or behaviors despite clear evidence of morbidity secondary to such use." The key factor here is continuous use or behavior despite clear evidence of negative effect.

Looking at World of Warcraft or video games in general, we can probably exclude genetic or biological/pharmacological factors. If anything there is a social addiction. And we have to be careful as what to define as negative effect. Look at this much more balanced story about a World of Warcraft player. The "negative effect" of World of Warcraft in this story is that the player has blocked two to three evenings a week for WoW, and will not play poker or go to a baseball game on these nights. Those are clearly all equivalent entertainment activities. Choosing WoW over poker, baseball, TV, or a book, is just a personal choice. It's just like choosing Coca Cola over Pepsi.

A person *can* be addicted to World of Warcraft, or other video games, or other hobbies. But for this to be true the person has to exhibit symptons of serious negative social effects: prolonged neglect of family and friends, grades going down at school, calling in "sick" at work to play, or performing your job badly because you raid every night are certainly signs of addiction. Even more serious cases of people being left by their wife, flunking exams, or being fired from work certainly exist. And there are one or two cases of people playing until they dropped dead, or their baby starved, or something similar catastrophic. But if you apply this scientific definition of addiction, the percentage of World of Warcraft players that are addicted is significantly lower than 40 percent.

Personally I have no problems with wife or boss to report. Which isn't surprising, as for example I refuse to raid on weekend nights after 11 pm, because I need to get up for work the next day at 6:30 am. Just like the large majority of World of Warcraft I first do the important things in life, job, family, etc., and then when I have done everything and get my normal share of leisure time, I choose to spend that leisure time on video games. Currently preferably WoW, but I played 2 hours of Titan Quest last night, so WoW isn't even exclusive. I also still read books, watch TV, play D&D, and do a range of other leisure activities. People like me are "addicted" only if you stretch the definition beyond the scientifically valid.

Jame's Alliance Leveling Guide

My guild mates in my alliance guild swear on Jame's Alliance Leveling Guide being the fastest way to 60 for any alliance player. I looked through it, and it helped me find some hidden quest givers I would have otherwise missed, like the two elves spying on the Grimtotem camp in Feralas. But otherwise following the guide looked too much like playing on rails. I prefer a more spontaneous, but probably less efficient way to play.

Which always leads back to question whether World of Warcraft *begins* or *ends* at level 60. If WoW had a fast forward button, would you press it? Or would you think that by going too fast to 60 you would be missing half of the fun?

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Beckett MOG

I got my first issue of the Beckett Massive Online Gamer magazine today. Interesting read, but not really outstanding. It has an article or two about every major MMORPG, down to and including Puzzle Pirates and MtGO, which both aren't really MMORPGs (but are massively multiplayer online games). A bit more articles on WoW than on other games, as to be expected.

Some of the articles are just promotional, the Auto Assault one was actually written by NCSoft's Senior Marketing Manager. But many games are covered in a way that at least gets you some basic information about them, if you haven't played them yet. There are some WoW leveling guides, dungeon guide, a description of one quest series, and even a auction house price list, which doesn't help you a lot, considering how much prices differ between servers.

Nothing you couldn't live without, and a bit pricey at $5.99, but I subscribed anyway, lets see how the magazine evolves. Just a bit sad that I missed the first issue, my subscription somehow started with the second one.

Blessed Prayer Beads

You all know the problem in World of Warcraft, when you have two items and you have to decide which one to use. Do you want the one with the higher bonus to intelligence, or would you rather take the mana regeneration one? Plus strength or plus stamina? These things are often hard to decide, as the usefulness of each bonus depends on the situation. And you can't always take all the items and switch around.

My Alliance priest (not calling him "low level priest" any more) is now level 50, and did his level 50 class quest. Now the conventional wisdom is to take the Blessed Prayer Beads rewards, a trinket which you can activate every two minutes, to increase your healing by up to 190 for 20 seconds. But I did take the beads on my Horde priest, and nowadays I'm just not using them any more, they are rotting in the bank. The problem is that there are only two trinket slots, and other level 60 trinkets are better than the beads. I generally have problems choosing what trinkets to use, there is a much wider variety of functions in trinkets than in other items. And having one bag full of trinkets to carry around isn't really practical either.

While the bonus of the beads of +190 to healing is relatively big, you have to activate the trinket to get the bonus. And I found that I simply tend to forget to activate them every 2 minutes, only using the beads when a fight became difficult. You have to know that the beads don't add +190 to every spell, they add 190 to the biggest healing spell, Greater Healing, and proportionally less to the smaller healing spells like Renew or Flash Heal, thus the bonus is about +10% more healing for all spells. Even if I activated it every 2 minutes, with a duration of 20 seconds the trinket would work only 1/6th of the time, so even under ideal conditions the Blessed Prayer Beads make me only a less than 2% better healer.

So I think I'm going against conventional wisdom this time and take the wand. Yes, I'll get better wands at 60, but for level 50 the wand is very nice. And in the end it doesn't matter whether it is the beads or the wand I end up not using at 60. Until 60, the wand is obviously more useful for soloing. Especially since this priest is "wand spec'd", having chosen a discipline build over a shadow build. Another choice against conventional wisdom. That is probably the one advantage of leveling the same class twice to 60, you have a much better idea about the consequences of your choices, and can explore a bit off the beaten path.

Monday, August 7, 2006

World of Warcraft on MySpace

These Blizzard guys know a thing or two about marketing. Instead of resting on their 6.5 million laurels, they are busy promoting World of Warcraft further, to the few people that aren't playing yet. In their latest marketing coup they launched their own MySpace WoW page, offering trailers, MySpace skins, icons, etc.

I don't use MySpace, but I have to agree that it is a good place to pick up potential WoW customers. If you notice that many of your friends have listed World of Warcraft as their MySpace friend, you are bound to check it out.

Scaleable fonts

I just got Titan Quest and installed it. In full confidence in my GeForce 7800 GTX I selected a resolution of 1600 x 1200 with all graphics settings on high, and anti-aliasing on. Started the game, and it *does* look beautiful. Until I walked the 5 steps to the first quest giver and clicked on him to see his quest. Then I noticed that the font in Titan Quest doesn't scale with the resolution, and at 1600 x 1200 on a 19" screen the font is too tiny to read. So I had to reduce the resolution to 1280x1024 for a compromise between graphical beauty and font readability.

That is an annoying design flaw. Other games, like WoW, long since have scaleable fonts, so everything remains the same size even if you crank up the resolution. What is the use of a game supporting high resolutions in which the game becomes unplayable because the user interface has shrunk so much? Scaling the font should be a relatively easy to introduce feature.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Chance to get epics

Most people think that everybody else is getting more epics than they are, that is just human nature. But is your chance to get an epic in a raid independant of your class? No, it isn't, just the reasons for that are not what you might think.

In most guilds I've raided with there was a persistent rumor that in MC more druid and warlock stuff dropped than items for other classes. And the warriors always complain that for their class there is the least amount of drops. But if you look at the average raid, you notice that there are lots of warriors, and relatively few warlocks and druids. And according to the loot tables, loot for all classes drops about equally, and if anything the warrior set drops slightly more often than the druid or warlock set. What happens is that people automatically count the drop rate *per character*, and not per class.

I noticed the same with my raiding priest. Although our DKP system favors frequent raiders, and I raid less than some other players, I got quite a good yield of epics out the raids I attended. That is simply because there are usually twice as many warriors present than priests, and assuming equal drop rates of the might and the prophecy set, my chance as priest to get an epic is thus twice as high as a warrior's.

Actually warriors might be a specifically bad class to get epics, unless you happen to be the designated main tank of your guild. Many guilds have rules in place which let the main tank receive more than his fair share of epics, because the equipment of the main tank is so important for the raid group as a whole. But that obviously results in the other warriors in the raid getting even less epics. With warriors being one of the most frequent classes, and being most dependant on their gear for their performance, warrior is really the least favored class for epics.

In summary, not every class has an equal chance of receiving epics in a raid, but that is for simple statistical reasons, and not because the loot tables aren't balanced. By chosing a less frequently played class, you not only get into a guild or into a raid easier, you also end up getting epics more frequently.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

WoW Journal - 6-August-2006

Having finished with the pirates in Tanaris, I remembered that I still hadn't done the last pirate quest in Stranglethorn Vale. So I went back to there and proceeded to kill the captains of the three pirate ships there. The quest and the mobs are level 45, but even at 48 this wasn't easy, because there were so many pirates, I often got 3 of them at once, they tended to run away and get more, and they respawned fast. But with some mind control tricks and some strategic retreats *cough* *cough* I managed to beat them and finish the quest. And the pirates continued to be good to me, one random pirate dropped an Underworld Band, an epic level 38 ring. First epic I find while soloing, I think. Third epic already that I see on the new server, but the other two were in groups and I didn't win them. But this character found an unusual high amount of bind on equip blues already, so money is good.

I also did some quests in the Hinterlands, but there aren't as many for the Alliance as there are for the Horde. So I started finishing some scattered quests involving a lot of travel, and even started the ultimate travel quest, the Legend of Zelda cameo quest for Linken, starting in Un'Goro. And I did a third expedition to Zul'Farrak, finishing all my quests there. With all this I dinged to level 49.

As my holidays end today, I'll spend today driving home. Started the holidays as level 36 and finished as level 49, a bit over half a level per day, pretty solid progress. Yesterday I ran another Censusplus and counted that of the 1552 players online, only 350 were level 50 and above and thus farther ahead than me. I'm in the top quartile, three quarters of the players are of lesser level than me. Others would probably interpret that as being leet, but I think I just overdid it. Well, inside the house was the coolest place during the heatwave we had on holidays, so I had a good excuse to stay in and play. But basically being in a leet guild just influenced me to hurry up, due to peer pressure.