Saturday, September 30, 2006

More BWL

Another day, another step of BWL progress. On yesterday's BWL expedition we managed to kill Broodlord Lashlayer on the second try. Not a bad pace of progress, I have to say, after only killing Razorgore for the first time last week, and Vael this weekend. Our further progress then came to a screeching halt, when we had repeatedly trouble to handle the warlocks in the next room. We hadn't really been prepared for them, and for trash mobs they are rather nasty.

I guess BWL will become rather popular with my guild in the coming weeks, now that we actually kill bosses there and get tier 2 loot. Wiping on the first boss somewhere is always depressing, but wiping on a boss further in, after having gotten some loot already, is much more digestible.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Blackwing Lair

While I was traveling last weekend, my guild killed Razorgore the Untamed in Blackwing Lair for the first time. So when the guild went to BWL again last night, I took my Horde priest to go with them. I don't really like the Razorgore fight, the healing isn't all that challenging. As a priest you just stand there and pray that the crowd control works out and nobody messes up. After a couple of tries we succeeded. Yay, my first Razorgore kill! On to Vael.

Now Vaelastrasz the Corrupt I found more interesting to fight. You only have 3 minutes to bring him down, but you have unlimited mana to do so. You are constantly receiving fire damage, and when you get to the top of his hate list he turns you into a bomb, a bit like Baron Geddon. Now the conventional wisdom says that a priest should cast Prayer of Healing, Fade, and shield himself. I did that for 4 tries, and found that the disadvantage was that it was hard not to pull aggro from Vael that way, because Prayer of Healing heals a lot of points. And I never had time to deal any damage to Vael, which was annoying when we wiped on the 4th try with Vael at 1%.

So I decided to try something new: I spammed Holy Nova. With my gear Holy Nova heals about 300 points per group member and second, not that much worse than the 420 health per group member and second I get out of Prayer of Healing. And the big advantages were that Holy Nova doesn't cause any aggro, I didn't need to Fade or shield, and I did some damage to Vael with it. Not a huge amount, but every bit counts. I had to occasionally cast a Greater Heal on a group member who got more damaged than the others. But other than that the Holy Nova strategy worked like a charm. Not only did we kill Vael, but me and most members of my group were among the last ones standing when he did.

So my guild had their first Vael kill the week after the first Razorgore kill. Rumors that Vael would take us another couple of weeks after Razorgore is down turned out to be unfounded. My personal impression was that the Razorgore fight is more about crowd control skill, while in the Vael fight the fire resistance gear plays a prominent role. Well, I got over 200 FR without the shamans FR totem, so standing right next to Vael and healing a melee group wasn't a problem.

I didn't get any loot, but that wasn't a problem. The tier 2 armor dropping in BWL isn't a huge upgrade from the Molten Core tier 1 set, it basically only has a bit more healing bonus. It would be nice to get 3 pieces, because the set bonus of the Transcendence set is much better than that of the Prophecy set. But it isn't that I'd feel gimped if I "only" ran around in Prophecy. The non-set items that Razorgore and Vael drop are all worse than what I have, or just too minimally better to spend my DKP on them.

Ding 200000

Just a quick blog entry for me as historical reference later: Today my blog passed the 200,000 visits mark. This is just 4 months after reaching 100,000. I'm currently getting about 1,000 visitors a day. Who would have thunk that I'd get that far with a simple blog talking about my private opinions on games and a bit of technology?

Buying a new laptop

A year and a half ago, I bought my first laptop, a Dell Inspiron 6000. At the time I wasn't really sure whether I needed a laptop, and mainly bought it to be still able to access the internet when traveling. 18 months on I'm ready to declare that experiment to be a success: I *do* need a laptop. But with technology moving ever forward, and me knowing better now what exactly I'm using the machine for, I decided to buy a new one.

The Inspiron 6000 isn't a bad laptop, but it doesn't exactly qualify as ultra-portable. With its 15.4" wide screen the display is bigger than I really need, and thicker and heavier too. And at the time I skimped needlessly on the options, and took not enough RAM and a too small hard disk. I upgraded the RAM meanwhile, which made World of Warcraft at least playable on the machine, but the 40 GB hard disk is still far too small, WoW alone takes over 6 GB of that. The Radeon X300 graphics card and Intel Pentium M730 1.67 GHz are more than enough for surfing and watching DVDs, but playing games is a different matter. Even the not very demanding WoW only runs fluently when I lower the graphics settings.

So I was looking for a machine that was smaller, lighter, but more powerful. After reading some very enthusiastic reviews here and here I decided to buy the Dell XPS M1210. It has a Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7200 at 2.0 GHz. Doesn't sound much more than the 1.67 GHz I had, but of course the Core 2 Duo processor is a *lot* faster than the old single core Pentium Mobility. The times where you could see the speed of a CPU by its frequency are unfortunately over. As graphics card I took the Nvidia Geforce Go 7400 (256 MB), which according to this benchmark is about twice as fast as the Radeon X300 I had, with a 3DMark05 score given in the reviews of just over 2,000. Still much slower than the 6,500 I measured on my desktop computer with the Geforce 7800 GTX, but comparable to the 2,500 score I get with the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro on my wife's computer, which runs WoW perfectly. As I had noticed that WoW got a lot faster when upgrading the old laptop from 512 MB RAM to 1 GB, I ordered the new laptop with 2 GB RAM (667 MHz DDR2), so I'm pretty certain the new laptop will run World of Warcraft without any problems. I took a 160 GB hard drive, which should solve my storage space problems. And having learned from previous experience I ordered a second battery and a second charger with the laptop. The second battery is for doubling the time I can use the laptop when I'm in a plane or train. The second charger is because I use the laptop every day on my desk at home, for Teamspeak and surfing Thottbot next to the desktop running WoW, and hate to crawl under the desk every time I need the charger for traveling. The last thing I ordered with the laptop is a Kensington mini mouse with retractable cable. I already have one on the old laptop, and like it very much, much better than a touchpad for cursor control.

All this obviously isn't coming cheap, but sometimes you just have to spoil yourself. :) As here in Belgium on the Dell website only laptops with the strange French AZERTY keyboard were offered, I ordered the laptop by phone, where the sales guy was able to give me a QWERTY keyboard instead. After discussing that I didn't want to pay for a 3 year warranty and service, he ended up giving me the 3 year option for free. Always better to talk to a sales person, they usually have some leeway to give you free stuff if you place a big order. So now I'll just have to wait around 10 business days until the new laptop is delivered. Then I'll test it and post a review or something.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I bought the complete first season of JAG on DVD when I was last in the US. Yesterday I found the time to watch the pilot and the first two episodes, and I enjoyed it. The opening scene in "Shadow" where Harmon Rabb, the hero, finds himself jogging in the park in Washington and meets a jogging Bill Clinton by chance, and then a helicopter lands to pick up, to the surprise of the secret service guys, not the president but Harm, is hilarious. The stories combine criminal investigation with showing off the best of America's military hardware, and are believable enough. I'll watch some more episodes before deciding whether I should pick up the second season as well, but up to now I like it. I find JAG to be of similar quality as the much younger spin-off NCIS, although of course JAG doesn't have any character even half as colorful as Abby from NCIS.

The one thing that annoys me though is that for some reason the JAG DVDs won't play on my laptop. The laptop plays all other DVDs, even those from the US with regional coding, due to a DVD Regionkiller program. And the DVD does play on my desktop computer, as well as on my DVD player. But neither of the 6 discs of the set will play on the laptop, not with PowerDVD, nor with the Windows Media Player. I wonder if that is due to some special copy protection scheme, or whether that particular DVD drive is for some reason unable to run these discs. For me it is just annoying that I can't watch JAG in a mobile way, but what about people that don't have several DVD players at home and can't watch the DVD on the only player they own? You would think that DVDs are standardized enough to play on every player, but that obviously isn't the case.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Collusion in PvP

Last night I participated in an Onyxia raid with my Horde priest again, which ended too early to go to bed, but too late to join the Zul'Gurub raid planned afterwards. So I looked for something short to do, and noticed 3 healthy dragon scales from Scholomance in my inventory, which I had picked up earlier. Didn't those used to be unique? Anyway, I flew to Light Hope's Chapel and handed them in, at 50 Argent Dawn reputation apiece. I also handed in the Scourgestones I had gotten from the same Scholomance expedition, got Argent Dawn tokens, and paid 10 tokens for the right to buy resistance enchantments for shoulders. Great, another +5 to fire resistance. But still too early to go to bed. But hey, there is somebody giving a quest standing close to the Horde LHC flight path.

So I picked up the PvP quest to conquer the 4 towers in Eastern Plaguelands. That is very easy, no combat involved. You just type /pvp to turn PvP mode on and stand in the tower. Then you watch a little marker on a bar move slowly from the Alliance side via neutral to the Horde side, and when it hits the Horde side, you get your quest updated. At that time all 4 towers were in Alliance hands, so I went to the first one, found it empty, and "conquered" it. At the next tower I picked up two more Horde players for a mini-group for tower conquering.

So we stand there waiting for the tower to turn to our side, when another mini-group of three Alliance players turns up. No PvP flag on, they walk into the tower, and /bow and /wave, and just stand around. Tower turns Horde, we get our quest updated, and leave. The Alliance guys turn their PvP flag on after we leave, and take the tower back. Well, we already had that tower ticked off in our quest log, and had no desire whatsoever to kill the Alliance guys to take it again. So we move to the next tower and take it, and when we leave from there, the Alliance group moves in and takes it back. And so on, until I had my quest finished. Got my quest reward and PvP honor rewards without any PvP.

I'm on a PvE server, and like on all PvE server there are significantly more Alliance players than Horde players. Thus the overland quest objectives introduced in the last patch are always won by Alliance, out of sheer numerical superiority. But that puts Alliance players in a bind. You can't get the tower conquering quest done when all the towers are already in the hands of the Alliance. You only get your quest updated if the tower is in the hands of the Horde and you switch it back to Alliance. So a Horde player turning the tower over to Horde is an extremely valuable commodity for the Alliance. They would be stupid to attack him and keep him from conquering the towers, because then they couldn't conquer it back. The best way for everybody to get their quest rewards and some free honor points is collusion, not attacking each other. Makes you wonder if that is really what Blizzard wanted when they introduced overland PvP objectives. And how is that going to be with the new overland PvP objectives in Burning Crusade?

Need epic mount

I've been saving up money for some time now with my Horde characters, and got over 1000 gold, because I'm afraid that the flying mounts from the Burning Crusade will cost a lot. The idea was to skip the epic mount, because moving at 200% speed instead at 160% speed isn't worth that much money, and I would rather have gone straight from normal mount to flying mount. Unfortunately Blizzard didn't want to allow that.

Patch 1.12.1, which was introduced this week, changes the system how riding works. Mounts, normal and epic ones, are now very cheap 10 gold and 100 gold respectively, minus 10% for being honored and another minus 10% for having sergeant rank. But to ride a normal mount you now need apprentice skill in riding (75), which costs 90 gold to learn. And to ride an epic mount you need journeyman skill (150) in riding, which costs 900 gold to learn. It seems bloody obvious that riding a flying mount will need expert skill (225) in riding, and cost even more. Plus you can't get the riding skill for flying mounts without having bought the riding skill for epic mounts. You need to learn epic mount riding now, and as the actual epic mount is then comparatively cheap, you can't save much money by not buying it.

I'm sure the gold sellers of World of Warcraft are dancing in the street for joy. As the flying mount isn't "optional" like the epic mount used to be, and you now need to learn riding the epic mount before getting the flying mount, every level 70 player needs to spend a huge amount of cash. Some will farm that for themselves, the others will pay somebody to farm for them. And Blizzard does everything to encourage this farming by bad game design.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Raid invites

I'm so lucky that I don't mind playing a priest. Because that way I avoid one of the recurring problems many people have: Not getting invited to a raid you'd like to attend. It always surprises me that most guilds have elaborate systems for distributing loot, but their systems to determine who gets a chance to find that loot, by being invited into the raid in the first place, are often a lot less elaborate.

The problem usually is that the class mix of the guild (as a whole, or just those online) isn't identical to the ideal class mix in the raid. My raiding priest is usually one of just two to four priests online from my guild at any given raid time. So it is not surprising that every time I asked for a raid invite, I got invited. And then, with so few priests in the raid, whenever a priest item drops I have quite a good chance to get it, for simple statistical reasons. But with my level 60 warrior, who is in the same guild, I don't even need to try. It is likely that I would be one of 15 warriors out of 60 players asking for one of the 40 spots in a MC raid. Some warriors always have to sit that raid out, and even if you get invited as a warrior, your chance to get loot is statistically low, just because there are more of them around.

I'm happy that I'm not a raid leader, because selecting who gets invited and who not is hellishly difficult. If one class is under-represented, you simply take everyone of that class who applies. But how do you distribute raid invites fairly among those of a class from which there are too many players? Doing a simple round robin or waiting list system doesn't really work, because you will want to have a good mix of experienced, well-geared people with some less experienced people that still need all drops. Especially with warriors the "main tank" is a big problem. Taking somebody less well geared and less experienced for that role is likely to at least slow down the whole raid, and can cause unnecessary wipes. But if you always take the same one or two people as main tank, nobody else is learning how to do it, and the guild is in trouble the day the MT leaves for some reason.

There is some tendency in a guild of the problem solving itself: People of a too numerous class that have difficulties to get invited and then have a low chance to get loot tend to get fed up after a while and leave. But that process isn't painless. So most guilds recruit people based on class, but of course recruitment is never perfect, the classes you need are likely to be rare everywhere else too, and then there are always people you invite who turn up for raiding less often than you had hoped. And if somebody wants to join the guild who is a real life friend or something, it is always hard to tell him he can't join because he is playing the wrong class.

Now all this sounds as if it was just problems of guild management, and had nothing to do with Blizzard. But of course class popularity depends a lot on game design. For example a significant part of the rarity of druids can be explained by the fact that only one race of each side can play this class. Not everybody wants to play a night elf or tauren, especially the latter, there are too many cow jokes. And I am pretty certain that the priest class would be a lot more popular if it appeared more powerful in soloing. Blizzard should have an interest in making all classes equally popular, because that would make assembling groups and raids a lot more easy, thus adding to customer satisfaction.

And a great part of the responsability lies with the individual players. By now everybody should know which classes are too popular for their own good. Being a bit flexible and making an alt of a more desirable class can solve a lot of your raid invite problems. It is a bit sad, I really would like to go raiding with my warrior sometimes, but demographics are hard to beat.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Soloing at 60

Since my new Alliance priest hit level 60, I'm feeling a bit lost. I do enjoy going on 5-man dungeon crawls with him, or to go raiding with my Horde priest. But these activities require that I have time for several hours in a row, and that the people I group / raid with are online. If I just have one hour, at some odd time, I'm not really happy with my level 60 characters. I hate soloing them.

The least bad soloing activity is gathering herbs with my level 60 warrior, or doing similar farming activities designed to earn me the money and potions I need for raiding. But even there I'm only willing to do it long enough to get my necessities financed. I still don't have an epic mount on any of my characters, because farming that much gold is too boring.

Another typical level 60 soloing activity is grinding faction somewhere. I'm revered with Argent Dawn with both of my Horde level 60s, but that is more due to them having visited Scholomance and Stratholme so often than to reputation grinding. My warrior made it to friendly with the Timbermaw, to get the transmute earth to air alchemy recipe, but then gave up on it. The others just farmed enough Timbermaw reputation to pass the tunnel without being attacked. My Horde priest made some effort to farm Cenarion Circle reputation in Silithus, but gave up soloing it when I found out that a raid clearing out AQ20 gave me 2000 reputation, while soloing 2000 reputation points would take me days.

My general problem with soloing at 60 is that I don't get the feeling that I am advancing my characters with it. Quests I can solo don't give items that are better than what I have. Farming gold to buy something epic from the auction house, or farming reputation to get some new recipe or reward, is an extremely slow process giving you very little reward for a very long grind. This is not a matter of wanting "free epics", it is a matter of having a feeling of character advancement and development versus a feeling of standing still.

So to get back into advancing, I'm leveling up another character. I didn't want to start from level 1 again, not before the Burning Crusade introduces new newbie zones. But my wife had a level 33 tauren druid on her account, her first character, which she hadn't played for a long time, and had no intention to play again. So as I'm paying for her WoW account with the same credit card as for mine, I was able to use the paid character transfer service from Blizzard to get the druid transfered to my account. So now whenever I have shorter play sessions and no guild groups lined up, I slowly level up that druid. I already did some quests, and I did like the ability to sneak past enemies as a prowling cat, getting directly to my quest target at the end of the cave, without having to kill all the mobs on the way. The obvious disadvantage is missing out on the xp for killing those mobs, so I will have to see how it works out in the long term.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

World of Warcraft keylogger problem

There has been a recent spate of trojan keylogger activity directed against players of World of Warcraft. Trojans have been hidden in World of Warcraft related files and websites, for examples in the file of a raid addon named KHT Threatmeter on the Curse Gaming addon website. With the help of the trojan keylogger the hackers gained access to WoW account names and passwords. Then they stripped the characters of all valuables, disenchanted the epics into Nexus crystals, sent everything to another account from where the goods were sold and ultimately converted into real dollars, and left the original owner of the account standing naked. It got so bad that even Blizzard started warning people of keylogger scams, but their warnings were rather general and obscure. So here are some more useful tips to avoid getting robbed like that:

If you want to know whether you are infected, open you Windows task manager and check for a running process names svch0st.exe (note the zero where an o should be). Of course there could be other keyloggers using other process names, but the svch0st.exe one is the currently most abundant. If you find such a trojan, you best use some anti-virus software to remove it. Otherwise you'll need to use regedit to remove the references to svch0st.exe by hand, which is more difficult.

The easiest protection against any keylogger scam is to never type you account name. That is easy, because World of Warcraft has a useful "Remember Account Name" checkbox on the login page, and as long as you don't run several accounts on the same computer, you only need to type in your account name once, and then never again. A keylogger can't gather information you don't type. Thus a similar trick is to create a text file on your desktop with you password in it, and using copy and paste to enter the password, again invisible to keyloggers.

Blizzard claims that starting the game using the launcher (which is the default way) is safer than starting the WoW.exe file directly. That is possible, but I couldn't verify what exactly the launcher was doing to make you more safe.

Of course having an up to date anti-virus program helps. Unfortunately these have the annoying habit of starting an automatic update or virus check while you are in the middle of a raid in World of Warcraft, slowing you down to a crawl, so many WoW players have them switched off, me included. But that might be a bit foolhardy.

Hey, let's be careful out there.

Friday, September 22, 2006

World of Warcraft nostalgia servers

April 1st, 2015 - Blizzard today announced that they would be offering nostalgia servers for World of Warcraft soon. On these servers the world of Azeroth would be initially limited to the continents and dungeons that were available when the game started 10 years ago, and the level would be capped at 60. After one year the content of the first expansion would then become available, raising the level cap to 70, followed by the other expansion sets in 6-month intervals. The Blizzard director of game development explained the reasons for this decision: "Players starting the game now were often complaining that the current level cap of 150 was too high, taking too long to reach the endgame raid content. Raid dungeons that were popular in 2005/2006, like the long forgotten Molten Core, are standing empty nowadays, because of the difficulties of getting 40 people between level 60 and 70 together. The nostalgia servers will bring back the good old days of World of Warcraft, for which many veterans have been clamoring."

Critics claim that the nostalgia servers are just a cheap way for Blizzard to regain customers that have been leaving World of Warcraft in droves. Subscription numbers are down to 10 million players, just half of what is was during the peak days of WoW. The recently released "10th anniversary" expansion didn't sell as well as expected. And many players complain that the land mass of Azeroth is now so huge that you could play for days without meeting other players. As every expansion increased the level cap by 10, up to 150 now, the number of players of any given level on a server is now so small, that it is hard to find groups. And many of the items added in the last couple of expansions are so powerful that they are now considered a must-have for PvP, with players complaining about the long grind necessary to collect them.

Content is king, but as every expansion added more content to World of Warcraft, after 10 years the game has grown too big. Veteran players are leaving because they got bored in spite of the new content, while new players are feeling lost in a too huge world, with a too long path to the top. Server populations have dropped, and Blizzard has yet to come up with a good way to combine servers. And although Blizzard has done some updates of the initial graphics engine, the graphics of World of Warcraft after 10 years look definitely dated. Players are flocking to newer online games, offering better graphics, and more up-to-date combat mechanisms. The times where World of Warcraft was the market leader are over, and it is questionable whether any game can be kept alive forever by adding regular expansions. Blizzard has high hopes that World of Warcraft 2: Ragnaros Returns, currently under development, will revive their flagging fortunes.

[Note: I got this press release from the future through my slightly blurry crystal ball, and had some problems reading the numbers. So the number of years until WoW's decline, as well as the number of players at peak might not be correct. Still the question remains how far you can extend the longevity of a game with expansion sets. Both Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot are currently offering servers where the attraction is that not all expansions are running on them.]

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Blogging from Karlsruhe

I know that it is a peculiar habit, but since I have the laptop I always make small blog entries when I use it abroad, stating what kind of connection I had, and what it cost. The hope is to map a slow trend towards having free WiFi hotspots everywhere. Well, the hotel I'm in here in Karlsruhe has WiFi all over the place, but unfortunately it isn't free. Access costs 12.50 Euro for 24 hours, which is still reasonable, but of course expensive if compared to what a month of ADSL costs.

So I do think that we will arrive in the not too far away future to have WiFi (or WiMax) everywhere, but my hope that it will be free isn't yet sure to come true. Maybe if better forms of micropayment evolve, we can at least hope for WiFi access everywhere at reasonable prices.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

WoW Journal - 20-September-2006

After having gotten the Wand of Biting Cold from Alterac Valley, I noticed that the quest you fulfill by winning a battle there has other rewards for other classes. There is the wand, a polearm, a mace, and a crossbow. So I checked what weapons my level 60 warrior has and compared it to the AV quest reward, and found that the Ice Barbed Spear is a better 2-handed weapon than any other weapon I managed to pick up with that character in 40 days of /played time. Okay, that is due to him never having gotten any loot out of raid dungeons, my guilds preferring me to go raiding with the priest. But he has been to the smaller dungeons of Stratholme, Scholomance, Blackrock Spire and Dire Maul many times, without finding anything that good.

Now winning Alterac Valley used to be hard. But as I reported earlier, nowadays it can be done in half an hour, if you are lucky. I ended up spending one evening in AV, winning one out of three battles, but that was still relatively little effort for a relatively nice reward. No wonder people are rushing this place so.

As I said, the Hero of the Frostwolf (or Stormpike if you are Alliance) quest gives different rewards. But all of them seem to be very nice, even for a level 60 character. Now think that you can get them by joining AV at level 51, and the reward level seems nearly unbalanced. Some classes are better served than others (the wand is better for a frost mage than for a priest or warlock, the 1-handed mace better for a paladin or shaman than for a warrior, but then the warrior can take the 2-handed spear), but in general the quality of the item you can get out of AV at level 51 is about equivalent to the better blue loot from Zul'Gurub.

That is probably because winning AV is considered to be a "raid" activity of 40 people. World of Warcraft rewards activities that need more people higher than activities that can be done with smaller groups, or solo, even if the difficulty level for the individual is about the same. To some extent that is justified for raids like Molten Core, where getting a raid group of 40 players together, and leading them, is very hard work. But in the case of Alterac Valley, there is no organization involved. The individual player wanting the Ice Barbed Spear just joins the queue, and is placed in a raid group automatically. Organization and leadership is minimal to non-existing, you can count yourself lucky if somebody shouts "rush" and the other players follow that instruction, because it is the proven way to fast victory. But even if you are just level 51 and don't do much on the battleground, after a couple of battles you are likely to get lucky and join one where your side wins, at which point your quest counts as completed, even if you haven't contributed anything to the success.

After playing my priests a lot, doing PvP with my warrior is fun. So I think I will visit Alterac Valley a bit more often in the future. I don't count on gaining much honor rank, as we are still on a relative scale, and other players do a lot more PvP than I could possibly do. But I'm already very close to honored reputation with the Frostwolf, and getting to revered or even exalted seems to be possible in a reasonable time. And obviously for a warrior for whom the Ice Barbed Spear was an improvement, the Unstoppable Force would be awesome, even if I have to spend 125 gold on it.

I wonder if there is a deliberate policy behind that, with Blizzard wanting more people to do PvP, and luring them there with relatively easy to get epics. The AV reputation rewards seem to be a lot easier to get than lets say the tier 0.5 upgrade quest, or the Silithus reputation rewards. That makes me wonder how good the PvP rewards will be compared to the PvE rewards in the Burning Crusade expansion.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Off-spec talent builds

My new Alliance guild has one other level 60 priest, who refuses to heal. Not only does he not want to be the main healer in a group, he doesn't heal *at all*, staying in shadow form all the time. Besides that, he is constantly complaining: Priest gear only gives good bonuses for healing, not for shadow damage. He isn't invited to groups as often as he would like. And so on. At this point half of you, my readers, probably think "what an idiot to make a shadow priest", while the other half thinks "right, why doesn't Blizzard support off-spec talent builds better?".

The issue is a complicated one. World of Warcraft not only has specialist and hybrid classes. But each class also has different talent builds: Some that make a specialist even more specialized in what he does best. And others which turn him a lot more hybrid. And attitudes toward non-standard off-spec talent builds vary a lot. Obviously as long as you solo, going towards hybrid might even be the better option. Many a holy priest has leveled up to 60 being shadow, and will switch back to shadow the day the Burning Crusade comes out, and he has to level to 70. Off-spec talent builds are also often better for PvP. But groups, and especially raids, nearly always prefer the standard talent build that turns a character into a highly specialized expert in his field.

Of course that also depends on how many of each class are in a guild or a raid. Especially warriors in raiding guilds often can get away easily with being specialized to deal damage instead of tanking, because a raid only needs a limited number of tanks, and warriors are plentiful. If a guild had far too many priests, some of them dealing shadow damage instead of healing wouldn't be much of a problem. But as priests are generally in short supply, they are all needed for healing duties. The one guy who refuses to heal often just isn't welcome.

Yesterday's paladin thread suggested that the same is true for retribution paladins. I only have a warrior and two priests at 60, so I really can't say about other classes. Is destruction spec considered acceptable for warlocks? It always appeared to me as emulating a bad mage. But then, in a raid warlocks are needed for very specialized tasks, like banishing, which aren't influenced a lot by talents. It appears that feral druids are about as popular as shadow priests, that is to say highly annoying to a raid group.

Blizzard supports those off-spec talent builds only half-heartedly. For example my priest is running around in mostly prophecy gear, the epic tier 1 set from Molten Core, like many raiding priests. And a prophecy set gives a lot of nice bonuses to healing, improves your Flash Heal casting time, the critical chance of your holy spell, etc., but doesn't really do much for shadow priests. A shadow priest would be better off in a set of warlock tier 1 armor, but of course he can't wear that. It appears that in AQ40 a lot of gear drops which is good for off-spec talent builds, but AQ40 is a lot harder than Molten Core, and not as frequented.

But the main problem of off-spec talent builds is a social one. The more strict hardcore raiding guilds won't even invite shadow priests and other people with non-standard talent builds. It is the classical conflict between individual freedom and the greater good of the group. Most guilds face a shortage of healers, and a shadow priest refusing to heal is a slap in the face of the other guild members. He could be useful by a simple respec, but refuses to do so, and insists on being a mediocre damage dealer instead of a great healer. That has obvious advantages for him, when he wants to solo or do PvP, but comes at the detriment of the guild, and thus causes friction.

Part of the problem is the decision of Blizzard to put a brake on switching between talent builds, by making it more and more expensive. Compare that to a game like Final Fantasy XI, where at any time you can go back to the city and switch from one class to another without cost. Off-spec talent builds would be a lot more acceptable if you would for example go shadow for PvP, switch to holy on raid night, and go back to shadow afterwards. By making that hardly possible Blizzard is trying to artificially increase the number of character classes. But that comes at a cost of creating character classes that are just not welcome in many guilds.

WoW uptime

If you go out today and rent space on a server, the provider will most likely give you a guarantee of 99.9% uptime, that is just 9 hours per year. At the very least a server just hosting a non-critical business application is considered reliable at 99.5% uptime. In comparison World of Warcraft has at least 4 hours of scheduled downtime per *week*, 8 hours when a patch is being applied. So already just counting the scheduled downtimes, WoW's reliability is only 97%. Now add the unscheduled downtime to that score, and the reliability drops to somewhere around 95%, which isn't very good by any standard.

I never even understood what Blizzard needs 4 hours of scheduled maintenance for. When was the last time you performed scheduled maintenance on your PC? What *happens* during scheduled maintenance? Can't be a backup, because the backup has to be done continuously, otherwise unscheduled outages would lead to up to one week of rollback, and that never happens. Are they reinstalling the server software from a slow Bittorrent server every week? Or does maintenance just take 5 minutes, but they only have 1 technician, and he does it one server at a time?

I'm certainly not one to cry for a refund, I don't want 50 cents per month refunded, no thank you. But I sure think that as MMORPG move more into the mainstream, the level of uptime has to be increased to be in line with other online applications. And World of Warcraft still has a long way to go until it reaches that point.

Paladin sucks

Broken Toys had a link to a blog named Paladin sucks. This is a blog where over the course of a year, in nearly daily blog entries, a paladin explains why his class sucks, why Blizzard hates paladins so much, how every patch either ignores them or nerfs them, and so on. Talk about love-hate relationship. I'm not a big fan of playing a paladin either, but I found a relatively simple solution: I leveled a paladin up to 30 to get a feel for the class, found I didn't care for it much, and simply abandoned the character to play something else.

The disadvantages of playing a paladin are obvious: He is a hybrid between tank and healer, with neither of his two aspects being very good in dealing damage. Basically the paladin is excellent in the important skill of "not dying", but pays for that by being barely able to kill anything. If you made a contest where you take one participant of each class and time how long it takes each of them to kill a specific mob while soloing, paladin would come last. On the other hand if you made the contest about the same characters being attacked by an ever increasing flood of mobs, timing how long it takes until they succumb, the paladin would be top of class. Unfortunately "not dying" is a lot less heroic and fun than being able to kill monsters.

So wouldn't the "not dying" skill make the paladin the ideal tank? Unfortunately not. Because tanking is all about holding aggro, and the paladins taunting abilities are far inferior to those of a warrior. And the most important "not dying" skill, the famous invulnerability bubble, reduces the paladins aggro, and sends the mobs killing the other party members. And as always in MMO groups: specialists beat hybrids. A duo of one tank and one priest is a lot better than a duo of two paladins. In the end the paladin is reduced to buffing, healing, and purifying in groups and raids, being a less efficient healer, but a harder to kill one, which can be useful in some situations.

Classes that are there for support and defensive are necessary for a MMO. But that doesn't mean these classes are necessarily fun to play for everybody. Playing a support class requires a special mind set, as any holy priest can assure you. What works against paladins is that they *look* a lot more martial than they really are. You wouldn't suspect a (shadow) priest to be able to outdamage a (retribution) paladin, but that is exactly what happens. Many people who wish to deal lots of melee damage are seduced by the sexy look of World of Warcrafts huge 2-handed weapons, failing to recognize that the class which deals the most melee damage is in reality the rogue with his harmless looking dagger.

Fortunately there is one area where paladins shine: PvP. As the taunting abilities don't work in PvP, and there is no aggro management, suddenly paladins are a lot more powerful defenders than warriors. Being hard to kill even makes them better healers than priests in PvP. The invulnerability bubble, which isn't much of a help in a PvE group, suddenly becomes a very powerful tool in PvP. So powerful in fact that in the Burning Crusade expansion priest will get the ability to dispel the bubble, to the exasperation of many paladins.

Does being a paladin suck? Only if you started playing that class with wrong expectations, which is a definitive risk. If you want to play a healer / aggressive melee hybrid, you should take a shaman instead, even if their armor doesn't look half as good as the paladins. If you want to play a healer, play a priest. If you want to play a tank, play a warrior. And if you want to deal a lot of damage in melee, play a rogue. Expecting to be able to do all three things in one class, and each better than the specialist classes, isn't very realistic, and is bound to lead to disappointment. Then you could either join the growing horde of grumbling paladins, or just play something else.

No more room for rewards

World of Warcraft rewards your actions in two ways, either by giving you some sort of points (xp, honor, reputation, gold), or by giving you items. Points might or might not be capped, but even if they are, the cap is usually high enough to enable you to keep collecting them for a very long time. Item rewards are a lot more critical, because the number of spaces in your inventory and the bank is so limited. So you end up throwing away rewards, just because you don't have room for them.

A number of item rewards in World of Warcraft are not very useful. Especially holiday events tend to reward you with items which are cute, but have no major impact on gameplay. There are festive clothes, stones that create columns of light, items to transform you into a snowman, all sorts of non-combat pets, and many other fun but useless things. But you can also get non-combat pets or other items that are just for fun, like the faded photograph of Link with Princess Zelda, or the rod that transforms you into a furbolg, from quests. Obviously as soon as your inventory space becomes a problem, these useless items are the first to go. Most of them are soulbound, and have no vendor value, so you can just throw them away.

A major drain on your inventory space are tradeskills. Whether you are doing alchemy, enchanting, tailoring, leatherworking, smithing, or engineering, you soon find lots of slots in your bank and inventory taken up by all sorts of tools and ingredients. But fortunately most of them are not soulbound, so you can simply create a bank character, and just send him all the materials. That is sometimes annoying, because it is hard to keep track of what materials you have when they are distributed over two or more characters. And sending them back and forth takes time. But at least you don't have to destroy them when space runs out.

Gear, as in armor and weapons, starts out as being not much of a problem, as long as you still level up. In most cases, when you find a better item, you don't mind vendoring the old item, because there is no reason to keep it. Once you hit the level cap, the situation changes. You might have one cloak with great stats, and another one which gives a great bonus to fire resistance, and you will want to keep both, depending on the situation. But then both of them will be soulbound, and you can't store them elsewhere. For quite some time fire resistance will be all you need, but then you start going to Ahn'qiraj, and start collecting nature resistance gear. And it appears obvious that as Blizzard is adding more dungeons, you soon will be needing resistance gear for all 5 types of magical damage. And then sometimes you just have two items which are different, without one being clearly superior to the other, for example one that gives more intellect, while the other gives faster mana regeneration, or a bonus to healing spells. Again it depends on the situation what item is better, and you might want to keep both.

After spending a lot of money on bank bag slots and 16-slot bags, you can reasonably expect to reach 136 bank spaces and 80 inventory spaces at level 60. Special bags for herbs or enchanting materials, as well as ultra-rare 18-slot bags can improve that slightly. In addition Blizzard recently added a "keyring", a special bag holding only a few specific dungeon keys, but not other dungeon-specific items, like the "keys" for UBRS and Onyxia. But given the hundreds of possible items you might want to store, armor, weapons, materials, quest items, potions, and other consumables, most players don't have enough inventory space.

One possible solution would be offering people some additional slots for storing armor. Players could for example get a number of mannequin dolls, each one able to hold a complete set of armor. So you could have one mannequin with your fire resistance gear, one with your PvP armor, one with your PvE armor, and so on. If WoW one day in the far future introduces player housing (an option which the developers still think about), the mannequins could be in your house, serving as decoration as well as storage. But for the time being the mannequins could be accessible just from your cities tailor store, and work a bit like a second bank, just with some added button to quickly exchange your armor with that of the mannequin.

And of course there is always the simpler option of introducing bigger bags into the game, something which is already expected for the Burning Crusade expansion. But one thing is clear: As Blizzard considers collecting items to be one major point which attracts players to the game, they need to enable the players to actually keep those items somewhere.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The new Alterac Valley

When Blizzard introduced the Alterac Valley battleground to World of Warcraft, I went there a couple of times, and then abandoned it. AV was only open a few times per week, you had to wait in queue very long, and once you got in, the battle lasted many, many hours. I never saw AV finished then, because after a couple of hours I just got exhausted and left. Fast forward to patch 1.12, and boy has Alterac Valley changed!

I don't do much PvP, but some guild mates advised me to visit AV with my Alliance priest, because winning the battle there gives you a very nice wand of biting cold. Okay, the bonus to frost spells is useless to me, but the 64 damage per second were a lot nicer than what I had before. First positive surprise on trying to enter AV is that there are half a dozen and more AV battlegrounds open at any given time. And even for Alliance the queue was only 10 to 15 minutes.

Once I entered the battleground, it turned out that the strategy had changed fundamentally. While in the old AV people were basically meeting in the middle and killing each other, now Horde and Alliance just rush past each other. Very few to no people are defending. Within minutes Horde captures the graveyard closest to the Alliance base, and vice versa. The side that kills the enemy general faster wins. The battle that lead to me gaining my wand lasted less than half an hour. Other battles lasted a bit longer, because some people tried to defend their base, slowing both sides down. I managed to do some AV quests, like capturing a tower or capturing a graveyard. That is surprisingly simple, because nobody defends them, there are just NPC guarding the flag. As priest you just pull them all, do a Psychic Scream to send them running, and if nobody resists you just have enough time to capture the flag.

All in all there was surprisingly little PvP in Alterac Valley. Most players on both sides stuck together in one big group, assaulting the NPCs of the enemy fortress. When I tried to defend, I was quickly cut down. Once I was in a battle where about a dozen people defended the Alliance fortress, and that battle went nearly 2 hours, because without those dozen players the Alliance didn't have enough firepower to take down the enemy general, and their defence prevented the Horde from killing the Alliance general, until the Horde finally broke through and won. After one evening in AV I was friendly with the Stormpike, and had gained 20k honor points, but only had 200 honor kills. In the fastest battle I won without having a single honor kill, as Alliance was fighting NPCs exclusively. What a strange way to do PvP!

Bad fun on Plasticbag

Alan sent me an interesting link to an article with long discussion on The author is a casual player, much more casual than me even, and he asks himself why he feels compelled to continue playing World of Warcraft while resenting it.

Of course in a way World of Warcraft is designed to keep us playing, no matter what. The mechanisms of that are simple: social contacts and character development. Not playing would mean losing contact and status with your online friends. *And* it would invalidate the hundreds of hours you spent getting you character where he is. There is a "barrier to exit" a game like WoW.

My personal solution is to keep playing as long as I still have fun things ahead of me (and I'm looking forward very much to the expansion), but not obsessing too much on one single character. Variety is the spice of life, and if you are bored after hitting level 60 with one character, just start the next one.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Raiding Blackwing Lair

I spent last night in BWL, 4 hours, wiping 9 times. My guild mates were telling me that we were making progress, getting down to single digit numbers of eggs left by the time we wiped. But to me that seemed like the progress you make if you repeatedly run against a steel door: You might leave visible dents in the door, but the damage to your shoulder is a lot bigger than that. Frankly, I can't see the fun in that.

Now you might think my guild just isn't very good. But as we can clear Molten Core in 5 hours, Ragnaros included, I don't think we are that bad. BWL is simply too hard, or more specifically the difficulty gap between the last boss of MC and the first boss of BWL is too big. From a smooth gameplay flow point of view it would be a lot less frustrating if the first boss of the next harder dungeon wasn't harder to kill than the last boss of the previous dungeon.

What I would really like to do is forget about BWL for the moment, wait until the expansion comes out, level up to 70, and then do BWL in easy mode. Because my interest in that place is to see it up to the end. I don't really care about the loot that much, so I wouldn't mind waiting until level 70. Unfortunately letting BWL be won't be possible. The guild is short on priests, yesterday we had just 3 for BWL, and the peer pressure on me to attend BWL raids and stay on for wipe after wipe is immense. I'd currently be more interested in AQ20, but most guildies have already done ZG, AQ20, and MC to exhaustion, and are sick and tired of these places.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Haves and Have-nots

A player named Schwick keeps a very exhaustive FAQ on everything there is to know about the Burning Crusade on the European World of Warcraft forums. One thing that is particularly interesting is what will happen to the players who do not buy the expansion. Priced the same as the full game at just under $40, it is conceivable that not everybody is going to buy the expansion. And that will create two distinctive populations of haves and have-nots.

Now the expansion does two things: It changes rules, and it adds content. So at first I had assumed that the rule changes applied to everybody, expansion or not, while the added content would be available only to the people who paid up. Unfortunately it isn't quite that simple. Some rule changes have to be applied to everybody. For example the PvP honor system is going to change, with the old relative ranking system going out the window, and a new cummulative system being installed instead. It is simply not possible to keep a part of the population on the old system, thus everybody will benefit from this change. Also changes to the user interface, like a rumored new LFG system, are going to be available to everybody.

But the major rule change of lifting the level cap is *not* going to apply to everybody. If you don't pay, you will be stuck at level 60. And it is unclear whether you will be able to use the new talents (which costing only up to 41 talent points you would be able to afford even at level 60) if you didn't buy the expansion. Somebody without the expansion will be able to use socketed items and gems from jewelcrafting, but he won't be able to become a jewelcrafter himself, and obviously the best socketed items are bind on pickup items found in the Outland zones, which the have-nots can't even enter. Without the expansion you will be able to *see* fellow players running around as Blood Elf or Draenei, but you won't be able to create one yourself. You won't even be able to enter the new starting zones for these races, although I'm not quite sure how that is going to work, as WoW normally doesn't have "zoning" between zones on the same continent.

In summary, if you don't buy the expansion, World of Warcraft technically remains pretty much as it is. Unfortunately as a have-not you will be in a minority. So if you are level 60, you have a big problem. Most other players will have leveled on, and finding enough level 60 players to go to places like Molten Core will be really difficult. You could theoretically try to organize a guild where all players don't have the expansion, but such a guild wouldn't be very stable, with many people buying the expansion sooner or later and moving on. The whole environment is set up in a way that you will be strongly encouraged to give Blizzard your $40.

Of course all this is only true if you are not Chinese. The biggest group of have-nots is the millions of players on the Chinese servers, which won't be seeing the Burning Crusade expansion before 2007, if ever. Blizzard is currently earning very little for each of the millions of Chinese players, much less than they earn from the rest of the world, and so they are negotiating for a bigger share of the pie with the Chinese distributor, holding the expansion as hostage. But even without the Chinese, Blizzard will probably sell about 2 million copies of the expansion before christmas, at $40 each, which makes a nice little stash of money.

WoW Journal - 14-September-2006

I haven't been to AQ20 for a while. Last time was many months ago, with my previous Horde guild, just killing the first boss and wiping on the second one. My current guild does 20-man raids during the week, when less people are online, and 40-man raids on the weekends, when there are more people. Logical, but unfortunately that ends up me rarely going to ZG and AQ20, because I just can't participate in 8 pm to past midnight raids every night and sleep during the day on my desk at work.

But yesterday I made an exception, and went to AQ20 for the first time with this Horde guild. And that was a big success, we killed all the bosses in 4 hours. Not having been there before, I managed to pick up two codices with the next ranks of Renew and Greater Heal, very useful. I know that these codices aren't strictly necessary, because in the Burning Crusade expansion you can get exactly the same spells by leveling up to 62 or 64. But the expansion won't be out for a couple of weeks yet, and at the very least I save probably about 6 gold each for learning those spells from the trainer. I also got the Antenna of Invigoration, see my other post today.

Even more importantly I got about 2,000 points of Cenarion Circle reputation for clearing out the whole of AQ20, and that in 4 hours. Soloing 2,000 points of CC reputation would have taken a *lot* longer. So much longer that I consider not even trying to solo CC faction any more, but joining more AQ20 raids instead. I just need to manage my sleep differently, maybe sleep an hour before the raid to be fit.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Something strange about wands

Yesterday in AQ20 I received the Antenna of Invigoration, a wand to replace my old Stormrager with. As usual when I get a new weapon, I first open my character sheet and see how much damage per second the old weapon does, before equipping the new weapon and comparing. So: Old wand, Stormrager, 62.7 dps nominal, but with all my bonuses an impressive 148.1 dps. New wand, Antenna of Invigoration, 71.6 dps nominal, with bonuses 140 dps. Huh?!? How can the wand which originally has 9 points more dps end up giving me 8 damage less per second?

Digging deeper I find the reason is that my bonus to wand damage is so large. From some items, but mostly due to my holy talent Spiritual Guidance, I have a large bonus of the "increases spell damage and healing" kind, for a total of +115 increase to spell damage. And this +115 is added *completely* to my wand damage, increasing both the minimum and the maximum damage of my wand by +115. So instead of doing 57 to 106 points of damage, Stormrager does 172 to 221 points of damage. And the Antenna gets upgraded from 80 - 149 to 195 - 264. But as the bonus is added to damage, and not to damage per second, the faster wand, Stormrager, gets the bonus every 1.3 seconds, while the Antenna only gets the bonus every 1.6 seconds, and ends up with less dps.

Some guild mate claims that it is only since patch 1.12 that the complete spell damage bonus is added to wand damage. And I've read, but didn't verify, that a bonus "to shadow damage" for example wouldn't be added to a wand dealing shadow damage. In any case, the effect is huge, especially for a holy priest. I have 240 of spirit unbuffed, so Spiritual Guidance alone adds +60 to my wand damage every 1.3 seconds. I think I should try to get more items that have a "increase spell damage and healing" bonus. Maybe try if the wizard oils are added to wand damage, that would be a nice boost of +30. And I should obviously favor faster wands over slower ones. But of course I'll keep the Antenna for groups and raids, it has the better bonuses when I'm just healing.

WoW Journal - 13-September-2006

What a difference a guild makes! A few days ago I was ready to abandon my Alliance priest, now I'm having fun again with him. There are 5-man groups organized in my new guild all the time, and the people play well, so no more pickup groups from hell.

Of course with the guild being small, the group composition isn't always optimal. Yesterday I went to Stratholme with a warrior, a paladin, and two hunters. Crowd control by two ice traps and four tanks. :) Needless to say the situation was a bit chaotic sometimes, but we managed well, with just one wipe on some patrol adding to a fight. Both Balnazzar and the cannonmaster downed without problems.

I changed my talent build to 20 discipline, 31 holy, so I got Lightwell but no spirit buff. I need to cast this Lightwell more often, I tend to forget about it unless I'm in a boss fight. I'm still not totally convinced that the spirit buff build isn't better, but I thought I should try. What I was using a lot in this group was Prayer of Healing. Due to the 2 pets the spell had up to 7 targets healed at the same time, and became very mana efficient. The most problems with healing I had with the large groups of undead, which the paladin all aggroed with some form on holy AoE. After doing that his health went down very fast, and I couldn't always heal him fast enough.

Loot is distributed without much fuzz, haven't seen a single loot fight yet. But the group composition wasn't optimal for making the best out of loot. I got all the cloth drops by default, nobody was using leather, and both mail and plate drops had two people each needing them. But on the positive side we are all not very well equipped, and most items that were not leather found somebody needing them. We did find a Magister's Belt nobody needed, but as it is bind on equip we just gave it to one of our guild's mages later.

So the current plan is playing my Alliance priest more often. But I still want to go raiding regularly with my Horde priest, for example tonight there is an AQ20 raid scheduled I'd like to join. Lets see how that works, I hope it doesn't go on until past midnight.

WoW blue tracker

I found a very nice site, WoW blue tracker, which archives and collects all the official information the "blue names" from Blizzard post on the forums. Searchable too!

Example: How will level 70 affect Molten Core? Good to know. Except maybe changing the raid reset timer, Molten Core and all other level 60 raid dungeons will remain unchanged. If you want to farm them with a group of 40 (or less) level 70 players, you are free to do so. But even tier 3 loot from Naxxramas is less good than what you would be able to gather with similar effort in a level 70 dungeon.

Spells and talents in Burning Crusade

The priest spells and talents have been added to the spells and talents page of the Burning Crusade website. Some very interesting stuff, like a group renew spell as 41 point holy talent. And an area of effect magic dispel, which removes negative debuffs from friendly targets, and positive buffs from the enemy. It also is stronger than the previous dispel, able to remove effects that previously were impossible to remove. According to some Blizzard representative on the US forums that includes the ability to remove the paladin's invulnerability bubble. The PvP paladin community is foaming at the mouth. But if you ever played PvP as Horde you will be aware that on a typical battlefield there are far more paladins than in PvE, so I guess deflating the paladin's bubble isn't such a bad idea. (Sorry, couldn't resist *that* pun.)

For any class the new talents and the additional 10 talent points pose an interesting question: How do you spend your talent points best? Up to now, quite a large number of people spent 31 points in one talent branch, and the remaining 20 in another. That typically gives you the top talent plus everything necessary from the main branch, plus quite some good abilities from your second branch. But the talent trees are designed to have good talents at 21 points, so for example a priest wanting the top holy talent Lightwell can't take the very good 21 point discipline talent spirit buff. Now the Burning Crusade changes the equation. At level 70 you will have 61 talent points to spend, and the top talent of each tree costs 41 points. So you could go 41/20, gain the new talents of your chosen main talent branch, and not change anything in your secondary branch. But you could as well go 31/30 or something in between, getting more talents from your secondary branch by foregoing the very top of your main branch.

I am sure that every class and every one of the three branches inside of every class will hotly debate what the best build will be. But in the end it depends on your circumstances. For example the top holy talent, group renew, is awesome in a 5-man group. However in a raid that talent is a lot less useful, because it only works on your own group, doing exactly nothing for 20 out of 25 (or 35 out of 40 if you still go to the old raid dungeons) raid participants. So I can totally see a raiding priest putting less than 41 points into holy, and more than 20 into discipline, to get the spirit buff and other interesting discipline talents. If the same priest was in a much smaller guild, doing mostly 5-man groups, he might go for 41 points in holy after all.

Of course the day The Burning Crusade comes out, most priests will first do something different: Use their free respec (all players get all their talent points refunded for free, due to the massive changes) to change their talents to shadow. The new 41 point shadow talent gives you a kind of fast heal spell while in shadow form, so using that and the bubble a soloing priest will never ever to have to leave his shadow form again. At level 66 priests get a nifty new spell, which summons 3 shades to attack your enemy for 8 seconds. Not really a "pet", but another good soloing spell to deal more damage. Another new shadow spell is shadow word death, an instant direct damage spell with a twist. If you just use it to hurt an enemy, it deals equal damage to you, but if you kill an enemy with that spell, you take no damage. Obviously a great finishing move.

I fear there will be quite a dispute about priest talents in many guilds after the expansion comes out. I would guess that the majority of experience points needed to get from 60 to 70 will be gathered while soloing. So many of the priests will certainly want to go shadow at least until they hit 70. But the guilds as a whole will probably still want to do guild events, for example raids to the old level 60 raid dungeons in groups with mixed levels from 60 to 70. Or going to those new 5-man instances which can be done below level 70. And of course for these guild events the guilds will prefer their priests to be holy spec'd. What is a poor priest to do? If he stays holy the guild will complain that he isn't leveling fast enough, and if he goes shadow they will complain that his healing isn't that good any more. Playing a support class isn't always easy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Age and leveling speed

I've read that the world record for leveling a character in World of Warcraft from 1 to 60 is 4 days and 20 hours of /played time, but that was with being powerleveled. I don't know how many days of /played a typical "leet" player needs to level a new character on a new server up to 60, my guess would be it is in the 8 to 10 days range. So my Alliance priest, who leveled to 60 in 13 days of /played time on a new server wasn't that far behind. I could have gone faster if I hadn't spent so much time on earning money with fishing, and getting up my mining and tailoring tradeskills. Nevertheless in my now disbanded leet guild I was considered being very slow. Because they were measuring leveling speed not in /played days to 60, but in real time weeks to 60. At nearly 3 months to 60 I was way behind the curve, some of those guys did it in less than a month.

But of course if you want to reach level 60 in a month, and it takes around 10 days of /played, or 240 hours, you need to play 8 hours per day. No can do, for me. Between work and family I get around 4 hours of play per day, and even that is something that many people would consider already a lot. Even when I was on holidays I didn't play much more than 4 hours per day, there are other things in life than World of Warcraft. (Don't be surprised. I just tend to write less about the other things in life.)

So now I am in a new guild, more of a friendly family-style guild, not leet at all, and only a handful of guild members is already at 60. And I quickly noticed in guild chat that even besides the "leet" aspect, these people are markedly different than those in my previous guild. The majority of them were a lot more mature. And after asking around a bit, it turns out that yes, the average age in the guild is mid-20s, while the average age in the previous guild was in the teens.

And suddenly it made perfect sense. The previous guild was kids on summer holidays, with endless amounts of time on their hands, easily able to hit 60 in a month. Come September it is back to school, attendance rate to raids dropped, which ultimately lead to the guild disbanding. If you plotted a graph of all the players ages and how many weeks they took to level up to 60, you would get a cloud with all sorts of points, but a definitive correlation between age and leveling speed. Of course that is not an absolute correlation, there is always the unemployed adult or the kid actually studying instead of playing. But the trend is certainly there.

Relmstein on guild death

Relmstein has an interesting analysis on how guilds die. He claims that it is always either the guild master disbanding the guild, or somebody dividing the guild. Can't argue with the first one, it just happened to me yesterday. But I don't think the second one is that clear cut.

I do believe that divisions kill guilds, but it isn't necessarily the work of a single person. And it isn't necessarily somebody new, out to overthrow the old guild master. In fact the division is something that happens automatically, people develop at different speeds. A guild masters some step of the classic guild development path, lets say Molten Core. So the hardcore are pushing the guild to go to the next step, in this example Blackwing Lair. Guild goes to BWL and wipes ten times against Razorgore. And that is where the cracks start showing. Half the guild, the casual half, wants to go back to MC, enjoy the casual farming of the place, equip everybody in epics, and come back to BWL later, much later, when the guild is stronger. The other half, the hardcore half, doesn't want to "babysit" the casual half through MC. Instead they start lambasting the casuals for "not pulling their weight", "not being prepared", "not reading up", "not following orders", and whatever else they quote as reason for the failure in BWL. Casuals are sick and tired about being shouted at, and don't turn up to BWL raids any more. Hardcore are sick and tired of the casuals, and don't show up to MC raids any more. And then it isn't long until the guild falls apart, either splits up into two guilds or totally disbands. Note that MC/BWL was just an example, the same thing can happen at the UBRS/ZG transition, the ZG/MC transition, and any other point of the guild development path to Naxxramas.

Guilds that have strict policies on raid attendance are trying to avoid exactly that split, by keeping everybody at the same level. And sometimes the split isn't catastrophic, but is just a steady stream of hardcore guys leaving the guild to join a more leet other guild. It is really hard to keep everybody in a guild on the same meta level. The people who raid most usually have the best gear, and obviously also the most experience. But they often fail to see that they can't succeed alone. As Relmstein mentions, often the priests are among the more casual players, which is only natural, because somebody who wants to be at the top rarely plays a support class. While the main tank, the guy with the most epics, is always one of the more hardcore players. After a split, the hardcore players don't have enough support players any more, and the casual players don't have raid leaders and main tanks any more. The sensibile thing would be to stick together, accept the fact that transition to a new, harder raid dungeon involves lots of wipes, set up a system of incentives for both sides to come to each others raids, until one day the casual players are ready for the next dungeon too. Unfortunately patience is often in low supply, especially among the more ambitious players.

Fortunately there is some hope for improvement, with the raids being capped at 25 in the future. It is easier to keep a group of 25 at the same level than a group of 40. What we don't know yet, but what could also help, is how big the gap is between one raid dungeon and the next. If a guild that kills the last boss in one dungeon has a very good chance to kill the first boss of the next dungeon after a few tries, that would make the transition easier as well. It is much more acceptable to wipe in the middle of a dungeon, after having already received some loot at the start, than on the very first boss.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The state of PvP in WoW

PvP in World of Warcraft is a work in progress. If you read my first WoW Journal from 2 years ago, from the US stress test beta, all the PvE I describe there has remained virtually unchanged from then until now. The user interface has improved, and content has been added. But PvE is still following the same rules it had two years ago. Meanwhile PvP has changed a lot, having received major changes in every second patch. The basic rules of PvP are totally different now than they were two years ago, and they will be totally changed again before the end of the year. So where is PvP now?

As a disclaimer, I would like to mention that I only play on PvE servers, so anything I say might be slightly different on a PvP server.

In a way PvP is healthier than ever. The cross-server battlegrounds introduced in patch 1.12 are a huge success. There are always battlegrounds of every type open, waiting queues are much shorter than ever, and the availability of battlegrounds got more people than ever interested in PvP. As a viable alternative activity to PvE, PvP has really come of age.

Outside of battlegrounds, on PvE servers, PvP is rare. People duel for fun or to pass the time when waiting for something. But the overland PvP objectives introduced in patch 1.12 aren't exactly popular. People do them once, to get the related quest rewards, then yawn and move on. I flew a spectral gryphon between the 4 towers for the first time recently, and there wasn't a single player at any of the 4 PvP locations in Eastern Plaguelands.

The weak point of PvP is still the reward system. Very few players seriously go for the high-end rewards in that system, most players are content to reach Sergeant and get the 10% NPC vendor price reduction. Going for the highest rank means you need to compete with people who do nothing else but PvP up to 16 hours per day, and to most players that is just not possible. This isn't about skill, any idiot can make more honor points in 16 hours than the world's best PvP player in 4 hours. The one skill that helps in PvP is organization. Going to a battleground in a "premade" group, using voice chat, is the best way to collect honor points.

A number of positive changes to PvP have already been announced for the Burning Crusade expansion. It seems that Blizzard has realized the potential of battlegrounds as "casual" PvP entertainment for the masses, and is changing the honor reward system accordingly. The relative rank system will disappear, and people just collect honor points like they collect experience points or faction reputation points, in a cumulative manner. These honor points can then be spent, like a currency, to buy PvP rewards. Thus finally 4 evenings of 4 hours PvP give the identical reward than one day of 16 hours, which makes PvP a lot more interesting to the majority of players.

But the hard-core PvP fans will also get a major improvement: a PvP league system called battle arenas. You form a team of 4, 6, or 10 players on the roster, staying together for one season. At any time half the players of the team can compete in a battle arena in fights against another team. So there will be arenas for 2-on-2, 3-on-3, and 5-on-5 combats. Any win in an arena will increase your team's rating, and at the end of each week you get points based on your team's rating, for which you can buy PvP rewards. Interestingly the arenas are *not* about Horde vs. Alliance, any team can be paired against any other team of the same size, regardless of side. Will be interesting to see how the team's rating will be determined. Will there be a fixed number of matches per week? If not, how do you count the rating of one team that won 10 out of 10 matches against the other team that won 11 out of 30?

So PvP is bound to improve further with the expansion. The only negative side in that is that it diminishes the interest in going after PvP honor rewards now. You certainly don't want to be half on your way to some PvP honor rank when the system is abandoned. It isn't clear at all whether and how your current honor rank is transformed into the new honor points, it is quite possible that you just lose all. But of course the same can be said about PvE rewards, why break your back to get some level 60 epic now, when it might be a lot easier to get a level 70 blue item that is better? And why not wait with going to AQ40 and BWL until your guild is all level 70 and doesn't wipe twenty times on the first boss? But I guess some people always prefer the hard way, the challenge, the achievement.

Back to casual

Sometimes problems just solve themselves, given a little patience. I was unwilling to leave my leet Alliance guild, because I date from a time (Everquest) where leaving a guild was considered unloyal, a bad mark on your character. But yesterday night I log on to find that the guild has been disbanded by the guild leader. Most members formed a new guild, but informed me that they couldn't invite me, because they already had enough priests. Great! I didn't really fit in with them anyway. It was an interesting experience to hang out with the leet crowd, but ultimately they thought that I was some kind of joke, while I was secretly thinking the same of them. A guildmaster who burns out and instead of handing the guild over to somebody else just disbands it and deletes the guild website? Come on!

So I was thinking, what exactly do I want from a guild? Besides guild chat, I think the main function of a guild is to provide each other with a trusted pool of people to group with. So for my Alliance priest I rather need a nice guild which is doing 5-man instances together, instead of a leet raiding guild. At that point I remembered the people I was in BRD with, nice players of which 3 were from the same guild. So I found out who their guildmaster was, and started chatting with him. Turns out they do 5-man instances every day, and they are short of healers. Guild outlook is more on the mature and friendly side than on the uber-achiever leet side. Just what I was looking for. So I applied and joined a new guild.

We already did a first expedition to Stratholme, Scarlet side, together. It was refreshing to play with people who know how to play their class, but don't know all of the dungeons inside out. We ended up making the typical newbie mistake for Stratholme: Getting distracted by all sorts of events and side quests, and advancing too slowly. So when we got wiped at the cannon master, and had to run back, we found that everything had respawned, and we couldn't get back to loot the guy. As it was getting late, we decided to stop there and try again another day. Good that the Alliance is getting shamans in the expansion. Pallys not having self-rez is a distinctive disadvantage.

Well, anyway, it seems I am back to the original purpose of that Alliance priest, doing 5-man instances. Somehow it is more fun to do these places when you can actually use the loot. Would have been easier to do Stratholme with my full epic Horde priest, but then, what would have been the point in that?

Newsweek on WoW

There is an article about World of Warcraft in Newsweek. It touches the usual range of MMORPG issues: the good and bad sides of escapism, danger of addiction, meaningful social contacts, real-money trade. All written in a quite balanced way, not too judgemental, worth reading.

Remembering 9/11

There is no way around it, today the world remembers the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. What most people will dwell on on this day is the fact that the guy who did it, Osama bin Laden, is still at large. You would have thought that the most powerful nation on earth, given 5 years of time, would be able to catch a single man. And I honestly believe that if 300 billion dollars had been spent towards that purpose, not to talk of the loss of nearly 3,000 allied soldiers lives, Osama would certainly have been caught by now. Unfortunately George W. Bush chose to spend that money and cost in human lives for going after the wrong guy, Saddam Hussein. Now Saddam certainly was a nasty piece of dictator, but that is a characteristic he shares with a couple of other guys, from Robert Mugabe to Kim Jong-il. Saddam wasn't responsible at all for 9/11, which Bush knew, and he didn't even have weapons of mass destruction, which (I believe) Bush didn't know.

I am not generally opposed to kicking out dictators. And I salute the Americans that are in Iraq, risking their lives under difficult conditions. When I was recently in the USA I witnessed an American soldier coming home from the war. He arrived by plane, and his family was waiting for him at the gate of the airport. His wife was crying because she was so happy to have him back, causing quite a commotion. And when the people around them noticed what was going on, they all gave the soldier a round of applause, a hero's welcome. And he deserved it.

But on a higher level the war has been mismanaged. Rumsfeld gets no respect from me, because he only won the war, but then proceeded to lose the peace, by treating the Iraqians wrong, and not sending enough ground troops. Worse still, with actions like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and outsourcing torture to third countries the Bush administration managed to create more new terrorists than they captured or killed. If a year ago 4 young British-born muslims exploded suicide bombs in London, that had very little to do with bin Laden, but was a direct result of the war on terror. Today the war on terror has degenerated into a Republican vote winning scheme. Meanwhile America is less powerful and much more hated than five years ago. The only one with reason to celebrate this anniversary is Osama bin Laden.

WoW Journal - 11-September-2006

I already mentioned that my Alliance priest hit level 60 in BRD this weekend. But I'd like to tell a bit more about my three BRD expeditions with this character, because they were so different. The first one I already mentioned in my pickup group from hell post, a complete disaster. Got nothing done, lots of fights with stupid idiots, no loot due to the ninjalooter taking all, really horrible.

The second run was the one during which I hit level 60, and completed the attunement to the core. That group was much better, probably because 3 of the 5 group members were from the same guild, and organized it well. We had me as priest, a warrior, a paladin, a mage and a warlock. The group leader, the pally, used the new symbols you can put over the heads of players and monsters to great effect. Every new mob group was tagged with one symbol for the mob to be sheeped, and another with the mob to be mind controlled. Yes, mind control, we were running that unorthodox but very interesting strategy. I start the combat by mind controlling one mob, which causes the other mobs of the group to attack the controlled one. Mage sheeps one mob, group pulls one other mob away from the mind controlled one and kills him. Then either the mind control breaks, or the other mobs kill the controlled one and come running after me. But by that time the enemy is already weakened, and is easily finished off. It worked very well, but having tried similar tactics in harder places than BRD I must say it stops working when the mobs get too high in level, and start resisting the mind control too often, or it breaks too early.

With this group we first did the prison, allowing me to get one step done in the Onyxia key quest chain. Somebody else was further along in the chain and we tried the jailbreak escort quest. Unfortunately we only cleared the prison area and the large entry hall, because we thought the prisoner would go from there to the entrance. But it turned out that he headed into another tunnel, one we hadn't cleared, and there he aggroed several groups of mobs at once, and ended up wiping us. After that we did the arena, then used the key on the big lock to close the huge gate which then forms a bridge. We crossed the bridge to reach General Angerforge and Golem Lord Argelmach, and proceded from there to the bar. Did the lost thunderbrew recipe quest there, started the bar fight to get the door open, killed Phalanx. From there we went to kill Ambassador Flamelash, and then reached the hall of the seven dead dwarves, which we killed as well to open the next door. That brought us to the place where the Molten Core attunement is done. We didn't proceed through the Lycaeum towards the emperor, but instead turned around and went back to the backdoor of the bar. From there we jumped down and killed Incendius, and then Fineous Darkvire, to get the quest item needed for the Shadowforge key. Finally we went to the vault, having collected more than the 12 keys necessary. At that time it was half past one in the morning, and so we stopped. Very nice run.

My third BRD run was right the next morning. I had hearthstoned out, and was in Stormwind getting my level 60 spells, repairing, restocking, etc., when I got a tell asking me whether I wanted to join a BRD group. Now the Alliance Onyxia key quest chain requires you to visit BRD several times, so I agreed. I flew to Morgan's Vigil to hand in the quest I did the night before, at which point the quest series *seems* to end, but doesn't really. Because from now on any mob in BRD has a chance to drop the crumpled note, which starts the next part of the series.

This new group was also very good, but had a different composition, and a very different tactics. We had me as priest, a warrior, two mages and a hunter. Again we used symbols to mark mobs, but this time we marked two mobs to be sheeped, no mind control. With two mobs being crowd controlled by being polymorphed into sheeps, the rest is then easy, and we just did standard tactics, with the warrior tanking, me healing, and the other three dealing the damage. No problem. Again we went to the prison first, I found the crumpled note on the way and handed in the quest, which set me on the next quest to kill Angerforge and Argelmach. But we first did the arena, and from there went to the statue where Pyromancer Loregrain now resides permanently (he used to be a rare spawn). At the statue I could hand in the quest item from the day before and get the Shadowforge key. From there on we proceeded just like the other group the day before, killed Angerforge and Argelmach, and went through the bar to the Molten Core attunement spot. We stopped there, but I ran back all the way to the prison and handed in the quest, so I am now at the step where I need to do the jailbreak quest with the next group.

I must say, with the two competent groups going to BRD was a lot of fun. Unfortunately as Forrest Gump would have said, pickup groups are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. The best thing is to be in a guild where there are lots of other competent players, at the same level as you, playing around the same times, and you can do many instances with them together. But such guild homogenity isn't easy to achieve.

So Sunday afternoon I switched back to my Horde priest, and soloed a bit in Silithus. I did the new PvP quest, where you need to touch a geyser, which turns your PvP flag on, slows you down a bit, and surrounds you with a yellow cloud. You need then to walk (can't ride) back to the Horde encampment and walk into a special machine which knocks the cloud off you, and awards you with 199 honor points and 10 CC reputation. You also get a nice 30 minutes buff to increase your damage. Doing this once is a good idea, because the first time you also get a quest reward, including 2 expensive major mana potions. You are supposed to do it 200 times and give everybody of your faction a zone-wide buff which lasts until you leave the zone. But frankly, running long ways through the Silithus desert slowed down by a dust cloud is not what most people consider fun. This is supposed to be a PvP event, but few people bother to participate, and so there are hardly any fights. Me still needing 17500 CC reputation, I would have to do it 1750 times, and while possible that doesn't really sound exciting.

So shortly after I went raiding to Molten Core instead. Molten Core is the place my guild masters very well. Even with a class mix that I wouldn't consider balanced; yesterday we had 10 warriors, 9 shamans, but only 5 priests, 3 warlocks and 2 druids. We went from the entrance through 8 bosses, up to Golemagg, in 4 hours, at which point I had to leave. Fast and efficient raids like these are fun in itself, and of course the yield of epics is great to get everybody equipped. The unbalanced class mix doesn't slow us down, but it *does* cause the whole raid to groan when some Felheart or Cenarion piece for the few warlocks and druids drops, while the Might and Earthfury pieces for warriors and shamans are reasons for celebration. Nobody likes to disenchant epics. Unfortunately the unbalanced mix means I can forget about ever participating with my warrior, I'm stuck on my priest for raiding. Even if the guild agrees to let me come occasionally, chances to get any warrior loot are abysmal.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dual-boxing gone too far

I have three computers at home, and two World of Warcraft accounts, the second of which is being used by my wife. So I do have more than the necessities to do what is called dual-boxing, that is playing two characters at the same time on two computers. Imagine how fast you could level lets say a rogue if you had a level 60 priest standing behind him on autofollow, and every time your life got low you just pressed a key on the second computer's keyboard to heal the rogue. Or you could group any level 60 with any lower level character and just solo places like the Deadmines. I just never did it, because I don't see the point in leveling fast. That is like watching a movie on fast forward, you get to see the end faster, but it isn't quite as enjoyable.

Now Magroth sent me the link to a story about a guy who wants to solo a 40-man raid using 40 accounts. The guy already has 5 accounts and soloes PvP with a group of 4 mages and 1 priest. Now he says he wants to make a group of 40 characters, 35 of which would be mages, and solo Ragnaros, inspired by a video where a raid with 33 mages in it kills Ragnaros. Funny story, but I doubt he will get there. The cost alone for the hardware, T1 connection, and 40 accounts is staggering. And then you still need to level up all those characters to 60, probably in groups of 5.

In a way the story is a comment on how far people will go to avoid playing with others. Pickup groups from hell, guild drama, who needs all of that if you can play the whole guild by yourself? Not really my thing, *I* enjoy the social interaction, even if sometimes it goes bad. But if you like to solo and the game puts challenges in your way that can't be soloed, I can see how one might dream of soloing Ragnaros.

Cenarion Circle faction grinding

I would like to be revered with Cenarion Circle with my Horde priest, because then I could make 24-slot herb bags for my warrior, as well as nature resistance cloth armor. I am currently just friendly, so I looked around what it takes to get to be revered. And I quickly noticed why I never see those 24-slot herb bags on the AH, the effort to get to revered is utterly ridiculous. I read the WoWWiki Cenarion Circle reputation guide. It starts with step 1: Kill 9000 cultists. Lol!

The problem is that I have no problem believing the guide that this is the most effective method, creating lots of mules, killing thousands of twilight cultists, and storing the encrypted texts and twilight clothes on the mules for later, when killing the cultists doesn't give any more CC reputation. But it is not something I would do, as it is too repetitive, and I don't have room for that many mules anyway.

On the positive side I know that I can solo the quest to get Field Duty papers. And I tried yesterday and succeeded without problems to solo one of the templars summoned from the lesser windstones. So I will just start farming cultists and just store the encrypted texts on a mule, while using the twilight clothes immediately, even if that is less efficient, because sooner or later I'll go past honored and won't get any reputation from the kills any more. But at least I can mix killing cultists with field duty and tactical quests to kill templars, which makes things a bit more varied. I don't know yet if I ever will get to revered, or if I give up at honored.

Pondering my options

"Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?". "Well, I think so, Brain, but if World of Warcraft ends at level 60, what do you do then?". Or something like that my two favorite mice would have said. My Alliance priest is level 60, and I'm not sure what to do next. So I did some pondering on my own:

Option A is always starting a new character from level 1. This is certainly something I still want to do at some point, as there are classes like mage which I would like to play but haven't had the time for yet. But for the moment I have to postpone option A, because the timing isn't right. If I start a new character now, I won't get him to level 60 before the Burning Crusade comes out. And what's worse, I would have to play him in one of the old races, where I already know all the quests. Waiting for the expansion is much better, as then I can play the new character with a new race and see new quests.

Option B would be to continue playing my Alliance priest. Now if I was in a nice guild, I would consider that. Unfortunately it becomes more and more apparent that my current guild is only interested in MC+ high-end content. They don't even want to go to Zul'Gurub, much less to Stratholme, Scholo, Dire Maul, and so on. I'm not even sure they'd let me come to MC with them, as they have enough healers with better gear, I'm just the reserve for the day when some of them are missing. And why would I even want to go to MC with an underequipped and underappreciated Alliance priest, if I could go to MC with a well equipped and needed Horde priest? Playing the two at level 60 is pretty much identical.

Option C is to play my Horde priest. I think I will do that at least part of the time. My Horde guild needs healers, I like to be useful, perfect fit. I'm getting a bit bored of raiding MC, but I haven't seen other raid dungeons all that much, and could switch focus a bit. And when not raiding, there are still other things to achieve, for example I would like to have a better Cenarion Circle faction, thus I could do some faction grinding in Silithus. I could also visit more 5-man dungeons with him, would be interesting to see whether that gets a lot easier when running around in full epic gear. Silly as it is, I would kind of like to finish the tier 0.5 upgrade quest series, even if I don't need the armor.

Option D is to play my Horde warrior. Which is another good option I will most probably try. I kind of miss him, and playing a warrior is a nice change from playing a healer. I changed my talent build to fury dps warrior, and am interested how that works out in solo, group, and raid play.

Option E is to take one of my existing alts and level him to 60. Most of them I lost interest, the hunter and paladin got stuck at level 30. The shaman would be a possibility, he is already past the stupid Stranglethorn hole levels, and is getting into the levels where the game gets interesting again. The gnome warlock would also be nice to play again, but he is stuck on a French server. I might move him to the same server as my Alliance priest as soon as that one opens up for transfers. Again the warlock is level 40, and is getting into the good levels.

Option F is to quit World of Warcraft, and restart when the expansion comes out. I don't think I'll do that. It isn't that far until the Burning Crusade, and it is easier to keep playing. As long as there is still something to do, and no better game around, I'll stick to what I have.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Ding 60, again

My Alliance priest dinged 60 last night, in a very nice group in BRD, and got his attunement to the core done at the same time. It took me 3 months of real time, 13 days of played time, to level him up from 1 to 60, on a new server, without twinking. My Horde priest also needed 13 days played to 60, twinked, which suggests that twinking doesn't make much of a difference for a priest. Except for a good wand, the priests ability to solo isn't very much influenced by gear, not like a warrior.

Playing the priest up to 60 was fun. But I do regret two things: having chosen the same character class again, instead of trying something new. And having joined a far too leet guild, which nearly never grouped with me. I might have had more fun in a smaller, family type guild. While I just made it to 60 in 3 months, the guild made it to the middle of BWL, and a major crisis due to people burning out and losing interest. BRD yesterday was fun, because while all of the players knew how to play their class, they didn't all already know BRD, and were still really interested. I would guess that even Molten Core would be more fun with people trying it for the first time, than with a well oiled machine which does MC without even caring any more.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Internet, but not international

Amazon revealed a new service called Amazon Unbox, where you can download movies and TV shows for a cost, and watch them on a PC. Hey! I could get the complete CSI season 6 for download for less than $40! Only I can't. The offer is only for US citizens. Which doesn't really surprise me, I'm not allowed to use Apple's iTunes US either. Apple later opened European iTunes sites with a smaller selection. If Amazon Unbox is a success, we'll probably see Amazon Unbox UK, France, and Germany in the future. Which won't help me much, because they will mainly have British, French, and German TV shows, and not the US ones I want to see.

If you send TV over antenna or cable, you automatically stop at the borders. At the borders regulations change, and if the country on the other side speaks a different language, your possible market share is limited anyway. And building a network of antenna or cables is expensive. What I don't understand is why the TV still stops at the border when it is sent over the internet. There is not only a long tail of content which the internet can distribute cost efficiently. There is also a long tail of customers. Not every European would want to watch US TV, but some would, and as distribution to Europe by internet doesn't cost more than distribution to the US by internet, it is kind of foolish to exclude these potential customers. And the same is true for many other regions of the world where English is spoken at least as a second language. When will legally downloadable content on the internet become international?