Category Archives: Game mechanics

Neighborhood of Warcraft

50 the dudeI’ve often said that the people claiming that leveling up a new toon were making too much of a big deal out of how long it would take to get from level 1 to max (currently 50). So I rolled up a new toon just to measure how long it would take.

I was also curious about the leveling experience once Shadowlands rolled. Shadowlands was our first ever level squish, meaning we start Shadowlands at level 50, and everything else is squished in between level 1 and 50.  So this experiment is also commentary on that.

The toon in question is a Night Elf mage named Tride (I tried, er, tride to get the name Trial, or Trile, but they were taken).  I went with Frost spec as I felt that would be more challenging than Fire, and I know squat about playing Arcane.  As it turns out, that choice was revelatory.

The rules are simple: leveling at the most casual rate possible.  No dungeons or raids, no instances of any kind that WoW didn’t railroad me into. Follow the natural progression of the questlines only.  No special events.1

Getting Started

03 Shadowglenn

The starting experience posed an immediate choice to make. In Shadowlands they introduced a new, generic starting area for all new toons.  So I had a choice between that and going old school. While I was curious about this new starting area, I elected to go old school and start in Teldrassil.2  By the time I was level 10, I was camped out in Darnassus.

Once based out of Tree City, I had a few decisions to make. The results were as follows:

  • Mining and Herbing, because raw materials always sell.
  • No to fishing, I don’t need to give up a bag slot and it’s a waste of time.
  • Maybe on cooking, to keep a little buff going.3

There was a little bit of cheating. I logged in on Jasra and bought myself some good healing potions and bandages with her money.

10 Teldrassil


13 Lor'danel

Once out of the Tree, it was time to get moving.  I’m still annoyed that we’re dealing with the post-Cataclysm world here instead of based out of Auberdine, and the broken landscape is beyond frustrating.4

However, even at level, this part of the world doesn’t pose too many real issues.  There was some dying, yes, especially when I got my aim off and blinked into something nasty.

The Tower of Athalaxx was the only intractable quest in that zone, and this illustrates the first problem with the new leveling experience. Namely, scaling.

In all zones now, mobs are scaled to match your level. If you’re level 25, expect to see level 25 mobs all around.  And that’s fine, to an extent, but in the case of elites like the denizens of that tower, you either need to group (a no-no for this experiment), or get beefy and outlevel the boss.  And now … that’s not possible. Blizz need to tune some of the beefier mobs out there to work better with the leveling experience.


28 Ashenvale

In Classic, one of the quests that gets you out of Darkshore and into Auberdine is “The Sleeper Awakes” or something like that. I am glad that one’s gone. Hella annoying it was, and on several toons in Vanilla / BC / Wrath, I just skipped that one completely.

Another difference is that pre-Cata, you get sent to Astranaar first thing, but post-Cata you get sent to Orendil’s Retreat for a mini quest-hub and then it keeps progressing you further in until you do end up in Astranaar.

31 astranaar

This is where your home base will be for a good 15 levels at least.

Chromie Time – I hit a wall

30 Stonetalon

Here’s where a big disconnect happens.

Pre-SL, progression in these zones progressed normally.  Post-SL, when you hit level 30, everything just … stops. No XP from killing anything. All mobs are level 30. Quest completion offers a fraction of what it did.  And this applies to all mobs, in all eras. Go to Shattrath, and everything’s level 30. Go to Northrend, same dealy.

There aren’t many bread crumbs here, but the answer is that you really need to be on Chromie Time. What that is is that you speak with Chromie in Stormwind5  and select an era that you want to play in. You then get an introductory quest to get you started in the era you wish to quest in, and then off you go. So if you choose Burning Crusade, for example, you could proceed immediately to Hellfire and start leveling there.

And if you choose not to go to Hellfire, well, all mobs in all zones now scale from levels 7 to 50.  So you can continue to level on Azeroth.  One annoying thing about this is that Chromie doesn’t offer this as an option, you just have to guess. The other is that if  you don’t start in Exile’s Reach, you end up having to figure this out on your own – the Command Board did not light up with a quest marker on the map, but it DID have the quest available to go see Chromie.

So I’m not sure at what point you’re supposed to pick up Chromie Time, but I do know that you have to do so no later than level 30.

This throws a huge error into my numbers – I spent over an hour figuring this out.

I got better

One reason I chose Frost for my spec was that canonically, right now it doesn’t hit as hard as other specs, and, as I mentioned, I had no clue how to play Arcane (I’ve tried in the past). And I did, I struggled a lot early on, even using some Fire spells out of desperation.

But as I progressed, so did my toolbox. The big one was when Brain Freeze became available, this opened Flurry as an insta-cast, and later on that allowed it to buff Ice Lance. Between those two, as well as the Frozen Orb, by level 35 I was really kicking butt.

So this underlines a huge flaw in the Frost spec, and maybe others – at lower levels they’re really not up to the task that they’re assigned. It isn’t until you’re halfway through the talent tree that you can really feel like you’re getting somewhere, and, I suspect, all zones are currently designed as if you have access to all talents and spells.

Bottom line: that was a lot of work, retuning the old world to work with the level squish. But you really need another pass, Blizz, this time with toons at appropriate level.


41 Desolace

Having gotten my leveling thing worked out, I finished off Stonetalon6, and forayed into Desolace at level 39, where I dinged level 40 and quickly ported over to Stormwind7 to get my fast flying8.

Again, as I gained levels I gained in power. This is one good thing that Blizz has accomplished, is the notion of spell ranks once again, but this time it isn’t just scaling – each spell rank can (and usually does) bring additional effects with it. So, as you progress in levels, you genuinely do feel more powerful, one of the key values of leveling.

As a result, clearing out Desolace was a pretty trivial task, though I did bite off more than I could chew on the ghost magnet quest. Other than Stupid Hunter Tricks (as payed on a Mage), Desolace was a cake walk.

One thing that puzzled me was that while I was expecting to be sent to Feralas once I completed that zone, instead I had no choice to go resume my questing in Southern Barrens.

Southern Barrens and Theramore

49 Theremore

As I completed the final quests of Southern Barrens, I dinged 49 and was directed to Theramore, where I picked up a bunch of quests to go kill things and save a surprisingly ancient hermit and come to the rescue of some Goblins (no, really!). My journey to 50 was almost complete, and I realized at this point that I had been cheated.

Specifically, the World of Warcraft had shrunk.  I had slavishly stuck to my home continent as I leveled up just to see what would happen. What happened was that I only barely saw Thousand Needles and Feralas in passing, with Tanaris, Un’Goro, Felwood10, Azshara11, and Silithus completely missing from my quest log. I suspect that the same would have occurred had I chosen Ironforge or Stormwind as a starting point.  And that’s really sad.

While the level squish is mostly done well, barring a couple of technical issues which I suspect will never be fixed, it emphasizes exactly why I was against such a move.  The problem I just described above has always been there since Cataclysm. When they revamped the zones for Cataclysm, then never went back and adjusted things so that you could visit the whole world. Quests would go gray before you were finished a zone, and you’d be off to Outland long before you completed other zones. Hell, Winterspring was so infrequently visited that I even forgot about it in the previous paragraph.

And that was never addressed, and that will never be addressed. The World of Warcraft is reduced to your general neighborhood. The Neighborhood of Warcraft.

Thoughts and Conclusions

49 Feralas

At the end of the day, I ended up at 54 hours /played to get to Level 50. Subtract an hour for my confusion at level 30 if you wish, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.

What this adds up to is if someone played 8 hours a day it would take just under a week. A more realistic 4 hours and we’re talking around two weeks.  I’d call it three weeks of dedicated playtime to get to the point that you’re ready to start leveling on whatever the new expansion is.

My conclusion here is that while it’s certainly not a gigantic burden to level up to 50 in a reasonable time, three weeks is probably longer than the endgame-eager “hardcore raider” mindset. Hell, ONE week is probably longer than they’d be willing to put in, and any time put in for this sort of thing is probably done grudgingly.

I still think that paying for a boost is appropriate in this case. I am forever worn out and tired of Blizz bending over backwards to a tiny sliver of the population and wish they would spend time making the journey to endgame more interesting. There are years’ worth of adventures locked away behind a poorly designed and paced leveling experience, and it’s a damned shame that nobody has any reason to visit them – much less enjoy them – other than the completionists out there dragging their max-level asses through content that they don’t even appreciate because how can you if you’re life isn’t in danger?

Tride the Frost Mage’s days are over, and I thank him for his service. I understand the process better now, and will no longer feel that people that don’t want to do even this  little bit of leveling are necessary lazy or unwilling to put in the time. It’s a not insignificant amount of time that obviously I don’t begrudge12, but others might.

A new player just getting started will forever be missing what the rest of us experienced, for good or ill. How to explain to someone in the future that all these Chromie Zones were once played in sequence?  I’ll leave that up to wiser heads than myself.

My adventures as a leveling toon ended when I dinged level 50. Chromie let me know that I was about to be kicked out. She gave me a countdown, and then booted me to present day, at the courtyard of Stormwind Keep.   When I tried to port back to Darnassus, I was dropped at Darkshore, where all that was once our home lay smoking on the horizon13.  With a heavy heart, I sighed and ported to Ironforge where I sold all my stuff, mailed the cash to Jasra, and quietly ended the enterprise.

50 this dude

  1. Okay, the Lunar festival was running at one point and I cleared a few Elders because those unanswered quest markers on the map were driving me MEGA HELLNUTS CRAZY.
  2. So sue me, the War of the Thorns is still fresh for me, OKAY?
  3. At some point I did cheat and bought stuff off the AH to level cooking.
  4. Why is it that the Night Elves are getting it in the teeth every other expansion and yet somehow we’re supposed to feel sorry for the Orcs and be okay with them cutting down every tree that they can see and then some? Give me a break.
  5. Of course, Stormwind. Always, of course, Stormwind.
  6. Having never visited the peak, once a must-have! (addendum: a later quest took me there. Duh.)
  7. Of course, Stormwind. Always … wait, I’m repeating myself.
  8. No, that’s not cheating – neither the teleport, which is a Light-given Mage perk, nor the fast flying. The assumption here is that I’m leveling an alt for … whatever the leveler needs that level 50 toon for. One assumes that the leveler already has mounts, and, as you are well aware now, SIR, mounts are account wide9.
  9. If someone was leveling a new toon, this would be very, very sad.  I’ll essplain later.
  10. Where even is the bread crumb for that zone?
  11. Same question.
  12. Obviously not, I just blew three weekends on a silly experiment.
  13. As I said, War of the Thorns is still a bitter memory for me.

Be careful what you ask for


It has been commented, by myself as well, that it’s not really cool to lock all of the interesting lore moments behind raids.

Not everyone raids, so it is quite often the case that non-raiders find themselves relying on blogs, videos, and other venues to find out what actually happened, to find out what key lore elements happened outside of their view. After a while, upon hearing that there was some awesome stuff going on in there, I’d roll my eyes and comment, bitterly, “welp, there’s more lore we don’t get to see” —  because, you know, our guild could barely raise the headcount for Karazhan, much less a 25-man, at its peak.  And we ain’t at our peak.

Well, it looks like Blizz has been listening, to some extent, because guess what we got in 8.2.5?  Exactly what we were asking for.

Only, I wonder if they took it just a bit too far.

Without giving anything away, there are a number of cutscenes and one cinematic that get played, and in between are a number of fairly inconsequential and completely trivial quests that stitch them all together.  It’s as if they said, “well, we can’t just play a series of cinematics, we best put something in between and call it content.”  You can virtually see the outlet that the phone that they used to phone it in was plugged into.

Maybe I was expecting something more grindy, or at least something we might have to put some effort into.

Lest anyone accuse me of being a sore winner, let me say right now that I am very glad that everyone, no matter how not into it they are, will have the skill level necessary to complete these quests.  So assuming they made it through the various gates along the way, everyone gets to see it.

But maybe, next time, put a little effort in, guys?  It should feel like an achievement! Otherwise, yes, just play the damned video.

So what do I think of the thing? It’s … interesting. It’s setting something up. No telling what. And the Horde is now in a bit of a tizzy … there was nothing in the post-cinematics that really indicates that they have much of a plan going forward.

I’m more concerned for the Night Elves. Tyrande is out there somewhere, Night Warrioring things up, and – without giving too much away – she doesn’t really have much in the way of resolution. OK, I’m actually more concerned about her. How long can she contain that power without going critical? Are we getting another heel turn here? Will she go mad and take out anyone in her way to her objective? Haven’t the Kaldorei suffered enough, Blizz?

The dot-3 release is generally speaking the final time-waster release for most expansions – assuming they get that far. It’ll be interesting to see how they intend to fritter away our time this time around, or maybe they have something new and exciting, such as an additional content patch.   But right now, I’m banking on old tried-and-true.

What Classic gets right (or very wrong)


Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been puttering around on my Hunter and Priest (started five levels apart) and really enjoying myself.  It’s painful, inconvenient, slow, grindy, and painful. And yet I have not felt at all unhappy about it.

We’re looking back at a version of WoW that had perfected the Skinner Box model without realizing it, or taking much trouble to hide it.

If you’ve never heard the term, “Skinner Box” is named after a psychologist that theorized a thing called an Operant Conditioning Chamber, which is a fancy way of saying that it trained animals using mostly positive reinforcement.  Push the right button, get a cookie.

In WoW, this is illustrated by the  nearly constant positive reinforcement mechanism that kicks in after level 10. Every time you level up, you get something, often many somethings. You always get a talent point. And sometimes you learn new spells or abilities.  If you’re a Hunter the phenomenon is doubled thanks to your pet.

Contrast this to BfA and Legion, where I believe it’s fair to say that aside from the changes to the core game at the start of the expansion, you gained nothing new.

Hell, the last time I got a new Talent is at level 100 – the end of WoD.

Did leveling up mean anything to you in Legion or BfA?  I mean, did they even lock out zones based on your level? (spoiler alert: they didn’t).

The modern niceties of modern WoW are sometimes a curse in disguise.  A game based on conflict that has basically greased the rails to max level doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Yet here we are.

But … about that Skinner Box thing.

The Skinner Box scenario is generally looked down upon by most “serious” gamers. It’s the perception that, instead of making a good game, the team has created a grindhouse in which you respond like … well, like a rat in a Skinner box.  Green light goes on, you hit the button. A pellet of food comes out. Green light comes on, hit the button again.  Eventually, what you’re conditioned to do is to press the button whenever you see a green light, and expect a pellet of food.

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories about “sick culture” work places. It goes like this.

Imagine a cage. In that cage are five monkeys.  It’s a big cage, don’t worry.

Now, hang a banana in one end of the cage.

Now, whenever a money approaches the banana, ALL the monkeys in that cage get hosed with a firehose.

Eventually, you’ll train them to never approach the banana.

Now, replace one of the monkeys with a new one.

The new monkey will approach the banana.  But instead of hosing the monkeys, you let the trained monkeys do your work: they beat the hell out of the new monkey until he too won’t approach the banana.

Keep doing this until you’ve replaced all the monkeys, then do a complete rotation again.

Now, you have a cage full of monkeys that have never been hosed, but won’t approach that banana.

And if they could talk, and you could ask them why they won’t go near the banana, they’d probably tell you, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done things.”

I wonder if Blizz did us a favor by getting away from the Skinner Box approach?

Inscription is Facked.


I’ve been long delayed in my report on BfA inscription.  A large part of that delay has been Blizzard’s delay in implementation of a reasonable system for Scribes to create Glyphs.

Lemme essplain.  No. Is too much. Lemme summarize.

Starting in the expansion following (3.0) the introduction of Glyphs (2.0), Blizz offered a mechanism for Scribes to create glyphs that were introduced in every expansion. In short, the Ink Trader.  The Ink Trader allowed you to exchange whatever the current expansion’s primary ink for inks from previous expansions.  So, for example, if you were in the Cataclysm expansion, you could exchange Blackfallow Ink for any ink required to create glyphs in Vanilla, BC, or WotLK. In MoP, then you could exchange inks from that expansion for older inks. And so forth. I hope you’re keeping up.

Which brings us to the most notable absence from the current expansion.  Normally, at the introduction of the x.0 patch for an expansion, the Ink Traders in all faction hubs (Stormwind, Shattrath, etc as an example) would provide an exchange of whatever that expansion’s most common ink was for any other ink in the game. For example, in Legion, we could exchange Roseate Pigment for inks from previous expansions.

But now we’re in weird territory.

When BfA rolled, we expected an Ink Trader in the faction cities to accept one of the inks from the current expansion (we figured it would be Ultramarine Ink) for inks from previous expansions. But we found nothing. At that point, the previous expansion (Legion) still held sway. So the only way to create inks for all expansions was: farm Legion inks (Roseate Pigment) or go gather herbs on the continents from the previous expansions, and mill them. This was less than optimal. In a world where we expected to exchange Ultramarine Ink  for other inks, we were met with disappointment, at a massive scale. And now we are in 8.1.0, and there is still no sign of an ink Trader in Boralas, much less Stormwind.

So what we are doing, here in the first content patch of BfA, is farming Legion herbs.  BfA herbs are almost useless – there are three Druid glyphs in this expansion, and that is it – so we are currently either selling them off – a poor financial investment – or banking them against an expected future where they are actually useful.   At this point, I am becoming cynical.

So what is actually going on?  Those that are willing to attribute an  actual plan to all of this are welcome to comfort themselves in the actual market, but those of us that are embedded in the current market are doubtful. Currently, Dreamleaf ( is the king of the Inscription market due to its secondary conception of Roseate and Sallow (especially Sallow) pigments. BfA Inscription is pretty much dead. And the WoW customer service accounts are pretty much silent on the topic after multiple pokes.

That is: currently. Aside from Cards of *, it is currently impossible to turn BfA herbs into a profit. And Blizzard doesn’t seem to care even so much as to stroke your ego. Sorry.

BtW: in case you were thinking of switching to Alchemy:


Herb-related crafting in BfA is, to be quite brutally honest, a cluster-fuck.  You’re best served in just selling the herbs (especially Legion herbs) than trying to make a profit at Inscription or Alchemy.

Tidying up Ye Olde Glyph Shop

Screenshot 2018-07-07 10.55.21.png

Five weeks from now, the new expansion will drop, and that means that somewhere in between now and then, we will be getting the “pre-patch”, which will introduce the new expansion and stuff. More importantly, it will introduce the new game systems to all and sundry, whether you buy the expansion or not.

During Legion, I’ve been keeping afloat partially on sales of glyphs, but also some other stuff.  This expansion hasn’t been great for Scribes, so I’ve supplemented with enchantments as well, but the upshot is that on the strength of glyphs alone I can play the game entirely on in-game currency.  With additions, I can buy other things in the Blizz shop such as time for my sweetie if she’s in the mood to play. But it hasn’t been raining cash.  You gotta hustle.

  • Legion glyphs are the main money makers, to a limited extent.
  • Older glyphs sell fine, but don’t bring in much cash compared to the cost to make them.
  • Vantus runes and other sops that Blizz tossed to Scribes were worthless.  I fire-sale’d all but Antorus a while back and it looks like I’m going to eat them anyway.
  • One herb was by far the best for this business model – Dreamleaf, which also generated Nightmare Pods, which yielded great quantities of Sallow pigment.  The Argus herb, on the other hand, was worthless for Scribes.

Overall, fairly lackluster.  I think that applies to most professions, though.

On to new things.

New expansion, new inks

  • Crimson Pigment –> Crimson Ink
  • Ultramarine Pigment –> Ultramarine Ink
  • Viridescent Pigment –> Viridescent Ink – returning once again to a “rare” ink for certain items, such as Darkmoon cards, codices, Vantus runes, off-hands, etc.
  • All inks now require the use of Distilled Water.  All BfA inks thus have an additional 2s 50c tax.
  • Viridescent Ink also requires Acacia powder, an additional 2s 50c tax on that ink.

Yields, what herb gives what, and in what quantities, is not yet known.

New expansion, new herbs

  • Akunda’s Bite (Vol’dun)
  • Anchor Weed – appears to pop in all zones
  • Riverbud (Drustvar, Zuldazar, Tiragarde Sound) – found along rivers
  • Sea Stalk (Tiragarde Sound) – found along coastlines
  • Siren’s Pollen – found in trees in swampy areas.  In a way similar to Foxflower, picking one can create a swarm of them to pick up.
  • Star Blossom – found on the sides of buildings in Kul’Tiras and Zandalar.
  • Winter’s Kiss – found in snowy areas (Drustvar)

It should be noted that the locational information is far from accurate at this time.  Also, there are three levels for each herb for gathering, so similar to Legion in how it works this time.

There will also be three tiers to milling, and mass milling will become available for all herbs.

New Glyphs

Very few new glyphs have been added. In many ways this seems a lot like Cataclysm where we got one whole new glyph to use the pigments on – essentially, any pigments you grind will probably be exchanged for older inks or pigments at the ink trader, so find out who that is and go there.

The exceptions are, of course, the ones listed here.  These are all Druid glyphs.

  • The Dolphin – requires Revered with Tortollan Seekers
  • The Humble Flyer  – appears to be a discovery from Grumpy Grimble in Tiragarde Sound.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s what I got.
  • The Tideskipper – drop from Corrupted Tideskipper in Stormsong Valley

There don’t appear to be any research-oriented tasks associated with this expansion.

Removed Glyphs

A few glyphs have also been dropped, no doubt due to class changes.  In total, we end up with fewer glyphs than we had in Legion.

  • The Blood Wraith (DK)
  • The Bullseye (Hunter)
  • The Skullseye (Hunter)
  • The Unholy Wraith (DK)
  • The Wraith Walker (DK)

My advice on these is to hang on to them until after the pre-patch.

In my experience, dead glyphs are transformed into something like Charred Glyphs which are usually worth 50s.  Dump them now, and get 1s. It’s worth waiting to see.  Of course, if you can dump them for more than 50s now, go for it.

Vantus Runes

I’ve seen one – Uldir – and that’s it.  I’m not sure if we’re going to see more or not, but right now it looks like they’re attuned per-raid, not per-boss.  If the latter, I don’t think it’s worth the bother. If the former, it MIGHT be.  Start slow.

Other Wealth-Enhancing Features

Inscription has picked up a plethora of things that may or may not be of value in the days to come.  Test each carefully.

  • Codices – As before, we can make a Codex of the Clear Mind kind of thing that will allow you to change your talents outside of rest areas. This does require the rare ink.
  • Contracts – A contract is with a specific faction, and while it is in effect you gain reputation with that faction, similar to how tabards worked in Burning Crusade.  I do like this mechanic, and also suspect this will be a small but steady income stream. I assume only one can be in effect at a time.
  • Scrolls – Scrolls are back as “War Scrolls” that can buff an individual or group. The odd thing is the wording of the description indicates that, say, an Intellect scroll affects all team members, not just the int-using ones. I suspect only one can be in effect. So this is very confusing.   They’re not too costly to make, but they may have a limiting factor that makes them unpopular.
  • Ink Wells – This allows your champions to bring back ink from missions.  This isn’t really a money maker unless you sell it on the AH to other Scribes – which might be the case because the darned thing requires some mats that drop from mythic bosses only.  The mats are BoP, but the Ink Well is not.

Conclusions, such as they are

We may see 8.0.x this Tuesday, or three weeks from now (I can’t believe they’d cut it any closer). Now is the time to prepare, because once the patch drops, in my experience, you run out of options to keep things operating.  For example, the ink trader usually stops accepting the previous expansion’s inks or pigments (i.e. Roseate and Sallow) and instead requires the new expansion’s stuff (Crimson and Ultramarine Inks or Pigments). At which point you will have to go flower picking all over the place to keep making glyphs.

The good news is that glyphs that sell now will probably continue to sell.  The bad news is that the ones that aren’t selling will still probably not sell.

Hope you did well this time around, it looks like more of the same, alas.

How to Fail at Being a Weapon


The lady has a very fine post on WoW Insider about how cookie cutter builds suppress individuality – or words to that effect. I won’t gainsay her observations, but I do have some additional comments to make on the topic.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room.  The concept being that players are going to optimize their characters for maximum effect. If Vee’s laments are to be taken patently, then that means that every frost mage looks just like the next, and ever Afflock is pretty much taking the exact same spec. You have probably figured out for yourself at this point that that is not the case. Does this mean that Vee is full of shit?  Not at all!

Please be mindful that Vee’s field of view is extremely limited by the data she has to work with.  And in this case, the data she has to work with is from raiders doing raider things.

Instantly, without taking a breath, we have an automatic bias.

This bias is, strictly speaking, limited to people that (a) raid and (b) upload their combat logs to AskMrRobot’s combat log analyzer.

So, again strictly speaking, Vee’s article ONLY applies to raiders that like AMR over other log analyzers.

Those that do not raid – i.e., a lot of people plus PvPers – are not included in this equation.

If one were to take blog post titles literally – which I discourage – then Vee’s article should be more accurately entitled “How cookie cutter builds discourage player customization in raids“. Because that is one of the only two places (the other being PvP) where this statement is even remotely accurate.

Let me take a moment to be completely honest with you. What you choose as a spec and how you glyph and how you select talents are completely irrelevant if you are not a raider or PvPer.

Pretty much any build will work if you’re just questing, or bumming around Tanaan gathering Fel Blight or whatever that green shit is called, or grinding stupidity points in the Garrison, or, well, most activities in WoW. Talents and Glyphs are mostly meaningless if you are not raiding or PvPing.

Raiding and PvPing are special corner cases where all the rules of Sanity go out the window. In these cases, you must spec for maximum effectiveness. There is no other way. Failing to do so will result in less than optimum contribution from yourself to the effort at hand, be it a raid or battleground.

Yes. Yes, a thousand times. I am categorizing Raiding and PvP as corner cases in the WoW spectrum of builds. Because, when you compare the requirements of these efforts to everything else, they require specific- may I say, perverse – configurations in order for any one character to contribute effectively.

Former WoW lead designer GhostCrawler once confessed that he was surprised that users would optimize on efficiency. I as well would agree. But what he was actually commenting on was our tenancy to optimize on effectiveness, which includes but is not limited to efficiency. GC was wrong and the world may never be the same.

Let’s circle back on Vee’s core conceit here, though. In my mind,she’s late to the party, and I’ll tell you why.

For years we’ve known that raiding and PvP require specific skills. Optimization. Focus on what is required of you, the contributor to the team.

These are very specific environments, and nobody should be surprised that, given a known optimized build, top players would gravitate to the ones that yield the best results for others.   Once you have let the information genie out of the bottle, there is no going back.

Blizz have given us the tools to do this, in the form of combat logs, threat meters, DPS meters, and so forth. Given a source of information, geeks will mine it for all that it is worth, and that means that we’ll arrive at specific recommendations for specific situations.

Up to now I’ve restricted my observations to Raiding/PvP. For raiding, there’s an extra-exotic layer in which one tunes one’s spec PER BOSS. And why the hell not? For the cost of a reagent, one can switch talents and glyphs around like they were backdrops on a Windows PC.

So here are my fundamental observations on all this.

  1. The cookie cutter thing only applies to raiders and PvPers. Regardless of your opinion of what percentage of the playerbase that is, I guarantee it’s not over 70%.,
  2. Optimization is both normal; and EXPECTED for raiders and PvPers.
  3. Optimizing for maximum effectiveness is a normal behavior for anyone that is informed and trying to do the best they can in their role, whatever it may be.
  4. Whoever is not raiding or PvPing may be doing their own thing, but the AMR data does not support any conclusions either way, because AMR does not collect realtime data on non raiders.

I will point out that one major point of Vee’s article is that 3% of the top raiders are different than everyone else, and that may be significant. I totally agree with her premise in that regard. The cookie cutter thing gets you so far – i.e. somebody did the hard work of discovering what works and what doesn’t for you. But the truly excellent players find their own ways of doing things. That 3% isn’t a benchmark. It’s a challenge., It’s a challenge to the number crunchers and theory crafters to do  better.

And after all that, all I can say is: here’s to the 3-percenters.  Keep us on our toes. /respect.

Failed Design

If you’ve spent much time around me, you know that few things piss me off more than game elements created to deliberately waste my time.  In that regard, the Garrison as a whole, and the Lunarfall Excavation in particular really set me off on a rant when certain things come up.

But there’s more.

There are far fewer things that piss me off than things that are done to deliberately waste my time, but which contain self-defeating mechanisms to lessen or nullify their effects because the game designer was unwilling to hold the line  on the decision to go with that design, and wimped out rather than admit s/he was wrong.

In this case, I am referring to the two little treats you can find in the Lunarfall Excavation – the Preserved Mining Pick and the Miner’s Coffee.  These two items drop from Mine Carts that you find throughout the mine, and they nullify a bit of the time-sink that the mine represents – the picks by halving the time it takes to mine a node, and the coffee by speeding up your movement speed between nodes.  While neither completely nullify the time or distance required to travel around in a Level 3 mine, they go a long way towards diminishing it.  And that’s what annoys me.

When you’ve completed the design of a thing and submitted it to alpha testing, there are two ways of dealing with any shortcomings that the testers might find.  The first is, you take their feedback and make adjustments to the thing to make things better.  The other is, you pretend the testers don’t “get” your creation, and hold that line until someone else – say, the senior game designer – gets wind of it and there’s no time to actual redesign the thing, so little, stupid, workarounds have to be created to compensate for the failure of the thing.

Is this what actually happened with the Lunarfall Excavation?   Honestly, I’ll probably never know. But the design is so crappy, it really looks like those two “buff” items were added as a compensatory afterthought to somehow mollify the throngs of torch-bearing beta testers that wanted someone’s ass.

Compare the design to the herb garden. The garden is compact, organized, and takes less than five minutes to fully clean out even at Level 3.  Sure, it doesn’t render up the same quantity of resources or Primal Spirits, but it is just a far better design than the mine is.

This would not annoy me nearly as much if it weren’t for two things.  The first thing I’ve already hit on – Blizz, having elected to have this huge, sprawling complex that took at least a quarter of an hour to fully clean out, seemingly decided to wimp out on the level of commitment needed to clean it out. They apparently decided to soften the blow with a rather wimpy solution that showed commitment to nothing.

The second thing that amps up the annoyance here is that the mine is artificially mandatory for anyone that has a garrison.  Either you have to mine it for mats for your crafting – and many of these crafts are not blacksmithing or jewelcrafting – or you have to mine it for primal spirits used to upgrade your crafted armor.

Sure, you few Mythic raiders are going to get the good stuff off of Archy, but us mere mortals are going to have to deal with collecting resources to make our stuff, and unfortunately that includes mandatory mining for most things – Savage Blood, for example, requires Blackrock Ore for alchemists to use, and you need 60 of them to get a crafted item to its 4/6 level.

(Aside: it feels like they did levels 5 and 6 better, requiring you to be out in the world to find the primary mats for those upgrade, at least. So they can possibly be taught.)

In the film “Ruthless People” (A film I highly recommend, by the way), Danny DeVito’s character, Sam Stone, shares some power-negotiator advice with a hapless cop.

Never let the seller know you’re hot to trot. Tell him you haven’t got the money. […] tell ’em you don’t have the money, that it’s all tied up in investments or some crap. […] A bad salesman will automatically drop his price. Bad salesmen make me sick.

With regards to the Lunarfall Excavation, Blizzard plays the role of the Bad Salesman.

Bad salesmen make me sick.

Everything Old is New Again

Though I am loathe to link them, wowdb has a pretty decent Artifact Calculator up. This is our first glimpse at the progression of our new main weapons in Legion, as well as some spells and abilities associated with specific specs.

Without chewing too long on any particular weapon, I do notice one big thing, which is this.

Old-school WoW players that enjoyed the pre-Cata talent trees (such as, me!) will probably like the look and feel of this new feature.

To wit:

If you go over there and click around a little bit, you’ll see what I mean. All talents Artifact traits are constructed in a very familiar way: start out here, which enables you go go here or here, possibly after you select this many of this talent artifact trait. They usually (as far as I can tell) offer two specific paths to follow, so you can emphasize in what area you like, or homogenize as pleases you.

Let’s look at the Frost Mage artifact, Ebonchill, as an example. You’ll see that two fairly distinct paths are offered – one heavier on defensive, one heavier on offensive, with some common traits and crossover paths between them. This is a very familiar mechanism to us old-schoolers.

And I kinda like it.

Given, these are all very early beta / late alpha stuff, i.e. datamined stuff and some speculation, which the underwriters of WoWDB excel at (the speculation that is). So take with a grain of salt. But the overarching way that the Artifact traits will be implemented and/or controlled.

It implies that there are realistic choices to be made, and that those choices will be dictated by your toon’s chosen lifestyle. For example, I can see a Questing toon go for the higher defensive path and later emphasizing offensive / DPS. \

I’m also assuming that there will be a respec / reset feature at some point available.

What’s interesting is that we’re losing a lot of “choices” in our glyphs – Major glyphs are going away, for example – while gaining many choices here.  It’s apparent to me that character modification is moving into an area that is more blatantly relevant to the player, without providing the endless mini-game that was the WotLK talent trees.

I personally liked that mini-game, in that it gave me a lot of flexibility. But Blizz’s contention was that for most specs, there was one, and only one, true build for maximum raiding performance, so they normalized those non-choices out and left behind only “real” choices in the three-lane talent … trees we have today.  Mind  you, I’m not sure I agree with the terminology they use, as I continue to see cookie-cutter specs take over raiding and PvP as applies to the user, with the only real “choices” being between talents that nobody cares about anyway.

Normalizing to irrelevancy is not, IMO, a good thing, which is why I’m both excited to see the new Artifact designs, and apprehensive about the ultimate outcome.

It will be interesting to see where this is going, but for the time being it looks like it will take a predictable path, different from Vanilla in only the form which it takes. By the first week of beta, there will be just a few optimized configurations that render the maximum effect for each spec.

One last thing.

Datamining has revealed a Fishing Pole Artifact. Ain’t that a hoot.


The Sound of Silence

A certain gaming website recently ran an article in which it noted that a LOT of people were piling on the pro-flight side of the scale with regard to The Great Grounding. Notable here was a complete absence if the pro-grounding camp.  Why? 

Well, the obvious and probably intended conclusion you could draw was that there weren’t any.

But given that I know for a fact that that’s not true, I’m entertaining another theory.

See, people that are basically okay with the status quo rarely speak up. Why would they? Everything’s fine! What is there to blog about? 

I am thoroughly content with the pace of content patches.


I can’t find the words to express how perfect I find Garrisons as they are.

Nobody blogs how they think that the weather is perfect, or their soup was just the right temperature last night. Contentment isn’t interesting.

Bloggers, if we wish to aggrandize ourselves a little bit, are basically story-tellers.  And one of the core features of a story is conflict. Nobody wants to read how Frodo got to Mordor without incident, or how Harry caught Voldemort flat-footed before he had any real power, or how Kirk raised shields when the Reliant failed to respond to hails and Khan got clapped into irons right off the bat.  Nobody gives two shits about a story with no tension in it.

So my theory is – and I hasten to point out, it’s a theory – is that people that are okay with this aren’t really moved to express that they are, and thus it’s kind of hard to count them. 

But I suspect the number of people that this describes is somewhere north of where you think it is.

Point of View


My adventures in Elite: Dangerous and Eve Online ((Not shown.)) have highlighted some things that have come out, albeit peripherally, in  research.  Namely, that third person perspective and first person perspective have profound effects on the immersion that one experiences when playing a game – and how one approaches playing that game.

A while back a guy did an experiment with a VR harness coupled with a camera and a shoulder-mounted scaffold that gave people the viewpoint they would have in an MMO in third-party – say, for example, WoW ((Alas, I’m missing the link to the actual research video – it was before the Oculus, I can say that for sure.)).

You may be familiar with this in WoW.  You’re sitting at the mailbox, going through the daily hate mail from Arthas and Deathwing, when some tool runs up to you, plants his pixlelly ass in between you and the mailbox, and proceeds to jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And … well, you get the idea.

Turns out, a VR+Camera rig that gives you the same viewpoint on real life … makes you act exactly the same way you would in an MMO in which you play from the third party viewpoint. 

Now, I hasten to emphasize that the experimenter did not indicate whether hir test subjects were frequent gamers, which would tend to skew the behavior a bit ((After all, a familiar environment makes you act in familiar ways.)), but I have to say this: even if the only place you do that sort of thing is in an MMO, you’re still … kind of an asshole. Sorry.

Now, getting in someone’s face and jumping up and down is small potatoes compared to other things that people playing in 3PP ((Third Party Perspective – my keyboard is old.)) frequently do.  They tend to – apparently – not believe that the people they are interacting with are real, and thus they treat those people as if they are not people.  Now, personally, I tend to not treat non-people like shit just because I can because I’m not an asshole ((At least, not that kind of asshole.)) but there seems to be a lot of people that treat abstract entities online badly if they can, because they can.

And here, at last, I get to the point of contrast between Eve Online and Elite: Dangerous.

Eve plays constantly in a third party mode, even when docked. You’re actually viewing your SHIP in 3PP, not even yourself, in that game.

Elite, on the other hand, sticks you in the cockpit and leaves you there.  To view your ship in 3PP, in fact, is a DEBUG control. And you can’t do much of anything in debug mode.

If you follow Eve’s politics and drama even peripherally, you’ll know that in 0sec space, no one’s safe unless you have some sort of protection from the “corps” ((“Corporations”, or, to place it in familiar terms, the Eve analog to WoW guilds.)), you’ll probably end up podded ((Doing the monochrome marathon, in WoW parlance.)).  At the upper levels, there is constant backstabbing and outright crimes against fellow corp-mates, sometimes taking down entire corps.  Basically, everything goes, and while the game’s creators may not encourage this sort of behavior, they don’t discourage it, either.  Honestly, they don’t really appear to care.

In Elite, the same lack of constraints on one’s behavior exist, but running into this sort of situation is extremely rare.  I’ve been attacked by other players for no real reason from time to time, but it’s rarely malevolent in nature – i.e., just a pirate, doing his job. They’ve even offered to help me out before shooting me up for non-response.

The best example of this is the Goonswarm.  In Eve, the Goonswarm is a force to be reckoned with. They have taken over entire corps, terrorize 0sec space, and generally specialize in griefing.

Goonswarm exists in Elite, as well, but they are oddly ineffective.  They have all the tools they need to effect a system-wide shutdown – which they attempted – except, of course, the whole ‘corp’ framework, which can be replaced by an external framework like Mumble – but as it turns out, lowly CMDRs like me just skooched along and took care of business.  Eventually, the lack of dread and loathing from the general population caused the Goonies to lose interest.  When nobody reacts to trolls, they go elsewhere looking for attention.

The entire Elite community has, at least in-game, been extremely polite and helpful.  The worst behavior I’ve seen has been in system-wide chat, which is a newly implemented feature, and the behavior is consistent with the 3PP theory – people in a chat window aren’t people, so you can treat them like shit without repercussions.  ((Frontier hasn’t really addressed anything about chat channel terrorism at this point, and, given their track record, they likely never will.  Not on the roadmap.)).

There are dozens of potential causes for this disparity between the two games that are otherwise very similar, so I won’t draw a conclusion as to cause. All I want to do here is point out that research that I’ve mentioned before, and note that what we see in the skew between Eve and Elite tracks very well with those conclusions.

The message you get in Elite is that piloting a starship is a very personal thing. It isn’t an abstract thing involving armadas and ‘swarms’. It’s just you, your starship, and the Big Black.

Does this mean I would switch to FPP in WoW to try to replicate this experience?  Not likely. WoW is designed around a different paradigm than Elite is, and doesn’t enforce the other players playing the same way, so I don’t see any point to it.  Though, I will note, that it does suggest an interesting thing.

To wit: What if everyone in WoW was forced to first person perspective? Would the social dynamics of the game shift significantly?

Talk amongst yourselves.