Thursday, November 6, 2014

So I'm at BlizzCon...

Yeah, yeah, I've basically been a ghost for three months.  RL has kept me very busy.  When that wasn't the case, WoW guild business has kept me very busy.  When that hasn't been the case, finishing some NWN projects before deadlines has kept me very busy.  In whatever free time I had left, I just had no desire to write for the blog and mainly filled it with Civ V (which I seem to have a love/hate relationship with since I picked it up like 2 months ago).

Anyway, to the important stuff...

I'm at BlizzCon for the first time ever!  Should be a blast, managed to already get my pass for tomorrow, and excited for the charity dinner tonight.  I imagine this is the part where you're hoping I'll say something about how I'll write about the stuff that happens at BlizzCon.  And perhaps I will (no guarantees), depending on how things go.

But more importantly, I wanted to throw this information out there in case anyone wanted to meet up.  I happen to have about 4 hours right now prior to the charity dinner and obviously can meet people over the next two days as well.

So if you're in the neighborhood and want to say hello, drop me a line!  Can leave a comment here or email me at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com.

Monday, August 18, 2014

So There's This 10:10 Thing Going On...

Sorry on the absence, been dealing with a lot of 12+ hour days, getting ready to leave on a research trip next week, having to lead my guild (incidentally, we started sales of Heroic SoO stuff -- more information here if interested), and been working on another post that involves blog drama but that, I hope, will have a happy ending.  Suppose we'll see.

In the meantime, I figured I could jot down some notes for this 10 Years :: 10 Questions deal and some of my answers are noticeably different from most I've seen.

Fair warning: I'm going to totally cheat and go beyond the technical bounds of the question asked though it'll be on the same general topic as the question.

1. Why did you start playing Warcraft?
Because I had been introduced to Warcraft III like a year before WoW launched and I started seeing advertisements for it on  I figured it was just the next Warcraft game except with a fancier title, I had no idea what an MMORPG was.  Hell, WC3 was the first game I'd ever played online (I technically did play another game (Lords of Magic) with a dial-up modem with a friend who moved away, but that was just the two of us).

You can imagine my surprise when I picked up the game and realized it was very different.  Luckily I had been playing Neverwinter Nights prior to WC3 (and still play NWN, you may have heard me mention it a few times) and Lords of Magic had some RPG elements so I wasn't completely lost.  Of course, after installing it and signing up for an account I learned apparently I would have to pay monthly to play, which I thought was insane -- after all, why should I keep paying for a game I own?  I didn't understand initially about how Blizzard maintained the servers we connected to (unlike single player games or online games like WC3 multiplayer) and would add in new patch content.  So I set it aside for a month before deciding I might as well give it a shot since I already had a month to burn by buying the game initially.

2. What was the first character you ever rolled?
A human mage.  I had always loved magic in games like Legend of Zelda, Lords of Magic, and NWN (Magical_Master was/is my NWN nickname since Balkoth was taken) and I thought the mage channeling Blizzard at the end of the intro cinematic was completely badass.  I made it until about mid-20s before being annoyed with just how squishy mages were (very different from NWN where they were gods).

So I rerolled a human paladin going Holy -- figured I'd have a sword and shield and wear down anything that tried to fight me.  Auto attack and heal.  I made it until about level 35 where I got into a duel with a Kurzen Medicine Man who I literally could not kill.  He couldn't kill me but I couldn't kill him fast enough to outdo HIS heals either.  After about fifteen minutes of fighting I dumped the paladin in disgust.

So then I made a human rogue -- figured it would be lethal without being as squishy as the mage.  That guy made it to 60 easily and in fact my first three 60s would all be rogues (different servers, no paid transfer back then).  Then a 60 night elf warrior (charging from Shadowmeld!).  Then a 60 human warrior (different server) who I reached rank 11 with in the old PvP system.  Then in the break before Burning Crusade I made Balkoth -- who was undead initially.  I kind of made him to kill Alliance who I met while PvPing on my warrior that I didn't like.  Wound up falling in love with shadow priests ever since.

3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?
I nearly always played humans in NWN, they were one of the best races.  My favorite faith in Lords of Magic was Order which was mostly humans.  And my favorite race in Warcraft 3 was humans.

Oh, and the mage in the intro cinematic and the female mage on the CD cases/bags were human.

Guess which race I went with first?  Hence Alliance.

Though I will say that I liked the idea of the Horde -- the outcasts just trying to make their way in the world.  Which is why I was fine with going Horde when I made Balkoth and was Horde for all of BC.  Lost most of my enthusiasm for the Horde in WotLK, though.

4. What has been your most memorable moment in WoW and why?
I honestly do not know.  I'm a very practical person and don't suffer (much) from nostalgia.  Some moments that stand out to me looking back (in order of timeline):

- Topping the damage meters in Zul'Gurub by 20% on my rogue.  My rogue had a level 50 blue dagger (no, not Barman Shanker) and a level 55 green sword in my offhand as combat daggers.  And I was annihilating rogues with mostly epic gear and level 60 epic weapons because they were playing Seal Fate builds (Assassination) and didn't maintain good target uptime.  I swear I could see their jaws drop in-game.

- 45 minute Baron run in Stratholme.  Good times.

- Hitting rank 11 on my warrior.  That's Commander Talnor to you.  I formed *the* PvP group to be in on my server at the time, the only groups that did better were ones literally made out of all members of a raiding guild who were completely decked out in epics.

- Joining a raiding guild in BC as a Shadow Priest.  I applied to the guild as Shadow (which had just been made viable) and they wanted me to heal...but I was adamant.  Shadow or nothing.  They invited me to a random BG and apparently I impressed them enough during the battle (Eye of the Storm) that they just ginvited me mid-battleground.

- Getting server first on all heroic dungeons in BC.  We had a core group of four plus a fifth who fluctuated.  Tank was a Feral Druid who I became best pals with, basically.

- Writing the original Elitist Jerk Shadow Priest guide.

- Topping both the damage AND healing meters on our first Gruul kill.

- After that guild disbanded a few weeks later due to internal drama, Feral Druid I mentioned earlier convinced me to join his raiding guild and help it become better.  Was promoted to be an officer within a few months

- Getting a Netherdrake.  Pertinent:

- Server first kills of Vashj, Kael'thas, Archimonde, and Illidan.  All amazing fights, all in their own way.  Could write a post about each of them.

- Getting Amani War Bear and selling them.

Note: quit from a few months prior to the end of BC to a few months prior to the end of WotLK.

- Leading a PUG group (with a core of 4 RL friends) to 11/12H in 10 man ICC.

- Getting Herald of the Titans back in WotLK.

- Doing Cataclysm heroics near launch.  I loved those, so much fun.

- Killing Heroic Nefarian and putting ourselves on the map with an Alliance first kill for a guild practically no one had heard of two months before (started Cata with 4 members and had to PUG for months).

- Getting a server first Heroic Ragnaros and establishing ourselves as the top two night a week guild in the US.

- Organizing "For the Alliance" near the end of Cataclysm with several other guilds.

- Getting 200 pets prior to MoP launch.  At which point I stopped caring because it became a serious thing as opposed to "Get that collection number higher!" and over 500 pets existed.

- Getting the server first Galleon kill with like 10 level 90s and 30 level 86-89 players.

- Killing Heroic Gara'jal literally as he raised his hand to wipe us AFTER he started the beserk emote.

- Heroic Lei Shen.  So, so much fun.

- Heroic Siegecrafter pre-nerf on 10H and H Garrosh pre-4/4 upgrades.  Siegecrafter was more fun, Garrosh was more brutal.  Both immensely satisfying in the end.

5. What is your favorite aspect of the game and has that always been the case?

 Raiding (surprise).  It's been my favorite aspect of the game ever since the beginning of BC.  I love the sense of teamwork and coordination needed to defeat an epic encounter.  You need everyone on the same page with a variety of skills and all able to trust each other to do their jobs in an extremely demanding environment.  It's why I still play and love WoW 10 years later, haven't heard of another game able to offer the same experience.  Some games have tried to replicate it but only succeeded in pale imitations.

As you can probably gather from the previous questions, though, it wasn't always my favorite.  I didn't even really understand what raids were for most of Vanilla, I simply did five man dungeons.  Then I tried to get into raiding but was aggravated by the guilds that wanted me for having so many bad players and was rejected by the better guilds due to lack of experience/gear (or they wanted me to tank on my warrior rather than DPS on my rogue or warrior.  Kind of interesting to wonder what would have happened had I accepted the offer to act as an off-tank in Vanilla using an Arms/Prot hybrid spec).  Was frustrating.  So then I got heavily into PvP on my warrior.

But then Vanilla hit, I was loving my new Spriest, they became hot commodities in raids, and things took off from there.

6. Do you have an area in game that you always return to?
Nope!  That was easy.

7. How long have you /played and was that continuous?
Well, I started playing about a month after release and have played continuously except for a hiatus from the end of BC to the end of Wrath.

In terms of going through my level 10+ characters, I have a total of about 625 days /played with 305 of those on Balkoth.  That's about 15000 hours over eight years (since I wasn't playing for two years) so that's 15000/2950 = 5ish hours per day on average.

To be fair, probably at least one of those five hours a day was spent AFK/alt tabbed.  And I typically only play about 15-20 hours a week on average these days, often less.

...but during Vanilla I was PvPing like seven hours a day seven days a week for the rank 11 grind and during BC I was playing about the same number of hours a day seven days a week again.  Main raid four days a week, alt raid two days a week, Karazhan casual clear one day a week, plus PvPing.

Would be interesting if I could look solely at /played since I returned at the end of WotLK.

8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?
Absolutely.  I'm a huge lore nerd and can recite many boss RP speeches by heart.  Even if I stopped raiding, I'd at least subscribe to WoW every now and then for a month just to do the quests and see the lore.

9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?
Nothing grand and overarching.  I suppose there are four things that stick out to me, though (in chronological order).

First, I sometimes wonder what my WoW career would have looked like had I accepted the offer to tank for a guild in an off-tank role back in Vanilla, as I mentioned above.  But since I was trying to claw my way up through the PvP system I didn't want to handicap myself in PvE to off-tank in raids.  Might be in a very different place now.

Second, upon being promoted to an officer in that BC guild, I said something along the lines of how I could finally fix some of the problems player X had caused.  And I had forgotten that player X was technically an officer for some silly reason, he was completely useless and didn't do anything (and I mean anything) worthwhile anyway.  Was made an officer long ago for social reasons, I think.  So he saw my comment and I was mortified.  "Fortunately" the other officers and GM completely agreed with my assessment and wanted me to do exactly that, but still...

Third, I hate having to cut people from raid teams.  Had to do it back in BC.  Had to do it even more since forming Despotism.  I know it needs to be done.  I know it'll help the team overall.  I know the people getting cut are causing massive frustration and making people unhappy.  It still sucks to do.  Really sucks.

Fourth, I missed Ulduar while it was current content.  Though that's more of a regret from time NOT in-game.

10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside of gaming?
It helped me become a lot more confident and able to lead people in many different ways from social groups to teaching positions to supervisory roles.  It taught me organizational and motivational skills (though the motivational stuff is less speeches and more about good incentives and fair treatment).  It improved my writing through creating this blog.  It helped me create new bonds with people I met in real life due to shared experiences.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sometimes I Just Have to /Facepalm

I get that a lot of people have different perspectives and enjoy different things.  I lead a raiding guild that full clears heroic content every patch.  Navi leads a casual raiding guild that's working through heroics on this crazy long raid tier.  Stubborn plays WoW casually, doing Flex/Normal modes when the opportunity presents itself.  Theck is a theorycrafting genius who loves doing loads of complicated math.  Etc.  People are different.

And because of that, people like different things and thus have different opinions about stuff.

...but sometimes, you get people who are just flat out wrong.  Not different opinions, not valuing different things...just wrong.

Like this blog post, for example.

Now, before we get to picking it apart I want to explain *why* I am coming down on this so harshly.  One of my major pet peeves is rose colored glasses and nostalgia.  I hate it when people go "OMG IT USED TO BE SO COOL, NOW IT SUCKS!" without any actual reasons.  Keep in mind this is coming from someone who still plays several 10+ year old games (such as NWN, Half Life (2), WC3/TFT, etc) so I still enjoy older games.  I'm not obsessed with the "latest and greatest."  But I do strongly dislike when people instinctively hate newer and different things simply for being new and different (especially when they don't even UNDERSTAND the newer things).

So let's look at the blog post title:

"Slower Combat Had More Depth."

Okay.  I can somewhat buy the general premise.  Games that require reasonably fast reaction times don't give you a lot of time to consider your best move, part of the challenge is deciding on a good action quickly.  The board game Chess has more depth than the card card Speed.

But then we just go into loony town with bizarre and incorrect statement after bizarre and incorrect statement!

Complexity of Decisions
Today there are very few decisions to be made. One simply walks up to a mob and executes abilities in any order. The real decision is which order to use the abilities to kill the monster fastest–everything is about actively attacking. There isn’t much thought to being hit yourself, or minimizing usage of abilities to preserve mana or stamina. The two real thoughts that I have are, (1) Do I need to kill this, and (2) Do I want to? The HOW has been completely lost.

First of all, there's contradictions right in that paragraph.  So we can execute abilities in any order...but we're also making a decision on how to kill the monster fastest...but we don't have to make a decision on how to kill the enemy?  Huh?  I'm already lost!

But which order to use the abilities to kill the monster the fastest actually winds up being incredibly important, as anyone who has done challenge mode dungeons or raiding in WoW knows well.  Hundreds of hours of theorycrafting and testing are done to determine optimal strategies for play.  The differences between playing correctly and not playing correctly can easily double your damage per second.

On top of that, there's plenty of thought devoted to being not hit yourself -- one of the basic mantras of WoW raiding is "Don't stand in the fire."  Sometimes the fire is lightning strikes on the ground, sometimes the fire is a cleave type ability, sometimes the fire is robotic bombs trying to run to you and explodes, and sometimes the fire is actually simply fire on the ground.  Etc.  NOT getting hit by stuff is insanely important or you will simply die.  Or, in other cases, you'll require so much healing that you'll drain the mana of the healers and thus your group will die...which is an example of how you DO need to minimize usage of abilities to preserve mana (see the fourth sentence above).

This isn't even talking about things like kill priority, AoE vs single target, pooling resources for burst windows, holding DPS to time things better, ets.

This ALSO isn't even getting into PvP where using abilities correctly, not getting hit, preserving resources, etc, are also critical.

In short, that paragraph is so, so, so very wrong.

Tanks used to require a decent amount of time to get aggro. I really can’t remember the last time I grouped and waited before DPSing. In EQ a wizard absolutely would not nuke until the mob was below 80% — the wizard wouldn’t even stand up. Healers wouldn’t even heal because aggro would come off the tank. Tanking took time, monsters took time to taunt and build up a safe aggro, and players respected that or died.

And...where is the awesome depth in this?  Sitting around for 15-30 seconds doing nothing is some kind of compelling gameplay?  Not only that, but consider some numbers.  Say 1 damage = 1 threat for everyone, you have a group of 1 tank, 3 DPS, and 1 healer, and we'll remove the healer from consideration.  Let's also assume the DPS do twice the damage per second as the tank and let's assume the tank is doing 1% of the mob's HP per second.

After 20 seconds the mob is at 80% HP and the tank has 20 threat.  The three DPS open up.

After 30 seconds the mob is at 10% HP, the tank has 30 threat, and each DPS has 20 threat.

After 31.43 seconds the mob is dead, the tank has about 31 threat and the DPS each have about 22 threat.

That means the DPS were literally sitting around for 20/31.43 = 63.6% of the fight doing nothing at all.

If the DPS want to live dangerously, they could open up at 87.5% of the mob's HP and each DPS and the tank will wind up at 25 threat the end.  Which is *still* sitting around doing nothing for 50% of the time.  This sounds like depth and good gameplay?  Really?

Class Specialization
This could also be called the “characters do one thing well” category. Having certain classes in your group would actually slow down the rate at which you could kill a single mob, thus slowing combat, but might improve your abilities to survive, pull multiple mobs at once and take a tougher spawn, or recover from battle quicker and move on to the next kill. Sometimes a class would literally be invited to do nothing but pull and contribute very little to DPS. Sometimes a class would do nothing but heal or buff. These days everyone is a DPS.

Everyone is a DPS?  Weren't we just talking about tanks and threat and how healers would wait to heal them?

I mean, even look at that second to last sentence: "Sometimes a class would do nothing but heal or buff."  You healer?  Part of the holy trinity?  Usually about 20% of a group?  Ring a bell?

But let's be generous.  Let's even assume they meant "All non-tanks and non-healers are DPS" instead of some classes being solely about pulling or solely about buffs or something.  That rings a bell...raiding during BC anyone?  Bring an enhancement shaman (but only one) to buff the melee group?  Bring an elemental shaman (but only one) to buff the caster group?  Bring a boomkin (but only one) to to give a debuff?  Bring an Arms warrior (but only one) to give a debuff?  Bring 2-3 shadow priests to regen the mana of your casters and healers?

Blizzard moved away from that model for a reason -- it's not fun or engaging or deep or anything to have to deny players because the optimal path is to have only one boomkin or one enhancement shaman or whatever.

But even within the "all non-tanks and non-healers are DPS" model there's still class variance where certain DPS classes and specialization are stacked for encounters.  And even when they aren't stacked for encounters certain parts of encounters are handled by certain DPS players based on class differences.

Ask someone how a warlock compares to a rogue compares to a mage compares to whatever.  They each have different strengths, different weaknesses, and different buffs (though usually about 1/3 of the classes can bring a specific buff).

Managing Resources
Managing mana consumption was often the difference between a great player and a good one. Healers who knew which heals to use and when, Wizards who knew how many times they should nuke to add the most efficient DPS to a group (the key being “efficient”), etc. Consume your resources and combat was slower. Have to worry about them at all and combat naturally becomes much, much slower.

Interestingly enough, healers *still* need to know which heals to use and when.  They *still* need to manage their mana.

And a caster conserving their mana as part of a DPS rotation is just another DPS rotation.  Except now the DPS rotation involves standing around doing nothing apparently because this is more deep?  Or something?

Auto Attack
Remember our old friend “white damage?” I love auto attack. I remember the days when it comprised of a massive portion of overall damage done by melee characters.  The entire concept is all but completely done away with in favor of rotations and constant ability usage. Older MMOs had fewer abilities (most of the time).

Isn't this the *opposite* of deep?  It's literally saying "I wish more of my damage came from stuff I didn't have to control or worry about so the game has more depth."

That makes zero sense.  If you want depth and the most decision making, in theory you'd want NO auto-attack (like a caster) so EVERYTHING is your decision and has to be chosen wisely.

Please, consider this a PSA.  Check your rose-colored classes at the door and shed your nostalgia.  Approach things critically and think them through carefully.  Don't get so attached to "the way things used to be" that you blind yourself to all of the flaws that existed then.

Newer isn't always better, no.  In fact, perhaps it's not even better most of the time.

But by the same token, newer isn't automatically worse either.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Some Thoughts on Going 14/14H 25 Man After Being 14/14H 10 Man

Long time, no post.  Real life has been hell and in my smaller amount of free time than I'd like I've been busy with three separate projects:

1. Transitioning my guild from a 10 man heroic raiding guild (14/14H) to a 25 man heroic raiding guild (14/14H).
2. Finishing a project in NWN, which is something I'll have an upcoming post on regarding class balance in RPGs and various conundrums of healing systems.
3. Helping another NWN module author beta test and polish a module.

So let's talk about #1 up there for a bit.  <Despotism> is a two night (Sun/Mon from 7:30 CST to 11:30-12:00 CST) guild I formed at the end of WotLK well after the zone buff had begun.  It consisted of 4 real life friends plus myself and we PUGed our way each week to 11/12H in 10 man.  Fast forward to Cataclysm with increased 10 man difficulty.  We decided to get an actual raiding team together and, after lots of recruitment and slowly progressing, we managed to go from 5 players PUGing the first first bosses to a team that killed 7/13H with our last kill being Heroic Nefarian.  First Alliance guild to do that on our realm, too, and it put us on the map.

We kept improving the roster during Firelands and killed Heroic Ragnaros while current, getting server first and being the top two night a week guild in the US (possibly world, I forget).  Been full clearing heroics every tier since then and, as I recall, been the top two night guild in the US throughout our history.  Got murkier in Siege of Orgrimmar since 25 man guilds killed the dramatically easier 25H Garrosh before we killed the harder 10H Garrosh.  Mythic solves that problem, I suppose.

Speaking of Mythic, we had to get ready for it!  After we killed Heroic Garrosh on 10 man we began slowly recruiting so we could transition to 25 man.  Six weeks ago we were able to do so and got 13/14H our first week as a 25 man.  Killed Heroic Garrosh three weeks after that (had some undergeared people and had to replace some people) on 25H and we'll kill him a third time by the end of this week (hopefully tomorrow, potentially on Monday).

Let me put this frankly: recruiting sucked.

Granted, it was harder for us as a fairly niche guild -- casual two nights with hardcore skill requirements, you might say.  Very small recruitment pool and maybe other guilds had it easier.  But thank goodness we were 14/14H as I cannot imagine how painful it would have been otherwise.  I suspect a lot of guilds are going to die off with this turmoil.

Strangely enough, now that we're 14/14H on 25 man we're getting quite a few good applicants!  The Catch-22 of raiding.

Going to talk some more in other posts about some of the changes we've had to make in terms of guild policies and raid environment but this is already a reasonably long post.  So I wanted to finish this by discussing each boss for 10H versus 25H (this analysis is assuming equal gear, which we obviously didn't have but I'm extrapolating).

Heroic Immerseus
Holy cow this fight is a complete joke on 25 man.  The new heroic mechanic is irrelevant and the puddles are so easy to control with this many people.  Went from being harder than Protectors/Norushen/Galakras/Nazgrim on 10H to definitely being the easiest heroic.

Not much to say about this fight, about the same, except more zergable due to the all the extra cooldowns.

Definitely can get a lot crazier with a lot more adds for people to control up top, had to be a bit more careful than on 10 man, still easy as long as you're not greedy with purifying people.

Sha of Pride
About the same as 10 man.  We spread out and ignore the Gift of the Titans buff (unlike 10H), have to deal with two more prisons, and have two adds to kill...but we have a lot more cooldowns to use as well.

Basically the same.

Iron Juggernaut
Much easier than 10 man, more cooldowns to throw at problems.

Dark Shaman
Easier but not obscenely so like some of the other fights.

General Nazgrim
Joke on both sizes.

Now we get to the harder bosses!

Much easier than 10 man, soaking puddles is trivial.  Only thing more difficult is taunting all three adds in.

Basically the same.

Easier but in a weird way.  Instead of needing 3 groups of people during screech phase we only needed two.  Screech hits for a lot more proportionally but, as I might have mentioned, we have a lot more cooldowns to use as well.  About the same post-nerf.

Still easier on 25 man post-nerf (unless you have an insane 10 man composition), so much more CC to control mines.

Surprise, Paragons is still harder on 25 man, though all the extra gear means it's mainly "DON'T STAND IN THE RAPID FIRE OR FIERY LINES OR CAUSTIC AMBER!"  95% of wipes were due to people standing in the metaphorical fire (and there is so much of it).  It's a fight where we expect to have people dead at the end, though that will improve.

Hard to say.  It's a lot easier to trivialize the DPS check for Garrosh on 25 man with kiting but at the same time it's REALLY not that hard to just "spread out, kill adds" on 10 man (all the gear and 4/4 upgrades makes the DPS check very easy to meet).  The first intermission in Jade Serpent Temple is miles easier, that's the biggest difference at this point, I think.  With much worse gear, though, 10H was definitely far harder since you couldn't kite the adds for extra DPS and the first intermission was absolutely brutal.

Anyway, sorry for the absence, got some posts coming up on both how 25 guilds work differently from 10 mans and some RPG game mechanic discussion revolving around that NWN module I mentioned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

No, Neverwinter Nights is NOT Dead, Despite EA's Best Efforts

There's been a minor kerfuffle over this announcement EA made saying how they would shut down services for older games, Neverwinter Nights being one of many.

Here's the funny thing: Neverwinter Nights ALREADY had its official online services shut down.  And it made zero difference.

First they shut down the Master Server persistent world admins simply created their own security systems to link player accounts to passwords.  If you're curious about the technical details an example is here.  So the Master Server became irrelevant.

Then they shut the Gamespy for listing servers.  Guess what?  People made alternatives, from lists with the direct connect info (allowing you to bypass Gamespy's listing) to flat out modifying the game client to GET the info from those lists and display them instead of Gamespy's empty space.  Some examples here.  So Gamespy became irrelevant.

If you're curious for more information about the game in general, check out this page.

NWN's potential has always amazed me -- and people collaborate and share their expertise.  Some people make new tilesets.  Others make new creature and item models.  Others still make new visual effects.  Yet others STILL make mechanical improvements to the game and scripting systems (which is personally what I generally do).  And, aside from custom work done for specific online worlds, all of this is openly available for any builder to use and make something amazing.

But, of course, you don't need to how HOW to build in order to play the content.  Can easily log onto worlds and install entire custom campaigns superior to the official campaigns and most modern RPGs.

It's really quite inspiring and why the game still interests me so much, even building my own online world with some major mechanical changes and have produced a few modules already (like the Siege of the Heavens I've mentioned in previous posts).

I still haven't found another game that offers the same -- not Dragon Age modding, not WC3/SC2 modding, not whatever.  Maybe something equivalent will be released someday, but the fact I can produce an online world superior to many AAA MMOs with the right design and enough effort is not something you see very often.

P.S. Turns out that NWN is actually on sale again, so if you email me at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com before 9 AM CST on June 19th I'll send you a free copy.

P. P.S. In WoW related news, my guild switched from 10 man to 25 man last week and killed 13/14H with H Garrosh to 10% in P3 in two nights (which is all we raid per week, Sun/Mon from 7:30 to 11:30-12:00 CST).  Been 14/14H on 10 man for 15 weeks on that schedule and should be 14/14H 25 man after this week.  Could still use a few more people, though, so if my guild interests you then head over to our website and apply!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Return^3 of the "Want a Free Game?"

I know I've been quiet lately.  Been doing a lot of guild recruitment (switching to 25H from 10H this week), busy in RL, and what little free time I had was spent working on a Neverwinter Nights project.  I'm going to do a post about the design process and the new module itself for anyone who likes that kind of stuff in a few days when it's finished.  But imagine my surprise today when I learn the game is on sale again!  Time to offer the game to more people!

Neverwinter Nights is on sale again for the next 17 hours (until 8 AM CST on June 14th)!  That means it's time to offer more free copies of the game to those who are interested in trying it and getting hooked on it.  The following is a repeat of my previous "Want a Free Game?" posts, so if you already got NWN from me feel free to pass the information on to a friend so you can play with them!


In addition to WoW I'm quite fond of a game called Neverwinter Nights.  It's an RPG that came out a few years before WoW which is completely amazing because it is immensely customizable.  You can play solo campaigns, you can play multiplayer campaigns, and you can play online on what are effectively MMOs (abet with playerbases in the dozens to hundreds instead of tens of thousands).

 It has a complete toolset that can be used to tweak almost every mechanic and create custom content - the original "official" Bioware campaigns make up like 0.1% of what's available for the game, and a ton of the user made content blows the original campaigns out of the water.  Users can also add new content in the form of ".hak" files, which add new creature models, new tilesets, new weapons, new feats (like talents), etc.

And all of this is free except for the original purchase.  It's available to buy on a site called Good Old Games for $9.99 normally - which includes the original campaign, both expansions (so two more campaigns), and an additional "premium" module - but it's on sale right now for less.

Except I'll sweeten the pot even further - if you send me an email at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com before the deadline mentioned at the top, I'll buy the game for you and send it to you as a gift.  Absolutely free.  Because I think the game deserves to be promoted.


I also made a module of my own earlier.  There was a "building challenge" where participants had one month to create a module (the game is separated into modules, which can range from being a single testing zone to a MMO-like Persistent World which spans hundreds of areas and offers hundreds of hours of playtime - you just load the module you want to play or join it if it's already being hosted).  I created a solo adventure for max level characters called Siege of the Heavens, which is an action adventure focused on scripted boss fights, similar to what you'd find in WoW raids and dungeons (or Brawler's Guild if you've done that).  The Heavens are under attack by devils and demons and the celestials enlist the help of mortals heroes like yourself to help lift the siege.

It's not something you should immediately play - you'll want to familiarize yourself with the basic mechanics of the game before trying my module.  It's also only technically halfway finished since I only had a month to build it - which is still 3ish or so hours of playtime, and once it's done you'll be able to pick up where you left off and play the remaining 3ish hours that are planned.

Speaking of familiarizing yourself with the game, I would be happy to play through the official campaigns (or some custom campaigns, I'd strongly recommend the Aielund Saga at a minimum - among many other custom campaigns - which is much better than the official campaigns but again somewhat expects a familiarity with the game) with anyone interested, provided we can arrange suitable times.  The first official campaign probably takes about 40 hours to play through, the second two both take about 20 hours each.

You will need to request a unique multiplayer key once you claim your game or else you will be unable to sign into some multiplayer modules for security reasons.  There are instructions on how to do so on the GOG site.

Also, some of the old multiplayer services (like game listings provided by Gamespy) are no longer active - but members of the community have recreated replacements that are just as good (or better in some cases) as the originals.  More information can be found here.  Feel free to contact me (via email or private message on the boards - this is my profile there) or post on those boards for help if you need it.

Again, email me at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com if you want a copy of the game, want to find out more about the game, want to try to play the game with me, or whatever.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How I Got Into Blogging (I Was Banned Twice)

Stubborn over at Sheep the Diamond convinced me to write this story.  It's admittedly not something I really wanted to write, but perhaps it'll prove interesting/useful/whatever to someone.

I actually wasn't involved in anything beyond the official forums/guild websites/class websites for the longest time -- until probably 2011/2012.  Granted, part of that was me quitting at the end of BC until the end of WotLK, but even then I was content to sometimes post stuff on the forums, chat on our guild site, and help advance theorycrafting for shadow priests.  I even wrote the original Elitist Jerks PvE thread for shadow priests.

If you ask me how I went from that to reading blogs, I really couldn't tell you.  My guess is that someone on EJ had a blog in their signature or something and I decided to check it out one day -- then things probably cascaded from there.  But even at that point I never entertained the idea of having a blog of my own.  I simply read and rarely commented, focusing more on other things.

During that time period I obviously became acquainted with a decent variety of blogs and had some favorites.  Some favorites were due to being related to my class/spec.  Others were just interesting.  And some were due to me respecting and admiring them.  But, as it turns out, I was wrong about two blogs in that last category.  Dreadfully wrong.

And so we hit a series of unfortunate events in fall 2012 that led to blacklisting two blogs and creating this blog.

Before we go any further I want to mention two things:

1, I am not going to use names in this post.  We'll just call them bloggers X and Y.

2, if I quote someone directly I have documented proof of that quote -- be it screenshot, email, or something else -- and am willing to provide it if it is claimed I am lying or something.  If I paraphrase then I do not have documented proof and am simply relaying the situation as best I can.

So what exactly happened?  We'll start with blogger X.

Blogger X has a comment policy that has the following bits (it's larger but I'm cutting it down to the important sections):
I know that the world consists of many different people, all of whom have different opinions. You’re welcome to share your viewpoints here, even if you disagree with me, but the instant your view and the way you express it at all infringes on my view/the views of others, that’s usually the line where I’ll remove your comment.


I’m happy to enter into discussion with anyone about darn near anything related to the World of Warcraft, but on my blog, it’s done on my terms — politely and with respect.
Seems reasonable enough, no?  Can disagree all you want as long as you're not a jerk about it.  Let's see how well that holds up.

Blogger X wrote a post about how they did NOT like the Dragon Soul nerfs, how nerfs were terrible for the game, etc.  I wrote the following as a response and tried to leave it as a comment on their blog.
First, I'm the GM of a 10 man heroic raiding guild that raids two nights a week (  We formed at the very end of WotLK and built up our roster during t11.  We killed Heroic Ragnaros about two months before 4.3 hit and killed Heroic Madness the day of the 10% nerf.  We had a 2% wipe at the 5% nerf which was heartbreaking.  After that, we went back and cleared the entire place at 0% nerf (we were 6/8H pre-nerf, for reference) to prove we could and because we were really annoyed with the rapid nerfs.  In short, if anything you'd think I'd be the most against nerfs because of our limited schedule and we want to beat the content at 0%.

But I'm not.  Well, I'm against the incredibly rapid nerfs of Dragon Soul, but I'm not against them in general.

The fundamental question to me is: what happens when you reach your limit?
In other words, what happens when a guild faces a boss it simply cannot defeat.  The raid team as a whole simply isn't skilled enough to beat the boss, even with gear from months of farming.  It simply won't make enough of a difference, the people just are not good enough.  To be clear, I am *not* talking about being able to overcome the boss with some extra gear in a few weeks (or even month or two).  It's a situation where you're wiping on Heroic Ultraxion at 20% and you can only get 15% more DPS from gear eventually.

A guild in such a situation has two options:
1, replace people.  Easier said than done, especially when friends are involved.  And again, we're not talking a top world guild here.  Attracting capable recruits can be incredibly hard and drama can easily arise from someone being told "Sorry, you seriously just need to pull 5% more DPS or we can't beat this boss."
2, stop trying.  In other words, be content with being 1/8H in Dragon Soul for 6+ months.

The former breaks social bonds that Blizzard wants to preserve in these guilds because it's one of the strongest ways to keep people subscribed.  The latter gets people to quit the game since there's no forward momentum.  Neither of these solutions is ideal.  Blizzard wants these less skilled players to be able to still get a feeling of progression instead of saying "Well, we came as far as we can, might as well quit until the next raid tier."  So they slowly (hopefully) but steadily nerf the raid.  In theory, people who are serious get done with everything before nerfs hit and anyone who wasn't done wouldn't have finished anyway (again, in theory).

This obviously does have the effect of it being less respectable to finish a tier only partly.  My guild, in the midst of being formed, only went 7/13H in tier 11, but we were proud of it.  Had we formed in Dragon Soul (or in future tiers), there would be an expectation that we'd be 8/8H by the end.  But I think Blizzard's concerned with the guilds that would simply give up without nerfs since they'd literally hit a brick wall (for THEIR guild) and potentially quit.  So Blizzard tries to let them see more content via slow nerfs.

If the DS nerfs had started at the beginning of May, would your guild have been as upset (that would have given you 5 months instead of 2 months at 0%, and yes, the fact that those 2 months included holidays really sucked)?

Note that no one is really up in arms about people clearing t11 in t12 or t13 gear.  I don't really see the slow nerfs as anything different as a general principle, just a matter of timing.  Exceptions like Herald of the Titans and Challenge modes are just that, exceptions where difficulty is effectively locked in place.  But that's not the case for the vast majority of the game and I'm not sure it should be the case for raiding.

Do you think challenge mode type scaling should be applied to older raid tiers within the same expansion (aka, scale down players to 502 max for heroic vaults or something similar)?  If not, why not? 
I don't know about you, but that seems to be a pretty reasonable comment to me.  So what happened?

Well, first, blogger X's spam filtering system banned me for trying to post the comment, claiming it was spam.  Presumably this was due to length or the link, not sure.  I tried again on a different account, same result.  Tried posting some other stuff like "Testing, does this work?" with mixed success -- it worked on new accounts but the old ones were still banned.

Note that the ones eaten as spam were shredded, gone, erased.  The stuff like "Testing, does this work?" was put into a moderation queue (and I was notified of each result).

"Well, this is annoying" I thought.  So I contacted blogger X via email explaining the issue.  Got this response:
Hi there, Balkoth. I apologize for the issues you've been having. I've
taken a quick look and don't see any comments listed as "spam" that
look legitimate.

What I did was approve one of your four (!) follow-up comments, the
one using the name Sarm and as the email.
Using that name and email combo should allow you to post.

Again, sorry for the troubles. Hope that helps. I'm off to bed as it's
now 4:30am!
As you can see, blogger X was confused about what my exact issue was but responded politely trying to help.  We sent a few more emails back and forth before X understood that some comments were flat out being eaten and not even being sent to the moderation queue -- not something you really expect to happen, right?  So X said:
Well, I'm puzzled. Can you email me the comment? I'll try to post it
myself when I get back home.

Again, sorry for the issues.
Still good, trying to work this out.  So I emailed X the comment I posted above and waited to see the result.



So I emailed X a day later with a follow-up:
I was wondering if you might have an update on this.  Noticed the comment wasn't posted on the blog, not sure if you're having the same difficulties I had or if it's a different issue.


Three days later I sent a second follow-up:
I was curious about the state of the comment that you asked I email you.  I noticed it still wasn't up and you've made two posts since then (including one post mocking a rather inflammatory comment someone tried to leave).  Is there an issue?


Now, we know two facts here:

1, X REALLY cares about comments.  Massive comment policy, moderation queue, the whole nine yards.  So it seems rather unlikely X just *forgot* about this.

2, X was quick to respond to the earlier emails and quite helpful -- right up to the point where they saw the comment and realized I disagreed with them.

This makes it very difficult for me to draw a conclusion other than X is a lying hypocrite who claims to allow polite disagreement while refusing to allow such comments.  Who also effectively banned me from their blog since A, their system auto-banned me, B, X never undid this, and C, X refused to post my comment.

So I blacklisted X and never returned to their site except to copy part of their comment policy for this post.  I was thoroughly disappointed -- I had thought this was a reasonable minded and fair person who I had been reading for some time but they showed their true colors when someone disagreed with them.

And as you might guess from my previous note near the top I do have this entire email exchange as proof.

So that's one ban.  How about the second?

Blogger Y obviously runs a blog.  They're ex-military, married with at least one child.  They seemed to be a good person as well who got upset when people were jerks and weren't afraid to call out asshattery on their blog.  I admired them for that and thought they were a tremendous boon to WoW -- the kind of player that shows not all WoW players are basement dwelling jackasses.

I had read their blog for a while and one day noticed they were going to do an ICC run (this was during the mid/end of Cataclysm) -- so I offered to go along and help in an email:
I'm not sure if I've ever actually posted on your blog, but it's one of the ones I do follow and enjoy reading.  I'd be happy to go with you on the Icecrown Citadel run tomorrow night at 6, with the caveat that I would need to leave at 7:20ish for my own raid at 7:30.  I don't need anything of any kind from there, but I thought it might be an interesting experience if you were short a body.  Add Battletag Balkoth#1847 if you'd like (regardless of whether you have room in ICC, even).
Went on the run, was fun, got this email afterward:
Thanks again for coming along, Balkoth. it was a lot of fun!
That was October 29th.  The first post on this blog was November 17th.  So what went wrong?

Well, a week or so later I left a comment on their blog.  I don't even remember what the blog post was about nor do I remember what my comment said -- it wasn't anything earth-shattering or a thesis or anything.  Checked back the next day to see that it was...gone.  Not only that, but I was banned from posting.

I still had Y on my Battletag in-game, so I whispered them to ask what happened.  I don't have the beginning of the conversation but I do think I have most of it.  To keep this relatively SFW I've censored two expletives which were used in a good way in this case -- you can fill in the blanks with something nasty and you'll get the gist.
Y: It doesn't really matter at this point.  The comments are gone and clearly your tone and the way you said things offended me and <my spouse's name>.  That's enough for me to carry away from it.

Balkoth: I see.  I actually discovered this when I tried to respond on the brawler's guild post with some information from a recent blue post that answered something you wondered about in your post.  Noticed my comment didn't appear.  Checked on the other post, noticed those were gone.  You know what made me really notice your blog?  The rant you did about the <expletive> who was an <expletive> to Navi.  Because I completely agreed with you and found it refreshing to see others thing the same way.

Y: Look, the thing is, my blog is a personal place where I post things.  I never object to anyone posting disagreement, but I draw the line at things that get personal.  I'm sorry that you didn't feel what you meant to say warranted it, but what came across most definitely did, since the comment that did was originally held by <my spouse's name> as unapproved until I could look at it and see if I agreed.  Usually I'll just let stuff through, but in this case I must have thought it was directly personal.  If you didn't intend that, I can understand that.  It can be difficult to get a tone of voice accurately in type.  But, and this is important to me...I am very busy.  I was putzing around in game while waiting for something in real life to be ready.  It is right now.  So I have to leave.  I will be on again later, and if you'd like to pick up the conversation again then, that's fine with me.

Balkoth: All right, and I'd like to, yes.  Have a good afternoon.
So we already have an interesting peculiarity: a comment that was apparently so offensive it warranted banning me but Y doesn't even remember what it said.  Just that it clearly offended them.

But whatever, Y seems willing to talk about it and understands sometimes tone can be an issue on the internet.  I look forward to talking again to Y in the evening and log off myself.  Later than evening I log on and check to see if Y is online again.


Y had removed me from Battletag.



So I think "what can I do to convince Y they have the wrong impression of me because I'd like to try to salvage this?"  And I remember what drew me to their blog in the first place -- a rant about how some people were being jerks to clueless/weaker players.  Something came to mind.

A few months earlier I met a random guy in LFD who was new to the game -- helped him realize he shouldn't quest in Duskwood at level 44, gave him advice when he asked for it, helped him out when he ran into trouble, etc.  Turns out he caught on to making gold fast with the AH and wanted to buy a Heroic Ragnaros mount.  I helped him arrange a buy with a guild on his server.  Then after waiting like three months for the day the guild told him "We're not selling to you anymore, taking a friend of ours instead, bye!"

If you make a promise like that as a guild, you don't break it.  Especially not after the guy has been waiting patiently for three months (and notably NOT making other arrangements to buy the mount).  So I made a thread on their server forum to call out the guild for being a bunch of jerks.

Which seemed like something Y would love -- "Oh, hey, Balkoth is doing the same thing I did by calling out jerks on their behavior and defending people getting taken advantage of."  So I sent them an email saying "Thought you might find this interesting" and linked the thread.

Then I get a response back (sadly I cannot find this email exchange, I really wish I had it).

Y accused me of claiming I would try to get them in trouble in a public spectacle, that some people might be cowed by such a threat but not them, that they were ex-military and not afraid of me, that I could bring it on, and that if I wanted to play thug on the internet then "Maybe you could even create your own blog, carve out a public venue to share your opinions" because I was banned from their blog, presumably.  That's the only fragment I have verbatim from their rant.

So I sent an email back explaining how that wasn't what I meant at all, how I was showing that I too was defending people being taken advantage of and calling out jerks on their behavior -- just like they were.


No response.

I decided to make a desperate last ditch attempt.  I made a character on Y's server, earned 1000g, and sent it to Y with a message saying something along the lines of "Look, you have this all wrong.  Just give me five minutes on Vent to talk about this and here's 1000g for your time and proof of my good intentions."


No response.

So I blacklisted Y as well.

Note that this behavior is in stark contrast to like 99%+ of blogs -- for a very long time, those were the only two blogs I ever blacklisted (a month or so ago I added a third).  Because I'm willing to disagree and listen to someone who I can respect, but I wanted nothing to do with lying hypocrites like X and flat-out jerks like Y.

So there's my story.  I got banned from one blog for posting polite disagreement.  I got banned from another blog for...some reason I still don't know and got taunted that maybe I should make my own blog.

Well, I did!