Restless Weekend

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This weekend was a bit of an odd one, because at least for me it centered around recording our “Games of the Year” show on AggroChat.  This is generally speaking a huge ordeal given that our show is made up of six very different minded people.  Back during the days when we had four regular hosts it was less of a proceeding but now that we essentially have six people each picking three games a piece… that means we wind up talking about 18 games, which as it turns out divides neatly into two 9 image panels.  The above image is the first of these and serves as the backdrop for our normal show card of sorts, however with the text over it you can’t necessarily make out all of the images involved so I decided to post it here.  You can as always find the show on AggroChat or my method of choice for sheer simplicity of listening…  YouTube.  The reason why this largely dominated my weekend is because we ultimately recorded two podcasts that were both two hours long before I set down to edit them.  Post edits they both clock in around an hour and twenty minutes, which really is shocking given that I did not actually time anything out in an attempt to make them work as relative set pieces.  I guess however if you set out to record nine games per show… the end result comes out fairly evenly.  I did make an attempt to shuffle the deck in such a way as to put the games I thought we would most likely talk the longest about divided evenly among the shows.

So we recorded from 8 pm CST until just after midnight, and then I got up around 7:30 Sunday morning and edited until 12:30…  and as a result every other element of the weekend felt like it was shoved to one side or the other.  Of course all of this madness has a purpose since the double episode is timed perfectly to cover the absence of myself and Ashgar as we go to Pax South.  Now in theory Grace, Kodra, Tam and Thalen could record without me… but that would mean I had the forethought to have the mess that is our show in a state that I could easily hand over the reigns to an understudy.  I have not planned ahead that far, and while I do have a series of Audacity and Photoshop projects to speed up the process…  I am not sure if I could even properly explain what exactly I do each week.  It is my hope however that I managed to not only publish yesterday, but also schedule everything else to publish next Sunday while I am driving home from San Antonio.  Staging a publish to happen without me is always a fraught thing for me… because so rarely does it actually work as intended.  Even if it does… I am literally stressed beyond reason until I see the tweets show up in my timeline from the publish process actually doing its thing appropriately.  In the grand scheme of things however…  it is not the most important thing in the world… but it is important to me.

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As far as gaming went this weekend that was equally scattered.  I patched up Final Fantasy XIV and made it far enough to hit the first instance gate, before ultimately walking away.  Similarly I patched up Wildstar, created a Chua Warrior and played to around level seven before once again walking away like a bored child.  As far as gaming that managed to last for more than an hour…  we had World of Warcraft where I finally hit 35 points on my Protection Artifact and started pushing up Fury instead.  I have gotten back in the habit of logging in each day to do my Emissary quest because now there is also a potential legendary upgrade waiting at the end of the grind.  I started doing my Time Walking dungeons… but only managed to make it through the first one tanking it before once again wandering away.  The game that seemed to stick the hardest was Elder Scrolls Online where I completed a good chunk of Malabal Tor, a zone where I am already completely enthralled by the storyline…  even though it involves largely nothing but elves and their internal politics.  I’ve decided that the Bosmer are what it takes to make me really enjoy Elves.  I am really enjoying the whole lore regarding the Green Lady and the Silvenar, and I guess in truth that was an aspect of the lore that I had either forgotten or ignored in playing other Elder Scrolls games.  I even managed to have a few emotional gut punches last night, when I lost characters that I actually really liked during one quest chain.  In truth all I want to do right now is hide in my blanket cocoon on the couch and play more ESO, but that said I do want to at some point get a Mythic+ in for the week since I have a +5 Maw of Souls key.

The String is Life

This morning I am admittedly struggling to both stay awake and come up with anything to talk about.  I have one cat sleeping on the right side, and the other wanting me to play with her instead of write.  Personally I would rather join the right cat and return to slumber time.  I had one of those mornings where I woke up thirty minutes or so from the time my alarm was set to go off.  The problem being that it wasn’t one of those “wake up refreshed” moments, but instead a “please god let me roll over and go back to sleep” moments.  The cat on the left side however wants to play with her new toy.  I have talked about Kenzie and her playing fetch with rubber bands in the past…  but the game has changed.  Last week we had what was supposed to be a sizable ice storm, and in preparation for it I picked up a pair of snow/rain boots for my wife that look mostly like actual proper boots instead of the clunky things we grew up with.  They came bound together with a length of the white stretchy elastic cord…  and Kenzie has adopted this as her new purpose for being.  Much like the rubber band she wants us to throw if for her… which actually works so much better than the rubber band did because firstly it is easier to see, and secondly it has more weight to it and is easier to toss across the room.  She also looks absolutely adorable with this big loop of elastic hanging out of her mouth as she bounds back happily to return it to us.  We’ve tried taking pictures of this but she just moves too fast for the focus to hone in on her.

So while typing this post I am periodically having to throw the string down the hall outside of my office.  She returns it and eventually pesters me to the point that I have to throw it again.  All the while Allie looks so blissful sleeping on a blanket I keep folded neatly on my desk to make her a bed.  In truth I have two blankets on my desk and there are many nights where I will have a cat on either one snoozing while I play games.  The positive thing about the bit of elastic is that while she is obsessed with it, she is not actually bothering Allie our older cat.  The funny part about this whole thing is occasionally she doesn’t return to us at all… but instead will put it somewhere nearby but not quite within reach which I can only assume means she is tired of running for the moment.  Last night for example there was a period of time where she decided to lay on the string.  One side effect of this whole thing is that we have to get the string away from her before bedtime, because she will keep walking back and forth on top of us with the string hoping we will toss it for her.  As a result I have started the practice of sticking the string in my pocket before bedtime and then after we have showered and gotten dressed in the morning giving it back to her.  She surely knows what is happening but so far has not made too much of a fuss about it.

Luna on the other hand is a completely different proposition.  I still have to keep her separated from the other two cats, because she still charges after them whenever she sees them.  Breaking up the cats has lead to lots of wounds on our part, and even needing to take my wife to the ER for IV Antibiotics.  I have a set of four nasty bite marks on my lower calf that are only now starting to look normal.  I have another set on my hand that will likely always be visible scars.  Essentially we just need not to introduce them again, and we sorted out pretty early on that we would end up needing to find Luna a new home.  However that does not mean I am not spending a lot of time with her, because it has become a nightly ritual of closing off my office and bringing her in while I play Destiny.  What I don’t get though… is she sleeps on the exact same blankets that the other cats do… and seems not to even notice the fact that they HAVE to smell like the kitties she is constantly chasing after.  On a positive note however we maybe have a new home for Luna, but it is going to be one of those things that takes a little time.  Ultimately we wanted to find some place that she would feel happy and safe and be the only kitty.  Also I really wanted to find her a home where I could still find out details about her and see how she is doing.  When we ultimately have to give her up… it is going to break my heart because we have bonded.  However her living in my wife’s office and hanging out with me in mine for a few hours each evening… is not exactly a sustainable solution and is not fair to either of us.  She needs a place where she can chill out and snooze in whatever sunny patch she happens to favor that day… rather than being cooped up in a office.  Admittedly said office has a big ole sliding glass door and lots of blankets and chairs to sleep on…  but still not the optimal solution.  I am hoping talking about the potential home doesn’t jinx it.

The other big event happening in my life is that I am starting to stress massively about Pax South which happens next week.  I will be travelling on Thursday and then will be there Friday and Saturday, and driving back home on Sunday.  I talked about this on twitter with another user going through the same thing… but sometimes anxiety is like this brick wall that hits you from seemingly out of nowhere.  I know I will have fun, because I always do… and this year is going to be great given that I don’t have to feel like I am representing anyone other than myself.  The first two years I scheduled interviews and was in theory there to cover certain aspects of the con for another website.  The problem being that sort of focused what exactly I was looking for…  primarily trying to find anything MMO related.  Instead with me just representing myself and our podcast… I feel far more open to talk to anyone and everyone, which I know is something I could have done in the past but I guess it just feels different.  The problem there however is I have to now muster the emotional currency to get out and push myself out of my comfort zone, and actually pass out business cards and such.  I have a massive dose of imposter syndrome when it comes to all of this… because when I hear people talking about “content creators” and “influencers”, it never really feels like they are talking about me.  Content Creator has sort of become synonymous with Youtuber or Streamer…  and it always feels like no one is actually that interested in us Bloggers or Podcasters.  I mean sure I stream and upload videos occasionally… but my primary focus will always be this blog and the things that hang loosely off of it.  So instead I am mustering the strength to totally pretend like I am legit and try my best to push through and talk to all the people.

Nighthold and Senpai

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Last night I managed to pull myself out of my recent funk and actually get more than a modicum of excitement about the prospects of raid night once again.  On Tuesday The Nighthold opened and since we are a Wednesday night raid we hoped that any weirdities would be resolved by then and we could simply get in and start working on clearing new and interesting things.  Thankfully that was the case and we moved forward with only the most spartan scribbled notes to go from as we pushed our way through the boss fights.  We are not exactly a super serious raid, but that said it is nice to keep moving and doing things that are at least progression for our purposes.  Before the launch of Nighthold we managed to clear both Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor on Normal, and push all of the way through Heroic Emerald Nightmare and even got it on farm status.  We have a bit of an odd structure in that we raid a single night each week, and then have a second night on Friday that is completely optional.  So up until this week we had been doing Heroic Emerald Nightmare on Wednesdays and attempting to clear Normal Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor all within a pretty compressed Friday night.  For the most part it has worked out pretty well for us, because Friday gives us a night to start bringing folks who are maybe not geared enough for the more serious content.

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As far as the fights that we saw… I have to say they were really fun.  We are very much a raid that learns on its feet, or at least needs multiple attempts to sort out the fight.  However generally speaking once we have a fight sorted as such, we then can pretty much repeat it every single week regardless of the exact raid composition.  Skorpyron was absolutely a case of me trying to sort out how exactly to do the tether mechanic effectively and I think we managed to get it down on our third or fourth attempt…  going pretty much from chain rezzing tanks to clear within the space of a single attempt.  Chronomatic Anomaly was its own special hell, but we sorted out how to deal with the tank swaps and the add phases… and the fact that the boss could be moved if only slightly towards the add when it first spawns making the “dunk” go much more smoothly.  Sidenote… the dunk absolutely reminds me of a handful of fights in Destiny where you have to pick up an orb and then slam it down somewhere else… so  I got a bit nostalgic there.  We then moved on to Trilliax… the fight where we get to eat cake… and play with roombas.  To be truthful as the tank I am not entirely certain what is going on other than the fact that it sounded like madness, because Art and I spent our entire time worrying about tank swaps and trying to kite the boss around the room…  or prepping for the next kite phase.  I know it somehow involved eating cake and not eating cake and not allowing the roombas to have any cake.  Whatever the case after a couple of attempts we had one of those slow wipes to the finish line that ended up with a boss kill.

Throughout the night I had been tweeting out each time we downed a boss because I knew there were a few people who could not make it last night, and also a good chunk of our guild as a whole is on twitter.  Over the years I have sorta adopted people and smuggled them into my guild, and now you have the end result that tends to be an amalgamation of awesome.  We were working on clearing the insane amount of trash on the way to Spellblade Aluriel when I got a Battle.net message from a friend of mine that lives on the other side of the faction fence.  He excitedly told me that I apparently got a congratz message from the official World of Warcraft account, and when I alt tabbed over to check myself…  sure enough there was the above message as well as a handful of favorites to go with it.  Senpai apparently noticed us, and smiled upon our progress.  I won’t lie…  it gave me and still does give me a bit of an afterglow of warm fuzzies.  We continued on and put in a little work on Spellblade Aluriel, and managed to at least push into phase 2 before needing to call it for the night.  Like I said we are a bit of an odd case when it comes to raiding because we raid 8 to 10:30 EST, and try really hard not to push too far over that line.  So in that 2 1/2 hours minus a break in the middle when our first flask wears out we managed to clear 3 bosses and at least reach a point of understanding with the fourth.  As is always the case I am certain we will speed up in week too, because it honestly felt like last night we spent more time talking out strategies than actually fighting things.  All in all though it was a pretty great night of raiding in a really pretty instance with some seemingly fun encounters.

Welfare Epics

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This mornings topic is going to veer off in an odd direction, but stay with me.  Yesterday I saw the above tweet and I have to say the term “Welfare Epics” is one that bothers me.  Not that I mind the above tweet mind you, but the fact that it is apparently still a thing bothers me.  For some background I remember when I first heard the term was during Burning Crusade.  When the Arena system was introduced it also opened up a new gearing path, in that so long as you played a minimum amount of matches each week you got some points based on your current arena rating.  As a result raiders like myself saw this as a quick and easy way to augment our gear, or at least mitigate the bad luck in getting drops.  I remember that by the time we started Gruuls Lair, several of our more pvp centric players already had most of a set of gear… or at least two or three pieces and it prompted the rest of us on the deeply carebear spectrum of the world to quickly form teams and start getting our weekly allotment of points.  Instead of using it to gear my raid main, I instead saw it as a great way to deck out my Paladin for whom I was attempting to go healer mode.  Our team scheduled our arenas like a raid… and met in Nagrand once weekly to play three or four games hoping we could win most of them and wind up with a decent arena rating for that week.  So every other week we would get some piece of gear, or it might take a little longer if we were going after a weapon… but all the same we were constantly inching forward.

To the best of my knowledge the term “Welfare Epics” comes from Blizzard itself, reportedly from a developer…  but the only reference to this I could find is a now long dead WoW Insider post that has been mirrored on Engadget.  There is no source cited but references the same urban legend that I recollect, however given that I have never attended Blizzcon and the stream didn’t exist at that point… I have no evidence other than speculation. (EDIT:  Special thanks to Nyn for providing the evidence that apparently it was none other than Jeff Kaplan who said it I think joking… but nonetheless thrust the term into our vocabulary) The term however has been applied to any system that a certain fragment of the player base does not deem “worthy” of the rewards that are handed out.  When Karazhan and Zulaman were release… they also got called this term as did all of the gear that you could purchase with Justice Points.  In Wrath of the Lich King, the end bosses of the various heroic dungeons had a chance of dropping a much rarer epic quality item… and these were called Welfare Epics.  It simply became a way of one segment of the population diminishing the achievements of another segment of the population.  MMOs in general have always had rampant gate keeping, with various ways to tell other players that they are not tall enough to ride the ride, and this term just became another tool in that arsenal.

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Where it frustrates me the most however is that it generates this sense that MMOs are a zero sum game.  It creates the fallacy that if I am getting ahead, you are falling behind.  The fact that a level 110 can walk into a world quest and get a level 865 item, does not diminish the sense of accomplishment at every piece of gear I got in a heroic raid, or through beating the timer on a mythic plus.  Ultimately at the end of the day what we are actually battling is not other players, but instead the eldest of enemies…  the random number generator.  The problem is that there is a lot of bitterness that pools up when your luck never plays out.  I have friends who still have not seen a decent legendary this expansion, whereas I got my third last night… and for extra salt they dropped at level 940.  I got this legendary from an emissary chest, so I am sure that folks are going to refer to it as a “welfare legendary” but I really don’t care.  I simply see it as a useful item that will make me perform better for my raid when we start doing Nighthold tonight.  Instead of getting salty, I get happy when I see orange text appear in guild chat and congratulate folks with an open heart and friendly smile instead of a bucket of bile.  My friends getting awesome stuff is almost as good as me getting it… and in many cases better.  As is always the case in these games I tend to shoot up in item level pretty quickly, so when I started to see my friends catching up… it meant that I could then do interesting things with them.  them getting gear was helping to fuel my fun, which is largely derived by doing the stuff that requires a well geared party.

Essentially in my experience if you are of the opinion that only the hardest of hardcore should have interesting stuff…  then you are wrong.  That is a recipe for a dying game, and a game that has a massive population surge and purge cycle.  Please note that I absolutely raided Naxxramas in vanilla, which put me in the hardest of hardcores at the time…  and the fact that the content was so grossly inaccessible was a travesty.  During Burning Crusade I was a raid leader that suffered through the rampant poaching of players that occurred as folks checked out and slots needed to be filled.  When Tier 6 required you to do a string of attunements that involved clearing both Tier 4 and Tier 5, finding a replacement for someone who simply needed to stop raiding because real life got a little too real was pure hell.  You had two options…  either grow your own raiders, or steal them from another raid.  The growing option was painful because there are a fixed number of nights in the week, and trying to get folks who are knee deep in Tier 6 interested in running the content they long cleared and abandoned was pure hell.  That didn’t even take into account the real problem that was you needing them to be geared enough to actually do the content.  As a still sometimes leader, I would far rather have a system that allows players to get to reasonable item levels on their own, and stand as viable replacements that can make their way into the raid proper…  rather than having to orchestrate a plan to direct the entire guild to help catch a single player up.

The fact that others are getting nice things does not diminish the fact that you cleared mythic and got a whole slew of shiny baubles to show for it.  If you need a souvenir to prove that you were somewhere and did something “before it was cool”, then you might need to adjust your own motivations.  Sure to some extent or another, we all do content to get the shiny loot… that often lets us then go on and do more content.  However the experience of doing the content really should be the reward.  When I look back on my raiding career I don’t see a string of loot drops… but instead I see a string of events that involved the people that I was raiding with.  I think of moments like our first Sindragosa kill… where Thalen got the killing blow seconds before being frozen himself and we had to run back to see what had dropped.  I think of hanging out in front of the Throne of  Thunder with everyone using their shiny new Sky Golems like some sort of mechanized infantry.  I remember the excitement this season when we managed to finish up Heroic Emerald Nightmare and clear Trials of Valor in the same week…  not because of the achievements themselves but because I love the people I raid with.  If you don’t have warm memories like that, then I question why exactly are you raiding?  Raiding is about the people and the places and the things you did…  not pencil sharpener that you walked away with because you needed to find something to spend your tickets on.  The fact that someone else got something and it took less time than it took for you to get it…  should not tarnish the memories of the things you did along the way to get that same item.

Honor the Green

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Last night I managed to wrap up Greenshade and move on to the next zone Malabal Tor.  The funny thing about “leveling” through content in the post 50 game is that you lose all focus of how far you have actually come.  When I started playing again recently I was sitting about Champion rank 115, but at this very moment after doing the introductory quest line in Malabal Tor I am sitting at 141.  Both numbers seem like utter nonsense in the grand scheme of things, other than the fact that I am constantly getting incrementally more useful.  That said the mobs around me are getting incrementally more crafty at all times as well, but I am uncertain where the theoretical “max level” at least for gear advancement sits.  As of right now the highest level thing I have seen on any of the guild vendors is 160, which doesn’t really tell me if that is the actual max, or just the maximum that is reasonable to craft.  I have done a shockingly minimal amount of research so far during this return to Elder Scrolls Online, because in truth…  I had a path laid out before me already and that is to simply keep questing.  It might be madness but I really would like to finish up Aldmeri Dominion and then quest my way through all of Ebonheart before starting any of the DLC content.  Considering that the DLC lets you start it at literally any moment… I am guessing this is pure madness and not something most players do.

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Back to the whole having no basis on how far I have actually come in progress…  I was absolutely thinking that Malabal Tor was going to be the last zone in the AD content, and apparently I was completely wrong.  After this zone I still have Reaper’s March which is fine by me because I am actually enjoying myself in this content way more than I ever thought I would.  It is not exactly a surprise to anyone who has read my blog for very long… but I am not a huge fan of elves.  My friend Tam has this theory that every player is inherently either a Dwarf of an Elf and the two paths rarely cross.  I am absolutely a Dwarf and I tend to love all of the normal aesthetically wonderful things about Dwarfdom.  That said the Elder Scrolls setting as a whole does some weird things with what is and is not an Elf…  since technically both Dwarves and Orcs are elves in this setting.  Essentially in Elder Scrolls you have the races of “men”, the races of the “mer”, and then the beastmen which probably have a similar name or at least should.  Now in Skyrim… I go out of my way to kill Thalmor on sight… even if it is ultimately going to cause me issues.  In The Elder Scrolls Online I find out that the Thalmor are largely a militant group of “Elven Supremacists” that most people don’t like… and often times actively hate.  This subtle difference makes it significantly easier for me to actually like the elves while playing through the elf dominated content.

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That said… I have also found a certain Kinship with the Khajiit… which was to be expected, but also the Bosmer which I was not entirely prepared for.  I mean I have always liked the concept of the Green Pact and the existence of cannibal elves.  However while actually questing through the Bosmer centric story content, it has been interesting to struggle with the same weird thin line that they do…  of choosing what is common sense and what is honoring “The Green”.  It is a testament to just how damned good the storytelling is in this game to get a notorious elf killer like myself…  to convert to if not love…  but at least a begrudging respect for the folks that don’t belong to the Thalmor.  Of note… if given the chance I would still absolutely run around cheerfully slaughtering Thalmor.  I am extremely happy though that the game has given me ample opportunity to at least embarrass a few of them for showing them to be the unsteady zealots that they really are.  The only thing that I would have liked to have seen the game do… is throw in additional options for acknowledging the fact that you are an outlander while questing through the other two factions content.  The highlight of yesterday however was dealing with Hermaeus Mora, one of my favorite of the Daedra…  but also one of the more deadly.  He presented me with a deal that I could not refuse…  that I really wanted to refuse but felt the ramification of not taking it would be far worse.  While at some point I know turtle mode will finish… I have a feeling that I will still remain engaged to the storytelling of this game for the near future and this is about to be my “off night” game of choice.

Deep Turtle

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Lately I have been going through an anxiety ridden period where I just find it super stressful to be around people on a regular basis.  This started over the break, and for some extent I pulled myself out of it a little bit around the time I went back to work.  However increased stresses in that realm seems to have caused a relapse.  As a result I am firmly back in what I refer to as “turtle mode” where I duck my head into my shell and largely forget the world exists.  As a result I am taking every possible excuse to avoid doing things that have lots of people involved with them, and I missed both raids this week…  both with completely reasonable reasons but reasons that I probably could have avoided were it not for my anxiety desperately clinging to them.  Sure I had a window to fix, but I could have probably been done in time for the raid.  Sure I dozed off on the sofa, but had I drank a monster or some coffee I probably would have been fine there too.  The excuse was too convenient not to take it when the reality was I am simply having trouble processing existing around other human beings.

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When I am in deep turtle mode it is all I can really do to exist on a daily basis, let alone have to pretend to be a normal human being.  Which I realize is a bit odd given that I am generally a gregarious and welcoming sort, and have become famous for opting people.  There are times where I just can’t be “rockstar bel” as one of my friends has referred to it.  There is time when I just need to hide out and pretend the other human beings don’t exist.  Generally speaking when I am in this mode I play a lot of Minecraft or Skyrim…  or in the case of what has happened over the weekend return to playing an MMO that I really don’t have much of a social structure in these days.  Awhile back I reinstalled Elder Scrolls Online and this weekend I stared playing it extremely seriously.  I am enjoying myself immensely and other than the occasional message from folks who are also dipping their toes in as well and just happy to see a familiar face.

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I have to say the game feels amazing coming back to it after a significant time gone.  The game has released a ton of DLC/Expansion content since release and there are basically two ways of playing it.  Either you buy the DLC outright, where there is a deal that can be had that includes the four major DLC packs for 5500 crowns… which is $39.99.  The other option is to subscribe to the game which immediately unlocks all of the content…  so long as you keep an active subscription.  However there is another reason to go for the ESO Plus subscription option…  because it magically fixes your bag situation.  At launch one of my key problems was trying to keep enough bag space to be actively looting crafting ingredients, while at the same time picking up gear that drops from things I was killing.  With the subscription plan it adds what seems to be a separate bottomless crafting inventory, that items simply go to automatically when you loot them.  This means you can finally afford to loot all of those random crates and barrels full of fish and berries because it all gets whisked away off into the ether into a storage bin you never actually have to mess with.

The other awesome thing that has happened in the period of time I have not really be playing is that they have shifted the Veteran Rank system to be the Champion Point system.  At first I thought this was a one for one swap over to a sort of Skyrim-esc celestial system based around the Thief, Warrior and Mage.  However it seems to be way more than that, in that they are essentially an account wide system of alternate expansion much like the Planar abilities in Rift or Paragon points in Diablo 3.  That means if you log into your level 7 alt like I did yesterday…  I had 130 champion points to spend making me able to do some pretty insane stuff at low levels.  Sure this greatly trivializes the leveling process for alts…  but I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing.  In truth it makes me far more likely to level alts knowing that I have a lot of the same benefits, on them as I do on my main character.  That said the collections and cosmetic systems also exist at an account level so you can keep using your favorite mounts and pets… or anything you have unlocked through the crown shop.  All in all I have been happy to fade quietly back into a game that I still fine immensely immersive at least from a single player level.

Torn on Switch

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Last night was of course the Nintendo Switch reveal stream…  that seemed to occur for pretty much everyone at an extremely awkward time.  For me personally it kicked off about 10 pm, so I was able to tune in as I was winding down a night of running Nightfalls (and sometimes failing) in Destiny with Squirrel and Jex.  I talked a bit yesterday about my mixed feelings regarding the Switch and its launch on twitter.  Every fiber of my being wants this console, but there is also the logic center of my brain that keeps reminding me of the not amazing track record I have with Nintendo consoles.  I will get more into that later, but first to talk about the details we learned last night.  The Switch is in fact coming a lot faster than I expected with a launch window of March 3rd 2017, or for those who think in these terms….  if I am counting correctly 8 weeks from the Friday I am writing this post on.  In the short term I will be able to play the console personally in a few weeks at Pax South, and there will be a series of demo events happening in “major” cities…  which means nowhere event vaguely close to the fly over country where I live.  They have confirmed two launch titles…  the first of which is 1, 2, Switch which is another one of those Nintendo gimmick games like Wii Sports that while extremely fun is in large part a tech demo for all of the new “innovations” they have woven into the new system.  The launch title that matters however is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Now yesterday I said that a lot of it was going to ultimately come down to price.  The first leaked price of $250 seemed like a viable option and potentially even a day one and pre-order system for me.  Shortly after that another price started circulating which was $350…  and that was definitely going to be a wait and see price point.  The final reveal targeted things at $299 which is a figure that I am not quite sure about one way or the other.  I feel like ultimately…  we are going to need to see more details about what actual titles will be available at launch.  I am not sure if Zelda is enough to push this console for me at the start.  However I also know if the Nintendo track record holds… this means that if you did not pre-order your console it is likely going to be next Christmas before there is a reasonable flow of units to the shelves to allow folks to make that late impulse buy.  I remember when the Wii launched in November, it was late February before I even saw one on a store shelf, and even then it was probably mid summer before they were a regular enough occurrence to warrant not noticing.  Nintendo is extremely horrible with supply chain management and producing anywhere near the right number of units to meet the current demand.  This is evidenced by the fact that you quite literally still can’t find 3DS units on store shelves, from a drought that started around Thanksgiving.  Similarly you essentially have zero shot in hell of finding a Nintendo Classic console yet.

Where my brain begins to temper my desire to buy this console is when I think about my general track record with Nintendo.  Growing up I was absolutely a Nintendo fanboy, getting my Nintendo Classic shortly after release and my Super Nintendo a few months after launch as well.  Similarly I saved up my money and purchased a Gameboy within the first six months.  So when the Nintendo 64 launched in college I was similarly smitten with the console, and spent way more money than we should have been spending at the time for the unit given our already strapped college life existence.  While enamored with the early titles through Zelda…  an event occured that pretty much killed me caring about the later titles.  PC Gaming got absolutely amazing, and I got my 3DFX 2 card which made everything that I was seeing on the Nintendo 64 start to look extremely sluggish and primitive.  So instead of caring about Goldeneye, I was playing GL Quake.  The other problem the Nintendo 64 had was the lack of role-playing game support, and when Squaresoft took the Final Fantasy franchise to the Playstation I followed it.  That said I have so much nostalgia for those early days of Nintendo, so I keep purchasing the consoles hoping to rekindle some of that magic.  In the end however of my consoles they tend to be the ones that gather dust.

The other huge problem that I have found is that my life really does not fit a mobile console that well.  I have both a 3DS and a Vita and they maybe see some play time once a week as I am looking for something to do before falling asleep.  The Wii U seemed like an awesome idea, but the limited range on the unit made it largely useless to me.  My expectation was that I would be able to play the screen unit wherever in the house I wanted to, and maybe even out on the back patio.  The reality however is that I need to remain within roughly 8 feet of the unit to keep a stable connection.  So as a result currently the unit is set up in the bedroom so I can play it from bed… but that makes for awkward gaming any other time.  Ultimately I think the real problem for me with Nintendo is that they seem to be extremely focused on gimmicks.  The Switch as a console is a gimmick, and while I don’t think it will be the frustrating experience for me that the Wii controls were…  I definitely think it is going to attempt desperately to function in methods other than your standard game console.  This focus on gimmickry also seems to come at a massive cost in processing power and graphical performance.  While Zelda Breath of the Wild looked gorgeous in its own way… watching the footage last night it definitely felt like a game that was not quite as detailed as the current generation of console games.  While the Switch has courted Bethesda to put Skyrim on their new console…  Skyrim is also a seven year old game at this point.  In the montage of games… I didn’t see much in the way of modern ports which concerns me that we are setting up for another Wii U situation… where the console is simply not powerful enough to run the style of games that the majority of publishers are creating.  That said… you buy a Nintendo console for the first party games and I really want to see some more firm times on when more of those are releasing before committing.

Distant Horizon

There was a sequence of events that lead me to make the above tweet on Tuesday, namely reading a similar sequence of tweets from Syl and the resulting blog post.  In truth I have felt this way for awhile, where I have been hyper interested in extension content being added onto the games I am already playing, but not extremely interested in anything new coming down the pike.  The launch of Elder Scrolls Online was really the last big event that wrapped me up into the hope, hype, and heartbreak cycle that is the launch of a new MMO property.  I got swept up a bit in Wildstar but that was never really “my game” no matter how much I wanted to try and make it be for the sake of hanging out and playing with friends.  This is not to say that I have not tried a bunch of different games that have released since, but they have all largely left me wanting for this or that feature…  or similarly wanting to remove other features.  The latest boom in the MMO industry has been among a crop of games largely coming from South Korea and they all seem to share a vision of MMOs that doesn’t set that well with me.  Not sure if it is the character design or the focus on eventually funneling players towards a murder box, but whatever the case I tend to bounce pretty hard with ArcheAge being the only game in that larger general classification that I play on a somewhat regular basis.

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As is always the case with our community… when you bring up an issue folks tend to come out of the woodwork to help you with it.  I have to say this is one of the most charming aspects of the world I have gotten myself wrapped up in, even if sometimes I am just shooting off my mouth into the void.  As is to be expected there were a lot of games suggested on the near horizon, and most of them I had already mentally bounced from for one reason or another based on past experiences with similarly constructed experiences.  However buried in that pack of games was one that I had not even heard of…  not that I am actively looking for new MMO properties.  One of my blogger friends Isarii mentioned a game that he was interested in, and was just about to release an interview with called Ashes of Creation.  Like any game I have not heard of I started googling and came across a sequence of videos showing off various aspects of the world, and I am not entirely certain what peaked my interest directly but something did.  Yesterday they also released a much more detailed Q&A video answering some questions from the community, that when taken with the interview with Isarii fills in a bunch of details about the intent of the game.  I will say off the bat there are a lot of things that give me hope, and a lot of things that give me potential heartache.

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The description of the game weaves a pretty lofty tale, hitting most of the features that I have loved from other games.  In the Q&A they talk about the lack of hard faction boundaries, and a part of me almost audibly said “Hell Yeah” at that moment.  However they also talk about this dynamic world with ever changing events based on a node system that allows each node in the world to change and effect the nodes around it.  They talk about the engine of change being conquest and sieges… and that a guild holding a castle will have ramifications on the land surrounding it.  This all sounds amazingly cool on paper but it is also something I am extremely gun shy about.  This has been the pitch of essentially every PVP centric open world sandbox to date, that the players make lasting effects on the world.  What ends up happening instead is that the game devolves into a PVP gankfest for at least the first six months, because there is a certain player base that the idea of ganking defenseless players seems really exciting to.  So while ArcheAge for example is a perfectly reasonable game to play right this moment, it was an extremely toxic game for its first year of life…  until said toxic players were either policed away or got bored and shifted to the next shiny object to take a giant crap on.  So my big concern is exactly what Ashes of Creation is going to do to ensure this doesn’t happen.

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One of the bullet points talked about in Isarii’s interview is that they have a three phased flagging system, and that they hope it will help mitigate this issue.  There will be a non-combatant “green” state, a combatant “purple” state, and corrupt “red” state.  The corruption system sounds an awful lot like going rogue in The Division, or the pirate system in ArcheAge.  Intrepid Studios talks about PVP being optional, but in the description of what a corrupted player is… they mention something that I stuck on mentally.  I am going to quote a section of the interview for the sake of pointing this out a little easier.

Players can kill Combatants without repercussions, and are encouraged to do so, since dying while a Combatant means you suffer reduced death penalties. Where this changes is when a Combatant kills a Non-Combatant. In this case, the Combatant is Corrupt, and acquires a Corruption Score (which is accrued based on a number of different parameters, including the level differential of their freshly slain victim). This Corruption Score can be worked off with effort through a few mechanics, but the primary means of getting rid of it is through death.

The particular phase that is bothering me a bit is “when a Combatant kills a Non-Combatant” because in a traditional MMO flagging system this shouldn’t be a possible thing.  “Green” players are traditionally not able to be attacked, and if this is a game where that is not the case we might already have our first stumbling block for me personally.  Now of note… there is a lot of nuance here that I may simply not be seeing.  Like for example in ArcheAge, as a completely non-combatant player you can find yourself in open pvp flagged zones…  that entering will make you able to be attacked.  So in the case of Ashes of Creation, if there are certain hostile areas that are openly contested…  a player would know that entering there could put them at danger.  I don’t however want to see the bodies of helpless players littering the ground in an otherwise peaceful zone like Elwynn Forest because they died at the hand of a ganker on an abusive power trip.

The idea behind this game feels like one that no one has really been able to implement correctly.  If it works well it could be amazing, but generally speaking it is the player that is the ultimate unraveller of the best made plans.  However all of that said, I am interested enough to have done enough reading and watching to be able to post this post…  so I have to say I am curious about the evolution of this game.  At this very moment everything is so fluid that I am not really certain if the end product is going to be something that I want to play.  If will say that right now it is going to be extremely difficult to implement most of the things they are talking about, but I wish them all the luck in the world at trying to translate the vision into video game.  There are a lot of parts of the Q&A session that remind me of the ill fated Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto.  The problem with an idea… is once shared it mutates.  So when I read the design manifesto it filled my head with all sorts of ideas and dreams of a better game that the reality never came close to living up to.  Watching the Q&A session for Ashes of Creation did the same thing… filled my head with a bunch of fevered dreams about all of the things that I wish I could have seen in this MMO or that.  It is this whirlwind of “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas that have been collected and carefully curated into the game these folks always wanted to work on.  However there is always a chunk of nuance that is lost when you speak your vision, or commit it to paper.  In doing so…  that vision loses some of the sharp edges and becomes much more hazy.  Based on the goals set out… this game could either be literally the game I always wanted to play…  or yet another disappointment that cannot quite live up to my technicolor dreams of the way things “should work”.  Regardless… in the coming months and years… as likely will be the case…  I am going to follow Ashes of Creation as it evolves and see if it can deliver on any of my hopes and is worthy of my hype.  All the while of course being extremely afraid of that heartache that often comes afterwards.

Lobbing SIVA Charges

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Last night did not go entirely as planned, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a pretty amazing night.  The original plan that I had in my head was an attempt at completing the Nightfall bounty on as many characters as I could for shots at the Icebreaker.  However as the day went on that plan slowly morphed into going to my very first Wrath of the Machine raid.  So around 8pm last night we managed to pull together the six players needed for the raid and I shifted into full on learner mode.  Destiny is one of those games where I am constantly amazed at the level of dedication the community has.  A raid in Destiny is this complex sequence of events that have to be completed in a specific way…  and the first time I step into one of the encounters it is full on information overload.  I find it interesting how fast the community as a whole crowd sources the solution to the fights, sharing tidbits of information and ultimately mapping strategies for how to complete them.  I say this because the fights themselves are actually messaged somewhat poorly as to what you should be doing at any given time.  Since I am very much a “learn by doing” player, it means for the first few raids I ultimately feel completely lost.

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What is extremely interesting about Wrath of the Machine versus Kings Fall is that the “roles” are not necessarily fixed.  In Kings Fall you could essentially put your most seasoned player on the job of doing whatever was the most important task on a given fight.  While there was a certain measure of randomness, like who got chosen to run the spark on the invisible platforms…  others like the person getting Golgoroth’s Gaze were very much something you had in your control.  As a result to some extent it was much easier to carry a new player through and allow them to see the fights in motion, before they were ever expected to take up a key roll in the fight.  That is very much NOT the case in Wrath of the Machine given the game shifts the roles around quickly and while you might be dpsing one moment, the next you might be needing to toss SIVA charges at fixed markers.  The hardest of these fights for me to grok was the Aksis encounter where the raid divided up into three sides, and the game randomly empowered three players at a time…  sometimes requiring you to shift around quickly to cover a side if it did not have an empowered player.  The end result is that new players ultimately have to learn quickly because you never know exactly when that key role is going to fall on your shoulders.

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There were several points during the night where I absolutely know I failed at various mechanics, but while moving through the content I started to get a feel for what I was doing wrong and how to correct it.  Now with Kings Fall, most of the encounters were fairly easy…  but it was the jumping sequences that were the bane of my existence.  With Wrath of the Machine, the encounters themselves seem to be the challenge, and while I died a few times during the much shorter jumping sequences they didn’t see anywhere near as nerve wracking as disappearing ships over of a giant open chasm.  Last night was also important because it marked the first time I had really done large group content with Tequila Mockingbird my clan.  It has been over six months since Axioma clan was dissolved in a fit, and [TQMB] was formed out of the ashes.  It definitely feels like we wound up with the absolutely best natured of folks for the reboot.  Within minutes I felt right back at home, which I guess is a strange statement considering I have been proudly sporting the clan tag since the moment the reboot happened.

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So while I had no real intent of raiding last night, I am super happy to have seen the content now and to have gotten some of the really awesome stuff that drops there.  There seems to be a massive problem with duplicates from the SIVA key caches.  On the first boss encounter I got the Ether Nova fusion rifle… and then turned around and got the same thing from the cache.  From the second encounter I managed to pick up Arms, that I am extremely happy about given that they have the crazy heavy ammo trait.  From the third encounter, I picked up an Artifact which is decent but it is really hard to get excited over an artifact when I am apparently now swimming in 400 light ones.  From the final phase of the Aksis encounter I walked away with the Genesis Chain auto rifle, and then spent a key and got an exact duplicate.  Past that I wound up with three exotics from the run:  4th Horseman, Hereafter, and Crest of Alpha Lupi.  The first two turning into shards since I don’t really like either weapon, and the last from an engram serving as infusion fodder for the Twilight Garrison I had yet to upgrade.

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I spent a bit of time after the raid running around in the Plaguelands patrol zone to play with both the Auto Rifle and the Fusion Rifle and I like both.  The Genesis Chain feels really awesome when you get headshots and cause the firefly to proc since it has a unique sound effect that goes with it.  The Fusion Rifle… largely just feels like a competent Fusion Rifle.  I sincerely doubt I will be giving up either The Branded Lord or Saladins Vigil for it, but it is nonetheless a reasonable weapon that is probably going to get ferried off to one of my alts.  I have heard it works really amazingly in Crucible, so I will have to give it a shot there.  It is bizarre how I have gone from being someone that NEVER used Fusion Rifles, to being someone who largely now favors them over Shotguns for close to medium range engagement.  The other really awesome thing that happened is that I am now flagged to do the Outbreak Prime quest, which honestly could be an entire post in itself.  It turns out that Lexy is also stalled on this quest, so that gives us Hunter and Titan… and we just need to find a Warlock to ride along with us since that quest requires you to group up all three classes to progress.  Wondering if maybe some point this weekend we can knock out the required pieces so that by the time the reset rolls around we are working on the final step which is the run the raid again.

 

Flawless Royal Warlock

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Last night I had every intent of attempting to get a Nightfall going.  As a result when I first got home from work I grabbed some food and popped upstairs to fiddle about on my warlock.  It is odd how my order of enjoyment has shifted when it comes to my alts.  Nothing is ever going to dislodge Titan as my primary class in Destiny, but the other two appear to be in a state of flux.  Originally speaking my secondary character was always my Hunter, and my Warlock generally sat in this realm of just one or two steps removed from “afterthought”.  However with Rise of Iron and even some of the late Taken King content…  that sort of shifted around and I tend to enjoy my time spent on the Warlock far more than the Hunter.  I think part of it is that the movement options for the Hunter seem awesome at face value…  but double jump just feels more limited than either the Titan or Warlock jumps.  Admittedly I have constant issues with the Warlock jump because it essentially works backwards of that of the Titan.  However in both cases it feels like I can get where I am needing to go more easily than trying to time a bunch of jumps in order to get up to anyplace high.  On the Hunter I feel like there is never a situation where I do not want to be using the Bones of Eao…  so much so that I question if it would not simply be better for the class if that Exotic were phased out and that function just defaulted.  I still wish there were artifacts that allowed you to switch which jump your class had… because in truth I would still give everyone the Titan jump if given the chance.

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Now I said I had every intent of running a Nightfall last night, but instead when my wife managed to make it home I popped back downstairs to fix her some dinner.  After doing so however instead of filtering back up to my office, I decided to chill downstairs on the sofa with her…  which mean’t no PS4.  I realize I am one of the only people on the planet for which “sofa gaming” does not mean a console, but I have all of my consoles hooked up next to my gaming PC in my office so I can capture from them easily… and also that is where the Television that I can dominate lives.  Before long I was on the laptop and playing some more Diablo, and eventually connected with some friends chain running Rifts for fun and profit.  All in all it was a really good night for me and progression, because firstly… managed to get all of my gems to “Flawless Royal” level.  Additionally I managed to knock out a few more items from my set build namely that I now have the right armor and “weapon” in my cube.  I am now down to a place where the only things I am missing are my jewelry…  but these are also some of the more expensive items to buy from Kadala.  There is a more powerful Legacy of Nightmares build that I am working towards, largely because I have never actually tried doing a build using that pair of rings.  The game apparently wants me to try it however since I wound up with an Ancient version of one of the rings last night.  However I am in the very awkward place of needing Justice Lantern, both pieces of the Endless Walk jewelry set, and the ever present Convention of Elements in the cube.  On a positive note last night I managed to pick up a pair of Nemesis Bracers which I can swap with my Heart of Iron in the cube to make farming runs go more smoothly.  Additionally I managed to get all three of my primary build gems over level 25 so they finally start doing interesting things.  All of these things combined seem to now allow me to pretty easily farm Torment X content, which means that 7/10 of the next Seasonal step is knocked out…  with the only truly heinous thing left being mastering the set dungeon.  For that I am largely going to need to tweak my build because I don’t actually use consecrate anymore, although it is definitely worth trying given how bed of nails works with it.

Tonight however… will most definitely be a night for Destiny because in theory it should be easier to get two characters through Nightmares on reset day 🙂