Seven Years

FacesOfBel_720

Interesting Journey

FacesOfBel_720

It feels so immensely strange to be sitting down to write this post.  As of this morning it marks the seventh year of Tales of the Aggronaut.  I am not exactly sure why but seven years seems like a significantly more auspicious number than five or six or even eight.  Culturally we place a strange importance on the number seven as either lucky or magical, and I have to admit that I fall for this same trap myself.  As a web developer by trade, I started this blog with a purpose and had all of the trappings of a proper website.  One of those is of course Google Analytics integration, and I spent some time this morning going over the numbers before sitting down to write this post.  In the Seven years I have published 1260 posts, and they have been read a grand total of 235,304 times at the moment of pulling the stats.  Over the course of this blogs lifespan I’ve had 110,359 unique readers from 182 countries, and roughly 40% of them are return readers.  What I found shocking was that there are a little over 4000 of you out there that have read my blog more than 200 times.  As far as my readers go it seems that the bulk from from the United States as one would expect, but the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Australia also make up large chunks and round out the top five countries with France coming in a not too distant sixth.  The web developer in me was also curious to find out that the vast majority of my readers are using Google Chrome (go them!) with the next highest batch using Firefox (also good choice)…  and then unfortunately a large block are still using Internet Explorer and I was shocked that it actually beat out Safari.

The thing is…  these numbers are utterly meaningless because at the end of the day it still very much feels like I am a little kid pretending to make a newspaper or sitting in a cardboard box pretending to tell the news.  Every day I get up and make my post, and mentally I feel like I am talking to myself.  I have a hard time reconciling that there are people out there reading each and every day without fail.  I know there are mentally, because when I am late getting a post up… folks will come out of the woodwork to check on me.  However emotionally I cannot quite comprehend that I have people that are that interested in the boring things that I do each and every day.  I am not a terribly interesting person, and most of my life is spent going to work, trying to be a good husband, juggling family and friends… and attempting to get in as much game time as humanly possible.  The truth is I share a lot of my life with you my readers, and if I didn’t feel like I was talking to myself…  I am not sure if I would have the courage to say some of the things I have said.  I’ve shared my high points and my low points… and attempted to be honest with my struggles and frustrations.  The result has been more support from my friends and readers than I ever thought possible.  When am feeling down, you all reach out to me and lift me back up… and in truth you are a huge part of why I keep going each and every morning.

Evolution of the Aggronaut

I still look back on the early days of this blog and wonder what exactly caused me to start it in the first place.  I guess in truth I was always a blogger, I just didn’t realize it.  I was one of those folks that haunted game forums, and was prone to writing huge wall of text posts about this subject or that.  As to what prompted me to make the switch from forum goer to blogger, that one is a bit harder to nail down.  I know I was ultimately prompted to start thinking about it by WoW Insider and their focus on a single blog called The Wordy Warrior.  Since I was a Warrior trying to lead a raid, I felt a certain kinship with this blogger and that lead me to start my own “warrior blog”.  Aggronaut itself has gone through so many changes over the years.  It was originally a Warrior Tanking blog, and then shifted to a general warrior blog… to a raid leadership blog…  to a general World of Warcraft blog…  to a Rift blog…  until finally it was rebooted in its current form which is MY blog.  For so long I kept trying to make it into something more than just an open discussion I was having with my readers about whatever happened to be on my mind.  I was told that in order to be “successful” you had to find a niche and then exploit the shit out of that niche… and that never really did feel amazing.  The end result after all of this back and forth is that Tales of the Aggronaut is a blog about me and whatever the hell I happen to be doing.  If you are going to read me for long at all, you have to be interested in me as a person because I am not always going to be all that interesting.

The strangest thing to get used to over these years is that once you have made a post it often times develops a life of its own.  There have been many times I have written something and then someone came along behind me and got some other meaning from my post that I never intended or even thought about.  Sometimes this is good… and other times it just serves as fodder for someone else’s rant blog.  The one harsh reality is that the posts that become popular, are never the ones you actually thought were worth reading.  Looking back through my analytics…  here are the top five posts in the seven years of Aggronaut.  At least one of them completely makes me cringe these days.

Of those the only one I am actually proud of in any fashion is my GroupCraft series of posts.  The Keyboard Turning one I am actually actively embarrassed by largely because I don’t even recognize the “me” that wrote that post because I guess I have mellowed out significantly since I first started this blog.  However I feel like it would be dishonest to remove posts from the annals of time, so I leave them…  even the ones that make me cringe.  If nothing else this blog charts my evolution as a player and a decent human being.  However I admit that a lot of that evolution didn’t really start until I began my mad mission of blogging every single day.  In a few weeks it will mark the third anniversary of blogging every single day, and it is funny how I have gone from being one of the least prolific bloggers to being among the most.  In the first four years of my blog I made 148 posts…  in the last three years I made 1112 posts, so a huge difference.

Faces of Bel

Like I said in the start of this very long and probably self aggrandizing post…  seven feels like a special number.  For years I have joked that I really only play one character, and then try and recreate that character in every single game that I play.  I’ve even posted pictures of my various characters to drill home that point.  This got me thinking, and since I am really good friends with the amazing artist @Ammosart I decided I would try and commission her to create a special graphic to commemorate this occasion.  The idea was to have an image that showed off several of the “Faces of Bel” and I have to say I was completely blown away when I saw the end result.  She went above and beyond anything I could have hoped for, and now I will have to be tempted to have her create something for every anniversary…  if I can afford that.  I absolutely wanted this on a shirt, so at my suggestion she has throw it up on her t-shirt store.  I wanted every last penny of the proceeds to go to her, so instead of me creating a “Tales of the Aggronaut” store this seemed like the better option.  For I believe the first 72 hours it is only $14 and then after that they go up to the normal price of $20 and $22 for bigger sizes.  Once I finish writing this post I plan on ordering one for myself because I am so floored at just how well this turned out.  I am super thankful to have awesome friends like Ammo, that I can pester to do little side projects like this.

I feel like I need to wrap things up, because this post has gone on quite a bit longer than I thought it would.  I am very thankful to have all of you out there reading my words, and without you I am not sure I would have the strength to get up every single morning and commit text to page before I have finished my cup of coffee.  Through this blog and the awesome community of folks that I have met through the various social media accounts connected to it… I have forged a family that I will take with me for the rest of my life.  It doesn’t matter if we have only interacted one time…  you’ve left an impression on me and given me the will to keep going.  Sure there are mornings where I question myself why the hell I keep doing this, but all of you out there that ping me over twitter or slack or countess other methods…  give me that drive to keep moving forward.  I realize this post has sounded a little bit like a farewell at times, and I haven’t meant it to.  Seven is a magical and special number, but so is Thirteen…  so as I top the hill of this goal I set my sights on the next one.  Thank you for joining me in this journey, and hopefully we will have a lot more of them before I decide to call it quits.  Also side note… please take some time to tell @Ammosart just how damned amazing this image is!  I’ve had it for about a month now… and it has been pure hell to keep it under wraps because from the moment I got it I wanted to share it with the world!

So Much Better With People

The AMA Experiment

Yesterday my good friend Syl started a thread over on the Blaugust Nook with a very simple purpose.  The idea was to generate writing prompts by asking the person above you in the thread a question.  It seemed like an awesome idea, so I joined in the fun asking the first question, which then left me open to be asked a question.  Wilhelm from The Ancient Gaming Noob chimed in after me and gave me a really excellent question, because it is honestly one I have thought about before but never actually written anything on.  Without more rambling… here is the prompt.

For a lot of people, starting off in MMORPGs changed the way they viewed and interacted with video games. I often defer single player games in favor of online games now due to the fact that games with other people are… or at least seem… more interesting, even when I am playing them solo. Did starting off with MMORGPs change your relationship with video games?

Brief History of Belghast

PSOBetterSo I feel like in order to answer this question appropriately we have to go a ways back into my history.  I grew up in a small town, but more so than that… I grew up a significant distance outside of the city limits.  This compounded with the fact that I had no siblings, meant that I really didn’t have anyone to play with.  As a result I got extremely adept at entertaining myself, but when we hit middle school… the prime era of sleep overs, I pretty much took every opportunity to stay over at someone else’s house or have someone at mine.  It was awesome to be able to play games with friends, but my reality was that I was mostly a single player gamer the majority of my time.  As such I tended to favor mostly single player titles like role playing games, and zelda like adventure games.  These would let me explore worlds by myself without the need of an additional player to bring the fun.

In college I did my fair share of LAN gaming, but the majority of my time was still spent playing single player titles like Fallout on the PC.  My first real “MMO” experience was Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast, and I ate that game up.  Even though communication was not that big of a deal, I spent so much time exploring the worlds with other players.  I even went so far as to get a PC keyboard adapter that I could hook up to my Dreamcast so I could make communication easier.  During this time I was still playing a significant amount of single player games on the PC and devouring every single Japanese Roleplaying Game that was released on the PS1, PS2 or the Dreamcast.  Then my “jumping into” Everquest happened, as I was asked to play a friends secondary character during a Vox raid… and from that point on I was pretty much hooked.  Gradually I just stopped playing anything single player and instead devoted every single moment of gaming time to whatever my current MMO crush happened to be as I moved through EQ, DAoC, Horizon, and City of Heroes.

So Much Better With People

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-05 19-43-27-08 Something else happened during this time, that ultimately disconnected me from single player game experiences.  Games became so much more cinematic, and quite honestly this was not a good thing as far as I was concerned.  There were so many times I wanted to plunk down in front of a game, boot it up and just start playing.  When I played my role playing games, I absolutely expected to have a serious time commitment.  I did not however expect to have to wade through cut scene after cut scene just to play a platformer.  So I became even more immersed in my big online worlds that let me wander aimlessly and find my own enjoyment.  I also found myself favoring games that were extremely similar to the online worlds I was playing in.  Games like the Elder Scrolls or the three dimensional Fallout games provided me that big open world I craved but allowed me to explore offline.  The problem is there was always something missing.  These are games that I have devoted hundreds of hours to playing, but there is always a point where I start thinking to myself…  this world would be so much better with people.

Ultimately even if I am in “alone in a crowd” mode, I enjoy seeing people roaming around in the same world I am inhabiting.  Maybe this is an artifact of my early desires to have someone to play with, or a side effect of being recruited into Everquest in the middle of a bustling and thriving guild.  In any case I always end up missing the people when I am playing other games.  So as a result there are lots of single player titles that I want to play through, to experience the story…  but they ultimately sit in my steam library unfinished and in some cases not even started… because I would rather be online interacting with people that I care about.  Fairly recently I have found that hanging out on Teamspeak while playing single player games helps a bit.  It allows me to chat with people and feel like I am part of a larger community, while still indulging in single player worlds and experiences.  Similarly streaming a single player game to twitch feels like I am in some way making it a multiplayer experience by sharing it with others.  So to answer the original question… yes MMOs have changed the way I play single player games, by simply making me not satisfied with being in a world without other human beings to interact with.

Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

The Elephant in the Room

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I figure this morning I would cut with any sidebar discussions and get straight into the topic that was on everyones lips yesterday…  the Blizzard Q2 Earnings call.  If you remember during the Q1 2015 earnings call they announced a drop to 7.1 million subscribers after a peak of 10 million during the Warlords of Draenor launch bump.  I think we all knew that the numbers would be down, at least incidentally based on our own experiences from the game.  I have to say that I thought WoW token would be more of a game changer, and when they announced that World of Warcraft was down to 5.6 million subscribers I figured that the Token numbers would bolster this amount.  However based on further information it appears that this number does include token subscribers as well.  In truth this number likely does not fully account for the actual loss.  Personally I would consider myself no longer playing World of Warcraft, but my account does not actually die until mid September.  There are several folks in similar holding patterns in our guild waiting on their time to tick down as well.

MMOChampGraph As always MMO Champion has a spiffy graph charting the subscription numbers since the release of the game.  To put things into proper perspective, the subscription numbers are exactly what the subscription numbers were in December of 2005 roughly a year after the initial launch of the game.  This has lead some folks to point out that when you iron out the outliers like the Warlords of Draenor bump you end up with a standard curve that you might expect for a game of this longevity.  There was a lot to be gleaned from the earnings call, but one of the major points I got out of it.. is that while they have already announced that the World of Warcraft expansion would be revealed Thursday at Gamescom, they left it off of the list of products planned for the rest of the year.  That tells me that at the very best the expansion will be a Q1 2016 release.  That means that there will be at a minimum of a six month lag between content patches, and at worst…  honestly who knows what the worse case scenario could be.  Hopefully this will not be anywhere near as long as the content drought after 5.4, but I am seriously hoping that they reconsider Hellfire being the final patch of the expansion.

Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

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I feel like the takeaway from the earnings call is not that World of Warcraft has fallen by 1.5 million subscribers in a quarter.  Anyone who was not expecting this was living in a rose colored world.  Quite honestly I half expected it to be a bigger drop just based on my own experiences.  The real take away for me however is that in spite of losing this many players Activision Blizzard had one of its strongest quarters yet.  During the earnings call there were repeated mentions of “diversification of product offerings”, which tells me that Blizzard no longer considers themselves the “World of Warcraft” company.  They see the writing on the way, that their juggernaut is winding down, and they have replaced its revenue by more agile games that are significantly easier to support.  The hard truth is that Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are making them lots and lots of money.  When Overwatch launches you can damn well bet that it is also going to make them equally large piles of money, further diluting the need for World of Warcraft.

There was a time when Warcraft was the prize bull, but that is simply no longer the case.  If you think of it from a pure numbers perspective it makes sense.  Hearthstone for example is a digital card game, and the bulk of the assets that are created for it are two dimensional images.  Granted they are awesome looking but they do not require the amount of time it takes to create three dimensional textured models and even more so huge three dimensional worlds for players to explore.  The type of content that goes into games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm is just simply cheaper to produce than the amount of time that goes into building an entire world filled with hundreds of quest givers that have to be debugged and cross checked to make sure they are not breaking something else.  To make matters worse… this expensive content is something we are extremely good at either avoiding or burning through as quickly as possible.  The hunger for new content is never changing, there is never a point where we the players will ever be satiated.  Adding a new playfield to Heroes of the Storm changes that game and its meta for months, and requires only a faction of the work that a single zone would take in a traditional MMO.

The Movie Tie In

warcraft-movie-logo The timing of all of this seems to coincide with the release of the Warcraft movie, but I question what exactly that means for the franchise.  All of the details behind the movie so far seem to point at this being a “Warcraft” movie and not necessarily a “World of Warcraft” movie, meaning that it takes place in a time before the MMO is set.  So does this mean that we will be doing more “timey wimey” stuff with the expansion, and we are somehow trapped in the timeline that we created by following Garrosh to Draenor?  Are we going to play a role in trying to stop a new invasion of Azeroth by Guldan and the Burning Legion?  The bigger question is… if all of this is going to happen are players going to stomach yet another storyline retcon?  These are all questions that I really don’t have an answer for.  I feel like if Blizzard has a shot in hell at rekindling the love of this game, they have to take us someplace new and unexplored, but do it in a way that feels epic like never before.  I still mark Wrath of the Lich King as the best expansion to date, and it built upon the success of Vanilla and the Burning Crusade polishing both to a mirror sheen.

This is simply something that going back in time cannot provide for me.  We’ve done the reboot of the world thing before with Cataclysm, and I found the whole process frustrating and annoying that places I once loved… simply no longer existed.  I feel the only real option is for us to take the fight to the Legion, and have an expansion where we are the ones laying siege for once.  What I want to see is an expansion where the Alliance and Horde finally put aside their difference, and with it the artificial barriers between players fall down.  I want to see an expansion that places us squarely in the path of epic battles as we lay siege to the worlds that the Legion has conquered before, slowly working our way back to their base of operation and banishing their evil from the universe.  That is the adventure that will bring players back, and anything less than that I think will ultimately feel hollow.  We have run out of villains that we care about… and the whole “Dances with Orcs” feel of both Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor has been infuriating for anyone who really doesn’t care a damn about Orcs.  Blizzard needs to prove to us that it can still create an opposition that is worth of the lineage of Arthas and Illidan, and I feel the only way they can do that is by having us take on the Burning Legion on their own territory.

Bahamut Is Down

Some Personal Stuff

I feel like it has been pretty noticeable that I have been in a bit of a funk for the last few weeks.  When this happens I tend to extract myself from the world until the passes, which isn’t necessarily the smartest thing that I can do.  However over the years I have done this as my coping mechanism, because I am always afraid I will snap at someone when I get moody.  For a bit yesterday I was wondering if my magical happy pills were not longer working, but then my wife asked me something.  Was my low as low as it has been in the past…  and to be honest no.  Normally the world would be crushingly oppressive, and instead I just felt sort of permanently bummed out.  So I guess maybe things are working just fine, they are just filling in the valleys so that the lows are quite as low as they would have been otherwise.

Yesterday was one of the more stressful days that I have had in awhile.  We had someone patch a server and due to a conflict between the Windows Update Service and MacAfee that we have seen numerous times now… it caused a process deadlock that ended up taking down production services for hours.  This was stressful in so many ways, because while there was nothing I did to cause it… there was also nothing I could really do to help it either.  It was another department with another manager… and another set of priorities responsible for the fault and the fix.  So when I came home…  I was at an extremely low point.  However my wife and I went out to dinner, and then as the evening went on I started to feel better about the world.  It was like peeking out of a fog to see a lovely day behind it.  I guess in the grand scheme of things… if all of my low spots are like this from now on…  I will count myself lucky because while it sucked, it was manageable.

Bahamut Is Down

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 20-49-56-40 One of the struggles in game is that I feel like I am caught between two worlds a bit.  It has taken longer than I expected to get the Monday night raid group pieced together and ready to do Heavensward content.  As a result we have been focusing on trying to get through the Final Coil of Bahamut, and made some significant progress.  Last week we were just shy of forming a group, so going into Turn 13 last night… we were all rusty.  However it feels like we got our bearings more quickly than normal and made a few adjustments.  Previously I had been tanking Bahamut at the twelve o’clock position which seems the most obvious place to drag him as you are running in… and do the traditional drag the boss while running thing.  Instead we swapped things up and I drug up back to the six o’clock position we entered the room at.  This allowed Ashgar to pick up the adds significantly easier and also allowed the DPS to burn them down faster.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 20-51-40-81 The real challenge however was like always… we suck at dive bomb phases.  However in spite of the fact that you ultimately have to deal with something like five divebomb phases, they seemed to come together more smoothly than we were used to.  Essentially you have to find Bahamut, and move out of the way while also moving out of the way of Twintania that comes barreling through immediately after him.  I think we only made it through two or three of these phases completely clean, however we did manage to rez the few players that got pushed into a wall.  I am constantly impressed at still how difficult of a fight this is.  Sure this is expansion old content at this point, but I am damned happy to be able to say I have defeated Bahamut, and I have a title and a minion to show for it.  Paragon to a really spiffy White Mage Cane as a result, and part of me wants to try and muster the troops to do this more often so that we can farm the really awesome weapons for folks.  I have to say…  the most stressed I have ever been in Final Fantasy XIV is trying to find a way to survive Ahk Mourn.  On the positive side…  Alexander turn 3 has caused me to get really good at timing Holmgang.

Alex Finally

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 21-44-31-73 Last night was a significant night because not only did it see us beating Turn 13 of Final Coil of Bahamut… but it also saw us officially starting this expansions raid content as a group.  I love the Wednesday night group, and I am enjoying what is happening there… but there is something extra special about getting the Monday night group into Alexander.  While Kodra, Grace and I are parts of both teams, there will always be something special about my first Final Fantasy XIV raid group.  So it makes me happy that this week everyone was up to 170 and several were considerably beyond that…  even though it took a little bit of cheatery to get Ash’s paladin in the zone by wearing some strength jewelry.  We only really had time to do turn one of Alexander, but we came really damned close to oneshotting it.  Had we not started freaking out because we thought we were coming up against the hard enrage… we absolutely would have downed it in the first try.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 21-08-41-56 On the second attempt everyone felt more confident and we pushed the dps so much harder than before.  The awesome thing about coming in on a Monday is that several of us were already capped on Alexander pieces for the week which meant pretty much all of the newish folks walked away with something spiffy.  I look forward to coming in next Monday and clearing all four turns of Alexander, and getting everyone their freebie accessories.  From there maybe some Bismarck and Ravana?  It makes me happy to feel like I am making forward momentum with both teams.  The only thing that frustrates me a little bit is that I feel like we should go back and do Turn 8, which is the turn that Monday night skipped to start work on Turn 9.  So maybe next week I can talk people into doing that so that we finally can close the book on the Coil of Bahamut.  I don’t want to sacrifice getting people through Alexander for it, but I would love to be able to say I have beaten each of the turns.  All in all it was a pretty great night, not just for the raid victories but for also clearing away the fog that I have been dwelling in.

Luck in Alex

What Happened to Bel Folks Stuff?

I figure at this point some of you out there have to be asking yourself this question.  Quite honestly I am not sure what has happened, other than the fact that I am still fighting a bit of a funk.  With AggroChat I am supported by my cast of friends, and we have a specific format that we follow…  and that takes a lot of the pressure to perform off of me.  With “Bel Folks Stuff” I have to be “On” the entire time we are recording.  The end result is a much more draining experience, and I have to be in a certain mindset to make it work.  I walked back and forth on this point in my mind numerous times.  I still have a long list of people that I would like to have on the show, but do I force it just for the sake of keeping what passes for a schedule?

So far the answer I have kept giving myself is “No”.  This blog…  I can make a post out of thin air, but when it come to a podcast…  that is not a skill I have achieved yet.  The podcast and the idea behind it are not dead yet though, even if I am going on two months without a show.  In part I did not set a strict schedule because I wanted the process to feel natural and spontaneous.  The problem being that in order to get this sort of approach I have to be feeling up to the challenge.  Since Blaugust is this big challenge about creating regular content, I thought it was also important to talk about my own failings.  While we are running like clockwork with AggroChat, Bel Folks Stuff on the other hand is a bit of a mess.  Hopefully I will peek through whatever fog I happen to be in and will get back my moxy.  For the time between… all I really have is a heartfelt apology that I have failed to do more shows.

Luck in Alex

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 06-34-19-26 Other than my odd little Minecraft mission, I had one major goal yesterday.  That was to get close to capping Esoterics and finish getting items from Alexander.  Earlier in the week I had managed to get into an Alex group with a few guildies, and in that process knocked out drops from 2, 3, and 4 leaving me only 1 to worry about.  Alexander turn one tends to be the more sane of them, and at this point it is the one that almost everyone knows how to do well.  I had mentioned this goal Saturday on voice chat, and my friend Warenwolf mentioned that he would like to go along with me.  The problem being that I took most of the day to get into the mood for doing some Alex.  However last night we zoned in together, and managed to get through it with absolutely no frustrations.  I myself needed either a Pedal or a Chain which would get me my boots or belt respectively.  It turns out that both Waren and I were on the lucky side as I won the Chain and he won a Bolt taking both of us to 182 item level.

On the other side of the goal, my adventures through the weekend have taken to 30 Esoterics away from capping.  A single expert tonight will push me over the cap, and put me in a good place for getting my weapon either Tuesday or Thursday.  Getting a new weapon is always a huge motivation factor for me.  As a habitual melee player… weapons mean so much and are essentially the soul of the class.  When you get a new one… your class for a moment feels completely new to you as you experience bigger numbers or higher threat values.  While I have enjoyed my level 180 weapon… I am more than ready to toss it in the dustbin because the 200 axe looks freaking amazing.  It is a return to the feel of the original Warrior artifact set that I felt in love with.  Right now the plan is to try really hard to grind out the rest of my esoterics on Tuesday, so that I have the axe ready for our Wednesday night raid.

Hunts are Great XP

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This expansion many of us have been following a little trick on how to make leveling feel less painful.  Clan Hunts are something that I find extremely relaxing as I pop around through several different zones taking out hunt marks and getting centurio seals in the process.  There however has been some method to my madness, and that method revolves around trying to take down as many hunt mobs as I can with a level or under leveled job.  Essentially the plan has been that for Western Coerthas, Sea of Clouds and Dravianian Forelands that I end up using a character around level 50.  Originally this was my Dragoon, until I managed to get him to around 55 and I simply did the entire course of hunt marks with him.  Now I am doing this with my Bard, and while I have not really played him other than this process… I already have him to 52.  The next two in line for leveling like this are my Paladin and my White Mage…  while the Paladin is probably going to be doable… I am questing just how easy it will be for me to push the White Mage through hunts.

What is nice about this process is that I personally focus on my hunts and not necessarily how fast I am gaining experience.  As a result it seems that I magically got to level 52 on the Bard without really trying.  Ultimately as you get higher in level those early Hunts stop paying out quite so nicely in the experience department, and you reach a point where you have to grind to get to the level cap.  However before you hit that juncture… it certainly feels nice to see your classes almost leveling themselves.  The best part about all of this is that this process feeds my ability to keep upgrading Law gear, and the other awesome happening of the weekend is that my Dragoon is a single ilevel away from being able to do Alexander as well.  In the process of grinding out my Esoterics on Tuesday, I should get enough Law to get to 170 and then I have two options for doing Alexander each week.  There are some nights I can stomach the process of tanking that place, and others that I would enjoy sitting in the backseat and dpsing more.  I would be happy if I never had to tank turn two again.

Bel’s Big Adventure

Posting Late

Today I am getting an extremely late starting in getting my “morning” blog post out there.  At this point it is almost 2pm as I sit down to write this.  There are a lot of reasons behind that, in part because video takes a really long time to render.  Not to mention the fact that somewhere between streaming and now we also went out and ran errands.  Blaugust is alive and kicking and I am still shocked and amazed at the turnout.  My wife has even spawned her own version of it within the Math blogosphere without really meaning to.  I think it is pretty awesome when the spirit of Blaugust spreads to communities that were not a part of the first year.  As of this morning I had eighty four bloggers signed up and tracked on the list I am keeping.  I am still trying to catch up on day one honestly because that many blog posts…  is an awful lot of reading.  This is absolutely an amazing problem to have.

If everyone managed to make it through the entire month with a post for every day… that would mean 2604 posts pending we don’t keep picking up more people along the way.  This is really the idea is to get out there and get started on creating more content for our community.  One of the things that keeps coming up from time to time is how blogging is dead, and I love it when we can prove every single one of those naysayers wrong.  There is something magical about putting your thoughts on the page and sharing it with the world.  For me personally it is deeply cathartic to share my thoughts and feelings.  Over the years I have learned to open up more and share more of myself, and as a result my bonds with my fellow bloggers has gotten stronger.  In many ways this community that you are part of is a big support group, because every time I have struggled there has been someone out there to help pull me back to my feet.

Bel’s Big Adventure

javaw 2015-08-02 08-57-29-15 There has been a thing I have wanted to do for awhile.  Some of my favorite Minecraft video series have been adventures with a very simple premise around them.  When I play Minecraft however I tend to be a base builder.  I craft these extremely intricate underground structures, and never tend to move around much as a result.  As a way of combating my instincts, I am going in a completely different direction and starting a series of videos called “Bel’s Big Adventure”.  The idea is simple… only keep what I can carry in my inventory and keep moving North.  Each time I make camp and reset my spawn point by dragging along a bed, workbench and a furnace.  Each day I have to find the resources I will need to make it through to the next day.  Today I streamed for roughly two hours, and I am editing these into smaller videos, the first of which is about thirty minutes in length and involves my hitting the first major obstacle… a big ocean.

The Minecraft version I am using is 1.8 and I am using the GLSL Shader Mod 1.8 combined with SEUS v10.1 to produce the nifty more realistic appearance.  As for the Texture pack I am running Chroma Hills which is known to work fairly well with shader packs.  Finally I have the Mapwriter mod running largely to keep me pointed northward, because it shows an Arrow in that direction.  Other than these largely cosmetic mods I am using the stock Minecraft 1.8.3 that I freshly installed this morning.  It has been well over a year since I last played Minecraft, and as a result there is a lot of stuff in the game that I have not seen yet.  For example… I had no clue that there were Bunnies in the game until I came across a black colored one.  Similarly in what will likely be in episode two I encountered something bizarre that cursed me so that I couldn’t mine anymore.  Most of today has been spent either recording, editing or rendering the video so that I could embed it in today’s post.  Hopefully someone will enjoy it, but if not I at least enjoyed the adventure.  If I find something really interesting in my journey I might stop and set up a more permanent camp in order to explore better.  Since I spent the bulk of my day so far working on this side project, and will likely spend a good chunk more I plan on cutting this post a bit short.  Let me know what you think of this idea, and I am also open to other objectives for me to look out for along the way.

69 Challengers

The Anook Thing

Blaugust is officially upon us, and with it comes a deluge of people posting to the Nook.  I just wanted to take a few moments to highlight a few things as far as that goes.  First off Lonrem made an awesome post on how to get the most out of posting on Anook.  Also of note the very awesome Green Mushroom aka Void has been creating forum posts each day to collect the various daily posts.  This is a pretty great idea as it makes it easy to read everything that has been happening for that day in one place.  While this is amazing idea I also highly suggest that you advertise your post separate from this forum thread.  The Anook Community prize is going to be solely based on how many hearts various posts get from the Anook Community as a whole.  Our forum is a great place for collaboration and communication with other Blaugustians, but the only people that will actually see it are people who are following the nook.

Basically you have two options to make a post see larger circulation.  You can either create a blog post on your profile page, which will allow you to attach images and keywords as well as associating it with a game.  This however takes some time, and feels a little repetitive when you are already writing a separate blog post.  What I tend to do however is to click through to the Blaugust Nook, and at the top of the screen is a box that says “Share What’s on Your Mind”.  Generally speaking I open this box, link to my blog post… write a quick blurb about the post and then associate it with a game.  This will create a post automagically shared with the Blaugust nook and also associated with the individual game nook.  From there if you so choose you can click the Megaphone icon to share it with any other nooks that you might think would be interesting.  My key problem generally is that I tend to write posts that cover multiple games… which makes it really hard to determine which to associate it with.

69 Challengers

At the time I am writing this Saturday morning… we currently have 69 Challengers.  As we went on through the month last year we picked up steam, so that at the end of the proceedings we had fifty people who had either participated or won the challenge.  I am completely blown away by the support I have seen thus far, and I am amped to see what the end of the month will see our numbers at.  I have to admit there was a period of time when I didn’t think I would do Blaugust again.  For some people it was this amazing experience, and others… it ended up causing them to take several month lags in their posting.  The last thing I wanted to do was contribute to bloggers…  not blogging.  However as we got closer to August this year more and more people asked me if I was running it again because they were really getting excited.  At this point… I am absolutely happy that I did because apparently this challenge strikes a primal chord with folks.  The happiest moment however is that I am watching it branch out of my little circle of blogger friends and helping to discover brand new circles that I didn’t even know about.  I think we are going to have really great things happen this month.  Now…  for the updated list of participants as of Day One.

Returning to Norrath

EverQuest2 2015-07-31 18-21-14-24 As I mentioned during the Games of the Week post, I plan on diving back into some of the games I am linking to as well.  I am mostly focusing on free to play games, that have no barrier of entry for folks to pop in.  That said however… as I delved back into Everquest II last night…  I had a barrier of entry.  It turns out that the time locked progression server Stormhold is for subscribers only, so for the moment… I am once again subscribing to EQ2.  This has always been one of those games that I have had rose colored lenses for, because I have this deep connection to Norrath.  In many ways it was my first MMO World, because in truth… Phantasy Star Online doesn’t really count when it comes to the whole “rich lore driven world” aspect.  It had been since March 2014 that I had poked my head into Everquest II, which is a bit of a long absence for me.  This is one of those games that I have tended to play every few months, and in spite of having it installed I really have not given it much loving.  I have to say…  maybe that was for a reason.

In many ways this game is a time capsule locked in a different graphical era.  I’ve never been a fan of the “new” models that they released in an attempt to sell the game in Asian markets, but I have to say the original models look extremely dated at this point.  It isn’t so much the models as the fact that they are animated so poorly as compared to modern titles.  I guess in the time I have been away I have gotten accustomed to the way the other worlds looked.  In truth this game ties back to a time when the fact that we were playing online at all… was miraculous and as a result we simply accepted that a lot of things didn’t look nearly as clean as the console counter parts because we were getting huge worlds to explore.  Another thing that nostalgia does is makes you look back upon experiences as better than they actually were.  I remember having all of these fond memories on the Isle of Refuge…  but unfortunately the act of playing through it again is something entirely different.  The later start zone experiences work so much better than the Isle, and I found the whole experience of leveling through it again to be cludgy and annoying.  Even worse was the transition to Freeport, because quite honestly I am not a big fan of the redone versions of Freeport and Qeynos.  I miss the small dungeon zones attached to Freeport as way of leveling through to 10 and being able to survive the commonlands.

For the time being I am running my Iksar Shadowknight just outside the gates of Freeport in the Commonlands, and I am able to take down level 9 and 10 mobs at level 6.  My working plan is to grind my way to 10 and then start questing in the commonlands proper again.  The problem being…  I just ran out of drive to make this happen last night.  I finally logged into Final Fantasy XIV and worked on my hunts there instead of continuing the leveling process.  Another thing I had forgotten, is just how slow the leveling curve in EQ2 used to be.  Getting to 10 is going to feel like a significant accomplishment, since I am not dual boxing this game the way many other people are.  Basically this time locked server experience is reminding me that you can never actually go back home.  You change and your home changes… and things are never quite the same.  I still had some fun poking my head into Norrath again, and if I can get over this hump I think I will enjoy myself again as an “off night” game when I am not feeling like much human interaction.  I have definitely been going through one of those slumps lately, where I am perfectly fine to chat with people over twitter but somehow grouping up and doing content together just seems to taxing.  I need to get past this however because I need desperately to cap Esoterics this week.

Twas Night Before Blaugust

It’s Almost Time

I know I have said this many times… but I have to say it again.  I am completely overwhelmed by the amount of support I have gotten for the path of madness known as Blaugust.  As of this morning when I compiled the list I will be posting shortly… we had 47 people signed up on the Blaugust Nook.  I absolutely suggest that you get out there and mingle with your fellow Blaugustians, because you are all embarking upon a mission together that will be challenging for many of you.  There is a shared spirit of struggle that binds us all, in our mission of creating thirty one days of content.  These events that we hold serve to galvanize our community, and create cohesion where it may or may not already exist.  More than anything however… this event is about tricking each and every one of you into realizing that you can in fact write content on a schedule.  Inspiration is a fickle muse…  but I am here to tell you that you don’t need her anyways!

The Blaugustians

Victor_Tour Without anymore rambling on my part… I introduce to you the challengers in the second running of the Blaugust games…  may the content ever be in your favor.

This is a pretty damned impressive group of blogs if I do say so myself.  During this years Blaugust I will be taking special note for the folks who also competed last year and will be coming up with some special recognition for repeat winners and survivors.  Remember it is not too late to join in the madness, and you can sign up on the Blaugust Nook thread at any point during the month and play catch up.  Lets make this the best Blaugust yet!

A First Prompt

What are you hoping to get out of Blaugust this year?

To make things a little easier on the Blaugustians I will be providing a writing prompt each day during the month of August in my morning posts.  These are of course completely optional, but if you find yourself stuck you can go to the writing prompt thread and hopefully find some ideas.  I highly suggest that we make the writing prompts a collaborative experience, and if you think of something good even if you are not going to use it yourself…  post it to the thread to help your fellow challengers.  I look forward to seeing all of the awesome stuff you fine folks create tomorrow.  I mentioned this yesterday but I also plan on suggesting some games of the week, in case you are struggling to find purpose.  Nothing creates content like your first time experiencing a new game, or even returning to a game you had forgotten about.  That said I don’t really want to roll these out today, but will instead include them in tomorrows post.

Anook Community Award

Prepping for Blaugust

At this point we are getting super close to the launch of Blaugust, and the sign ups keep coming on the Nook.  There is still time to sign up and be ready for the start of this exciting month.  Also remember there is zero penalty this year for starting late and catching up.  Last year my friend Tamrielo did something absolutely insane and wrote 31 really well formed posts in a 48 hour period.  While I would never suggest anyone do something like that, it is absolutely possible to start a week late and make up the missed progress.  Similarly I know folks will be attending Gamescom or Pax Prime during this month, so it is absolutely a good idea to stage the content ahead of time.  For the WordPress users out there I highly suggest you check out their pretty excellent mobile app (iOS, Android)  that gives you access to your blog on the go, and does a decent job of letting you compose a post on the go.

I tend to be a very pro WordPress person, but blogger is perfectly acceptible as well and while I have never used it there seems to be a mobile blogger client also (iOS, Android).  The primary reason why I tend to suggest WordPress is just that there is a path between WordPress.com free hosted service, and moving to a WordPress.org installation on your own custom hosting.  There are a number of guides out there to help this process along.  What I like so much about this is the fact that it lets someone get their feet wet and decide if this blogging thing is for them… before plunking down the money it takes to rent space on a web host and purchase a domain.  There are lots of people that never make the jump between COM to ORG, but it is nice that there is always that option if you want to do something with your blog that is not supported through the official channels.  There are also guides for going from Blogger to WordPress, but they tend to be far less straight forward.

Anook Community Award

Last night something really cool happened, namely that Lonrem the tirelessly working community manager of Anook.com posted an excellent “best practices” document on the Blaugust Nook.  If the document were not enough in helping people get the most out of their Anook experience… he also slipped a tidbit of information in down at the bottom.  For a few weeks now we had been talking about Anook wanting to sponsor some sort of award.  It was finally decided that the best way to have an Anook reward is to have the users of the website vote on their favorite posts.  Here are the basics of this award posted straight from his document.

I’ll also announce here that Anook is going to support Blaugust with a special prize! I’m going to tally up the Hearts that each blog post gets for each blogger (Blaugger?) and award the top blog with a game code. I’m going to see if I can round up other prizes from some of our friends and partners as well, no promises there! This does give a bit of an incentive to post regularly, start on the first of August, but also to share the link to your blog on Anook! If you’ve got any questions, let me know!

This is really awesome to have our first “real” sponsor…  because my pocket didn’t really count.  Last year when I started this, I decided to host the challenge off of Anook because it is a network that I love.  Lonrem singlehandedly won me over with his devotion, and the features basically keep me from ever having to build yet another custom SMF forum for anything.  So I fly the Anook banner on my stream and mention it on every AggroChat just because I love the site.  I am humbled that the site is returning some of that love and helping us get this challenge started in a bigger and better way this year.  I’ve had an idea through this contest of creating a games of the week where I suggest a handful of free to play games that folks play, and then write about their experience to help get those creative juices flowing.  While I might have been dreading the loss of my free time that Blaugust means…  I am absolutely getting pumped about how much more “real” this whole thing feels for 2015.

Surprise Alex

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-22 20-49-54-61 It is not uncommon for me to log in to Final Fantasy XIV in the evening and hear the all too familiar chime of a group invite before the game has completely loaded.  My guildies are used to ninjaing me into tanking all manner of things, and I assumed that it was yet another case of “daily expert”.  So I accepted the invite without thinking much about it, and found myself shocked when I saw the Alexander loading screen.  To make matters worse the ninja alex was turn 2, which is quite possibly the most frustrating thing for a tank to take on without having a second tank in there that they trust.  The problem being that pugs like to stack all of the mobs together, which makes it impossible for the tanks to effectively hold aggro on them.  What happens instead is that both tanks burn through all of their resources and the mobs spend the entire fight bouncing back and forth between them.  This would be fine and good if it were safe for a single tank to take them on… problem being that in the later phases you have to try and carefully split the damage to even it out.  All of the mobs on one tank is pretty much a certain wipe.

The positive of getting pulled into Alex like this however is that it took away my normal reluctance to such things, and as of last night I now have three of my four pieces of loot for the week.  All that is left is Turn 1, and quite honestly it is the least stressful for me to pug.  The tanks have clearly defined roles and for the most part they go fairly smoothly now that most people are pretty well geared.  At this point for that final item I want either a chain which would instantly give me a belt, or a pedal… which would also instantly give me an item because I have a second one in my inventory.  I have to say the way gearing works in Alex is a little maddening, but I feel that honestly it is their way of trying to delay people reaching level 190 geared.  With Esoterics in place, I can’t really see going for say the Alexander chest piece since it takes getting a lucky roll four weeks in a row on Turn 4.  My first Esoterics item of course will be the 200 weapon, because for a tank that is the single most useful upgrade.  After that I will probably assess my weakest pieces and go after what I need the most…  which is more than likely going to be my chest piece.  Of course in the mean time Square could do what they seem to always do… and change up the game by taking away loot restrictions.  That said I still think it is a little early in the patch for that to actually happen, and more than likely won’t be until 3.1.

Muscle Memory

Unexpected Happenings

ffxiv 2014-09-14 22-10-22-567 There is a specific moment in my time playing Final Fantasy XIV where I realized that the Cactuar community was something special.  It was the night that we purchased our Free Company house, and all of these neighbors showed up to welcome us to the neighborhood.  Many of those folks welcoming us were from the Howling Moon free company, and over the months of playing I got used to seeing all of these people hanging out at the Marketboard right in front of our house.  Among them the pair that I got closest with was Ayla and Joren Noye.  There were many nights like this one where we did silly things to pass the time between queues.  Then several months ago they disappeared, as did most of the people I had become close with from that Free Company.  I asked around in the guild but no one seemed to know what happened.  It is always hard when friends disappear that you are close with…  but not yet close enough to exchange all of those personal details.

With Heavenward they were back as I had hoped, but started playing a little later than most.  I guess over those months they had some personal stuff to deal with, but I was amped to have them back wandering around in our neighborhood.  Since then at least once a night we exchanged random happy emotes and a flurry of /say conversation as we fiddled with our retainers.  When I got the hint that maybe things were not as wonderful in their guild as they once were, I did the thing that I always do…  offered them a home.  I didn’t really expect them to take me up on the offer, but last night as I was starting my daily hunts… I got a tell out of the blue from Joren.  He told me that things just weren’t the same, and if it was still okay he would like to take my offer.  Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled and delayed a guild dungeon run until they were ready for the invites.  I cannot put into words just how excited I am to have them on board, we may even have to reconvene the council of squishy hats to celebrate.

Muscle Memory

Skyforge 2015-07-25 10-30-27-07 This morning I happened to randomly click through to a re-tweeted blog post from DragonChasers about SkyForge.  On it was a comment from the blogger Jeromai that struck a bit of a chord with me, because I am absolutely the sort of person that would frustrate him.

You know what’s really frustrating to me? People who can do it (whatever it is), but cannot describe or break down or teach exactly -how- they are doing it, beyond “I dunno, I just do it” or “here, just watch a video of me doing it,” or worse, “lol, it wuz easy, I don’t know how come you can’t do it.”

To me, folks who really know what they’re doing can also break down and explain roughly what they’re doing or the tactics they’re using or what they’re keeping track of, even if execution by someone else requires a lot of personal practice.

Sometimes people say that they don’t really know how to explain it, because they don’t want to explain it.  For  me personally I quite literally cannot explain how I do half of the things I do.  Essentially I try and commit as much of the things that I do to muscle memory as I can, so that I can do them… without thinking about them.  So when I tank an instance… I do so many little things that I can’t really break apart the things that I am doing automatically… from the things that I am doing intentionally.  I’ve always been a player that played mostly on instinct and reflex rather than mindful reflection on strategy.  I think this all comes from why I play games.  Ultimately they are a means of relaxation for me, and many times I find myself zoning out into the sublime motion of playing the game without really having to think about it.    This has strengths and weaknesses, and the big problem that I run into particularly is when I have to unlearn my reflexes and replace them with something else.

For example on the Titan Extreme fight in Final Fantasy XIV there is a place where I absolutely have to ignore every instinct I have built up and stop myself from running back into the boss after an attack.  I struggled with that for our first attempts, because I had to commit an exception to the rule to muscle memory knowing that there would be a follow up attack that would kill me if I ran right back in.  The other big weakness is there are so many things that I do on a daily basis that I cannot tell you step by step what I am doing unless I happen to be sitting at the keyboard and doing them.  At work I am awesome at fixing problems and troubleshooting things…  but I am horrible at trying to walk someone else through the process of doing all of these things.  The positive is…  once something has been committed to reflex it stays with you forever.  I fired up F-Zero the other day for likely the first time in two decades… and I still knew every corner and place to use my booster on the tracks and easily got first place.  Same goes for an MMO, I can sit down in front of a game that I have not played in years… and if I set the hot bars up the same way as i had them before I can return to playing the game like no time has passed.

The Final Stretch

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-28 06-12-59-16 My big accomplishment for the night is finally pushing across the line and dinging 59.  I was able to replace the lance that I absolutely hated with this pretty cool one from the Ancient Library dungeon.  This is the point where I realize that I have apparently not run the library as much as I thought I had.  When it came to the level 57 gear, I had most of a set… and apparently do for just about every possible class I would care to level.  The 59 gear however from Library, I have only a small smattering of pieces and next to nothing when it came to lancer gear.  Thankfully I had squirreled away a set of High Quality 58 gear from the quests… since at that point I technically had better gear on my Warrior from running dungeons.  That should more than get me through to 60 before really needing anything else gear wise.  When I hit 60 I have waiting on me a 180 weapon, and a bunch of 170 and 160 pieces that should make up pretty much a full set.

My hope is that I will be able to leap frog to 170 the Alexander requirement pretty quickly.  The thing I need to sort out in the meantime is how to do a better job of maintaining the Blood of the Dragon buff.  The problem that I keep running into is that I will get thrown into a situation where I cannot safely get back to the boss in time to hit either a Fang and Claw proc or Wheeling Thrust.  So my buff drops…  and I have to wait whatever is left of the minute long recast time to throw the buff up again.  I assume that once I hit 60, if there is a situation where I know Blood of the Dragon is about to fall… this is when I mix in a Gierskogul to spend the buff on an attack rather than let it fade completely.  Remember the whole muscle memory thing from above?  I had a previous rotation committed to that swap space… and now have to revise it.  Given some time at 60 I will relearn what I need to do, because honestly I am not looking for the insanity of the optimal dragoon rotation…  but instead looking for something that is “passable”.  I don’t care if I beat our top dps… but I just want to make sure I am not the bottom of the pack either.  I feel like I just don’t have enough of a competitive nature to ever be a truly successful dps player.