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.

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.

Fifty Eight Singularity

Blaugust Update

Right now we are three days away from the beginning of Blaugust, and at this point I am happy with the pre-event response.  If my count is correct, we have 35 different people signed up to do the challenge, and as I remember last year we managed to pick up a bunch of people after the start.  This is a bit of a double edged sword for me at least, because while I am amped as hell to see all these fine folks participating…  I am also realizing that in three days time my casual reading of the internet is over.  I flip into stat keeper mode as I tabulate the posts that folks have made on which day to verify that at the end of the month they have in fact made their thirty one posts.

Blaugust is this strange dichotomy in that for most people it has nothing to do with the prizes that will be handed out at the end.  However since I am offering them as an additional carrot…  I feel like I have to perform my due diligence and keep track of everything.  So as we near the start of this event I am a mixture of anticipation and dread.  My hope is that everyone will include the day they are posting for in their post so that I can easily checkmark off a post on a given day.  I struggled so much trying to reconcile timezones last year, and folks proclivity for posting after midnight but meaning it for the previous day.  I remember Joseph Skyrim was amazingly awesome about always including what day he was posting for, which made the whole Australia thing so much easier.  I think in the coming days I will go back through the list of people who did it last year and determine just how many are repeat participants.  Just giving things a summary glance it certainly seems like there are many.

Finally Alex Four

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-22 21-39-55-23 I am just realizing that apparently yesterday… I did not actually have FRAPS running while playing Final Fantasy XIV.  So that means all of the times I thought I was taking a screenshot, I apparently was not.  As a result you are getting a screenshot from Turn 3 of Alexander instead of Turn 4 as I intended.  For the last several weeks I had been hoping to run Alexander will a full guild group, however last Wednesday we struggled a bit on Turn 2 and only managed to get through Turn 3 before running out of time.  Turn 4 is a huge deal, not necessarily because of the fight… but because the quest turn in at the end of it rewards a Gordian Bolt.  For a little over a week now I have been staring at my 170 ring and grimacing because it was my one sub 180 that I still had.  So the drive to get through Alexander Four was pretty strong for me, because it meant I would finally be able to replace that last ring with a shiny new 190 ring.

Yesterday afternoon I finally got the courage to pug it with zero guidance from the guild, and in truth it was not nearly as painful as I had expected.  Firstly the fourth turn is a blast and is one of the few fights where I find the off tank role far more enjoyable than the main tank.  There is a mechanic that works somewhat like C’Thun’s swallow mechanic from World of Warcraft, causing the off tank and another player to get sucked through a series of tubes into another room.  There you have to burn down a “Doll” add within a certain timeframe before getting pulled back into the main room again.  For me personally this meant rationing my cool downs so that I could survive, but also hoping and praying that I got a heal upon exiting…  because you literally get sucked in back to back if the dps is going too slowly.  There was a bard that each time I got paired with her, which is strange because you would think with all of the recent buffs that would have been a great choice to burn the add.  Anyways… it took about four attempts but we managed to get it.  I did both the main tank and off  tank roles, but like I said I absolutely prefer to off tank it simply because seeing my tiny Lalafell self go flying through the air is hilarious.

Fifty Eight Singularity

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-26 20-13-33-56

Yesterday I had a decision to make, and I think I hinted at it in my blog post (truth is I rarely remember what I write from day to day).  Essentially I could either grind out all of the esoterics I needed to cap, or instead I could work on my Dragoon.  In truth I split it down the middle and pushed my Esoterics a little higher, before ultimately retiring for the evening to work on the Dragoon.  I ran a course of three Vaults, and still am coming up short in experience to push across the finish line. As a result as I was starting to get more sluggish right before bed time, I decided to do my first Levequests of the expansion.  One of the strange things about Heavensward is that all Levequests come from an NPC in Foundation just up the ramp from the Aetheryte crystal.  This means that the game freaks out slightly when you attempt to accept the port after finishing one.  In the Dravinian Hinterlands it kept dropping me off at the Bigwest Shortstop instead of actually porting me back to the foundation.  This makes me think that the game initially intended there to be Levequest vendors in every zone, but ended up deciding that they wanted to try a centralized vendor in Foundation instead.

The problem being that Fifty Eight still seems like a hellaciously long level, even with the Armory Bonus firmly in place.  I did a grand total of six level 58 levequests, and each one barely made the xp bar move.  However I was able to whittle it down to just enough that I think by doing my hunts tonight I might actually be able to ding.`  The reason why I want 59 so badly is somewhat stupid…  mainly I am tired of the lance that I am using.  I think it looks ugly as shit… but for the single level I am using it… I cannot bring myself to spend the money to glamour it to something more enjoyable.  Especially when I know that I have a level 59 lance waiting on me.  It is at the very least giving me that added push to get the hell out of this level on onwards to the final push for 60.  I have also gotten a little sick of running the Vault.  It was awesome the first dozen times I was in there, but now the music is grating on my nerves.  I also simply think that the Library is a much more enjoyable dungeon, and does not have a death trap of a boss quite the same way as The Vault does.  I still find that final encounter in Vault to be the hardest in the leveling dungeons, and I feel sorry when I see a healer struggling to keep up with the massive room wide damage.  Hopefully tonight will see me dinging 59, and I can move on to more enjoyable pastures.

Om Nom Dance

A Late Start

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-25 16-00-09-11 I am getting a super late start this morning on my blog post… well because things and reasons.  Last night when we finished recording AggroChat, my wife asked if it was time for bed or if I needed to stay up and edit the podcast.  I thought to myself… that bed sounded like an amazing idea and just straight up crashed.  This meant that this morning however I had to rush around a bit and edit the post while consuming breakfast.  Another thing I noticed is that apparently Final Fantasy XIV patched out their idle kick, because I was still standing in there in the middle of the Dravinian Lowlands afk all night long.  I was apparently similarly lazy in logging out from Teamspeak, which meant as folks started trying to pull things together… I went ahead and agreed to tank a few things.

Also I finally got around to doing my Minotaur Om Nom Nom Dance video voice over.  One of the dungeons that you unlock at 60 is the Fractal Continuum which includes a really strange fight.  At face value the Minotaur works just like pretty much all of the Cyclops encounters you have fought to this point.  He alternates between doing a frontal cone attack that you need to dodge and a full 360 degree sweep attack that you also should avoid.  Where it differs however is he will start channeling a group wipe attack, that you can only break… but essentially feeding him a mob.  While doing this he does a goofy little dance of sorts…  which I have taken to voicing over when I tank the dungeon.  This generally throws Grace into a fit of hysterics laughing… so I decided I should really edit together a video of the “dance”.

AggroChat 67 – The Astebreed Show

Astebreed 2015-07-25 12-08-56-63 This week we record yet another AggroChat Game Club game featuring the game Astebreed, which is an interesting mix of strange Anime Storytelling and Bullet Hell shooter. What makes the game very unique is that you are a mech… with a sword as well as your laser weapons. As far as the story goes, I think several of us were equally confused so we rely on Tam to decode it all for us… because he apparently was able to follow it the entire way. We have a lot of conversation about the tone of the game, the boss fights, the controls that may or may not have worked… and the total package.

Since adding Grace and Thalen to the podcast they were not in the initial rotation of AggroChat picks, so we did the most gamer thing ever… and rolled some dice before the show to graft them into the rotation. That means for the month of August Grace got to pick a title and we will be playing the bird dating sim… Hatoful Boyfriend… and Kodra was happier than I have ever heard him be. He loves this game, and drove us slightly mad with it when he was playing it. Now we are going to get to experience this madness for ourselves, and I am willing to bet that Game Club Seven is going to be one of the more interesting episodes of AggroChat in our history.

In Search of Esoterics

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-20 21-02-13-11 I have been a massive slacker this week when it came to grinding Esoterics, and as such am sitting at around 180.  As a result I need a whole bunch today and tomorrow in order for me to have a shot in hell of hitting the 450 weekly cap.  Generally speaking if you log in every day and run an expert roulette dungeon… you can cap fairly easily.  Guess what I have not been doing at all.  Essentially I have just not been up for group content and as a result I have been playing an awful lot of SkyForge in the meantime which is almost entirely a soloing experience for me.  However after dropping a bunch of stress last night, and finishing the paperwork on our impending home renovations I am starting to feel a little less “under the gun”.  Sure I could stress about it some more, but in my mind the decision process is over and now we just have to wait for everything to happen.

I did however have a nightmare scenario run through my mind this morning, that makes me wonder just how they are going to deal with our cable connection while ripping off the siding.  I really hope I will not be without internet for two weeks.  This afternoon my plan is to sit here and grind expert dungeons for anyone who is willing to run them with me, and as a result whittle away my missing esoterics.  I would really like to be able to get that tasty level 200 weapon within the first three weeks.  If not there is always the next two weeks I can cap to make that happen, but preferably I would like to be getting as many as I can at least until I get a few pieces of gear under my belt.  The rest of the time however I am still working on pushing my Dragoon higher and at this point I am still roughly 3/4 of the way through 58.  It kinda sucks to have dueling priorities, because I would really love to get him at 60 and geared so I have other options than just tanking.

FATE Grinding Go!

Home Improvement is Scary

A good chunk of our week has revolved around planning for some renovations around the house, and I have to say the whole process kind of wigs me out.  I have been acting pretty calm and collected because I know it also stresses my wife out…  but I feel like I am wading out into an ocean that I know very little about.  The long and short of it is that we live in a house with wood siding, which is not exactly ideal for the climate extremes of Oklahoma.  Additionally our climate seems to really be a positive environment for termites…  and when we moved in we knew the house had some issues.  Then a little over a year after moving in… we had our first swarm.  We have been on a termite plan since and it has been nearly a decade of having zero activity, but we know there is some underlying damage in the siding, but other than cosmetic issues we had not really had any problems.

That is of course until recently when we during a particularly hurricane like horizontal rain… we had a very small leak in our kitchen ceiling.  After having the roofers out, they thought it was coming in along the garbage edge of siding and up over the flashing.  This is the point at which we first noticed… just how bad our siding really was.  Throughout the course of the week we had numerous contractors out who gave estimates… and we think we have maybe decided on a company and a product.  Right now we are looking at replacing all of the wood siding with fiber cement, which is this crazy stuff that feels like ceramic tile, but looks like wood.  But this means some major money, which has us also sorting out financing options.  Being an adult is an extremely frustrating thing.  We think we have a plan figured out… but even though I know this is something that really needs to be done… it is a massive decision.  I know things will work out in the end, but this whole process is exceptionally stressful for the moment.

CPUCores

I was asked by someone on my steam friends list last night, if this program worked since I had been running it.  I actually just started testing it last night, even though I purchased it long before it showed up on steam.  I do not remember how much I paid when I bought it, but I want to say it was somewhere around the $10 mark.  It promised to improve your FPS by improving your CPU utilization, and  this is something I had been frustrated by in the past.  The machines I use are quad core or six core… and it always felt like very little of my CPU time was actually being used.  At the time I figured what the hell, purchased it… and then got busy messing with other things.  When they went on steam the developer was nice enough to send me out a Steam key as well, and yesterday I actually started testing it.  Is this digital snake oil?  Well honestly… all I can really offer is a heartfelt shrug.

cpucores_wow_without_30fps I did some testing this morning with World of Warcraft which is one of the most poorly optimized games that I have played when it comes to utilizing multiple cores.  Hell lets me honest, the game itself is horribly optimized in general… but my theory was that this game seems to be extremely CPU limited, so in theory if CPU Core optimization would help any game it should help this one.  The above graph is taken from task manager and shows that for the most part all of the cores are running at around the same amount of load and an overall 36% utilization of my CPU.  In World of Warcraft itself I was standing in my Garrison and setting roughly 30 frames per second.  The latest release of CPU Cores features a “CPU Cores It” button allowing you to scan your current process list and apply  the change to an application that is running.  If you look at the graph below you see that with CPUCores turned on, it is now pegging two of my six cores and as a whole the CPU utilization is now 64%.  In game I was still standing in my Garrison but saw a jump from 30 fps to 40 fps… which is not really earth shattering but still not too shabby and is in line with what a lot of the reports seemed to indicate.

cpucores_wow_with_40fps The confusing thing is however… that it seems like CPUCores is only really using two of my six cores.  There are some settings in there to manually override what cores it is actually using to run things, so I figure I will continue to fiddle with it and see what I can get from it.  I didn’t actually record any of my measurements last night, but I saw a bigger jump when using my laptop.  I actually started to see comparable performance to my desktop which was kinda massive.  The general advice in the community is that this is designed for medium end systems to get some additional performance out of them, and that if you already have an extremely high performance system… it is likely not going to do anything for you.  Normally speaking I run Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward on my laptop around 30-40 fps… but last night with CPUCores running I was seeing 60-70 fps which is a big jump.  Laptops are notoriously bad at CPU utilization because they are designed to safe energy whenever they can.  I feel like maybe that is the magic bullet here for using this application, because honestly the results on my gaming desktop do not warrant the purchase.  I largely bought the app because I was curious if it worked, and for the most part it does seem to do something… because a 10 fps increase is still a 10 fps increase no matter how you chop it.  My hope is that over time it will continue to work better and it seems like they are just now starting to try and optimize for AMD processors.  As always… your mileage may vary and I probably would not have paid the current $20 price tag on steam.

FATE Grinding Go!

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-24 20-12-04-49

So it appears that with 3.0.5 the changes to FATE experience have been noticed by the community.  As I looked at Duty finder it actually scrolled for the first time in a long while, with multiple FATE parties happening in different zones.  I decided to join the train in Dravinian Hinterlands and it seemed like the time spent was worth my time.  I had dinged 58 earlier in the day while running a dungeon with guildies, and after a bit of FATE grinding I managed to get to around the halfway mark to 59.  It is my hope that today I can run some more dungeons and FATEs and make a serious push for 59.  The community seems to have been reinvigorated by the patch, and it is shocking just how good Square Enix is at timing their content.  In the days leading up to this recent patch it felt like there was a slowing down as people finished their Law grind.  Instead now everyone is actively buzzing again as they are trying to get as much Esoterics as they can, so that within three weeks they can get those tasty tasty level 200 weapons.

Skyforge 2015-07-22 23-08-02-51 When I decided that I needed a break from FATE grinding, I opted to pop over into SkyForge and work on finishing unlocking all of the costumes.  After having played the tutorial as every class currently in the game… I have to say they all feel very unique.  You have everything from the mad bomber feel of the Alchemist, to the skill shots of the Archer, to the insane melee flurry that is the Slayer.  The problem is… the three classes that you get to choose from at the start are without a doubt the most generic feeling of all of the classes that I played.  This is rather unfortunate because while I feel it gives people a desire to unlock that class that they really want to play, it makes the initial grind feel meaningless and pointless since you ultimately have to play the lesser of the starter evils to get there.  I feel like this game could benefit from the Marvel Heroes approach to classes, allowing you to play a little of each of them and then after the tutorial choose the one you wanted to unlock.  I feel like eventually they will let us outright purchase these classes, but I have found that option sorely missing from the cash shop.  I would absolutely pay to unlock the Berserker for example or the Slayer…  but since I missed out on the founders packs I have no real way to do that.

Begrudging Enjoyment

Even More Clarifications!

Starting to get really amped because two days in we have like two pages worth of signups on the forum thread.  Since I guess I am the grandmaster of ceremonies, I am getting random questions and have been doing my best to assuage fears.  When those questions seem general enough that someone else might have them… I have taken to dumping them in the intro to a morning blog post to help clarify for anyone else reading that might be interested.  One of the interesting questions that I had yesterday was if folks could mix things up a bit.  Since I am opening the door to vlogging, it was wondered if you could do a mix of the two.  The short answer is absolutely!  The long answer is just make sure you post your video embedded in a blog post, and advertise it on the Blaugust Nook with what day it was for, just to make my life less hell when it comes to tracking and tabulating this madness.

Next question is what happens if a given blogger is obligated to be posting every so often on another site?  Do they have to also post something new for that day on their personal blog?  The easy answer here is yes…  but with an asterisk.  If you are posting a bigger entry somewhere else, it is absolutely cool to post a stub on your own blog linking to the bigger post.  Just do a quick synopsis of the post and let folks click through if they want to read more about it.  This way you technically have your daily post, but also are linking to the article that you spent the bulk of your daily writing time working on.  This is maybe a strange case, but I know that several of our bloggers do the occasional long form article for another source.  The important thing is that we need it tracked through the Blaugust Nook so I can give you appropriate credit.

Night of Alex

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-22 21-41-38-05 Pretty much since its inception I have been helping out with the Wednesday night static in our free company.  Initially I had intended it to simply be something that I filled in on, but as I dropped my World of Warcraft raiding… I found that I had time to commit to it more seriously.  So presently with the Monday night crew we are working through Final Coil of Bahamut, and on Wednesday nights we have been working on Normal mode Alexander.  Last night we had every intention of getting through all four wings, but we struggled a bit with turn two due to some changes in how we were dealing with the adds.  As soon as we went back to the way we had previously defeated it, things clicked back into place and we pushed through it fairly easily.  That took us to turn three, a fight that I had not actually seen yet.  Thanks to the expert tutelage of Wulf or as “Wul” as his friends call him…  I was caught up to speed and after the second attempt it started to feel pretty natural.

From here it was just learning this particular dance and getting our dps up high enough to burn through it before we hit the hard enrage.  Right now that seems to be a problem in general with what we are trying to do.  We struggled with the dps check on Bismarck, and struggled again on turn three.  As a  Warrior I am personally swapping to Deliverance stance every single time I am not in the main tank role so I can push a little more dps and also trying to keep up Storm’s Eye as often as possible… largely when I don’t actually need the damage reduction effect of Storm’s Path.  If we can somehow solve the problems we are having on the DPS end however I think we are ready to rock higher content.  The dance part seems to come pretty naturally, however there were still several points last night where folks stood in damage that could have been avoided.  Part of this is learning, but part of this is trying desperately to avoid tunnel vision.

Begrudging Enjoyment

Skyforge 2015-07-22 22-22-05-86 I’ve gone through a strange evolution with SkyForge of having some vague interest, but finding the game play largely unsatisfying for my first few play sessions.  Now that I have unlocked the core abilities of the Paladin, I am actually finding it rather enjoyable.  I think this game suffers from what so many games suffer from…  rationing of abilities.  I know Final Fantasy XIV has this problem where most classes don’t really feel like they should until you are around level 40.  SkyForge for the most part has this problem until you have unlocked your base abilities.  Had I taken the time to really spend much time in the virtual matrix thing that lets you test every class, I would have realized that the rabbit hole was so much deeper than I was giving it credit for.  Another interesting side note… if you finish the training on a given class you unlock the ability to permanently use its class costume.

Skyforge 2015-07-22 23-22-31-75 I booted up SkyForge after the raid last night, with every intention of just poking my head in and then logging right out.  Instead I wound up unlocking three costumes and completing a really cool dungeon like mission on an island full of undead Virds.  With all of my abilities unlocked the fights started feel more purposeful in design, and less about simply repeating the same attack over and over.  There was a boss that required me to intersect one type of beam while avoiding taking the other… and actually dragging the boss into the path of it so that it would take the damage.  This felt fresh and enjoyable, so maybe I simply had not seen the “real” game yet.  This is ultimately the frustration of designs that doll out abilities one at a time, is that you can’t really see what the final result is going to be like until you have invested a serious amount of effort into the game.  Granted this game DID give me an avenue to see how a Paladin or Knight would play…  but I simply did not spend much time doing it.  Tonight I plan on trying to unlock a few more of these class costumes, so I can get a feel for how some of the other options play.  Right now this is shaping up to be an MMO with MOBA character design… and I think I dig this.

Love Our Guild

Unlocking Dungeons

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-12 20-42-09-53 This weekend was a little bit split as far as gaming goes.  I spent about four hours in SkyForge and the rest of it wandering around in Final Fantasy XIV.  I had a bunch of side projects that I never really got off the ground.  One of the things about being a tank is that you are constantly getting called on to do tanky things.  Last night for example, I had all intentions of simply wandering around the new zones doing hunt mobs, but I ended up getting drafted to tank both Neverreap and Fractal Continuum for a friend who just dinged 60.  Since this would allow him to unlock the content, and be yet another possibility for a daily expert roulette, as well as providing three of us in the dungeon run some tasty tasty first time bonus, I did not mind giving up my relaxing evening of hunting to help out.

Both runs went fairly smoothly other than Warenwolf falling off the side of the final boss in Neverreap.  Luckily we had the stamina to go ahead and finish that boss without him.  Fractal Continuum went extremely smoothly other than some annoyances with bomb placement on the final boss.  Luckily the loot gods seemed to be at least a little favorable and Waren walked with a bow and some other items helping him inch towards that all too critical level 170 mark for Alexander.  It is my hope that in this last week we will have increased our item level enough to be able to put a good attempt in on Bismarck Extreme tonight.  I found out that apparently the dps constraint is that you be able to break the spine in a single attempt without also blowing every cooldown.  Wednesday we were able to break the spine, but it was a “just barely” situation and we absolutely had to abuse every cool down available to get there.

Love Our Guild

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-28-49-98 Last night I had a moment when I was overcome with warm fuzzies.  Folks were doing what they always do and filling my screen with green happy spam, and somehow it came around to the discussion of the free company.  I am not sure if I remember who started it but someone made the comment that they were happy that I had recruited them into the guild, because if not for that they probably would not be playing.  Then in a burst of activity a bunch of people chimed in with pretty much the same thing.  So I wanted to talk a bit this morning about how much all of my guildies mean to me.  There are so many days where I have had a rough patch, that I can log into our free company and within moments of seeing the cheery conversation I am in a much better mood.  Having a happy guild family is ultimately what helps me keep returning to one game over another, and ultimately is what keeps me engaged in Final Fantasy XIV.

Sure the game is awesome, but having this big group who is willing to drop what they are doing to help someone else out, makes the experience so much better.  Yesterday during the evening I worked through a backlog of dungeon runs that I had recorded, and came across a video that didn’t turn out quite as intended.  Since the launch of Heavensward the guild crafters as lead by Solaria have been working away on making us an Airship.  When it came time to launch it for the first time a good chunk of us gathered in the workshop basement of the guild hall.  In part we hoped a cut scene would happen, and as a result I had OBS rolling away in the background recording the event.  While the event did not turn out as I had expected, looking back on the footage it makes me exceptionally happy to see so many of my guild members roaming around in one place.  I love the housing district for the constant flow of guild members popping in and out as they go off to other adventures, and this moment was probably the largest meeting of sorts we have had.  It made me realize that we need to do something like this more often.

More SkyForge

Skyforge 2015-07-19 13-57-50-17 The SkyForge open beta finishes up this Wednesday and in the mean time I plan on playing for a little bit each night.  I have to admit while there are still problems with the game for me, it is growing on me in ways I can’t quite fathom.  During yesterdays run I finally figured out something that had been bugging me.  I said in my videos and in my blog posts that it seemed like the combo system was largely ineffectual, and for the most part this is true.  However I noticed on my character to the right of the health bar was a charge counter of sorts marked with a lightning bolt.  This is directly above the dodge counter that shows how many times in a row you can dodge, and how long before the counter regenerates when they are all spent.  This lightning bolt number tied to the special combo attacks, and if I use a combo while I have a charge available it does significantly more damage.  However any additional combos while that charge is regenerating end up being largely useless.

Skyforge 2015-07-19 09-53-56-71 Knowing this is a thing, made combat feel more purposeful.  Essentially I had one special move to use every 30 seconds or so, because that seemed to be roughly how long it took to regenerate a charge.  When that ability was not available however I could happily wail away on the target then set up for the next special attack.  This little bit of information seemed to dynamically change the way combat felt.  Additionally doing the more open world zones, seemed much more enjoyable to me given that if I started wailing away on a boss, chances are someone would come along behind me to help me finish it.  Running around with a group of other players also made me realize just how little damage the paladin does comparatively.  In all honesty… I might end up playing quite a bit more of this game because it feels like I am starting to grasp the reason why it does the things it does.  It is not the sort of game I would ever play as a primary mmo, but I have been enjoying playing it in these short bursts, where I complete a single objective and then log back out for awhile.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

A Meaningless Term

League of Legends 2013-04-30 20-12-49-94 Yesterday I witnessed a conversation unfold that I have had a dozen times myself with various folks.  A friend of mine made the idle comment that they would really like to see a “PVE MOBA”, to which someone else predictably replied that you cannot have a “MOBA” without PVP.  The problem is that there is absolutely no clear definition of what exactly a “MOBA” is.  Additionally each player seems to refer to a slightly different set of mechanics when someone says “MOBA-like”.  So for some people it is all about the match based pvp action, and others it is all about the interesting class design.  If you simply dissect the term “MOBA” you get Multiplayer Online Battle Arena…  which in itself is another absolutely meaningless term.  Multiplayer Online is clear enough but the Battle Arena part is complete nonsense.  What are you battling and what sort of arena are you battling in?

For me personally the key elements of what make a MOBA intriguing have nothing to do with player versus player combat.  I like the different characters and their unique sets of abilities, and the way they interact with other characters and their abilities.  In fact I would be happy spending my time in lane killing creeps because I honestly enjoy doing that way more than engaging with other players.  When I play League of Legends I will almost always play against bots, and have long thought that it would make an interesting game to make it purely co-operative against interesting challenges.  The problem is if you say this.. you get the reaction above that it cannot be done… because MOBAs are PVP games dammit!  But what I am presenting is that folks are assigning a specific mindset to a term that is absolutely meaningless on its own merit.  Multiplayer Online Battle Arena can describe so many games and is likely why the term gets blurred so much to describe games that are absolutely nothing like the original Defense of the Ancients roots.

Keep the Interesting Bits

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 For me the interesting bits about what we generally refer to as a MOBA are the Character design that I have talked about before, and ultimately the payment model.  I like this concept of purchasing individual champions, and having a rotation of free champions to play to consistently keep testing the waters and trying to branch out.  The key part as well for me is the way that MOBA titles grow over time.  If you look at the evolution of League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, in both cases they are constantly releasing new content to satiate the appetites of players.  I think this has been key to the success, that every few weeks there is something new being introduced to the game to shake up players expectations.  League for example has over 120 different unique champions that they are doing a decent job of keeping balanced against each other, and Heroes is adding at least one champion a month it seems to catch up.  So I feel like the big success of this genre has been constant incremental evolution of the product.

This variety helps deal with the “special snowflake” syndrome that happens in MMO design.  Often times there is a demographic of players that wants to play a specific class in a manner that was not intended to be played.  Granted this happens to some extent in build system MMOs like league, but it is always clear that this is not necessarily a “supported” play style.  The champion system instead lets companies roll out lots of hyper focused characters that play to very specific niches.  So in this case what would be a “special snowflake” like the “melee hunter” would simply just be another champion they could build to fill that desire.  So instead the focus becomes on mastery of a specific set of abilities unique to that champion, rather than a much larger set of abilities as seen in most “talent tree” systems.  I feel like this is crucial in allowing someone to adapt to a brand new champion quickly, but at the same time feeling confident enough to branch out into things they have yet to try before.  There are game play modes like ARAM (All Random All Mid) that encourage this branching out because it forces players to play with a random champion.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

Diablo III 2013-08-21 20-12-09-60 So the quandary I am in is that I love the League of Legends lore and champion design, but don’t love the game itself.  I have long thought that it would be awesome to have a PVE centric version of League of Legends where you play the same champions with the same abilities in a Diablo like setting.  Instead of fighting in Summoner’s Rift against five other players in a battle to destroy the opposing teams nexus, it would be a co-operative experience as five players venture into a procedurally generated dungeon with a treasure at the end.  The idea is that each map would be harder than the previous until you reach a boss battle for the final treasure in the dungeon.  You could even keep the build mechanic in the form of at the beginning of each map level you could have the same merchant that exists just outside of your teams Nexus in the Rift.  After venturing a certain way into each map level he could travel to the next level, making it so that players could only buy new items at the beginning of each map.

For the hyper competitive players, you could still keep all manner of stats from number of monsters killed, their average difficulty rating, how fast it takes your team to clear a map, and of course how many times you have died during a specific encounter.  Personally I would go with a counter strike approach where each player gets a single life per map, making it progressively harder the more players that you have lost.  I would introduce the ability to purchase resurrection potions, but again that is an opportunity cost… since you have limited item inventory slots and limited gold to keep purchasing items with.  Similarly I would introduce a “lives” mechanic in the number of times your team can retry during a specific dungeon crawl sequence.  This would encourage the team to stick together and work on group tactics rather than going off on their own and risking getting overwhelmed.  The thing is… I would absolutely pay to play a game like that, and would probably rope my friends into playing it to.  The key impediment however is that folks seem to keep thinking that “MOBA” style mechanics cannot also apply to PVE game design.  Someone make this game happen…  I am looking at you Riot.

Final Coil of Bahamut

Missing Tank

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 20-49-19-35 Last night was our raid night for the group that meets on Mondays in Final Fantasy XIV.  Initially there was talk of working on Bismarck Ex but since we only have one geared tank in that team, that was out of the question.  Ashgar decided to level his monk first, and is now working on bringing the Paladin online once more.  The amount of time he has had to work over the last few weeks has slowed down his leveling process, and you can tell he is more than a bit frustrated by it.  In any case that left us with one max level geared tank  and one partially leveled tank to play with.  Since the elemental snakes will one shot the tank if he has the wrong buff color…  that took Bismarck Ex completely off the table.  So as a result we opted to venture forth into the Final Coil of Bahamut, an area that we unlocked last week but had yet to attempt.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-28-28-83 One of the constant themes of the Heavensward expansion is the fact that the Allagan’s are jerks and seem to like playing god.  The story behind the Final Coil of Bahamut seems to reflect this.  Not going to go into any massive spoilers, but I highly suggest you run through this content at some point so you can see the story bits yourself.  The other big surprise is the fact that we did in fact have to deal with a lot of mechanics.  We went into this place as a “undersized party” which is the lamest way of saying “let me go into it without level syncing me down”.  This is a great option for farming older content by yourself, for example I have been slowly working on getting the rest of my Brayflox Infantry set for example doing this.  For the older raids this means you can go in and have a bit more padding to deal with the damage these deal.  We pulled turn 10 completely blind, and managed to make some significant progress before ultimately wiping… and having to learn the mechanics of the fight.

Final Coil of Bahamut

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-33-17-05 Throughout the course of the night we managed to take down turn 10, and after a bit of futzing turn 11 as well.  We entered turn 12…  mainly because there is a huge amount of story content at the beginning of it.  We made a couple of attempts and agreed that we would simply return next week after doing a bit of studying.  I realize we are not doing this content “for real” by any stretch of the imagination… but it still feels very epic.  Everything about these zones and fights are just amazing to behold.  There is an awesome jumping sequence where you go flying through the air… and I am sure it is enough to make anyone with either motion sickness or a fear of heights squeamish.  I sometimes suffer from vertigo in games, but this actually didn’t seem to bother me too much, at least not in the same way that Razor’s Edge did.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-36-34-17 Ultimately what I want to try and focus on instead however is gearing the folks that are sub 170.  I want to do Alexander with my normal raid group, and I want to also tackle the two extreme fights.  Unfortunately I am one of the few people on our team that I think is geared to that point.  So that means I need to start grabbing folks and dragging them into dungeon runs for tomestones of law over the coming weeks.  Basically I need to start seeing if people are already at 170 before running a dungeon… and then trying to grab folks that aren’t instead.  Over the last few days I was in my own mad push for that gear level and kind of ignored everything but doing that.  Now I feel like I need to take a much more structured approach in an attempt to get folks the gear they need to do the bigger and more exciting things.

Northern Thanalan Problem

Button Mash Bard

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-11 22-16-35-69 Last night during the podcast I piddled around in Final Fantasy XIV as I often do.  The fact that I had to edit a section of the podcast out because of my rapid fire keyboard mashing… means I was piddling around on my bard.  Of all of my classes… this is the one that I seem to give the least shits about actually playing correctly.  I will leave good barding up to Shiana, Warenwolf and Thalen…  me I just mash buttons and pray.  One of the problems is that I have all of these characters currently sitting at level 50 that I got to cap last expansion.  The bard, the white mage and the paladin among them.  The problem being right now without quest support there is no real handy way to get to level 51, which is the level you need to be to hit the first dungeon.  On my dragoon I have been pretty much living in dungeons, and as a result I have managed to make a significant push in level, as he is roughly half way to 55.

So last night I struggled to figure out just how to get my bard over the hump, so I could start doing the same with him.  I wandered around a bit in Western Coethas only to remember that even with the armory bonus…  FATEs in Heavensward are still pretty terrible.  Then Ashgar mentioned that I should do what I did at 49… and just go to Northern Thanalan.  So I zoned into that area and it took longer to load than either Ishgard, Mor Dhona or Idyllshire.  It turns out that pretty much everyone is living in this zone, and I guess it makes sense.  On average FATEs in Western Coerthas rewarded my bard 28,000 experience.  On average FATEs in Northern Thanalan rewarded around 21,000 experience… and the zone is about a fourth of the size of Western Coerthas… and has just as many FATEs.  This means that there is a constant train of pink marks showing up all over your map.

Northern Thanalan Problem

Screenshot (15) On the live letter this week they mentioned that they would be tweaking FATEs to make them a better value proposition for players, and I think this is a bit of an understatement in the level of the issue that is happening.  One of the interesting things about the internet and mmos is that players will figure out the shortest route to solving a problem and abuse the hell out of it.  Quickly players realized that they could simply level faster by living in Northern Thanalan… and that is quite literally what is happening.  I would estimate last night during the podcast there were somewhere close to 200 players in zone fighting over the FATEs that spawned, and in a crazy game of whack-a-mole as soon as one dropped the next one would be up and the rush would begin across zone to get the first hits in on it.  We experienced these same problems at release with the abuse of a very specific FATE in Northern Thanalan called “Dark Devices” and it seems like once again this zone is the king of the fast leveling curve.

The problem with this is that it makes the game boring.  You stand in zone and hang out there until you are 60… and quite literally players are doing this on their alternate classes, riding this elevator to the top floor and then getting off just in time to gear for Alexander.  The end result is that we are starting to see level 60 players who have not done a single class quest and as a result have NONE of their new class abilities.  Time doing class quests is time taken away from the “super efficient” level mill of Northern Thanalan.  Here in lies problem two…  this zone is a fun zone to run FATEs in… and absolutely worth while for players post 45 when Central Coerthas starts to slow down.  My biggest fear is that we are going to see a bit of an overcorrection that leads to Square nerfing the FATEs in this zone once again to try and prod players to leave it.  What I want to see instead is that they incentivize the content in the new areas… to make it worth spending time there and doing the FATEs.

More Carrot to the Stick

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 23-50-32-16 Those first days after launch, the FATEs were getting run and every single major boss fate was dropping all sorts of awesome items.  Then players realized, or at least Reddit realized that mathematically the FATE grinding experience was shit.  I want to see players in the zones doing the content the zones have to offer.  We long speculated that they purposefully under-incentivized the FATEs to get players to actually do quest content, because at the launch of A Realm Reborn… it was absolutely a problem with players completely ignoring quests until they hit the level cap.  The issue here is that dungeons are gated through the storyline… and without players entering the dungeon system… the queues got more than a little out of whack.  So I guess I support the notion of nerfing FATEs temporarily… but at this point something needs to be done to derail the Northern Thanalan train once again.  I don’t think we can probably afford to wait until 3.1, so I am hoping that we see a minor patch that introduces a series of tweaks that right this ships course.

In the meantime I am guessing I will start running Levequests to get over that 50 to 51 hump, because after the madness of last night…  I really did not find the Northern Thanalan experience enjoyable.  I had way too many flashbacks of the way the dark devices grind felt.  I absolutely rode that up on my Bard and then never touched it on another character again.  The game has some really awesome FATEs in the new areas that each tell a story…  some of which we ended up talking about last night.  I want Square to find a way to add enough carrot to their stick, in order to convince players that staying in the zone they are currently in and running FATEs is a valuable option.  Mostly I want to be able to knock out all of the different zone boss fates because there are interesting things sitting on their loot table if you manage to get to gold contribution.  Two weeks into the expansion though I am still loving it in spite of all the minor problems we have complained about.  We talked about this last night in the podcast, that it seems like we complain a lot…  but it is more a case of us wanting them  to iron out the rest of the wrinkles… because the game is really damned polished already.