Falling Crows and Ghost Moose

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This weekend I largely set out to do one sequence of things… but instead of actually accomplishes it I spend a good chunk of the weekend piddling around in the Palace of the Dead.  For those keeping score at home I am on a mission to get all of my classes to 50.  Last week I pushed Summoner/Scholar and Black Mage and as a result this weekend I started in on my Dark Knight in an attempt to shift things up a bit.  Originally I was not super keep in Dark Knight as a tanking class, but I have to say after having played a lot of it during this grind it is definitely growing on me.  Last night while watching Talking Dead I managed to hit level 46 which means I have roughly 8 more runs of floors 51-60 before pushing this class to 50 as well.  Up until around 42 I seemed to still be getting most of a level every single trip into the dungeon, but at that point it shifted to getting roughly half of a level so I guess that is something to note as you push your own characters.  After the Dark Knight I am more than likely going to start up with the Ninja given that it is my next highest class sitting at 38.  That will leave Monk, Astrologian and Machinist…  the later two I still have yet to even accept the introductory quests.  In part I am focused on the goal of 50, because up until that point the levels in PotD seem completely reasonable.  The 50-60 grind however seems to take almost as much time as the 1-50 does, so in theory…  when I actually pick up doing that side of the equation I will begin with my Bard who is already sitting at level 55.

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In other weird weekend news… I apparently am now in the Crowfall pre-alpha?  I talked a bit about it on AggroChat this week, if you are interested in more of my thoughts.  Normally I would be posting a “Crowfall Impressions” post, because that seems to be the sort of thing I do when I get my hands on a new game.  Unfortunately I am not really sure if I have a full post worth of feelings about the game.  It is very alpha for start, so it feels like it isn’t exactly fair to really give the game anything resembling a review.  That said… they are doing an alpha with zero NDA so I feel completely free to at least talk a little about the game.  As I described it to my friends…  Crowfall is in fact a piece of software that I installed and that offers the ability to launch when I click in the patcher.  Past that I am not exactly sure what is going on in the game, and I am not really sure that I felt anything close to fun during the hour and a half that I spent grinding away to make a basic set of armor and weapons.  It doesn’t really feel like there is much game yet, and maybe the murder box that is the PVP servers are more enjoyable.  However based on the apparently cross shard server chat, it sounds like there is just a lot of spawn camping and ganking going on there.  The big challenge I had was that there was simply not much to actually fight in the PVE server, and when I did find a boar or a bizarre crystalline cat my hud would lock up on loot allowing other players to come swoop in and harvest the leather and meat on the thing I just killed.  Right now the game feels less fleshed out than Landmark did when it opened its doors to early access.  It feels like it is trying to do a lot of things but I am not entirely certain if those things blend all that well.

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Now in the “I want my Sunday back” territory…  I logged in yesterday morning to work on my Archaeology questline in World of Warcraft.  Of note… it has been 181 days since the launch of Legion according to the handy google “days since” query ability.  The last two weeks have been the very first occasion to actually complete the Laying to Rest archaeology quest that rewards the Spirit of Echero mount.  The last thing I really wanted to do was go grind arch nodes until I collected 600 moose bones…  but then again I thought to myself if I ever wanted this mount I should probably do it now, since who the hell knows when it will be available again.  I am not really sure how long it took in minutes… but I started watching Sword Art Online again somewhere during the first 100 bones… and I was able to watch three episodes in their entirety and started the fourth before I collected number 600.  It was a slog of a grind, and while I am happy it is done…  it feels like maybe a waste of time given that I am never likely going to ride the mount anyways.  I chock this one up to simple and honest fear of missing out… because if I didn’t get it there might be a version of myself someday that wishes I had.  Regardless it is done, but the second I turned in the quest I stuck around long enough to take the above screenshot and then bolted quickly from the game.  In other happenings at some point during the grind I hit 800 Archaeology so that was at least something cool that happened as well as finishing up the Handle With Care achievement.

Box of Spoons

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I feel like I was given a box full of spoons.  One of my friends said that awhile back and I had no clue what it meant at the time…  but after some research… yeah I totally get it.  I have been largely functioning on adrenaline and fear for the last several weeks as I had this big looming deadline swinging dangerously over my head.  Yesterday however was the day… and we launched…  and despite having a flurry of activity and a pretty active bug tracker we largely survived.  We had a happy hour yesterday where our boss picked up the tab, and I cannot fully express how awesome it was that he did that…  and even more so that I work with a group of people that I enjoy working with enough to go to happy hour.  This site had a heavy toll on both myself and Rae who has been the mastermind of its design.  By the time we sat down at the pub…  I felt like I had several weeks worth of tired crashing down upon my shoulders.  Last night I flailed about a bit trying to play various games… and even succeeding in doing a few delves in Elder Scrolls Online.  However before long I was back to staring blankly at my laptop and decided it was time for sleep.  I slept better than I have slept in a long time… with my periods of waking up being replaced by dreams where I thought I woke up and did things.  Apparently Kenzie was going nuts and it woke my wife up… but I seemingly was blissfully unaware.

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We still have a hefty list of things to sort out, and bugs to fix…  however they all seem so much less significant than the overarching goal of launching.  The chief content provider remarked that launching a website was like giving birth, and given that she has a teenage daughter I am going to take her word for it.  It is definitely like something, given that yesterday was the culmination of a few years worth of planning and a years worth of furious development and re-development and then ultimately trying to hop up and down on the trunk until the various components fit enough to close the lid.  You always start out with these lofty pristine goals, and then as you start managing towards a date you have to sacrifice some of that naivety and start trying to focus on what actually works or will work well enough for the time being.  I hate managing to a date… because it feels like you are doing development wrong, especially when you are doing something that you have never actually done before.  I mean I have launched plenty of sites…  but we essentially threw away most of our comfortable tools this time and launched out into a brand new direction that if we managed to pull it off was going to be amazing.  What is also the hard part is this is the first time I was the one actually managing the timeline and making sure things were getting done.  I would have been so screwed if like I said before… I didn’t have a really amazing group of people to work with.

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The images you are seeing are not from my random screenshot tool, but I would forgive you if you thought that given that up until this point in today’s post I have not actually talked about gaming.  Instead these are sort of post cards from the gaming that I did while in this state.  I have been playing quite a bit of Elder Scrolls Online, because of the segmented nature of its questing allows me to get in… turn a single symbol on my map from black to white… and feel like I have accomplished something.  I am still slowly pushing my way through Malabal Tor, but if I get a full day of questing this weekend I might be able to get through it.  Last weekend during the AggroChat podcast I started working on my Warlock in World of Warcraft, and was shocked that it pretty much took the entire podcast to get through the intro scenario, artifact weapon, and class order hall quests.  I really should have done what so many of my guildies did and chain ran all of my characters up to the point where they choose the first zone in Legion.  In that intro scenario there were two of us…  which made it take significantly longer than it was intended.  As a result they maybe need to scale that back given that we are reaching a point where no one is running it.  Finally at some point over the last week I participated in all four turns of the third section of Alexander and man…  is that a thing.  I greatly enjoyed the fights so much more than I did the middle section of Alexander, because Voltron sorta broke me.  The final boss was sufficiently epic, and both 9 and 12 required a bunch of attempts to finally push through it.  I rolled lucky and managed to get two helm tokens and two of the four needed pants tokens… so I guess I will be wanting to run more of this?  It was a lot of fun, but was sort of dulled by the stupored state of being in constant stress mode.  I am looking forward to feeling like I can actually enjoy the world once more.

Brief Goldrush

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Screen Grab from WoWToken.info

Yesterday was kind of a shit day.  I got to work around 7 am, ran around like a chicken with my head cut off and didn’t get home until after 6:30 pm.  To make matters worse I wound up skipping breakfast with the idea of just grabbing something from the cafeteria in the basement…  but apparently they changed hands and are no longer open at a reasonable hour for breakfast eating.  When I got home I ate some left overs and planned on largely chilling out on the sofa with my laptop, however within minutes I was falling asleep at the keyboard.  Instead of opting to consume caffeine to forcibly prop my eyelids open like I do so many nights…  I simply went with it and crashed hard.  I know I woke up a few times, one of which I vaguely remember going to the kitchen to get a drink…  but for the most part I was completely dead to the world not really becoming aware of my surroundings until about five minutes before the alarm was set to go off this morning.  Bel is still a very sick Bel, and while I am taking some stuff whatever respiratory hell that I picked up at PAX South seems to be lingering.  Unfortunately work is absolutely madness right now and we are pushing towards a hard deadline…  one that honestly made me think if going to PAX was a good idea at all in the first place.  So I am suffering through it, and largely just collapsing into my desk chair and trying to think clear thoughts…  that is until yesterday when a firestorm erupted not even vaguely related to said deadline.  All of the sudden I am back in the same meetings I attended six months ago… and being told to develop the same solution I suggested six months ago but was largely told wasn’t needed.  Suffice to say… it was a miserable day to be a Bel.

As a result I don’t have much that is exciting to talk about other than the fact that something strange happened.  We had essentially a virtual run on the banks in the form of the WoW Token going from 60,000 gold to 115,000 gold and back down to around 66,000 gold all within a 36 hour period.  So what caused this?  Well quite simply the law of supply and demand, but more importantly the release of the ability to fund “Battle.net Balance” from consuming a WoW token instead of simply trading it in for subscription time.  If you will indulge me in a quick side bar here…  didn’t Blizzard say that as far as branding goes “Battle.net” was going away?  I find it bizarre that they are rolling out a new feature with this same branding instead of simply calling it “Blizzard Balance” or something super generic like that.  Essentially all of those folks with pent up desires for products on the Blizzard store, suddenly had the ability to cash in their bankroll and buy those things pushing the demand for tokens way higher than the demand for actual gold.  In truth this should have been foreseen given that there will always be a constant need for things on the store that previously cost cash, but there is a constantly dwindling number of aspirational gold needs in the game.  Sure you could really drop a silly amount of money and buy outright that 2 million gold spider mount…  but at the end of the day it does nothing but sit there as a supposed status symbol.  Whereas in the past with the Tundra Mammoth and Yak… those greatly improved game-play especially when it came to leveling alts.  However I won’t lie that the thought of being able to sell a token and purchase the Alliance motorcycle did cross my mind as something I might be willing to do.

What I want to talk about more than anything else is the absolute windfall that this means for Blizzard.  When you purchase a token for $20 it can be then traded for goods valuing $15…  be it in the form of a monthly subscription or now in $15 of Battle.net balance that can then be spent on anything from physical merchandise to the digital services they provide.  Every time a token changes hands Blizzard makes $5 off the top, regardless of what it is spent on.  My theory is that a lot of the tokens over the last two days were spent purchasing digital services… like character moves or renames… things that folks had been wanting to do for a long period of time but just been unwilling to cough up hard currency to make it happen.  If that is the case then every single one of these token purchases also essentially amounted to pure profit.  I have been a long time critic of the prices that Blizzard charges for character moves or renames… when essentially they are charging for access to what is now a completely automated and scripted interaction.  Once upon a time there was a labor cost associated with these services, because someone manually kicked off a SQL script to make it happen…  however that has not been the case for over a decade and the price never actually went down.  If folks spent their tokens on digital game purchases, or in game items for Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm or Overwatch… then again that is mostly pure profit.  The only time there are serious physical expenses factoring in is if someone purchase tangible items on the store like a Murloc plush or an Overwatch hoodie.  Even then…  they are still making a decent profit on that item or they would not be selling it.  Basically the Token system allows Blizzard to double dip and make a profit on the front end and the back end of every purchase… and at the same time ensures that the folks that are grinding out the gold are actively playing their properties.

In truth I think we can expect one of these “runs on the bank” each time something new is released from Blizzard.  A new champion in Heroes of the Storm… bam the token price inflates as folks scurry to purchase it.  The Diablo 3 expansion pack that adds Necromancers releases…  same thing… a rush to sell off some gold to purchase the thing that folks want.  I think of this much like the lottery system, in that once the reward gets to a certain point… it brings people out of the woodwork that would never normally buy tickets.  Personally that price point is somewhere around 300 million dollars for a lottery, because that prompts me to start buying the occasional one off ticket here and there on the vague chance that I will actually win.  For WoW players that price point seems to be 100,000 gold for the US economy and 200,000 gold for the EU economy.  The bizarre part of this is that I don’t think the balance feature is even available on the EU realms yet, and it absolutely had no effect on China, Taiwan, or South Korea yet… but in truth those three markets are madness anyways. Regardless… the fact that players can now cash in their gold for tangible goods… that they could then in theory sell on secondary markets like Ebay tells me that we are going to change the dynamic considerably.  You have just essentially let players start turning game time in to real dollars, which is a strange paradigm and one that is not entirely dissimilar to the traditional third party gold markets.  Granted this is going to be a SUPER lossy process, but one that will exist nonetheless.  One that more than likely only the most sage of gold making wizards will ever figure out how to tap.  Things are going to be really strange from this point out.

[Edit] I just heard from my friend Nyn that you cannot apparently use Battle.net balance to fund physical items… so that at least negates some of my commentary.  However that does mean that tokens going to Battle.net balance are essentially going to be largely pure profit for Blizzard.

Restless Weekend

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

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

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

Welfare Epics

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

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

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

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

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

Bel’s Fake Game Awards

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This break has been a bit of an odd one…  namely because I have completely screwed up a few times and failed to blog.  Even worse… I forgot I forgot to blog.  It is as though I have been in a bit of a weird time warp where I lived a bit separate from the rest of the world for awhile.  So instead of being connected like I usually am…  everything has just sort of flown over the top of me without ever really sinking in.  I have not been logging into MMOs hardly at all… and when I did it was for a specific focused purpose rather than just hanging out there.  The break has been about falling into a number of game shaped holes…  including Destiny, Minecraft, Bloodborne, and most recently Tyranny.  However today represents the beginning of me trying to get into the swing of things.  I technically have two full days left…  well not full given that its 9 am when I am finally getting around to writing this morning.  However it is time for me to do my sham of an attempt at an Awards Show…  that I started last year, where the categories really don’t exist and no one actually wins.

Something Is Missing

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Pokemon Go

Recently in the name of better health and that whole tradition of trying to start the New Year off right…  my wife and I have been spending a lot more time walking.  One of the things I greatly miss that was a huge part of my life during 2016… is Pokemon Go.  One of the updates essentially screwed me over and locked me out at least semi-permanently from playing the game.  The Google Safety check… seems to think my phone is rooted even though it is not.  My only work around is to actually root my phone and install one of the many applications that will hide root from Pokemon Go…  defeating the entire purpose of their safety check.  However I am reaching a point where I really want to play the game… and I might just resort to this.  Essentially this game was a good chunk of my year… or at least I was obsessive about it for two months.  Pokemon Go did something that no game really has…  made me care about mobile as a gaming platform and as a result it should get a significant shout out.

You Can’t Go Back

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Diablo 2

For the AggroChat Game Club, we tend to pick a game for both November and December…  since once you take the holidays into account… you really have a single functional month.  Last year the game that spanned the two was Fallout 4, and this year Grace chose Diablo 2 as her pick.  At first I was all about this because I have some seriously rose colored lenses about this game and my memory of it.  I remember trying to see who could get through all of Act V in a single lunch break, and so many farming runs to see if we could get the coveted set pieces.  However on replay…  I have changed drastically in my tastes since this game released, and while I was on the Diablo 3 doesn’t feel right bandwagon initially…  I have evolved.  Diablo 2 now feels like a grindy mess of a click fest with very little carrot and a hell of a lot of stick.  So I am honestly wishing I had NOT replayed the game…  and could leave it sitting happily in my memory untouched.  My recent experiences…  are proof of that adage that sometimes you can’t go back home.

But Maybe Sometimes You Can

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World of Warcraft: Legion

Saying that however… there are apparently times when you can go home and enjoy yourself in the same ways you used to.  There was a period of time when I was convinced that Warcraft would always only tangentially matter to me.  That I mourned a time and a place and a specific group of people that were long going and could likely never been aligned and arranged in the same pattern again.  I’ve devoted a lot of digital ink to this lament throughout the years…  and then Legion comes along and proves me to be completely full of shit.  I am not exactly sure what it is about this expansion but for the first time in seven years…  I feel more hope for the game ahead of me… than nostalgia for the time that has long passed.  I thought I was done raiding in World of Warcraft… and instead I am actively raiding three times a week…  one night of progression, one night of farmed content, and an amazing karazhan team.  I am super happy with the state of the guild, and the game… and how far we have come.  I am amped about the prospects of starting Nighthold on time when it releases…  and while I have not spent much of this break in game it still very much feels like home.  While I still have issues with some of the disjointed feeling of the forced faction storyline at times in Legion…  the bulk of the content is amazing and just seems to keep getting more interesting.

But Sometimes It Doesn’t Last

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Final Fantasy XIV

The other subtext of the year is how I have apparently fallen out of love with Final Fantasy XIV.  We made an attempt to get the band back together and start raiding once more… and it worked amazingly for awhile.  Honestly the Free Company is still an active and happy place…  just with myself not really playing much of a role in it.  I keep thinking that it will be fun to return…  but I knew something was a miss when I started completely blowing off the holiday events that I used to love so much.  Now I am significantly behind in gear and in story… and it is going to take a significant push to catch back up.  This push however is just something that I have not been willing to do as of yet.  I am excited about Stormblood…  but nowhere near as much as I was prior to the launch of Heavensward.  I guess the scale of Heavensward felt limited… with two dungeons per patch instead of three, and that alone wore on me.  When you are grinding two dungeons in an expert tier… it gets super old really fast.  They have since added in other content to occupy time like the deep dungeon…  but it also feels extremely grindy in nature.  I know at some point I will return and happily do so… but in the meantime I have simply not been forcing myself to log in and play a game I was not entirely into.

With Guns Blazing

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Destiny

The real winner of the year as far as my total time spent… I feel is probably Destiny.  This game has gone from being something that never quite clicked…. to turning into a game that I obsessively play on an almost nightly basis.  Over the break I spent a good chunk of my time playing “Not-Wipeout” and participating in the Sparrow Racing League.  I managed to hit the currently light cap of 400, and instead of it diminishing my desire to play… it seems to have only spurred me on further trying to get infusion fodder to upgrade all of my favorite items.  I cannot tell you how much being able to bring my favorite weapons from Year 2… into Year 3 has improved the game for me.  Traditionally MMO items are just stat sticks with a look and a feel…  and cosmetic systems make it so that you can look however you want therefor really negating any need to keep using older items.  Destiny however…  your items have a feel and a purpose and greatly effect the gameplay.  I have guns that I love… that feel amazing to use… that I cannot actually quantify in words as to why.  For example I love the Fabian Strategy… even though I technically have far superior legendary items that don’t eat my single exotic weapon slot.  I just feel sorry for my friends who are casually interested in the game… because I go from zero to “let me show you my pokemans” in a frighteningly short amount of time.

Bad Christmas Was A Bust

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The Division

This time last year… I was looking forward to the impending launch of The Division.  I thought this game would end up being my new Destiny, and even better so because it allowed me to get the sort of gun play and looter shooter action I craved without having to resort to consoles.  Unfortunately that was not the case and I never actually made it to the level cap.  Going into Division I thought I would have a strong community to support me… but one by one my friends checked out quickly for a lot of reasons not directly connected to the game play.  Largely they objected to the themes… and enough so that at least one of them immediately turned around and refunded the game through steam.  I could have reached outside of my circle of friends and found new communities…  but I was left with the awkward situation that my PS4 clan was of course playing on that platform and that I just didn’t really want to have to pester folks to play with me on the PC side.  As a result I solo’d a hell of a lot… and reached a point where to progress at the speed I wanted to progress I needed some people with me.  There was also the technical problem that I just don’t really like playing a third person over the shoulder shooter nearly as much as I enjoyed playing Destiny.  Even more than that…  the thing that was missing was the futurism of Destiny weapons.  None of the guns felt any different than any other gun to me… so ALL SMGs felt the same, ALL LMGs essentially felt the same etc…  they were more stat sticks than something that felt unique or individual.  I still hold hope that at some point that I will be able to get back into the game and push the last bit to hit the level cap and start doing interesting content.

Awesome But Not My Deal

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Overwatch

Sometimes there is a game that I am way more into the game world… and the lore than actually playing it.  This is very much the case with Overwatch.  I love the characters, and all of the storyline that is coming out surrounding the game… and while I enjoy playing the game in small bursts it just never seems to be the game I choose to play on any given night.  As a result I am something ridiculous like level 6… and have only logged a few hours in total playing the game.  I think much like with League of Legends… I would enjoy playing with a team of friends… but then you run into the issue of getting bored with bots… and not having the chops or desire to learn them to play against other pre-made teams.  I also tend to be most happy when I am playing Torbjorn, but always end up playing Reinhardt or Mercy because I end up getting randomed into a team full of Hanzos and Genjis.  I wish I had the burning desire to play this game because I love everything about its world and what it is doing with its narrative.  In truth I find myself mourning the game it could have been…  back when it was originally slated to be a new MMO.  I would to play a Destiny like game… set in the Overwatch universe.

 

Curve Beating

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I can in all honesty say I did not really expect to be placing this clipping of a screenshot on my blog.  When we cleared Normal Emerald Nightmare… I was pleased as hell.  When we turned around and cleared Normal Trial of Valor…  I was ecstatic.  When we started work on Heroic Emerald Nightmare…  I figured that it would give us a challenge right up until the point that Nighthold Normal was released and that we would ultimately switch gears.  I mean Nighthold is supposedly slotted for January 17th… which is only 26 days away depending on how you count today.  We however started making some significant progress in Heroic Emerald Nightmare… and in truth I didn’t really dare to hope we would manage to get through it yet.  We have several friends who are raiding mythics in a much more serious capacity than our guild raid.  The awesome thing is… we are apparently the sort of raid that they still enjoy coming along on because of the interaction between all of the members.  So in part I chocked our Heroic victories up to the number of “ringer” dps we ended up bringing in as a result.  Last night we were extremely short on numbers and missing most of this overpowered dps that we had so often been bringing.  I had resigned myself to hopefully repeating our previous progress, and just enjoying the process.

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Now is the point where I tell you… that I can not possibly be prouder of my guild.  Instead of struggling with the absence of some mythic ringers…  we instead continued to perform at an admirable level as we not only defeated…  but one shot several of the bosses we have never attempted.  We had some early struggles as we essentially got back in the swing of the raid…  for me not being able to make the last two Friday nights I felt more than a little rusty.  However by the time we reached “Spiderbirb” we were trucking along nicely and managed the first new one shot of the evening.  Similarly we seemingly rolled over Ilgynoth… or at least pulled out a victory doing the fight in a single burn phase.  From there we worked on Cenarius and once again managed to pull out a victory in a single attempt, which lead us to only having Xavius to work on.  This was sitting at 9 pm my time… and I thought to myself that we were in a good position to get a bunch of attempts in… giving us at least 30 minutes before the official end of the raid.  I also thought that with it being the holidays… we might be able to extend a bit to get the kill if needed.  It turns out we didn’t need all of that time on attempts, because we had a very close first shot and managed to pull out the victory on attempt two giving us still about fifteen minutes to spare before our official ending time.  It was a really great night, and I am amped about our prospects going into Nighthold.  We will for the first time this expansion be starting new content on exactly the week it comes out, which is a bit of a point of pride for me.  I love feeling like we can be casual, but still extremely successful.

By the time the raid was over I realized that I had not actually spent any time with the Luna that evening.  So I took her into my office to chill out and get some attention while I opted to play some Destiny.  At this point I am 399 light… and have limited my list of needs down to replacing my 394 Ghost Shell, 399 boots, and 399 Heavy Weapon.  I had a moment of extreme excitement at one point in the evening when I got an exotic heavy engram…  which decoded at 399 instead of the 400 I have been getting from the SRL event.  Before long I was joined by my friend Grace and we hung out doing some racing.  She was working on one of the quest steps where you had to get ten races where you place in the top three… and I maybe just maybe played a little aggressively with the other drivers.  There was at least one time when I happened to ram into the person who was closing in on her then third place slot.  Who knew you could tank with a speeder bike?  In truth I had seen a few clans doing this over my time racing… where they were essentially clearing the way for their friend to come in and snatch the first place position so I considered it completely fair game.  That said she managed to pull out a few come from behind second place victories like the one I decided to screenshot here.  The bonus of the entire night was that in both cases we improved our light levels… and simply hanging out and chatting made the whole racing thing go significantly faster.

I have honestly had some extremely good luck during the SRL with crucible weapon drops.  Last night was apparently no different as I managed to pick up a really nice version of the NL Shadow 701X.  Firstly it has triple tap which is a stat I love for boss encounters… or anything else I am pretty certain to land three precision shots in rapid succession.  To crank up the stability is Hand-laid stock… which ultimately reduces the range but I can live with that at 47.  Finally hidden hand helps with triple tap in making it slightly easier to get those precision shots…  so all in all the weapon has some really nice synergy.  The only negative is this is a scout rifle… and I don’t really tend to use a lot of scout rifles.  This lives in the Mida Multi-Tool family, and actually has a higher rate of fire…  which makes it feel extremely spammy.  Now if I could have replaced Hidden Hand with Full Auto… this would have been just about my favorite scout rifle.  In any case this is definitely something worth holding onto and other than my Hand of Judgement from Challenge of Elders… I didn’t really have that many legendary scout rifles that I enjoyed using.  In any case that still gives me a good roll for Eyasluna, and god rolls for Hopscotch Pilgrim and potentially NL Shadow 701X coming from SRL so far.

Icecrown Challenge

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The world is a truly bizarre place sometimes.  There are a lot of folks that make up my twitter timeline that I know… but only in a slantwise way.  I recognize them, and am even happy to see posts show up as my feed scrolls by, but I really don’t know much about them.  ArcaneRatsel is one of those folks, and I largely followed her because she does amazing things for the Warcraft community as a whole.  She was part of an expansion of my timeline as I attempted to follow more positive Warcraft folks.  For example she did this crazy thing where she essentially created faction logos for anyone who was interested…. and as a result created a truly silly number of them.  She is also involved in the Running of the Gnomes that supports Cleveland Clinic, Running of the Trolls that supports the Trevor Project, and now the Icecrown Challenge that supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  To say she is a “good egg” is a big understatement… but again this is largely someone I only knew existed in passing and occasionally but rarely ended up in the same conversation with.  So yesterday all started with a really simple thing…  she said she was passing through my state to visit family.  It is not like Oklahoma is a popular destination spot, so generally when I see that I comment and welcome whoever it is to the state.

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After a handful of back and forths… the conversation quickly moved to DMs…  because in the oddest of coincidences apparently we grew up in the exact same town of 2500 people.  There is a little less than a ten year difference between us in ages, so we are for all purposes of different generations.  It is not like we should have had a lot of overlap…  but we absolutely did.  My Mother was a teacher at the High School for decades… and it turns out her Mom was as well.  In fact her Mom was my Freshman English teacher, and for a period of time went to the same church as I did.  Through either the church thing or the teacher thing… I know I wound up in their home multiple times throughout my “growing up” period, and as we found out last night my dad who was an armchair professional photographer took portrait photos at least once.  If you were to do an “as the crow flies” we grew up less than a mile apart, in fact from my house you could look out over the pasture and see hers.  Ultimately… the world is a really strange place sometimes and what seems like massive distances can be shortened in an instant.  I mean after all my wife and I grew up thirty minutes apart, and were in turn introduced by a mutual friend in Belgium.  It is also weird how someone who is a complete and total stranger can suddenly become of much more significance from a single thread of connection.

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Now when I first saw the Icecrown Challenge I was thinking…  “Bel you should do this thing, because you clear Icecrown weekly anyways”.  Now that I have some connection to at least one of the folks responsible for running the event…  it was simply something I couldn’t NOT do.  So last night I set my stream up and streamed my adventure across Icecrown…  with a lot of help from my audience.  By help I mean absolutely throwing a monkey wrench in the proceedings.  I was all set to try and clear as fast as possible, but things happened along the way.  You can watch the entire stream as a Beam VOD, but suffice to say…  I am not taking full responsibility for some of the madness.  I’ve been interspersing some of the wing boss kill times throughout this post that I lifted from my recording.  I am just going to lay them out here to see if you can find the problem…

  • Professor Putricide – 11:11
  • Blood Queen Lana’thel – 14:46
  • Sindragosa – 26:56

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It took me 3 minutes and 35 seconds to clear from Putricide to the Blood Queen, and based on some probably wrong math….  12 minutes and 10 seconds to get to Sindragosa.  The majority of that time was spent on attempting to do the Dreamwalker fight.  My viewers told me with the utmost confidence that I could absolutely heal the dragon to full with a single bandage, and I am sure that is absolutely the case…. but not on heroic where she is constantly taking damage over time.  So I wasted a good ten minutes and a I think eight bandages trying to make this work… only to get instantly interrupted when I started challenging the heal.  So essentially all of the time I had made up to this point was completely blown and I ultimately had to jump in a portal to reset the encounter.  Now were I choosing to run it on my Paladin, life would have been dandy.  I know that I can heal her to full with a few flash of lights and move on with my life.  In fact that was a large chunk of the reason why I used to always run this place weekly as a paladin.  However last night I had to simply move on with my Warrior.

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After the huge ball of frustration that was Dreamwalker… I finally looted Arthas and paused my timer at 31 minutes and 49 seconds.  As per are the rules of the Icecrown Challenge… I then turned around and donated $31.49 to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Additionally as part of the rules of the contest… I challenged Mort, Ashgar, and Thalen to also take the contest and make their own donations.  The donation drive runs for I believe a month and officially started 12/13.  Right now they have roughly $400 in donations and I feel like we can get this higher.  Even if you are not directly challenged, you can totally start your own branch of the tree like I did.  I would love to see this trickle through all of the little offshoots of the community… because lets face it…  running Icecrown is fun.  While I might grouse a little bit about losing ten minutes… that “wasted” time just meant I donated a little bit more money towards a really good cause.

 

Social Structure and MMOs

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I’ve talked off and on about Imzy, and how it is filling a niche for me at least that Google+ used to in that it allows for a sort of long winded discussion that twitter just simply doesn’t.  Yesterday I read a post there that made me realize something I had been trying to sort out in my head for awhile.  The vast majority of my gaming time is spent playing MMOs and I tend to have several that I am in various states of active in at the same time.  However I rarely if ever gain any sort of permanent traction in them, and after a few weeks of play tend to fade away again until the whim hits me to fire it back up.  I go through a cycle of curiosity that leads to excitement…  that leads to confusion and disillusionment that ultimately ends with me leaving once more.  I will pick up a game and for a few days to weeks it is going to be the most interesting thing in the world as I get adjusted to the systems and mechanics again.  However I always reach this point where an overwhelming sense of “what now” hits me.  When that happens I wind out going right back to whatever it is happens to be my core game…  which if we are being honest with me is an alternation of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV.  I have been working on my games played during 2016… and decided to extend that out to all of the games that are easy to track thanks to my blog.  There is a clear pattern of when I start getting super excited about WoW I shift away from FFXIV and versa vicea.  There is of course some overlap, but you can see a back and forth pattern that emerges.

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So the question is then…. what do these two games seem to have that so many others don’t.  The answer was sitting there waiting for me to notice. I often talk about games having great communities…  but generally speaking this is in broad terms and extremely non-specific.  Most games have some excellent niches in them, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really do much to add core enjoyment for me.  I keep returning to World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV… because those are the games that I have established communities in.  There was a time when I was willing to branch out and meet new people…  plunk myself down in a brand new game and start growing an entirely different infrastructure.  The community that I have right now… is in large part the result of me doing this over and over.  Each new game I go into I meet a whole new cast of people…  but at some point that began to change.  As I gathered a larger and larger core of players… I stopped looking outside to the community nearly as much and instead looking to my guild.  While I am still meeting a lot of new people… they are coming with the pedigree of knowing someone I already know and am familiar with…  which of course speeds up the social footnotes that come from meeting anyone new.

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Last night was a prime example of this happening, because we were raiding in World of Warcraft and had someone pop by and join….  that I had not personally played with in several years.  My personal community in House Stalwart within World of Warcraft seems to have this ability to stay evergreen… and always have a certain chunk of the population that is active and always happy to be there.  House Stalwart my guild has existed for twelve years…  in spite of my actions.  When I left WoW to start playing Rift I tried my best to burn down everything about the game… actively recruiting people away to play this new an exciting game.  I did the same thing for Final Fantasy XIV and Elder Scrolls Online… and countless other games.  However at its core… the guild still remains and not only that… but has remained viable for the purpose of doing interesting end game content the entire time. Similarly the Final Fantasy XIV guild… while considerably younger just seems to endure whatever boom and bust cycles we go through population wise, and in both cases….  I know that I can return at any point and will be welcomed back with open arms.  In truth I think pretty much everyone who has touched either guild feels the same way…  which is why folks are constantly showing up from out of the woodwork and reintegrating back into the core at least for a little while.

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So the problem that exists with nearly every other game…  is I just don’t have anything close to this infrastructure…  nor do I really have the emotional or intellectual strength to try and forge it.  There have been House Stalwart offshoots in damned near every MMO that has existed… or at least as a guild community we have chosen a specific server and faction to all roll on.  However for most… these interludes serve as a vacation from the game they were already playing… and after a break most folks wind up going right back to the familiar.  In a traditional MMO I need to have something that I am building towards, and that object on the horizon is usually doing interesting things with my friends.  So while it is absolutely fun to pop in and play Rift or ArcheAge for a weekend…  I find hard keeping motivated when I know I have no real facilities to do any of the big interesting things… other than pugging.  I am spoiled to be honest, and so many years of not having to PUG has soured my experience as a whole.  Any random person I encounter is somehow tarnished by the memory of all of the good times I have had with my guild throughout the years.  After generations of MMOs… this has lead me to be rather insular in my gaming habits and tending to return to the folks I already know and respect rather than trying to create something new.

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So now days I tend to operate in two modes.  I have the games that I am active in and have deep social connections… and the games that I slink off to when I need to limit my social connectivity and turtle for awhile.  I tend to gobble up whatever new content is available, and then happy drop that game by the wayside as I return to active duty again.  Games like Star Wars the Old Republic, The Secret World and Elder Scrolls Online are great for this role, given that they all have deeply engaging stories that you can find yourself completely lost in…  so much so that you forget that you are essentially alone in a crowd of strangers.  There are a lot of games that I think I would enjoy… if I had a similar stable infrastructure.  However at this point… to be honest… folks are pretty stratified in their gaming habits.  I can no longer really make an impassioned argument as to why they should abandon X game that they know and love for Y game that is new and different.  I know this boom and bust cycle all too well at this point… and while it is a hell of a fun ride, to some extent I am getting that fix elsewhere.  For me personally… the Diablo 3 season mechanism perfectly emulates the feeling of “unwrapping” a brand new MMO and rushing with your friends to level as quickly as you can.  This time however we all know it is perfectly fine to fade away once you have achieved your  goals…  because its a game we will all return to again and again as new seasons happen.  I have been the cause of so much frustration and disappointment in my gaming career…  that I guess in some part I would rather slink off alone… than get folks excited about yet another game that I am sure we will all abandon within three months time.  However that same instinct…  is what keeps any of these games from actually gaining traction.  What I realized this week when reading the post on Imzy is just how desperately I need that social infrastructure for me to be able to enjoy a MMO.

Helya Defeated

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In the past I have talked about our youngest cat Kenzie and her proclivity for playing fetch with rubber bands.  Well the game has changed… and it has shifted from being one of those “once in awhile” things to an all the time thing.  We will often times wake up with a rubber band beside us in bed and her expectantly prancing back and forth next to it waiting for us to throw it.  This morning for example as I got up, showered, and got dressed I threw the rubber band a couple dozen times.  Sometimes she would shift things up and bring the rubber band back to my wife instead of me… but nonetheless it was certainly clear that it was fetch time.  I am wondering however if I can also change the game… and teach her how to fetch things like balls.  The first cat that would play fetch that I had ever seen was Dee Dee the now fat and sassy cat that a neighbor of ours has.  She however tended to favor these foam balls that you could get from PetSmart.  We tried this with several of our cats but it never really took…  however now that the fetching behavior has firmly planted itself in Kenzie I am wondering if we can also teach her to fetch balls.

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We had a pretty great raid night as far as raid nights go.  Some time ago we shifted into having a progression night which is Wednesday and a farm night which is Friday.  On the farm night we attempt to clear Emerald Nightmare normal as fast as we can, and on the progression night we have been working on Trial of Valor with the initial hopes of being able to clear it in time for the launch of Nighthold.  However with the 7.1.5 patch being pushed back… it seems like we have all the time in the world for that goal.  Last week we managed to get our first Guarm kill and we were able to repeat that feat this week…  however it took a few tries.  The part I am proudest of however is the fact that we managed to defeat Odyn this week as a one shot, which given how many moving parts there are on that fight….  I am pleased and amazed and even phase three felt pretty solid.  I think folks finally started dropping things where they should be dropped which allowed the tanks a lot more flexibility of placing Odyn where he needs to be during that final burn.  As far as Helya goes… it still feels like a mess but the attempt where we managed to push her into phase 3 with most of the raid up… we also managed to kill her.  I was recording last night while we raided so was able to pull screenshots of the exact moment she went down and in truth… the raid as a whole was still in a pretty decent position.

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Since we still had a lot of night left to go we went over into the Emerald Nightmare and started working on heroic bosses.  Previously we had made a few attempts on Nythendra and more or less had the correct positioning and such down.  We lost a handful of people between the zone switch because they needed to go for early work and such, and we adjusted a little bit.  The shocking thing is… in theory we made a one shot as we were sorta in a slow wiping state when the boss finally went down.  As you can see in the screen shot my entire team was dead, and I had just literally blown up from the rot debuff when the boss went down.  It was messy… but I will take it because she dropped the best possible loot.  She dropped me an exact upgrade, stat for stat… simply the heroic version of the Insect-Etched Chestplate that I was already wearing.  From the previous encounters of the night I got a few pieces of loot… that I am unfortunately going to have to do some simulation to determine if they are truly upgrades or not.

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There was a bit of back and forth to determine what exactly was our next encounter to attempt.  Some folks were leaning towards Ursoc, but even on normal that is a healing battle to try and keep the tanks alive.  Emerald Dragons however seemed to be a little more attempt-able for the next step… and did not actually introduce any new mechanics.  So we set forth to take down the dragons that used to give us nature resist gear back in the day.  All in all it went pretty smoothly with the first pull almost netting us a kill.  We reached a point where normally we thought we could simply burn them down without doing a tank swap… and because we didn’t swap it stunned the entire raid.  Still kicking myself a little bit about that judgement call, because while I asked the raid…  it was ultimately myself and Art that decided not to swap.  We did however come back and get the kill almost immediately after.  There was a vote to see if we wanted to keep moving… but we were already sitting at our normal raid end time and considering that I didn’t get much sleep last night I voted against it.  I like the way our raid does this thing…  in that if we want to extend and make attempts on a boss after our normal raid end… we simply throw up a readycheck and if anyone… or at least a significant unrecoverable portion says no we stop.  I have to say this whole recording thing is handy as hell because it was super easy for me to pull screenshots of the moment of death this morning.