Bismarck Harpooned

Depths of Madness

As I warned you all, I am writing this the night before I intend to post it…  at 11pm after a fairly long day of working on our little side projects.  Essentially the offices of both myself and my wife need reorganizing in the worst possible way.  Neither has really been torn apart and put back together in a very very long time.  In fact a good chunk of today was spent shedding documents…  from 2005 or so that we kept for god knows what reason.  I had forgotten just how many bills and statements used to pile up from the mail… that are now delivered electronically.  So I spent my time alternating between shredding documents until the shredder overheated…  and boxing up things I no longer needed or wanted for Goodwill.

The problem being that I feel completely overwhelmed in how much is still left to go through.  I am horrible about just boxing things up to get it out of the way… so I have several of these boxes loaded with miscellaneous stuff.  So this whole mission is part de-cluttering but even more important a sifting of things back into logical bins.  At the same time I am trying to make my computer space more friendly, and have a better option for hooking up my console systems and still being able to capture footage from them through my computer.  Another thing I am trying to do is to give myself a workspace where I can fiddle with computers or more importantly assemble the mountain of Lego sets I have.  Then I am trying to free up some additional room to have places to display said Legos when I finally get them together.  Needless to say the next few days are going to be busy.

Bismarck Harpooned

ffxiv_07022015_200623 If you have ready this blog for any period of time, you will know that I am pretty much willing to get drug into anything if a guild member needs it.  There are some exceptions that I avoid like the plague…  I am looking at you Aurum Vale.  However if the need is great enough I can always get my arm twisted enough to run whatever it is.  Bismarck on the other hand is an encounter that I truly enjoy, so the moment someone mentions that I almost jump at the chance to run it.  What makes Bismarck so interesting is the fact that it is a vastly different style of primal fight.  While you are ultimately in a fight against the giant flying whale, you are having to deal with a lot of different elements rather than fighting it directly.  The goal is to fire two giant harpoons into the whale that allow you to wench it to the side of the island you are standing on.  From there you can dps down its weak spot.  To make things more interesting you have to deal with all sorts of weather effects, different sorts of adds, and the whale itself slamming into the platform periodically.

The funny thing about pugging a Primal encounter is that you never fully understand the mechanics at work unless someone actually takes the time to explain them.  One of the mechanics that we did not grasp completely was what exactly to do with the water globules during phase three.  It took us three attempts to get through Bismarck because we were essentially having to figure out what exactly to do with them.  The first time we killed the adds and died to lightning damage, the second time we left the water globs up… and then took a massive  burst of damage when they exploded.  The real mechanic is a bit more subtle.  If there is story weather happening, you leave the water globs up to soak the lightning damage which will ultimately kill them.  If the skies are clear however… you kill the adds before they explode.  Once we grasped this more clearly we wrecked this primal.  I have a pretty nice video of our kill above that I edited out of my stream.

Finally Fifty Nine

ffxiv_06302015_202857 The bulk of my evening was spent wandering around trying to find ways of getting experience.  After having pretty good luck with Clan Hunts Wednesday night, I started off my evening getting a new set and working through those.  It seems like they provide about an eighth of a level upon completing the first two tiers, which is nothing to sneeze at.  After finishing these off I went back out to the Hinterlands to do quests for the crazy goblins within.  These quests involve more than your normal amount of running around as you help them build their new perfect society.  I managed to just have enough quests to push on through to 59 without any further dungeons or fate running.  Now I am in the final stretch to 60, and I have heard it goes considerably faster.  I also just unlocked the next dungeon, and I have been looking forward to running it since I first heard about it.  Hopefully tomorrow before or after the podcast I will be able to pull together a group and run it.  In the mean time however… I need to head to bed because we have to get up early tomorrow to deal with more cleaning.

Sohm Al with Neighbors

The Teamspeak Conundrum

Yesterday I spoke for a bit about one of the reasons why I have not streamed that often.  Namely that I have friends who would prefer not to be broadcast over my stream, which means when I DO stream… I have had to wall myself off from my social network of friends by dropping down to the “streaming” channel.  As a result there is only so long I can seem to go without popping back upstairs because I simply get lonely down there all by myself.  Over the last year or so I have tried to figure out a set up that would work, to let me stream freely without the fear of broadcasting my companions.  The defacto tool is Virtual Audio Cables, but folks have talked about it being cumbersome and the more I looked into it… and they started talking about setting up batch files to do this or that…  it honestly scared me away.  Honestly even the website seems a bit cludgy…  so I kept looking for other solutions.

In the mean time I made attempts to make this process work using both Voice Meter and Breakaway Audio.  Neither tool admittedly was designed to do this, but I had found guides online that supposedly allowed it to work.  Problem being after setting everything up… it never seemed to work for me and there was extremely limited documentation on what I could do to tweak my setup.  Last night I finally decided to dig down into Virtual Audio Cables, and found the guide embedded above.  For starters… this is the point at which I complain that YouTube is the worst means of disseminating information.  What I needed in all of these cases was a good blog post with annotated screenshots…  all I could actually find were a series of haphazard videos.  That said the above video, when followed actually produced the results exactly like I wanted.  Last night I was able to stream practically all night long, while hanging out with friends…  and not broadcasting a single thing they said.  Additionally I bound a separate push to to talk key just for the stream so that folks watching the stream are not getting “half” of the conversation.  The videos below are the results of my evening of streaming.

Sohm Al with Neighbors

ffxiv_07012015_195121 The picture does not exactly go with this story… but oh well it is my prerogative.  Solaria’s fishing outfit looks amazing, and it makes me want to level fishing.  It does however show you that the Greysky Armada spends a ton of time milling around our guild house in The Mists.  One of the things I love about this game is that we are constantly interacting with our neighbors.  Last night Damai and I were talking in /say and a neighbor joined in, saying that he needed a dps and a tank for Sohm Al the second dungeon in Heavensward.  Damai was already spoken for, but I offered up my own services as a tank.  We queued and got in quickly and the below embedded video is the results of that run.  I did a few stupid things, one of which that wiped the party but we had a great time running dungeons with people who were essentially complete strangers until I last night.  I think it is awesome that you can have these casual run in acquaintances.

During the early days of World of Warcraft had this rich tapestry of social connections that reached into many of the other raiding guilds on the server.  When I needed someone for an activity our raid was running, I could reach out into these social channels and draw upon dozens of different people who were milling around looking for something to do.  Cataclysm however pretty much destroyed this network, and I have never really been able to build an equivalent in any other MMO… that is until Final Fantasy XIV.  The people here on Cactuar seem to crave interaction with folks outside of their insular guild units.  I am in my maximum number of linkshells and while folks get lost in their own little world… especially while leveling in Heavensward… I have still been able to draw upon them to fill groups.  As we move into more “maintenance” mode this is going to become more true.  The only thing I wish was that there was a way to create more “formal” guild alliances.  There are a handful of free companies that we hang out with regularly, and it would be nice to have a shared channel of communication that was not “opt in” like a linkshell.

Another Titan Extreme

Wednesday is normally the raid night of our second guild static.  Since the raid leader was not around he left it up to Damai to organize something…  and while we did not really have the appropriate numbers to work on Second Coil of Bahamut, there were still a large number of folks needing Extreme Primals to unlock more content.  I was asked if I “felt like tanking Titan Extreme” to which I replied “there is never a sequence of events that exists… where I feel like tanking Titan Extreme…  but I will if you need me”.  Titan Extreme is just one of those fights that is maddening on so many levels and I would place it among the five hardest fights in all of the A Realm Reborn content.  That said I make it out in my mind to be far worse than it actually is, and at this point I have the dance memorized.  This fight is absolutely about repeating the same sequence of actions over and over until the boss falls down, and as I have commented in the past… this is the sort of fight we fail miserably at.  We are amazing at fights where we have to think on our feet and adjust to change…  but doing this on Titan extreme ultimately ends up screwing the entire raid when it comes to Weight of the Land damage.

What I found amazing is just how challenging this encounter still is even though many of us were being downscaled to 50, and our gear downscaled with us.  A Realm Reborn content is absolutely going to remain relevant for new folks that have yet to experience it.  This makes me more happy than just about anything else in Heavensward.  We still have a bunch of people coming up through the ropes that have not seen any of the 2.0 raid content, and my hope is that we can have an old school night where we work on this as a guild and get people through it.  This is what I wanted from World of Warcraft all along… a way to run old content and make it still relevant to current players.  There were epic experiences like Blackwing Lair and Ulduar that are just diminished because we overgear the shit out of it, and there is no real way NOT to be overpowered… other than making some alts and level locking them at fixed points in time.  Granted we tried to do this once with a raid of level 60 locked alts…  but it still was not the same.  Final Fantasy XIV however seems to have figured out how to make it work, and I am damned thankful.  We eventually got the kill and I edited out just that part in the above video.

Hell Levels

Playing with Forge

Last night I spent a good chunk of time playing with Forge.gg and in doing so I forgot the problem from before… that it ultimately broadcast all of the audio from teamspeak.  However I did manage to pull a few nifty clips from one of the dungeon runs.  The problem being I have no clue how exactly to embed them in a site.  There are a bunch of features that I would love to see added to forge, namely the ability to easily get an embeddable snippet.  Similarly I would love to see a feature like Twitch and Hitbox have to export the video to youtube.  The big take away from last night is that I need to sort out how to extract teamspeak audio from my stream.  This has been on my ToDo list for some time but I have yet to actually sit down and do anything about it.  Which is somewhat unfortunate since I have several different tools installed right now that can essentially do the same thing.  I started working through a tutorial for something called Breakaway Audio this morning, but have been running into issues…  namely Teamspeak doesn’t seem to recognize the channel I set up for it.

Ultimately it would be awesome to solve this issue because I think I would end up streaming quite a bit more.  The big thing for me is that I have to choose between being sociable with my friends on teamspeak…  or streaming what I am doing.  However if I solve this issue… in truth I am probably not going to mess with Forge that much, and simply just use Twitch.  The always on functionality is cool…  but I have to disable FRAPs to make it work which takes away my primary means for collecting screenshots from games.  Generally speaking I disable whatever screenshot functionality exists in a game, and then use FRAPs to collect the screenshots in a generic “gameshots” folks, giving me a quick place to look for something I want each morning when I work on my blog post.  To get Forge to work however I have to completely exit out of this software and it did not seem to work with DxTory either which has always been my fallback general screenshoting software.  I still feel like maybe Forge isn’t a great fit for me, but I see a lot of people using it and enjoying it.

Hell Levels

ffxiv_06302015_202922 Once upon a time in Everquest there was the concept of a “Hell Level” meaning that there were certain levels that were far more difficult to get than others.  While back then these were literal mathematical break points where the experience needed was greater than the previous levels or the levels after.  However this term has continued on into MMORPGs as a frustrating patch in the leveling curve.  Right now it feels like 58 is a Hell Level because I very quickly hit another level wall, and really did not have much in the way of experience between it and the last one.  So I am currently running around in the Dravianian Hinterlands doing quests, in an attempt to make up the difference.  The problem being at this point I have yet to even reach the halfway point through level 58.  I am pretty sure that the folks that are sixty in the guild have simply chain run dungeons.

I could do that, but in truth I would rather just wait until people in the guild actually need runs.  Like last night I helped a guildie through The Vault, which is where all the forge.gg clips came from.  There is just something more satisfying for me to be tanking for friends.  I ultimately have this protective nature when it comes to my friends and family, and this makes tanking feel more “real” I guess for lack of a better word.  The community in Final Fantasy XIV is awesome, and I have seen nothing bad to speak of with the influx of people for Heavensward.  I absolutely could queue for dungeons and be just fine, because at this point I know the fights well enough to be able to explain them to anyone.  The problem being when I am tanking for strangers,  I feel like I have to put on the mask of “super tank” and be bigger and better in everything I do.  I feel like I am on stage in a way, but with my friends I can just chill and I don’t stress quite so much when aggro twitches or I am slow to turn the mobs.  I know no matter what I do in the dungeon they are still going to love me when the dungeon is finished.

Viva La Fake Friday

Today is my “Friday” for this week!  This is because here in the United States most of us are getting off Friday for the Independence Day holiday.  I opted to also take Thursday because we have things we are going to be doing over the break.  For whatever reason my family growing up always did some project over the fourth, and recently I started talking about wanting to rearrange my office to be a better set up for gaming and streaming.  My wife jumped on this and said we could do a lot of the little things we had been wanting to do over the extended break.  This escalated quickly and now we are having a small dumpster delivered in our front yard on Friday.  As a result I am going to be flipping a lot of my posting, meaning I will be writing posts each night and working on stuff around the house during the days.  The first of these is likely to begin tonight, but to you the reader… it will appear just like any morning post.

I always feel the need to be honest with my readers about my schedule, because I guess to me staging content ahead of time…  feels like it breaks the nature of my whole experiment.  The original idea was that I would post something every morning without fail, and for the most part I have done this.  Just sometimes the writing actually occurs the night before.  I hope I survive the next few days because the whirlwind of change is about to suck me in.  My hope is that when I exit on the other side I will have a much better space to do my PC gaming in, and if I can also sort out my audio issues…  my hope is to also begin streaming a hell of a lot more.  The next few days however might be a lot less talk of gaming… and a lot more talk of my failings at doing home improvement stuff.

Blame Acti-Blizz

Closing in on Turn Nine

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-28 17-42-52-03 Monday night is traditionally the raid night of our static group in the Greysky Armada Free Company.  I had been wondering if we would actually raid since… well the expansion was released and we are all busy leveling.  We were wondering just how a lot of things would work out, how our gear levels would scale appropriately and how effective we would be down leveled back to 50.  It turns out I was pleasantly surprised on almost all counts and we stepped foot into turn nine once more making some of the most progress we have ever made.  We actually managed to make it through a dive bomb phase unscathed, so at least now we know what that feels and looks like.  The problem is shortly after doing so…  we started our normal “death by simple mistakes” meaning we were all getting too tired to continue on.

I have hope however that maybe this weekend or next week we can step back in there and finally get a damned victory.  Right now turn nine is our white whale…  which is ironic in a game that literally has a giant flying white whale for a boss.  This is one of those things that I just want deep down in my bones now, to move past this barrier and be able to say we have beaten it.  I realize at this point it is outdated content…  but that doesn’t matter to me.  What matters to me is taking down Nael and being able to move into the Final Coil of Bahamut.  I am hoping that we will continue plugging forward and taking down this stuff even when it is no longer relevant.  It makes me happy that the game continues to be challenging even though some of our members have long since reached the new level cap of 60.  I however was on my dragoon last night which is still only level 51.

Blame Acti-Blizz

activision-blizzard I was having a conversation yesterday with a good friend of mine, about the 6.2 patch and what has worked and what has not worked.  During the course of this chat, he threw something out there as though it were just fact… that surprised me a little bit.  This friend of mine is as diehard a World of Warcraft fan as they come, and both he and his son play on a daily basis.  So to hear it from him really took me back to an earlier conversation he and I had back in 2008, to the announced merger of Activision and Blizzard.  His comment was, that the current state of the game and the seeming lack of forward momentum… is entirely to blame on the merger with Activision.  Back when this happened he said that his greatest fear was that it would change the way Blizzard interacts with its games and with its players.  Last night he said that essentially all of his worst fears have been realized, and that the game we today is a direct result of this merger.

While we cannot say this with any certainty for me at least Blizzard has been on a downhill slide since the release of Wrath of the Lich King.  That was the last “great” expansion for me personally, and represented the closing of an era when I was completely enraptured by the game.  Granted lots of things have changed, and so many other games have hit the market… but it feels like Blizzard stopped being the revolutionary market leader… and started trailing behind in the days post Activision merger.  My question is more did they simply shift focus… did they no longer care as much about the World of Warcraft community as they did their other product offerings?  It feels like WoW is a game that has been left to largely fend for itself.  There is a large amount of hype drummed up each time a new expansion releases, but then that quickly dies down and we are thrown right back into the cycle of doing just enough to keep hope alive in their player base that things will eventually get better.  The problem is… this sense of hope is fading as players are staring down the barrel of potentially another Siege of Orgrimmar like lapse in content.

Following the Money

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2015-06-03 23-26-08-94 I think the problem is that quite literally World of Warcraft is no longer Blizzards most important asset.  You can see that pretty clearly as you look at the attention paid to each of their product offerings.  The favored children of Blizzard right now are Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, and this is evident by how much attention they seem to be getting by the company.  You have to think about the simple economics behind that decision.  If you can create a game where people will gladly plunk down $4 for five virtual cards, and potentially do so multiple times a month…  what is the pure money benefit of spending much effort on a game where the players are ONLY paying you $15 a month.  Similarly with Heroes of the Storm you have a game where you can churn out multiple new heroes a month and sell them for the priced to own rate of $10 a piece roughly, not including the skins which are also often around the $10 price point.  I saw a recent article stating that it would cost around $1000 to purchase everything that is currently available in the in game Heroes of the Storm store.

Don’t get me wrong… I don’t begrudge them either of these games because I play both of them.  The problem is… if you can churn out a few champions a month, or a new hearthstone expansion… the potential investment of time to the money it makes the company is far greater than spending the year it takes to make a brand new World of Warcraft expansion.  Even factoring in the box sales it is no wonder that the Warcraft team seems to be starved for resources when the rest of this company is thriving.  So I guess I get back to my friends point…  that the Activision merger shifted the focus of this company from making great games “whenever they were ready” to making games to maximize investor profits.  I cannot be so naive as to believe that the Blizzard of old didn’t care about profits, but I think for a long period of time they were simply shocked and baffled by their own success.  I’ve said for awhile that when you start to believe your own hype… you are setting yourself up for the fall.  I think with the Activision merger…  Blizzard saw their valuation and consumed their own hype completely.  Ultimately as I watch the company change, I fear for the state of World of Warcraft, this game that in spite of all of my better sense…  that I still care about.

Shoddy Shipyards

Struggling to Blog

This morning I am struggling a bit to find purpose as I sit down at the keyboard.  As of last night I reached level 58 in Final Fantasy XIV on my Warrior and am not quite to the next level wall.  Things are happening that are enriching the experience, but those same things are massive revelations and spoilers and I am concerned about giving too much away.  As a result I am just not sure what to talk about.  I could break out some more of my existential angst that I can presently only be a tank when someone in guild asks for groups.  I could comment vaguely about how much I am enjoying the story, and how awesome it is going so far.  Neither of which seem all that fulfilling however and as I sit here tickety tacking my keys my mind is a blank page when it comes to other things that I might talk about.

I had these grand ideas that I would stream some more this weekend, but since my wife spent most of her time downstairs… I was inclined to do the same.  I don’t like streaming when I could be disturbing her, so instead I just kept playing.  I really wish Forge did what I wanted it to do… namely that it would take real screenshots to a directory, instead of getting uploaded to the Forge website.  The problem I have run into in the past is that I cannot run Fraps at the same time as Forge, and without Fraps I don’t have my stable source of screenshotting anything that crosses my screen.  I tend to disable the in game screenshot keys and use fraps to dump all of my game screenshots into one standard directory to make pulling from it for blogging purposes easier.  The other problem with forge is that the clip size was too limited to snapshot an entire boss fight.  I also wish there was a way to back up my stream to youtube the same way I can with twitch.  Nonetheless I might give it another shot soon.

Shoddy Shipyards

Wow-64 2015-06-29 05-59-50-60 Yesterday I spent some time in World of Warcraft, for all the wrong reasons.  The night before I had left my phone upstairs on the charger, and by the time I got situated on the sofa and realized that I didn’t have my phone… and as a result did not have access to my FFXIV authenticator I could not be bothered to get up.  The Blizzard client on the other hand authenticates far less often, when connecting from the same machine over and over… and I was able to get in with just my account information.  As a result I played for a bit, long enough to unlock Shipyards and the first and I think second camps in Tanaan Jungle.  The renovations to my garrison however that resulted in the building of my shipyard however were not quite so successful as I noticed I now apparently have a break in my wall.  It was one of those things that I caught out of the corner of my eye as I rode past, and now I cannot keep myself from seeing it every time I ride to the shipyards to check on progress.

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The journey into the jungle is pretty much the same as the journey out of it.  You complete objectives which moves the storyline further, and unlocks an additional base camp.  I am not terribly far into it at this point so I am not sure how long this mission goes.  It was around the time I got to the second camp that I needed to stretch my legs… and while I was up I grabbed my phone so I could play other things.  I have to give Blizzard credit because they do this moving target as you go through a zone thing really well.  There were several moments like this during the leveling process, where you help this or that base to progress the storyline, and those tended to be the best part of this expansion.  If they had somehow managed to create an entire expansion around moving the ball forward and delivered new content on a monthly basis I think I would be significantly happier than I am currently.  As it is right now patch 6.2 just feels like too little too late for me.  Other than the break in my outer defenses, the craftsmanship of this patch seems to be on par with the rest of the content they have released, so at some point I want to finish to see how things progress.

More Mobile Gaming

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One of my biggest complaints this expansion has been that Garrisons turned out the way they did.  I was hoping for player housing, and what I got instead was a mobile game…  that was not mobile at all.  All of the mechanics that go into the garrison and the shipyard as well are the same sort of ploys that go into getting people to keep playing a mobile app.  I have been playing the hell out of Fallout Shelter for example, and it is the exact same sort of gameplay as you find in the Garrison.  You have abilities that you use and then timers that you are waiting out… so you can do additional things… all the while juggling limited resources and trying to find ways to replenish them.  There is nothing really “wrong” with this sort of cooldown based gameplay, because it seems to work phenomenally well in getting us to keep pushing buttons on our phones.  The problem here however is…  we are not on our phones.  In fact we are having to do this sort of upkeep based gameplay on a client that requires a PC to log in and check.  The end result has been me logging into my characters in the morning and in the evening for most of this expansion to do nothing but swap missions.

Wow-64 2015-06-29 06-04-40-07 I think more than anything… this has been what has grated on my nerves this expansion.  These mechanics place me into the game on a regular interval…  but I am not actually “playing” the game when I am in it.  Instead I am juggling the upkeep of a mobile game, without an easy to use mobile interface.  As I have moved forward into the Shipyards it feels like they are taking the whole follower mechanic to the next level with allowing players to customize the ships…  which means you need to go locate the blueprints to make various upgrades, while also locating blueprints for various ships.  It just feels like this would be a really enjoyable experience had they added it to the WoW Armory app as a mini-game that you could either interface with in game… or through an easy to navigate menu on your phone.  Instead the result is giving us something that feels more cumbersome than daily quests ever did, and at the same time extracting us from the game world… and keeping us holed up in our garrison scheduling this next batch of missions for our dozen alts.  This experience makes me question even further if Blizzard actually understands its player base at all… and what made their game great for all those years.

So Many Sads

Storming the Castle

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-27 23-24-20-51 This morning I admit that I have been struggling to figure out what to write about.  It is not from a lack of material, but a conscious effort to filter myself.  Last night I leapt over a content wall in Final Fantasy XIV and it was quite possibly the best dungeon experience I have had since first stepping foot into Deadmines back in 2004.  It was so over the top amazing, that it is hard to put into words much about it because quite simply I do not want to ruin the story for anyone.   Square Enix has somehow managed to capture all of the magic of Scarlet Monastery, distill everything that made it fun… and then amply that and unleash it onto the world.  The dungeon design is vastly different than anything else I have seen in Final Fantasy XIV to this point.  On one level it almost feels like a kung fu action movie, where you are deluged with impossible odds yet somehow manage to hold things together enough to keep moving forward.  The fourth dungeon in the game is now the pinnacle of “storming the castle” experiences for me.

What makes it so amazing is the fact that the dungeon is set up by some truly phenominal storytelling.  By the time you reach this point in the story arc, you feel like righteous avengers off to save the day.  I had been stalled on this dungeon for awhile, but had been holding back doing it so that I could do it with a full guild group.  Kodra managed to get caught up last night, and the two of us entered with two others that were gleeful in keeping silent about the tactics of the dungeon.  Somehow we made it through, and our raider instincts kicked in enough to keep us from doing anything too stupid.  It is funny how those instincts are now fairly universal regardless of what encounter a game throws at you.  Final Fantasy XIV does an excellent job of messaging things you should avoid or at least take note of… and when it down… get the hell out.

So Many Sads

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Does this picture not just break your heart?  This is the saddest Bel I have ever seen in this game.  So not only does it excel at giving you moment after moment of excitement… it can also manage to punch you in the gut when the story turns in a sad direction.  Things happened…  things that made us sad, and the game is doing an awesome job of letting us know it.  Not to mention me the person behind the screen was effected by these events too, so it feels reassuring in a way to see my on screen facsimile struggling with the events as well.  I cannot expound upon just how amazing the experience of Heavensward has been so far, with the storyline from last season picking up and continuing where we left off.  I call it a “season” because really that is what it feels like.  The original 1.0 launch was Season 1, A Realm Reborn was Season 2… and now we are entering the Third Season of this really awesome television show… where I absolutely cannot wait to see what happens next.  It is a game like this that makes me feel like a game can both be engaging and deeply narrative at the same time.  I feel like I am telling the story… more than I usually do in a story driven experience.  Sure the story is happening to me…  but I identify so completely with my character.

YoshiOnFFXIV The thing is this feeling we are having is apparently completely intentional.  The above quote is from a ZAM video interview with Yoshi P from E3.  It is very clear that he feels like he is stilling one large episode of the same story, and as a result all of the little elements and people that you meet along the way have a lasting importance.  Just because you go several levels without seeing someone, does not mean they will not show up at some point in the future.  The characters in this world have their own destinies and do not just support that of the main character.  Everyone has an agenda and are given the latitude to shift in and out of the focus of what we ultimately view as the “main story”.  Ashgar and I were talking for a bit last night and he made the comment that there is enough story content in here to make an actual “traditional” Final Fantasy game.  Thinking about this I absolutely agree and in many ways this sort of storytelling that we are experiencing is the same sort of storytelling we saw in Final Fantasy VI for example… where characters shift in and out of your party but you are constantly moving forward towards an end goal.  This time we the player character are the constant in a world that is constantly changing around us.AggroChat

AggroChat 63 – There Came an Echo Show

therecameanecho 2015-06-27 12-11-53-85

Last night we recorded the sixty third episode of AggroChat and the fifth AggroChat Game Club game show.  This time around it was Kodra’s pick a quirky voice controlled story driven RTS called There Came an Echo.  My experience was vastly different than the rest of my co-hosts, but it seems that pretty much everyone other than Kodra and Tam had some measure of technical difficulties with this title.  For example Thalen, Ash and I were all missing significant UI elements during our play throughs.  Several of us had to content with moments when the game seemed to just stop accepting voice input commands as well.  I however had the most issues with the game constantly crashing on me.  There was no point when I was able to actually load anything without the game going unresponsive and having to hit the “wait for program” button in the hopes that maybe just maybe it would wake the hell up and start working again.  As I said I was the only person who had issues quite that severely, and I am hoping that maybe this is just a bad patch as they recently rolled one out.

The positive however is it has good enough story and voice acting to make me futz with this game for two hours trying to make it work for me.  During the course of they show the folks that did manage to beat the game exposed all the spoilery content and I got enough of a feel for how the story goes that I really want to see it play out.  At the very least I am planning on watching a play through, and preferably one without much streamer dialog to preserve as much of the voice acting experience as I can.  The one I was watching for a bit yesterday kept talking over the character dialog… which kinda ruined the experience.  This game feels very much like a tech demo with good story and voice acting… and I would love to see this same level of effort taken and expanded into a more traditional game experience.  Sure this voice control thing is somewhat neat, but I hate talking to devices.  Devices like the Amazon Echo, Siri and even my own Google Phone experience are lost on me… because the last thing I want to do is talk to my device to have it do something for me.  The voice control was deeply awkward for me, but your mileage may vary…  Kodra and Tam both seemed to enjoy it greatly.

Pre-Ordering Games

Long Winded Answer

FFXV_Accordo Over on MMO Games we have a column called FAQ where during the course of the week someone proposes a topic, and we have until Friday to send in our responses to chime in on it.  While I don’t exactly think the name FAQ really fits anymore… since we aren’t really posting any “frequently asked questions” I do think the format is pretty cool.  Friday however was an exceptionally busy day for me, and I never got around to sending Ardua my paragraph on this weeks topic.  Part of the problem was that the question while pretty straight forward didn’t have a straight answer to it for me.  Or at least my response would have ended up far more long winded and nuanced than a simple question and answer column needed.  So I thought today I would use this prompt for my morning blog post.  The question seemed pretty simple and straight forward: “Do you Pre-purchase/pre-order MMO Expansions?”

The only legitimate question that I can answer is “sometimes”, which in itself is deeply unsatisfying.  I feel like I need to delve into my changing feelings about pre-ordering things in general.  There was a time when I thought anyone who pre-ordered anything… was a chump.  I used to look at the folks at GameStop and EB Games with derision as they tried to get me to pre-order the next thing on the horizon as I held in my hands the current “hot” thing.  I viewed it as a heinous form of up-selling product and nothing more.  Once upon a time I used to get a rush from going out on opening day to try and find a copy of whatever game I wanted to play.  I can remember a time when working at the mobile development company, when we called around to a bunch of stores trying to find enough copies of Battlefield 2 to purchase for the team…  so we could death match it later that evening.  I remember the adrenaline rush of checking the stack of games in the store to see if that one title you wanted was available.

Pre-Ordering Games

Ultimately what ended up changing this dynamic for me was the MMO.  These games marketed towards a niche of extremely devoted fans, that absolutely had to at all costs have a copy of the latest expansion in their grubby hands on release day.  After all we all know that anything less means you are going to get a late start and struggle to keep up with your friends and guild members.  There were several close calls in the past, like when I tried to get a copy of Planes of Power expansion for Everquest and had to go to four stores to be able to find it, or when I quite literally bought the last copy in Tulsa of Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis.  The game that ultimately changed things for me however was World of Warcraft and the fact that quite literally if you did not manage to get your copy on opening day, it ended up being a month before more copies were circulating on store shelves.

I walked into Wal-mart at midnight on the night the game was released, and while there was a line wrapping around the corner at GameStop down the street…  I was able to pick up a copy without issue from a massive display.  I thought those folks who pre-ordered and were waiting in line were chumps.  That was until at least half of my local friends were unable to find copies at all, because they didn’t preorder and didn’t go searching for copies that night.  It was awkward having to try and catch them up when they finally got their hands on a serial code.  If this lesson was not enough, I saw the same thing happen during Burning Crusade, which ultimately shifted me to the side of the “pre-order”.  Something was different about the MMO and its player base, they were more dedicated… more rabid… and those previous expansions became harder to find.  Something else changed…  quite honestly I got older and less willing to go through frustrations in order to get that thing I am looking for.  I simply wanted to be able to get my game, on time, and have it there ready to go when the servers come online.

Definitely Sometimes

Now if I am deeply into a game franchise or playing an MMO… I will pretty much always pre-order the game.  Where the sometimes comes into play is largely based on what a company is willing to give me to buy that game ahead of time.  Most games that I play that are non-MMOs I will divide into three categories.  There are games that I want to play the moment it is available, and will likely pre-order no matter what.  There are games that I want to play but whenever I get a chance, without much pressure… these games I will likely not preorder and will almost certainly wait until they go on sale… probably not even interested until they are at least 30% off the launch price.  Then there are games I am vaguely interested in and would only be willing to pick up for $5-$10 on a whim.  Where a game company can change this equation is by giving me exclusive stuff that I will only ever see if I pre-order the game.  The problem here however is that almost all of the time…  companies ultimately release whatever bauble they are “gifting” players as a DLC that can be added at a later date.   This DLC also tends to go on sale just like the game does on Steam…  pretty much destroying the allure.

Ultimately to answer the question properly in the form that it was posed…  Yes I usually preorder an MMO Expansion…  with some conditions.  Firstly I play a lot of MMOs, so in order for me to snap it up the moment it comes out it has to be one I am excited to be playing, or that I expect to be spending a lot of time in.  Secondly it has to provide me something that I could not normally get if I did not pre-order.  Everquest II was the king of this, by offering limited time pre-order bonuses that you quite literally never saw again.  I am still kicking myself on missing out on that white snow wolf mount that they gave out with the preorder of velious.  So basically if they have some exclusive item that I think I will regret not having preordered to get… then I go ahead and do the deed.  The big thing I do these days however is I never pre-order physical copies of anything.  Digital copies are just nicer, because they do not rely on the mail to deliver.  I am looking for the method of acquisition that has the least pain points, and a digital code that is often times automagically applied to my account is the clear winner.

Chain Run Dungeons

Worst Party Comp Ever

FFV_HorriblePartyTime Last night I was feeling more than a little out of it, or at least too out of it to actual do much of anything meaningful in Final Fantasy XIV.  So after finishing my hunt quest and randoming my way into an Aery dungeon group…  I opted to just log out for the night.  For a period of time I considered simply going to sleep… and this is honestly the option I should have taken.  The Four Job Fiesta is like a religion to my good friend Ashgar, and until the night before last I had not actually even registered for it officially.  So as I sat there swaddled in a comfy blanket on the very comfy sofa… I opted to dig the xbox controller out of the console beside me and officially start my fiesta.  The rest is history as I was up fairly late getting my start in the world.  In past Fiestas my party comp has not been terribly horrible… or at the very least I have bought my way to freedom using the Jobfair donation system.  This time however being I think my fourth year participating…  I am just going to let it ride.

So when the game assigned me monk for my Wind job…  I didn’t think much about it.  I figured that would be an easy beginning to the game.  When it gave me Berserker for my water job however…  I started to dread this decision I had made.  Then when I was assigned Beastmaster as my fire job… I realized this was going to be a really odd ride.  I figure the answer to my freedom will once again be out level the content, and I have already gotten a start on that notion as I just defeated the Library of Ancients at level 21 which is about five levels or so off the normal pace I believe.  Next time I play I will be going after my earth job.. and wondering if it will be salvation or another nail in the coffin on this horrible party.  Admittedly I have never actually used the Beastmaster but I always hated how fiddly Gau was in Final Fantasy VI and never actually used him as a result.  In theory this is going to be a return to that sort of thing, but I need to do some serious research on what all I need to do and when I need to do it, especially as I am just about to get an airship for the first time giving me a wider range of freedom to go off collecting abilities.

Chain Run Dungeons

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-23 21-11-03-54 In part the reason why I opted to log out last night instead of play is that I am sitting on a strange wall.  Right now I am about half way to level 57 and I have a bunch of options on how to get there.  I could go do all of the quests that I missed doing while skipping my way around the world and ignoring most of the side quests.  I am sure that Square has intended me to level using these, and the fact that I am largely ignoring them is completely breaking their content design.  I could always go join a FATE train somewhere, as this has always been a viable method of leveling especially now that so many people are doing it and there are almost always FATE groups in the party finder.  It seems that Northern Thanalan is once again an active hotbed of FATE running, and in theory this would even be good experience for a Heavensward character.  I am doing my daily hunts but they are honestly more for the currency provided and while they each provide a decent chunk of experience… there are far better and quicker ways to get it.

All of these are completely viable options, but I would far rather just run a bunch of dungeons.  The problem is that my preference will always be to run dungeons with the Greysky Armada folks.  Unfortunately they are either quiet about what they need for dungeons, or have not unlocked a given dungeon yet.  I’ve run a few groups a night for the last several nights, but if I am going to rely on dungeons as a means of leveling I am going to have to step out into the larger community and just start random queuing.  Now we get into the dilemma last night…  I could have tanked a run for the guild, but I did not have the presence of mind to do so with strangers.  Don’t get me wrong I love the FFXIV community, but dealing with anyone that I don’t already know inflicts a mental toll on me.  My default and original state is that of an introvert… and over the years I have forced myself to be more extroverted…  but doing so…  drains me.  Last night I was an energizer bunny that had wound down, but tonight hopefully I will begin chaining dungeons once more in order to get the last of my level so I can move forward in the story again and hopefully unlock dungeon four.

Unusually Trying Week

Not really sure why but this week has been a really rough one for some reason.  In part I think it is because at the start of the week I had to deal with the being alone, as my wife was once again travelling.  Thankfully only for a few days and as of Wednesday she should be home for the rest of the summer.  It just seems like everything has been stressing me out far more than it should.  I labored over the decision to go ahead and cancel the World of Warcraft account, just to keep it from auto renewing.  I have stressed over a dozen different small issues at work, and I have been stressed that I no longer have the ability to do everything in Final Fantasy XIV.  Right now I am a tank… and if the group already has one of those it means I have to sit out and watch from the bench as the group goes off and has fun.  I liked that I could work my way into any group and fill whatever slot they happened to need, because in truth…  running things with my guild is always the thing that I love to do the most.

The problem is that I will get there once again, but there is an almost insurmountable amount of leveling standing in the way.  I have this odd relationship with grinding… I enjoy it, but only when I don’t realize it is there.  If I am grinding towards a goal of some sort…  then I realize how much work is going to be needed to get to where I want to go… and simply start to shut down.  When I am just grinding as part of my default state of running around and attacking everything in sight… it becomes a happy and carefree place instead.  The problem being that right now I know the end goal… and for whatever reason I am having trouble compartmentalizing and ignoring the finish line.  I think I am just wired strangely… because so long as I don’t know where the finish line is I will keep pushing ahead blindly until I finally accomplish whatever it was that I wanted to accomplish.  However once I know where the boundaries are, and what it is going to take to get there…  the game changes and in a strange way goal setting de-motivates me.  So long as I am on this fun romp of discovery, life is grand…  but right now I need to somehow figure out how to ignore the goals and go back to playing everything for sheer enjoyment.

Content Walls

A Different Dark Knight

ShippingPC-BmGame 2015-06-24 17-38-36-07 So here is the point where I admit that I have never actually played any of the recent crop of Batman games.  I own I believe all of them other than the latest one that just came out, because I keep thinking that they are games that I would really enjoy, but for whatever reason like so many games in my Steam backlog I never end up playing them.  With all of the hype surrounding Batman Arkham Knight lately I have had this massive desire to delve into these games and see exactly what they are made of.  Last night was an odd night in that I got home relatively early, but knew I would have to leave and go pick my wife up as she was getting in from our last trip of the summer.  I knew I had an hour or so to kill so I opted to delve into this game and see how far I could get.  So far there is a lot to like but some things that are a little bit maddening at times as well.  Combat seems to take place in a three dimensional “final fight” style manner.  NPC bad guys approach you in waves and you can beat on them to turn them away from your position.

ShippingPC-BmGame 2015-06-24 18-02-56-67 The problem I have however is that the game employs a “bullet time” mechanic that I seem to have no real control over.  Sure it looks cool to zoom in as your fist cracks against the jaw of a bad guy, but it is jarring in the same way that slow motion kills in Fallout 3 were.  It pulls you out of the action and forces the entire world to slow down for a moment before unfreezing and expecting you to pick up combat where you left off.  Hopefully this is something I will just get used to, as I didn’t make it terribly far into the game last night.  I have to say the storyline and the plot are compelling enough to make me want to keep playing.  I’ve always been a fan of Batman, and the dynamic between him and joker have been the stuff that has driven me to read more Batman comics than I can recall.  Harley Quinn is another of my favorite characters in the universe, and she seems sufficient so far… but really I have not gotten to interact with her terribly much.  Yes I realize at this point that this game is pretty “ancient” but I am going to enjoy it nonetheless.

Content Walls

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-23 21-13-11-19 I am still very much loving Heavensward but I wanted to take a moment to talk about my biggest frustration with the game so far.  This game has some phenomenal story that makes you want to push forward so that you can see what happens next.  The problem is quite frequently you hit a wall where you must be the next level in order to continue the quest chain.  The red quest icon taunts you until you have managed to push through that next level…  only to grant you access to a few more steps of story before locking you out again.  I realize as I leveled my way through the original story in A Realm Reborn I experienced this…  but it has been almost two years so I guess my memories had faded.  Partially I think this is the fault of the way that I am currently playing the game, where I mostly focus on the Main Story, hoping to leave a lot of the side questing for secondary classes to get some experience off of.  Unfortunately I think the designers intended you to do all of the new quests that open up in each area to help you push forward into the next content goal.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-21 17-02-44-44 Thankfully I have dungeons to augment my leveling process, and since everyone seems to be comfortable asking me to tank for them… I am getting quite a lot of access to running these dungeons with my free company.  The only problem being that I never know exactly how I want to level when I am left to my own devices… and have run out of story.  I absolutely love FATEs but the problem being that they simply do not seem to be worth the effort.  We have a running theory that they have watered down the FATE experience in an effort to force players to complete their main story content, rather than simply FATE grind their way through the levels.  The whole FATE grinding to the end thing happened a lot in A Realm Reborn, and I could see them wanting to maybe nip that in the bud at least for the early players.  The problem being that side quests, really don’t reward that much experience either.  I’ve recently unlocked the second their of Clan Hunts, so I will have to see if they reward significantly more experience than the first tier that unlocks at 53.  As it stands right now… I am hoping the first major patch gives FATEs a significant tweak as far as XP goes so I can return to doing those for my alts.

In That Old Place

Wow-64 2015-06-11 21-14-01-64 This coming Tuesday in theory marks the end of our World of Warcraft raids break, and as I find myself moving closer to that date I realize…  I am just not ready to resume raiding.  In fact I am not really ready to play World of Warcraft right now on any level.  So for the time being I will not be rejoining them in raiding, and more than likely won’t be playing at all for some time.  I feel like my primary issue right now is there really isn’t anything other than the raiding tying me to the game.  Sure I had some fun faffing about trying to farm mounts or doing old raid content for cosmetic gear…  but that ultimately has a limit to just how long I can do that without something else keeping me rooted in the game experience.  I’ve explored the new areas, and pushed three characters to the level cap in Warlords of Draenor.  While the content was extremely fun to level through that first, second and even to some extent third time… the whole experience feels extremely disposable because it is also exactly the same each time you do it.

WoWCancelledAgain2015 In many ways this expansion reminds me of the way I felt after leveling my third character in Star Wars the Old Republic.  While the individual class quests there were excellent, it was all the other content that I kept having to repeat that ultimately wrecked my enjoyment of the experience.  I thought walking into Draenor I would be awash with nostalgia about how much I enjoyed The Burning Crusade…  and to some extent that worked for a month or so.  The problem is it is like going back to your High school twenty years after you graduated…  while some of the aspects are similar it is still very much a brand new place that does not synchronize with your memories of it.  The reboot timeline just feels wrong, and with this patch and the reintroduction of Hellfire Citadel, I just find myself not caring anymore.  Arthas and Illidan were bad guys I could really get behind taking down… a constant parade of grim dark future orcs…  not so much.  I made the mistake yesterday of checking my account to see when it would renew, and when I saw September I went ahead and cancelled it.  I figure if the game has not grabbed my attention and made me want to play again in that time… it will just quietly close the door on another chapter of my own personal Warcraft timeline.

The Aery

Login Boss Slain

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-23 20-36-42-03 I will admit that last night I was fully expecting to spend my night playing a lot of ArcheAge.  All signs pointed to World of Warcraft 6.2 being a buggy mess, and after all of the issues that we had during the head start with the Aether Data Center and not being abler to log in..  I had set my expectations pretty low.  So when I got home I started something cooking in the oven and wandered upstairs in order to attempt a login, while waiting.  Much to my surprise I got right in and the servers were joyfully painless.  In fact around 9:30 pm last night folks were still saying they made it through without an issue.  It seems that Square Enix had something up their sleeve and actually did put a fix in place even though it did not make it into the patch notes.  Once upon a time I said that I had faith that they would learn from their mistakes seen during A Realm Reborn, and it seems that sure enough they did.  While we are only a single day into it, I have to say that was one of the absolute smoothest “official” launch days I have experienced.  Things just worked, and I was able to keep trucking along and progressing forward.

HeavenswardFirstRMT Once upon a time there was an initial crush of new players on opening day after the headstart finished.  I am wondering however if this is actually the case anymore, or if now that we are so familiar with doing so… everyone just preorders to make sure they get access to the game as soon as possible.  For most of the headstart my screen had been blissfully absent from gold seller spam, but I have to report last night…  I got my first third party RMT message.  The funny thing about it is that it was far less intelligible than normal, so I am wondering if somehow they have upgraded their filters and the spammers have had to figure out new methods around it.  The reality is that hopefully the fact that they have to have completely the 2.55 storyline will deter some of the popup spam accounts at least while in the Heavensward content.  Ash was saying they placed some additional restrictions on trial accounts, so in theory that might be helping as well.  In any case my screen is no longer filled with a constant stream of spammers so whatever they did the improvement is appreciated.

The Aery

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-23 20-37-44-32 My goal for the evening was to be able to get through the third dungeon called The Aery, located in the Churning Mists.  This location of the map as Kodra and I talked last night seems very much like the Netherstorm region of The Burning Crusade.  The main difference being that instead of being an area where the land simply doesn’t exist… this is a series of floating islands high in the sky presumably over another land mass.  Traditionally I have been nabbing Tamrielo to do these dungeons, but since last night was a class night for him… I had to wait around until enough other willing participants showed up.  While I have generally felt like I am behind the curve it seems that in reality I am actually ahead of several of our guild members.  Eventually I was able to gather up Mor, Kodra and Liyhe and tackle the dungeon.  I have to say that once again I really enjoyed the experience of pushing through this instance without much prior knowledge about it.  I knew that it was essentially a giant nest of dragons, and I knew that at the end I would more than likely face off against Nidhogg…  but everything in between was new and fresh to me.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-23 23-10-19-26 My bags are quite literally loaded down with spare white mage and ninja gear, because it seems like that is the only sort of thing that I can make drop when doing instances.  Last night however I finally got something else to drop…  apparently a tanking skirt.  They call it a “Longkilt” but in reality it actually is a skirt…  but a skirt that was a significant upgrade both in ilevel and stats so I am rolling with it.  I figure I will not likely be wearing it long enough to warrant spending a glamour prism on it.  Most of the gear upgrades I have been getting have been coming from side quests at this point.  I have had pretty abysmal luck with dungeon drops, which is unfortunate considering that there is at least theoretically a lot of really cool gear that comes from these leveling dungeons.  I figure at this point I am hopefully going to be running these places quite a bit for various guildies as they reach that point in the story.  Right now I am pretty much offering my tanking services to anyone who wants to take me somewhere.  I have yet to resort to actually random queues, not that I have a real objection to them… I would just still rather run with my free company over just about anyone else.

The Other Game

Traditionally my morning blog posts have this three section approach, but this morning I am finding myself struggling to put anything here.  Right now when it comes to Heavensward content I am just overwhelmed by the amount of new things to do and experience, and if I had limitless time I would still feel like I need more of it.  As for the other major item that released yesterday the World of Warcraft 6.2 patch…  I admit I logged in, got the quest in my garrison to go to the Iron Docks…  apparently took the wrong flight point and after running around for a few logged right back out.  I lacked the drive to go back to the flight point and fly somewhere else.  I guess part of me had hoped that I would simply log in, start my shipyard building and be done with it.  Unfortunately it seems you have to go through a series of quests to be able to unlock this feature and right now that might be a bridge too far for me.  Its like right now World of Warcraft is a packaged Oreo cookie…  good on its own right, but I have a piece of homemade pecan pie with whipped cream on top staring at me…  and that Oreo just doesn’t look as tasty compared to it.

With the raid seemingly in a state of flux, and my return to it uncertain…  I am starting to wonder how long it will be before I go ahead and simply cancel my World of Warcraft account once more.  It is a perfectly fine game, but lacks whatever it is that I am looking for in a game.  I always find myself back at this point, where the little things about the game end up annoying me.  Each time I go through this song and dance however it ends up being less passionate.  There was a time when I would write fiery posts about how wrong Blizzard was about this or that, but in the end much like the name reclamation thing…  I am just finding it isn’t worth the effort.  I feel like World of Warcraft is on this course to a destination that I just am not interested in going.  The ride itself is comfortable enough, and there are interesting people to chat with on the train…  but eventually you realize that you don’t actually want to go to the same place they are going.  I will admit this last week not having a raid to go to on Tuesday or Thursday has been like a weight lifting off of my shoulders.  This alone makes me think that more than likely I simply won’t be returning from this sabbatical.