Tasty MMO goodness! Thursday, Sep 24 2009 

There are days when I just love the playing MMOs. Yesterday was one of them.

I collapsed into bed well after midnight feeling warm and fuzzy about all things MMO last night. Two things made it a great day…

Aion: got the box

Firstly, I picked up my collectors edition of Aion. It’s pretty and has a cool figurine.

I’m going to wait a week until the usual launch issues of server queues and connection issues shake themselves out. I’m not too concerned about what I’ve read in other blogs… I’ll wait to see myself.

Being a proud MMO tourist I have no issue in dipping my toe into Aion’s waters to see if I like the game.  However Aion is not front of mind at present… especially since my WoW Group finally cleared Naxxramas last night!

Woot!

The Fall of Naxxramas

It’s taken nearly two months and a lot of hard work, but our group finally cleared Naxxramas last night. We took down the final boss just before midnight. The feeling of the group was ecstatic. I feel I’ve passed an important MMO milestone: clearing and endgame instance. 

It’s only been in the last few weeks that the group line up become solid. Once we had the right players we started breezing though content. The tanks, well tanked. The healers, healed. The DPS did some serious damage. Our co-ordination was great. We worked as a group with a common interest. We also had a lot of fun as well.

This is what can make WoW’s end game so enjoyable.

Sapp was one shotted. Damn we were pretty pleased with ourselves:

One shot

Not so tough now eh?

Kel’Thuzad we took down on the third attempt. Massive cheers and clapping could be heard over Vent.

Up popped the achievements and “Gratz” flowed in from the guild.

I also picked up two more Tier 7 pieces last night, so I’m feeling pretty special. OK, they’re Tier 7 and item level 200 (For non-WoW players you can get Tier 9 sets). 

Sure, there’s better gear out there… but I look hawt!

I love the smell of victory...

I look like a professional raider now.

It also means I’ve made the final graduation from casual  to serious raider. With Naxx under my belt I’m ready to move onto Ulduar.

It was only in late July that I entered the world of raiding. All the research, collecting gear, working on building a team worthy of the challenge… it all paid off.

What I felt last night was enormous satisfaction. Sure, killing a dragon in an MMO does not change the world. But everyone in the group felt a real sense of accomplishment.

This is why I play games such as WoW: for the shared experience. Ten people who would otherwise be strangers get together and set out to achieve a goal.

Naxxramas is the perfect level entry raid dungeon. Ulduar may test the group in other ways, but I’m confident we’re up to the challenge.

By the time Patch 3.3 hits, this group just might be ready to take on Arthus.

Things fall into place Friday, Sep 18 2009 

Last Thursday’s Naxx run was perhaps the groups best.The infamous Four Hoursemen went down, one shotted actually. The week prior we repeatedly wiped in them. This week, things fell into place. We went from this:

OK, let's try that again...

OK, let's try that again...

To this kind of run:

... now that's better!

... now that's better!

Two quarters cleared in the run, not a single wipe. All the bosses one shotted. I also managed to collect my first piece of The Hero’s Redemption set. Yep, my very first piece of tiered gear! A personal milestone: a few months into raiding and it’s starting to really jell. After nearly eight weeks of learning how to group, swapping individual team members in and out we finally hit our grove. And damn it felt good!

The group agreed to lock out the raid: next week we’re aiming to take on the final bosses of Naxxramas.

The “Golden Rule” and dealing with gamers Thursday, Sep 10 2009 

What do you do when a raid member does not perform as they should? Hurl abuse, attack them, kick them from the team? Maybe. But also consider the Golden Rule.
The Four Horsemen: wiping raids since 150 AD...

The Four Horsemen: wiping raids since 150 AD...

Lol nOOb u cant play!

MMOs are famous for the abuse players through at each other due to the anonymity of the internet:

“hey loser yr DPS sux!”

“why can’t you noobs get anything right!”

“that’s it I quit the guild!!!!!!”

In both MMOs I’ve played extensively (WAR and WoW) I’ve seen plenty of ugly name calling incidents, nerd rage and abuse. It can be pretty bad in PvP situations (Battlegrounds in WoW, Scenarios in WAR)… I still shudder when I think of my first few WoW Battlegrounds experiences.

It can happen in PuGs as well, but my experiences has been mostly positive over the past four years. In the end you can shrug off the harsh words of strangers. I’ve spent enough time in MMOs and been involved in enough online discussion groups and “debates” with forum trolls to have developed a pretty thick skin.

Sure, you can abuse a stranger. But what if it’s a guild mate?

What happens if you don’t have the anonymity of the internet to hide behind? This is the problem often faced by raid teams. More often than not the group is made up of guild members. At the very least there is some familiarity with each other. In a good guild, people strive to be nice.

But just like real life, the more you know someone, the harder it is to point out a mistake they’ve made. You want to spare their feelings. Especially if they’re a “nice guy/girl”.

And thus, the famous candid behaviour of MMO players evaporates.

Rather than a group of strangers hurling abuse at each other over guild/general chat no-one is prepared to say anything.

That’s the situation we had last night. Our Naxx team threw themselves at the Four Horsemen for just shy of two hours last night without completing the encounter. Now, we can be forgiven I think for most wipes. Most of us our new to raiding, and for many it was the first time in the fight – it’s also the most technical fight in Naxx. I was up the back holding the aggro of one of the bosses while one of the guilds best Warlocks held the aggro of another. My role was to simply heal myself through the damage, and swap bosses with the Warlock when we received three buffs. We got that down pat.

The rest of the raid had to kill the bosses. If anyone lost the aggro of a boss, or got two many buffs the whole raid would wipe. The key to the fight is co-ordination.

It was good healing experience for me, and I was able to keep myself up and maintain adequate mana reserves.

But the wipes kept happening.

In the end it came down to one raid member not performing their role. Most people were frustrated, and at the end of the raid I got a lot of private tells from other raid members about the performance of the non-performing individual.

WoW team management skills and the Golden Rule

Telling someone their performance in a raid is not up to scratch is not easy. How do you approach it? Just like real life – make it constructive, keep your tone neutral and don’t make the person feel there is something “wrong with them”.

So as the, ahem, raid leader this job fell to me.

And thus  I had a little chat with them after the raid.

I started off by asking them about their gear, and asked them to link the gear in chat. Right away I could see they were wearing a mixture of PvP and PvE gear. For WoW raiding not so good. Nor was the gear enchanted.

I pointed this out to them, as the right gear set up could make a difference.

My next step was to point them in the direction of useful web resources; WoWWiki, Tankspot, Elitist Jerks. Even doing a little bit of research about gear and boss strategies may help. they where not familiar with these resources.

“OK – this is good I thought.”

In less then five minutes I’m able to point out a few things. No-one teaches you how to play an MMO. These games can be complex beasts, and more often than not your left to own devices in figuring out what to do. As a baby raider, I know just how daunting an experience it can be.

Still that was the easy part:  next I had to tell them they’re performance was not up to standards. However, if they could gear up, do the research they’d have another shot.

Constructive criticism and incentive: tell the person what the problem is, suggest ways to fix it and give them a goal to shoot for.

As best I can tell it went OK. I hope they felt it was a conversation, not a personal attack. It’s what I expect others would do for me.

But the most important thing is remember there is another human being controlling that avatar. Sure, hurl abuse if you want… but really, is that how you would want to be treated?

Just like real life, observe the Golden Rule: “Do unto others and would be done to you.”

We all can’t be uber-l337 raiders. But we can treat each other respect. That’s what makes a “true hero” in the MMO world.

Being off your game… Monday, Sep 7 2009 

Like he said... ya can't always get want ya want.

Like he said... ya can't always get want ya want.

In the words of some very wise men (Rolling stones): “You can’t always get want you want….”

Sometimes things just don’t fall into place like they normally should. Sometimes your not in the zone. Sometimes you make mistakes. And sometimes people can’t always get what they want.

Take last night…

I stepped into the raid leader role for my Naxx ten man a few weeks ago as no one else wanted the job. Given my experience of raiding can be at best described as limited it’s a big role to take up. But what the hey, I’m up for a challenge!

Unfortunately we had a someone /gquit over not getting a raid spot. It was my call not to take them as I had fourteen people and ten spots to fill. Given they were DPS, I had to take heals and off tank over them. My raid, my call.

But it seems you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

/sigh

Following my call they quit the guild.

It was unfortunate, and I hate seeing anyone leave our little community. But in my estimation quitting over a Naxx run is an overreaction. For the rest of the run I was a bit rattled.

It’s stressful enough herding ten WoW players into a raid and while trying to get the right group composition. Getting people to start in a timely fashion, getting them summoned, buffing and assigning MT/OT and other roles is an effort. Raid leader is not the most fun role, and I’m glad Blizzard will be paying attention to raid leaders and rewarding them in the next expansion. It really can be a thankless task.

So it has to be fast run – I’ll take the best players who will be there on time. One of the most frustrating things in WoW is how long it can take to form a group for an instance or raid run, so I’m keen to get things started.

Having formed our little raid team we set out to kick some boss booty.

We started military quarter and got to the Four Horsemen (4H) pretty quickly, but to be honest I was “off” my game.

My DPS was down, I was not popping my trinkets and was sloppy in my attacks. During the 4H fight and I caused a few raid wipes (facepalm). I’d switched from Ret to Holy to help in the fight… but the combination of being a newbie healer, being rattled and being in this fight for the very first time meant I was really “off my game”.

Yes, it happens to all of us. At least fellow guildies very, very understanding.

Next instalment I hope: we clear Military Quarter.

No more gear treadmill: how WoW morphed into a story book Friday, Sep 4 2009 

Come and see the Lich King, come and see the Lich King, come and see...

Come and see the Lich King, come and see the Lich King, come and see...

WoW is no longer a game centred on raiding for gear. It’s moving to one focussed primarily on telling it’s players a story and letting them have some fun along the way. Heck, they’re giving away gear in instances like Trial of the Champion just so we the necessary gear to experience the final chapter in the “Rise and fall of Arthus” in Patch 3.3.

Gear will always be important, but is becoming a means to an end. Players enter raids not for the gear alone, but to experience the content. Gear is still an important incentive, but more as a means to experience the next chapter in the story.

That next chapter will be revealed in Patch 3.3 and the Icecrown instance.

Experiencing the fight against Arthus is an incentive for millions of WoW players, and Blizzard is doing it’s best to make sure most of them have the chance. Patch 3.3 will not be Sunwell Plateau which only a tiny fraction of the players saw and regarded as beyond the reach of most casuals. Blizzard prefers to cater to the broad player base, not the tiny elite.

Blizzard has deliberately changed  it’s approach to “raiding”. Right now they are tyring to herd as many of us into the fight against Arthus.

The end of gear grind?

Gear is what used to be the most visible sign of elite status in WoW. Being fully decked out in a tiered set, the result of hours and hours of raiding helped signify your l33t-hardcore status. But it also lead to the dreaded gear treadmill: raiding to get gear so as to raid even more.

A few recent comments made by some of my favourite bloggers have picked up on the subtle shift going on in WoW. Perhaps the gear treadmill that was seen as so central to WoW is changing.  As Player vs. Developer notes:

Each of my old items has a story, something that I did to obtain it. Almost all of those stories were more involved than “walk in door, breeze through instance, loot”. Perhaps I did daily quests for a faction every day for two weeks, or ran an instance a bunch of times, or collected and redeemed 60 emblems from 25-man content. Before 5-man TOC, I cannot recall a situation in WoW where the loot tables actually offer major upgrades for players who out gear the instance.

Gear is easy to obtain. It’s now longer a true indicator of l33t status.

Why then raid?

Without the loot incentive what will drive players?

Keen of Keen and Graev’s blog is onto the right idea:

Getting gear is easier than ever. Is that a bad thing? In my opinion it’s a good thing. I don’t want to get into a discussion, or encourage any of you to either, about the details of WoW and whether they’re good or bad for the players or even the industry, but I do feel it’s a good thing overall when people can obtain gear while experiencing the content at a comfortable pace.

The new 5 man ToC and emblem changes has radically changed the idea of gear in WoW. Getting gear is no longer the preserve of a tiny elite you raid 4-5 nights a week. Yay for the “casuals”!

But why raid at all if you can simply get gear from a few heroics? So what is driving us?

Having fun and being entertained along the way.

Lots of getting gear along the way is nice. In this way the concept of gear becomes devalued. Still important, but not as important as it once once is WoW.

Keen notes how WoW feels like a theme park (raids and instances are fun rides), and that every player is now a raider.

The is the exact issue my Naxx team is confronted with: if gear is so easy to obtain, why are we running Naxx? For the fun of it. We run two nights a week and have a blast. Each week we get better, our DPS perform better, our tanks get better at holding aggro and the bosses are frequently one-shotted.

We complete Naxx quarters at a faster pace and should be able to fully clear over two nights in few weeks time. The main thing is we’re enjoying the ride. The pressure to get “the epics” in order to display our elite status is of lesser concern. We want to achieve something as a group.

That we enjoy the raiding experience along the way is exactly what Blizzard intends. Fun takes precedence over obtaining “phat lewt”.

Raids are now chapters: emphasis on Arthus story line and not the epics

Central to the current WoW expansion is the story of Arthus. Through phasing, quests and content such as the Argent Tournament nearly every player is getting to know the Lich King is a bad dude and must be defeated.

Why are we so excited about Patch 3.3?

Because its the patch with the Arthus fight! It’s the final chapter in the Arthus story.

It’s important to WoW lore and Blizzard are giving players the gear to get into this boss fight via ToC and emblem changes. They want as many of us to see the content.

WoW is just not a theme park: it’s a story book.

Lich King is the anti-Burning Crusade

In BC, who really cared about facing off Illiadin?

Not too many casuals for sure. I’d predict only a tiny portion of the player base stepped into Black Temple. Raiding and endgame content where the preserve of a small elite. Barely anyone saw Sunwell. Not everyone got into Kara.The line between raiders and casuals was very sharp.

Infact, my guild at the time chose NOT to raid, because of the percieved pressure this would put on players and the guild. Raiding as it stood was a disencentive to many players, including me. So Blizzard have changed this for the millions of casual players.

Lich King’s raiding philosophy is the complete antihesis of raiding in BC. Now, we can all get epics. We can all run the dungeons. We can all step into Naxx. Raids are becoming more like chapters in the WoW story, not places to farm epic loot for more raiding.

So perahps it really is the end of raiding as we once knew it. “Gearing up” will still be an important concern, but it won’t be the same raiding or faction reputation grind.

Gear will be what is should be: a means to an end (i.e. boosting your stats to an appropriate level). Gear is no longer an end unto itself. There will still be a significant number of players – those achievement orientated ones – who will chase the gear as a sign of l33t status. But the good news for the majority of players is how Blizzard is shaping the endgame so that they can all experience it.

Yes, we can all get along: Blizzard has been teaching us to raid and PuG

Lich King made PuGs viable for both running heroics and raiding. No one really dreads PuGs that much anymore. Says another commentator on the blog Commen Sense Gamer:

I’ve gone through about 4-5 PUGs in WoW for various dungeons and the people that I’ve grouped with have not only been courteous, but helpful…and dear gawd…considerate, of their fellow players. What happened? When I went into WoW a couple weeks ago and started to get those dungeon quests, I shuttered at the fact that I would eventually have to hit that LFG button and brave the WoW PUG.

Seriously now…heh. Each of these PUGs have been…a pleasure…to be a part of. Everyone knew their roles and we just flew through every encounter like we’ve been playing together for years. Amazing and I thank those anonymous players for the great experiences to those dungeons. Model players…every one of them, and clearly the silent majority.

The introduction of an instance like Vault of Archavon pointed the way to the new style of PuG Blizzard wanted. VoA opens up to the faction that winds Wintergrasp. Unless you go in with your guild mates, mostly you PuG this instance. My first 25 man experience was as VoA PuG. I did it because it was an option. Yep little old casual me PuG’ed a VoA 25 man. Easy as.

It was a good experiment by Blizzard – giving so many players the oppurtunity to experience large raids thrown together in a few minutes. I think it taught many players the value of working together with other players.

Many nights our Naxx team can’t run without PuGs. In nearly every instance the PuGs have been excellent. Some our now members of our guild.

Trial of the Champion (ToC) is doing the same. A short 15 minute instance with good rewards is driving players to group.

Blizzard is doing some great social engineering here.

The new style of dungeons and raiding has allowed millions of casual players to learn how to raid. The ease of getting gear and accessible raiding content makes the formation of PuGs that much easier: you can be certain your pick up members will have some gear and experience.

The end game is not being dumbed down: it’s being made more accessible. And the point of being more accessible? So we can all experience the story of Arthus.

Be there for the fall of Arthus

Blizzard is presently herding everyone into Patch 3.3 as this expansions crowning glory.

Whether it be in 5, 10 or 25 man versions of the Icecrown instances (and in different flavours of easy, hard and heroic versions) we will all see the same content and the same story unfold.

Hardcore raiders who love their 25 man raids will have contnet and gear rewards. The casual wil be satisified, because they’ve been there too, whether it be the smaller 5 man instances or 10 man versions of the raid. Again, why these changes?

More and more WoW is about telling us, the players, a story. But we’re also actors in the story. We get to play the parts of the hero involved in these epic conflicts. This is interactive entertainment.

For most WoW players, that’s a good thing.

Karazhan: best instance ever? Friday, Aug 21 2009 

V5s5t5ng the s5ghts
Kara. Still worth visiting today if only for the sights

Could Karazhan be the best WoW instance ever?

The world of WoW is big. Despite the fact that I’ve been playing WoW for almost four years there is a very large proportion of Azeroth and Outlands that I’ve never seen. Despite rolling several alts and levelling one character all the way to level cap I’ve experienced only a small proportion of the game. But it’s not just zones I’ve missed missed out visiting. I’d pretty much missed out on seeing the end game instances of both Vanilla and BC WoW.

Last night I took a tiny step in correct that with a run through the fabled Karazhan. Yes, we went in with a mixture of 70’s and overpowered 80’s. It was a nostalgia run for some and a bit of tourism for me.

Kara was *the* raid to do in Burning Crusade. It’s where many started their raiding experience if they hadn’t done so in Vanilla WoW. It’s the one that first piqued my interest in raiding as a concept. But I never got round to running it. Time and an addiction to far too many alts meant I never got there.

But thanks to some good friends of mine I was run through it last night. My impressions?

Gosh it’s a beautiful instance.

The art work is superb. You really get the feeling of fighting your way through a partly demolished and ruined tower. The boss fights are interesting, varied and would have been challenging. I’d heard all about the Maiden, Big Bad Wolf etc. from podcasts, guild mates and the WoW blogosphere. But seeing them was as different experience.

Karazhan has character, the kind that Dead Mines has. I know there are many instances in WoW, each with their own unique charms, but there are some real standouts. Kara would have to be one of them.

Of course it was an easy run for us last night- just over an hour. Apparently in the “good old days” in order to clear Kara raid groups would schedule at least 3-4 hours over three nights.

Listening in on experienced raiders reminisce about Kara runs of old in Vent was also fascinating:

“Oh I loved this part!’

“This fight used to be so hard!”

You could tell how many memories this place holds, how fun and challenging it was. My super-pally-healer friend talked us through all the highs and lows of old Kara runs. How they wiped on every part of the instance (including the trash mobs), how they’d *never* taken this boss down. BoE and BoP gear was dropping left-right and centre, with members of our raid team exclaiming “Oh I always wanted that!”.

I regret never raiding Kara back in the day. At least last nights run gave me a glimpse of just how fun it would must have been.  I can see why experienced raiders have a special place in their hearts for Kara.

My hope is in the next expansion or future patches they remake Kara as they did Naxxramas. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would give me and others real incentive to go back and visit what may be one of the best WoW instances ever made. 

Given how much content has been missed by players over the years, reimaging old Vanilla WoW content is a good strategy. The assets have already been built and they could be retuned for the new level cap with reimaged fights, loot drops and revamped story lines.