Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Job

I went on a job interview yesterday for an IT position at the college I go to. This was my first job interview since leaving the active duty military a year ago. They offered me the job, and I accepted. I start next week. My gaming time will be almost null from this point forward, until I finish school.


Yes, I am that damn good that they hired me on the spot.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dreamblade: Night Fusion Preview

The official first look at the next Dreamblade expansion, Night Fusion, has been posted here.

My Thoughts

Blah. The pieces are always a mixed bag with new expansion previews. Most of the previews give little indication of how well the expansion will fair in tournament play, but they are an invaluable starting point for understanding the expansion.

What irks me about each consecutive Dreamblade expansion so far, is the fact that they just introduce more and more and more. Baxar's War, the first expansion, offered some solid pieces and very few new mechanics. Bazar's War is my favorite expansion because of this.

Dreamblade launched with a comprehensive rulebook. It was advertised as "all the rules the game will ever have". Every planned ability was supposedly listed. Sadly, new expansions have not followed this mantra.

Surely new mechanics and abilities can't be bad? I wish that was the case. There are tons of abilities in Dreamblade and Wizards of the Coast has, for some reason, made most of them completely unplayable or made abilities that are far superior. For example, Skirmish and Advance are almost required because they allow pieces to be moved around the board. Movement is king in Dreamblade and abilities related to it are far more desirable. Other abilities, which could be usable, are often attached to a creature that is unplayable or is given a cost that is infeasible for any warband.

I don't want to get off track here, but needless to say, abilities are not balanced in Dreamblade. WotC is not helping the situation. Instead of giving players new pieces that are playable with old abilities, they develop new pieces with new abilities or pieces with restricted old abilities.

The Night Fusion preview is a perfect example. Every piece has restrictive versions of old abilities. Instead of giving the game a decent Bodyguard, they develop another spawn expensive piece, but give it a damage restricted bodyguard feature. I truly wish they could just release some figures that are solid and playable with abilities that are already in the game. Screw all this new bullshit.

I guess this is one of the reasons I'm dropping Dreamblade. New expansions are just becoming bloated and overly advanced for my liking. For every ounce of good an expansion brings, there is enough garbage and overpowered pieces to make purchases a losing proposition. And WotC wonders why sales are in the gutter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

World of Warcraft Hits 9 Million

Have you ever heard the phrase; "television killed the radio star"? Or maybe this one; "The Burning Crusade killed World of Warcraft!". While television may have killed the radio star, The Burning Crusade has not killed World of Warcraft. In fact, World of Warcraft has grown: to nine million subscribers.

From all evidence, the growth is coming from the western market, contrary to what many MMO bloggers have been posting. The Burning Crusade has not launched in China yet, where WoW pulls in a few million of the current total user base! The ten million mark is not that far off, and TBC's launch in China may just be the spur to get it there. I firmly believe, and have for some time, that World of Warcraft will hit ten million by year's end.

This falls in line with what I've been reading and seeing lately. A lot of casual gamers are completely digging the extra ten levels of content, new zones, extended professions, and more accessible end-game content. Most raiders seem to have fallen off the horse as their "perfect" 40-man guilds disintegrated upon TBC's launch. It has been a hard road for them as they restructure, regroup, and realign for the 10 and 25 man content.

So, wouldn't raiders quitting in frustration decrease the numbers? No, because raiders make up a very tiny minority (just shy of 2%) of players. Casual and core gamers have and will continue to make up WoW's majority. Building the game around them has once again proven to be successful. It is a pleasure to read some of the reports from friends that have returned to WoW.

Actually, the more I read about The Burning Crusade, the more I want to play it. And I will play it. I have some time off coming up and I plan to give the TBC 10-day free trial a whirl.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dear Shadowbane

Dear Shadowbane,

You suck.

I pondered over the last week how to write this letter, but nothing can say it better than those two simple words. You have peaked my interest for over a decade and you never once managed to satisfy my curiosity.

I bought your box, your expansions, and resubscribed my accounts many times. Now you are free, and you still suck. You lag, you crash, and worst of all, you still force people to level. Would it be so difficult to remove your barely working PvE content in favor of an instant level 75 system? No, I thought not. That would require thought and consideration for me, the player.

I've tried to make this work. I've spent restless days trying to rip my eyes out as another bug, lag spike, or plain bad game mechanic sucked another death out of my avatar. All in the vain hope that I would some day get to the "end game" and finally get the chance to PK some newbs. Alas, I never made it.

I'm done and I'm not coming back. Once again Shadowbane, you suck!

Yours truly,

Heartless_

Dreamblade: Organized Play Canceled

It is a sad day for any fans of the Dreamblade CMG from Wizards of the Coast. WotC has decided to cancel the 1k and 10k tournaments and other mainstream Organized Play aspects. Here is the Dear John letter:
Dear Dreamblade Players:

As you prepare your warbands for Augusts’ Dreamblade 50K championship, many of you may be wondering about the future of Dreamblade Organized Play (OP).

When we designed this game, we envisioned highly competitive organized play as one of the key things that makes the game great, and we provided robust organized play with Dreamblade. Despite our best efforts however, we didn’t get enough tournament players, and we can’t continue supporting the game with the same depth of OP that we’ve offered in the past. As a result, we will no longer be supporting the 1K and 10K events. The August 50K event will continue as scheduled, as will Edge Tournaments. We love this game and we know you do too. It’s a painful change but a necessary one.

Night Fusion, Dreamblade’s fifth set, releases in September and promises to be our most exciting set to date. It includes a number of new features that we have been reserving for Dreamblade’s second year. The success of Night Fusion will be very telling for Dreamblade as we gauge demand for the future. We hope fans come out in droves to support it!

Thank you for your passionate support of Dreamblade and your patience during this time. We hope to have the opportunity to continue to bring you this innovative and revolutionary game experience for some time to come.
Does this spell the end for Dreamblade? Not yet. Local Edge tournaments will still be supported, but historically they have been hard to maintain. The prizes for Edge events are sub par. Plus Edge events are easily ruined by veteran players playing top tier warbands forcing newer players to "buy up" or "ship out".

This is not a surprising announcement, but it is a sad one. Dreamblade is a great game that only suffers from a fairly high price point and low player population.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Grimwell Interview

Allakhazam has an interview with Grimwell, the Everquest 2 Community Manager. I just wanted to quote a couple answers he gave:
Allakhazam: You worked at and ran fan sites for some years before signing on with SOE. What's it like to be on the other end of the journalistic "mic?"

Grimwell: It's a lot easier to get into tradeshows and conferences, that's for sure! I love being on the 'other side of the mic' mostly because I have not forgotten what it is like to work so hard on a fansite. Everyone who has a fansite and works on it is doing so out of passion. Yes, there are those who are lucky enough to also draw a paycheck from it, but there is also a lot of passion.

I find that my position allows me not to just remember what it was like, but also to try to provide things that I always wished the game companies would do for and with fansites. That's an advantage because it makes it very easy to know exactly why a particular site is asking for specific information on a Game Update, or an interview, or a screen shot, or any other resource for their site. They just want to do a good job covering the game.


Allakhazam: Do you feel like your background working on fansites gives you a unique perspective as the Community Manager in contrast to your predecessors?

Grimwell: It definitely works in terms of my relationship with the fansites, but it's not something I can rest my hat on and then relax. The fansites are constantly evolving and needing new and different things to meet their goals. Plus, there is a lot to being a Community Manager that working on fansites does not prepare you for. There is a huge difference between being able to say "Wouldn't it be cool if?" or "If I was ever working on a game I'd…" and being on the other side of the coin and realizing just how wide of an impact even a small design change can have.
Go ahead and read the rest.

Friday, July 13, 2007

World of Warcraft: Possible PvP Changes?

Blue poster, Nethaera, commented on the official World of Warcraft forums that there are possible PvP changes in the pipeline.
We do have plans to add more battlegrounds in the future. How many, I couldn't answer for you at this time.

There is a method to the madness, however. Mostly, it has to do with making sure there is a healthy population of people to take part in the battlegrounds. If we have too many battlegrounds, the population will thin out and queues will go up. Where Arenas are quick battles that don't need a lot of time commitment (based on limiting how many games a team may choose to play beyond the minimum), battlegrounds tend to take a bit more time and have no real downside for playing them almost exclusively if people choose to.

We have more plans in the future in general for PvP though nothing more concrete that I can share with you right now. It's common knowledge that an expansion is in the works. More on the details will come in time as to what all will be included in it.
It is interesting how the last paragraph is worded. The tidbit about the expansion is mentioned after the part about possible general PvP changes. Could this mean that the next expansion will focus more heavily on the Alliance vs. Horde battle? It may just be wild speculation, but I don't think Blizzard wants to get tagged as "lazy" by just producing another expansion featuring just ten levels of content.

However, Blizzard usually sticks to what they do best and rarely stray from the beaten path. On top of this, it does not make much sense to release a PvP expansion when so many players enjoy WoW's casual quest based leveling.

Hopefully Blizzard will be a little quicker releasing the next expansion. Even though I haven't touched The Burning Crusade yet, I still want to see what Blizzard has in store for everyone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Enchanting vs. Mining

I am at a crossroads with my shaman in World of Warcraft. I have been an enchanter since I created the character. My enchanting skill currently sits at 300. It was a great money maker at one time, but without having The Burning Crusade, I am unsure if it still is. Not having TBC also limits my available clients. There is little to no work available for an out of date enchanter stuck at 300 skill.

I recently dropped my engineering skill that was going unused, to pursue blacksmithing. However, I find that without the ability to mine my own ore, smithing is damn expensive. I have an alt that can mine basic copper, tin, and silver, but I don't plan to level him.

This leaves me stuck at a crossroads. Should I drop my 300 enchanting for mining, or should I just suck it up and pay my way through the grind for blacksmithing? I want to lean towards mining, because it can be a great source of revenue. At the same time, I know how to work the auction house with dis-enchanting to make gold. Also, it sucks not being able to disenchant soul bound items that you finish using.

Eventually, it all really boils down to whether or not I am going to get The Burning Crusade. There are great level 70 axes available for master axesmiths that fit perfectly into my melee shaman's build. If I start leveling, there will always be ore to mine, smelt, and sell. However, if I am leveling, there will be tons of gear I will want to disenchant. Having to make decisions sucks!

Update: 12 July, 2007 - Mining won out, and I am slogging through the grind as I type this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Website of the Moment: WoWBreak

I have started using the website, WoWBreak, to get my World of Warcraft news. There are tons of WoW news sites, but this one is built on the same idea as Digg, which happens to be another favorite website of mine. Users submit stories and then "vote" for them to appear on the homepage.

The site works relatively well and provides a good daily dose of news for WoW. Sign up and check it out.

Friday, July 06, 2007

2008: Year of Linux?

MaximumPC is touting 2008 as the year of Linux as most people are just sick of Windows.
Fortunately for open-source addicts, there are several signs that the coming year could bring a sea-change among end users, making 2008 the year of the Linux desktop.

There's nothing bold about pointing out that modern Linux distros have made leaps and bounds in usability in the past couple of years.
However, there is one catch: Linux sucks for gaming.
For me, the real hitch in the switch is gaming. While Wine and other Windows compatibility utilities do a great job of running productivity apps, they have less success with the hottest new gaming titles. And as long as Windows retains its utter domination of the PC gaming scene, gamers will always need Windows PCs.
Now that I have some Linux experience under my belt, I can admit that being able to get up and running for free is great. Constantly searching for information to accomplish basic tasks is not. Linux is a double-sided sword; stable and secure, but clunky and diversified amongst a thousand distributions with a thousand different ways to make things work.

Linux does have inroads into gaming. Linux is by far the preferred hosting solution for multi-player shooters like Counterstrike. Having helped foot the bill for a few servers in the past, I can attest to that fact. This is Linux's main boon to gaming.

However, having a knowledgeable Linux guru is where the real savings are at. The second a server renter/owner has to sign up for a "support plan", is the second Linux servers begin draining Mr. Piggybank.

Also, World of Warcraft runs easily on Linux. It sets a standard that other developers should follow. Good things happen for games that support Linux.

NOTE: I don't want to be misquoted here. World of Warcraft does not have a native Linux client, but Blizzard's adhearance to standards makes it very easy for their games to be run through Linux applications like WINE or Cedega.

World of Warcraft, Shadowbane, etc.

I am a gamer. A gamer plays games. I will now be gallivanting around in several worlds on a purely casual basis.

Yes, I am back in World of Warcraft. No, I still do not have The Burning Crusade, or plans to pick it up.

I am also back playing Shadowbane, well, because it's free.

On top of this, I am still trudging through Neverwinter Nights 2 single-player campaign and plan to finish it.

PS. I have a new laptop, which just might let me play games when I am out of town. Shhh... don't tell my wife.

World of Warcraft Loot

Wolfgang raises a good point over on his blog, Wolfgang Chronicles, about World of Warcraft's loot.
I would just like to say thank you to Blizzard for designing a PVE loot system that encourages drama and player frustration while simultaneously designing a PVP loot system that allows players to gain epics by AFK honor farming.
In World of Warcraft's current PvP implementation, player's set a goal to get a certain PvP reward, they grind, and they achieve. Just as player's pick a quest, see the possible rewards, and then determine if it is really worth their trouble. However, this breaks down when it comes to randomly dropped equipment in dungeons. A player could be lucky and get it the first time through, while another player could do several runs before even having a chance at the item in question.

Now, players know all of this before picking what equipment goals they want to chase. It is no surprise that a lot of players choose PvP. I don't believe this is because these players love PvP. There are a couple reasons hiding behind these players.

First off, PvP gear attainment, for the most part, can be done solo. A player can join a random pick up group (PUG) and still end up with a decent amount of advancement towards their goal. In PvE dungeons, a PUG is a 50/50 chance at frustration vs. success. Combine that with random drops and you have an inferior system to the PvP rewards.

Secondly, PvP has a metric, honor points, that tells a player how far they are from their set goal. It is only a matter of time before it will be achieved. A player can average their honor point gains for a week and determine approximately how long it will take them to get to the end. Compared to the PvE random loot, this is a far superior method.

So, what is the solution? As I've talked about before, dungeons need to focus more on quests. This way, players can look at what quest leads to what gear and plan appropriately. At most, a player would be forced to run the dungeon a few times to complete the various tiers of the quest. Then it is a simple trip back to the quest giver for a reward. After all, this is about REWARDING players.

In the end, as players become more geared, the more they will be drawn towards participating in the end game raiding scene. While I don't agree with raid dungeons being the end-game, I can't hide the fact that Blizzard believes they are. Blizzard's job should be to make sure player's have a clear and identifiable path to get there. If there is no path for the general populous; Blizzard is just wasting development time on the wrong crowd.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

World of Warcraft: Climbing Again

Rollie has posted his June concurrency numbers for World of Warcraft over at WarcraftRealms.com. The numbers indicate that the drop in activity in May has ended with a turnaround in June. June player activity is up sharply and WoW is still maintaining a higher player activity level than prior to The Burning Crusade's launch. All positive signs that TBC is being played more often and by more players than the original game.

The numbers are based off data collected via the CensusPlus UI mod and thousands of users across nearly every WoW server. Rollie has been dealing with WoW population numbers since the game launched, so his data and analysis is fairly useful.

Without confirmation directly from Blizzard, the noted trend is speculation. However, given a couple more months of data collection and analysis we should be getting a relatively reliable pattern. Rollie already has two years worth of back-logged data to work with.

It will be interesting to see who picks this month's information up and compares it to the May numbers. A lot of naysayers were jumping head first onto the "TBC killed WoW" bandwagon, but another month has come and the numbers have evidenced against their claims.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Note On Positive Thinking

Did you know that people are ten times more likely to share a negative thought with you than a positive? Need an example? Look at this blog. I am a fairly negative blogger. Even when I am playing a game I enjoy, I am negative. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my negativity is common place in the real and virtual world.

However, my real life does not parallel this negativity. I am a fairly positive and upbeat guy. I am usually the person telling others to be less negative. Optimism is my middle name, honestly, I gave an award winning speech about it when I was younger. I can't even count the times I've caught myself telling my wife to be more positive.

This all really hit home here on this blog when my Internet bud, Grimwell, left a comment on my Pirates of the Burning Seas will be Published by SOE post. I thought I was actually being fairly polite considering my normal plight for SOE, but thinking on it more, Grimwell is right. I do need to get some new tinfoil.

This does not mean I am going to simply drop my jaded gamerness overnight. I am still going to stick to my guns in relation to RMT and in-game advertising. I will not play any game that has officially sanctioned RMT servers. I will not play games that have in-game ads without some sort of discount for the players looking at them.

Gone are the days of blacklisting companies. Hell, if Grimwell can work for SOE, I suppose they aren't all that evil. Grimwell is quite the epitome of positive thinking in my book; after all he gave me a chance.

Stay tuned! There are some things working in the pipeline for me and I will be positively happy to share them with you.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Spoils: Tournament of Lament

5:48 AM, Tournament Day: Our four-month old Doberman puppy, Sadie (say dee), wakes up and begins scratching at our bed side. Groggily, I wake up and let her out to do her normal morning duties. Upon returning inside, I lay down on the couch and Sadie joins me for a nap.

7:30 AM: I awake to the horrid sound of Sadie throwing up all over our carpet. It is the first time she has ever thrown up and it is not pretty. A quick run for paper towels, Simple Solution, and a shout down the hallway for my wife, and the mess is easily contained. Thirty minutes later, and I'm crawling back into my bed; its the wife's turn to watch the puppy.

10:26 AM:
I awake in terror. The tournament starts at 11 AM! I take a fast shower and give the wife a kiss on the way out. It is only a fifteen minute drive to my local game store, Reality Check Games.

11:03 AM: I make it just in time, but I seem to have forgotten something. I quickly ask the judge, Ripark Golen, if the tournament is Sealed, like the last Invitational tournament. "No, constructed." he informs me. This is when my heart sank, because halfway to the store I realized that I walked out of my house without my hat, Spring Limited Championships Top 4 playmat, and worst of all, my carefully prepared deck of cards!

Fortunately not all was lost. The judge, being a good friend, just so happened to have a deck of cards available for me to play with. Ironically, it is the one and only deck that has ever won against my deck in the store. Unfortunately, that was months ago and neither deck had been updated for the new First Edition: Part 2 mini-expansion. So, there I sat, with a borrowed "Node deck" and no chance at taking home a decent prize. But why play games if you can't just have fun?

New goal: have fun.

11:45 AM: Deck registration is complete. The tournament begins.

(o-o) Round 1 vs. Mark

In an ironic twist, I end up paired with the judge's brother, Mark. The irony doesn't end there as Mark is playing a near copy of the deck I had intended to bring. Mark played a Rogue/Arcanist deck featuring massive token built creatures and Rogue control. With my lack of experience with my borrowed deck and an unlucky draw, I went down fairly quick.

(0-1) Round 2 vs. Bin

Bin was playing a Banker deck. It probably had more to it, but I went down relatively fast. Two early game beaters, that I could not answer, combined with Banker's ability to manipulate my board presence ended the match very quickly. In a casual follow up game, I faired a bit better, but didn't do much better.

Interestingly enough, Bin commented about my blog. Always nice to be noticed for something. According to Bin, I play far too many games. In reality, I just pretend I play a lot of games.

(0-2) Round 3 vs. Joey

Joey was fun to play against. He was playing a super combo deck that was purely built to delay the game until the inevitable last turn after time has been called. I was up early, but made a mistake and didn't attack his multiple Ministry of other Smaller Ministries.

We dragged out doing nothing until time was called. Joey then informed me that he was going to win on his turn. Something I truly did not believe remotely possible, and still to this moment don't truly understand. Essentially it was an infinitely looping combo that could repeatedly do four damage to my faction.

Unfortunately, had I let it go until I was dead, the combo would have taken well over thirty minutes to complete. Something, in most tournament games, that would not be allowed. Regardless of whether the combo is working towards a finite end, time needs to be considered and players should consciously build decks with that in mind. In my limited tournament experience I've seen situations as this almost always called as slow play as it is not fair to the player sitting opposite. The player should be given the choice to end the combo early or risk being given a loss for the round.

I am not here to call Joey out. Honestly, it was a good play. He caught me red handed gearing up for my own big turn. However, with the amount of time being taken, I strongly believe the game should of been declared a draw. I stopped the combo halfway through and conceded, but it easily would have taken another ten or more minutes to complete.

Joey, if you end up reading this, I am curious to get a rundown of the combo again. Once again, I think you played great and am not calling you out as a slow player. Just sharing my opinion on timed matches.

(0-3) Round 4 - Bye! My wife timed stopping by perfectly, and brought me a much needed sandwich. This also gave me one win technically, and a chance not to finish in last place!

(1-3) Round 5 vs. Lindsay

Lindsay is the judge's wife and a good friend. So, the outcome of this match still makes me feel guilty. Lindsay was playing an updated version of her Warlord deck that I've played against several times before. I had a good draw and got out to an early lead. Without any answers, she went down on life early. A mistake on an attack, and I secured the win.

Unfortunately, I knocked Lindsay out of a Top 8 finish and put us both down into 10th and 11th place. With her two wins (no bye) she finished ahead of me. After our match, I handed her my borrowed deck to return to her husband, and wished her well.

Final Win/Loss: 2-3 11th place

In the end, I was very disappointed in myself. After my matches, I strongly believe I could of made a run for top four with my own deck. Sadly, the real world doesn't have a reset button.
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