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Archive for December, 2010

Merry Christmas, Cowdude

This was my Christmas gift to myself, the product of some fun playtime and a fair does of whimsy.

Because nothing says “Lore is Important” and “Don’t mess with me” like a Tauren on a rocket-powered tricycle.  (Or is that “I played too much Mario Kart back in the day”?)

A moment of silence for a fallen king

Hanging with the Alliance in the spirit of cooperation and goodwill.

Peace on Azeroth, Goodwill t'ward Dwarves, Men and Elves

Making plans.  Big plans.  Goblins are the key, as painful as that is to say.

Gadgetzan, now beachfront property... that port is important

Best to park this beastie, lest I overwhelm Azeroth with coolness.  Or laughter, whichever comes first.

The lift down into the Gnomecave

Time for some rest.  Then, back to work on that tactical game and the board game.  See you all on the flipside!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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A brief sociopolitical/psychological tangent, then the good stuff.

I’m of a mind that good fences make good neighbors.

I don’t want a global government or global culture any more than I want a global economy (which is to say, not at all).  Many things just work better locally.  Beyond that, though, there’s the old thought that if you get any three people in a room, you’ll have four different opinions on any given topic.  …or something like that.

People just don’t agree in general; we’re individuals, and we all come at things a bit differently.  Trying to make a global government never did make much sense to me.  There’s certainly a good place for a baseline of civility, but trying to impose a collective consensus from on high just won’t work out.

Out here in the fringe society of MMO gaming, EVE works as a one-world sort of game, but even there, you have players going places to get away from each other.  Low-sec vs. High-sec, mining vs. wormhole exploring.  Us crazy humans are just a diverse lot with varied interests, and that’s OK.  Even when more technology advances sufficiently to make other solid one-world MMOs, people will still just go off and do their own thing.  (Especially us nefarious soloists.  Neener neener.)

Anyway, I’m not really out in tin foil hat land huffing and puffing about the New World Order or the latest Communist Manifesto, as much fun as that could be to prompt some minor flamewars.  What’s really important here is that people are inevitably individuals, and expecting to be able to mold people en masse just isn’t realistic.  That notion of individual agency has implications for any sort of activity where people are involved and interacting, from gaming to politics to religion or whatever.  We all need fences around our own decision making processes, or we’re no better than automatons fit for the Soylent Green Big Brother state dinner, and we need to respect the fences of other people.

As Robert A. Heinlein noted:

“Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.”

I’d posit that this division isn’t just political; it’s philosophical, and touches every human activity, at all ages.

So what?  Well, lengthy preamble aside, I do find things like this to be curiously touching:

Pachelbel’s Canon in D… with Beatboxing, Breakdancing and Korean stringed instruments.

I don’t want globalization imposed from on high, but this sort of artist-inspired bizarre mashup of old and young, East and West, high class and street class, elegance and irreverence… well, it gives me hope that people from vastly different backgrounds really do have something to say to each other beside arguing.

That’s what I want out of “globalization”; people sharing and being good to each other, building something that is more than the sum of its parts.  Call it “Peace on Earth”, if you will, but that’s my Christmas wish for this year:

May we all find reason to celebrate the other, learning and creating with an eye to cooperation, serving each other because we choose to, not because we’re told to.

Merry Christmas or Happy Whatever It Is You Celebrate This Time of Year!  I hope it’s a good one for you and yours.

Oh, and speaking of Pachelbel and Christmas, I do love these, both hybrids in their own right:

John Schmidt’s Pachelbel Meets U2

TransSiberian Orchestra’s Christmas Canon (and the Rock version is here, if you like that better… it’s a bit more of a hybrid)

…and while we’re talking rock, bonus points for the band OK Go teaming up with Notre Dame’s marching band and kids for a curiously philosophical comment or two:

This Too Shall Pass

Maybe it’s dumb, but I can’t help but smile a bit seeing potentially diverse groups like that producing something fun together.

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It’s a simple thing, really.  Just a matter of philosophy.

I play video games with my four year old daughter.  Maybe that makes me a terrible father, but it’s a way to show her what I do for a living and how I have fun.  And, well… she loves Minecraft.  She calls it her “daddy-daughter game”, something that just the two of us play with sometimes.  I believe kids need that, and to be honest, I think parents need it too.

Before Minecraft, though, her favorite was World of Warcraft.  She really just loved my Druid in Travel form and making it jump when I was running around.  Kids love that sense of control; she could make Daddy’s character change into a cheetah and then make it jump.  She also loved to go play in water and change into the Aquatic form, but really, the cheetah is what she loved most.

These days, she still loves to make the character jump, even though the Minecraft avatar is typically first person, not third.  And yet, Minecraft gives her another layer of control over the gaming experience.  She can go anywhere and do almost anything she wants to in the game world.  If there’s a hole in the ground, we can go explore it.  If she gets the itch to find some clay to make some bricks which then can be made into red brick building blocks, she tells me to drive to the beach (she’s still learning how to use the WASD steering and is usually content just telling me where to go).  She can swim upstream and upwaterfall.  She can punch sheep and take their wool.  She can plant flowers or dig up snowballs.  She’s excited by finding coal to harvest, even though sometimes she still asks why we need it.  She can place torches in the dark spaces that she might find scary, or just tell me to wall off the really spooky caves.

I’ve recently started a Dwarven Hunter to share some more time with her, because she loves the pets in WoW.  (A Druid/Hunter hybrid would be perfect for her; shapeshifting and the Pokemon itch, all rolled into one.)

So when I took her for a spin through the newly revamped Stormwind on the way to Bloodmyst Isle to tame yet another blue moth (she loves blue, and those BI moths are just so… blue), she naturally spent a fair bit of time looking around for things to do.  She asked if we could explore a well we rode past.  I had to tell her “no, sweetheart, we can’t do that”.  As children are wont to do, she asked “why not?”, to which I had to fall back on the old copout answer of “the designers don’t let us do that, dear”.  Naturally, she asked “why?” to that, too, and I had to stifle an insult to the designers and just answer with the unsatisfying “that’s just how they do it, I’m sorry”.  She then asked if we could go catch fish in the canals, and when she made my Dwarf jump into the canal, she saw the crabs and naturally wanted to go grab them.  Since we didn’t have the fishing skill or a quest to gather crabs, again, we couldn’t do much more than swim around and wish.

She lost interest in the town until she happened to notice an apple tree.

Ah, to see things come full circle.  She got excited and wanted to pick the apples.  She is truly her father’s daughter, a quirk which is quite heartwarming.  When I told her she couldn’t pick the apples, she got quiet for a while.  She then announced that she wanted to play Minecraft.

Ah, they grow up so fast.

I hugged her, and we went to go work on our spider trap.  We need some more chicken feathers, too, for the arrows she loves to shoot at the spiders.  She’s getting the knack of fishing, too, even though she still wishes she could go underwater and look for fish rather than just fish for them.

So, if WoW is going to be lambasted for being on rails, for me and mine, it has nothing to do with overwrought quests, pacing issues or the race to the endgame (though those can certainly be a concern, they are irrelevant to our playstyle).  It has to do with the complete inability to go out and change the world or explore wherever you feel like.  You can’t dig out a cave and call it home, you can’t just go wherever your whimsy takes you (because the wildlife will eat you).  You can’t really partake of the world of WoW and make your own mark in it, you just play on a stage.  It’s a marvelous, intricate stage, with plenty of things to do, but it’s just not the same as going and remolding the world with your own hands, digging into something just because it looked interesting.

Minecraft scratches the Explorer and Scientist itches in ways that WoW is flatly unequipped  to.  They are both fun in their own ways, but for my daughter, all the glitz and dings of WoW, even her beloved blue moths, can’t compare to the simple joy in making the world of Minecraft her own.  The best part is that she doesn’t get that from me directly, it’s just how she’s wired and how the games appeal to her.  Like daughter, like father, and I couldn’t be happier.

Tomorrow, we’re going to try to make some sound effects.  I showed her the DVD extras for WALL-E, and the bit on sound design really intrigued her.  There’s just something wonderful about seeing a little one learn and experiment.  “Why” and “How” might bug some parents, but they have served us well in our home.  We probably won’t be putting lava in buckets any time soon, though.

Ed: I’m actually still having fun with the new Shattered content in WoW, it just doesn’t scratch the same itch that Minecraft does, and it’s not working for my little one.  Gaming time together is all Minecraft these days.

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Audited

I have been measured, and have been found wanting.

But hey, don’t I look heroic?  (This stocky fellow is my “Alliance main”… I’d show my Tishtoshtesh character, but his pose lacks this fellow’s panache.  One simply must put their best foot forward in an audit, after all.)

So… yes, I find the whole notion of a “Character Audit” rather… silly.  I’m sure there’s a slippery slope in there somewhere, but for now, I’m simply amused that the new and improved WoW Armory has an Auditor.  There’s a marked lack of a FaceBook button, though.  Is it really enough that only the system gets to tell me I’m doing it wrong?  Also, as yet, there’s not an Auditor in-game.

Yet.

Edited to add:

OK, here’s Tishtoshtesh, to show more silliness.  Of all the things to complain about regarding that head armor, it whines about being non-leather (cloth) and unenchanted.  I’d have started with “looks idiotic” and “caster stats, you Feral nitwit”.  (So sue me, it’s the only head armor I’ve found so far.)

The Bilgewater Cartel tabard is so I can someday get a tricycle and motor around like this guy:

Tauren on a Goblin Mount

If I’m going to be absurd, why not?  Besides, it reminds me of Bowser on a Mario Kart, and that makes me smile.

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Here in the Northern hemisphere of the globe, snow is part of the Christmas season.  Decorations are also a big part of that whole social/celebration/homemaking/party thing.  Since Larisa recently called me a snowflake (thanks!), it got me thinking of snowflake decorations, and I figured I’d share my recipe for snowflake seeds.  I designed this bit of origami-like paperfolding to give a proper flat hexagonal structure for snowflake cutting, rather than the much easier but oh-so-inaccurate octagonal pattern that one sometimes sees.

…yes, I’m a purist snob in the art of cutting paper snowflakes.  I know, I’m terrible.  That said, if I could use a laser cutting table to do my snowflakes, I’d be all for it, and I *do* make crazy, arcing cuts on the “crystal spines” so I’m not really a purist…

Anyway, some step-by-step illustrations:

1. Start with a sheet of 8.5×11 paper and fold it in half the shorter way.  (This also works for most rectangular paper, say an A4 paper or a square, since the important angles come from the folds and their relationships.)

2. Fold the paper in half the other way (at a right angle to the first fold), then unfold.

Pre3 (optional). If you want some help for 3, you can make a “guidance” fold here and fold one edge in to the center from step 2, then unfold.

3. Fold one corner up from the center, making a 60 degree angle with the other side.  If you have the guidance fold from Pre3, the corner will touch the guidance fold.  I’ve taken to eyeballing this, and can usually get within a degree or three (evident when i fold step 4).  I prefer that since the guidance fold can show up in the final snowflake, but it’s really not a big deal either way.

It should look something like this:

4. Turn the paper over and fold the other corner up to match the edge of the fold from 3.  The resulting shape will leave you with a 60 degree angle pointing to the cross of the two initial folds, and should look like this.  There should be three “pockets”, one for each flap you folded and one for the center 60 degree slice in between.

5. Open the center “pocket” and flatten it along the folds made in step 2.  (One fold will be inverted.)

This should leave you with something like this:

6. Lift one of the (previously) corner pockets and flatten it, creating two new folds and aligning the old pocket’s “spine” fold with the underlying edges.

That should give you this:

Then turn the model over and do the same to the other corner pocket, which should leave you with this:

7. Fold the whole thing in half, as noted above.  This is your final Snowflake Seed, ready for cutting.

Here’s hoping that made sense.  I’m happy to answer any questions.  Apologies for posting this initially without pictures.  My internet connection has been intermittent and this slipped through the cracks.

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Rogue Tauren

I am a Sunwalker.

The Light of the Sun guides my path, and I will be a beacon of protection and guidance to those I am sworn to protect.  The strength of the Sun burns in my veins, and I will stand against all injustice and evil!

The Undead are an abomination on this world, and I am sworn to eradicate them.  Their very existence offends not only my sworn duty but also the lore of my people.  The world mourns their aberration, and their desecration of life wounds the Earth Mother.  I will cleanse the world of their unclean…sed kind.

Except for the Forsaken.  They have this sweet racial mount that I can buy if they like me enough.  Who needs a blinged out Kodo when I can pretend to be a Death Knight?  Rrarr!  Here comes the steel plated cow on a spindle-legged dead horse!  Oh, and Sylvanas is totally hot.  No rot on that girl, just sweet, sweet leather armor in all the right places.

Er, not that I’d know.  Tauren, remember.  Right, Tauren.  Big, furry cowdudes.

Right.

You’re sure I’m not a Tuskarr or something?  Y’know, a neutral sort of guy who can hang with the Human and Dwarf Paladins?  I mean, those twiggy prancing Blood Elves stink of weird arcane magics and didn’t exactly come by the Paladinny ways by, y’know, honorable means.  I could probably break one of ‘em in half anyway.

Can I at least go rogue and join the Argent Crusade?  Go hang with my Paladin brethren and wipe out the Scourge that always seem to come back?  Oh, it’s just an NPC club, right.  I can be Exalted in their eyes, but never a member.  “Exalted” must not mean what I think it means.  It’s probably like “graduating” from the third grade.

Right.

OK, right!  Buck up cowboy!  I’m a champion of justice and tempered responses to evil!  Cairne was a wise leader we should all revere, the Grimtotems are jerks, and the Horde needs our leadership in these times of trial and confusion.  My people are dwindling and staring a racial twilight in the face, do I go out quietly or try to leave the world a better place?

Er, but who’s this Garish Hellscream guy again?  The one who killed Cairne? (Sorta… axes don’t kill people, angry orcs with Grimtotem-poisoned axes kill people… and was the stupid Spirit Healer on a smoke break or something when he went down?  What the heck, etherial angel thing?)  Son of a demon-tainted warmonger?  Fel-flavored sunburned fashion victim?  Racist, er, speciesist?  I mean, he doesn’t let Trolls into Orgrimmer-than-before anymore, and they have always been faithful Hordies, right?  I mean, the ones that aren’t cannibals and psychotic voodoo wonks that attack anyone on sight, anyway.

…Tauren are Hordies still, right?

Why, again?

And why am I playing Horde, again?

Oh, right.  Varian‘s a monumental jerk.  And yet, Garish is pretty thick, too.  Bleh.  Forget these nicompoop leaders.  I wanna be a Tuskarr Paladin.

For the North!

…yeah, that’s got a nice ring to it.  There’s still plenty of Scourge up there, too.

____

Ed:  Yes, this is tongue in cheek.  Sylvanas totally isn’t my type.

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Since the Shattering, the Lollipop Guild has been busy.  They have apparently meandered all over Azeroth building a Yellow Brick Road, a Golden Path Theme Park for Idiots, turning World of Warcraft into a game only brain dead vegetables can love.

Or, so some might have me believe.

OK, OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole.  There are reasonable concerns about pacing in the game, especially dungeon XP gain rate as Klepsacovic noted, which Blizzard fixed.  Pete of Dragonchasers also notes that a player control for turning XP gain off might be nice.  I agree, though I’d also like the ability to remove XP, so I could iteratively reduce my level and keep pushing myself as I solo dungeons.  Well, that, or have nice, tight difficulty control sliders, or even difficulty settings like DDO has for dungeons.  (I can sort of fudge this by removing gear and taking skills of my action bar, though, so it’s not a thought I expect to be taken seriously.)

I broke down and bought TBC and Wrath while Blizzard had them on sale for $5 and $10, respectively (having purchased the original game for $5 last year).  I used a gift card I got a while ago and fired up another month in the game to look around.  I played the possibly overscripted Troll starting areas and found them to be a nice slice of mechanics that show up later in the game as well as a nice bit of Troll species storytelling.  The Gnome staring zone is pretty good, and I love that they are fighting for their home instead of waiting for players to run the Gnomeregan instance.  The Tauren starting zone is great, imparting a sense of impending twilight for the species.  Even the Dwarf starting experience is fun and fresh, though I’ve played the old version many times.

One commonality is the NPCs milling about, caught in perpetual warfare.  Yeah, they never get very far in actually defeating their foes, but at least something is going on in that vast plain by the Tauren starting village.  I wrote about the Death Knight starting areas a while back, and it seems to me that Blizzard has learned that having NPCs doing things in the world helps give it a sense of life.  In the DK areas, battles are going on in the background as you do your quests.  All new areas I’ve played to date have either battles or NPCs training for battle.  Questgivers and trainers move around a bit sometimes and interact with other NPCs.  The game feels more alive and bustling than ever before, and it does that without a player in sight.  That’s a Good Thing.

When there are players, yes, a game will feel more populated, but at the same time, players rarely feel like part of the world.  They run and jump around like caffeinated squirrels (do players ever walk?), loiter around like heroes without a cause, dress like fashion accidents, and run through each other.  And those are the tolerable ones; some are flat out annoying, spamming chat channels, dueling, monkeying around with train sets, dancing naked on mailboxes or any of a number of other random nutty non-Azerothian behavior.  In a lot of ways, player characters kill the much-vaunted “immersion” that can be produced by a cohesive presentation that we see in strongly themed and behaviorally consistent NPCs.

The starting questlines are indeed streamlined and polished to a fine golden sheen.  You’re almost never left wondering what to do, as NPCs go out of their way to advertise their inability to do simple things on their own, requiring errand boys and assassins at alarming rates.  (Though, since death is almost always only temporary in Azeroth, maybe assassination isn’t so much a nasty profession as a hobby.)  The rails in the game are indeed more finely crafted and more prominent than ever before.

And yet… there is nothing keeping players on the rails but their own habit and Pavlovian training.  I can take a new Troll and wander over to the starting Orc area to begin my journey.  I can just go grind away and kill crabs and boars, totally ignoring any quests.  I can try to swim around to Tanaris and see the new Thousand Needles water park.  As a Dwarf or Gnome, I can hike to Ironforge and catch the tram to Stormwind and hop on a ship to Northrend to look around, all at level 1 (though I might level up thanks to exploration XP… might have to try that this weekend, just for fun, and see how many levels I can accrue just by walking around to places I’m not supposed to see).  I can’t tackle enemies far beyond my abilities, so going some places will be very difficult if not impossible, but I’m otherwise free to go in nearly any direction I feel like.

A few nights ago, I took my level 16 Dwarf Hunter to Bloodmyst Isle to train a blue moth.  My daughter wanted to see one in-game, so off I went.  Not having been there before, I had to do a bit of exploring and Petopia/Wowpedia diving, but I eventually acquired a blue moth and took some screenshots of the area.  It wasn’t really a difficult journey, but it was pretty far from the Ironforged rails I was on previously.

A few levels later, the now-19 Hunter went from Ironforge to Wailing Caverns via Stormwind, Teldrassil, Darkshore, Ashenvale and the Northern Barrens (yes, the Westfall>Stranglethorn Vale>Booty Bay>Ratchet>Northern Barrens route might have been faster, but it was an experiment, and I feared STV more than Ashenvale).  Darkshore has been significantly mauled in the Shattering, and it’s a blast to just wander around in.  Ashenvale is tricky, with Horde and Alliance butting heads and dangerous wildlife to a sub-20 character.  Though as always, Hunters can take down foes a few levels higher, it’s still not safe territory.  A level 24 wolf wasn’t much trouble… but a pack of them would be death.  I had to pick fights, dodge aggro bubbles and avoid Horde patrols.

I still couldn’t make it through the Horde gates at the Barrens border, though, even with Alliance footsoldiers running interference.  The Spirit Healer in the Barrens took pity on me and pulled me through, but after accepting the resurrection penalty, the Barrens were still dangerous, especially with Horde players roaming about.  Three Hordies killed me once 40 meters or so off the road on the way to the Caverns, so I carefully skulked in the shadows and along mountain edges after that.  They probably thought I was going to assault the Crossroads, but since Alliance and Horde can only communicate in cutscenes, I couldn’t tell them my intentions were peaceful.

Getting to the instance portal was also an exercise in careful pulling.  I could handle two foes at once in the cave, but three would have been death.  Getting past the nasty pond dinosaur trap midcave was tricky, too.  Luckily, my bear was OK with playing bait, and we both got through.  We even managed to kill one of the raptors in the instance itself, a level 19 Elite, but I chickened out of trying two at a time, since it was a close fight.  (Maybe I just stink, and two would have been easy for a real player, but 1 elite dinosaur was my limit.  Well, 1.5, probably, but I figured 2 was too much, and since dinos don’t come in halves, I stopped at 1.)

Tangentially, I find it interesting that often, those who complain about wanting challenge can’t be bothered to go find it, but want it brought to them on a golden platter and forced on everyone else.  They then complain about lazy players and “easy mode” as if those nefarious casuals (spit) were the only ones with a sense of entitlement.  It’s especially funny to see the complainers using heirloom gear and whining about going too fast.

Most definitely, WoW’s public face is more “gamey” than ever before, but there’s still a world out there to explore, and it’s better than ever, especially for newbies.  It’s beautiful, with the Blizzard artists taking the Old World and stepping up the visuals to great new heights.  It’s still not as worldlike as I’d prefer, not by a long shot, but Azeroth isn’t all about hand-holding and going through the motions unless you let it be.

Boredom is a sign of low curiosity, a personal failure to engage mentally.  It’s not the world failing to entertain you, it’s you failing to investigate some of the many wonders that exist and initiate experimentation with what tools you have.  The same applies to challenge and exploration.

We’re not in Kansas any more, so take that road less traveled, or even go make your own.  There’s plenty of challenging and interesting content off the beaten track if you go looking for it.

____________________________

EDITED TO ADD:

MMO Gamer Chick has an interesting article up with some real noob experiences.  Insightful stuff.

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