Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It's a Small World (of Warcraft)

Who likes an unrelated header? Yes you do! Yes you do!
I don't know the best way to frame this, so I'll start with what I'd normally tack on at the end: have you discovered any interesting real-world connections with players you've found in game? I'm not talking about finding someone who's favorite food is also beets, or someone who doesn't enjoy both Star Trek and Star Wars. This is more from a six degrees of separation standpoint.

I've got two.

Three years ago I'd just joined the guild I'm currently in, along with a couple of friends. We aimed to have more organized PvE-opportunities and it was proving to be difficult with just the three of us on a server that was better known for its PvP activity. Contrary to the server's motto "where PvE comes to die," we were able to recruit enough people to field a raid.

One of these recruits had been on the server for a number of years---much longer than I. I'll call him Bobby. One night, several of us were chatting in Mumble and we got to talking about where we were all located. When I said where I was from, Bobby said he knew people from my city. Now, I live in medium-sized city in Wisconsin, and unless you've been here or know someone from here, you've likely never heard of it. So the info was a bit of a surprise. Turns out, he had been playing with some guys I'd known for several years, guys I'd met via the local music scene. Small world, right? It gets weirder.

Right around the same time that I merged with this guild, I landed a new job. If this detail seems out of place right now, it won't in a minute. The job was open because the previous web manager left for greener pastures (#russ).

Last June, a group including myself, Bobby, and nine other guild members got together in Colorado for our annual meetup. The topic of Bobby's connection to my city came up again. After a short while, we learned the connection was even weirder: the web manager who I replaced was in fact one of his best friends in-game. She'd actually come on a couple of our early raids when we were short on people.

Little did I know, on the mornings after those nights, I'd wake up and go to work only to sit in her former chair!

Now, the second one, this one happening more recently.

We received an application from an interested member. Given the type of guild we are, we like to get a sense of the person as well as the player, so we ask questions that provide the opportunity to do so. This applicant was pretty involved in the NYC music scene as an educator/mentor/engineer. He volunteered a healthy dose of information about himself, enough for Google to do the rest---it wasn't creepy I swear, he wasn't freaked out.

But let's back up again. Years ago, I discovered an indie band via a SXSW sampler CD. I heard the one track and went to find more. I made a point to see them any time they made a pass through the Midwest, even if that meant making the two-and-a-half hour drive to Chicago. When you're playing at the bar or club level as a band, you tend to recognize familiar faces in the crowd. By the end of show two, I had struck up a bit of a camaraderie with with their bass player and their drummer. We kept in touch, on and off, well outside of the one-time-per-year we might brush elbows.

Back to the present: this recruit is a perfect fit for the guild, that's without question. But as a musician myself, I'm more interested in learning a bit more about his professional resume. I stumbled across a video on YouTube of testimonials from his current and former students. About halfway through watching, who do I see on screen? The friggin' bass player from that indie band...he was one of this recruit's former students!

I almost fell out of my chair.

It's fun to think these connections are all around us just waiting to be discovered. So, I'll close how I opened: do you have any similar stories?

Monday, September 12, 2016

I Don't Wanna Raid...

...I just wanna quest in the world all day.

That's the sentiment going through my head as I gallivant across the Broken Isles seeking the latest World Quest to offer armor, with the aims of slowly boosting my overall ilvl. I'm at point A and can see point B, no problems there. The issue lies with all the little points in between A and B: the side quests, rare mobs, other world quests.

They call to me. They've called to me since I first stepped foot onto the Broken Isles. And I answered pretty much every single one I ran across. That is, until I hit level 110. Because then, a little switch flipped inside of me, and a new primary goal materialized: keep having fun get ready for raiding.

In order to get ready for raiding, I had to be eligible to earn gear from heroic dungeons. While these can be run with a full group regardless of one's ilvl, a busy real life and sporadic play schedule dictates that I reach the 810 ilvl group finder requirement independently. In order to reach 810 ilvl, I had to do world quests and/or normal dungeons. But in order to do world quests I had to wrap up some Nightfallen questlines.

Suddenly, there was all this stuff I had to do, and for the first time since I've been raiding, I realized that the stuff I had to do put a little bit of a damper on the amount of fun I was having. A part of me wishes I didn't have to worry about raiding for a few weeks so I could fully experience the game in the way that Legion just begs to be experienced: slowly, erratically, a journey personalized by the choices the player makes or doesn't make.

Now granted, this urgency to drop everything and focus on gearing is mostly self-imposed. But as a raid officer for the guild, it's understandably expected that I'm in shape for Raid Night One. But for the first time since I started raiding with friends, the feeling of disappointment over having to rush or bypass content is greater than than excitement I have for the first raid.

Maybe this is partly coming about because I've been afforded much less play time compared to my guild-peers since launch. Is anyone else out there feeling this?

Monday, August 29, 2016

WoW Weekly: Luke 8 Verse 30

WoW Weekly is a biweekly-ish, self-absorbed look into the things I've been doing inside the game and out. From mount farming and raiding, to music, movies, books and other games.

Oooooooooohhh-weeeeee the excitement is palpable, is it not? The fact that we're a half a day away from having our login attempts throttled by DDOS attacks is something that always ushers in the warm fuzzies. At 12:01a Pacific time, I will be sleeping. No time off of work to level this week; what remains of my vacation days is going towards Blizzcon. I entertained waking in the wee hours Tuesday morning to get some time in before work, but again, I'm anticipating the servers will be dealing with a lot of extra crap at first. It's likely that I won't sit down with Legion until the lunch hour on Tuesday---servers allowing.

It's going to be a busy week. There's band practice, a wedding, other obligations, and a gal out there who likes to see me from time to time. So in preparation I'm hashing out a bit of a schedule and setting some goals for the week.

That's today. Today I'm just trying to concentrate on work but this post here is Exhibit A in a slew of evidence pointing toward the fact that I'm failing at the concentrating thing. In a perfect world I would've taken a week off but this is America and vacation days are a hot commodity around here. Those lucky enough to have paid vacation tend not to have a lot of it. I'll shut up now.

I do envy those who were able to bank off some time; to me, it's not about being answerable to the Dev's release schedule. It's about the shared, collective experience we have at an expansion's launch: for a couple of brief weeks, the vast majority of players are engaged in a single activity---leveling up their toons. I saw someone refer to today as this year's first Christmas Eve. Very apt. It's also about putting myself into good status when it comes to raid-readiness. I'd also like to explore the possibility of leveling up an alt concurrently with my main, instead of waiting for a lull.

In the mean time, I'm checking out what others are saying here in the 11th hour totally concentrating on work real good. Qelric has an excellent piece over at MMO Games on her impressions of the Legion leveling experience. I didn't think I could get any more excited for Tuesday, but her post brought it up another level.

The holy day. Or demonic, perhaps. After writing that last section and working through my feelings of jealousy, a 5- or 6am alarm clock doesn't seem so crazy. Only trouble is Tuesday is my long day---I work the day job from eight to five and then host an open mic event from six til around midnight. Shaving off a couple of hours of sleep might come back to bite me.

So the AM playtime call will be made in the moment; I'll for sure get to see something over the lunch hour on Tuesday, and perhaps briefly after work. If the servers are stable, I'm hoping to at least find my artifact weapon and knock out a few quests.

Technically I don't have to be at the day job until noon, but I generally come in between nine and ten. I might milk that this week and get a couple of hours in before work. Following work is band practice, but that should wrap up by 8p, leaving a solid three or four hours open before sleep. I'm hoping to be in the 102-104 range by Wednesday's end.

There may be noon-hour shenanigans. If not, I'll still be left with a generous amount of time: Thursday night is traditionally the guild's raid night, so I already have that time blocked off for Warcraft! Then again, I may not play the whole night, as a few weeks into September my Thursday nights will be reclaimed by progression raids. I'm hoping to be somewhere around 105-107 by the end of the night.

This will be the night where I'm truly prepped. Beer and lazy food items will be on the menu. Probably pizza. Yeah, pizza sounds good. Gonna opt for delivery methinks, a real treat. Taco pizza. Mmmmmm. Probably some nachos as a late-night snack. I hope to be near max level by the night's end---which could stretch into the wee hours of the morning provided I don't have much for plans on Saturday.

Planning on a hearty breakfast of sausages, eggs and OJ whenever I roll out of bed, though it'll probably be sometime in the 10 o'clock hour since I start to feel guilty if I sleep later than that. I should probably let my local friends know I'm alive; perhaps I'll head over to @kennylogouts' house for a LAN party. :D

I'm hoping to reach max-level at which point I'll concentrate on any remaining profession leveling.

My baby sister gets married. Please don't kill the Legion without me.

Free day, as it's a holiday here. I may be burned out on long play sessions by this point and/or possibly hungover from the night before, so I haven't quite planned this day out. Regardless, I mean to head into next week at max level, so if need be I'll finish that off. But probably not much else.

How about you? What's your first week of Legion going to look like?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Can I Just Say I'm Stoked for Legion?

Cause I'm gonna whether you think I should or not.

I'm stoked for Legion.

I had to look back to see if I'd noted any sort of excitement during the lead-up to Warlords of Draenor. I'm sure it was there, but this seems entirely different, more palpable. Yes, we're hearing the same old lines about how this will be the "best" and most "content-intensive" expansion we've had to date, but this time around not only do I want to believe them, I feel I should believe them.

But in all honesty, aside from maybe patch 6.2, I don't care if the cycle looks like Warlords. Given Blizzard is promising much more than that is encouraging, but for now I'm cool with surveying the landscape around me own my own time: demons invading, factional losses, political upheaval---some real story.

The environment just feels like Warcraft again, and it's been perfectly exemplified by demon invasions. If I wasn't in a guild, the isolation of the garrison and the convenience of the self-service ready-to-raid tools might have left me feeling like I was the only real live person playing. And that's perhaps why I reacted in mild surprise when, while waiting on a boat to get to Undercity the other day, a player asked, "Hey, can someone with a dual mount fly me to the invasion point?"

I looked at the white text above their head with mild curiosity, then realized, "Oh shit! A real, organic quest!" Then I noticed the other dozen-and-a-half players waiting on the boat as well (who all were incidentally doing their best NPC impressions and not acknowledging this player). The game felt alive! I quickly mounted my rocket and sidled over to the player. Later that day, I found 100g in my mailbox. There was no note, and I don't remember the character's name, but I don't care. I'm saying that came from them.

Granted, Legion isn't quite out yet, so it might be premature to ask how Legion's treating you. But really, based on what you've seen, what do you think so far?

I can't wait to see the final product on Tuesday.

Monday, August 22, 2016

WoW Weekly: That's a Wrap

The shot above is one I didn't imagine seeing on my own login screen. Prior to this weekend, the top six characters sat at max level, most of them decently geared due to Heroic HFC alt runs and the occasional LFR. So last week when it was announced that XP gains for completing invasion stages had been massively nerfed, I abandoned any dreams of having a full roster of max-level characters.

Then, the weekend came early: I decided to take Friday off from work in order to check off some to-dos that had been on the list for too long. Right before heading out to run errands, I saw some interesting chatter on Twitter indicating that invasion mob XP had been hotfixed in the players' favor: experience from shared non-boss kills would be more rewarding, and there were massive amounts of XP to be had from the various bosses (skulls & named) across the map.

Long story short, I spent the better part of Friday and Saturday night (my sometimes-idea of the perfect weekend) working on alts 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Most of these characters were sitting between 90 and 93, though one began this journey at 80 and another at 84. It didn't take much time at all---roughly an hour played-sans-prep per character---to level from 90 to 100. As of right now, players have about a week left before Legion launches and the deluge of XP will cease. Below, I'll describe the method I used.

Legion Invasion Power-leveling Tips

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I began this journey with a bit of an advantage: gold. Gold made it so that every single one of my characters could be in the best shape possible when it came to XP gains: in addition to being max-rested, they all had full heirlooms and access to the most lucrative leveling potion: Elixir of the Rapid Mind.


You'll need to dust off those old heirlooms for these fights. Ideally, you'll have the helm, shoulder, cloak, chest, legs and ring slots covered. This will give you a +50% bonus to experience gains. You may find additional heirlooms to be an overall power increase for your character, and that's fine---they just don't actually give a bonus to experience. Remember, heirlooms can be upgraded to function up to level 100 through a token purchased from a vendor found in Undercity.

Mandatory Potions

There are two potions you should have in your possession before you start on this journey; both are relatively simple to get. 

The first, Excess Potion of Accelerated Learning, can be purchased from your Garrison Quartermaster for 100 Garrison Resources. This provides a 20% boost to experience gains and lasts for an hour. Most players should have a garrison and plenty of resources left over to make this happen. However, I did mention two of my characters started sub-90, meaning they hadn't yet set foot on Draenor. So did I spend the time to establish my garrison once they hit 90? I did. 

Here's why: it's easy. I'm not sure it's worth it, as I haven't done the math, but it's easy. Remember, you can completely skip the Tanaan Intro by porting to Gorgrond from the Timeless Isle. Alternatively, a mage port to Warspear and a quick flight to your garrison area will also do the trick. Once there, a half-dozen short quests (about 10 minutes) end with you seeing the construction of your garrison; when it's all over, you'll be left with 105 garrison resources---just enough to buy one potion.* The one catch: you must be level 91 to purchase said potion, so I waited until each character was 91 to set up their garrison.

Most importantly, you need a few Elixirs of the Rapid Mind, but this one's going to cost you. And here you thought all that Warlords gold was for pets and sniping items off the Black Market Auction House! There was a good amount of elixirs on my server's auction house at the start of the weekend; by Sunday night, the supply was but a fraction of the original count, and the price had gone up 50%. These potions will give a 300% boost to experience gains, but the catch is they last a trifling 15 minutes. Across the six characters, I probably purchased just under two-dozen, which amounted to roughly 250,000g. So there is a bit of investment in this method, but I feel no regret and only need to scroll up to the header image for a reminder that I made the right choice. 

*If you are using 300% elixirs in addition to the 20% potion, you should reach level 100 before you need another 20% potion.

Choosing Your Invasion Point

In my opinion, there are four invasion points that are the most attractive to attack, two per faction. For Horde players, these are Azshara and Northern Barrens; for Alliance, it's Dun Morogh and Westfall. It's mainly because they're near faction capital cities: this provides quick travel to invasion sites, and also somewhat guarantees that a large factional force will be present. The latter point is more important on PvP servers, of course, as it means you'll in theory spend less time getting ganked as a lowbie. If you can, ask in general if there's a raid group to join, or start your own. I found it's much easier to become a healer's target when in-group, which can aid in death prevention.

Invasion Strat & Potion Use

Your first order of business is to survive. Yes, you'll be fighting and tagging stuff, and may have to be wary of the opposing faction, but if you're dead you cannot take advantage of all that XP (aside from phase transitions, which I'll touch on below)! There's nothing like having a 470% XP boost---both pots, heirlooms, rested---only to watch all three Phase 2 bosses die while you're a ghost in the graveyard.

Secondly, you'll want to tag everything that you can, especially in Phase 1; the bigger mobs tend to give more XP, with the named bosses and skulls found across the map providing the greatest time spent per XP gained. You'll see in Phase 3 that there's a predictable flow to how/when bosses will appear across the map. It's another big reason why I chose the zones I did in the previous section.

In terms of potion use, I use the 20% when entering the very first invasion of the day, waiting to pop the 300% until just before Phase 1 ends. This way I'm not losing too much potential XP in Phase 1 if the mobs are too scattered or if I'm slow, but still allows me to take advantage of the boost when awarded XP at the phase transition. The potion will be up for all of the Phase 3 zone bosses and will provide bonus XP at the transition to Phase 4. If you do this successfully, you should only need three 300% potions---four at most---on the journey from 90 to 100.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, because this is where you're going to reset the invasion.

Invasion Resets

As we all know, invasions currently rotate on a two hour timer. However, what people may not know is that these invasions can be run as many times in that two hour window as a player wants so long as they don't kill the Phase 4 boss.

Since the meat of the XP gains are found via killing bosses in Phases 2 and 3, the idea is to spend as much time in those phases while under the influence of XP boosts. If you log your character out after Phase 4 begins, and then log back in, the invasion will reset and most times will start you somewhere in Phase 1---a handful of times it started me out in Phase 2. Granted, you only earn phase change XP and chests the first time through a specific invasion, but you're not in this for gear, and the XP to be had by repeating Phases 2 and 3 in quick succession absolutely dwarfs what you'd see if you simply went around completing fresh invasions. Not to mention travel time is a huge waste of a 15,000g potion that lasts for 15 minutes.

General Tips

Live to fight again - can't stress this enough: don't die. There are several graveyards that do not act like a PvP graveyard, i.e., you'll have to run back to your corpse in order to resurrect. And let me tell you, these graveyards are not conveniently placed. In almost every instance this happened to me, the boss I was fighting was long dead once I finally got back to my body, meaning I missed out on roughly 1/3 of a level of XP.

Re-potting - You should reach level 100 prior to your 20% XP potion running out. However, you'll have to reapply the 300% potion up to three times; like the first application, I've found it best to apply it right before Phase 2; however, if you find yourself in an unusually long Phase 3 and a couple of boss kills might fall outside of the buff window, it might be best to reapply then. That's your call.

Tagging - You only need to hit a mob once to get its XP; however, don't stray too far away when you're tagging. I learned you can be too far away from a tagged mob in order to benefit from its XP. Again, don't get too zealous as much as you want to practice your rotation. Being alive when that tagged boss falls is the ultimate goal.