Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Blizzcon 2015 Wrap-Up: A Hearthstone Adventure

img: Blizzard
While I found the opening ceremony preview for the next Hearthstone adventure quite endearing, I hadn't actually planned on sitting down to test it out on the floor. But sometimes, life has other plans for you and you've got to make due with your available options. Basically, my friend and I ditched the Linkin Park concert a bit early (despite the fact to my surprise, they put on a great show) with the intention of playing Overwatch without having to wait in a long line. It worked for us last year...and didn't work for us this year. Clearly the Overwatch hype train is roaring at full-force.

Realizing we didn't want to spend a great deal of time in line just to try something we played the year prior, we strolled over to the Heroes of the Storm demo area. We checked out the new Arena mode earlier in the day and thought about trying to new map this time around, but that would've also involved a 20+ minute wait. Then we realized there wasn't a wait for the new Hearthstone adventure, so we thought, "What the hell!" What follows is an "I played some of the new Hearthstone adventure, what the hell, I'll toss some thoughts out there" write-up. This will be light on details, with more focus on impressions. I figure if you're interested in Hearthstone at all you already know about the new cards, maps, mechanics and the like. If you're interested in a casual player's perspective, read on.

I sat down at the PC and was greeted with a screen that allowed selection of one of two heroes: a rogue or a shaman if my memory serves me. It wasn't immediately clear if this signaled two separate adventures, or if it simply provided two class options for the same adventure. It turned out to be the latter, the adventure being The Temple of Osiris.

I chose the shaman (or whatever class it was) first. Pretty sure it was a shaman. It actually didn't end up mattering which class I picked because very early on in the match I had a card that, when played, replaced the default hero power with a random hero power. I ended up getting the warlock's Life Tap. However, because of the format of the adventure itself, the hero power didn't really factor much in the two matches I played.

The board looked like an underground temple ala Raiders of the Lost Ark. Naturally, I spent a bit of time clicking around the four corners to see how I could interact with the board itself. Nothing too memorable, but thematically appropriate. In this game, I didn't face an enemy hero---I fought against the temple itself. The key was to survive 10 rounds without dying. Doing so meant I'd essentially escaped the temple with my physical and mental facilities in tact.

I was given a pre-built deck in each instance. The temple did possess a zero-mana hero ability that summoned powerful minions to try to prevent me from escaping. But this wasn't the only interesting mechanic; after almost every round, I was given a choice to do something---usually I was shown two cards and had to pick one. One I can clearly recall was a choice between drawing two cards or healing my hero for 10 health. About halfway through the 10 rounds, the temple's ceiling caved in and cleared the entire board of minions---a blessing or a curse depending what I or the temple had placed on the board prior.

img: Blizzard

That all said, I didn't really have a problem countering what the temple threw at me with the cards in my deck. It was a fun experience, but I can't say it was a particularly challenging one---I'd have to assume it would be the same for anyone with basic familiarity with Hearthstone play. The second playthrough with the rogue felt a bit more difficult due to the cards I drew, but I was still able to escape with relative ease. What's more: I had a friend playing next to me who had never played a game of Hearthstone in her life. I looked over and she had 6 health remaining and five more turns to survive. At this point she asked me to assist and I guided her on what to play for the remaining rounds, assuming we were doomed. At least I'd get to see what losing looked like.

To my astonishment, she also escaped the temple with her life. It made me think that perhaps we'll see some balancing tweaks before release, but considering it will go goes live within a week today my guess is that there will be variance in difficulty modes to offer greater challenge to more skilled players. Either way, it's a cool take on the solo adventure, much different from Naxxramas or Blackrock Mountain. Well worth the money or gold, in my opinion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Blizzcon 2015 in Pictures

I'm still deconstructing all of the information that came out of Blizzcon last weekend---there are definitely a couple of posts worth of thoughts, but to start off, I'm simply going to share a selection of the pictures I took. If you have the means to attend Blizzcon, I would highly recommend it. Even though the convention's focus is moving away from Warcraft, and even though Blizzard is packing a lot more content into the weekend which makes it impossible to catch everything, the experience in itself is worth seeing at least once. Or four times, if you're me.

Each year our group rents a little house nearby the convention center. This was the view from the front porch. I'm sparing everyone pictures of the bacon, eggs, toast and mimosa breakfasts. You can imagine how that went.

See-through Nova mini figure. Wasn't impressed with this, was hoping to trade for an ETC before the convention's end. Sadly did not happen. Ping me if you want to trade!

Trip to California not complete without a visit to In-n-Out Burger.

The day before the convention. People starting to filter in.

Front side of the convention center the day before the con.

Beautiful fountain in the courtyard featuring colored water jets.

Sole image I managed to snap of the Wowhead party on Thursday night held on the rooftop of the Hilton. Unbeknownst to me (initially) was that there were two sides to this party; the other half was on the opposite side of the roof, and you had to walk through the Hilton to access it. After wandering to a bathroom in a slight stupor, I accidentally returned to the party on the opposite side, which featured green-lit palm trees instead of the red ones seen above. For a few moments I thought I'd wandered into a parallel universe. 

My signature on the signing wall, which I'm happy to say remained there the entire con---many others got scribbled over due to sheer volume.

Long view of the signing wall, with my buddy @thronus in the foreground at left.

I snap pics of the statues every single year, and they never cease to amaze me. This is probably my favorite. See below for some new statues!

Day of the convention; things are starting to get busy. This is the long walkway that leads to the front of the convention center which is lined with food trucks. 


Gotta love the training dummy!

A blurry Tracer. I'm convinced Blizzard modeled the character after this gal. 

New this year: a Tracer statue, which is available in the Blizzard store (the mini version, of course)

Will the real Darkmoon Faire please stand up?

Kerrigan statue. Just beyond is the entrance to the arena where the Starcraft championships were held.

Winston overshadowing a well-done Rollerskate Nova.

My buddy @thronus and the Tracer we saw earlier.

Winston statue. Fierce.

A couple of beards at Blizzcon featuring yours truly and @Epic_Insanity.

The Lich King. This dude was like 6'8", which only added to the looming presence of the get-up.

Blizzcon would not be Blizzcon without the protesters and the counter-protesters. 

Probably my second-favorite statue.

The above statue includes this base: Mannoroth's lifeless head.

In the coming days I'm hoping to post my thoughts about the Demon Hunter experience I was able to test, in addition to reflections about how Blizzcon has changed throughout the years.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Chill Winston!

chillwinston.jpg (img:blizzard)

Title appropriate for reasons hopefully forthcoming. Header image appropriate because the title also references a line in my favorite Guy Ritchie movie and Winston just happens to be the name of a character in Blizzard's soon-to-be-in-beta FPS Overwatch. As you can see, if you're on the opposing side of Winston you're probably going to wish that he'd just chill out. Opening paragraph appropriate because this is probably going to be a rambling piece stating things I've said before using more words than I actually need. But I settled on a title and a header image before starting, so I'm feeling a minor obligation to finish it. I know, not many selling points to continue reading.

A few months back, I made a promise to myself to stop speculating about the design of World of Warcraft, and what Blizzard may or may not do by reading into what they're saying and not saying. So far I've kept my promise, even if I didn't speculate that much to begin with. Speculation, of course, isn't talking about likes and dislikes. Speculation isn't simply saying you don't like the fact it took so long for Blizzard to add flight. Speculation is saying Blizzard only cares about maximizing subscription dollars, and prolonging the leveling and end-game open-world content by prohibiting flight is one way to do that.

Speculation is forming a theory or opinion without firm evidence. Note the adjective; not a lack of evidence, but a lack of firm evidence. I alluded to my interest and study of the UFO phenomenon in the piece linked above; I spent several years researching the best evidence available to the public. As of this writing, ETs haven't landed on the White House lawn. Outside of that happening, the only way for me to know, to truly know, would be if I were a decidedly real secret agent with files of direct proof in my hand. I am not such a person, I must say.

There's a parallel here (you still there?) when it comes to speculation about what Blizzard is doing and saying. As is often claimed in ufology, the information possessed by those in the know is highly compartmentalized. The scope of what Johnny B. knows is not what Sally C. knows, and Ashley F. only speaks about what they've been authorized to speak about. The only way for me to know what Blizzard's up to would be if I were a drone on the wall in every single meeting. From CS to design, development, financials, organizational planning---all of them.

So the end result of speculation is the same: there's an inherent inability to know, and speculation will only take one so far until it becomes an utterly exhausting exercise. We can get close to knowing, sure, and sometimes we even stumble upon an actual truth, whether we're aware of it or not. But in the end, I had to distance myself from the subject. I had stop visiting the message boards, certain websites, and curb myself from talking to anyone who'd lend their ear. Oh right. I'm not talking about UFOs here. I'm talking about Blizzard's intentions, their game design, and what they should be doing to make it the game that seems ideal for me.

I've been out of the Blizzard speculation loop long enough to where the thought of speculation on an announced design or feature has zero appeal. Then again, I accepted Warlord's lack of flight from the start, even if communication about when it would actually be implemented left a bit to be desired. But perhaps my disposition was different from the start, compared to those who were outraged by the announcements or the silence or both.

What I had to do with Blizzard, like I did with ufology, was to take everything I'd learned and experienced up to that point and form a belief. To find a solid rock to stand on amidst the sand I'd been mucking around in. I'd have to look at the past ten years I spent in the game, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends; ten years of quality entertainment, how times have changed, and what has remained the same.

What I realized is that the belief had been there all along, the same belief that drew me into World of Warcraft and the one that has positioned me as a gamer who plays almost nothing but Blizzard games: that Blizzard Entertainment brings, and will continue to bring quality gaming experiences to the masses. We've had ample evidence of this (outside of and including World of Wacraft) during the past two years especially.

My truth is a personal one. Mine and mine alone, and one that I won't force on other people. The truth is something they'll have to discover on their own---should they even feel the need to seek it---whether their truth matches mine or not. But if the truth for me wasn't what it is, I wouldn't be in this space. I wouldn't be writing this.

In closing, if I have one bit of advice, it's to take this all in---the state of Blizzard, its games, and gaming in general---within the greater context of everything that's out there. Day to day. Hour to hour. Minute to minute. If you're disappointed, frustrated, or angry, self-imposed exile can be a valuable thing. The truths out there aren't going anywhere. They exist independent of all of us.

If nothing else, try to look up from time to time. Expect nothing, and I promise you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Q's for the Legion Q & A

Legion, the upcoming sixth expansion in the World of Warcraft franchise. (img: Blizzard)

News status: dropped.

We now know where the next chapter in our World of Warcraft journey will take us: back home, to fend off the largest demon invasion Azeroth has ever seen. Larger than the War of the Ancients, which of all the threats Azeroth has faced, it was the one that brought the planet closest to utter decimation.

This was the expansion setting I was hoping for, one set on Azeroth fighting back the ultimate invasion of the Burning Legion. I'm looking forward to learning a lot more in the coming months and getting a hands-on preview at Blizzcon this November. There's an in-depth Legion Q & A this Sunday which I'll definitely tune in for. Below are some questions I have that I anticipate will be addressed.

How does Illidan fit in?

I'll admit when they revealed the brief teaser cinematic that featured Gul'dan breaking Illidan out of his prison, I felt really uneasy. Not because I feared what sort of calamities Illidan could bring to the table, but because I was hoping Blizzard was done resurrecting dead characters for the time being. 

Granted, a recent tweet from Alex Afrasiabi that caused quite a bit of uproar may be the first instance where we see an explanation for Illidan's return: 

Previously, it wasn't clear if all demons shared this characteristic, or if it was just certain powerful demons. Earlier in the exchange, when asked if Archimonde was from our universe or the alternative universe of Draenor, Afrasiabi responded "that's not how demons work." Given this info, we might be able to assume that all demons are immortal unless killed in the Twisting Nether. A rather defeating thought.

Even knowing what we know now, I hope Illidan's resurgence is better explained than Archimonde's return was for story's sake, and that he's not just another nostalgia-villain Blizzard's using as an attempt to lure nostalgia-subscribers. Because I'm not prepared for that. 

Will we see traditional Legendary items this expansion?

The idea for Artifacts is actually an old one, prevalent in lore and talked about all the way back in Vanilla. We'll see that idea come to fruition in WoW:Legion, as each class will be able to earn an iconic Artifact weapon that can be leveled up in power and changed cosmetically throughout the course of the expansion. 

But what I'm wondering is if we'll see Legendary items in any of the formats we've seen in previous expansions. To me, the Artifact system sounds a lot like the Legendary cloak and ring systems we saw in Mists and Warlords, respectively. You start out with a lower quality item, and through the course of the game the item is increased in power until reaching its final form. While Blizzard could have a separate Legendary quest chain alongside the Artifact system, I don't see it as likely.

I'm wondering more about whether or not we'll see Legendary drops in raids again, ala the Burning Crusade, or the build-a-weapon formats from Vanilla, Wrath, and Cataclysm. 

And if we don't get Legendary items, could we at least see some Legiondary items?

Will Dalaran look any different than it did in WotLK?

Word is that the arrival of the Legion has awoken something sinister within the Violet Hold in Dalaran...or something like that. Whatever happened, it's made the Kirin Tor curious enough to move their city all the way from Northrend down to the south side of the Broken Isles.

Players visiting Dalaran in its current location in Northrend are treated to the same architecture and decor that first launched with Wrath of the Lich King. I'm wondering if perhaps they spruced up the place since then, or if we'll see any of the aftermath of the Kirin Tor purge that happened during Mists of Pandaria.

How will Wrathion factor in to Legion?

Wrathion warned us of the inevitability of the Burning Legion invasion. He was the one who pitted the Horde and the Alliance against each other in Pandaria, hoping one side would emerge the victor so that when the invasion came there would be a unified, focused front. He was sure Azeroth wouldn't survive unless his plan came to pass.

But we know Wrathion's plan failed. The Alliance and the Horde banded together briefly to destroy Garrosh's Horde, but neither faction destroyed the other. Draenor saw Horde and Alliance working together to a certain degree, but it's clear the faction war is not over. According to Wrathion, our current status should set us up to fail.

Given he foreshadowed events we'll likely see in Legion, I'm hoping to learn a lot more about what Wrathion's been up to since Mists of Pandaria.

Assuming we overcome the Legion, what's left for Azeroth?

This isn't really a question I would ask, as I think it's super early to be asking about what comes after Legion, but it came to mind after a guildie raised the point in our forums. Taking Alex's word that this is the largest Legion invasion Azeroth has seen, one could think that Legion expansion contains the resolution to the Burning Legion vs. Azeroth story. 

Additionally, there's some pretty lore-heavy stuff from the looks of it. Lady Azshara, the Pillars of Creation, Titans (who always seem to have an Old God lurking nearby)...a great deal of Azeroth's history from the last ten millenia that could be resolved here. 

The question also assumes that we win this fight. If Wrathion is right, we won't win. While I'm not actively speculating about what comes next, it will occupy a small, quiet space in the back of mind mind.

What are you hoping to learn more about?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Between a Rock and a Fel-Corrupted Apexis Fragment

I was about ready to give up on Warcraft last Sunday. Well, at least I felt that way for a spell. Prior to this, my Sunday afternoon in gaming looked promising. I had a good chunk of time carved out to play, something I find less and less of these days. My plan centered around my main objective for the afternoon: the round of dailies in Tanaan Jungle. I hearthed to Vol'mar, but before I could even grab one quest, I was dead.


As I made my way back to my body, the four Alliance I'd spotted had multiplied into fourteen or more. Horde representation was limited to corpses on the ground and those unlucky enough to appear in Vol'mar via login or hearth, only to have their lives quickly snuffed out. This continued for the better part of two hours, from what I could tell.

It was a familiar scene. The Alliance and Horde bases are ripe for these sort of encounters, and I witness the aftermath in Vol'mar more often than not. A sense of dread accompanies each use of my hearthstone, or cast of Astral Recall. As much as I hate it, this is the game working precisely as intended. I have that straight from the horse's mouth. But this post is still me complaining about PvP on a PvP server, so continue on at your own risk.

Why. Why why why did I roll a toon on a PvP server? The answer is that at the time, I wanted a more "real" experience. This is where my current self gives my past self a reprimand in the form of "You fucking twat you didn't even PvP much to begin with, how is the ability to have your PvE goals rendered impossible by something inherent to the game server's design a more real experience?"

Open world PvP allows and encourages other players to absolutely demolish my gaming experience, consent for which I gave when I first joined the server. The obvious solution is to transfer away, right? I wish. It's a hell of a lot more complicated than that.

I don't play on my current server because I'm a heavy role-player nor do I play there because I particularly enjoy World PvP. I play there because that's where I found the best match when it came to a community the last time I was trawling through the Recruitment forums. I've said many, many times in the past that if it weren't for the people I play with I wouldn't be playing this game. Transferring for me would signal the beginning of the end.

Still, the whole experience left me wondering some things. Allow me to gripe.

Why do Vol'mar/Lion's Watch NPCs hit like wet noodles?

Where the fuck are the pandaren guards from the Timeless Isle when you need them? At least those guys were annoying when players first set foot there and engaged in PvP. Do I even have guards in Vol'mar? You want me to believe that I'm the commander of this outfit...that I'd give my blessing to the most shittily defended base on the front lines of the most threatening warfare we've seen on the continent? If that's the case, strip me of all land, titles, and accompanying privileges. Send me the fuck home. I'm an undeniable failure.

I guess it's cool that Gargash the flight master can be kited far outside of Vol'mar and held hostage. You've got to hand it to that guy for his zeal and tenacity when it comes to the effort he puts into holding off opposing forces. But come on, Gargarsh! First rule here is YOU DO NOT ABANDON YOUR POST.

You're fired.  

Would the game experience benefit from more structured rules to open-world PvP?

I can almost hear the collective war cries from the PvP advocates on this one. Cannot fault that response.

PvP happens. I know, and I'm OK with it as part of the game. What gets annoying is the scenario I've outlined above: I've got a chunk of time to quest, yet I'm prohibited from doing so. While I'm attempting to grab quests between corpse runs, I'm killed repeatedly. The PvP is slowing me down, sure, but now because of several deaths in a short span of time, I'm given a resurrection timer. Now I literally cannot play the game. I suppose I could stick my thumb up my ass (that's where I keep my garrison hearthstone) and play around with my mission table for a minute, but I don't find that to be a very compelling alternative. Granted, the Horde side on my server does the same thing to the Alliance at Lion's Watch. It's a vicious cycle.

I don't know what I'm looking for here. And it's not a legitimate want, given I am on a PvP server. I don't want the game changed for a large group of people just to fit my fancy, but after I've ratcheted up to that two-minute death timer, I think it'd be nice to have a guarantee that I have more options than simply logging out.

Again, this stems from my choosing to be on a PvP server, and the experience that I'm looking for is readily available on a PvE server. I've outlined why that's not an option for me at the moment. At the same time, I question if having an unassailable enemy force holding the main PvE quest hub hostage for hours at a time is exactly what Blizzard had in mind for open-world PvP engagement. 

Could Blizzard perhaps include value-added services with each expansion purchase?

It must be clear that players don't necessarily choose their server based on its designation type, i.e. PvE or PvP. Some players may not fully understand what it means to roll on a PvP server. Some players may not know that even on PvE servers, it is possible to engage in open-world PvP. My problem is with how tightly we're locked in to the server we choose. 

I've advocated in the past for there being additional services included when a player buys the expansion. Wouldn't it be neat if a server transfer and faction/race chance were included with the purchase of each new expansion? Wouldn't it make sense to have those options, given how players come and go? A returning player with the ability to easily play with friends on his/her established toons without the prohibitive costs of character services seems like a win-win to me. 

Can we have cross-server guilds? 

I think the one legitimate gripe about this would be the watering down of a server's community. But I'd counter the community is only as large as the one you engage in. I play on a high-population server, yet my in-game community is limited for a few dozen people. It wouldn't matter what server I was on, just that I can continue to play with them---people I've now traveled across half the country to meet. While it's feasibly possible to do now, it's not possible to do under the same guild banner. 

With current cross-realm technology, I can't imagine we're far off from the ability to host cross-server guilds.  As the game ages, communities continue to get smaller and smaller. It would make sense to support what you've got. This would be the perfect solution to the problem I'm experiencing, and I'd exercise the option in a heartbeat. 

There. Do you feel better? I feel better.