13/09/2021

The Toxicity of Damage Meters

I've been thinking about damage meters lately, for three different reasons.

One is that I found it interesting how in a recent post by Kaylriene about toxicity in the WoW and FFXIV communities, a lot of the bad behaviour he talked about seemed to at least be partially inspired by people's reading of damage meters. The second reason is that part of the feeling that my Classic guild became too competitive for me to continue progression raiding was due to people suddenly talking about damage meters a lot. Thirdly, in our little retail levelling group, one of my guildies decided to install a damage meter and started commenting on people's dps, and I was surprised by how much that instantly irked me.

First off, to get the obvious out of the way first, obviously damage meters are not inherently evil, and in harder content they are a useful tool to diagnose problems. The problem I have with them is their seeming ubiquity in WoW and the way players use them to turn absolutely everything into a competition, no matter the circumstances. (When I returned to WoW two years ago, I never bothered to install a damage meter addon myself by the way.)

When I expressed some of my disappointment in the constant damage meter talk during raids on the guild Discord prior to stepping back from progression, I got some pushback along the lines of: "But people are only saying nice things, such as congratulating the top dps [after every single trash pull...], what's wrong with that?" At which point I disengaged from that conversation because trying to get people out of that box was clearly getting too deep for random guild Discord chatter, but the question behind it has continued to bounce around in my head ever since.

It's not that I don't get where they're coming from. I, too, used to be that person who unthinkingly had their damage meter open all the time. There's a post on this blog from back in Cataclysm when I mused about how odd it felt to do some dungeons without it after a patch had briefly broken my addon. Back then my ultimate conclusion was that while I kind of enjoyed the experience of not having to worry about anyone's numbers, harder content simply made it mandatory, as wiping all the time without understanding what's going on isn't exactly fun either.

The thing is, since then I've spent the last ten years playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, which doesn't have universal combat logging, and found that to be an improvement in pretty much every way. The thing is - and while I initially found this system kind of clunky I actually think it's genius now - SWTOR allows personal combat logging, so if you care that much about your own numbers, you can see them, but you can't see anyone else's without their explicit permission. The latter requires you all to log into a third party program together, which is absolutely what we do when we do harder progression content and need to see in detail what's happening. But that random pug you decided to do? Has no idea about your actual numbers, and neither do you about theirs, and I'm glad because not everything has to be a bloody competition. (Also, it means that if there's a problem, everyone has to work together to try and solve it instead of simply trying to identify the weakest link according to the meter and kicking them, but that's just a bonus really.)

There is nothing wrong with competition, I can be quite competitive myself under certain circumstances, but there's a time and a place for it. There's nothing wrong with running a race, but if I invite you to a stroll in the park, you starting a stopwatch and constantly bringing up our current walking speed is going to feel odd at the very least! At worst, loudly comparing and rating people in various categories of your choice is generally considered quite rude.

And let's be clear here: A lot of MMO content is definitely not designed to be competitive. Sure, you can absolutely do a Maraudon speed run to see who can clear the place the fastest, and if I see that sort of thing on YouTube I genuinely admire the effort, but that doesn't mean that every Maraudon run ever should be a speed run from then on and that people who just want to see the sights and kill bosses are in the wrong.

And that is my problem with talking about damage meters, in a nutshell. It shifts the conversation away from the stuff that I enjoy, the stuff that we all got into the game for in the first place. We choose the framework through which we view a game like WoW, and fixating on damage meters is a choice to turn the game into a competition, even in content that isn't meant to be. It doesn't matter to me if your constant talk about "pumping" is positive or negative, because I reject the whole idea that we should be spending our evenings measuring who's got the biggest coloured bar to begin with. I log into an MMO for the explorative aspect of solo play and the fun of grouping.

I know that different people have different priorities, but I do find it frustrating that we seem to have reached a point where many WoW players seem to struggle to even conceive of a world where we simply don't think about things like dps very much, and don't understand how it can be a burden to be unable to opt out of that, to be publicly rated every moment you're grouped whether you want to or not, whether you're struggling to hit a dps check in a raid or merely breezing through a lowbie dungeon.

And I do think it's telling that for the dozens of different addon functionalities that Blizzard has incorporated into the base game over time, live damage meters are something they have refused to touch with a bargepole to this day. I think it's because they know that this functionality is something that actually makes the game worse for many people, and if things like dps numbers were literally visible to everyone, all the time, by default, it would make for a horrible experience. Just something to think about next time you feel like giving unsolicited commentary about someone's position on your meter addon I guess.

03/09/2021

My First Shadowlands Alt

It took a while, but I actually got a second character to sixty in retail this week - the demon hunter I started in May. Her levelling journey could be described as... unconventional. As mentioned in the linked post, the demon hunter duo I started with my husband actually made it to fifty in no time at all, but we resisted Blizzard's push to continue into Shadowlands - because what for? So we spent the next few months puttering about in Legion content and gaining practically no XP. (One day I'll finish that draft about what I thought of the rest of Legion.)

Much to our surprise, we did eventually discover one source of XP inside old expansions though: archaeology, which for some reason hasn't been split out into different sub-professions for each expansion (unlike every other profession) and allows you to skill up and level seemingly anywhere without penalty. We stumbled upon this as Legion featured a fortnightly archaeology quest which we got into the habit of doing. So we slowly but surely started to gain levels from that. Just don't tell Blizzard please, you know they'll nerf anything into the ground that causes people to "play the game wrong".

Anyway, I was already entertaining the idea of how amusing it would be if we got all the way to sixty from nothing but archaeology... but every now and then I'd find myself fighting a mob of my own level (usually one of those guys that can spawn at archaeology dig sites), and it became very noticeable that while my level was going up my gear had remained static, which due to the nature of WoW's scaling meant that my character was actually becoming weaker and weaker - that's also why I had so much trouble with the scenario to unlock lightforged draenei.

I was starting to worry that I might end up entering Shadowlands in a position where I'd actually be unable to kill anything, what with mobs scaling to my level... so I decided to give in and do the introduction to Shadowlands at least. Turns out this was already considered low-level content for me as well, so it wasn't too much of a problem, though sadly it didn't reward a single piece of gear.

Once I reached Oribos, I was presented with the option to skip re-doing the Shadowlands storyline and level via "Threads of Fate" instead, which I took. It honestly was a bit disappointing though because I thought this meant that I would be completely free to choose my own sources of XP. I guess technically I was, but for some reason Blizzard still felt the need to also give you a quest flagged "campaign" which requires you to do a fill-the-bar routine in every zone. I guess they figured that just leaving you to fill your XP bar at your own leisure wasn't providing enough direction? I don't know.

At least you can pick the order of the zones, so I decided to go to Revendreth first since I'd made my demon hunter a Venthyr. I almost instantly regretted my choice though when it took me about ten minutes to find the entrance to the covenant sanctum... Revendreth is just a horrible zone to navigate. Fortunately the husband at least reminded me that the Shadowlands flight unlock is account-wide and also applies while levelling.

The final couple of levels to sixty then came in what felt like no time at all, though they were filled with a lot of dying on my part because it was just such a struggle to kill anything with my low-level gear. Whenever I managed to find and complete a quest that rewarded a gear upgrade, it more than doubled my stats in that slot.

After filling my Revendreth bar I was finally awarded a new weapon too, though this then led to the bizarre dilemma that my legion twin glaives were considered a single item that couldn't be split up, but my quest reward was only a single warglaive. I didn't really fancy fighting one-handed, but fortunately a world quest was up that didn't require any combat and rewarded a fist weapon to put in my off-hand.

I'm not sure where I'll take this character from here. I might do some casual work on the covenant campaign over time and get a few more gear upgrades, but I don't really fancy grinding Shadowlands content on a second character. I just wanted to not punch like a wet noodle anymore when fighting mobs of my level, but once that's sorted I might just go back and see whatever's left to do on the Broken Isles.

31/08/2021

Remember Rades

Yesterday I found out via Twitter that Rades of the Orcish Army Knife blog passed away this weekend. 

He's still there on my blog roll, even though he stopped being a regular WoW blogger quite a few years ago. He never really quit or anything, he just moved on to other endeavours, only using his blog to occasionally post Onion-style news articles about whatever was going on in Azeroth at the time.

I can't say that I knew him well, but I knew him in that way bloggers often know each other... where they sometimes read each other's posts and occasionally leave a comment. Even if the majority of our interactions happened more than a decade ago now, I still thought of him fondly. Back in 2010 I nominated him for "best writer" for the Pink Pigtail Inn list of the year. (I wonder whether that still means anything to anyone other than Redbeard.) It's not a lot, but it's not nothing either.

So hearing the news of his passing made me sad. Death is always a gloomy affair, but even more so when the person affected was still very young and full of life. The "suddenly" in Vid's announcement indicates that there hadn't been any ongoing illness previously.

In a way I find these sorts of news even more profound when the person was a blogger. I think it's because with the way we put small parts of ourselves onto the page day after day in a way that feels quite permanent, it feels like we as people should also be around forever... even beyond that youthful sense of immortality that most of us have at some point whenever we manage to spend enough time not having to think about death.

But then something like this happens and the updates just... stop. It seems strange that his post from March this year mocking the Horde's talent for picking terrible warchiefs (as well as Activision-Blizzard's hiring choices... topical!) will now be the last thing to ever appear on Rades' blog. He was more active on Twitter, where his last update will now forever be a quip about (what I think was) his D&D campaign from a little over a week ago.

I suppose one bright spot is that with so much of what he did written down somewhere on the internet, he's left everyone with lots of tangible memories to go back to and remember him by. I went back through some of his old blog posts and it was quite a trip down memory lane. Like how his paladin alt Fabulor turned into this whole comic personality - on some posts I even found comments from my past self expressing my amusement.

I also enjoyed people on Twitter sharing their own favourite memories of him, showing off some of his post-WoW endeavours - from Vid reposting strips of From Draenor With Love, the webcomic the two of them created together for several years, to Anne Stickney highlighting his creations in Animal Crossing (also inspired by Fabulor, clearly) to a race track entirely made of beer signs he built in Wildstar.

It's clear that he was an awesome person beyond WoW and blogging, and I can only express my deepest condolences for his friends and family, for whom this must be a horrible loss. All the rest of us can do now is remember.

28/08/2021

Classic News

Blizzard posted a "development update" yesterday, which is mostly about the next Shadowlands patch, but also contains some juicy news for Classic players.

First off, we've got confirmation that the next phase of Burning Crusade Classic will launch on the 15th of September, in a little less than three weeks. This will include the opening of Serpentshrine Cavern and The Eye, which once again makes me glad that I stepped down from progression because I haven't bothered to continue working on my Eye attunement, and if I was still a core raider the raid's opening being imminent now would freak me the hell out.

I do wonder what the overall raid team's attunement status is... there's a channel to track this on Discord, and according to that not everyone's even attuned for SSC yet, and only ten people completed their Tempest Keep attunement. This might not be 100% up-to-date, but it does make you wonder whether people's efforts will suddenly kick into overdrive in the coming weeks... or whether the guild as an entity will actually have to start taking a more active role in helping raiders get attuned than it has been.

The thing I'm looking forward to with the new phase is the introduction of the TBC group finder - which was nothing like the dungeon finder introduced in Wrath, but simply a sort of bulletin board that allowed you to display your interest in different activities in a single place without having to repeat yourself in the LFG channel every couple of minutes. I used to love that tool and got a lot of great use out of it back in the day, even if a good chunk of the community at large seemed to find it too difficult to use for some reason. This is one case where I think the way people's attitudes have changed will actually be a net positive, as I wouldn't expect modern players to have any issues with using this feature - there are even addons for Classic that already try to simulate something similar by curating information from the LFG channel as it scrolls past, but obviously having it built into the default interface will be so much better.

Aside from the announcement of the next Burning Crusade phase, the other big piece of Classic news was that they're also "working on something for WoW Classic players who’ve told us they’d like a chance at a fresh start". There were already rumours about this flying around as the Classic PTR was recently updated to host OG Classic's phase one again, but with some of the quality of life changes that were added later, such as the Chronoboon.

The popularity of the subject of fresh Classic servers is something that still baffles me a little. I did expect Blizzard to release some eventually, but we're barely finishing up Burning Crusade's first phase at this point, and the state of original Classic is anaemic. Sure, there's something to be said for the excitement of everyone starting from scratch on a brand new server, but I struggle to imagine that this will draw in a significant number of players that aren't already subscribed for one of the existing Classic products or that it will retain a healthy population once the novelty has worn off. At best it might pull people off the existing Classic era servers and leave those even more dead than they already are.

Personally I can't see myself playing on such a "fresh" server at this point beyond maybe poking my head in at launch to satisfy my curiosity about how busy it is. It has taken me long enough to level any characters in Classic as it is, plus I've come to be very put off by any pressure to rush through content to keep up with the mob, so starting over from scratch while feeling hounded to level faster to keep up with the majority of the server's progression sounds like the opposite of fun to me right now.

22/08/2021

Strange Times to Have Fun

In terms of public perception, WoW may be in the deepest hole it's ever been in, with the perfect storm of patches taking too long for the player base's liking, unpopular storytelling decisions, and now the whole behind-the-scenes shitshow on top of everything else. And yet... I've been having more fun in retail than I've had in a long time.

Sure, having a game to play with the husband that we both enjoy to some degree is always nice, but there's more to it than that. I watched a video a few weeks ago that contained the following line after the creator admitted to really having enjoyed Warlords of Draenor, previously widely considered the worst of all WoW expansions: "If you start playing WoW, no matter how bad [current expansion] is, you're probably going to have a great time because there's fifteen years of shit to explore!" And while I'm not exactly a WoW noob, I've been away from retail for so long that yes, I'm not just sitting here on the content of one patch, I've got about six years of quests and stories that I never did when they were current to look into! And that's been fun to explore on a casual basis.

As a bonus, a couple of friends from our SWTOR guild have also had their interest in WoW rekindled, to the point that we even made a little levelling group to take through dungeons together. It's been interesting to see some of the changes that had been made since I last played... for example I was already familiar with the new versions of Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance, but I didn't know that Blackfathom Deeps and both Razorfen dungeons had also been given a new coat of paint during Warlords of Draenor. Makes the dungeon levelling experience in retail even more different from Classic.

Levellers at the end of Gnomeregan. I'm the second from the left.

It's also been interesting to see just how much of the XP gains from running dungeons are tied to choosing the "random" option. We've been queueing for each one specifically since we wanted to do them all exactly once and in order, and that results in only about half the XP that you'd get with the random bonus. About one level per dungeon still isn't bad, but less than I'd expected.

The only thing I've been struggling with is how extremely boring my character has been to play so far, which is very ironic in a game that prides itself in being all about engaging moment-to-moment gameplay and interesting rotations. I went elemental shaman since that's a spec I never really played before (for a number of reasons) and a static group environment seemed like a good opportunity to give it a try.

The problem is that whoever designed the current iteration of elemental shaman clearly gave absolutely zero thought to how it would feel while levelling. Most glaringly, you're given a secondary resource called Maelstrom the moment you choose the elemental specialisation, but with my character in my twenties I still don't have a single ability to spend that resource, so it's just a coloured bar that slowly fills up and then sits there, permanently full, while I spam the same three spells that I've had since level eleven, never getting anything interesting from levelling up. From what I can tell I won't actually get my first way of spending Maelstrom until well into the thirties, so why give me that bar at level ten at all? At least I'm about to be able to start using chain lightning...

18/08/2021

Classic Era

When I cloned my nelf hunter to the Classic era version of Hydraxian Waterlords on Burning Crusade pre-patch day, I noted that it was kind of sad to see only 32 people online there. Three months later, seeing 32 players online feels like a good night, as there've been times when I logged on and the concurrent player count revealed by /who was in the single digits. Not that I've logged on that often.

I first poked my head into Classic era on a Sunday afternoon shortly after the split, because I suddenly had the whimsical idea that I might be able to win the Stranglethorn fishing tournament a second time without competition. As it turned out, I wasn't completely by myself - there were a few other anglers there - but as it happened I did get lucky with my casts and won anyway. That was fun.

Someone whispered me then and invited me to their guild, aspirationally called <Choose Life>, where I recognised a few names from a number of different raiding guilds. Sadly the guild hasn't been able to live up to its aspirations as far as I can tell... of the 160+ characters in it, less than thirty have actually been online in the past week - not that I can cast stones, having moved on to Burning Crusade myself. Then again, I'd never planned to make "Classic era" my permanent home anyway.

One of the people who remained active on era was a guy that used to join my guild's community raids sometimes, which is why he was still on our guild Discord. A couple of weeks ago he suddenly whispered me to ask if I wanted to come kill Azuregos on Classic era (he's in <Choose Life> too, so he knew I had a character there). I said yes because the idea had novelty value to me - I'd been interested in killing Azuregos back when I was hunting for a Mature Blue Dragon Sinew for my epic quiver, but he was very heavily camped for most of Classic.

What I didn't expect was that there'd only be five of us, with the tank being a hunter pet. I also had to switch to my paladin (whom I'd cloned too at some point) so that we'd have two healers. I remembered hearing back in the vanilla WoW days that Azuregos could be tanked by a hunter pet if the hunter was specifically specced and geared for it, but I never expected to see that in action myself.

The experience managed to be both fun and boring: fun because it was novel and weird to kill a Classic world boss with only five people, but also boring because with only five of us the fight took half an hour.

Since then I've been back to help with killing Azuregos two more times, though I'm not even sure why. A lot of the loot gets thrown away with such a small group, which feels a bit pointless, and after the novelty wore off, spamming Flash of Light for twenty to thirty minutes straight is now just kind of boring. But I guess it's a tenuous connection to the WoW Classic I enjoyed so much, plus I can't deny that it makes me feel good to be wanted for something (even when I know the reasons behind it are purely utilitarian).

More generally speaking though, the state of Classic era makes me a bit sad. It was a no-brainer that most people would move on to Burning Crusade in my opinion, but I didn't expect the servers we left behind to be quite so desolate. The cities that once bustled with crowds waiting for world buffs are now just empty set pieces, and with auction house listings barely exceeding the single digits, the player economy has effectively ceased to exist.

From what I hear from the connected server clusters it isn't quite as bad there (as mentioned previously Hydraxian Waterlords wasn't connected to anything due to its status of the sole European English RP-PvE server), and while numbers are still small compared to what they used to be, things like pugs and raiding are still somewhat feasible on other servers. In fact, I've heard some people praise the atmosphere for being so much purer and friendlier now that the only ones left playing are those who really, really love Classic era, and I can believe that. Hydraxian Waterlords already had a pretty good community as it was though.

It does make me wonder what the future will bring for Classic. Will the BC servers suffer a similar fate once Wrath of the Lich King Classic comes around? And assuming the Classic train ends with that expansion (which I'm not so sure about anymore, considering Holly Longdale's Everquest background), what's going to happen to those servers once the Lich King (or should I say Halion?) is dead?

I suppose I just feel a little disappointed that the way Classic has been going is feeling more and more like just another new MMO release, where there's big crowds on launch day, but then massive drop-off over time, and once everyone's done the content once or twice they just move on to something else. I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but I guess I thought more people would be happy to stick around and simply exist in this beautiful virtual world that they missed so much when it went away. Currently it doesn't really look like it though.

14/08/2021

Allied Races

Are y'all ready for another episode of "Shintar talks about game content or features that people cared about four years ago but that are very much old hat by now"? Well, ready or not, here it comes.

Allied races were introduced with the Legion expansion and even though I wasn't playing at the time, I remember there being quite a bit of hubbub around their inclusion back then. They are basically different species available at character creation that (in a post-level squish world) start at level 10 instead of 1, don't have their own starting zone, and don't have unique animations but offer different skins. People love additional customisation options of any kind, and I recall cries to make pretty much everything and everyone into an allied race, something I could only shake my head at.

Accordingly, I didn't pay too much attention to the feature when the husband I started playing retail again, but the other day I realised that with us having completed both BfA and Legion at this point, I had most of the requirements for all the Alliance allied races unlocked and only had to actually go through the associated scenarios/intro quests to trigger the unlock properly, so off I went.

The Kul Tiran quest chain was honestly pretty cool, even if I was a bit exasperated by the amount of flying back and forth cross-continent that it required. The scenarios for the other races were noticeably less impressive, though the one for the lightforged draenei still resulted in a very memorable experience for me, for reasons that were probably not intended.

You see, I did this scenario on my demon hunter, who's currently level 54 without ever having set foot into Shadowlands, but is wearing the best gear you can get from Legion content. The lightforged draenei scenario scales to your level, which means that it was filled with mobs my level or one below. Should be easy enough, right? NO! A single level 53 mob in that scenario was enough to absolutely destroy me.

After a couple of deaths I quickly learned to let T'paartos, the friendly NPC I was supposed to be accompanying, do most of the fighting as he was pretty strong and sturdy anyway. But then disaster struck, when one pull resulted in several adds and I followed my gut instinct of starting to AoE, which meant that I went squish instantly. Oh well, what's another death, right?

The problem was that dying in that particular spot caused me to respawn away from my NPC friend and on top of another mob, meaning that I got killed again right away. I tried to get up again a few more times but without much success - if I managed to evade one mob, I'd just aggro another. Eventually I waited for Metamorphosis to come off cooldown before reviving again and managed to clear a little safe patch for myself. Then I slowly and carefully started making my way back to where I last left T'paartos, taking great care to never start a fight with less than full health and several cooldowns available and to never get more than one mob at a time. Eventually I made it back to him and the quest could resume.

After that I was even more careful and did okay for a while, until we got to the big end boss, who seemed to do some kind of hard to avoid/unavoidable(?) AoE that killed me in a few hits even with cooldowns up. I tried to make it back in time while T'paartos was still fighting but got delayed by more mobs in my way. While I was still busy getting lost inside the cave this was all happening in, I suddenly got the message that the scenario was complete, as T'paartos had managed to finish off the boss on his own. That guy really earned his lightforged status, is all I'm saying. My entire armour was yellow from all the deaths by the end of that, but I guess it was kind of funny.

I did make both a lightforged draenei and a Kul Tiran alt so far and quite like them. I think I'm coming around to this allied race idea... if for no other reason than that still being able to earn meaningful rewards in old expansion content is something I like, as it flies in the face of the sort of planned obsolescence model that Blizzard applies to too much of its modern content in my eyes.