Well, I caved. After nine months away from the game, I finally bought 30 days of game time for World of Warcraft. Amusingly, it was with the intent of playing with Alex – and we haven’t managed a single minute of play time together since I bought in. Instead, I’ve been largely playing my draenei paladin, Rolastra. She’s currently in her early 70s (I think I hit 71 the last time I played), and wading her way through the Howling Fjord up in Northrend. (She hit 68 less than halfway through Nagrand, and her hearthstone’s been set in Dalaran since Wrath was the current expansion, so it was easy to just pop on up.)

Rolastra is actually the character I created with the express intent of seeing how far I could get her just by running dungeons, and I intended her to be my tanking character once I hit max level (which was 80 back then). I spent a lot of time running a lot of dungeons with my friend Jess’s priest Noore, but between Jess quitting WOW and my connection moving from smooth, buttery cable to “an internet connection only in the broadest sense of the term” satellite, I haven’t run a single dungeon since before Mists of Pandaria was released, and in light of that, I figured I’d see how Rol did in the wild.

Turns out she’s pretty fun to play. She was 50 when I stopped dungeoning with her, and while I won’t say those 21 levels have been easy to come by, they’re a lot easier than I thought they’d be. For some reason, too, I have much less trouble with her than I do with my Death Knight Ixtamna, which is why Rol is getting my attention and Ixy is sitting, unloved, in Paw’don village. (Let’s not mention poor Theande, who is currently on the Timeless Isle waiting for me to get her the hell back to the Alliance Shrine because between my connection and her squishiness, the Isle is a deathtrap, of the “literally spending more gold in repairs than I’m getting in drops and grey items” variety.)


Of all the things for an ex-raider to be playing and enjoying, I’m actually spending most of my gaming time on a web-based dragon-breeding game called Flight Rising these days. Gathering treasure and items, breeding dragons, and fighting with them in the Coliseum is, unexpectedly, really compelling.

Of course, the fact that the wiki is woefully incomplete has been taking up a lot of my time, too. I’m pretty sure I wrote half of the non-item pages on the wiki at the moment, in addition to building templates and doing behind-the-scenes stuff for other editors. Again, it’s weirdly compelling.

If you’ve a mind to join me, my username is res_umbrarum; look me up.

In actual MMO news, I went back and tried RIFT and WOW for a little bit. Because of how RIFT‘s network interface is structured, the game is actually pretty much unplayable on my internet; if I can log into the server at all, none of the NPCs load (I sometimes get voices and the “column of light” that means that a figure is being drawn from the server to render), and it takes several full seconds just to open my bags (which is weird, because I would have figured that would be client-side). Also, patching is still a pain in the ass; I talked to the official rep on Twitter, whose response to “it sucks to have to get up at 2 AM to log in so I can patch” was “yes, players in your situation have to do that”. Not exactly the response I was looking for.

WOW, on the other hand, still works decently well. I didn’t log into my main account; instead, I started a trial account. The new-player experience is actually kind of invigorating; I can’t mail myself heirlooms, bags, or gold, so I’m stuck doing things the hard way, and despite what all the old hands (who have leveled from 1-90 with heirlooms, 20-slot bags, and thousands of gold) say, there’s still quite a bit of game there. My favorite character at the moment is a level 5 undead rogue, but she’s by no means the only character I’ve put any time into. (And, again, without heirlooms, gold, or bags, it actually does take more than five minutes to get out of the 1-10 area, which is nice.)

And, of course, Guild Wars 2 is still playable; I ran around on the last day of the dragon festival hitting piñatas and racing moas, and it was great. My friend Jess and I talked about the difference between RIFT and GW2, and she summed it up nicely: “Compared to RIFT, GW2 feels as advanced as RIFT felt compared to WOW.” It’s true; the game is, frankly, just better.

(I haven’t even touched SWTOR. The same problem I have with RIFT continues with SWTOR, and unlike RIFT, I have a lot more of SWTOR to download before I can play…)

So that’s what I’ve been playing recently. What have you been up to?


Yet another filk. I’ve been wanting to write this one for six years.

The Darkmoon Faire’s falling down on its knees
The vendors are all shutting down
It’s raining in Orgrimmar two flight paths east
Where you should be, no one’s around

I need a queue pop
I need a good tank
I need a gear drop
I need a queue pop

These trained mobs and bosses are running me down
And I don’t have damage to give
You get what you’re geared for
But soloing dungeons is no way to live

I need a queue pop
I need Consecration
I need a trinket
I need a good tank

And I get no answers
When I post my Recount
It’s raining in Orgrimmar, baby
And I might as well sit on my mount

There’s strats I remember and strats I forget
I miss running with you; I should
But you’re off playing some other damn game
I hear it’s not even that good

I need a queue pop
(Maybe I should buy that new game)
I can always hear LFG
(But the players who use it are lame)

And I wish, I wish it was the same game
Because I’m lonely for vanilla
I’d like to hear a little “u rdy?”
I guess it’s time to put the cash down

I need a queue pop
I need a good tank
I really need a good tank
I really really need a good tank
I really really really need a good tank
I really need a good tank


In a fit of productivity, I decided that I was going to start posting here again.

It was only when I actually opened the Add New Post page that I realized that I’d stopped because, well, I’m not really playing any games seriously anymore.

Part of that is the latency problems that I mentioned in my last post. When my average ping in an online game is around 1700-1800ms, they just aren’t very much fun to play – at least not on the level that I was used to playing them – and I can’t justify paying a subscription fee for them. So I got Theande to level 90 in World of Warcraft and then just petered out; I realized that I was logging in, doing dailies, and logging out, or just running Nashoda in circles around Eastern Plaguelands gathering herbs while I watched DVDs, and that doesn’t merit $15 a month, especially when I was never going to get to use anything that I could have spent the daily rewards on and there didn’t seem to be much point in just piling up more and more herbalism gold.

My internet situation also makes playing RIFT and SWTOR difficult. I have a strict limit on the amount of bandwidth I can use each day, and can only download with impunity between 2 and 7 AM Eastern time. Normally, this is okay – I can just use a download manager (my ISP conveniently provides a pretty good one) or, for programs that require updates, schedule the program to run overnight. But RIFT and SWTOR won’t let me schedule them to download overnight; both launchers require that I log in before they’ll give me updates, which means that I either have to get up at 2 AM and launch the launchers, or log in before I go to bed, pause the download, and rig a program that simulates a mouse click to resume the download at 2 AM. (Incidentally, a few other games follow this model; I believe Star Trek Online does, for example, but I’m not sure.)

Or, as I’ve done, simply not play the games. I haven’t logged into RIFT or updated SWTOR since July 2012 – and I’m certainly not paying subscription fees for them. (And that’s actually kind of sad for me – I had a character, Agystha the cleric, at max level in RIFT before the expansion, and one, Tipanyu the Sith Sorcerer, in SWTOR who was almost at max level but who’d finished her personal story – and I miss playing them. But even though SWTOR is free to play now and RIFT is going there, I still can’t update the clients without logging in. There’s not even a paywall in place anymore, guys; cut it out.)

And then there’s Guild Wars 2. I bought the game back in December, when I had a little extra money, thrilled that it was an online game without a subscription fee and that it would let me update the client without having to be logged in. (In fact, it keeps you logged in unless you explicitly log out.) I got an Engineer to her mid-30s, and a couple of other characters to the late teens or early 20s, but I haven’t actually played GW2 in several weeks. (I still have the launcher updating every night; I just don’t play it.)

The problem has become that because of my lag, I have a hard time participating in events, and I can’t run dungeons or do PVP at all – so I find myself just doing the same things over and over, with different locations and different skins. And the automatic level adjustments – when you enter a lower-level area, your level and stats are lowered to match, rather than decreasing the XP and gold you get from doing the activities – actually hinder me, because despite the fact that my Engineer is level 35, I still struggle with certain mobs in low-level areas (the cave full of wurms in the Norn 10-15 area comes to mind), and because I can’t run dungeons or do events easily, I can’t get the gear to bring myself to a level where I can handle them.

So why am I still writing here?

Because I used to love playing games, and I’m hoping that writing here will help me rediscover that desire to play and to excel in those games. Right now they’re just another thing I do if I have time and nothing else has grabbed my attention – it’s really on the level of “dust the shelves” or “straighten up my desk” – but I’d like them to be something that I want do. So that’s the goal: one post a week, on Wednesday, to figure out how to get my groove back. That’s what I’m doing here.


It’s no secret that I liked RIFT an awful lot. I made a tactical error near the end of my time in the game: I was feeling neglected in the (extremely large) guild that I was in, so I broke off and made my own vanity guild, as I’ve done countless other times in games – except that I found myself missing the community to talk to, and without that, I was having less and less fun logging in. When Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, I dropped RIFT entirely.

I’ve known for a while that people who have purchased the game but haven’t paid a subscription fee can log in and use (but not level up) their characters above level 20, and can create and level characters to level 20, so it’s little surprise to me that today, Trion Worlds announced that on June 12, RIFT is going free-to-play for everybody. Subscribers will receive bonuses to XP and mount speed, among other things, and I hope Trion won’t take the same approach that EA did with SWTOR and lower the baseline so that the “bonuses” are what people considered standard before the F2P announcement.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going to get me back into the game. One of the drawbacks to both RIFT and SWTOR, and the reason I don’t play either despite their F2P portions, is that they hide updates behind a login screen. In a way this makes sense; it helps prevent non-subscribers from getting access to new content for the game, which wouldn’t be a big deal if there weren’t the possibility of private servers that use the base client but reverse-engineered server software. However, it does make a big deal to me – because, frankly, for the last year my internet has been terrible. I’m far enough out in the country that I’m now part of the 10% of the United States without access to broadband internet; Verizon has no intent to run FiOS out to my area, Comcast won’t run cable without a $13,500 investment on my part (since there aren’t enough customers in the half-mile between me and the end of the existing cable service to justify their installing cable out here), and the phone lines date back to 1915, so they’re too unstable for DSL.

Instead, I have satellite internet. Satellite internet, at the level I’m willing to pay for, offers speeds on par with 1996-era ISDN lines – and no matter what level I pay for, I have a daily bandwidth cap of 500MB. I can only download freely between 2 AM and 7 AM. And that means that if I want to update my RIFT and SWTOR clients, I have to get up at 2 AM and log into the client. And frankly, I haven’t been able to justify that, despite the fact that I paid for the software.

(Also, I’ve just discovered that when I got a new computer earlier this year, neither SWTOR nor RIFT was transferred to the new hard drive – and the hard drive they were on has failed in the meantime – so I’d have to re-download the entire client again if I wanted to play. At 5 hours a day and a maximum of 128KB/s… I’ll be lucky if I have the RIFT client downloaded before the F2P goes live.)

It’s sad to say that one of my basic qualifications for buying an online game now is “can I update the game without signing in?” – but I have to confess, that’s the biggest reason that I’m not planning to pre-order the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online – and it’s why, instead of playing RIFT or SWTOR, I’m instead playing Guild Wars 2 (which does allow you to download client updates without logging in) and single-player games.

And hey – if RIFT and SWTOR decide to get their head in the game and let me update without having to physically be at the keyboard in order to log in, I’ll be there with bells on.

(Yes, I know: I can log in when I go to bed and then use a keystroke emulator to update the software. In fact, I have done that in the past. But when many MMOs these days actively look for keystroke emulators so they can identify cheaters, I’d rather not take the risk.)


It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular guildies log in
There’s a Field Marshal sitting next to me
Makin’ love to his HKs and wins

He says, “son, can you queue us for Alterac?
I’m not really sure how it goes
It gets changed every week
But I knew it complete
When I wore a Knight-Champion’s clothes”

He sings “Capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

Now Lufi the moonkin’s a friend of mine
She tosses up Moonfire for free
And she’s quick with a HOT
Or to bear-tank the lot
But it’s DPS she’d rather be
She says “Goddamn, this warlock is killing me”
As he fears her off once, then again
“Well, I’m sure I could balance this battleground
But what’d they complain about then?”

Oh, capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~

And the frost mage is practicing Firelands
As the Pandaren slowly get stoned
Yes, they’re sharing a queue just to get HKs
But it’s better than queueing alone

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

Now Cyn is a character novelist
Whose alt slots are already filled
And he’s chatting with Baen, who’s off on her main
Finding newbies to hunt down and kill

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
My groupmates all give me a smile
‘Cause they know that it’s me
Who will queue PVP
And let them pwn n00bs for a while

And the ready noise sounds like a carnival
And the starting cave smells like fish feasts
And they run at the gate (‘cept the ones starting late)
And say “man, could you buff us, at least?”

Oh, capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right


Trion Worlds just announced the first expansion for their MMO RIFT, RIFT: Storm Legion. From the Gamespot article:

Storm Legion comes with not just one, but two entire continents; all told, Rift will more than triple in size. […]

Storm Legion also brings with it a new city to call home: Tempest Bay, a bastion for both Guardians and The Defiant. The expansion also brings with it a brand new soul for each calling, though Hartsman was frustratingly (and charmingly) mum on just what these souls may be. […]

Rift: Storm Legion is about more, more, and even more. There’s a new level cap (60, up 10 levels), new dungeons, new raids (2, to be exact), and a new Chronicle (that is, a challenging, story-driven instance). There are individual stories to be told in each of these content types, though they culminate in Storm Legion’s primary narrative arc, which involves Crucia, the Queen of Storms, and the legions she hopes to bring to Telara through the mysterious Infinity Gate.

More information at Gamespot and the official RIFT: Storm Legion website.


I have to say, one of the things SWTOR does well that I don’t think I’ve seen another MMO handle is recontextualizing the environment based on class. I recently came back to the game after a few months’ absence – I’d tried the free week they offered and they’ve fixed many of the issues I had – and I’ve been focusing on my level-44 Sith Inquisitor, to whom the large ground clutter in SWTOR plays like large ground clutter in pretty much every other game – just random crap everywhere to jump over or go around (or get stuck behind, in certain cases, not that I’ve ever done that).

But on a whim, today I logged into my Republic Smuggler, and all of a sudden, all of that ground clutter wasn’t just an obstacle – it was cover. On my Jedi Consular – at least thematically; it’s rarely physically true – the ground clutter wasn’t an obstacle or cover, it was ammunition. And so on.

I know it draws from the mechanics in Mass Effect, but SWTOR’s use of cover (and, thematically, Telekinetic Throw) really does a lot not only to justify but to enhance the idea of the environment being an interactable element. It’s not quite Red Faction – although it would be awesome if I could uproot a boulder with my Consular so my Smuggler friend could use it as cover – but it’s getting there.

(It occurs to me that part of the reason the environment isn’t more interactable is because it’s a persistent, multiplayer world, and it would be very easy to render the environment unusable if people had the ability to alter it at will. But we can dream!)

(Excellent comments on the last few posts, by the way – I haven’t replied simply because I don’t have good answers. :)


First things first:

Are raids broken?

I think they probably are.

Not specific raids, but the architecture of raiding in general, as specifically implemented by World of Warcraft and Rift – the two MMOs I’ve raided in most recently. Raiding is designed to have certain difficulty levels; in Rift, some raids are 10-player raids and some are 20-player raids, while in World of Warcraft (at least in its most recent incarnation; it started out like Rift), each raid has a 10-player and 25-player version, plus difficulty levels within the player-count “flavors”.

The problem with this model is that there is always going to be some distance (and animosity) between players at different difficulty levels – “casual” players are derided by “hardcore” players for not being willing to put the time and effort into “real raiding” (and in some cases told that they shouldn’t even be allowed in the instances), while “hardcore” players are mocked as “no-lifers” by “casual” players. Moreover, it’s a system that fundamentally disadvantages players who don’t get an early start in raiding or skilled players who only have the opportunity to play with 10 other people, because by and large, when raiders are putting together a group for a given raid, they seem to want to trivialize it as much as possible.

(That is, incidentally, completely understandable – because raids require items beyond player skill, like food buffs and potions, each player death or group wipe is a set of consumables wasted, and so the fewer player deaths and group wipes a raid can manage, the better for everyone – or at least everyone who’s on farming duty.)

How to fix it

The most frustrating thing about WOW raids is that they almost have it – but not quite. The tiered-difficulty system still has the problems mentioned above. The solution is not to remove the difficulty – but to remove the tiers.

To fix raids, difficulty should be progressive, taking cues from more casual games like “Wii Sports” – or even from the games’ own leveling process. In the competitive games in Wii Sports, each player starts out at skill level 0, and – when playing against the computer – is matched with an opponent just a little above 0. If the player defeats that opponent, their skill goes up depending on how well they played, and the next opponent is just a little higher than their new skill. This goes on until a player plateaus at their actual current skill level – but over time, as the player improves, that number keeps climbing up, until they ultimately reach the peak of their physical and mental ability to play the game.

Raids in MMOs can take a similar tack. Assign each character – or even each spec – a “raid skill”*, which indicates how good they are at defeating bosses of the current level; average the raid skill levels of each member of the raid; and use that number to determine the initial difficulty of the raid. As the raid’s skill level goes up, the raids’ difficulties go up, and the value of the items dropped by the raid goes up as well. (This is nothing new in World of Warcraft, at least; we’ve seen that Blizzard can scale gear, thanks to WOW’s heirloom items – and we’ve seen that they’re okay with giving out multiple versions of the same item with different stats, thanks to Cataclysm’s three-tier approach.) At the top levels, allow raids to acquire unique mounts, legendary and artifact items, special achievements, etc.

As a further improvement, allow the leader of raid groups below a certain skill level to reset the raid as many times as she wants, but limit loot to the first boss kill per week. (In fact, given that loot is per-player in Mists of Pandaria, this should be extended in World of Warcraft to per player per week, so that players who join on the third or fourth run aren’t cheated of loot.) This lets low-level raid groups get practice and improve their play without giving them an excessive loot advantage.

The end result of this is that raiding will, interestingly, both become far more accessible and remain challenging far longer; entry-level players will be able to see the entirety of the content at a very low skill level (and receive very low-level loot for their efforts), and high-level players will constantly be challenged, because their next run will always be just a little bit harder than their last.


This idea came to me today, and I’m sure I haven’t thought it through completely; I’d like your feedback, because I’m positive there’s something I’ve missed.

* Yes, I’m aware of how much this sounds like GearScore; the difference is that this number reflects the player’s actual ability, and not just her ability to acquire gear.


I got up bright and early this morning, hoping that 8 AM EDT on a Sunday would be enough of a dead time for me to get some quests done and actually experience the beta. Before I could log in, though, there was a minor update to the beta client that adds some really interesting new abilities to the game.

(Click the images for full-sized screenshots!)

Paying homage to last year’s smash hit Minecraft, a new tradeskill, Construction, has been added to World of Warcraft. (It’s a secondary skill, so everyone can pick it up.) Construction allows you to enter special phased areas of the world and begin building your own structures. You start with a mining pick, so at the beginning all you can do is dig down into the world (see the screenshot above; the guy to the right is the Construction trainer).

Having an earthen base to your structure allows you to put the “farm” in farming by planting and harvesting materials that can be used for other tradeskills like Cooking and Alchemy:

These mats – which only you can gather, but which must be replanted and then allowed to regrow – are obviously very useful to pretty much any character, but Pandaren characters get an extra benefit. Their previous racial passive “Gourmand” has been replaced with “Farmer”, which allows them to grow their crops to enormous size. The larger crops can be harvested multiple times (and will grow back if not fully harvested), and will grow together if they’re close enough. Here’s a group of about a dozen carrots planted right next to each other:

I haven’t really had a lot of time so far to play with this new feature, but one player who’s been online since the patch was released has done some really spectacular stuff. Although the construction sites are phased, you can allow other players to view your work by giving them Visitor status – they can look around but can’t modify or harvest anything – and this fellow was kind enough to let me take a couple of screenshots: