This one’s a keeper

I have noticed that in WoW, if I start a new alt and get a bag to drop for it before hitting the end of the newbie zone, I think twice before deleting it. Because clearly that character was ‘meant to be’.

Do you think that some alts are luckier than others? Or do you have any personal superstitions that tell you early on if a character is a ‘keeper’?

Links for the Summer’s end

Hope you all are having a good weekend. It actually isn’t raining here which is astounding because it is both August Bank Holiday and Festival weekend (I’m not going this year but can hear it from my house).

  1. Peter Molyneaux reckons that Americans find it harder to play evil characters than Europeans or Japanese. Write up via The Escapist and Game Set Watch.
  2. Brian Crecente@Kotaku enjoyed trying Diablo III’s witch doctor at Gamescom, but wonders how much of that is down to nostalgia. Do we like games because they’re good or because they remind us of other games we used to like?
  3. Game by Night has some good advice for avoiding keyloggers, and how to get rid of them if you do pick one up.
  4. Kinless is getting conflicted signals from Blizzard. On the one hand they encourage alts (heirloom gear, new classes) but on the other hand … where are the new character slots? Do Blizzard love alts or hate them?
  5. There are a few games in open beta at the moment. Julian@Kill Ten Rats asks whether Open Betas really work as beta tests.
  6. Rohan ponders why players hate the new faction leaders in WoW so much – Garrosh and Varian are not well liked.
  7. Romantic subplots in games like Mass Effect and KOTOR are not without their critics. I have said before that it felt to me like ‘select the right options and get the girl’. Kotaku points to an article on gamecritic.com by Alex Raymond who argues that games present a model where sex is given out as a reward (just like epics), not shown as part of an ongoing relationship.
  8. G Christopher Williams at Popmatters asks why it’s always more fun to kill Nazis, and whether it matters.
  9. Runeforge Gossip has some advice for anyone who wants him to respond to their LFG(uild) posts.
  10. That’s a Terrible Idea unearth the rotting corpse of the GNS model and ask how we can get more simulationism in our MMOs. How can we focus more on immersion and the experience of being a ((insert race/class/etc here)) and less on achievements and rewards?
  11. Tobold gets some interactive drama going with his readers, otherwise known as the Is he? (Gevlon) or Isn’t he? dance. Personally I’m so happy to get any comments at all that I’m not inclined to mess with people’s heads just for the sake of it … or am I?

Blogs about new games

There were a lot of announcements about new games during cons recently, and we’re not done yet. If you want to follow the news about an upcoming  game, why not subscribe to one of the blogs and let someone else do the work? :)

Naxxramas Revisited

I’ve been back to Naxxramas a couple of times this week. Time has dulled the pain of over-exposure — I was really quite bored of the place after having run it twice a week (once on 10 man, once on 25 man) for a few months. Despite the sub-par graphics, I’m quite fond of the old instance. It does have a good variety of encounters, even if the tuning was never quite right.

The biggest flaw to my mind is that it’s far too easy to brute-force the Spider Wing. But by doing that you lose the most interesting parts of Anub’Rekhan and Faerlina as boss fights (what’s the point of Faerlina if you don’t have to mind control and sacrifice the adds?). The second biggest flaw is that there are too many bosses to clear in a 3 hour raid unless you are all being very hardcore/ disciplined about it, which doesn’t happen even in successful PUGs. A smaller raid instance or a set of winged instances would have been more manageable.

I wouldn’t say I’m overgeared, it’s just undertuned

My first Naxx rerun was in a raid that a friend in the raid group organised for alts and new level 80s. She’s very concerned that they don’t have much of a chance to learn how to play their characters in raids, especially some of the (female) players who are nervous of being shouted at in PUGs. We’d hoped to have enough signups to run a 25 man raid but in the event we only had enough to run with 10.

Although I do have a couple of level 80 alts who could have gone, I offered to bring Spinks to help them out. I doubt there’s anything I need from Naxx-10 even as offspec but I eyed the signups and figured they’d have a much better shot with at least one (over) geared tank. Also, I suspect seeing my name on the signup list made them all feel more comfortable about the run.

The raid was a moderate success. We got the two easiest wings down, and a few people learned the fights who had never seen them before. A new raid leader had a chance to order people around and see bosses die. DPS was generally low, and I’m grateful they didn’t want to go on to the Construct wing as I don’t think we could have taken Patchwerk. So although many people would consider that raid a failure, most of the players had their expectations met. And some of the fights were still exciting — they may have been exciting because people weren’t playing especially well but we still had some fun skin-of-the-teeth kills.

I fear there isn’t really much you can do for people who want to learn to raid but are nervous of PUGs and heroics and mixing with people they don’t know. There comes a point at which you can only learn through practice and these things aren’t really designed as fun social experiences for nervous raiders. Plus a lot of people in the raid group really are burned out on Naxx and won’t want to spend time there when there are other things they can do which would be more beneficial to their characters.

I do think it’s possible to teach nervous players to raid based on one raid per week, and I won’t be at all surprised if dps improves next time. But it’s a slow process and it really isn’t guaranteed that other players will be as patient as the newbies might need. They could help themselves a lot by getting over the PUGphobia.

And then there’s the raid I walked out of due to sexist quips …

I swear I have a pretty good tolerance for off-colour humour among gamers. I can sit back quietly and let them have their fun even if I don’t have anything to add. But what I don’t have is any tolerance for sexist, racist, or homophobic jabs. Not funny. And I will tell people if I’m not amused. And if they persist then I’ll walk. I figure you get one chance to realise ‘wait, someone here is uncomfortable with this’ and if you don’t take it then I’m so very gone. And if I’m one of your healers then you may be very stuffed.

So. The second Naxx raid was a 10 man PUG that I hopped into on my resto druid. Again there aren’t really many drops I need from Naxx-10 but I’m still at the stage with that alt where I figure I could use the practice. One of my friends was there too, also healing with her paladin. Unfortunately she had a power outage near the beginning so they had to replace her.

And it was a good PUG. People were chatty, we cleared through the Spider wing smoothly and then the Plague wing as well. It was only after we killed Patchwerk that things started to fray a bit at the seams. One of the holy paladins flew into a rage when one of the moonkins asked why he was rolling on spellpower leather which had spirit on it and left. (This boggled me, because the piece might still have been an upgrade for him but if so all he had to do was say so and I don’t think anyone would have minded if he’d taken it.)

But fortunately my friend had her power restored at this point so we invited her back. It was actually more amusing than this because she’d only just logged back on at the time and had just paged me to say how sad she was to have missed the run. So I’m like, ‘Hey, do you want to come back then? Our holydin just flipped out over loot.’

So we’re trucking on through the Construct wing. The last two bosses here have tended to be the skill checks for pick up Naxx groups. No one ever wants to kite the zombies at Gluth and Thaddius continues to confound PUGs (it may be his role in undeath). After a second wipe on Gluth, our MT was getting grumpy. And the sexist jokes were coming out. I was chatting privately to my friend about this and we were both agreeing that neither of us really needed the Naxx loot and didn’t really see a reason to stand for it. So after one warning, which he ignored, we apologised to the raid and left.

I was paged about 10 minutes later by one of the raid, saying that they’d booted him and would we be willing to come back. Since they’d been nice enough people (and competent too) that’s what we did. Awesome guildies were nice enough to agree to come fill in the other spare spots (a dps had to leave for RL reasons too) and we rocked through the Military wing. By that time, people were tired and wanting to go eat so we called it.

And the bonus? One of the nice players contacted my friend later, asking how she could apply to join our guild (and as it happens, I know it was a female player and she was attracted by the fact we’d no tolerance for the sexist guy and we’d been able to bring other friendly guildies in to finish the run). Now let me tell you, any PUG in which you get the chance to recruit a friendly, competent player is in no way a waste of time … Also, dps shaman! :)

The other interesting side-fact was the class makeup of that 10 man PUG. Three druids, two paladins, three shamans, two deathknights. It’s an interesting view into what alts people are playing at the moment.

My alt was born with a silver spoon in its gob

I spent a bit of time playing two alts in WoW this weekend.

  • One of them is my druid, she’s recently hit level 80 and is on the same server as my main. She’s also a character I used to play a lot during the last expansion.
  • The other is a death knight on another server where I have no other characters.

The experiences are very very different.

My druid has gold, friends, crafting contacts. If I had wanted, I could have sent her some heirloom items (these are bind on account items that you can send to your alts to help them level faster). And because I played her a lot at level 70, it’s been very easy to adapt to playing the character at level 80. It didn’t change that much. Naturally I make sure she’s all gemmed and enchanted, and I have friends who can help with that.

I bought a few epics from the auction house to help get her sorted, and was able to heal a Naxx-10 run in a PUG this weekend – I had previously run 1 (one) heroic. (note: if you look at the armoury and wonder why we didn’t complete the instance, it’s because everyone bizarrely decided to go just as we got to the last boss. Don’t ask me man, it had been a really smooth run.)

The death knight is much closer in feel to what a new player would find. I need to make my own gold for a start. I need to learn who the crafters are on the server, I also need to learn to play the character. And as for gems and enchants … it’ll be cheap gems for now. And how unreasonable it seems that people demand fully enchanted characters for instances, don’t they realise how expensive that is for a new character when it isn’t really necessary? And how awkward when the faction is small and the auction house often doesn’t have many materials on it?

The haves and the have-nots

I’m seeing MMOs as class-based societies now. The raiders aren’t necessarily the sole upper class (despite what many of them think) – but that class includes anyone who knows the game well and has plenty of resource on tap; gold, time, knowledge, alts with craft skills, friends, raid group, arena team, etc. And the lower classes include anyone who has less of a support network. They have to struggle much more for their game.

My druid, born with a silver spoon in her gob, gets everything handed to her on a silver plate. It’s not that there was no work involved, just I did the work on other characters. If I know the instances inside out, it’s because I ran them a lot on my main. If I know how to play a resto druid, it’s because I did a lot of raid healing in TBC. In any case, she’s not a typical new level 80, she’s a raider alt which is a very different thing.  I also have easy access with her to a lot of  PvE content in the game  – I suspect I could BS my way into an Ulduar raid that needed a healer by just showing that I know the encounters.

My death knight on the other hand, is more of a poor kid made good. Again, not a typical character because the player knows the game so well, but I have to work a lot harder to get her going.

The thing with class is that it can depend so much on your parents. And a privileged main will create privileged alts. People do like to spoil their alts by loading them up with pretty trinkets, purple epic toys and other goodies. The art of twinking has become a really strong form of emergent gameplay. I think I have in the past heard people refer to their alts as their kids but my memory is fortunately blanking the details because that’s a bit sad.

In any case, those alts really aren’t on the same playing field as new 80s. No matter how much Blizzard (or any developer) eases the levelling curve, hands out badges, or tries to make things easier for new players, the rich will just get richer. If we wanted alts to start on a similar level to each other, then we’d have to cripple the equivalent of the inheritance tax. If you couldn’t send gold and stuff to your alts, then they all would have to start from scratch – it probably would be good for the economy also.

Of course people would complain. I don’t even know if it’s a good idea myself. But I do know that I feel a sense of anti-climax that my druid had so little of a learning and gear curve at 80, it’s as if an important part of the alt experience just isn’t there.  It’s been maybe a week and I haven’t put much effort in but she’s already ‘done’. I could run Naxx-25 with her now without even needing to bullshit my way in.

Being part of the privileged classes means that there’s less challenge in the game – anything that requires resource gathering, they can do very easily. And there’s the rub. Because it is usually members of this class who complain the most about the lack of challenge.

I’m not sure if we want more egalitarian virtual societies. Part of the appeal of character progression is that you can compare yourself with less progressed people. If you are one of the haves you get to lord it over the have-nots, you may even rant in the Azerothian equivalent of the Daily Mail that they’re a bunch of useless layabouts and immigrants from other games who are living on welfare.

But I do know that breaking the inheritance tax would increase the amount of challenge from alting. Sometimes we take so much advantage of all the ways the game provides to make things easier that we are our own worst enemies.

New alt, or new game?

Some people only create alts when they have a specific purpose in mind. Maybe you really want a healer, perhaps there’s someone you really want to play with and levelling alts together is the easiest way, or maybe there’s some tradeskill you’d like to have (in your stable of alts) and you need to level an alt to learn it.

But sometimes it’s just to take a break, or do something different. eg. I’m a bit bored, I’ll go level an alt!

So how do you decide whether to roll a new alt, or whether to just go  play a different game?

Can you spot the alts?

Tarsus wrote a great post about why he tends to end up tanking on his Death Knight alt while levelling, even though it isn’t really tank specced. His experience of tanking on another class makes it easy for him to spot the key abilities on the new one and also to eye what other people are missing.

I know when I’ve been playing my warlock, I’ve had to bite my tongue when I’ve seen other warriors miss a patrol I would have spotted, or run after an add when they could have just charged it. Or charge when they could have used a line of sight pull.(And, to be fair, I bet warlock alts have looked at me and thought ‘NOOB!’)

But one thing I do understand as an alt is when a player tries and fails at something that is actually tricky to learn. I’m not the one who is whining when a new warrior tank is struggling to pick up that arsey pull in the violet hold (you know the one? Where the adds split up and run down both sides of the stair?) because I know it’s a pita. Sure, I might do it better but that’s from practice and practice is why we’re there.

I will speak up if someone bitches at the tank unfairly. Because I’ve also played a healer, I’ll  speak up when someone else in the group complains about healing when it wasn’t really the healer’s  fault. (If it was their fault, I am probably eyeing my repair bills or doing something useful like summoning a new demon.)

But I can tell when someone who is playing a role I know well is making a decent effort. And usually I’ll settle in at the back and leave them to it, focus on trying not to make any of my normal noob warlock mistakes, hope that the rest of the group isn’t thinking the exact same thing about me!

Can you tell when there’s someone else in the group who’s had more experience playing your role than you have? And do you bite your tongue when you see someone making a really basic mistake?