Saturday, September 29, 2012

First panda!

Haven't upgraded yet, though I would like to try out a monk. But last night, my first time back in since Mists, I caught sight of my first panda at the Brewfest.

In other news, as I slooooowly work my way to FLAMING TREANTS, this improved moonkin form is begging me to get the astral form glyph.

Moonkin want to be free, not armored.  Remember when we could panzerkin and tank IN THE BUFF?!!!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Must... get... Flaming... Treants

Okay. I nearly gave up. I paid my cash, and played twice in a month. Twice. I don't have time for WoW any more. I'd like to play, but I've just plain got too much going on.

Until tonight. I could play tonight. I took the MacBook to work to take advantage of the super-fast internets, as the last two times I tried to play I lost tons of time waiting for updates to download. Good thing I did -- about two gigs before I could start up (see above). And I've only got a week or so to finish... I doubt as many folks will be leveling alts in Cat instances once MoP is out.

So it's tonight. I've got a preferred bitter drink, my Razer Naga hooked up, and I'm all ready for a 2-3 hour push to get my FLAMING TREANTS!!1! And then, wham, it hits me as I try to log in to -- long story short, I gave my phone to someone else (after resetting it, of course), so I no longer have my authenticator.


To remove the old authenticator, Blizzard asks for your driver's license. No, RLY. Seriously, my Amazon account isn't protected this well.

You may have caught wind of the teapot tempest over Matt Honan's getting hacked by some clever social engineering. You really don't think about how much stuff you've got sitting in your cloud-based email account until, well, you do. It's insane the amount of info you've got there if you don't erase it after downloading.

Why we don't have authenticators for all the cloud-based services, I don't know. Funny that, until Honan's deal convinced me to sign up for more secure services, my account was likely my most secure bit of clouded information.

Compulsory note: If you find authenticators, action, guns, more action, and MMORPGs interesting, you should read REAMDE, now.


If I can't play, nobody can. Seriously, the book's pretty good. Not Stephenson's best (yes, that's my review at the top right now), but very, very good, and germaine to today's blog post.

Sheesh. I sent you my driver's license already. I hope your SSL worked. Let's go! ;^D

EDIT: Ha, to view the status of my ticket to remove my authenticator, I -- yes, you got it -- have to have my authenticator.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Does WoW drive hardware sales?

Quick post: I know lots of folks like to have great rigs, and I've written earlier on how hardware affects gaming. Again, I think everyone in my blogroll should consider putting their rig's specs on their template. Faster hardware is often like the feeling the first time you get prescription glasses. Hello, new world.

But how far does this go? My $20 investment (same link as above) was a no brainer. But a video card "starting at $299"? Does WoW drive sales like that?

I'd be tempted to say no, but I've had guildies who wouldn't stop talking about their liquid-cooled boxen -- one years ago in particular lived, if you believe him, in Alaska, and said he'd run it with the window open so his new card would stay cooler.

People do drop console-level cash on video cards. If they do it for WoW, I wonder why. Are there raids where you really need it? Is it at least partially a class-specific kind of thing? What classes and encounters benefit most from phat hardware? Is it just for those who like to record movies for their guild (which does take a little extra CPU, at least)? I mean, heck, even I don't like to instance on my MacBook, and it's not all that bad. (Here, I'm again reminded of when I used to run on 800x600 soloing on my iBook...)

How do you "know" when you have enough? When can you tell someone's got too much?

EDIT: Looking back, I see "affordability" mentioned in the ad for video cards that start at $299. Does anyone really let that effect their buying? Really? "Hey, Newegg says $299 is affordable! It must be!"

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ironyca's "Myths and Urban Legends in WoW" – The Bengal Tiger Cave

There are blogs you read for kickarse theorycrafting info (Graylo's Grey Matter) and ones just because they're interesting and usually pretty thought provoking (Lissanna's Restokin or Spinks' Welcome to Spinksville! (though, wow, please stop playing Star Wars already!  ;^D), but the blog that is a legitimate treat every time it pops into my RSS reader is Ironyca's Ironyca Stood in the Fire. (The other blog in my blogroll that's more "literature" than magazine? Cricket Bread, though that's not WoW related in the least, except to remind me that there are better things to be doing than playing WoW -- this is the guy who started the Crop Mob movement.)

The stuff at Ironyca's really has an archivist's and an academic's flair.  Not an industrialist academe, determined to, you know, be relevant by applying whatever theory has their goat to today's hot game (okay, no, really, GTA deserves your attention), but a, "Politics and fads be damned; I'm going to do good work and start chronicling and commenting on this [sub]culture," kind of academic. (Though she's light on the Deleuze.)

So I've been meaning to blog this particular post with more context, but I'm going to stop waiting and share the latest excellent series of material Ironyca's been putting together.  Honestly, if you can't let her work spin you forward a few steps, you're not really interested in non-self-hedonistic WoW [1].

Myths and Urban Legends in WoW – The Bengal Tiger Cave | Ironyca Stood in the Fire:

In Stranglethorn Vale near Zul’Gurub hidden in the mountains, there’s a secret cave with an even more secret mount vendor. She sells a cat mount, supposedly a bengal tiger, but she only spawns once a month for 30 minutes.

I'll admit that I'm much bigger into exploration than I am raiding, for instance, so maybe this is more fascinating to me than most.  I cat form prowled around the Scarlet Monastery for hours before I actually ran it, spent waaaay too much time trying to sneak into Dalaran before I'd leveled high enough, died too many times trying to find where I could drop into Un Goro Crater so I didn't have to run the long way around, and ran around Wintergrasp (hard not to call it "Winterfell" now) for a while well before I was the right level.  Soloing for fun can be, well, fun.  It's nice to take some time off from doing things the way the developers intended and instead see if I can't prank the game -- which, of course, was the whole point of the poorly scanned chapter linked to above.

But Ironyca goes well beyond exploration and strongly into the land of metalepsis.  I've wanted to write about gaming's "industry of metalepsis" for years... how the "real world" and [the horribly backwards notion of] the "virtual world" intersect, whether it's a trick like Rockstar's hidden game or the extra levels in N64's San Fran Rush (iirc)... there are things that can't be found without looking at media that exists only outside of the game (see Picard, via imgur with a small decency edit, above).

And that's why this series is so important. There's nothing in the game that's explicitly there to make you think that there's a vendor than spawns thirty minutes a month in some cave selling mounts. Sure, there's a skin, but that's it. Plus, the skin isn't an Easter Egg by any account. It has a good, reasonable explanation. The mount was in an early beta (alpha?) and was removed. It's a true fossil (again, read the previous link).

But through metalepsis, the digital fossil moves from forgotten mount to legend. That's a distinctly human reaction. We explain the unexplainable through story and narrative, and sometimes prefer to be seduced by romanticism rather than apply William's Razor.

Okay, that's enough. Your homework is to read every link in this post, and then find the cave of metaleptic legend.

And speaking of things not changing, you'll never guess what my first LFG instance was. Okay, well, yes, yes you will. The upside is that I sure as heck remember how to run it.

[1] Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you; beyond capturing the raw materials of my time playing, this blog is essentially just hedonism.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

And we're back...

Lessons for those starting back up their main after a year or more away.

Lesson 1: Remember when you had a hard time getting the first move from Valor to Justice points straight? It happened again. Now there's there's some new schmoe selling your Stormrider Leggings as a novelty item for transmogs. And yes, for Justice Points.

Lesson 2: No, you don't have any Valor Points any more. They've all converted.

Lesson 3: Yes, there's a brand new set of Justice Point tiered gear.

Lesson 4: ALL THE DAGGUM WIKI SITES ARE OUT OF DATE. It's like 4.3 hasn't happened on wowwiki or wowpedia minus a few notes about 4.3 at the bottom of pages. Obviously there's some new great place to learn about armor sets, but I don't know what it is. ARGH. Okay. Calmer now.

Lesson 5: This will make getting Flaming Treants lots easier. That's really the take-home, and makes Jal very happy. You can see him smilin'. @ As I mentioned the last time currency swapped, my Justice Points essentially just became Valor Points. I've already got enough for the chestpiece. Wow. Sometimes, deflation is a good thing.

Seriously, I'm much happier that I've only got to run dailies to get my irrational prize. When Mists comes out, you'll be replacing all your purples with greens anyway. I'm kinda happy I didn't spend my time grabbing Valors, but then I haven't gotten a year's use out of them either.

And a very special thank you to the readers that offered to send me a scroll, and an especially big thanks to the two who did -- I'm afraid I caused a mix-up on the email (sent from the "blog" email, but needed the scroll at the account email), so I ended up with two. I haven't claimed an 80 yet. That's proving a tougher decision than I thought. It will be Horde, just so I can play over there a bit. It won't be a Death Knight. I can level from 55-80, but there's almost zero chance outside of Sandy of me going from 1-80. But I can't tell if it should be another druid -- let's face it, Sandy's taught me I really can't play another class without serious study -- or not. Maybe I could spec resto? Out of the box, indeed. You know, I like that idea.

Thanks again, readers, and it's fun to have Jal back, even though I just jumped in for a few minutes this evening.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Free mount! Anybody want to send me a Scroll of Resurrection?

I'm not sure how many regular readers I have -- seems most of the traffic comes from Google searches, and often for images.

But if you are a reader and want a free mount, give me a yell at jal in drine at gmail (no spaces). Jal's ready to drop back in. I did email Lissanna at Restokin first, but haven't heard back in, what, probably all of 18 hours before it hit me I had a blog too. ;)

Friday, July 27, 2012

[Rogue-OT] Sandy's 14 and I'm rogue bitten

Sandy turned 14 without me even noticing. I'm in the middle of some "whack trolls and collect x jujus" quest and WHAM, the sparkly colors are flying. Leveling combat rogues is, after your third point in Sinister Strike, E-Z.

I know some of this is simply because I want to start playing "for real" again, but I've got to say, Sandy finally got me hooked on Combat Rogues. The DPS is insane. After dropping a third point into improved sinister strike, she's hemorrhaging DPS. Greens have started dropping like crazy too. Before, I had trouble with yellow mobs, now oranges and yellow elites are no problem. And, as I read later is common, she doesn't even really have to rest or stealth any more with all this DPS and recuperate. She just waxes one mob after another, leveling like mad.

But though I'm not wasting any time researching quest rewards or items, I am taking a few seconds to maximize stats with what I've got (duh). One thing that was weird -- my 9.1 DPS green sword is in her off-hand, and 5.8 DPS grey is in the main. Huh? When I tried to swap, I was told I wasn't a high enough level to swap hands. But I could drop the green in the main. I just couldn't get the grey into the off. ARGH.

And I'm WoWHeading and WoWWikiing (hello, out of date). Amazing the simple stuff you don't have to know playing different classes. As any n00b rogue (or any n00b dual weilder) knows, there are main hand, off-hand, and one-hand weapons. The first only goes in the main, etc etc.

The formula for DPS is apparently...

Dual Wield: Effective DPS =
0.76 x ( [Main Hand Weapon's DPS] +
( 0.5 x [Off-Hand Weapon's DPS] ) )

Also important: The power of Ambidexterity. It looks like that gives you 87.5% of normal DPS with your off hand. I'm missing something there, though, b/c that gives you more DPS with your off-hand (87.5) than your main (76)?

Anyway, BAM, rogue theorycrafting. Nothing boggling, but I have hit WoWHead and friends pretty hard. I'm looking at lists of twink weapons (not too useful), quests with decent rewards I can use in either hand, searching good drops, finding craftables, and performing weapon searches, you know, just to see what's out there, like this one that I'll never get, or this one that I could grab if I wax enough murlocs.

And at level 22, heeeeello Slice and Dice. No wonder folks love to play these guys. Though I have to remind myself that Mists kills talents. /sigh I hardly knew ye.

These spells and abilities will be trained in the field, appearing immediately in players' spellbooks once they reach the appropriate level. As a result, there will no longer be a need to visit class trainers save to re-spec or purchase Dual Specialization, keeping players engaged and doing what they enjoy.

The more things change, the more crufty old players like have to complain about.

She reminds me of Jal now -- a character I started playing just to see what things were like, no real time spent investigating playstyles, no time wasted (particularly with Sandy) comparing items or figuring out builds. Just grabbing what seemed to make the most sense until, surprise!, you turn the corner and are addicted. I even spent time leveling her cooking. We've bonded.

And finally, I won't keep posting this stuff any more, but here's one final "Sandy's vanishing wardrobe" post. Perhaps I'll follow up with a more sustained post later, but let's just say I didn't really notice Jal's clothes being quite as annoyingly bare.

Before and after...

Who designed this stuff? If you don't want your daughter wearing it, it shouldn't be something a game for kids is using as an easily achieved, low level item either. I'd say it shouldn't be a higher level item either, but I'm betting the number of under fifteen year-olds with tiered armor is much lower than the general WoW population. If you must be crass, do it responsibly [as if that wasn't oxymoronic].

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ding! Sandy's 13 [Rogue OT]

Absolutely zero to report from 12 to 13. Less than half an hour of play. Lots of DPS. Recuperate seems an interesting skill, but I haven't started theorycrafting to see how best to use it.

The only bit of note in this 27 minutes of play is that I'm becoming ever more conscious of how quickly she'll be 20, how I'd probably rather be playing Jalyndrine the Death Knight if I'm going to be alting, and that I think it's time to start re-learning what I have to do to get flaming treants.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sandy is 12/You're wearing that where? [Rogue OT]

Welp, Sandy's 12. Big ding. Lots of dying. I'm going after too many oranges, lulled into thinking she can take them with her insane DPS. Only problem? Where Jal could turn travel form and run, Sandy is toast when she aggros more than one mob. Man, I miss my travel form.


In other news, Sandy both got her first green -- a Gypsy Tunic of the Monkeyand has the first bit of gear I'm embarrassed to have her wear.

Spinks had a short and popular thread on some MMO she was playing with female models looking ready for the stripping pole, and it's not much different here. Was also showing emotes to a smaller someone who asked to see Sandy talk, and "No. No. I won't do that. ...But my sister will!" was impossible to explain. Next time I won't go further than /silly, /chicken, and /train. Look, the blood elf zones were cool to look at, and I'm glad I played them, but 1.) There's no way any self-respecting guy can play a blood elf guy and 2.) There's no way any self-respecting feminist can play a blood elf woman. It's sexual dimorphism at its worst with a heaping of solid misogyny. Though now six episodes into the second season of Game of Thrones, I know WoW's not alone in the fantasy misogynist department.

You can say that's not too bad, but if this lady was asking you for directions, your reaction would be...? Seriously, shouldn't the default have her with a grey-level cloak/tabard on? If you want to be cartoonishly lewd, fine, but why is it the implicitly encouraged default?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Remember D&D modules? Which one reminds you of Mists' Plot?

Reading through the "Zones & Dungeons - Game Guide" for MoP today, I was strangely reminded of my days playing AD&D.  The progression seems very linear.  Levels 85-86, Jade Forest wilderness and, after enough wandering, the Temple of the Jade Serpent.  Finish this (or gain enough XP to continue), and you're over to the Valley of the Four Winds and Stormstout Brewery.  A few more levels and you find yourself pushed by your DM into the Krasarang Wilds...

I don't beta, so I could be completely off, but whenever we played AD&D, I always got the feeling that we were being pushed to the end by our Dungeon Master -- except when I was DM, in which case there certainly were times I was pushing folks closer to the fancy end-module showdowns.  If a party spends too long on the throw-away portions, they'll 1.) likely miss the end game because you've played all night and the sun's coming back up and 2.) they'll eventually be too powerful to have fun at the end by gaining too much XP.  I guess 2.) is why we have level caps.

There were a few times I'd really slow things down, like in In The Dungeons of the Slave Lords, where folks started with nothing, had to make slings from small strips from their loincloths, and I didn't want them to miss the magic sword in the cloudy pool (iirc) that turned them invisible (and made the balance of the escape much easier).  "Are you sure you've searched everywhere?"

But for something like Ravenloft, perhaps the best (or more accurately, arguably, the most over-engineered) module created for the game, there was so much well-planned branching and random action that you eventually had to push your party to finish up or they'd play forever.  In fact, the module recognized that it had too much content, and was designed with instructions on how to slowly force them to do so. But its replayability was remarkable.

Mists sounds more Slave Lords than Ravenloft.  I'm not sure either is necessarily better, but I would bet, after Wrath's somewhat stiltedly painful double tracked level progressions, the first is much much easier to create.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rogue Ding 11

Back-dating this one to the date Sandy dinged.

Welp, in the interest of completeness, Sandy dinged a few weeks ago to hit 11. I picked the Combat tree, and so far, so good. The DPS these guys can do is incredible. I'm not sure how close I would get with cat form at 11, but I'm mowing guys down so quickly I barely have to heal up before I'm after the next "kill x of y" mob. That's not all bad. In fact, I've come to enjoy the x of y quests a little more recently as Sandy's started cutting through them like butter.

(I know, it's the worst Paint hack ever, but I couldn't stand Sarah staring at me like that.)

Though I still think the leveling is a little too easy, and though I'd much rather be playing Jal, I have to admit playing a rogue is a lot more fun at this point than it was before. Before, I was sort of going through the paces, checking out the blood elf starting zone and enjoying the eye candy. Now, I have moments of, "Hey, going rogue is a lot of fun."

Folks that have read this blog off and on for a few years know that my favorite part of being a balance druid, now that I can't pretend to tank any more, is when things get out of hand and I'm forced to off-heal. The rogue seems to offer a much different approach to gaming. I enjoy DPSing as balance, but the rotation mastery has, in my experience, been a little too methodical. I'm sure there are rotations for rogues that I'd need to learn at end game too, but just the melee factor makes me wonder if it wouldn't be a little more fun.

I mean, as a boomkin, I'm just shifting from one target to another and spamming wrath/moonfire/starfire/etc etc. It's not quite like healing, which feels a little bit more like a mini-game (watch the life meters! Watch the debuff icons! Healz healz healz!), but there are still times, particularly in my flirtation with raiding, that make balance feel a little disconnected from the game. You're almost playing a bit trip version of WoW rather than engaging with a true Multi-User Shared Hallucination. The fantasy, in-the-story feel breaks down considerably. I think there's at least a chance that rogue dps promotes a more connected game experience, if only because you're forced to move next to your next target before whacking it.

I did enjoy soloing Lord Roccor in cat form, but this is a different ball of wax completely.

In other news, sheesh, stop opening the Pandaria beta to more schmoes! I mean, honestly, by the time I get to it, everyone else is going to be freakin' masters. If you don't beta test, you're hamstrung in the worst way when new expansions are released. I complain about this enough that you'd think it was a stump speech, but the overly broad beta test really does bother me. Heck, folks in my blog roll are already getting our rotation for Mists down. That really kills much of the fun of the expansions for me.

Finally, I've recently been getting the Jal itch back. Pretty sure I'll reactivate for a month -- at least long enough to grab my flaming treants before Mists comes. There's something about that armor bonus that's highly motivating. Part of me wants to spend the month finally getting my, what, 14 or 15 year-old Ultima Online character's music skill to 100% first, but I'll probably skip poor Thopas again to get Jal his shoulders.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spinks on the strip^H^H^H^H^H female demon hunters in Diablo 3.

[D3] In which I warm to Diablo 3, but not to the demon hunter stilettos � Welcome to Spinksville!:

That [heel wearing Diablo 3 female] character in the top right looks as though she’s going to strip, or go to a BDSM party, or pose for a pin up. I wanted a female version of the male dude.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Skylanders -- Swinging virtual markets back into material goods

If you don't have an excuse to play Skylanders, find some family member who does. It's an enjoyable mix of Pokemon with Gauntlet (turns out I'm not the first to think of this, but the gameplay is uncannily similar), though the most fascinating thing for me is its use of good ole, old school, material toys. I'm old enough to remember playing with toys before video games, and even spending most of my free play time using toys I could move, rather than staring at the fancy sprites on the TV. If you asked me to draw the way a Star Wars figure with a lightsaber worked, I could probably create a drawing accurate to within a millimeter or two. You could give me five different types of plastic of varying solidity, and I could tell you exactly which was used to create Luke. That's the sort of obsessive concentration kids give things. I'm not saying you can't obsess over video games -- I have, and jokingly took the author of Indenture to task for not getting wall collisions just right in his remake of Adventure for the 2600. But there's something about holding a toy, not just make-believing, but simply holding, that would seem to be lost with video games. You might know your controller inside and out, but that's where the material exploration ends.

Skylanders puts that back into console gaming in an exceptionally creative way. There's something already magical about a totem. And the portal is awesome. It glows. It changes color depending on what's put on top of it. Seems it even rings the base of your statues with more concentrated color, but I didn't get to play too long before the PS3 was taken over by younger folk.

If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, this is a video game for one or two players, where you run around blasting monsters, collecting treasure, and occasionally healing yourself by grabbing food. It's decently 3D (as opposed to a 2D platformer). You have two attacks (at least?). And what character you play is determined by which one or two toys you've picked to place on the "Power Portal" pictured above. Your two attacks, the "elemental type" of characters you're using, etc, are all driven by these little statues. The game with 3 statues and the portal runs $60. Statues/figures are sold separately too for at one time as little as $5 and now around $10 a piece. There are, I think, thirty-two of the buggers now, though Toys R Us has their own, slightly different, "legendary" versions of four more, soon to be eight. One of the neatest hooks for me is that these things apparently remember when you earn them new powers, and they (with their powers) can be transferred from one platform to another. So your friend who used his figure on his Wii and powered it up could trade you for another figure you've used on your PS3 to allow you both to access different parts of the game.

I was happily surprised to find that that magic was at least partially inspired by Paul Reiche III. He's one of the fellows behind Mail Order Monsters, perhaps the mother of all of these stat-driven, totem-based games, as well as a number of Advanced Dungeon and Dragons modules. Reiche (who I just noticed I'd misread as Richie for decades) is Skylander's creative director. He also did Archon, and, even more impressive, its sequel, the gaming gem Adept, which for me is still a perfect blend of strategy and gameplay. He's also a guy I can't think of without this music going off in my head.

I'll try not to go too much into how having a good to sell in what was supposed to be a market now driven by digital distribution has to be a game-changer for Gamestop and, with their exclusive "Legendary" skylanders, Toys R Us. Instead, there's a very good article by Matt Matthews (full disclosure: a college buddy) over at Gamasutra from last December called How GameStop Is Conforming To A Digital Economy that details how important GameStop is to game publishers, and how the move to downloadable content (DLC) is affecting their stores. A quick quote:

The genius of GameStop's retail business model is that it combines a quick trade-in program with a large selection of games, both new and used, which can then be bought with trade-in credit. A highly-optimized distribution network ensures that many stores are well-stocked and GameStop's employees are trained to zealously promote products to consumers and extol the benefits of the trade-in system.

Publishers grumble, but the retailer is simply too big to ignore. For example, in its last quarterly statement Electronic Arts reported that 16 percent of its total net revenue came from direct sales to GameStop. Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world? They're just 10 percent of EA's revenue.

He then, and this is why his article is well worth the read, goes on to explain how GameStop has entered the "high-margin" for publishers world of downloadable content, though that sort of distribution seems at absolute odds for a brick & mortar store.

Again, though, Skylanders swaps out both that used-sales-plus-trade-ins and DLC models and swaps them out, I discovered, almost completely. First, the demand for the toys is insane, which is an absolutely unfathomable boon for stores. When I went to Toys R Us to pick up a legendary Trigger Happy (the most Gauntlet-elf-like of the characters I'd tried -- very fast runner with good ranged attacks), the cashier said that the truck that came in the week before Trigger's sold out the same day. In the recent load, they'd apparently recently gotten sixty or more Legendary Trigger Happys, and they'd sell out of them too before a week was out. Insane. Black Friday in March insane. And Toys R Us is smart enough not to sell these things online. I left with Trigger Happy, a Barbie movie, and some other silly stuffed animal that sings. Hello, impulse sales. That's something that's much less likely to happen when I buy online, if only because of the relative minimization of the number of times I hear a high-pitched "please!!!" That Apple put a music store in a pocket that goes everywhere I do was scary, but there's still something singularly powerful about a well-arranged, physical store that DLC will likely never completely recreate.

The flip side is that Gamestop, when I checked in, told me that they won't buy back the Skylanders game, and so had no used copies to sell! I was told that's because so many of the used portals had issues, but I'm not sure I'm buying that excuse. As Matt's article says, GameStop conventionally makes its cash not just selling used games, but "buying" them from customers for locked-in credit at GameStop. GameStop gets to have suppliers who agree, as part of their sales agreement, to become buyers. Brilliant. When GameStop sells used, Activision and other game publishers don't make another dime on those used sales, a position reminiscent of the Writers' Guild when they considered suing Amazon in their stare-down ten years ago.

Is the no-used-Skylanders position some sort of secret handshake? Is Activision saying, "We'll give you something tangible that'll make folks go to your store, but only if you don't sell the game to anyone without giving us our share"? That might explain Toys R Us' inside track on the Legendary Skylanders, who come slightly more powerful than the stock versions, and, obviously, are therefore a heck of a lot more desirable to gamers, a little like the Ultima Online Advanced Character. Toys R Us doesn't sell used.

So Skylanders' system seems to break down the two newest sales models for video game distribution, trade-in-to-used-sales and DLC.

Now the worst for me, and what I'd initially planned on blogging here, is the way even this kids' game requires some serious theorycrafting. That's not new, of course. Somehow, I got roped into writing a game guide for Pokemon Stadium, explaining how to use the in-game "rental" Pokemon to beat each round of foes from the game. Yes, I wrote this, right here. Which means I also played enough Pokemon Stadium to understand what all that jive in the guide means. And though it's not rocket science, it is a science.

A fun breakdown of requirements and their corresponding expense can be found here, at Kotaku, titled, "Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure Could Be The Most Expensive Game You Ever Buy".

For instance, each level in the game features doors that can only be opened by Skylanders of a specific element. The game comes with three. There are eight elements. Behind those doors lie short obstacle courses containing in-game prizes (power augmenting hats) that can’t be completely accessed unless you own a toy of each eight elements. With characters running $US7.99 a piece, that brings the total up to $US109.

But wait, there’s more!

Each Skylander unlocks its own heroic challenge in the game. Completing these challenges grants permanent stat and power buffs to whichever Skylander undergoes the trial, so in order to get the most power out of your characters, you’ll need all of them. Since only 12 additional characters are currently available, the total rises to $US165, and that’s before wave two even hits.

... and that's without having touched expansions. To see all of the game, you have to theorycraft-light your way to eight figures of different elements. If you think parents aren't going to say, "Oooops, I got you a second magic Skylander! Sorry!" fairly often, you've forgotten too much of your childhood. Further, to get the most powerful Skylander, you need every freakin' one. I've barely played, but I think that's meant literally. You have to have each one (and, again, there are 32-36 now, depending on how you count) to maximize the power of each one of your figures. You can't just play the heck out of the game with one or two. They'll still be relatively weak unless you buy THEM ALL. Muahahahaha!!!!

Even smarter? Embedded commercials!

As you play through the console game you’re constantly unlocking special powers for characters you don’t own yet. The game lets you know which power is for what character, and then shows you a preview of that character in action specifically tailored to making young children scream at their parents until they own one.

Eat that, Disney Channel!

The same sort of collecting craziness happens in WoW, of course, and it's what keeps us playing after a certain point; it's just harder to see the money leaving your pocket. There's a Pokemon-like "collect them all" mentality to WoW, whether it's "practical" stuff like gear, but gear that depreciates to worthlessness whenever Blizzard decides it should, or whether we're collecting just for fun stuff like vanity pets that I've managed to almost completely ignore. Minus my cats. And the Warbot. I really like my Warbot.

There's an addiction to collecting and a direct tie-in between addiction and successful marketing and markets (cigarettes, Coke, even Chips Ahoy), and though you can overdo Skylanders (Kotaku tallies up at least $320 of purchases for the "full" Skylanders experience), I'm awfully happy to once again see it popular to do some old school gaming -- where "gaming" here means just plain old "playing with toys". I guess that's also part of why I like FigurePrints, which makes the virtual characters a little more real. But at $28 for the game used with Power Portal and $10 for Trigger Happy, I don't think I've gone overboard just yet.

EDIT: Here's the best list of Skylanders I've found yet with some details on rarity. It's the first I've seen of silver and gold painted Skylanders that are apparently dropped in randomly with shipments to stores. Again, brilliant. The list even has a nice "Full Skylander Character Comparison" section with stats.

Release the mathes!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ding! Rogue 10, and a whole new set of talent trees

Welp, Sandy's the big ONE-OH. So the Recruit-a-Friend bonus has me thinking about WoW enough that I'm slumming with an under 20 toon on free play while I try to figure out if it's worth $30 to come back for a couple of months -- and worth the hours of my time I'll almost certainly, um, donate to the game.

Playing freeplay without looking up any pals first really is pretty lonely. There's no real social aspect at all. I saw a guy jumping in a fire today and /chuckled. I think that's the most "interaction" Sandy's had since she left the starting zone. Not really Blizzard's best pitch, if you ask me. How can you know you like WoW if F2P is essentially a one-player game?

I'd briefly considered firing up Star Trek Online, but IGN's fairly negative review talked me out of it. Spinks can't stop talking about The Old Republic, which is free this weekend. I might give that a roll briefly. I'd like to try Look For Raid, as it would seem to pitch in perfectly with the sort of soloer player I am, one who isn't quite up for the regular rigors of a raiding guild, and, well, one who still wants him some FLAMING TREANTS, you know? But it's not quite enough to trick me into resubbing.

Oh well. I'm not sure how much more Sandy I can take. With level 10, she's threatening to go from a pretty relaxing break full of "smackdown x of y" and "gear-click 8 z's" to something I have to research/theorycraft, if only a little, to really enjoy. I really don't want to learn the difference between Assassination, Combat, and Subtlety, though I'll probably google it a bit as soon as I hit "publish post". /sigh (Yep, did it sure enough.)

I really miss the way I played Jalindrine. I started him up expecting to delete him once I knew I'd "screwed up". Took the randomly generated name. Picked druid because I played elves in AD&D and it sounded like a good way to try out a few playstyles. Chose balance because it seemed to most closely match the playstyle I'd already adopted. Theorycrafting came later, well, just because that's what it took to go from soloing to pitching in with PUGs. But I'm not sure each of those milestones is possible to "luck" into a second time. The first run with Jal was one of discovery. Every alt is repetition.

That said, I'm still looking forward to the pandas. Inner peace, you know?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Graylo wonders if the Panzer is back...

Gray Matter: MoP Talent Calc: Second Impressions:
The Moonkin Tank?

In no way do I think anything in the current MoP Talent calculator suggests that we will see a return of the TBC Panzerkin, but look at all the defensive cooldowns its possible for a druid to have in this calculator?  [read Graylo for more, natch] 

Okay, really he explicitly says the Panzerkin isn't back (which stinks, b/c it was far and away my most enjoyable time grouping in WoW), but there are some interesting damage avoidance/mitigation in his list.  And any time I see someone write Panzerkin, I'm duty-bound to bring it to you.

Yes, the RaF deal is working on me, cheating or no.  Wonder if I'd enjoy having a level 80 Horde druid, or if I should use my cheat for a different class I know absolutely nothing about.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What, free 80s? INSANE.

Gray Matter: I'm Annoyed: An SoR Rant:
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a grumpy old man rant about how hard I had it back and my day. I think the Scroll of Resurrection is a good idea and that the rewards provided were intelligently chosen. When evaluated entirely on its own, I can't find fault with the SoR.

I'm annoyed because it's hard not to look at these rewards and ask "what about me?"

I started playing this game in December 2006 and I have maintained my subscription without a break for over 5 years. I've paid for the original game along with all three expansions. I've also paid for 14 server transfers, two faction transfers, and a name change. And this doesn't even include the things not tied to my account like the books and WoW branded peripherals I've purchased.

Wait, what's going on?  That's right, as Graylo says, if you Recruit-a-Friend, that friend can have 

One character immediately bossed to level 80.  Wow.

Okay, let's get this out of the way.  Contra Graylo, I am a grumpy old man here.

If you've done RaF before, and your friend is, say, at level 20, now you can restart and boost them to 80 without any of the learning in between?  As if people didn't know how to play now...  That's insane.  I mean, they've already made it insanely easy to level, and now they're giving out 80s?  If you want to add an 80 to an account than already has an 80+, fine, but this is crazy.  Wow.  Just wow.  Even if it is, apparently, a "limited time offer".

And now that I think about it, even letting those with 80s have another is wacky.  Me as a prot warrior at 80?  Hahahahahaha.  Hilarious.  You should at least be forced to take a driver's test first.

I could understand allowing a toon account to, say, start a DK without having leveled another level 55 character, perhaps, but this cheapens the game experience something wacky.

And yes, there should be some nice bonus for keeping your account active.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sandy the Rogue: Ding 9!

Seems like Sandy levels insanely quickly, so I finally managed to remember to check /played. I'm not going for any land speed records, but she's got 9 levels in just under 2 hours, 40 minutes. That's three levels per 53 minutes, or a level every 17 min, 47 seconds. That's fast. Jalindrine's screenshot collection doesn't start until level 14, and I'm not sure I checked played much at all, but perhaps there are a few places where I played straight through a level and can approximate his TpL (Time per Level, of course). Sure wasn't this fast... was it?

I also thought I'd mention that this quest map is awful. Look at the range of these quests and turn-ins! Man, I miss being mounted. Almost makes me wistful for the DK alt.

I still don't have time to log Jal back in, so I'll probably keep putting in a few minutes of Sandy now and again. I'd like to give LFR a try. My blog roll keeps coming back to it as a topic, and I'd like to see how it works. And I do occasionally wonder how much trouble it'd be to grab a few more T12 pieces, and if that'd be enough to get Jal into PURs.

Pandaria hasn't really given me much more to be excited about. I've read through some argument about its simplified talent trees (looks like this was Lissanna) being an improvement, saying that the Cataclysm trees were pretty sorry. Though complex, there were (and are), Lissanna argued, essentially "right" and "wrong" talent distributions, where the stuff that's up to personal choice boils down to meaningless fluff.

I did have someone once in a PUG ask me about my points in Cataclysm... second time ever. The first was years ago, in Vanilla, and the fellow said that they liked that I had points in what's now Naturalist (wasn't that before, was it?), showing I knew that I was going to be doing more than just DPSing. This second set of comments that I got told me how I'd gotten the distrib wrong, sure enough. They'd Armoried Jal and very politely told me I should move points around. I did, np, but the point holds: The system still looks complex, but "thanks" to the community of theorycrafters, we "know" there's only a few distribs worth keeping. This will change in Pandaria, and Lissanna thought it was an improvement. I think I tentatively agree, though I don't know much about the expansion yet. Well, other than the Activision-Blizzard-Dreamworks marketing synergy. I did find myself considering a mace for a quest reward tonight, and lamented that there are no longer any weapon skills -- if Sandy wants a mace, there's no reason not to take it, though she's never (iirc) used one herself.

Remember back when you'd have your staff knocked away and your Unarmed combat skill would start shooting up? Ah, the good old days. ;^)

Well, that's it. I'm too tired to write something awfully interesting, it turns out. My only other comment regards the tiny screenshots. They're native res. I've moved, and my only computer right now is an HP Pavilion dm1. It does okay for a really cheap ultraportable with Win7 64-bit, and even runs Visual C# 2010 pretty quickly, all things considered, but it's no screamer. Thus the 800x600 screenshots (I also have an old Dell CRT monitor out; don't ask). fps is sticking in the 30-40 range for Sandy, but I don't think I'd want to raid on this box! Reminds me of the old iBook G4 screenshots I put up.