Saturday, April 18, 2015

Diaries of a Ganker, Part XII - Confessions of a Waterboy

Now that all my toons are Conquest geared I'm finding myself at a bit of a loss at what to do. My original plan was to push for rating at the end of the season, but I'm finding that I lack the drive (or the team mates) to do so. I returned to WoW because of friends and family, and now those same people have abandoned WoW again, leaving me marooned in Azeroth. Lelle has her baby, Rykester is back at university completing his Masters, Ratsac is building his new house, Corona has foregone WoW in favour of a 3rd person MOBA called Smite, and Sorgon - who the hell knows what he is doing, apart from getting high somewhere. Of the active people I do know, none of them are viable team mates. Greyscorn, Odie and Hazeraxe are great guys, but they're just not very good I'm afraid - it's fun to cap with them, or to do world PvP with them, but as partners for rating all I can say is been there and done that, and don't want to do it again. Odie is a prime example of someone who was "good" in the grindy vanilla WoW PvP system, but couldn't make the transition to the more skill-based era of Arenas and Rated BGs. He earned the Field Marshal title back in vanilla - for those unfamiliar with the vanilla WoW PvP system the best thing that can be said about it is that it rewarded bloody single-minded determination to accumulate as many HKs as possible on a weekly basis. You couldn't take a week off, because your ranking would decay - apart from this consideration, it was all about farming HKs to maintain your position on the player distribution curve. The Field Marshal rank nowadays translates to a 2300+ rating in Rated BGs - in modern day Arena though Odie is simply terrible, and he doesn't even have the most basic Arena achievement of 1550+.

Of all my remaining active WoW friends, only Ratsac and Tamati are left - as I said, however, Ratsac is spending less and less time online as his house takes shape over in Western Australia. Tamati is unavailable as a team mate, because he is sitting on his rating of 2.2k in 3s and is on the cusp of getting the Arena Master (2.2k in all brackets) achievement. I have to admit to pangs of jealousy when I heard this - Tamati and I started out together with no rating, and while I have run headlong into the 2k wall, he has gone and crushed it on multiple toons. He's better than me, but I don't think that the gulf between us is that great - if he can get 2k I should be able to as well. Of course I could just be deluding myself, but oh well, we all need our illusions.

The last time I'll be paying for a WoW sub with real money. I bought a pile of tokens using my stockpiled gold for 21,428 gold apiece, and will leisurely earn my gold back in the interval to keep the sub going if I keep playing.

Since everyone else seems to have moved on I was to about to unsub, but the advent of the WoW token has given me a reason to extend my stay in Azeroth. I have a ridiculous amount of gold stockpiled, just under half a million or so, so I'm thinking that this month will be the last month I pay for a subscription. I used to have more, but WoW has a rule that each toon can only transfer 50,000 gold with them, and so the most I could take when I migrated my 10 toons to Gundrak during the free Oceanic transfer window was 500,000. The rest I ended up depositing to my old guild on Thorium Brotherhood. I don't need gold for anything - my toons are self-sufficient. PvP gear has no gem slots nor do we use consumables like flasks or food, so the only real expense comes from providing enchants for all the relevant pieces on all my active toons. Apart from this gold has no use for me - I'm not interested in mounts or vanity pets, so it makes sense to use the gold to offset real money subscription costs. I'm not going to "work" for my subscription either - with a 10 month head start I can easily re-make the gold doing garrison quests and selling crafted gear at a leisurely pace. If the gold price of the WoW token does inflate to ridiculous amounts which make it necessary for me to "work" for my monthly gold subscription cost then I just won't bother. I'll just resub. That is a conundrum at least 10 months further down the track, however. The WoW token will have an interesting effect on assessing subscription numbers, because who knows how many subscribers will be real money subscriptions as opposed to those financed by gold. By the same "token" however, it's easy to forget that every WoW token I buy with gold has been bought and paid for by someone with real money, so does it all even out revenue wise for Blizzard? I'll leave that for better minds than mine to puzzle out.

Being the miserly bastard that I am, I'm going to extend my sub in two month bursts - I'll reassess at the end of this period if I want to keep my sub going. My sub no longer costs me real money, but no sense wasting tokens if I don't feel like playing either.

So now that I am here to stay, I've been looking around for a Rated BG team to join in the hopes of finding one which can take me all the way to 2k. Since coming to Gundrak my toons have joined three guilds (four, if you count Ratsac's holding guild called <Unique Snowflakes>) - <Zero Style>, <Next Level> and finally <Jim's Mowing>. <Zero Style> and <Next Level> have died quiet ignominious deaths and have been abandoned and deserted. <Jim's Mowing> on the other hand, is perhaps the most organized PvP guild I've been a member of despite its unfortunate name. Ranks are determined purely on your PvP achievements, and they hold four to five PvP events on a weekly basis catering to differing levels of achievement. They hold Rated BG events, world PvP events, and unique events like Royal Rumble style eliminations and duelling tournaments. I've somehow snagged a spot on their core team which plays on Monday nights, and I've convinced Ratsac to join as well. I'm surrounded by awesome players on paper, and they all hold lots of shiny Arena and Rated BG achievements, which makes me a very sad panda. I also realised that I may have the lowest level of achievement on the team - my guild rank corresponds to my highest Arena achievement, which is 1750+, while the rest of them are rocking 2k or above - which makes me an even sadder panda, and also designates me as the "waterboy" of the team. To cap it all, one of their best players is a 13 year old kid named Chubbydruid, who is an Arena Master and Lieutenant-Commander (2.2k in Rated BGs) which makes me the saddest panda of all, and makes me wonder why I bother chasing rating at all. Self-determination theory ascribes three rationales for intrinsically driven behaviour - competence, autonomy, and relatedness - and I guess I must fall in the first and last categories - because according to my way of thinking, if I don't try to better myself (i.e. push for higher and higher rating) there is no real point in continuing to play at all. Even if 13 year olds can kick my ass without even really trying. It's amazing how much deference Chubby gets by virtue of his achievements, but the young tacker is a WoW prodigy - in Rated BGs he heals, dispels, CCs, and moves like lightning all around the battlefield, being Johny on the spot in crisis situations and always communicating effectively over Skype. You remember that he is just a little boy though, when someone cracks a stupid joke and he bursts out in in high pitched pre-pubescent laughter. I worry about the kind of influence this team is exerting on his development as a young adult, but at the very least it must be empowering in some way. In this field, at least, he is the equal or the better of his adult compatriots.

Life on a PvP server - while buying up tokens, a group of three Hordies blow through and slaughter the helpless NPCs, including the auctioneers. Sitting on my AH toon all I could do is watch. Those bastards. How dare they interfere with my game time. Wait a minute, is that hypocrisy I'm feeling?

All these shiny achievements don't hide the dysfunctionality which exists within this team however. For starters, the raid is led by a paladin called Pallypwnftw who tries to do his job, but is consistently undercut and undermined by the guild leader (a.k.a. Jim of <Jim's Mowing>) who occasionally butts in and contradicts him on strategy and composition. Jim insists on playing but lurks in the corners of the raid without speaking, but then chiming in whenever it suits him if he disagrees with something Pally says. On one occasion Jim demanded raid lead and used it to kick a priest who was irritating him, then asked Pally to find a replacement. To make matters worse, Jim usually refuses to play with a microphone, and spams his demands either on guild chat or raid chat. This kind of behaviour wouldn't be tolerated on any other team but because he is the GM his guild somehow just puts up with it. What's even worse is that he plays a hunter most of the time, which means he is allocated guard duty on node maps. Without a microphone. This is just bizarre, and has led to predictable results, in which the node Jim is guarding is overrun because no one saw Jim's call for help on raid chat. Since I am the newest and lowest member I just shut my mouth and roll with it, even though it drives me up the wall. I even started putting Jim on focus so I could see when he takes damage and then call for him (i.e. "Jim's being attacked at ST, he needs help."). Lately however he has begun using a mike reluctantly, and that's because he had a minor mutiny from some of his guildies who rightfully called him out on his behaviour. Jim is like the hated uncle in family reunions - we have to invite him because he is family, but nobody likes the old geezer because he's an asshole.

The guild master isn't the only thing dysfunctional about this team. Pally talks himself up constantly, and traditionally this has been a part of "leetbro" culture which annoyed me the least. Yes, yes, I saw it. Yes, that was a great play. Yup, yup, you owned that DK. Yeah, buddy, you are awesome. I feel like someone faking an orgasm. Nonetheless, I do it as it's all part of my Machiavellian plan to integrate myself into the team. Unfortunately Pally can go beyond self-praise and go into the realm of sniping at others to make himself look better. If I'm the target I stand my ground, and I link Recount statistics to defend myself if necessary. "Why are your heals so low, monk?" "Well, next time let me heal offence and you can sit with the FC." "Why didn't you dispel me, monk?" "My dispel was on CD, but if you like I can link overall Dispel count, in which I doubled yours. I can even link you how many times I have dispelled you in the game, which is - let me see - 13? Now how many times have you dispelled me - oh. Once. You dispelled Frost Fever. Cheers, bro." There's a fine balance of being an ass kisser and someone who stands up for themselves, and it's walking this tightrope that is the essence of realpolitik, albeit on the micro level of computer games. I want to be part of the team, but I'm not willing to be a punching bag either.

The other healer in the team, Asheboyswag, is also an Arena Master but is a reluctant healer, much preferring to play shadow in Rateds. Ash constantly whinges about how much he hates healing, and in one game was so bored that he broke from strategy and just started running the flag himself instead of handing it off to our designated FC (flag carrier). We still won, but this type of retarded selfish play wouldn't fly in normal teams, and is somehow tolerated for whatever reason. This team really needs a strong leader to sort them out. As it stands we're stuck in the 1700-1800 bracket despite having a team filled with great individual players with much higher achievements. Even my team of neophytes, filled with people with no achievements (at that time), managed to get 1900+ in Season 13 simply because we were a great team and we worked together as a unit. If this was a PuG team I would have been out of here long ago, but the fact is that this guild represents the best opportunity for me to play in a stable team filled with good players. At least these guys have trials and regular events, unlike other guilds out there. Despite Ash's whinging, Chubby's youth and Pally's self-promotion they are all awesome PvP healers. Chubby is like the Flash - he is everywhere, and invariably always the first to any node in trouble. Pally is a decent raid leader but has problems overriding Jim or other established players. Ash is always nagging his fellow healers for dispels, but whenever I get CCed and I'm near him he dispels it almost instantaneously so what he asks for he also gives back in return. In a Silvershards Mine game I once rolled off the side of the track and fell in the water by accident in the middle of a big fight. I didn't tell anyone out of embarrassment, and started swimming for the shore to get back to the fight above. Without missing a beat Ash pulled me back up with Lifegrip (a.k.a. Leap of Faith). So OK, he's occasionally annoying - but the dude can play, and as I've said before, competence trumps good manners for me up to a certain point.

Having spent over a decade living in Japan, I've had to assimilate the conventions of aisatsu (ritualised greetings) and learn the inflections of keigo (formal speech) in work and casual situations. You don't really know a Japanese person from first impressions. The day they actually start bitching and complaining to you is the day you know you have penetrated past the layers of socially conditioned politeness and have started to meet the real person underneath. This is the case for most cultures - we all have our public and private personas - but the difference in Japan is so stark that they have words for it. Tatemae (public facade) and honne (true feelings and desires). This is a gross generalisation of course, and I have met Japanese people who eschew this type of public persona. The reverse is also true - I've met quite a few two-faced bastards back home in Australia back when I was practicing as a solicitor (my scumbag clients, mainly). No culture has a monopoly on good people, or bad people. There are two types of drinking parties in Japan - the ones where everyone really lets their hair down (I call them honne parties), and the ones where it's really just an extension of the hierarchical stratification that characterises Japanese culture. Last week I had to pour beer for my boss, my bosses' boss, and finally pour beer for the mayor, who being the highest ranked dignitary in the room was the focus of obeisance for the whole function. Of course, as a concession to egalitarianism you're also supposed to pour beer for everyone else, which leads to the situation in which everyone is standing up with a bottle of beer in hand trying to pour beer for people who also have bottles to pour. No one is sitting down, no one is having fun (but they're pretending to), and I find the whole ritual exceedingly painful. There was a time when I got a kick out of having a pretty young intern pour my beer for me, but since Yuri passed I don't think that way anymore. It just makes me sad, and reminds me of the day we first met. She hated those stupid functions, too. Sometimes I get the irrational impulse during these functions to strip and run around naked and do star jumps in front of everyone with my junk flopping around in people's faces. One day I might snap and this day may come to pass - unfortunately that will also be the day when I get fired from my company and get my ass sent home on a plane with the proviso "Never To Return" stamped on my passport.

In short, if I can put up with navigating honne and tatemae in my working life then integrating into this Rated team should be a piece of piss by comparison. Much in the same way you have to wade through the layers of tatemae and formality in Japan to find the real person beneath, you have to do the same when you are trying to establish yourself in a Rated BG team. Beyond the "leetbro" culture and the posturing there are real people underneath, and I just want to dispense with the BS and start becoming part of a real team and kicking some real ass. The true beauty of team play in Rateds is when you start being able to rely on your team to have your back, and we are so far from this point at the moment it's laughable. There are moments during Rateds where you are literally helpless to do anything - silenced, stunned and rooted, with five, six, or seven DPS on you trying to rip your face off - and your life is completely in the hands of your fellow healers and team mates who can peel for you. I'm not comfortable yet putting my virtual life in the hands of these strangers - but this is the point I would like to get to. The point in which you know you actually belong to a team rather than a group of individuals is when you are able to call out mea culpa, or admit your mistakes, without fear of being of given excessive grief for it. Light hearted ridicule or friendly sledging is par for the course, and is a given. A real team however, is able to freely admit their mistakes while at the same time exhibiting a willingness to learn and improve from them. For now, however, I'll simply have to observe the rituals of male bonding (akin to aisatsu), use the lexicon of "leetbro" speech (akin to keigo), and hope that one day we actually pierce the veil of tatemae and start forging some real team bonds.



Addendum - above is a video of one of our better matches against a 1600+ team. We still won comfortably thanks to the vicious efficiency of our DPS who chewed through the enemy every time they made contact, but the problems besetting the team are apparent. In this game Ash decides to run the flag by himself after the first cap, leading to a sub-optimal situation where all three healers are stuck on defence. You can see me dithering in the flag room not sure what to do - our opening strategy called for Pally and I to drop back to support the FC with a hunter, but when Ash took the flag it left our offence without heals, who wiped as a result. Jim the GM is on his mage and as per usual is refusing to talk on Skype, instead opting to spam chat with his demands. He also inexplicably drops the flag for no reason in our flag room, either because he was getting pissed at people telling him to give the flag to our DK FC, or he just cocked up a transfer. Without a mike no one knew what the hell he was thinking, and the end result was that the opposition scored a cap. Pally was doing a great job raid leading I thought, but he had problems putting his foot down with Ash, who outranks him, or was getting drowned out by Mpsmash, our target caller (TC). We still won, but It was far from the kind of performance one would expect for a team filled with 2k+ players.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Diaries of a Ganker, Part XI - Two Druids Walk Into Warspear

What's better than ganking alone?

Ganking with friends.

Or with family, as it turned out. My sister and I logged on one evening, found no one on, realised that all our toons were Conquest capped and scratched our heads and pondered on what to do. We didn't want to do 2s - while it was good fun to cap with 2s, at higher and higher rankings they become real stamina-sapping battles which can go on forever, especially with healer/DPS teams. My sister doesn't play for rating anymore - she just logs on to PvP casually with my mates and I, and so I don't like to put any pressure on her whenever she is online. We ruminated on what would be a relaxing evening of PvP with just the two of us, and we were actually on the verge of trying a Heroic dungeon for the first time when suddenly it dawned on me.

"Hey, we can go ganking in Warspear."

Lelle and Bjorn pose before making the leap into the waters off the western side of Stormshield.

Lelle was sold. As far as OWPvP goes she is more gung-ho than I am, often starting more fights than I would. She's never malicious about it - she spent most of her WoW life on a PvE server, so she was always grateful whenever the Horde "came out to play" - that is, voluntarily flag and engage in consensual OWPvP. Since our transfer to a PvP server she has been like a kid in a candy store, attacking every red on sight. She rolled a mage for the first time this expansion, and our levelling was often interrupted by her chasing after Hordies that crossed our path. Either that, or hollering for back-up while being chased by irate Hordies hell bent on taking her out. Never a dull moment when she was around.

So it was decided - it was off to Warspear we would go. My sister's druid and mine have a long history together - back in the Burning Crusade we were "twink" team mates in the level 40-49 bracket. The practice of "twinking" has sadly died out due to changes in game mechanics, but back in the day it was common practice to kit out toons to compete in specific BG brackets. My sister's great nemesis back in those days was a rogue named Skillhoutte - twink brackets were composed of a limited pool of players, so you got to know your team mates and the opposition quite well. Skillhoutte knew Lelle was the Alliance's team main healer, and he hunted her mercilessly every BG we played. Back in those days my druid was a female night elf named Seylune on Garithos. She has subsequently had a sex change, grown fur and fangs as a Worgen, and bounced around from server to server before finally coming to rest in Gundrak and changing her name from Seylune to Bjorn. During the Burning Crusade, however, she was recruited to be Lelle's bodyguard on the twink team, and her job was to prowl around Lelle and pounce Skillhoutte whenever he opened on Lelle. Of course, Skillhoutte adapted as well, and learned to look for me first. He eventually started bringing friends to help him out, too. By the end of our twinking time, Skillhoutte and his mates had become our friends, which goes to show that not all PvP is all about power and domination - sometimes it is just a contest, and people can see beyond the death of their avatars and appreciate the skill and tenacity of their opposition.

Lelle and Bjorn swimming to Warspear.

Modern day PvP in WoW has lost that personal touch, however. Region-wide queues have been an amazing step forward in dramatically reducing waiting times and increasing player pools, but the cost has been the loss of player reputations, vendettas and rivalries. During the days of vanilla BGs were fought against the same group of foes on the same server, and I recall fondly the back and forth on the forums from both factions. There were heated arguments and flaming aplenty, but in the end when people departed from the server they were saluted and given a warm send-off more often than not by those who used to oppose them on the battlefield. There is community in PvP, but if you are not naturally inclined to this playstyle you will not recognize it for what it is.

Back in the present day my sister and I made our final preparations for our ganking trip, consuming food and flasks to buff ourselves before departing. We jumped off the western edge of Stormshield and made our way north to Warspear, taking care not to breach the invisible boundary surrounding Ashran. Upon our arrival I immediately circled us around to the north while telling Lelle what I had learned about the layout on my first visit here. Of course my sister being my sister she insisted on ascertaining the lay of the land herself, and so we parted for an interval so that she could conduct her own recce. It was at this point that I realised that the Horde Auction House was completely accessible from the northern side. The last time I was here I had ganked a shadow priest and hurriedly displaced from this location, and in my haste I had missed this most perfect of openings. There were guards at the entrance, but the building was accessible via the windows in the back, and the approach was completely clear of NPC patrols. What's even more interesting was that all the NPC auctioneers were clearly visible from the outside. This presented us with a golden opportunity to provoke a fight with the Horde on terms that were advantageous to us.

Lelle and Bjorn ponder survey the Horde Auction House in Warspear. The back of the building can be approached from the northern side of the island, and the route is clear of any NPC patrols.

When my sister returned I told her of my discovery and we quickly made a plan of action, working out places where she could line of sight enemy spells, and what our escape plan would be if things escalated out of control. Then giggling like a naughty school kid, I blasted all the auctioneers with Moonfire and aggroed them out of the Auction House back to the rocks where we were waiting. 
 
Sneaking right up to the open windows of the Auction House.

The auctioneers were simple NPCs with fairly low health pools, and it didn't take much to kill all three of them. I didn't use any CDs, saving them all for the inevitable reprisals that would follow. It didn't take long. A warrior and a ret paladin came tearing out of the AH, and I bolted and ran for the shore line. They followed me around the corner of some big rocks, and in the lee of this virtual boulder, out of sight of the AH, I turned to fight. He was red and angry - he'd popped his burst trinket and was going HAAM on my furry ass, so I was doing my best to stay out of contact by stunning and rooting. I knew Lelle had my back with heals, but there's no sense in making the healer's job harder by wilfully sitting in someone's burst. I was trying to either stun or root then follow it with a Cyclone, but the warrior was decent, and kept closing the distance and snaring me. In Arena I can't just hardcast a Cyclone against good warriors. As soon as they hear a Cyclone being cast they'll immediately pop Spell Reflect or Mass Spell Reflect, and you'll end up eating your own CC. What you have to do is to juke a Cyclone - start casting it just to trigger the Cyclone warning on most Arena add-ons, and immediately cancel the cast. This hopefully makes the warrior pop Spell Reflect, which you then remove by throwing out a Moonfire. The Moonfire will be reflected back onto you, but at least you're now free to Cyclone the warrior.

While the warrior and I played tag amongst the rocks, the ret pally came around the boulder and immediately popped wings, but then much to his surprise, he immediately ate a Cyclone courtesy of my sister coming out of stealth behind him. He trinketed it but then ate a second Cyclone literally one second later - Lelle had pre-emptively started casting a second Cyclone in anticipation of a trinket. The pally, rather than waiting out the DRed Cyclone (it would have only been 3 seconds long due to diminishing returns) then showed his greenness by bubbling out of Cyclone (now possible in WoD) and wasting his second escape.

The warrior, in the meantime, had spell reflected my clumsy attempt to Cyclone him. I didn't juke the Cyclone and I paid for it - sometimes I don't want to waste my time juking, and I just cross my fingers and hope the warrior is not good, or has bad reflexes, or bad latency. This guy did not belong to any of those categories, but fortunately it didn't matter. He could no longer attack me either while I sat in my own Cyclone, and he lacked the situational awareness to notice that his buddy was being played with by Lelle so he never switched targets. We just stared at each other through the Cyclone, and when it fell off we went at it again. His burst was petering out, so therefore it was time to pop mine. He was soon in deep doggie doo, wracked by vicious bleeds and eating Ferocious Bite after Ferocious Bite. He tried to escape back to the bluffs above by using Heroic Leap, but the terrain around the northern shore is jagged and uneven, and his mighty leap became a faltering hop that traversed all of 10 metres instead. He was dispatched moments later. I then turned to the paladin, who was chasing Lelle around the rocky beach without much success. A single healer is designed to tank a single DPS indefinitely, and so I wasn't worried about Lelle as long as only one DPS was on her. She can take care of herself. I jumped on the paladin and started bleeding him. It took longer, because my burst was gone and my energy pool depleted on the warrior, but in the end the paladin fell, too. He prolonged the fight with a Lay On Hands which surprised the hell out of me, since that ability is not permitted in Arenas and Rated BGs, but once I realised it was just that ability and not some Horde healer entering the fray, we just focused him down again.

Bjorn stands over the corpses of the warrior (Mudkoh) and ret paladin (Aresz), and thanks the WoW gods that he has a pocket healer.

We quickly scuttled away like a pair of evil hermit crabs, and re-stealthed. The warrior and the pallie were back in moments - their graveyard is literally 30 seconds away, and death was just a minor inconvenience for them. For me and Lelle a death would mean being sent all the way back to Stormshield, and so we agreed that if one of us went down the other would endeavour to get away in order to cast a rez later. If we both went down then our trip would be over. This gave the whole sortie a real sense of danger and excitement, as well as a definite "lose" condition. There is nothing at stake in world PvP in WoW - you have to set your own parameters and bring your own reasons for engaging in this type of gameplay.
 
The warrior and ret pally started sweeping the beach for us, and Lelle and I obliged again by fighting and killing them. Again. And again. And again. After the third or fourth death the ret paladin had had enough, and he retired from the fight. The warrior, however, brought friends. A feral druid and a hunter waded into the fray. Even three on two we were able to wipe them, not because Lelle and I are particularly good (our highest achievements are 1750+ in all Arena brackets), but because we had played together for so long and our enemies were uncoordinated. Things started becoming bad when an enemy priest joined the fray, however. With a healer in play I had to train the healer, which meant that Lelle would be tanking three people by herself. I could peel occasionally with Cyclones, Mighty Bash and Mass Entanglement but in all reality I needed to stay on the priest to put enough pressure to kill him. As I said earlier, competent healers should be able to tank one DPS indefinitely. Anything less and the healer is a liability to a team. I was hoping that this particular healer was of that kind.

A silent battle rages in the deep waters off the coast of Warspear. The priest Täldur in the top left is keeping the Horde in the fight.

After about a minute of training the priest I had to admit defeat - I couldn't take him down. Lelle was doing a mighty job holding off a warrior, a feral and a hunter, but she was fast running out of CDs. It was time to run. I switched to peel mode, rooting the warrior and Cycloning the hunter, and said, "Let's get out of here!" We both jumped into the water and shifted into our aquatic forms, and dived for the bottom. Lelle kept us both up with Lifeblooms and Rejuvenations. The warrior stuck with us tenaciously - he'd been killed about five times and wanted revenge. As we went deeper and deeper however, he realised his predicament. The feral, on the other hand, was a druid like us, and he had no problems sticking with Lelle and I as we plunged for the bottom. The hunter stayed in the hunt as well - he was ranged and so he could shoot us from the shallow waters, and pop up to take a breath whenever he needed to. The warrior could not, and he eventually disengaged and swam for the surface, and left the fight. The odds had improved tremendously for us with his departure, and Lelle was able to stabilise the incoming damage from the hunter and the feral.

Engaged by a warrior (Mudkoh), a feral druid (Doball) and a hunter (Ramishen - out of screenshot, but his wolf pet is chewing on my furry hide). Apparently there's a DK somewhere, too, because I can see a DK debuff on me.

The hunter and the feral kept pursuing us as we moved further and further away from the coast of Warspear. We were in a deadlock - the warrior was actually the danger man, and without his damage the feral and the hunter were just nuisances to Lelle's healing output. I, on the other hand, couldn't kill either of them either, because the priest was near the surface spamming heals. We just kept moving further and further away from the coast in a type of twisted underwater waltz, wondering how this would all end.

Then the priest decided he'd had enough, and turned and began to swim back to shore. His buddies didn't notice at first - I did, however, and took this opportunity to pop my CDs on the druid. The druid, thinking the priest had his back, ignored me and kept chasing Lelle. He suddenly realised he was dying, looked around frantically for his healer, and died. The hunter realised that he was all alone, and began retreating - unfortunately for him he moves at half speed in water while both Lelle and I had the Aquatic Form glyph which boosts our submerged mobility. He tried to create some distance by using Disengage, but that ability is nigh useless in water - you literally disengage about 1 metre and come to an abrupt halt. Guess all that virtual water has heft and weight. At any rate, there was no way the hunter was ever going to escape from a pair of free swimming druids, and he was soon at death's door. The hunter, in a fit of pique however, voluntarily disconnected himself rather than take a killing blow. I don't know why people do that - as far as I'm concerned, voluntary disconnects are a sure sign that a player is pissed off, and are worth than just kills if "harvesting tears" is the goal. Everyone dies in PvP - but only irate and discomfited players pull the plug on their game. Lelle and I had a little laugh about it, and breathed a collective sigh of relief at having escaped. We were about to go in again and prepare for round two, but at this point real life intruded when Lelle's baby woke up. We called it at that point, and logged our druids off at a small island north west of Warspear. We had achieved nothing - won nothing - gained nothing - and by most standards we had just wasted two hours of our time. Nonetheless, we had a few laughs - exercised a skill set which has no bearing on real life - and we both logged off in good spirits. If that is not the essence of play then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Diaries of a Ganker, Part X - Recceing Warspear

Can't very well call this series Diaries of a Ganker and not gank, so therefore, given that all my toons are fully Conquest geared and require no further grinding for the remainder of the season, I've decided to sally forth into the world and cause some mischief. This was far easier said than done though, as I would soon find out. In sharp contrast to Archeage, where players till non-instanced fields, tend livestock. build houses and populate the roads and sea lanes with trading traffic, the primary purpose of the world in WoW is to provide a zone for levelling. The WoW experience is now perfectly compartmentalised. It's like one of those beautiful specialty cookie stores, where you grab a bag at one end, and walk past the beautifully appointed rows of cookies, each separated and clearly labelled, and pick up the ones that look appetizing with a pair of stainless steel tongs. No rough edges, or stray crumbs to ruin your snacking experience.

Travelling through the lands of Draenor I am struck by how empty the virtual world is. I am on the Gundrak server, which is connected to Jubei'thos. Both servers are supposedly full, but you would never know it by travelling through the zones of Shadowmoon Valley, Gorgrond, or Nagrand. Even at peak Oceanic times these zones are empty, save for the occasional toon puttering away to 100. I have no desire to attack people below 100 - what I am looking for is a zone similar to either Halfhill or the Timeless Isle in MoP, where 100s congregate to do dailies, farming, mining, herbing or whatever. The most obvious choice is Ashran, the new PvP zone introduced in WoD. The problem with this idea is that Ashran, despite its nominal designation as a "world" PvP zone, is actually an instance with a limit of 100 players on each side. Waiting times on my server is about an hour on average, which nixes that idea. Playing on Oceanic servers gives us better ping, but I do miss my old US servers because I never had to wait for anything. Queues were non-existent. In Gundrak I have to cool my heels in the Alliance stronghold of Stormshield while waiting for the queue to pop. It was at this juncture a few nights ago when I realised that the Horde were doing the same thing at the opposite end of the island at the Horde base of Warspear, and that gave me an idea. Back in Cataclysm, my feral druid used to haunt the streets of Orgrimmar and provoke unflagged Hordies into fighting me on their own streets. In the Mists expansion I transferred my rogue to Illidan and ganked around the village of Halfhill with my rogue. This expansion I really didn't know where to go - as far as I knew every player in WoD now just live in the hermetic bubble of their garrison. There's no reason to leave - most content is instanced now, and only require you to join a queue to partake. Dailies have fallen out of favour due to their negative Skinner overtones, and raw crafting materials are produced in such abundance by each player's garrison that there is no point going out into the world for them. Aside from levelling and a few side things here and there like pet battles and rep grinds, there is really no purpose to the greater world of Azeroth. After seeing the bustling and organic lands of Archeage I now know how sterile and lifeless the WoW virtual world is in comparison. There is literally no one left in the world to fight - except in Warspear.


The world PvP zone of Ashran.

Warspear is the Horde "capital" for the WoD expansion. During the Burning Crusade it was Shattrath, in Wrath it was Dalaran, in Cataclysm it reverted back to Stormwind and Orgrimmar, and in Mists it was the Shrine of the Seven Stars and the Shrine of Two Moons for Alliance and Horde respectively. Warspear is situated on the northern end of the island of Ashran, Blizzard's designated world PvP zone. It stands in opposition to the Alliance stronghold of Stormshield at the southern tip of the island. There's only one way to get to Warspear, and that's to swim there. Actually, there's two, but the second one entails being able to enter the Ashran battle itself, and as stated earlier, that requires queuing up for an hour to become eligible. An invisible boundary surrounds Ashran, and once you cross that border you are automatically queued for the battle. If you stay within this boundary you will be automatically ejected back to Stormshield if you have not yet been called in.

A direct approach is therefore unfeasible, which means it's time to don my goggles and swimwear. Fortunately I'm a druid, and one of our class perks is our ability to shift into an aquatic travel form. The trip to Warspear is straightforward but is somewhat long - it takes about five minutes to swim all the way there as a baby orca. There are no hazards in the water to worry about - the only concern is making sure that I stay well away from the invisible Ashran boundary so as not to be queued accidentally. If I'm queued and within the boundary I will be summarily booted back to Stormshield after about 30 seconds, so it was simply a case of swimming further out whenever the queue popped. After an uneventful journey I soon arrived at the western approaches of Warspear, and there I paused to consider my next move.


Bjørn considers his next move as he surveys the Horde stronghold of Warspear from the jagged outcrops of the west coast.

Surveying the stronghold from the jagged rocks at the western side Warspear didn't look so formidable, but looks were deceiving. My first attempts to penetrate the interior were foiled by the cramped architecture and the numerous NPC patrols guarding the approaches. These NPC guards are almost invisible when they're your own faction, but as an intruder in my enemy's capital they were a formidable hazard to be overcome. They have a fairly large aggro range, they respawn quickly, and some of them are able to see characters in stealth. If you've never prowled around in your enemy's capital before you will not have seen these patrolling NPCs with "eyes" above their heads doing the rounds. I find it helpful to raid mark these scouts with symbols so as to see them coming more easily. Despite my best attempts, however, I found the western side to be very difficult to penetrate. The guard placement and patrol routes were just too densely packed, and I found myself being "made" and having to flee into the sea to escape. As a druid I no longer have the luxury of a rogue's Vanishes - as soon as I am caught I am stuck in combat until either my assailant or I am dead. I'm also a Worgen druid, which means no Shadowmeld - on the upside, however, I do have the extra sprint, which gives me some extra mobility. If I get "made" my only option is to finish the fight quickly, or run into the sea, shift into orca form and swim away until I shake the aggroer.

Having no luck at the western approaches I decided to try to infiltrate from the northern side. I found more success here - there were larger gaps between the patrols, and much to my surprise I found an enemy shadow priest AFK by himself near the bluffs overlooking the ocean. I quickly dispatched the priest, and displaced to the eastern side immediately. My goal was to conduct reconnaissance, so I didn't want to get into a protracted fight. Once the priest returned from being AFK he would alert the garrison to my presence, and I had no wish to be around that area when the Horde started to sweep for me. Death mechanics on Ashran are different to those of Azeroth - when you die you rez at the graveyard at your faction's base. There is no corpse running involved, which means you can't just die, run back to your corpse, and resurrect back at the scene of the fight. In Ashran, much like in BGs, once you die you have to start again from the graveyard all the way back in Stormshield. This made dying an expensive business in terms of time, and as a consequence I was much more wary and risk-averse.

Moving to the eastern side I found more space to manoeuvre, but again penetrating into Warspear's interior proved difficult. There was space to move here, but it appeared to be a locale not frequented by the Horde, which made it useless for ganking purposes. I really wanted to get into the interior, and wreak havoc amongst the folk who thought themselves "safe" in the heart of their stronghold. While I was ruminating, however, a Horde hunter suddenly appeared at the east side and began talking to one of the NPCs. I didn't like the match-up - good hunters are impossible to beat one versus one, at least in Rated play, but I had surprise on my side and there is always that better than even chance that the player isn't that good anyway. So I thought, why not, I'll have a go.

When you open on people in Arenas and Rated BGs they already have a plan in mind, and their response is automatic and honed over hundreds and hundreds of games. They may sit your opener, trinket immediately or use some kind of class escape, or holler for their team mate to peel immediately. In world PvP however, it may take a second or two for what is happening to register, and this is what I was counting on when I opened. Kitty burst is also fearsome - the combination of Incarnation of Ursoc, Berserk and burst trinket allows you to put out ridiculous amounts of damage. Before the hunter knew what was happening he was almost dead. He popped Deterrence, but it was too late - he had both my bleeds (Rip and Rake) already ticking, and as soon as Deterrence went down I simply charged him and finished him with a pair of Shreds.

Once the hunter went down I displaced immediately to avoid reprisals. I kept moving south along the eastern edge of Warspear, probing for a path inside. I found a promising route atop a crumbling wall, but it terminated in a drop into the heart of Warspear. This was a one way ticket - I would be in, but I would also be trapped inside. The removal of flying in Draenor has once again made terrain relevant - penetrating Orgrimmar was a cakewalk by comparison, as all I had to do was fly in. I also recall having to watch the skies back in Cataclysm - once people in Orgrimmar were alerted to my presence the Horde used to sweep back and forth overhead on their mounts while my druid tried to tippy toe away and move to another area. No need for Z-axis considerations in Draenor - here the threats were in front, behind, and to my left and to my right. No paladin hot drops or death from above by mages or shadow priests.

I decided to drop down, and try to work my way from the inside out. If things went south and I was found then my plan was to simply bolt for the sea while shrieking in abject terror. Mouthing a silent hail Mary my druid landed inside, right in the middle of the Horde's training dummy area. Pulse racing I padded away as fast as possible from the Hordies practising their rotations on the mechanical dummies. I felt like I was playing a 3D version of the game Frogger - like the protagonist of that ancient arcade game I was frantically weaving back and forth to dodge passing traffic. I finally found a spot where I could rest and catch my breath, which oddly enough happened to be the exact centre of Warspear.


Bjørn in the heart of Warspear, apparently checking his inventory. Where the hell are those agility flasks?

Now the problem was going to be to figure out how the hell to get out of here without being detected. After a moment's reflection I realised that this was not a problem at all. I could literally just run away in any direction I wanted and my druid's fleet of foot would ensure that I would outstrip any pursuit. Once I was in the ocean I would shift into aquatic form and only other druids would be able to catch me. My druid can breathe underwater - non-druids could choose to chase me into the depths and drown if they liked. With entry point and escape plan now determined I began looking around for chances to make a nuisance of myself. The crowd around the training dummies had thinned down to one solitary warlock, and so I picked him as my next target. I crept behind, looked around one more time and determined my escape route, then pounced.

This fight was tough. The dude reacted immediately, and used Blood Horror to shake me. I trinketed and got back on him, trying to do as much damage as I could. The lock started casting Fear to get some distance, and I reacted by using my Skull Bash interrupt. Too quickly - the lock had juked me. Juking is the practice of fake casting in order to draw out interrupts by casting a spell and then quickly cancelling it. Healers use it, as do spellcasters, and it is the difference between life and death in tight matches in Rated play. In this case the lock had drawn out my impetuous interrupt, and started casting Fear again. Fear is the worst CC for me in this environment, because my character would flee and start aggroing NPCs and guards all over the place. Worse still, it would be a full duration Fear of 8 seconds, because Blood Horror (Incapacitate) and Fear (Disorient) have separate diminishing return (DR) categories. In WoW CCs of the same family diminish the duration of each subsequent CC by half if cast within 15-19 seconds of a previous one. Thus three Fears back to back would last 8, then 4, then 2 seconds respectively, with further Fears being completely ineffective for 15-19 seconds after the final cast. CCs belonging to separate categories however, do not DR each other, which is why Arena compositions are so heavily determined by the type of CC each class brings to the table. A team of three druids, for example, would be sub-optimal because every Cyclone cast by any of the team mates would DR the others. A perennially strong composition has always been RMP - rogue, mage, priest - and one of the reasons is because this team brings every class of CC to the fight and consequently have a lot of non-DRing control to set up kills.
 
The lock didn't need all those Fears to kill me. He just needed one, and my trinket was already down, having used it to break the Blood Horror. In hindsight it would have been better to sit the Horror, as it only lasts 4 seconds, try to interrupt Fears, and then use the trinket if I did get caught. As they say though, hindsight is always 20/20, and now here I was in a position where I really needed to stop this Fear. I used Mighty Bash to stun him, only to have him trinket that immediately, and resume his Fear cast. He knew I couldn't interrupt him, because interrupts have a base 15 second CD, and my Mighty Bash was gone.

Crap, this guy was good.

There was only one option left, and that was to use my combo points to Maim him instead of landing a Rip. Doing this sacrificed damage for control - instead of landing a vicious bleed, I had to settle for a much smaller bleed and a stun. Even worse this stun was DRed by my previous Mighty Bash, which is also a stun, so instead of landing a 5 second stun, it would last a paltry 2.5 seconds. Nonetheless, it stopped the cast, so in effect I bought myself 2.5 seconds plus the time it would take the lock to cast a Fear once out of the stun. Approximately four seconds to lay into this guy, and four seconds closer to having my interrupt come off CD. I piled into the guy, trying to get as much damage as I could before I became Feared.
 
When the Fear came all my "fears" came true - my druid started aggroing guards and NPCs as he ran hither and tither. The lock placed a portal down and dotted me up (i.e. cast a bunch of damage over time spells on me), and my druid began to melt in that slow agonizing way affliction locks dispatch their victims. But it also meant I had some time. The DoT damage broke the Fear prematurely after about 6 seconds. It was now or never. I popped Survival Instincts to mitigate the combined damage from the DoTs and NPCs, hit my burst button and went HAAM (Arena speak for burst - "hard as a motherfucker") on the lock. The lock popped his defensives, which mitigated my damage somewhat, but kitty burst is vicious, and his only real chance would have been to either kite me with the portal, or get another Fear off. He bought himself a few seconds with a Shadowfury stun (3 second duration), and used that time to cast another Fear. Sitting in a stun I could only watch helplessly as the Fear came, but fate intervened. Instead of being sent fleeing to the hills in terror, the NPCS beating on my druid broke the Fear prematurely, and I was immediately able to get back on the lock. He used his portal to get some distance, but he didn't have the time to place it behind a line of sight obstacle (due to him being ambushed and all) and so it was easy to close the gap with a charge. He tried to juke another Fear, but I had learned my lesson. I didn't bother trying to interrupt until the casts were almost done, and so he wasted valuable seconds with two fake casts before finally trying to get the last cast off. This final cast was interrupted by a Skull Bash, and that sealed his doom.
 
With the lock down and me almost dead it was time to GTFO of Warspear. My druid cast Mass Entanglement to root the NPCS, popped Dash and ran for the coast, bolting past guards, NPCs and startled Hordies while trying to keep myself alive with instant Rejuvenations. A DK hit me with a Chains of Ice which slowed me down, but I just powershifted out of the snare and kept running. My health was so low that any number of finishers - Execute, Kill Shot, Shadow Word Death, or Hammer of Wrath - could have killed me. None were forthcoming however, and soon the blue waters of the coast were within reach. I dived off the cliff, shifted into orca form, and swam into the big blue. I had escaped.
 
It had been a very near run thing, and I was lucky to have made it this time. There will be times when I won't be as lucky, or when I will met players who are better than me and put me down. Nonetheless, I will be back - I have found my world PvP zone for this expansion, and I intend to make myself a regular nuisance on the streets of Warspear.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Diaries of a Ganker, Part IX - Inside the Mind of a Serial Ganker

It's been a long time since I went ganking, and I feel like the title of this series has become a bit of a misnomer given that I spend most of time in ranked matches rather than out in the open world looking for Horde to gank. Even in Archeage, I could never claim to have been a ganker but the inverse, a somewhat hapless gankee travelling a treacherous open PvP world exploiting peace time rules, time zones, Nui shrines and situational awareness to mitigate the dangers posed by reds and factional traitors. I didn't stay long enough in AA for the wheel to turn, but nonetheless I am happy to report that I took my licks with equanimity during the times I got struck down by enemy players. There were numerous times where I had adjust my timetable and activities due to enemy player activity, but I accept this as part and parcel of the type of games I like to play. Some people can't tolerate pressure from other players, preferring total control over their play time, and who am I to say that this stance is wrong? I, however, do not belong to this category, and am willing to exchange a modicum of agency for a heightened sense of virtual peril, for factions to matter, and for a deeper, more immersive world where PvE mobs aren't the only threat to my avatar's well being. I want human bad guys in my virtual world. I like player associations to matter, and I like either aligning with, or opposing such factions.

My main for this expansion - Tientzo the Mistweaver monk.

I had ceased ganking and griefing in WoW a long time ago, not because I felt like it was somehow immoral or repugnant, but rather because open world PvP (OWPvP) in WoW is guilty of a far more serious transgression. Simply put, it is boring and meaningless. In TESO open world PvP occurs within the greater backdrop of the tri-partite Alliance war, which gives meaning to the skirmishes, encounters and battles that occur within Cyrodiil. In Archeage open world PvP occurs along trade routes on both land and sea, and is incentivized for both parties by the pursuit of wealth and commerce, as well as being subject to a rough form of "player justice" in the form of Crime points and trial by player juries. In WoW no such incentives exist - open world PvP is a feature which seems to have been simply glued on without any real thought behind it, and as a consequence "player boredom or random mischief" becomes the primary motivation for PvP interactions. In TESO a ganker is a soldier, a scout or a skirmisher - in Archeage they are pirates, privateers or highway robbers - in WoW they are simple murderers and psychopaths, with no real rationale behind their attacks on other players other than arbitrary factional designations.

Factional designation still constitutes just cause to attack someone, especially on PvP servers, because otherwise it begs the question of why people are on such a server in the first place. There are no excuses to be on a PvP server unless you are willing to be involved in non-consensual PvP, given that players have the option to opt out in virtually all MMOs that currently exist. A rugby match goes on for 80 minutes and you probably only spend a miniscule amount of that time being tackled. The rest of the time you are running, passing, kicking or tackling yourself, yet any rulebook lawyer would find it difficult to argue the legitimacy of being tackled unless it was dangerous or illegal. It is part of the rule set, and the infrequency at which it occurs does not render the rule invalid. Nonetheless implied consent doesn't do much to conceal the barrenness of such a playstyle, especially in the absence of greater incentives. It's still defensible to attack someone because they are red - but it seems a thousand times more palatable if you are attacking someone to seize territory, acquire plunder, defend your lands, or advance your faction's score. Being killed in Cyrodiil while defending your faction's keep, or being robbed and killed by highwaymen while trying to smuggle lucrative trade packs in AA is a thousand times more preferable than being abruptly being killed for no apparent reason while questing in WoW, because we can rationalize our foe's actions better. They may still just be fucking with you - but their actions become contextualized within the greater game and becomes a much easier pill to swallow.

I haven't engaged in world PvP in WoW for a long time, aside from the massive and bloody skirmishes which characterised levelling in the opening days of the WoD expansion. Those battles were great fun, which shows that, contrary to everything I just said in the previous paragraph, even in the absence of a greater purpose PvP fights can still be fun in of themselves. Those days were characterised by a curious egalitarian quality, however, which makes that period atypical to world encounters which happen nowadays. Back in November 2014 we were all new - we were all levelling - we were all on a new world whose secrets had not all been laid bare, dissected and displayed on numerous websites and guides. Asymmetrical fights were OK, because we could call for help on chat, and since we were all levelling together, there were plenty of Alliance who were willing and eager to heed the call to arms. Nowadays the zones are suffering the fate of all theme park style areas - players outlevel the zones and render them deserted and obsolete, except for the transient alts passing through on route to 100. Two types of fight are possible in these zones - one in which levelling toons encounter each other and clash, and another where a dedicated ganker like myself actively hunts down and attacks players travelling through the world. The former is more organic, and more in the spirit of the factional strife which characterises Horde and Alliance relations - the latter, given the lack of external motives for doing so, "appears" motivated purely out of mischief or spite.

I use the word "appear" because there can be a disconnect between the intentions of an attacker and their perceived motivations from the viewpoint of the victim. Victims often take their attacks personally, and ascribe all sorts of sinister motives to their attacker. They can be right - there are some angry people out there - but it fails to take into account differing motivations for engaging in world PvP. The most glaringly obvious is that people are playing the game as intended, and questions of "morality" need not even be considered. It's like accusing a chess player of murder when he/she captures your pawn. Another common chestnut trotted out against OWPvP is that it robs people of agency. Does the act of my killing your avatar rob you of your inalienable right to choose a game that suits your particular tastes? Of course not - you are completely free to choose a game, or a server, or a mode that is explicitly non-PvP based. But you can't complain about being ganked in games that are clearly delineated as having non-consensual PvP. Your agency is intact - you can exercise it anytime you like by leaving and playing a game more suited to your tastes.

Hey, S.E.L.F.I.E!

OWPvP games are not created equal, and one of the key factors which determine their quality is the holistic characteristics which contextualize virtual world encounters. Eve has null sec politics, TESO has the Alliance War, and Archeage incentivizes PvP for both pirates and merchants alike with the carrot of commercial gain. The problem with WoW's open world PvP  is that stripped of all the external stuff that better games like Eve, TESO and Archeage have, all you have left is factional loyalty as an excuse for initiating hostilities. In a funny way the design of the game has an impact on the "morality" of an action, because an evil ganker in WoW becomes i) a loyal line member in Eve protecting their sovereignty; ii) an intrepid scout cutting off enemy reinforcements in TESO, or iii) a swashbuckling privateer plundering fat merchants plying the trade routes in AA. The shifting perceptions of ganking suggests to me that ganking is essentially a null signifier, only given meaning by the nature of the game itself, the motivations of the ganker, and the perceptions of the gankee. The act of ganking is neither intrinsically righteous or evil, or good or bad, or right or wrong - it is the context of the game which determines its relative worth.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Murder of Crows, Part I - Kickstarter and Early Access

2015 has been a year of firsts for me. It is the first time I have paid money for an incomplete game, which is what I did when I plonked down $20 to enter the H1Z1 alpha. Early access is fast becoming a dirty word amongst bloggers, but its ubiquity suggests that this disdain is not shared by the masses who flock to early access titles in their droves. Not yet, anyway. I have to confess that I felt foolish after spending my money and then finding myself not being able to log into H1Z1 for the first few days of early access. When I mentioned I was in early alpha my WoW team mate Rykester said "What's that?" My gaming circle is delightfully naïve in many ways - they don't read blogs, they don't follow MMO websites or keep up with the latest trends in gaming - in fact for most of them the only game they play is WoW, and/or whatever game I manage to convince them all to play. So when Rykester asked me what early access was I replied to the effect that it was like a form of game testing, in which the general public were asked to play the game and give feedback based on their experiences. Rykester then said, "Nice! Do you get paid for doing that?" After a few seconds I had to reply no, and then added "Erm, I actually paid them to get in."

"Didn't you say this zombie game was going to be free?"

"Umm...yeah."

"So you paid $20 for a free game which isn't even finished? Why?"

I felt like an idiot.

I don't know when the paradigm shift kicked in, and it became acceptable for consumers to pay money in order to play a game in the early stages of development. Nonetheless it's here and apparently here to stay. Steam has an entire section on games in early alpha, and I have became one of many damned fools who have fallen hook, line and sinker for promises and potential rather than actual concrete product.

H1Z1

Fast forward a month later, and now I find myself again forking money over for a game which has not yet been completed. Crowfall is in an even earlier stage of development than H1Z1 - it's in Kickstarter, which means that we're really only at the concept stage of the game, despite assurances from the developers that the core modules are mostly completed. I forked over money for a concept of game and became a backer, all without even seeing how the game plays. So what's up? Am I just being a sucker again?

There is a difference here, but I'm finding it hard to articulate why I regret my H1Z1 Early Access purchase, but feel proud to be in on the ground floor of the Crowfall hype train. In the first case it felt like a lapse of will - I was always going to buy the game given my love for things zombie-related, and I guess I just lacked the self-discipline to wait until the game was released. There were less selfish reasons to buy the game, too. As I said, I rope my gaming circle into games I'd like to play, and I had told them about this really cool FPS style zombie game in which we could emulate the exploits of Rick Grimes and company in The Walking Dead. I cajoled the guys into playing TESO without really knowing it well enough, and every bug, every broken quest, every crash and everything that was wrong with that game in the first month of its release felt like a betrayal of the group's trust in me. This time around I was going to do my due diligence in H1Z1 before I made any kind of recommendation, and this, I thought, was sufficient cause to drop $20 on the title. I still regret it, however, because I would have been better served waiting until the game went live and testing it on live servers rather than rushing headlong into early access where none of the features have been finalised anyway. Paying money to test a F2P game in alpha is plainly ridiculous, and I don't know when my common sense understanding of this was subverted by having my head too deep into the gaming/blogging meta.

Crowfall

In the case of Crowfall however, it felt like I was doing something positive by supporting developers get the game off the ground. Unlike H1Z1, which was a guaranteed title in production and the only thing up in the air was the release date, Crowfall is explicitly asking for backers for a crowd funding project. Nothing particularly novel about this, except for the fact that after perusing their "prospectus" I was completely sold on their vision and concept of the game. I am squarely in Crowfall's target demographic - I like MMORPG's, strategy games, and open world PvP. You can't get any more specific than that in terms of target audience. I've become a bloody MMO tourist, and it's all because of this blog and being a part of a blogsphere that writes about MMOs. How can you write with any authenticity on MMOs if you don't play them? In the same vein I don't feel like you can advocate a specific style of MMO without putting your money where your mouth is when the opportunity presents itself. Anyone who knows me would immediately realise that the gameplay concepts used to describe Crowfall would appeal to my particular tastes. If I was ever going to back a Kickstarter it would be to back a game much like Crowfall.

The crucial difference between H1Z1 and Crowfall, for me at least, is that I bought H1Z1 hoping for a finished game because I didn't have the patience to wait for it. I fell for the hype, ignored the alpha disclaimers plastered all over Steam and the H1Z1 home page, and jumped in hoping for an immersive survival experience right off the bat. That I was disappointed is totally on me. I invested in Crowfall, however, because I want this game to be made, and if my support helps it get over the line, then it will have been worth it. Small differences to be sure, but it is on these small differences that ideologies are split and battle lines drawn. Just ask Protestants and Catholics, or orthodox and secular Jews, hell, ask the Australian Labor and Liberal parties - I can no longer tell the differences between their political stances nowadays. In the same way I believe that my motivations for H1Z1 and Crowfall are starkly different, and despite being outwardly similar - i.e. forking over money for an incomplete game - they constitute two different cases as to whether it was a good decision to invest or not. One was in pursuit of instant gratification. The other was to help developers create a game that, on paper, would be fun for me to play.

Even then this explanation is unsatisfactory to me, because Camelot Unchained pushes all the same buttons as Crowfall for me as a player, yet I did not give them a single dime. So why back Crowfall and not Camelot Unchained? I fully intend to give Camelot Unchained a shot when it is released, but if I'm supposedly supporting MMOs that espouse a playstyle which appeals to me then why didn't I back it at the beginning? Doesn't that contradict all that high minded rhetoric I just spouted in the previous two paragraphs? More importantly, am I obligated to support every OWPvP game that comes out because I have argued in favour of OWPvP both here and in other sites? 
 
I'm overthinking this, and I'm also holding myself to a ridiculously high standard of behaviour, especially since we are talking games here. In the final analysis it may be as simple as just being convinced by the pitch put forward by Walton and Coleman on their website. There's also that psychological hurdle of never having paid money into an early access or Kickstarter scheme before. Given my background as a gamer I was an ideal candidate to be a Crowfall backer, and the quality of the pitch tipped me over the edge. Not the marketing rhetoric which Bhagpuss and Syl seemed to have taken so much offense to - i.e. "Something deeper than a virtual amusement park. More impactful than a virtual sandbox." - but rather the enthusiasm of Walton and Coleman, the transparency of their funding model, and most importantly, the concept of their game. I find it interesting that Bhagpuss, who I consider to be one of the most level-headed of all bloggers, really seems offended by Crowfall's opening taglines. I react to them the same way I do to Saul Goodman's jingle on Breaking Bad - "Better call Saul!" - tacky and tawdry but essentially harmless. Offensive? I personally find nothing wrong - they seem to be on par with TESO's "Live Another Life" and Wildstar's "MMO's with attitude!" Then again I am already pre-disposed to these types of games. If you don't like the core game then no amount of spin is going to endear you to a title, and may in fact, push you the other way.
 
Great Expectations?
 
I'm not saying that the game is going to be good. I'm hoping it will be, but as the saying goes, there's many a slip twixt cup and a lip. Multa cadunt inter calcium supremaque labra. Unlike Scree, who is already making plans for his new Crowfall guild, I am trying to maintain some perspective on this one. That's a turn up for the books, by the way, the fact that Scree and I are backers and fervent supporters of this game after our difference in opinion regarding TESO. I'm sure we're both very happy that they have reached their funding goal, but there are still a plethora of things that can still go wrong. Let's have a look at them in no particular order:

i) The game developers, concerned at the excess number of titles containing the word "fall" (i.e. Darkfall, Firefall, Titanfall, now Crowfall) decide to change the name of the game to something more original and less derivative. They rename it the Game of Crows.
 
ii) A late flurry of support balloons Kickstarter contributions to over $50 million, and thus encouraged, Warcraft...erm, Artcraft decides to implement a plethora of stretch goals, including dinner with the developer's second cousins, new spaceships, and space combat. When asked about the relevance of space combat to fantasy worlds, the developers simply reply, "Believe." They rename the game "Starfall Citizen" but are immediately hit with a "cease and desist" injunction by Chris Roberts' lawyers.
 
iii) Peter Molyneux takes over the project and promises the winner of the first campaign perpetual sovereignty over Great Britain and the title "King of Kings."

iv) Walton rips off his face like Nicolas Cage in Face Off, revealing that he is in fact Brad McQuaid in disguise. McQuaid promptly changes the name of the game to Pantheon: Rise of the FALLen, and says mockingly, "You should have known you fools! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
 
Lame jokes aside, the possibility of Crowfall not fulfilling the promise laid out in its conceptual pitch is very real, and it's a risk I am willing to take as a backer. Maybe it's going to be a turkey, with sluggish combat and lag spikes up the wazoo. Maybe the project will be hit by interminable delays. Worst case scenario, the game doesn't get made, but here my time in EVE has helped me. Don't fly it if you can't afford to lose it. I've already written off my own modest contribution and am trying to simply forget about Crowfall until I get a message in my in-box giving me access to alpha testing. But for better or worse I've chosen to back it, and so I'm in its corner, willing it to do well and succeed.

I don't know if I'll pay for another early access or help crowd fund another Kickstarter. Never say never, I guess. Unlike J3w3l, however, I have not sworn off early access or crowd funding just yet. I am not completely convinced that either are inherently bad. I am also in the unique position of not having been burnt yet, unlike those poor bastards with Godus. H1Z1 didn't burn me, because they delivered exactly what they promised - an incomplete game replete with bugs, crashes and game-breaking issues. It's not their fault I expected something different. Crowfall could burn me - but for now, I am willing to make a leap of faith and put some trust in the developers. What they do with that, and with the trust reposed in them from the thousands of others like me - well, that's completely on them.