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BlizzCons and such

We now have confirmation that the world truly will not end in December 2012. How, you ask? Because Blizzard has told us that BlizzCon 2013 is going to happen.

This morning, it was made official that there will be no BlizzCon in 2012, predictably giving a lot of people room to complain. After five years in a row, why this year? Why not have such an amazing experience? Bashiok gave us a very good reply, which in essence said: “Well, we’re kinda busy.”

Now remember, there actually was no BlizzCon in 2006 after the first one in 2005. At the time, it was understandable as it was shortly before Burning Crusade was being launched, and there weren’t really any big announcements at the time. Since then, the conventions in 2008 and 2010 could be seen as a bit lackluster since there was no new game announcements at either. In my opinion, that is one of the reasons why they decided to forego this year.

Plus, as Bashiok said, they are busy. This year we have the possibility to see THREE games being released. We know that Diablo III is coming sometime in the early part of the year, and it’s very likely that Mists of Pandaria and Heart of the Swarm will be released later on (the current thoughts are late summer or early fall for Mists and late fall or early winter for Swarm). Because of all the things that are involved, Blizzard can only stretch their resources so thin.

Not only do they have to organize the convention in the first place, but actually setting up, running it, and taking it down takes much more time and effort than the two days that BlizzCon occurs. I’m sure that they have people devoted to events like this, but there will definitely be volunteers from other departments. Every person taken away from their desk is one more project that will take longer to complete.

In the end, I’m definitely disappointed. Once again, like every year since we went to BlizzCon 2008, my wife and I have been looking at our finances and seeing if it was possible to make it out this year. With it not happening this year, we will definitely be trying to make it out next year. After a year off, I can’t imagine how big of a party that it will be.

Meanwhile, there are other events that go on. PAX Prime and East, Nerdtacular, Dragon*Con, and a whole lot more that I don’t know about or have forgotten. Nerds shall unite and party!

Mists of Pandaria Talents and Specs – DON’T PANIC

The words “DON’T PANIC” are inscribed in large, friendly letters on the front of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

When something new comes, there’s only a few different ways that people can react. If the new thing looks appealing and pleasing to the person, there’s a sense of excitement and anticipation. If the new thing doesn’t hold any interest to the person, there’s a bunch of apathy and boredem. If the new thing looks not good at all to the person, there’s a sense of doom, dread, and panic.

Something new came this week.

Earlier in the week, Blizzard released an early look at the Mists of Pandaria talent and spec calculator. It shows every class, what their new talent tree will look like, and more importantly what the different specs will look like come patch 5.0 and the release of the new expansion.

If you missed it, at BlizzCon it was revealed that talent specs are changing with MoP. Rather than just adding to a specific arsenal of abilities that every class has, each spec will become even more specialized. As an example, only Fire mages will have Fireball and only Frost mages will have Frostbolt, but every mage will have Frostfire bolt.

Between BlizzCon and now, there has been a bunch of speculation about how much each class would change. With the new calculator, it’s shown that every class will be changing, but each class has differing amount of change. The pure DPS classes seem to be having less change than the hybrids, which seems to give the impression that Blizzard wants the spec to do one thing and one thing only – which is what they spec into.

The big disclaimer that has been stated is that this is a “pre-alpha” build, meaning that the information given can and more than likely will change between now and release. Bashiok said that they are giving this information out because they want to get feedback from the players and see what can be improved or tweaked. If you decide to leave a note for Blizzard, just please remember the most important thing (and Wheaton’s Law): Don’t Be A Dick.

Since my main is a Feral DPS Druid, I thought I’d give my impressions about that class.

One big change to Druids is one that all hybrids who can do any sort of healing are experiencing. If you’re not specced into the healing tree, there will be very limited choice for what healing abilities will be present. Rather than having Healing Touch, Regrowth, Nourish, Rejuvenation, and Lifebloom – it’s down to Nourish and Rejuvenation that are baseline. All of the other spells will be available at certain levels if you spec into Resto.

On the other hand, the times when a Bear could do decent DPS while not tanking are long gone. Druids are having the distinction of being the only class that will now have four specs: Balance (Moonkin), Restoration (Tree), Feral (Cat), and Guardian (Bear). If you want to be a bear, you’re a tank and a tank only. Even though this is definitely a loss for Druids, it is bringing us in line with the other classes that are out there. A Protection Warrior isn’t able to do good DPS while still in spec, why should a Bear be able to shift to Cat and do well?

That was definitely one of the benefits of being a Druid in the first place, and we’ll still have a limited capacity for it with the level 90 talent of Heart of the Wild (there are some bloggers out there who think that it will not be very useful at all – which I’m inclined to agree with). However, Druid specs will most definitely be very specialized.

The biggest news that I’ve seen so far is the new level 87 ability called Symbiosis. The text reads: “Creates a symbiotic link which grants the druid one ability belonging to the target’s class, varying by the druid’s specialization. In exchange, grants the target one druid ability based on their class and combat role. Lasts 1 hour and persists through death.”

On first glance, this looks absolutely amazing. Of course, this likely means that it won’t be as amazing as we hope it will be. Lissanna at Restokin gave a really good writeup about how she thinks it will work, and I think she has the right idea. It will probably take a specific ability from each class, rather than taking a random one, and since it will last an hour and persists through death it shouldn’t be left up to chance. Unfortunately, this won’t be able to be properly tested until the beta comes out, so until then we’ll be left with speculation (unless Blizzard decides to give us details about how it exactly works… /wink).

As with expansions in the past, we just have to get used to the “new normal”.  There are things we may not like, but at the moment they’re not set in stone.  If this is how things look when MoP is launched, then there might be some other words being used at the time.

I think that things are going in the right track, but will definitely need some tweaking.  While we see the specs make the player focus on a specific role, there are then talents which encourage us to do other roles… but we won’t have as many tools to do said roles.  It just doesn’t make much sense to me now.  We’ll see how things go as time progresses – just remember, the game isn’t even close to being out yet.

Guild Reputation

Guild reputation was a brand new feature that came out with Cataclysm and combined with the guild perks, rewards, achievements, and other stuff like that. Your guild levels and gets perks, and the more reputation that you have with the guild (by killing bosses in a guild group or doing daily quests), you get access to more of the rewards.

I’m not talking about any of this.

As I had mentioned before, I recently joined the AIE guild with my Death Knight on the Earthen Ring server. I was looking for an alternative place to hang out and find somewhere that had a better raiding schedule. After being in the guild for about a month, I’ve found that I’m rarely ever spending any time on my Druid anymore and mainly hanging out on my DK.

Many times I’m doing random dungeons for the Valour and Justice points, daily quests, a Baradin Hold run, or whatever the case may be. Yet, I could easily be doing these things on my Druid as he also needs some upgrades as well. At this point, I’ve all but decided that I will be moving him over to AIE soon-ish.

Getting used to a new guild is tough, and even more tough when there’s so many people in it. At any point in time, there’s at least over one hundred people online, and it’s hard to see familiar faces when there’s over 7000 to pick from. That being said, AIE is fortunate in the fact that the guild as a whole is very well run and has a great culture by itself that people seem to embrace easily.

For an example of the guild culture, twice a year they have craft fairs.  People give up a ton of materials from each profession to help others level up theirs.  I’ve heard stories of people maxing whatever profession they are (even the annoying ones like Leatherworking and Blacksmithing) within the short period of time that the craft fair is on.  This is a guild culture that I can support without a problem.

The Instance podcast has definitely made AIE popular, and is the reason why I decided to join.  Yet, even though it was the podcast that got me there, it’s the people who keep me there.  During BlizzCon, there were a bunch of volunteers who made a guild hall in one of the nearby hotels, which was basically a place for guildies to hang out when they weren’t at the convention.  Some people flew down there just to go to the hall, rather than the convention itself.  Goodie bags were made specifically for this, and it was a whole event contained within that hall.

Just by these few examples, it’s obvious why I’ve decided to try out this guild.  The reputation that it has gained from the amazing people who are members is truly awesome.

As a whole, I’ve had enough experience with AIE that I want to continue my association with them. The reputation that a guild has outside of the reputation panel is extremely important. If you don’t enjoy being in a guild, why bother getting Exalted with them?

BlizzCon, a Magical Time…

Once a year, there is a time where there is a sense of peace and calmness in the air.  Enemies have meals with each other and discuss strategy.  Strangers go out of their way to help each other.  Altogether, life is pretty good for two days a year.

I’m not sure what you were thinking about, but I’m talking about BlizzCon.

Blizzard is a company that obviously values their fans, and appreciates the followings they have for their games.  Why else would they spend so much money putting on a two day festival for their games, and likely lose a lot of money in the process?  With all of the stuff that happens at the Anaheim Convention Center that is included in the ticket price, it’s well worth more than what you pay for.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to go to BlizzCon in 2008, and had an amazing time there.  More than likely, I’ll be doing some sort of a post around this time every year to reinforce the fact that it is an awesome trip, and I can just hope that everyone has the chance to go to it at least once.  Multiple times is even better!  However, we must deal with what has just happened.

BlizzCon 2011 – Mists of Pandaria and other stuff

One of the best parts came shortly into the opening ceremonies, which was the annoucement of the World of Warcraft annual pass.  This has a person commit to a one year term with WoW in return for some really great perks.  The number one perk being that you can get Diablo III for free.  Yes, free.  When the game is released, the digital download version will be provided to people who are signed up with this, as well as an in-game mount called Tyrael’s Charger.  Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

Mists of Pandaria

Obviously, the big deal this year was the new WoW expansion: Mists of Pandaria.  We have a new expansion coming, and for the first time since Vanilla we won’t have any sort of a “main villain”.  There will be a number of enemies that will be there to smash, along with a ton of new features. The biggest things are definitely the new race of Pandarens, the new class of the Monk, and the new continent of Pandaria.  Along with that there will be a new Pet Battle system, PvE scenarios, challenge dungeon modes, a new talent system, among many other things.

When we first heard about Mists of Pandaria being trademarked earlier in the summer, I was very skeptical like many others.  Yet, after seeing all the details come forth in the various panels through the BlizzCon virtual ticket I am very pleasantly surprised at how excited I am about it.  The way that they have the lore fleshed out as well as the gameplay shown has me convinced that this could turn out to be quite good.  Of course, I’m a Blizzard fanboy, but that’s beside the point.

One thing that I think I’m really looking forward to is the Pet Battle system.  In essence, it’s Pokemon inside WoW including having a few different abilities that will be used in a turn-based battle system.  Companion pets will be account-bound for the most part and can be used to battle each other for prestige and rewards.  Basically, it’s a brand new pasttime for people to spend a great amount of time and money with.

The talent and spec system revamp looks very exciting.  Basically, talent trees will be gone and replaced with different choices to make about your abilities at certain levels.  Whereas before we were limited by what spec you were to choose your abilities at higher level, now there will be certain talents that can be taken by any spec.  As an example, Living Bomb will be able to be learned by any spec rather than just those who spec in Fire.  As time goes on and we get to see how the system fleshes out we’ll have a better idea of how it will all work.

Even though the Pandaren were once used as an April Fools’ joke, the new concept art and character models that were shown give a great look at them in-game now. They don’t look as comical as they did in the old joke posts as well as in Warcraft 3.  I’ve always enjoyed Samwise’s drawings that have surfaced over the years, and this makes them really fit in to the Asian theme that has been developed for the new continent.

Plus, the Pandaren starting zone is on the back of a turtle.  How awesome is that?

StarCraft II

I own StarCraft II and enjoy playing it, however I’m not very good at it.  Even so, I really enjoy the game and love the story.  Though more often than not I would not win the matches (PvP, I wasn’t too bad at vs AI), the game itself is very great.

At the end of Day 1 of BlizzCon, they had a match of the Global Starcraft League which is based out of South Korea.  Many people will know that the game is absolutely huge in the country, and there is a massive eSports market built around it.  Out of curiosity, my wife and I decided to tune in to it and see how the games were going… and we found that we were enjoying it much more than we thought we would.

The fight was Terran vs Terran (MMA vs MVP), two amazing players who put on a great fight.  In the end, the underdog (MMA) won the match with 4 wins to 1.  I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning to see this, since I was so enthralled by the action.  Because of this, I decided to re-install SC2 and start playing it again.  Good job BlizzCon, you did your job.

Diablo III

Thankfully, Diablo III will be coming out soon (we hope).  The biggest announcement with this game was definitely the WoW Annual Pass giving the game for free, but there was a great lore panel along with some good gameplay footage and overall cool stuff.

Diablo I and II were somewhat lacking in the overall lore, and as Chris Metzen started at the beginning of the D3 lore panel, this was the first year they’ve actually had a panel devoted just to lore of that universe.  The story has been expanded tremendously, and I’m extremely excited to see how the game turns out.

What wasn’t mentioned

We didn’t hear anything about the “Titan” project, which was said a few days before the convention started.  While this isn’t great, this is Blizzard we’re talking about – they don’t give out any details until they’re ready for it.  Personally, I would rather have something polished as opposed to something halfway done.

There are more projects being worked on within the walls of Blizzard.  Through some of the interviews that happened, as well as looking at the job postings on the Blizzard site, we know this.  As with Titan, we just won’t be given any information until they’re ready.

In the end…

As much as I wish I could have made it to Anaheim this year, unfortunately that just didn’t happen.  The virtual ticket was the next best thing that could have happened, and fortunately through that I can watch things happen after the fact.  As I write this post, I’m watching some of the panels that I missed through the days.

I have to say a huge “thank you” to Blizzard Entertainment.  BlizzCon was one of the best experiences that I’ve had, and every year I look forward to it whether or not I can actually be there.  I can’t imagine the amount of work that goes into the convention and how much money is spent, but I’d like to say that it’s totally worth it.

I’m Making A Note Here: HUGE SUCCESS

These days, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between a score from a video game and one from a major motion picture. If someone is not told which one is from which and listen to a piece from each, unless that person is well versed in the movie and video game music worlds, they would be hard pressed to know the difference. This also shows how music has changed over time in the gaming world.

On Monday, my wife and I were able to go to a performance of Video Games Live. We had been to a performance once before at BlizzCon 2008 where they did a set of all Blizzard pieces, so knowing a little bit what to expect made us look forward to it greatly. This time we were treated to music from a wide variety of gaming, from Pong and the 8-bit era all the way to current titles.

For the week leading up to VGL I would randomly get the Zelda theme and the Dark World theme from A Link to the Past, as well as some of the Mario level themes. If you follow my Twitter feed or happen to be a friend on Facebook, you will have noticed many references about going to the performance. To say I was excited was a bit of an understatement, and I was not disappointed.

I am continually amazed by the quality of the music in the gaming industry. There are certain themes in movies or television shows that have become part of popular culture, like the Star Trek theme. Yet, there are songs like the Mario theme which are equally as part of our popular culture as anything else. In front of the right audience, people will recognize gaming music more than others.

There was a wide range of games represented through the evening. As I mentioned, it begun with Pong and a set with 8-bit and 16-bit games, and as I saw the videos of the games go by I couldn’t help but have fond memories of times gone by. StarFox, Zelda, Mario, F-Zero, Final Fight, among many others. From there, they did more specific themes from other game series like Castlevania, Street Fighter, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.

There were three things that I was wanting to see through the night: Warcraft (of course), Zelda, and Mario (specifically a certain piano piece from Super Mario World from the sky zones). Thankfully all were played, but unfortunately without Lament of the Highborne from Burning Crusade. All were played excellently, and it really gives a great sense of immersion in the games even though you’re just watching videos with an orchestra on stage.

If there was ever any doubt of how much of an impact a certain song can have on a game, a good example would be a certain song from Final Fantasy VII, “One Winged Angel“. As the song was announced, the entire auditorium burst into cheers and people sang along to the chants of “Sephiroth!”

My wife had mentioned to me that she was hoping to hear “Still Alive” from Portal, and if they hadn’t played it we were going to ask them at the meet and greet afterwards. Sure enough, for the finale we were treated to a sing-along version of the song. It was just the soloist singing and Tommy Tallarico on guitar, and it was awesome.

I give Mister Tallarico lots of credit for what he has done. Showcasing video game music is one of the best ideas to come up in a long time, as it is something that needs to be seen. People put their hearts into composing what some people take for granted as background music, and it’s great to see it out in front.

If you haven’t already, I would suggest that you play World of Warcraft with the music on and turn it up. It is excellent, and can be bought through iTunes. I would highly recommend it.

Timing is Everything

Time… there’s never enough time.  There can also be too much time.  Days can drag on for some people, while for others it goes by in a flash.  Timing the markets to buy and sell stocks is a common occurance, and many people can make or lose a whole lot of money if it’s done right or wrong.  Trying to set out content in an ongoing online game that has been around for over six years is a big gamble no matter what the outcome is.  Some people blaze through content so fast that it’s outdated shortly after it’s released, while others take a lot longer to catch up.

Recently, Blizzard announced that they were going to delay the release of the Firelands raid that was originally going to be included in patch 4.1, which is currently on the public test realms.  At first when there was no mention of a raid, people were confused since it was said that there would be one in the Firelands (announced back at BlizzCon).  This was even more confusing as through the usual datamining of content, a new model of Ragnaros was found along with other items and abilities.  It was said that the reason behind this is for the pacing of content.

New Ragnaros Model

From MMO-Champion

On a post in the official forums, Community Manager Bashiok said that they had learned from a previous mistake from Wrath of the Lich King, which was the time between Ulduar and Trial of the Crusader.  Our guild can attest to this, as we had progressed up to Vezax (second last boss) before ToC was released, and didn’t down him until afterwards.  The gear that we received from the new raid helped, but that’s not the way that it’s supposed to work – you progress within the raid tier that you’re in, not from gear from better raid tiers.

Back in Vanilla, there were many patches with smaller sizes that added things gradually over time.  In Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, there were fewer patches with more content within them.  In Cataclysm, we’ve been seeing a lot of updates through hotfixes and a couple small patches so far.  If we go back to smaller, more frequent patches, I don’t see that as being a bad thing.  There might not be a raid with each new patch, but if we have other things with them I can’t see it being a bad thing.

For example, if we have the odd-numbered patches have 5-man instances in them and the even-numbered patches have raids, then have the expansion go up to patch 4.6 instead of 4.3, is that so bad?  The biggest thing is timing.  If Blizzard can put the patches out in a decent amount of time, this won’t be a problem.  As long as there aren’t huge spaces between patches, I believe the player base will remain happy.

I’m quite glad that we’re being given (from what I’ve seen) two great 5-man dungeons in the meantime, along with the other changes being made… but please don’t make us wait too long.

BlizzCon, what a rush

With BlizzCon 2010 fast approaching us (as in just over a day from now), I keep looking back to one of the best vacations of my life, which was being able to attend BlizzCon 2008.

It all started on a whim.  I suggested to my wife that we should try to get some tickets to BlizzCon, and make a whole vacation out of it.  See Disneyland, SeaWorld, things like that.  Amazingly enough, she actually agreed!  At this point, she had only been playing World of Warcraft for a fairly short period of time, and I was still testing the waters for her geekiness.  Obviously, I married the perfect woman. Read the rest of this entry

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