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Archive for July, 2010

The finish line is in sight

Yes, there are naked people up there. Beating Arthas makes one do strange things.

It’s been a strange weekend here at the Bunker of Love, no doubt about that.

See, North Carolina has been getting hammered by a nasty heat wave.  Now yes, it’s the South, and yes, of course it gets hot in the summer.  I know this.  I’m Virginia-born and -bred, with the added resume entries of surviving three summers near Washington, DC (why did we build our nation’s capital in a bloody swamp?) and seven years in Columbia, South Carolina, a place that you could use for testing manned expeditions to Venus.  I know from hot, people.

But you see, the Bunker of Love, nice as it is, does not have central air conditioning.  This is a small, old house with “character” (translation:  a disturbing number of corners that aren’t 90 degrees) in an older neighborhood.  It was built before the word “insulation” entered the national consciousness.  Hot and cold just seeps in, despite our best efforts.  And what’s worse, our computers are in the only available space for them–a converted sunporch that was added on sometime after the house was built.  There are several large windows in this room.  They’re old and single-pane.  Do the math.  We have two small window units (one in our bedroom, and one in the living room behind us) and one box fan trying to push the output of the living room A/C in here.  It works reasonably well, as long as the temperature is a more normal, say, 90 degrees.  100 degrees with a heat index over 110, not so much.

And thus it was that on Thursday night, The Anvil spent three hours on Arthas with me as main tank, keeping one eye on the Lich King and one eye on the display of my Logitech G15 keyboard watching my video card temperature skyrocket, while sweating like a pig and trying to hydrate in between wipes.  Yes, I know how stupid it sounds talking about sweating my ass off while playing a video game.  Remember–I’m a fat white pasty guy, it was pushing 85F in here, and it’s the motherhumpin’ Lich King, people.  Things get a little intense even for keyboard warriors.  We did make some good progress, with some strategy adjustment on phase 2 of the fight, but we’re still getting our asses kicked by badly-placed Defiles or losing people to val’kyr.  We’re consistently getting late into phase 2, and we got to see the 40% transition a couple times.

Friday hit 101 degrees.  My wife and I ended up doing something I’m still sad about–we bailed on the raid due to the heat.  I take my raiding commitments seriously.  When I sign up, I show up, even if I don’t really want to.  But with the temperature in the room pushing the mid- to high 80s, and my video card reporting 83 degrees Celsius just while sitting looking out over the porch at Ulduar, we both knew that a couple hours of this, and we’d be not only miserable, but making serious mistakes when we tried Arthas again.  I can’t rationalize and say we did it for “the good of the raid” though.  Fact was, it was just too damn hot in here.

Now, come Saturday afternoon for the 10-man that I MT on Linedan, the temperature had not abated outside–heading for 100 again.  But since it doesn’t get really intolerable in here until about 5 or 6 pm, and the raid runs from 2 to 5, I figured I’d be able to hang in OK on our all-Arthas-all-the-time attempts.  (Side note:  I love extended lockouts.  Awesome invention, Blizz.)  So we got to work.

As you can guess from the picture up top, we got the bastard. Linedan is now, at least for a day, Linedan the Kingslayer.  (Then I’ll switch it back to Loremaster.)

We got him, in fact, despite most of us never really having gotten good looks at phase 3, the Vile Spirits phase, before.  I know that phase 2 is the hard part, and that phase 3 is easier, but still, we wiped a good 10 times in that phase before we worked out a strategy for saving me from getting my face eaten by Soul Reaper.  Once we did that?  I’m not going to say it was easy, because it wasn’t.  But our killshot wasn’t one of those nail-biting super-close shaves.  We just…got him.  Fairly smooth, no big issues.

That fight is so much easier on 10-man than on 25-man.  As are, in fact, most fights that require a lot of maneuvering.  To me it seems pretty obvious why.  You’ve got the same area of platform to drop Bad(tm) in, but 40% of the people taking up the room.  You’re less likely to get a Defile in a bad place, and if you do, you’re less likely to get somebody moving through it or standing in it and expanding it.  And yes, I’ll admit, a good chunk of us in this raid are wearing 25-man gear, and yes, having a nice big rack of ilevel 264 stuff does help compared to doing it in 251s or lower.

So now that Arthas has fallen in 10-man, I have one goal left in Wrath of the Lich King for Linedan…Kingslayer 25-man.  That’s it.  As soon as we get that, I will have accomplished everything I set out to accomplish for him in this expansion.  I called it the Four Big Titles–World Explorer, Seeker, Loremaster, Kingslayer.  Well, right now, he’s three-and-a-half out of four.  We’ll keep raiding after The Anvil drops Arthas, I’m sure of it, and our 10-man is going to start on hard modes in at least a few fights next week.  But after I get that 25-man Kingslayer title attached to Linedan’s name, everything else is just sprinkles on the cupcake, and the Cataclysm countdown begins.


Yub yub (that’s Ewok for “we won”)

The scene in the forums shortly after the announcement.

It hasn’t been a good couple of days in Panzercowland.  Last night I had to say good-bye to a long-time WoW friend who ditched their subscription due to Blizzard’s bait-and-switch on RealID, and how it would be required on the forums going forward.  Three of the Anvil’s core raiders either had pulled the trigger on cancellations or were about to.  And when I found out that Anna, one of my primary muses and the inspiration behind this blog, was bailing?  It was on like Donkey Kong, son. Trust me, Gentle Readers, I had the Mother of All RealID Rants cocked and locked to commit to electrons.  I had tankerloads of righteous indignation and a trunk full of snark mixed in with a couple of ammo belts of cusswords, fueled by a shitload of Diet Coke.  I’d driven right by Annoyed, passed the exit ramp to Pissed Off, and had the hammer down on the HOV express lanes straight into Nerdrage.

And then Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime had to go and be all reasonable:

Hello everyone,

I’d like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games. We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

It’s important to note that we still remain committed to improving our forums. Our efforts are driven 100% by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games. We will still move forward with new forum features such as conversation threading, the ability to rate posts up or down, improved search functionality, and more. However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II Battle.net character name + character code, not your real name. The upgraded World of Warcraft forums with these new features will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.

I want to make sure it’s clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II. We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make Battle.net a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games. And of course, you’ll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on Battle.net to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature.

In closing, I want to point out that our connection with our community has always been and will always be extremely important to us. We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters, ( http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/about/mission.html ) and we feel fortunate to have a community that cares so passionately about our games. We will always appreciate the feedback and support of our players, which has been a key to Blizzard’s success from the beginning.

Mike Morhaime
CEO & Cofounder
Blizzard Entertainment

Shortly thereafter, celebrations erupted all across the known universe from Cloud City to Corusca…oh, wait, wrong game, that’s next year.

Anyway.  So what does this mean?  Well, this addresses the big immediate concerns with the proposed implementation of Starcraft II and WoW Cataclysm forum changes, namely the forced use of real names.  It sounds like they’re going to a single-userID “gamertag” style system.  That’s exactly what most of the posters in the now-locked megathread (final count:  2495 pages and almost 50,000 posts, around 5,000 of which were nuked) wanted.  Nobody (well, almost nobody) objected to the alleged reason behind the forum changes, which was to change the Blizzard forums from the electronic version of a truck stop bathroom into something a little more welcoming and friendly and a little less disease-ridden.  Removing the requirement of use of real names from the forums allays those security concerns.  It doesn’t really do all that much to clean up the forums, but Blizzard’s always had the tools to solve that–by more aggressive moderation with stiffer penalties, and the ultimate hammer for serious forum douchebaggery–repercussions to the poster’s actual WoW account.

But.  But.  Yes, a big “but,” like Jennifer Lopez’s.  This does not change anything regarding the well-known move by Activision to try and position all of Blizzard’s properties–WoW, Starcraft, and Diablo–as a “social networking experience” instead of, y’know, games. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick still gets wood every time he sees a hundred million Farmvillains cultivating their chickpeas, and he wants him somma that.  RealID still has a flaw that exposes your stored first and last name to malicious addons unless you go into Parental Controls and pretend to be your own mom to shut it off.  You still can’t fully opt out of the system.  And Mr. Morhaime explicitly left open the ability to expand RealID for “new and exciting functionality”–that’s corporate weasel-speak for “danger, Will Robinson”–in the future.  (The only thing worse than “new and exciting” in weaselspeak is “rich content.”  You hear that, run.)

So here is where we, the WoW playerbase, have to take our victory here and not rest on our virtual laurels.  Be vigilant.  The next time you see the Terms of Service or the EULA pop up, read them.  Don’t just scroll down and click “OK.”  Go dig around on Blizzard’s website and actually read stuff like the Privacy Policy; if you had, you would’ve seen that information on the RealID interface with the forums was actually added on June 30, six days before it was publicly announced.

More importantly, it shows that despite the somewhat unwelcome intrusion of the Activision “social networking” crowd into our little World of Warcraft, Blizzard does still listen.  It took a revolt bigger than all other class nerf revolts combined to make them come around, but hell, it worked, didn’t it?  Continue to make your opinions heard.  If you’re like those of us who don’t want WoW to turn into World of Mafiavillecraft, voice your feelings.  Stay involved.  Don’t think that it’s over, folks.  Like modern Hollywood, we may have had a happy ending here, but there’s always a sequel.

Quite honestly, I had a rather simple trust with Blizzard.  I pay them $15 a month, they give me a good game and let me go kill INTERNET DRAGONS all I want.  For five and a half years, that worked well.  But with this proposed bait-and-switch with RealID–and there’s no other word for it, guys, when RealID goes in one month from “share your RL name with just your closest friends!” to “you have to show your name on all you post on all our forums”–that trust is shattered forever.  I will continue to pay Blizzard that $15 a month, and as soon as I can afford it, I’m going to buy that windrider plushie I’ve had my eye on for a while.  (Shut up.  It’s cute.)  But rest assured that I will never take anything they say at simple face value ever again, and nor should you.  With their claim that “this is just to de-troll the forums!1!”, they insulted my intelligence.  I don’t like that.

Trust, but verify.  Actually, for now, I’ll settle for “verify.”


RealIDiocy

I’m older than most gamers, even most WoW gamers.  I’ve seen a lot of stupid in my time.  I’ve seen pre-Internet stupid, back when you actually had to go out and be in the physical vicinity of people to be stupid, instead of taping your stupid and putting it up on Youtube and getting a million views and becoming an instant celebrity, like the Paris Hilton of stupid.  (But I repeat myself.)

So when I see stupid that’s I think so incredible, so earth-shattering, so epic as to be a veritable Stupidomourne, you know that it’s really, really stupid.

And it wasn’t done by some random PUG moron.  Nope.  This stupid could only come from the mothership itself…Blizzard:

Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature – http://www.battle.net/realid/ , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. The classic Battle.net forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting.

The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players — however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.

With the launch of the new Battle.net, it’s important to us to create a new and different kind of online gaming environment — one that’s highly social, and which provides an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships. All of our design decisions surrounding Real ID — including these forum changes — have been made with this goal in mind.

We’ve given a great deal of consideration to the design of Real ID as a company, as gamers, and as enthusiastic users of the various online-gaming, communication, and social-networking services that have become available in recent years. As these services have become more and more popular, gamers have become part of an increasingly connected and intimate global community – friendships are much more easily forged across long distances, and at conventions like PAX or our own BlizzCon, we’ve seen first-hand how gamers who may have never actually met in person have formed meaningful real-life relationships across borders and oceans. As the way gamers interact with one another continues to evolve, our goal is to ensure Battle.net is equipped to handle the ever-changing social-gaming experience for years to come.

So here’s the TL;DR version:  When Cataclysm drops, the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the WoW forums will be reborn in a format that will require you to display the first and last name hooked to your battle.net account.  Displaying the name of your “primary in-game character,” however that’s chosen, is optional.

How in hell could anybody think this is a good idea?  True, I have to release the name hooked to my RealID account if I want to RealID friend somebody, but that is a voluntary commitment on my part, and only those people I want to see it will see it.  With this change, if I want to post on the forums, everybody on the forums will have the chance to see my real name.  My only choices according to Blizzard?  Post, and reveal my real name; or “opt-out” by not posting.  There is no option to use a “gamertag” or hide your name.  Post with real name, or don’t post.  That’s it.

Guess which option a loud and pissed-off majority of the posters on that thread are going to take?  The original thread I linked is over twelve hundred pages–pages, people, not posts, pages–and still expanding at the rate of roughly one new comment every three seconds.  And of the thirty or forty pages I skimmed through, comments are running about 95-5 against requiring real names on the forums.

See, this change is not going to magically turn the forums into Happy Unicorn Land no matter what the Irvine Mothership says.  Newsflash to Blizzard:  Forum trolls are forum trolls because they just don’t care about productively contributing to the discussion.  Most of them don’t really care if you know their real names because they know decent people aren’t going to go to the trouble to harass them.  What this change will do is run off the productive, polite, helpful posters who don’t want Little Johnny Dickhead to know their real name and start digging around on Google or Facebook.  Grats Blizzard.  You’re trying to fix your blighted wasteland forums by dropping a neutron bomb on the people keeping the barbarian hordes at bay.

Oh, but it gets better.  Imagine you are a female gamer.  Doesn’t matter if all your toons are male and nobody knows you’re ZOMG A GURL because you never get on Ventrilo.  If you post on the forums, there it is, “Stephanie Gamergrrl,” out there for everyone to see.  And here come the creeps on your server out of the woodwork.  Don’t believe me?  Find a female WoW acquaintance and ask her if she’s ever had a problem with being sexually harassed.  You’d be surprised how high a percentage of “yes” answers you’ll get.  And it doesn’t have to be female gamers that have trouble.  What does trade chat look like on your server?  Cesspool, right?  Racist occasionally in between the [Anal] jokes, I’d imagine.  Now imagine posting on your realm forums as Hu Lao or Abdul Amnar or…you get the idea.

Ever tried to look for a job?  Employers routinely Google interviewees’ names nowadays as part of background checking.  Would you want a prospective boss to see your in-depth twelve-paragraph post on warlock theorycrafting and think, “he probably did that at work, we don’t want him here?”

“So,” you’re saying, “all you have to do is not post on the forums, and there’s no problem!”  Yes.  Ever tried to call Blizzard to get technical support?  They tell you to post on the forums.  What if you want to give Blizzard feedback on a class feature, or maybe you want to get on the PTR and help test a patch and file a bug report.  While they aren’t necessary to enjoy World of Warcraft, Blizzard’s forums are active for a reason.  They’re useful. And now Big Blue is giving you a choice, either put your name out there for everyone to see, or withdraw from contributing to that useful community.

The more I think about this, the madder I get.  Not out of any particular personal sense of violation; I have a very generic name and really don’t hide it that much anyway, so I personally would not be hugely worried.  This isn’t about me.  It’s about the fact that they’re taking what we in the medical IT biz call “Personally Identifiable Information”–your name–and forcing you to put it out there publicly in order to use their forums.

So is this it?  I’m not so sure.  Ever since Activision took Blizzard over, they’ve become very enamored of the whole “social gaming” buzz and microtransactions.  They’re already integrating battle.net with Facebook (which should’ve been a clear warning that something privacy-shattering like this was coming).  Their statement above is full of “social” references.  It seems obvious that Activision wants to take battle.net beyond what it is now and into the realm of a Steam or Xbox/Windows Live, and maybe even beyond that.

What I think they’re forgetting is that many–maybe most–of us signed up for World of Warcraft not giving a flying damn about a “social networking experience.”  What we want is a game.  A game where we can ditch the real world for a few hours and go pretend we’re a giant plate-clad Sioux minotaur or a slinky elven vixen, a stout dwarf or a demon-consorting warlock of unimagined power.  Maybe we don’t want the world to know that Leggomyeggolas the mighty hunter is actually Johnny Snarfle, pimply-faced checkout boy at Target.

This is the World of Warcraft, Activision.  It is not the World of Farmville.  You forget that at your peril.

(A number of folks around the WoWosphere have deconstructed this a lot better than I just did.  Be sure to check out Spinks, Larisa, Chas at Righteous Orbs, and Anna at Too Many Annas just for starters.)


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