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How to spice up a boring heroic run…

…have a small child (my daughter, aka Nublet, aka The World’s Cutest Four-Year-Old) watching over your shoulder as you run Azjol-Nerub on your hunter.  And then have her firing questions at you non-stop while you’re trying to work a marks hunter rotation that you’re rusty on from lack of play.

“Are those bugs?”

“Yes, honey, they’re bugs.”

“Are they mean bugs?”

“Yes, honey, they’re mean bugs and they’re trying to eat us.”

“They look like spiders.”

“They are sort of like spiders, yes.”

“Why’s that one got an arrow over his head?”

“I put it there so we know which bug to kill first.”

“Spiders eat icky bugs.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Look!  That bug has little wings!”

“Yes, yes he does.”

“Is that wolf made out of ice?”

“No, honey, he’s just a white fluffy wolf.”

“He looks like he’s made out of ice.”

He’s not, love, he’s just a big white wolf that follows my guy around.”

“Does he bite bugs?”

“Yes, sweetie, he bites bugs.”

“Hey, a bridge made of ice!”

“That’s not ice, that’s spiderweb.”

“But why aren’t you getting stuck?”

“I don’t know, love, that’s just the way the game works.”

“That’s a biiiiig spider.”

“Mm-hmm.  And now he’s a big dead spider, see?”

“Eww, you fell in an icky river!  Are you going to step on the little bugs?”

“No, sweetie, I’m just going to leave those alone.”

“Why?  Shouldn’t you step on the little bugs?”

“No, hon, not enough time.  See, there’s the big boss bug.”

“Where?”

“There.”

“Oh, yeah.  Hey, he’s gone in his hole.”

“Yeah, he does that, and he sends little bugs out to try and eat us.”

“I think he’s got a secret tunnel.”

“Mm-hmm.”  (at this point I’m frantically trying to dodge darters)

“Look, no more boss bug!”

“Yep.”

“Are you going to go back and squish the little bugs now?”

“No, sweetie, we’re done.”

“Are you flying away on your dragon now?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“OK.  I’m gonna go draw fairies now.”


New and (slightly) improved

If you are a repeat visitor to my little armor-plated corner of the Internet, you might’ve thought you landed on the wrong website when Achtung Panzercow first popped up on your browser just now.  Nope, Gentle Reader, let me assure you, this is still the home of the Panzercow, my little virtual Bunker of Love.  I just thought it needed a bit of renovation.

So during a slow time at work on Friday, and carrying over into Friday night at home, I did some tweaking on it.  There were really only two significant changes that I made:

New theme. For a very long time I had used themes from Andreas Viklund at WordPress…first Andreas04 back in the day, and then Andreas09.  Both of them were nice three-column themes that let the main text of the blog flow out wider on widescreen monitors, which I thought was pretty useful.  I’ve never much liked fixed-width blog themes that smoosh the post text into a narrow column and leave me staring at an immense expanse of wasted white space on a 22″ widescreen like I run at home.

But while eminently practical, after a while, good old workhorse Andreas09 just started to look a little, well, plain to me.  I looked at other peoples’ blogs with a rising tinge of jealousy because they had fancy headers and graphics and more flexibility compared to my simple text blog.  Of course, I could always self-host to get the ultimate level of flexibility.  But even though I do average around 500 views a day here on Panzercow, and the blog recently passed an astonishing  200,000 total views since December 2008, it’s still very much a part-time hobby.  I like being hosted on WordPress.  It makes maintenance quick and easy at any time of the day because it’s not blocked at work, so if I need to duck in to fix a spam comment or something similar, I can do it and get back to my job.  Plus, I really can’t afford any hosting option that’s costing me more than $0.00 a month right now.

So I was noodling through the available free themes yesterday looking for something that I could use to punch up the place a bit.  I thought I’d found my answer with an attractive three-column theme called Coraline, and in fact for about a half-hour Friday afternoon, that’s what we were using–I don’t have a “sandbox” blog to make my changes in, I just slam them straight into the live site, because I’m a rebel, maaaan.  But I was gchatting with Anna, as I often do, and she threw a couple more suggestions out there.  While browsing those, I found my answer.

Say hello to Modularity Lite.  It’s a fixed-width two-column theme, which normally I don’t like…but I just fell in love with the layout, the font, the dark granite-ish background, all of it.  It was love at first sight.  Add onto that the fact that it supported a custom header picture, and I was sold.  I had the site swapped over and the widgets (the stuff in the sidebar and footer) rearranged in no time.  The final tweak was the header picture, which is just part of a random screenshot of Linedan (the titular Panzercow) that I took in Dalaran a few months ago, back when he was still rocking full T9 instead of T10.  The new layout doesn’t seem to have broken anything from older posts except for picture captioning, which is pretty minor and something I can live with.

Oddly enough, I think the new look of the blog has amped me up to post more.  I hope it works.  I really need to ramp it back up.

Blogroll changes. Blogrolls are almost like living things.  Blogs disappear, go on hiatus, change names, new ones appear.  I finally got around to pruning my blogroll, and sadly, had to drop over a third of them due to inactivity.  But I compensated by adding several new ones, and am always on the prowl for more.  Getting linked here will do absolutely nothing for your traffic, but, y’know.  I taunt your target, you taunt mine, or something like that.

I hope you enjoy the new(ish) Achtung Panzercow.  As always, please comment on anything you see here, because comments make me teh happeh.

I admit it, I’m a “beta” male

The ability to stream content while playing--a mixed bag.

(NOTE:  I’m aiming to keep this post as spoiler-free as possible, so it won’t be hidden behind a cut.  If I do put something up with spoilers, I’ll make sure I hide them for folks who don’t want to see them.  I’m nice that way.)

First off–yes, I’m in the beta.  In fact, I was actually in the Friends & Family alpha quite early on, back when we were under a strict NDA that meant we couldn’t even admit that the alpha existed.  Some of those bugs you don’t see in the beta?  Yeah.  I reported those.  When they actually existed in the alpha, I mean.  Trust me, if you think some zones aren’t polished now, you should’ve seen them three months ago.

Anyway…I’m not going to dig too hugely deep into things here, partially to avoid spoilers and partially because I’ve still got to do some more digging with this latest beta build, especially in regard to class trees (which are still mutating with every patch).  I plan to have some more warrior-specific info up here soon, once I can actually get to tank something instead of just grinding to level, and once I figure out what Lin’s fury offspec build should be.  But in the meantime, here’s some general tidbits…

Launcher. With this latest beta build, Blizzard has revised how their launcher and downloader work.  The theory is that now you’ll be able to stream downloaded content while you play the game.  (This forced us in the beta to completely uninstall the beta client and download the whole bloody thing again, by the way.)  The new way it works is this:  When you go to the battle.net page to download WoW, you’ll download a small 2.5 MB launcher app.  This, when run, downloads a 660 MB WoW installer that contains the core files for the game.  Run and install that (which took me about an hour) and then, when you run WoW for the first time, you’ll get the familiar-looking downloader, which will begin pulling down a massive amount of data–15.7 GB for this build.

But here’s the trick.  There’s a yellow line and a green line on the progress bar.  In theory, once the progress bar hits that yellow line, you can play WoW.  The “Play” button lights up and lets you run the game while the downloader disappears (you can’t alt-tab to it), but continues to pull the data.  What Blizzard says is that you can run the game once the progress bar hits the yellow line (about 4% on mine), but “your game experience might not be optimum.”  You may run into some delays or missing data.  Once it hits the green line–about 60% for this beta install–again, in theory, your WoW experience should improve and be almost normal while the downloader concludes its work.

I tried it last night, and surprisingly, it does work.  I was playing without any real latency issues while my wife and I both let our respective downloaders grind.  There currently is an issue with frequent drops and “world server is down” messages, though, so it’s not all sunshine and roses.  Nevertheless, the concept seems to work quite well.  Even with the downloader at only 12-14% of the big file, the only glitches I ran into (besides getting dropped every 10 minutes) were a few missing or delayed sounds.

At first I wondered why they made this change.  The old system worked OK most of the time.  And this new system is still apparently peer-to-peer, so that didn’t change.  Why add in the capability for background streaming?  Well, one reason I can think of is, possibly, to make it easier to add in purchasable downloadable content?  Y’know, go buy yourself a sparklepony and keep playing while it’s delivered to your mailbox.  Or maybe more.  Or maybe I’m paranoid.

New zones. I’ve only seen two zones so far, the first two that were opened, Vashj’ir and Mount Hyjal.  Vashj’ir is an large underwater zone–actually, three separate ones–chock full of various sea life that thinks you’re tasty.  In addition, there’s an overarching plot revolving around the naga, but honestly, I ran through it in alpha and several pieces were still missing so I’m not quite sure what that plot is. Mount Hyjal is, well, Mount Hyjal.  It’s under siege by the Twilight’s Hammer and their various allies.  There, you’ll assist Ysera and…uh, somebody else…to reclaim the portions of the mountain that the Twilights have already ravaged.  And you’ll meet some old friends.  I mean, old friends.  Beta peeps probably can guess who I’m talking about.  In addition, Deepholm is now open.  I haven’t seen it yet except over my wife’s shoulder, but she couldn’t stop gushing about it and with good reason, it’s beautiful.  The art and atmosphere is probably the best Blizzard’s ever done…it’s very otherworldly and weird.  Considering it’s on the elemental plane of Earth, that makes sense.

As for the two new races, well, how much can I gush?  I’ve gotten both a worgen and a goblin through their respective starter areas, and both are fantastic, yet totally different from each other.  Worgens start in a Gilneas under siege, first by worgen and then by the Forsaken.  The entire experience is best described as a “fighting withdrawal” against desperate odds, as the Gilneans fall back from one place to another to the next defending themselves the whole way.  Gilneas City itself floored me the first time I saw it.  LOTRO players will get this analogy–it looks a bit like a cloudy, more urban Bree-town.  In a good way.

The goblin side is completely different.  Blizzard took “teh funneh,” cranked it to 11, and ripped the knob off.  Kezan, the goblin city, is hilarious.  The goblin quests are replete with bad puns, funny names, bad puns, amusing situations, pop culture references, and more bad puns.  And did I mention bad puns?

Old zones. This, to me, is the amazing part of Cataclysm. Not that Blizzard has created new and cool places like Vashj’ir or Hyjal or Deepholm.  It’s what they’ve done to the old world, to zones where level 80s just don’t have any reason to go anymore.  They have put an immense amount of effort into zones of all levels in Azeroth, and the result is a radically different leveling experience.  The 80-85 run in Cataclysm is going to be cool, but you won’t get the full grasp of just how much has changed until you start rolling some alts of the vanilla races.

For example, I rolled a Tauren paladin in alpha.  There were a lot of bugs, and some incomplete linking of quests between zones.  But even so, getting the holycow from 1 to 35 totally derailed me from testing Vashj’ir or Hyjal on Linedan or Beltar.  As incomplete as everything was (and Mulgore was still a work-in-progress at that point), the experience was amazingly engrossing.  Blizzard has put a hell of a lot of work into cleaning up the leveling-questing process.  There are now more quest hubs spread out in lowbie zones, with some old quests moved to the new hubs, closer to their objectives.  This means less time wasted running back and forth.  In the northern half of the Barrens, for example, there used to be Crossroads and Ratchet.  In addition to those now, there are a couple of other quest hubs.  One is a goblin post up near the Boulder Lode Mine and Sludge Pit in the northeastern part of the zone.  The old Venture Company quests involving those areas have been moved to the new hub, so you’re not running back and forth to Crossroads or Ratchet constantly.  It speeds the process up and makes it feel less tedious.

But even over and above that is the storytelling.  And nowhere did Blizzard hit a peak with that more than in Ashenvale and Stonetalon, from what I’ve seen.  The Alliance and Horde are now more in conflict than ever.  Much, maybe most, of the Kalimdor Horde leveling experience between, say, levels 18 and 34 (Ashenvale, Stonetalon, Southern Barrens) is going to be wrapped up in this war.  The quests themselves aren’t PvP, but you’ll spend a lot of time killing NPC elves and dwarves and humans and gnomes if you’re Horde.  The quests flow, logically, from one to the next, and from one place to the next.  And they tell an overarching story of the Horde side of the new war…one in which, surprisingly, Garrosh Hellscream does not necessarily come off as the king-hell douchebag we’ve known him as before.  And as a Tauren fanboy?  Southern Barrens hits me particularly hard.  You’ll see why if you fly over it.

Prot warrior mechanics. I’ll have some more details up on this later.  Right now, things are still somewhat in flux, that much is plain.  Talent trees are still getting adjusted with every patch.  But what I’m seeing, from a level/grind standpoint, is a slight walkback from the bountiful joy we got in Wrath of the Lich KingWotLK turned Prot warriors from laughingstocks at leveling into sexy grinding machines.  We had enough DPS to kill mobs at reasonable speed crossed with the survivability that we all love about the class…and when we got bored with questing, we could jump in the dungeon queue and tank ourselves silly.  It became, well, easy to level as Prot.

I don’t know if 80-85 will be quite so easy.  DPS output seems flat or down from live, and this, combined with level 80 mobs in the new zones having around thirty thousand health, makes grinding a bit slow compared to Northrend.  Couple that with some odd stat changes…right now, Linedan in his T9 prot gear (from back in May when I copied him over) has a crit chance of 0.48%.  A half a percent at level 82, Blizz, seriously?  That 145 hit rating only gets him +2.1% hit at level 82 as opposed to double that at level 80?  Please tell me this stuff will be adjusted.

I haven’t had a chance to tank yet, but the rumblings I’ve been hearing are mixed.  Tank threat in the late alpha (for all classes) was supposed to be very bad.  It may have come up a bit in the last few beta builds, but still seems to be considerably lower than live.  If I can ever get a chance to tank one of the new instances, I’ll pass on my experiences.

In closing, I’m pretty excited about Cataclysm. I haven’t been too terribly caught up in mechanics and numbers so far…I’ve let myself get lost in the beauty of the new zones, and been astonished at the level of effort Blizzard has put in to reshape the entirety of Azeroth, and the confidence with which they’re flexing their storytelling muscles.  Now that we’re further along into a solid beta, it’s time to start looking at the nuts and bolts more.  But even with the glitches and the concerns?  It’s pretty obvious that once again, Blizzard is in the process of hitting yet another home run.

My name is Panzercow…

…and I approve this message.  Not least because I can’t think of a better artist to filk for a song about tanks than the Man in Black, who was basically the Avatar of Badass wearing a guitar.

(Yes, I know it’s two years old, I just saw it.  Shut up or I’ll Shield Slam you so hard they’ll be picking your teeth out of your ass.)

Hat tip:  our raid’s Chief Cat Herder, Itanya Blade and her paladin’s Helmet Hair of the Gorilla.

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.)

Hey, look over there, it’s a Panzercow

Um, so…hi.

Yes, I’ve been a bad cow, running off and disappearing like this for over a month.  But I meant well, see.  I’ve had a So You Want to Be a Prot Warrior post on tanking attitude working for, eh, two weeks now.  And working.  And working.

Writer’s block and burnout, Dear Reader, are a bitch.  By their powers combined, they make Captain Badblog.

Anyway.  With the realization that I need to get something out here to prove that I still exist or people will just write me off as yet another MIA in the Blog Wars, here’s some quick updates from Panzercowville, in lieu of a post that’s actually, y’know, useful.

Raiding is going quite well.  No, The Anvil hasn’t made the Lich King our Bitch King just yet, but we have knocked down everything else in Icecrown Citadel on 25-man normal, and with Hellscream’s Buff of Pity moving to Rank 5 (25%) this week, we should be that much closer to becoming Kingslayers.  That’s a fight that sheer DPS, while always useful, isn’t the key on, though.  Execution, val’kyr control, spreading out for Defiles, handling diseases…all of those are things we’re working on.  We’ll get him.  It might be a few weeks yet, but we’ll get him.  The 10-man I tank on Saturday afternoons is actually in the exact same place, working on Arthas after having the rest of the instance on farm.

My Alliance-side guild, the Wildfire Riders, is doing some excellent collaborative fiction work around the death of the Lich King.  The crew at WTT:RP has some more information on it.  Now since Beltar has only been in ICC one time, and only up to Deathbringer Saurfang then, I’m still not sure if I’m going to participate or not.  They may have some stuff to do outside, but it just doesn’t seem right to me to claim “yeah, I helped punk Arthas” when in reality, he doesn’t have Kingslayer and will almost certainly never get it due to lack of a regular raid and time constraints.

In general I find myself at an odd place with WoW right now.  For the first time in a year, I don’t feel like I’m at a place where I have to get online on non-raid nights and grind things.  Yes, I could always use more Emblems of Frost to trick out Linedan’s DPS gear–his average ilevel in tank gear is 260ish compared to barely 250 in DPS gear–but I pick up so many badges during a raid weekend, with Linedan all but clearing Icecrown twice, a few more from daily randoms seems like a drop in the bucket.

I could pimp my alts out further but…why?  I don’t have the time or energy to devote more than nine hours/three days a week to raiding on a regular basis.  All of them should already be geared enough to survive and level when Cataclysm comes out.  I’ll get Latisha to 80 but what then, do I go through the expense of getting her crafted gear to tank heroics and then have to deal with doucheburgers going “wtf” and bailing when they see a tank with 23k health, as happens now?

I should be roleplaying more.  I know I should.  But roleplaying done right–at least for a severe introvert and naturally shy person like me–takes a lot of mental energy and focus.  I don’t have that focus as often as I should these days.  A full-time job (that’s ramping up into a hellacious July and August round of work) and a rambunctious four-year-old suck most of it away.  I don’t know if there’s a physical aspect to it or not…I am type 2 diabetic, and I don’t take enough care with what I eat, and I wonder if this is what fuzzes me out sometimes.   This doesn’t mean I don’t like to RP…on those occasions where I can actually get my brain to cooperate and let me get into it, I have awesome times with my friends on both factions.  That lack of ability to concentrate, by the way, is the primary reason there’s been no posts on Achtung Panzercow for thirty-four days or so.  I just haven’t been able to get my head unstuck from the mental mud bog to write good stuff, and if I can’t write good stuff, I’d rather not write at all.

So this has left me a bit tired of WoW.  I hesitate to say “burned out,” because I don’t think it’s quite that bad…yet.  What it’s done is left me looking at a few other things as my playtime has slid back.  I still noodle around in EVE Online, though not as often as I probably should.  (I have a carebear miner guy named Ellison French as my only EVE character.)  I reactivated my Star Trek Online subscription, and at this point, the odds of that lasting another month are about 50/50.  It’s still a bit grindy for my tastes, and honestly, as a guy who does software QA for a living, the ridiculous number of simple glitches and misspellings that litter the game just bother me.

And just to make matters worse…I noodled around Steam last Saturday and much to the detriment of my checking account, I saw where they were having a massive sale on EA games…specifically that day, Mass Effect.  I’d played my wife’s copy of Mass Effect through once, and always wanted a copy of my own.  Well, I couldn’t turn down Mass Effect for $4.99 and Mass Effect 2 for $23.99.  And on top of that, on Father’s Day, my lovely wife gave me a copy of Bioshock 2.  And on top of that, I still haven’t finished Dragon Age:  Origins yet–I’ve had Linedan Cousland sitting halfway down the Deep Roads for months now.  So I’m single-player-gamed to a fare-thee-well for the foreseeable future.

So, about the blog?  It’s not going anywhere.  Updates may be slow, or they may not necessarily be about WoW.  I may branch out and talk about other games and other things, and if I do, I hope nobody minds.  If you do, I’m sorry, but Achtung Panzercow’s my personal space to rant and babble, and I never said that it was going to be only about World of Warcraft.  I’ve got some more So You Want to Be a Prot Warrior ideas forming, all I need to do is see if I can winch myself out of the doldrums and actually commit them to electrons.

I love blogging.  I love all of you that read it.  No, seriously, I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but never, in my wildest dreams in December 2008 when I started this thing, could I have imagined that I’d be sitting here, a year and a half later, with almost 175,000 total pageviews, or that I’d get linked by wow.com several times, or that I’d have emails from people profusely thanking me for writing warrior guides that helped them become good tanks.  There’s no way I’m giving that up.  I’m too selfish, what can I say.  I guess it means that I’m doing something right, for certain values of “right.”  Or if I’m doing them wrong, at least I’m being entertaining all the while.

Peace out, gang.  I’ll be back.  Life’s not getting rid of me that easy.  After all, I have played a warrior for almost five and a half years now, and that means if nothing else, I’m one stubborn bastard.

Linedan’s Top Ten Predictions for Cataclysm

And now, live from the home office in Red Cloud Mesa, it’s the Panzercow’s own Top Ten Predictions for Cataclysm…

10.  There will be a troll city in Cataclysm.  It will be named “Zul’Masharekinababa,” which is Old Trollish for “sweet zombie Jesus, NOT ANOTHER ONE!”

9.  Concerned about losing his macho appearance as he ages, King Varian Wrynn will go to Gadgetzan for plastic surgery…which goes horribly wrong and leaves him with pectoral muscles on his chin.  Strangely, he doesn’t seem to mind.

8.  After Horde characters unlock certain phasing in Orgrimmar, they will see Basic Campfire attempt a coup d’etat and try to dethrone Garrosh Hellscream as Warchief.  There will be several exciting quests to assist the usurper, culminating in Garrosh being banished back to Garadar, where he will resume sitting in the dirt, listening to Simple Plan, and cutting himself while writing orcish love poetry.

7.  There will be an NPC in Gilneas with some play on “Snoop Doggy Dogg” as a name, there to film a production of Gilneas:  Furries Gone Wild.

6.  Azeroth will suffer a massive economic crisis when it is announced that the Steamwheedle Cartel has defaulted on its purchase of Icecrown Citadel and its attempts to turn it into a theme park called “Arthasland.”

5.  Speaking of Icecrown, with the Lich King dead, Tirion Fordring will retire as Highlord of the Argent Crusade and return to his simple life along the Thondrodil River as a thirteen-foot-tall hermit farmer.

4.  In order to expand WoW’s appeal even further, Blizzard will announce that Deathwing will be voiced by Justin Bieber.  One million tween girls immediately subscribe and flood existing endgame raids looking for DPS spots as hunters, all with white cat pets named “Iluvjustin.”

3.  The shock announcement that the World of Warcraft client will run on the iPad is marred by Steve Jobs’ sudden reversal on the deal.  When pressed for an explanation, he points to a paladin’s toolbar and exclaims that something called “Flash of Light” will never be allowed to run on his platform.

2.  After five years, the bridge outside of Lakeshire will finally be completed.  As King Varian Wrynn is about to declare the Bolvar Fordragon Memorial Bridge open for traffic, Deathwing appears and destroys it again.  That poor bastard who’s been hammering on the thing since release throws himself into the lake and drowns.

And the number one prediction for Cataclysm:

1.  Headlines across Azeroth scream:  GHOSTCRAWLER AND JAINA PROUDMOORE CAUGHT ON CAMERA IN EXCLUSIVE HINTERLANDS LOVE NEST; THRALL SAID TO BE SHATTERED

The Latisha Experiment, Update #3

I'm not overcompensating for anything. I'm too busy trying not to fall over to worry about overcompensating.

I’ll admit, I’ve been slack about reporting on the progress of the Latisha Experiment–my attempt to use my own So You Want To Be A Prot Warrior guides to level a Prot warrior all the way from 1 to 80.  That’s largely because I’ve been slack about leveling her in the first place.  Latisha, sad to say, is not yet 80.  She is 75, but on the upside, she’s a veteran of the Wrathgate, is mostly done with Dragonblight outside of a couple of the dragonshrines and group quests that I’m not worrying about for now due to lack of help, and best of all, is getting xp at a solid clip from a mixture of questing and random dungeons.

Now, this is where I admit I’ve disregarded my own advice in her spec, just a little.  I’ve swapped her spec to be more like Linedan’s…x/3/53 instead of the x/5/51 I originally stated in the SYWTBAPW guides.  See, as I was leveling her, I skipped Vigilance, because I started her before the LFD system, and she didn’t get many chances to tank.  Likewise, it was quicker through the old world and Outland to just quest and grind along.  But now in her 70s in Northrend, she can take advantage of the near-instant queue times that even normal-dungeon tanks get.  So I decided to tweak her spec to be more “tanky” as opposed to “grindy”.  This involved dropping the two points out of Cruelty in the Fury tree, picking up Vigilance, and basically setting her Prot side up to be a carbon copy of Linedan, who is himself fairly cookie-cutter.  There really isn’t that much difference performance-wise between 15/5/51 and 15/3/53 Prot specs right now, but the two extra points over in the Prot tree allow for a little flexibility–in my case, that usually means two more points into Shield Specialization.  Right now, she is 10/3/53, with her last five talent points going to fill out Impale and Deep Wounds in Arms.  I also picked up a Glyph of Cleaving in her second major slot, which is a big help in tanking instances.

Gear-wise, she’s better than I expected she’d be at this point.  She’s got a few pieces to swap back and forth for questing versus tanking.  With her “tank” set in place, she’s got 464 defense at level 75, reasonable avoidance, and about 14.5k health.  So far, it’s been enough to tank any normal instance up through Drak’theron Keep without too much trouble.  I’ve actually been surprised by how well she can hold agro with a level-appropriate group against even large groups of trash.  Having a few years of experience on another Prot warrior helps, of course, but she is proving to be a very competent tank.  I just make sure I go back to the AH every so often and keep an eye out for crafted pieces like cobalt, or later on, saronite.

Tanking normal random PUGs is refreshing, in a way.  I rarely tank heroic PUGs on Linedan anymore.  I use them to practice his Fury spec…and quite honestly, after raid tanking two or three nights a week, I’m happily content to find something to do around the house during the 13-15 minute wait as DPS, and then just merrily roflcowpter my way through an instance as Fury.  Tanking heroics, at this stage in the game where Lin needs nothing more than Frost badges, is just usually not worth dealing with the durpdurp.  But Latisha has to tank…I haven’t bought dual-spec on her yet, and don’t plan to right away, since I save her money for prowling for upgrades on the AH.

So we know heroic PUGs are all about the “gogogogogo,” where nobody talks, tanks pull before everybody’s zoned in, any thought of strategy or skill goes out the window and it’s a straight-up bulldoze toward the end boss at the highest possible speed so everybody gets their two frost badges and gets on with their lives, right?  Well, normal PUGs can be a totally different animal.  I’m on my seventh character over level 70, so I have a bad case of “been there done that”–and I’m surprised at the number of people in normal PUGs who are setting foot inside Utgarde Keep or the Nexus for the very first time ever.  People actually talk.  They apologize when they make a mistake instead of screaming at somebody else.  They make jokes and are even *gasp* social.  Pacing is slower.  There is occasionally even…wait for it…crowd control. Running Drak’theron Keep with a 75 tank and four 74s in the party is a far cry from steamrolling it with five 80s in T9 or T10 gear, that’s for sure.  And I really like it.

Of course, sometimes she does get groups like the one with the two level 80 death nuggets who would’ve had no trouble running it on heroic.  (Tanking for DKs doing 3k dps, at level 75…not fun.)  Or the one with the 74 rogue who did 250 dps for the entire run because she was alternately working up her gun skill and her sword skill…and attacking mobs from the front while doing it.  But for every one of those, there’s been at least one where everybody is pleasant, we move at a nice steady pace, nobody loses their cookies when we wipe, and we have a fun time doing the instances the way Blizzard intended them to be done originally.  It really is a nice change from the typical heroic PUG.

I’ve had people tell me I must be crazy for leveling a second Prot warrior.  Why?  I have a character who, while she doesn’t kill things at breakneck speed, kills them quickly enough to quest efficiently, has tremendous survivability, gets into randoms almost instantly, has a fairly interesting backstory even though I haven’t had a chance to RP much with her yet, and, best of all, uses a playstyle that I’m already fairly good at.  Yeah.  I’m crazy.  Like a fox, baby.

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