March 20, 2008

Warcraft – Macros to keep that +damage trinket working for you (Shadow Priest & Feral Druid)

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack, WoW macros at 9:16 am by loolar

UPDATED FOR VARIOUS CLARIFICATIONS BELOW.

I was typing this up for some friends who asked about it when, once again, I realized – hey, free blog post.

This will cover simple but incredibly useful macros I’ve discovered to make sure you’re using your trinkets that add damage to your melee and spell combat abilities.

The main idea was this – I had all these great “Use: increases damage for 20 seconds” trinkets, but I never used them. Always in reserve for the “emergency,” and usually forgotten. Finally, I read an article that admonished this behavior, saying if you’re not keeping these things on cooldown, you’re wasting a slot. After all, a 2 minute cooldown is basically one fight; so you can be using them constantly.

So how to remember to always use them? Once I answered that question, my dps went through the roof, as our other feral druid’s damage meters attested.

The answer was to tie your favorite special attack to activating the trinket, so that you constantly use it as soon as it’s available. Even better when you have two trinkets; you can put them both in the macro. If the first one is on cooldown, it goes to the second – perfect!

So you’ve decided you’d like to keep those trinkets working hard for you – but macros are scary. Now what? It’s time to write a macro.

First, type /m or /macro in your interface. Up comes the macro window.

Next, choose “New” from the bottom of the window.

Enter a name for your macro. Make it similar to the actual ability you will be using in this macro. I’m going to start with a combat-based ability for my Feral Druid, Halifaxx. I chose to use the feral ability Mangle for these reasons:
1. It is the best “main” attack for feral druids
2. It has a cooldown (6 seconds), so it’s not a “spam” attack
3. It’s my lead attack, unless backstabbing as a kitty
4. It’s my constant “as soon as it’s off cooldown” attack, meaning I’m using it regularly enough that I will activate the trinket.

So choose a similar ability. For my Shadow Priest Talisker, it’s Mind Blast. So for Mangle, I called the macro “Mangle.” Clever, I know – but the point is to be useful. You can certainly call it l33t faczor lolz if you want. Just don’t tell me.

Next choose an icon. This is even easier. Always choose the red question mark icon (the first choice). What this does is uses the same icon as whatever spell you use in the macro (more on that in a minute) – so you don’t even have to get used to a new picture. Your macro will use the same tooltip picture your ability already does.

Click okay – now you’re ready to write the macro itself.

The first line of all of these macros is this:
#show Spell
Where “Spell” is the name of the ability in your spellbook. In my case, it’s:
——————————
#show Mangle (Cat)()
——————————

What this does is make sure that, on mouseover, the ability shows the same tooltip as the spell you’re using; this also ties into the red question mark and tells it to use that picture. This line isn’t critical; it’s just nice to use the same picture and tooltip as your primary spell ability.

Next, you want your trinket to activate:
/use Trinket
Where “Trinket” is the name of the trinket you want to use. Be careful to spell it exactly (also, always remember the trinket must be equipped when you use the macro, or the macro will just go straight to the spell; not a problem, but not the effect you’re after). In my case, it’s:
——————————
/use Bladefist’s Breadth
——————————

The next line may no longer be necessary as of patch 2.3, but since I tested it and it works, I’m not going to mess with it. It is:
——————————
/stopcasting
——————————
This indicates a stop in the process before a next step can begin.

Next, the actual spell:
/cast Spell
Where “Spell” is the ability in your spellbook. In my case:
——————————
/cast Mangle (Cat)()
——————————

UPDATE: For some time now, you haven’t needed to specify the rank of the spell – the game assumes you want the highest rank – unless you want to downrank to a lower level spell (you downrank spells when you want to use less mana or your objective doesn’t require your highest output; you may use a lower grade heal for “topping off” a party member; you may spam a low-level instant cast in order to try to activate a “chance on” effect; etc.).

However, certain spells confuse the system – particularly druid ones, which specify a form, such as (Cat) in this case. The game thinks the form qualifier (Cat) is actually a rank of the spell. As such, it will do nothing, unless you reassure it that there is a rank present. You can do so by using the set of empty parenthesis at the end of the command. Note that you only need to do this for any ability which ends with a parenthetical qualifer, such as “Faerie Fire (Feral)” – a regular spell requires no rank designation unless you specifically want one.

Finally, a clever bit:
——————————
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
——————————
This is important – you will get an error message the next time you use your favorite attack, because the trinket is now on cooldown. Your attack will go off (it just skips the line command it cannot perform), but the error message is annoying. This clears it and keeps your character from saying, “I can’t use that,” or whatever irritating error message they give (by the way, you can disable your character’s error message voice prompts in the sound menu). You will still here that hollow gong sound that indicates you’ve tried to use something you can’t, but in the roar of battle, it’s lost.

UPDATE: Be careful. The fact that you’re clearing error messages means you’re also clearing things like range errors (you’re too far away), cooldown errors (you can’t cast the spell yet), facing errors (you’re facing the wrong direction), etc. Therefore, it is up to you to be aware of all conditions, because you’re clearing all error messages.

Luckily, many of these errors are apparent because of other interface qualities; the number of your hotkey will be red instead of white if you’re out of range; the cooldown clock graphic will still be animating if you’re on cooldown – but if you’re facing the wrong way (and sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re up to your neck in mobs), you may think you’re casting the spell – and you’re not. So beware!

So the whole thing, ready to copy and paste:
———————
#show Mangle (Cat)()
/use Bladefist’s Breadth
/stopcasting
/cast Mangle (Cat)()
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

Bear version (note you will have to put this bear-specific version on your bear toolbar, because it is a different spell):
———————
#show Mangle (Bear)()
/use Bladefist’s Breadth
/stopcasting
/cast Mangle (Bear)()
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

If you have a second trinket, just add a line item after the first trinket for the second one (see below for an example). Halifaxx’s other trinket is Hourglass of the Unraveller, which is passive, so I don’t need it here.

So your macro is done – now what? Drag the red question mark onto your toolbar replacing the spell button you have there. When you close the macro window (sometimes just on mouseover), the icon will change to the familiar one, only with some text on it (the title of your macro), letting you know it’s got “something special.”

Experiment; I suggest killing trash critters, and then salivate at how you will destroy! Think about it – in constant combat, such as an instance, you will be adding that damage every 2 minutes (more if you have two “use” trinkets), for 15 to 20 seconds. Your dps is on the way up.

Here is the caster macro I use for Talisker to make sure he’s getting the most out of his trinkets and Mind Blast:
———————
#show Mind Blast
/use Glowing Crystal Insignia
/use Terokkar Tablet of Vim
/cast Mind Blast
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

Here’s a version with my heal trinkets, to pump up Greater Heal:
———————
#show Greater Heal
/use Oshu’gun Relic
/use Heavenly Inspiration
/cast Greater Heal
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

I’m not sure why, but these don’t seem to require the open parenthesis at the end of the spell.

Here’s my spammable debuff remover:
———————
#showtooltip Abolish Disease
/targetparty
/cast Abolish Disease
———————

I just spam that and it keeps targeting players until it finds one with a disease; no worries targeting. I’m going to do more work with the focus command so this doesn’t lose your targeted enemy while working (more on focus at a later date). I tried this with dispel, except dispel can be used offensively, too, so that needs more work.

============
This next one is exclusively for druids – our other feral druid will love this. You’re tanking and it’s going bad – if only you could jump out and take a potion!

#show Super Healing Potion
/cancelform
/use Master Healthstone
/use Super Healing Potion
/cast [nostance] Dire Bear Form

/cancelform gets you out of bear; the next two lines use the items (this particular version takes advantage of using a healthstone if you’re grouped with a lock; if not, it skips that step), then it gets you back into bear form.

Note that this will work if you start off as a cat or bird or manatee, too, because cancelform isn’t specific – it just says cancel your current shapeshift. If you’re already out of form, it ignores that step. If you’re in another form and it’s bad enough you had to take a potion, you obviously want to end up in bear form.

This executes so fast, I thought it hadn’t worked. But my health bar was now at 30% instead of 5%, and only 4 potions showed in the tooltip. Amazing. Obviously, change the name of the potion if you’re using something else, like the Ogri’La potions. I’ve used this twice more, and the shapeshift (if you’re already in bear) will not be visible. It’s that cool.
============

Finally, if you play on more than one computer, be warned – macros are stored locally. You will log onto another computer and find empty spots on your toolbar where the macros used to be. So email them to yourself or just replace the actual spells (you will then have to replace with macros when you get back to your original machine); or, bookmark Sound and Fury and just come back here to reconstruct them.

Have fun!

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March 18, 2008

Warcraft – Shadow Priest and other clothie Tailoring Level Guide

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 12:30 am by loolar

Again, feel free to skip this, loyal reader, if it means nothing to you. I just took the time to write this for a friend, and figured, hey, free blog post.

So it finally occurred to me that my main character, Talisker, a shadow priest, needed to drop herbalism and level tailoring, to get the best purple sets in the game, pre-Serpentshrine/Kael raiding. My damage per second (dps) was not where it needed to be for the Karazhan runs my guild was getting ready to do. I had nearly 2,000 gold, so went searching for guides.

What follows is what I learned – hopefully will be helpful to someone. I spent about 850 gold leveling to 375, and another 900 gold getting all the mats to make the sets. If you’ve got a bank full of this stuff, obviously it will cost less.

Talisker is also an enchanter, so from time to time I deviated from the recommended patterns in order to create equivalent green items that I could disenchant. This was helpful in defraying costs since I could Auction House the materials. I never learned “extra” patterns; as they are pointless to me at the moment (I am not twinking a lower level clothie).

The starter guide I used gets you to 250; subsequent posts advise how to get to 375.

What it may or may not mention:
Any trainer can train you to 300 since patch 2.3; so you can park in Iron Forge or Stormwind near the auction house and tailoring supplies (I did Stormwind). I ended up making numerous mounted trips back and forth to buy various materials from the tailoring supplies and the AH. Not sure of the best place in horde side, except that I frickin hate getting around Orgrimmar.

You only need to go to Outland to learn past 300 to 375. Hama is upstairs in the inn at Honor Hold (the horde counterpart Dalinna is in Thrallmar).

As for DEing (disenchanting), you will occasionally have a chance to choose an equivalent pattern that will yield a green item, vs. the white one that is recommended. You’ll have to use your judgment; I usually took the green item so I could DE it, and I was happy with that. Ultimately, avoid anything that makes you use a lot more cloth; then you’re spending a lot more just to make the items. This is particularly important for the mageweave stretch, which really sucks – that stuff is EXPENSIVE. One poster recommends trying to get this pattern, as it skills for only one bolt per crafted item.

At 325, you’ll need to be making bolts of Imbued Netherweave. This pattern can be bought from the Lower City vendor (where all the tradeskill vendors are, south part of city), and you will need the mana loom there in order to convert bolts of Netherweave into Imbued Netherweave (3 bolts & 2 Arcane Dusts – so one stack of Netherweave cloth yields one bolt of Imbued Netherweave with 2 pieces left over). The loom is right next to him – convenient.

At around 360, I think, you will need the pattern for Imbued Netherweave Tunic – this is a scryer pattern, but it’s not BOP – so if you’re Scryer, excellent; if you’re an idiot and went Aldor without reading up on why, like me, you will need to nicely ask for a Scryer to buy it for you. Remember, you need Scryer rep to buy the pattern, but not to learn it.

I’m an idiot because I’m a dps class, and Aldor give wonderful supplements for healing, while Scryer give good ones for damage (more on that later).

Now, once you’re at 375, you will choose a specialization, which are offered as short quests from the specialty vendors that sell the patterns for the sets (and the pattern for the cloth transmutes). If you are a healer, you want the Primal Mooncloth specialization to make the Primal Mooncloth set, so you will need to complete this quest. If you’re a shadow priest, or whichever warlock spec does shadow damage, or a frost mage, you want the Shadowcloth specialization to make the BOP frost/shadow damage Shadow’s Embrace set, so do this quest. If you’re a fire or arcane mage, or whichever warlock spec does fire damage, you want the Spellfire specialization to make the BOP fire/arcane damage Wrath of Spellfire set, so do this quest.

However, also buy the patterns for the other two transmutes, which do not require specialization. Each cloth transmute has a four day cooldown – but they are independent of one another. So buy all three patterns and try to keep them all on cooldown. Also, you will make TWO pieces of the cloth you specialize in for the mats of just one. So if you specialize in Primal Mooncloth, and do your transmute as often as possible, every four days, you will have Primal Mooncloth x2, Shadowcloth, and Spellcloth. What do you do with the other two? Trade them for Mooncloth with other tailors doing the same thing.

If you get impatient to craft your set and have the cash, you can just buy the specialty cloth on the AH – don’t pay more than 40g per piece; any price under 35g is actually pretty good. I did this for my chestpiece; I figured I’d make it back later on transmutes once I’ve finished crafting what I need to.

Each of the cloth transmutes has a special requirement.

Primal Mooncloth is not only the easiest, the mats are the cheapest. This requires you to transmute at a moonwell; Cenarion Refuge in Zangarmarsh has one right across from the botanist lady. You will get a one hour buff from it, too (regen 12 health and mana per 5 seconds for 1 hour).

Shadowcloth requires the Altar of Shadows in Shadowmoon Valley, right across from the Netherwing Island. It also has some of the most expensive materials (this also provides a one hour buff of +25 stamina).

Spellcloth requires you to be anywhere in Netherstorm. However, there’s a nasty surprise. Crafting this spawns a level 70 void elemental, and it’s tough. What everyone suggests, and I have verified from personal experience, is that you craft it in Area 52, right between the Ogres that guard the Arena awards building. Make sure you have an instant damage spell (wand or Shadow Word: Death for me) so that you can tag the elemental immediately on spawn and not get ganked – you want the help of the ogres, but you still want that elemental! When you kill him, he drops 1-3 motes each of fire and mana – up to a 30% refund on your materials. So make sure you are still providing damage to the fight; the ogres just help you take it down fast.

Talisker was able to solo one (wanted to see how hard it was), and I made it – with 35% health. If you can’t dps (heal types), I would not suggest trying to solo it. There is no buff from crafting this; but I’d rather have the mats refunded, so it’s cool.

Beyond making your three piece set, if you’re healing, you will also want rep with the Aldor so you can make Silver Spellthread at honored, and then Golden Spellthread at exalted. If you’re doing dps, you want rep with the Scryer so you can make Mystic Spellthread at honored, and then Runic Spellthread at exalted. These are the best caster leg augments in the game.

March 12, 2008

Stephen Colbert and World of Warcraft

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 5:06 pm by loolar

WOW Insider has an article about how Upper Deck , creator of the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game (WoW TCG), hired artist Todd Lockwood to produce an image of Stephen Colbert, of The Colbert Report, for a special card depicting him as a “Paladin for Truthiness” for the game:

Stefen Colbear Paladin of Truthiness

I love it. Absolutely love it. I don’t play the game or have any cards, but I’d buy a pack to get this one.

My problem is this (emphasis mine):

Unfortunately, Colbert’s agent nipped the idea in the bud. According to Lockwood, he didn’t even show the artwork to his client. Blizzard and Upper Deck presumably had hoped Colbert would feature the card on his show, giving them mega-publicity. An unknown individual leaked the image onto the net a few weeks ago, and WoW and Colbert fans excitedly spread it around in both card and wallpaper forms.

I’ve pounded the pavement enough in Hollywood for that throwaway line to make me furious. You want to know why the same crap keeps getting made in Hollywood? Because the gatekeepers – agents, executive producers, studio executives – have no clue about entertainment or their audience. They got into Hollywood because they had a useless law degree or MBA, were 23 and without prospects, and hey, they could meet hot actresses. I know, because I’ve met them. As a result, when good ideas come down the line that aren’t “cool” as they see it, they get nixed without their client ever knowing.

I only hope Colbert sees this somehow – and fires that twit that thought he knew better.

March 5, 2008

Gary Gygax goes to a Higher Plane

Posted in Fatherhood, Life in Los Angeles, Role Playing Games, Teaching, World of Warcrack at 4:15 pm by loolar

I certainly owe a tremendous debt to Gygax for giving my science fiction/fantasy adolescent mind an outlet; or perhaps he owes me thousands of hours of my life back – either way, I would be remiss if not marking his passing.

I rarely get to roleplay anymore; it seems that with children, most of us who can run a game just don’t have the time to plan it. And most of us have ceased to play the Wizards of the Coast update to the TSR classic rules anyway, preferring home-brewed systems light on mechanics and heavy on flavor. Additionally, World of Warcraft has become a surrogate of sorts, since I still get to see most of the group online.

That said, I’ve been engaging in roleplaying in one form or another since my early teens, which I am forced to admit means in excess of 25 years now (kindly don’t do the math). I actually look forward to teaching my son the idea when he’s old enough, the same way I taught my younger brother. I still believe the game prompts creativity and literary hunger, and anything that gets kids to read is okay with me.

In honor, I’m linking a fun Salon article, mostly for the video at the end – a Warcraft inspired take on “Mahna Mahna” as made famous by the Muppets. For those not in the know, ROTFLMAO means rolling on the floor laughing my ass off; the other gibberish sung by the main character are similarly-inspired bits of email, chat, text and video game words, or “leet speak” (l33t for “elite”).

March 4, 2008

Warcraft – Shadow Priest Level 70 Gear List – Non-Raid

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 11:01 am by loolar

Great post by Big Bear Butt Blogger on the gear you can assemble as a Level 70 Shadow Priest, which Talisker is, when not raiding the 25 man content yet, which Talisker isn’t. I’ve already power-leveled tailoring to get at the Frozen Shadoweave set.

Which, incidentally, cost me about 1,000 gold. Back to saving up for that epic mount. Doing heroics sort of helps; if you have the daily quest, you’ll at least come out with 10-15 gold after the repairs.

Another post soon to follow about where I’m farming Primals for the materials.

Warcraft – The Main Assist

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 10:42 am by loolar

I’ve been doing a lot of World of Warcraft reading lately, and I’ve decided that I should pass along things that might be helpful. I know this may not be of interest to many of you, so I will tag these posts Warcraft, and if you’re not a player, feel free to skip them.

This post comes from The Egotistical Priest, a blog concerned with the priest role – however, this post is about the concept of a Main Assist – basically, a dps role who picks which target to melt down while the tank is controlling general aggro. By definition, the tank should never be the MA, since they will be rotating targets to keep aggro. Even better in this post, however, is clarifying how to pick your MA, a very simple macro (two words) to help you help the MA, and why using raid markers isn’t enough.

Last night, it took us forever to down Hydromancer Thespia in Heroic Steamvaults – a good ten wipes – before we finally started dispelling her blasted lung debuff and cyclone (and came up with this without checking Thottbot – we were proud). Anyway, we were having problems before that, and largely because we were not focusing our dps the way that Ego describes. Give this post a read – if you’re raiding or doing heroics, you really need a new level of coordination.

February 2, 2008

World of Warcraft = D&D?

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 5:55 pm by loolar

Near as I can tell, the online roleplaying magazine Places to Go, People to Be hasn’t published an issue since the one featuring this article – perhaps Blizzard took offense, and then took them out

Either way, it’s an hilarious read for all us old “paper and pencil” folks. Thanks to Tony for the link.

November 12, 2007

The Death of the Entertainment “Industry”

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, Movies, Music, World of Warcrack at 11:57 am by loolar

Thanks to Adam Shostack who forwarded this wonderful and simple breakdown (intentional word choice by me) of the current status of the demise of the Entertainment Industry, and it’s hastening by the current Writer’s Strike, as written by Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Netscape and inventor of the graphical web browser – you’re using one right now).

Those who know me know that I have been predicting, since I worked at MGM years ago (left the company in 2000), that this would all come to pass. I just never stated it as elegantly as Andreessen. My argument went something like this:

In the beginning, the studios controlled everything; actors, writers, directors, labor, etc. Actors were brought in and trained in song, dance, elocution, you name it; same with the others. It was an apprenticeship-based model where the studios acted as sponsors; in return, your loyalty was expected and given.

The actors were the first to defect, when big-name stars wanted to go make movies with other stars on projects they cared about, but which happened to be “under contract” at other studios. The actors unionized first, and seeing actors no longer as the “flagship brands” of certain studios became commonplace in the 50s.

The directors were next, heightened by the auter movement of the 60s, and the influx of foreign films. Suddenly directors were acknowledged as being more than glorified cameramen, and they were in demand for the unique perspective and vision they brought to a project. They unionized, and likewise were no longer beholden to certain studios.

The writers followed next in the 60s and 70s. Gone were the sweatshop-style typewriter farms churning out episodic, made-to-order serials and shows.

Finally, the producers got into the gig, separating themselves from the studio architecture to become “independent” producers; this was the birth of “indie” cinema in the 80s.

So what did Studios still provide?

Well, the talent was all independent, but someone still had to foot the bill. Studios provided production financing, insurance, post-production financing, marketing and distribution.

But the indie producers eroded the first three in the 80s. Soon venture capital and bank money was available from stodgy book keepers who wanted the sexiest investment you could find – making movies. Which left marketing and distribution.

When I joined MGM in the late 90s, that was all that was left. And once I got a look at the financing models (I worked in Budgets and Forecasts), I was stunned and appalled. Without exception, the amount of money spent to market a film was at least equal to half the production costs (and in most cases, more). So if we spent $60 million making a movie, we were spending at least $30 million to market it. That business model can’t survive for long (and for MGM, it didn’t). Studios quickly began to co-finance films in the mid-90s to share the burden and the risk. Most big pictures nowadays are co-productions, except for the “surefire” hits with built-in audiences, like SPIDER-MAN.

In fact, the only thing keeping the studios afloat was the DVD revolution. I know this. I was directly working with the numbers of a major studio every day. Without the DVD library, we were tits-up in a year. It’s no mystery that two years ago, once consumers had finished replacing their VHS library, MGM ran out of gas.

So I said, with only marketing and distribution keeping the studios relevant, how long is it before the distribution takes over (the movie theaters), and begins creating their own content? But the internet got there first.

Now, in 1999, most of the internet ventures failed. Broadband wasn’t available to enough of the market, and most desktop computers were barely up to the task. Additionally, content creators didn’t understand the new model, and just tried to create 1/2 hour shows like TV. But it was just a matter of time.

Enter YouTube. The user-creators have figured out that a short needs to be no longer than ten minutes, and most try to clock in at three minutes, just like a top 40 hit on the radio. So that’s the distribution. And the marketing? The best kind – viral, or “word of mouth”; or, email by forwarding, as the reality has shown.

The studios are already extinct; they just don’t know it yet.

They can repeat the mistakes of the now entirely irrelevant music business, or they can embrace the change, as Andreessen so elegantly outlines it. My guess is they will embrace nothing, and will sink like the bloated carcasses they are. Studios are no longer lean, mean vanity operations of a single creative executive such as Jack Warner or Daryl Zanuck in the 40s and 50s; they’re corporations, with boards and shareholders and entirely too many bureaucrats whose sole interest is in preserving the status quo. Moreover, since the various studios work together to create what the industry is, the motivation to innovate and break from the herd is even lower.

And so I predict they will continue to spend $150 million on movies that fewer people come to watch, spending in excess of the budget in vain efforts to reach someone, anyone, to convince them to come see. But they won’t be watching – they’ll be on the internet, playing World of Warcraft, watching YouTube, texting pictures and videos to friends, and finally, making their own entertainment, with cheap cameras, video game clips (the new “machinima” genre), and with their own friends and family as stars.

Good. Welcome back to the populist storyteller model. It’s been a few centuries.

October 3, 2007

Halo 3 – less bang, more whimper

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 9:49 am by loolar

There is really only one “spoiler” here, and it’s not that big; frankly, if you played H2, you know most of this.

My buddy Ben and I got together for an eight hour session and played through the first dozen or so missions; judging by the missions displayed on the screen and where we are in the story, I think we played about 3/4 of the game.

This will not be some fawning, sycophantic, tongue kiss to Halo 3 (H3 from here on out). Many of the things that pissed me off about Halo 2 (H2) were left in the game, and some were made arguably worse. In the interest of disclosure, you should know that I played the first Halo (H1) up past Assault on the Control Room (ah, how I love you, best level in the game), in the hours preceding playing H3. So my experience of the first game was clear in my memory – its intuitive, smooth flow; its polish; its visceral satisfaction (things just WORK right, with the possible exception of the controlled chaos of driving a warthog, which, admittedly, has its own charm).

First, start with…

THE POSITIVE

  • Vehicle handling is much better; the ghost is a joy to drive; the mongoose is a lot of fun too. Much more “solid” feedback to the controls.
  • I love that you can now destroy anything – including a gigantor, ginormous, battle walker tank thing – if you shoot it long enough.
  • The grunts still have the best lines in the game. “I’m here to help!”
  • That frickin hammer weapon. Holy butt pimples, so this is what it feels like to be Thor! Almost worth the price of admission – except for the repeated frustration of only finding the thing at the end of a level.
  • Gorgeous to look at. Photo-realistic, lush, melt in your mouth but not in your hands, quick, change your shorts you sticky mess environments.
  • Lots more fun vehicles.
  • You can now see your other weapon on the character model, holstered at your hip or on your back. Nice.
  • Online cooperative. At last. Too bad I killed my XBOX Live account a year ago.

Now, what’s wrong with it? Ah, where to start.

GAME MANAGEMENT TOOLS

  • The non-intuitive menus of H2 have gotten worse by an order of magnitude (Magnitude ordered it to be so). You load the level – and then have to tell it to start, too? Good luck figuring out how to change your controller to invert-look. FIFTEEN MINUTES of us digging around in the menus until we accidentally hit a D-Pad to the right and suddenly found a new set of menus. Yay, controller setup as an Easter Egg! Fun, kids!
  • Why can’t you alter your profile when in the game; specifically, your controller setup? To be fair, this might be a Microsoft XBOX choice of bungle, forcing you to update a gamer profile when out of a game (why? I guess to make them “consistent” – but shouldn’t the profile be game-specific anyway?), but it makes it ridiculously arduous to adjust things like look sensitivity, which should be easy to do on the fly. It was easy in H1.
  • Can’t save a coop game at checkpoints, like the solo campaign – why not? Hard drive space aplenty. This legacy issue from H1 has no excuse for why it hasn’t been fixed.

THE HEADS UP DISPLAY (HUD)

So many elegant features of the original were changed or discarded in H2 and now H3, making the game harder to play and less intuitive. Is it the MS influence, getting rid of the Mac-style, intuitive, elegant UI?

  • HUD makes it very difficult to tell the difference between covenant weapons (brute pistol, covenant rocket launcher and grenade gun all look the same).
  • HUD words are tiny and nearly illegible.
  • Stupid “game tips” about my shield being low and telling me how to throw a grenade. In the original, a single message popped up telling you how to use something ONCE – and then it was gone forever.
  • HUD mission arrow is tiny, the same color as other things (vs. the orange of the original), and frequently disappears; it never converts to a range diamond when you’re in visual range.
  • Why no life bars? Discarded since H2, it makes no sense. C’mon, how many of us loved playing H1 “gonzo style,” with a full shield but a lone sliver of red health bar? Give me that “oh shit” valve for when the shield goes down. In H2 & H3, if the shield goes down, you die. Weak. What in the hell is the point of all that armor, again?

THE GAME PLAY

  • You can’t both play as Master Chief in coop mode. Excuse me? According to a review on CNN, which is likely quoting, word for word, a Bungie/Microsoft press release, “‘Halo 3’ lets up to four gamers play through the entire campaign together in a cooperative mode… There’s only one Master Chief, however, so additional gamers will take on roles of other characters, such as an Arbiter alien, each with unique skills.” Well, apparently, while there’s just one Master Chief, there’s no limit to idiots with their head up their anal sphincter at Bungie/Microsoft, when they unilaterally decide to give the finger to players by not letting them be the star of the game. I don’t want to be a goddamn Elite – killing Elites was the high point of H1. The worst confusion in H2 was trying to figure out who the hell you were allowed to shoot. Cripes, how about we develop a Star Wars game where Luke’s sidekick is a Stormtrooper? Good job! So, do they limit only one player to being Master Chief in the head to head, player vs. player games? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  • The world is gorgeous and full of texture; unfortunately, it also means that weapons and grenades and deployable cover are all but invisible among the background “noise” of the environment. Too much time hunting through terrain looking for guns. Most games have this problem; they have yet to master the way our visual system “picks out” objects, which means too often, important things are all too well camouflaged. Somehow H1 managed to make weapons easy to find, but still had a rich environment. Some of that was glowing covenant weapons. Some of that was realizing I don’t give a screaming zit how lush the terrain is if I can’t figure out where I just dropped my damn shotgun.
  • Since when is the game about going back and forth? Get to the command center – now, go secure the perimeter – now, back to the command center – now, back to the perimeter… we’re doing the cha cha! The only way this was ever fun was when it was go all the way in, and then all the way back out (e.g., the 343 Guilty Spark level), and even then, those levels were different on the way back out (yay Flood).
  • Why no left trigger elements to vehicles; particularly, the guns on the Scorpion? You’re left with a moronic marine to run the guns. By the way, don’t ever, ever, ever let the marines drive. “I know where it is!” the Marine declares eagerly as he takes the wheel. The only trouble is, “it” seems to be a porto-potty on the other end of the level.
  • Why is the needler no longer dual-wield? What a disappointment.
  • There are more types of grenades, but you can hold fewer of them. I don’t get it. And frankly, I don’t need it. Plasmas and frags, baby, just give me plasmas and frags.

THE STORY ELEMENTS

  • The cut scenes are still obtuse, incoherent, difficult to follow, disjointed, and unintelligible. Ben and I were constantly asking each other, “wait, what did he say?” and neither of us knew. Why hasn’t the dialogue been mixed so that you can hear it? Too much audio twiddling with radio static has left in game “chatter” a muddy mess, too.
  • The whole plot device where Mind Head or Big Brain or Doot Wad or whatever is suddenly a sentient controller of the Flood is just a weakloaf covered in weaksauce. This was already a boob-move when Star Trek made the Borg controlled by a Borg Queen just to give us a “super villain” (“I’ll get you next time, Superman!” (c) Cliche Unlimited). The Borg – and the Flood – are interesting precisely because they’re mindless. The height of this moronic toilet-floater plot idea is when the Flood help you attack Truth, with the help of Elites. I turned to Ben and said, “First Elites are our friends, now the Flood. So, who do we still get to shoot? Can I shoot you?” If the game had forced me to play as a Flood character who believes the Flood are mislead, I would have destroyed Microsoft with explosive, projectile diarrhea.*
  • I still don’t understand why the “prophet” Truth thinks it’s a good idea to activate the rings. Besides all the gibberish about being “saved” and being “chosen,” he doesn’t ever mention the fact that he and all his followers will be sucked by the cosmic dust buster, and how they expect to be rewarded for this idiocy. Radical Islam at least goes through the trouble of promising dozens of virgins to suicidal maniacs; what do you get for wiping out yourself, your allies, your entire species, and all life in the universe? The list better start with Jessica Alba.
  • The psychoactive-dementia-inspired visions of Cortana, crossed with a bad VHF transmission (apparently there is no high def in the future). What the hell was the point of that? So, Master Chief, what’s up with you and the AI chick? Are you two, you know, “crackling,” in the parlance of tech sex**? Is this really the “romantic interest”? Who cares! Just download a new one and move on, Master Chief. She’s just too psycho, with all those annoying mid-battle, incoherent phone calls and video voice mails.

THE FINAL OPINION
Just play Halo again. Put it on legendary and cackle madly. Who needs to dual wield when you can hold 8 grenades? All the frills of H3 still don’t make up for the collection of minor irritations, which, on the whole, detract from what makes a game great: wanting to play it over and over again. Yes, it’s gorgeous to look at. So is Jessica Alba – but you still can’t have sex with her. All the looks in the world don’t mean a vanilla coke and a boiled egg when you’re in the middle of the battle and trying to figure out how to drop your left hand gun so you can throw a grenade and I’M DEAD! Wheee! It’s certainly not worth ponying up $500+ for a console/extra controllers just for this game. Do what I did – get someone else to buy it.

*I may do this anyway.
**Not literally true. I just made that up. It’s not parlance until you use it, too.

March 27, 2007

Asking for directions

Posted in World of Warcrack at 12:39 am by loolar

Okay, so I’m a sufferer of the addiction known as World of Warcraft, or Warcrack, to us junkies.  Just today I cramped up my wrist trying to bottle feed my son at the same time as I played one-handed using only the mouse.  Hey, that poor prisoner really needed my help escaping.

And, like most things, much as I love it, it could use some improvement.  The great thing is that, as players of the game know, the developers do change and redesign as needs dictate.  Hopefully this post will get to them.   Perhaps I should set more realistic goals.  Hopefully this post will get to anyone.

At any rate, the game has a fun mechanic wherein, as you discover the world, a map interface gets filled in.  You can “discover” new areas, which in turn are rendered complete on your map.  Helps you to see where you’ve been, and how to get back home.

Except in the places where such a map would arguably be the most useful – dungeons (or “instances” as they’re known in the game, since your group enters the dungeon and thereby creates a single “instance” of its existence, accessible only by your group.  Keeps down the griefing from other players, and allows you to actually accomplish the quests without competing with hundreds of other players at a time).

As any intrepid explorer knows, it’s a lot easier to find your way when you have landmarks like mountains.  But once you’re digging around in someone’s burial crypt, the landmarks are hard to find (“I’m sorry, was this your femur?”).  Why not have a similar system, where the instance map “fills in” as you progress?  Enterprising players have already used a combination of screen capture and amateur rendering to create virtual maps you can find online – why not have it be part of the game?

I think the game should offer sections of the instance maps as you accomplish goals or overcome challenges.  Don’t give me the map until I’ve “been there and done that.”  But afterwards, it sure would be nice to be able to see how it works – and how the heck to get out.

I’d also like some sort of virtual “breadcrumbs” to mark paths through dungeons.  Real life spelunkers will use chalk or grease pencils to mark paths through the depths; it makes sense that adventurers might do the same.  The game already allows you to toggle symbol tags on monsters (helps groups coordinate tactics, as in, “get the diamond first, then the club, then the heart”); a similar system for the environment would be just as useful.  Especially in Sunken Temple, which is a rubik’s cube nightmare of spatial orientation.

Of course, maybe they intentionally left these features out, wanting you to get more lost in the dungeon and therefore spend more time “there” (read: playing the game).  After all, that’s what they do in Vegas, right?  There are no maps in casinos.  Hmm… maybe that addiction analogy just got creepy.

Better go play some more.