Monday, February 28, 2011

5 min Jager break...

Over a week of silence on this blog? Craziness.

Last week was a pretty chaotic one for me. I was pushing hard at work to finish up the project that's been taking most of my office time. And on the home front I was busy making final preparations for the ski weekend that me and a couple of my buddies run every year, and then actually going on said ski weekend. This year we had 35 people. It makes for a very fun, but very stressful four days.

What's amusing to me is how often my mind wandered off and started comparing the trip to leading raids. Or, in a broader sense, a guild.

First, we have limited space on the trip and want to make sure it gets filled with the right amount of people. It's cool that you want to come and just hang out, and we do like you...but this is a ski trip. We want to keep as many spots open as possible for people that actually plan to ski.

Alternately, either drama tends to follow you around, or nobody going on the trip knows who you are. We want to keep things comfortable for everyone, so it isn't really going to work out having you here.

We need to make sure we're stocked up on all the mats stuff we need. Food for breakfasts and dinners. Lift tickets for those without their own passes. Booze. Movies. Games. Booze. Did I already say that? We go through a lot of booze...

Who has all the gear they need already? Who doesn't and what do we need to do to help them get it?

What kind of content are people running? Greens, Blues, Blacks, Bowls/Glades? (Dungeons, Heroics, Raids, H Raids...)

Are people in the right teams? No one skis alone.

Which "officers" oversee cooking? Cleaning? Each of the houses people are staying in? General behavior?

How do we get everyone up on the mountain? Who managed to get themselves there and who needs a summon?'s a little geeky. Or a lot geeky. But little thoughts like that help alleviate the stress and make the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another familial update

Saturday is going to be an...interesting day. Lemme 'splain.

This past Sunday I was at my cousin's engagement party, as was the rest of my family. As it often does when we're together, the conversation with my dad eventually turned to WoW. (Honestly, I don't think we've ever talked so much about a single topic together in my lifetime as much as we have about WoW over the past 14 months.)

To my surprise, he's decided to give dungeon-running a try. I honestly never thought he'd have an interest in this because when he started playing he was very intent on making sure that he could spend all his time solo. And his history has been that, even in games that have multi-player components, he's always stuck to the solo side of them.

In the 14 months he's been playing WoW, he's done a lot of research. He discovered addons on his own and installed several to help him out. He learned how to use Wowhead to give him a hand in completing trickier quests.

When he started trying to run dungeons he researched what it would take as a Warrior. He decided that he would try tanking and looked up what a tank's responsibility is in a group. He also figured out what kind of gear he could buy on his own (with gold) and what he'd need JP to buy. He read up on some of the dungeons and the basic strategies therein. He read up on how to use the LFD tool. So in that regard, I'm actually really proud of him. I've run with guildies that have done less...

But, WoW being the complex game that it is, and my dad still learning all those complexities, missed that to tank dungeons at max level (or any level above 30, really) a Warrior needs to be Prot specced. He was still running Fury, with a shield in one hand and a 2H in the other. I cringed inwardly when I heard this and tried my very best not to let it show on my face. I can only imagine the things other puggers were saying to him and my only measure of comfort was that he really doesn't pay much attention to the chat window, so he probably didn't see most of it.

Not surprisingly, he said that he hadn't completed a dungeon yet before everyone would drop or he'd get kicked. Although he got pretty close to finishing Throne of the Tides once. Apparently they got to Neptulon.

So looking ahead to Saturday...

Norfin and I agreed that if my dad wants to start running group content, it's probably time to bring him into the guild. He asked me if I could spend some time with him, in person, teaching him some of the fundamentals of group play, as well as some of the other things he just hasn't gotten a handle on yet, like the AH, professions, and dual-speccing.

So Saturday I'll be packing up my rig and heading down to spend the day there with him. I'm gonna bring him into the guild, get him on Vent, wrangle up some of the more patient members of the guild and try to run a full dungeon or two. Then I'll probably stay there after dinner for the guild's Saturday night raid so he can get a view into what insanity is at the end of the trail he's started down.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Update on life and the Conclave

I feel obligated to apologize for my sudden decrease in posting frequency. I had about 7 weeks starting around the time of the release of Cata where I took as much time off of work as I spent in the office. It really messed with my focus and I started letting things slip. In an effort to refocus myself, I made a conscious effort to really buckle down and get shit done. That meant that the hour or so I used most days to blog (more for those uber-long guide posts with lots of links) had to get shoved off to the side until I could catch back up.

I'm just about there. A few more weeks, I think. Until then I'm probably going to be at the 1-2 posts/week pace I've been holding recently, rather than the 3-4 posts/week pace I tried to keep up through the first year.

That aside, I do want to spend a quick moment to say that, so far, I've enjoyed raiding in Cata more than any other expansion. It's challenging, but engaging. While my guild is only 2/12 so far (closing in on #3), those two kills already filled me with a huge sense of accomplishment.

On Friday night we took on the Conclave of the Winds. It was a hand-picked 10-man team of some of our best raiders. We spent 20 attempts learning the fight, tweaking our strategy, and honing our timing. On the proclaimed "for-real real last attempt of the night" we got the kill...anti-climactic as it was. ("Did we do it? We won? We won!") Seriously. There was no flourish. No big flash or crash. They go out with a whimper and if you don't know what you're looking for (like we didn't), then it takes you a couple seconds to notice it. The only reason I knew for sure we'd won is that the EPGP boss kill window popped up.

I have to say, though, it might be my new favorite fight in all of WoW. It's complex, but not overly chaotic (like Omn(omnom)itron) feels). It's also the only fight I can immediately think of as a raid lead where I had to ask for constant feedback from my raiders. I couldn't just look around and get an instant handle on what was going on. I needed their input. I think I'm going to have to start asking for that kind of feedback more regularly, though on 25s I'm definitely going to have to make sure I'm getting it from specific people.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Learning LUA

So I have this little secret. I let a few people in on it, but mostly I've kept it close.

A few months ago I applied for a job at Blizzard. It was a position doing pretty much what I'm doing now for my current employer: .NET internal tools development.

I wasn't sure I truly wanted the job for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I'd have to move halfway across the country and leave behind pretty much all I've known for my whole life. I was born and raised in Colorado and while I've lived in several cities during my 30 years here, I've never live outside the state. Hell, I've never lived more than a 15 minute drive from I-25.

I'd also have to convince Norfin that moving to SoCal would be awesome. Or at least tolerable. (I'd have to convince myself, too. I love having seasons.)

Nevertheless, I thought, "Hell, why not? Let's see where this goes."

The problem was that I approached the application process with that "I don't even know if I want this" mindset stuck in the back of my head. Which meant I unintentionally half-assed the whole thing. I believe I had every qualification that they were looking for, but about 5 weeks after submitting the app I got a form rejection email.

Granted, rightly so. I can see that now. But it pissed me off. Lit a fire, if you will. It would have been one thing had I gotten to the interview stage and then got rejected. It still would have stung, but I would have accepted that. But I didn't even get that far and, dammit, I'm better than that.

I've kept a casual eye on their job board since, and while some .NET dev positions have shown up here and there, I'm getting the impression that if I really want to put myself in a good position to get an interview, I need to learn LUA.

I've thought about doing this before. When I'm working on something that I can see value in, I enjoy programming, even in my leisure time. The problem was mostly that, every time I had an idea for an addon (which is the primary entry point for LUA programming), a quick search turned out at least 2 people that had already done it. I hate reinventing the wheel, especially just for the sake of doing it. So I've never really gone anywhere with it.

At times I've opened up my current addons and poked around in the code to see if I could follow what was happening. Once or twice I've fixed a small bug or issue that I found. But nothing major.

I had some Amazon gift certs laying around (thank you, credit card rewards), so I nabbed the 2nd ed. of World of Warcraft Programming. I haven't thumbed through a programming book this thick since college. (Or even during college, if I'm being really honest.) I'm gonna start playing around, learning some stuff, and seeing what I can find.

I have a hard goal of getting an interview at Blizz by Summer '12. Again, whether I get rejected at that point or don't but decide that it's not the job for me, that's fine. I just have to get that far. I need to prove to myself that I really am that good.

I do have an idea for an addon to get started with. I don't even care at this point whether or not someone's already done it. I can't worry about that. I need a starting point.

I have a goal and I'm going to get there.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cheating on WoW

I'd say I feel guilty. Or dirty. Like I was sneaking around the back of a long-time lover. But none of that is true...and not just because I have a knack for being a heartless bastard.

I managed to get in on the RIFT beta with the help of one of my guildies. The beta for RIFT is somewhat interesting in that instead of being a continuous thing, it's broken up into separate events.

This past weekend was beta #6 and it ran from Friday afternoon until today.

It was kind of a bad weekend for me to get in on it. For one, I had the goal of driving my Hunter, Grevioux, up to level 62 this weekend. At the start of the weekend he was 49. Even with the increased speed in leveling, that's a time-consuming goal.

I also knew that today would be pretty much out of the picture as far as any playtime was concerned as I had a Super Bowl party to prepare for/attend. So my weekend really only allowed me about 8 hours to play around in Tirion's world.

I'm still not 100% certain on what I can say and what I can't. There was some sort of NDA agreement that I agreed to, but it wasn't really clear to what extent I wasn't allowed to talk about the game. It was all in legalese, which I don't speak.

That said, I think there's a few things I can say. I just have to stick to generalities.

The game looks amazing, but it's a double-edged sword. While it has the more realistic and high-res graphics that I've always hoped WoW would update itself to, I constantly found myself thinking, "now I understand why WoW sticks to a brighter color palate and toonier feel." Things blend together a lot, and the longer you spend playing, the harder it can become to distinguish stuff. This isn't a great thing to begin with, but when your own character doesn't look crisp and clear and stand out strongly, it becomes tiresome.

The strongest point of the game is definitely the Rift events. I found myself frequently veering off my questing path to participate in them.

The Soul system is intriguing. There's a lot of depth there and a lot of room for possibility. Like my early days in WoW, though, I find myself getting obsessive and trying to spread my talent points around somewhat evenly rather than strongly specializing. The whole fact that I got to choose all three talent trees out of a larger set further encourages this behavior. Why would I choose something and then not spend points there?

In general, I think my personality would drive me to try as many different combinations of souls for each class as I could and I'd end up overwhelming myself with it.

I didn't make it to a high enough level to try the first dungeon, but I'm hoping I'm able to do so when the next beta event rolls around. I'm anxious to see how it feels playing in a group, as that's what I really enjoy in the MMO experience.

Do I think it's going to pull me away from WoW once it's released? Unlikely. But I will say this: if I wasn't playing WoW and I was actively looking for an MMO to play, I would definitely get into this one.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Magmaw down (sort of)

So over the weekend, my guild and I got our first real taste of Cataclysm raiding. We headed into BWD to challenge Magmaw to a 1-on-1 25 battle.

We had to compromise to make it happen. Prior to raiding we (the officers) said we would be checking gems/enchants/etc and determining eligibility from that. This was a huge step away from our Wrath-era stance of "the first X tanks/healers/dps available get the spots." What we ended up doing was taking the 25 most prepared, even if we believed they weren't really prepared enough.

From there, the ends to which our raiding weekend (Fri/Sat nights) was successful depends on your measuring stick of success.

By the end of the second night, we had made leaps-and-bounds improvements over our first few attempts. But our best single attempt of the whole weekend was 45%, 2 minutes away from the enrage timer.

While there were a lot of small areas we could improve on, the biggest single contributing factor was that we just weren't handling the parasites well.

I don't consider the weekend a failure by any means, though. While it's true we weren't really close to defeating Magmaw, people were happy to be raiding again. Through the whole weekend there was relatively little grumbling and several people thanked me for the opportunity to participate.

We finally have a solid idea (beyond reading about other peoples' experiences) what it's going to take to begin progressing through raids. And while we're not quite there yet, we're close. Close enough that we're not going to stop trying and revert back to spending our raid nights running Heroics.

On Sunday night I rounded up a group of 10 of our better and more prepared raiders and went back in. We still wiped several times and the eventual kill attempt was anything but clean. Had Magmaw's head come off the spike before we killed him, we would have been flying back from the graveyard instead of passing out loot.

But, at the very least, I have a much better concept of the fight from a raid leader's perspective than I did either of the previous two nights. I can watch as many videos as I want and read all the strats that are out there...but until I've iterated over the fight several times, I never really understand it.

We're going to go back at him this weekend with a group of 25...hopefully one a little more prepared than the last. I think we can make even more progress, and potentially bag him. If not, we'll probably switch it over to Omn(omnom)itron. It's not any easier, really...but at least it'll be different. (After our Magmaw 10 kill, we threw ourselves at its mercy for a while to try to learn it better.)

What our kill shot taught me is that there is absolutely no carrying anyone. At least not right now. Everyone has to pull their weight. If a group of 10 of our better/more prepared players eke out a win, a group of 25 is going to struggle. That's going to be the name of the game for a while. As a raid leader, I'm going to have to find ways to keep morale up. But I can also use it as a carrot to dangle in front of people to get them to improve. I didn't really have that in Wrath.

Gonna be interesting.