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Guest Post: Raiding on the road

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I have been playing World of Warcraft on the road for the last three years now, and what an adventure it has been. I started out on an old HP Pavilion zv6000 weighing in at about 8 pounds, with a 800 x 600 resolution and 800 MB of RAM. Not only was the beast of a laptop fun to haul through security lines at the airport, but it was heavy and slow. 25-man raids were next to impossible (I'm talking to you, Heigan), with frame rates under 5 FPS most of the time. I was eventually convinced to buy a new machine, and I decided to go with a MacBook Pro. I'm currently running version 4, which is the 17" widescreen with the Intel Core 2 Duo with 2.6 Mzh GHz processors and 4 GB of RAM. It's a pretty decent machine, with frame rates in the 30s in Dalaran and 25-man frame rates around 5-25 FPS, depending on the fight (less if I'm trying to FRAPS a fight or Marrowgar's fire is involved).

The biggest changes I have made between playing on my desktop (Dell XPS 720 series) at home and my MacBook on the road have been in regard to addons and special effect details in the video settings. I have optimized every addon I use to keep the lowest memory usage possible (for example, Skada instead of Recount), making use of all 4 GB I have on that machine and ensuring my machine is doing the best it can. I use Addon Control Panel to turn off every non-essential addon come raid time, including Auctioneer, Jamba (for when I am dual-boxing), SexyMap, etc. I love Addon Control Panel, as it lets me save addon sets in different states depending on what I am doing. I have a raiding 10-man version, a raiding 25-man version, and questing-, leveling- and auction-based sets that I can flip between at the click of my mouse.

When raiding, I ensure everything on my laptop is disabled except for three things: smcFanControl for Macs, which helps keep my computer cool by allowing better control over fan speeds; Ventrilo, so that I can be in communication with my guild; and WoW. Everything else I can quit out of (including web browsers) has been turned off. I use a small half-headset microphone (a Dynex DX-840) for Vent that fits neatly into my suitcase and works just perfectly for raiding.

The unknown variable

Aside from optimizing my machine to perform as well as possible, there is one variable that always pops up as the unknown factor that determines whether I will be able to raid on the road or not. Time zone differences? I can work around that. Delayed flight? Out of my realm of control. Paid vs. free internet? Don't get me started on that. (Priority Club hotel chains almost always have it free, whereas at Hilton and Starwood, you normally have to pay for internet.) No, the biggest variable of them all is the dreaded internet availability. As an officer of a 25-man raiding guild, my guild members know I do my best to be available for raids; however, sometimes things are beyond my control.

Have you ever raided in a hotel janitor's closet? Best internet connection ever for my "international business meeting" (aka Karazhan) at 9 p.m., since the internet in my hotel room wouldn't work and that was the only guaranteed internet connection the hotel receptionist offered me. Ever had 5 ms latency? That was pretty awesome, when my business trip took me to a location right outside my server's data center in Boston. Unfortunately, I've also spiked over 6,000 ms latency in the middle of a fight, due to shared internet connections in the hotel and other people's eating up the bandwidth of the shared connection. I've played on wireless connections when wired is not available. I've played on a cellular Air Card for minor questing (raiding 25-man heroic ICC is pretty much out of the question on that), and there have been days I've chosen to skip raids due to business dinners and meetings beyond my control or due to just being too jet-lagged to want to play. I've missed out on progression kills when I was on the road at the time my guild downed the boss ... but I was available the next week when we downed them again.

Tips for raiding on the road

In all my travels, there are a few things I've picked up that have successfully allowed me to raid at as competitive a level as my schedule permits.
  • Choose your addons carefully. Less is more when it comes to optimizing your machine's specs. Quartz or other addons that add in latency meters also help keep your DPS reasonably close to where it should be on less volatile networks.
  • If you plan on raiding at 8 p.m., try to leave a three-hour window between when your plane lands and when you estimate you will get to the hotel, in order to have a buffer for dinner and delays.
  • Check your hotel's connection information ahead of time. Wired internet is always preferred, and smaller hotels will have fewer people competing for bandwidth.
  • Keep your guild informed. Are you planning to attend an 8 p.m. EST raid, but you're working in Pacific time? Let your guild or officers know that you will do your best, but a 5 p.m. PST raid start may be difficult and you may be late.
  • Real life is still greater than World of Warcraft, no matter how much we all enjoy our virtual lives. If you're on vacation, do your best to enjoy it and spend time away from the computer. Business trips may offer a little extra leeway, but if you have a chance to socialize with your customers or coworkers, take the opportunity. Mobs respawn, but real life only happens once.
Happy travels!

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Filed under: Add-Ons, Raiding, Guest Posts

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