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The server hamster is having a coronary

Yes folks, 2.2 has gone live and most of you who are reading this have already been greeted by the lightning-fast login screen that was a result of of the new patch disabling all your add-ons.

Fear not, you can "Enable Out-Of-Date Addons" and most of them will return to life. Some however, most notably those that affect unit frames, may not behave as you would like them to. As a result, a lot of you are hitting the add-on sites right now. The add-on site I visit regularly hasn't moved this slow since 2.0 went live. The hamsters powering the servers of these sites are near collapse, as pictured. Here are a few notes and tips to get you through the next 48 hours and back in the game.
  1. At the time of this writing, voice chat isn't enabled yet on the launch servers. Don't ask in General. Don't shout from the rooftops. It's not online yet. It probably will be soon.
  2. Be kind to the server rodents. There are lots of good add-on sites on the internet, and if we can distribute the traffic a little bit, it will make the experience less arduous for everybody. Curse seems to be getting hit pretty hard at the moment. If it's not responding or too slow, don't forget WoW Interface, or
  3. If you use a lot of Ace2 addons, you might want to fire up the updater application, or check
  4. If all else fails you might luck-out with Google or by looking in the readme.txt of the add-on in question to find the author's personal site.
  5. There's always strength in numbers. Many hands make light work. All those folks you've bragged your addons to are likely looking for the update too. Share information.

Filed under: Patches, Odds and ends, News items, Add-Ons, Features, Humor

Chinese MMO puts the kibosh on 'dem "less feminine" female characters

The illustrious and oft-misunderstood cheese connoisseur Turpster of WoW Radio made a comment in the WoW Insider podcast last weekend to the effect that everybody in World of Warcraft is a guy, which was especially amusing because Elizabeth Harper was on the show with me. Warcry's Razorwire posted an article this morning that just about made my eyes pop out of my freakin' head on this very subject.

To make a long story short, as one of my friend's often says, a Chinese MMO has banned the account of every male player in the game who played a female character. Yes Virginia, they made every player in the game verify with a webcam. While not a foolproof system (especially if you have a female family member or friend who can be bought for the right price) it obviously netted them results.

Since the first day I played World of Warcraft I've heard adult players like myself tell me how much extra they'd be willing to pay to play on a server where age of majority is verified somehow. This kind of verification though, seems to me to be just a little bit over-the-top. At the same time though, I can see where certain segments of the gaming population would be jumping-up-and-down excited about it.

What do you think about gender verification? Please keep it clean and respectful. I have the prototype for that paladin ranged weapon BRK talked about yesterday and I'm not afraid to use it.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, News items

The key(s) to not getting banned

Just yesterday in fact, I was at my local computer store after having a bite of lunch to make my semi-regular browse of their wares. One of the items I saw that screamed "Buy me! Please!" was a Zboard Fang. I'd seen them at EB before, but they were always hanging on a rung so high you'd have to be Michael Jordan standing on the back of a Tauren to reach them. These Fangs were close enough to the ground for a gnome to reach so I picked up the box and had a look. I am definitely a keyboard guy. I hardly ever use the mouse at all – except to click totems on occasion with my shaman. The allure of the Fang and it's programmability was strong though. I only set it down and walked away when I started to think about how long it would take me to get used to it.

Today while following a story tip, I found a proverbial bee's nest of forum activity about one of the Fang's competitors, the Logitech G15. Although the G15 has a full QWERTY keyboard and and adds a programmable LCD display, it's core function and purpose is the same. It allows you to define programmable keys for in-game functions.

The question arises (and has arisen many, many, many times before) whether these products are legal for in-game use. The answer from more than one blue poster in the previous link is: "YES! They are legal!" Blizzard draws the line between right and wrong not at what keyboard (or accessory) you use, but what you use it for. A button to open your bags is not going to get your account banned. A timed macro to run around in a circle and kill everything in your path while you watch Twister in the next room will get you banned, because you're essentially "botting" at that point. The line seems to be drawn between attended and unattended play, but common sense is clearly the watch word here.

What other hardware input device toys do you use in your day-to-day play? What do you think about these Zboard and Logitech products that are marketed so aggressively to the MMOG market? Your comments are key!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Cheats, Odds and ends, Features

The night before voice chat

Tomorrow, if all the prophecies come true, Patch 2.2.0 will finally arrive to a server near you. A subset of the server population will experience the new voice chat to test out as the service is slowly phased to the rest of the population.

Many of us who have the privilege of being in "good" guilds have been yakking away happily on Ventrilo or Teamspeak (or even Google Talk or Skype in smaller groups) for quite some time. But to the "small guild" community, tomorrow and the days that follow may represent one of the biggest milestones in game development since the launch.

To those who are uninitiated to the world of voice, let me offer you a few tips to get you through your introduction to this wonderful new vehicle of gameplay.

Read more →

Filed under: Patches, Analysis / Opinion, Features

And now for this skill testing... instance?

I was just sitting in Ironforge a minute ago trying to peddle my enchants. The members of the guild I'm in were sitting around shooting the breeze about Burning Crusade instances. Somebody remarked on BRK's article earlier today about hunters "once being in demand" in Blackrock Depths, and I chimed in that as a subtlety rogue I've felt a little left-out of some of the Burning Crusade content. It seems from my vantage point that hunters and mages own the vast majority of the Burning Crusade instances because those of us who have to be in physical contact with our targets who don't have the benefit of plate armour are getting the bejeezus beaten out of us in this series of instances.

While I can see the progression that Blizzard has taken, and I can understand the necessity for encounters to increase in difficulty I'm having a really difficult time finding the willpower to flush my carefully crafted rogue build down the toilet that I spent so much time perfecting.

So let's shift gears for a moment to solo instances. Yes, we've talked about them before. I think that with the right implementation though, that we could kill a number of birds with one stone.

How many crappy rogues have you met in-game? Ok, put your hands down. We can substitute any class into that question. There are lots of players with no skills floating around. We've all seen warriors who don't sunder, mages who don't realize they can summon (food and water), and even shamans who don't know what a totem is. Yes, I'm serious, I've seen every one of those.

So here's my idea - with apologies if somebody else already thought of it first. I know Dan brushed gently against it a few months ago. Why not make an Academy style instance where players could go solo, maybe every ten levels, and be taught in "live fire" situations how to use the skills they've acquired in the last ten levels. Loot would have the benefit of being class-specific (or at the very least class-appropriate), and lunchbox letdown would be next to non-existent. The only obvious problem to me, is that the gear would almost have to be Bind on Pickup, and they'd probably want to make it so once you beat the last boss that you couldn't come back until you graduated to the next bracket.

Then everybody would have something to do, nobody would feel completely useless, and best of all it would have a positive impact on the skill level of the players on our realms and in our guilds. What do you think?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Features

The wisdom of experience

Keen wrote a great piece over on Keen and Graev's Gaming blog that really caught my attention. Obviously Keen has been "around the block" like I have and has his share of regrets just like the rest of us who have been chained to the MMOG genre for any length of time. He reaches back to some of the past games he's played and talks about some of the mistakes he's made that he won't ever repeat.

I'll make you read the article to find out his other two, but his first one is no not take an officer position in a guild on impulse and to give it a lot of thought. I couldn't agree more. More than a few of the twenty odd guilds I've been in over the course of my MMOG experience have crumbled because of mediocre or semi-committed leadership, or leadership that wasn't united in focus and direction.

Regrets are not something that need to stay chained to us that keep us from meeting our potential. Identifying our regrets help us to improve ourselves. What are your biggest regrets in World of Warcraft or in other games you've played in the past? What are you doing to ensure you don't make those mistakes again?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends

What to do? What to do?

When I was a guild leader, one of the most frequent questions that was asked in our guild chat channel was "Where should I go at level <fill in the blank>." Although I'm not going to write a full-fledged Addon Spotlight column today, I want to take a brief moment to point new players toward resources that will make your progression through the PvE world a little easier. And if you're a seasoned player re-rolling a new character maybe these little gems will help you take a less familiar path and explore some content you might not have seen before.

First off, I want you to grab an add-on and a module for that add-on. If you've seen Titan, Fubar is very similar in function. Fubar is simply an add-on that other "information" modules plug into. So for the purposes of this exercise, please grab Fubar and the LocationFu module. They both install as normal add-ons and if you need help installing add-ons then check out this article. Despite what some silly people will tell you, using the majority add-ons will not get your account suspended. I'm sure there are some floating around the seedy underbelly of the internet that try to exploit the game that are illegal, but for the most part add-ons are perfectly legal in the game.

Read more →

Filed under: Tips, How-tos, Odds and ends, Add-Ons

Addon Spotlight: Sage

Unit frames, for the uninitiated, are those lovely bars down the left side of your screen that show the health, mana, energy or rage of your party members and pets. The default Blizzard unit frames are alright. But when I rolled my restoration shaman a while back, I went looking for a replacement that would show pet health more prominently. Don't get me wrong, I don't heal pets by default. That's the job of the hunter or warlock. But if we're in a boss fight and the tank is dead and the pet has to off-tank, I'd rather that it's health was a little easier to read on my screen.

As is my usual custom, I ran to my usual add-on site and tried the most popular packages. They were simply too much for me. The configuration was just too much. I'm a simple kind of guy, and just looking at the configuration screens made me dizzy. I wanted something lightweight and functional.

Then I found Sage. Sage doesn't show the pretty character portraits, but I really don't miss them that much. Sage displays the player, target, target of target, party, pet, and focus frames. Every one of them are completely scalable in size, individually and as a whole. Focus is a handy little tool that the game supports, but (as far as I know) the default UI still does not display. It allows you to monitor any player or mobs health persistently. So on those escort quests, the healer could focus the escort to monitor it's health all the time without having to constantly keep it targeted. Focus has a bazillion uses really, and Sage supports it fully.

Another thing I like about Sage is how visible Tuller has made the debuffs. It's really easy to see "who gets hit with what" and identify the "what" quickly. The debuff icons are large, and the health bar colour codes to the type of debuff, whether it's poison, disease, curse, etc.

Sage also supports range checking. I wish there was a way for it to check line-of-sight too, but this is still a great function. When you're healing a party and somebody steps out of your casting range, their information dims to indicate that you can't affect them through casting, so you can either move, or bitch at them on Vent. (I usually choose the latter.)

Although I would definitely call this a minimalist add-on from a graphic point of view, there are also a number of bar textures to choose from to suit your personal taste.

I couldn't live without Sage, at least on my shaman. I really hope it doesn't break when into unit frames in the upcoming patch!

A new online reputation calculator

There isn't much to say about this, other than to be very grateful it exists. I never saw the original web-based reputation calculator, but I'm told there were sporadic problems with US realms. Grumbles writes and says that he was waiting for the EU calculator to come back online and to support US realms again, when he decided to just write his own. I wish I had that kind of talent.

Visiting prompts you to enter your name, server, and whether it's a US or EU server. I presume it then reads your reputation information from the Armory and then processes it in a plain but functional way that shows you how many turn-ins and/or quests you need to reach the next level with most of the key Burning Crusade factions. Let me tell you, I'm bookmarking this puppy right now, even if I'm a little disappointed to suddenly realize how long it's going to take me to get exalted with the Kurenai.

This is a very handy tool for reputation grinding. I've seen some add-ons in the past that will count quest items for you, but this is a really excellent resource. Thanks to Grumbles for making it happen for the US players!

Filed under: Fan stuff, Odds and ends, News items

Hallowe'en every day of the year - no thanks!

We talk a lot about the features we want in the game. What about the features we don't want? I don't know about anybody else, but I've been watching the news surrounding the release of Everquest 2 Update 38 with horror. Read with me from the press release.

"Upon reaching level 20, you'll be able to access new appearance item slots on the inventory window! Have favorite pieces that are an important part of your style? You can now keep wearing them for looks while continuing to upgrade your primary gear!"

Are they out of their freaking mind?! Sure, I like to look good as much as the next player, but let's shift to World of Warcraft for a minute and consider the ramifications of such a change in our world, especially to our PvP-loving brethren. Do you really want to go into a battleground or an arena match and see a paladin standing there smiling at you buck-naked (perhaps wielding a Pitchfork, and wearing overalls for effect) when in fact he's actually wearing a full Tier 6 set?

Rattlesnakes have a rattle for a reason. Cobras have their distinctive hood for the same reason. You should be able to look at a player in-game and be able to with some degree of certainty be able to assess their threat to you. I don't think it's such a wonderful idea to allow people to masquerade around as noobs when in fact they may count themselves among the best-equipped players in the game. How many times do you actually target somebody or mouse-over them to see their class? So if you see a dwarf in a robe you think priest, right? If a change like this was ever implemented in World of Warcraft, that could be a deadly assumption. I've got nothing against the Orbs of Deception and Savory Deviate Delight and other such items. Their effects are temporary, and easy to spot. Hallowe'en should be contained to one day of the year.

You may wonder why am I freaking out over this when it's not even something going in World of Warcraft. I'm freaking out about it because this is a novel idea that I think will catch on in the MMOG genre. As Blizzard looks to add hairstyles and other cosmetic changes in the future, Sony has approached the same issue from an interesting and novel direction. This is one direction I hope Blizzard never takes. What things do you hope Blizzard never introduces in the game?

[Special thanks to Olandu from "Guardians of Azeroth" on Gnomeregan for being my photo model for this article!]

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, News items, Features

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