Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Blizzcon 2015 Charity Dinner

Blizzcon 2015 was my:
  • first trip alone
  • first trip outside of Canada since I was 16 years old
  • first airplane trip
  • first Blizzcon
That was a lot of firsts, but I did it and survived!

The whole experience was fascinating in many ways and I won't go into detail about it here because that would be boring.
So here's a few highlights:
  • Met a bunch of people I had only talked to on Twitter and made new online friends.
  • Met for the first time a guildie and friend that I met back in Vanilla.
  • Got to personally thank Dave Kosak for Mists of Pandaria.
  • Got a hug from Anne Stickney.
  • Got to talk to a bunch of developers (and had a bunch of opinions vindicated).
  • Got to make crowd voices for the upcoming Arena mode for Heroes of the Storm.
  • Was in the crowd for the Opening Ceremony.
  • Stuffed a delicious large wiener in my mouth, thanks to The Viking food truck.
What made the trip extra special is that after missing out on the regular admission tickets, I decided I had to go to Blizzcon that year by all means necessary, and that meant purchasing the expensive Charity dinner ticket.
Which I did because I had put money on the side in case that situation came to happen.

The Charity dinner

The main reason I'm writing this post is because I didn't find much information online about the Charity dinner event, so I didn't know what exactly I should expect and how to prepare myself accordingly.
So here's how it went.

(Keep in mind - this is what it was like for me at Blizzcon 2016 and I was told it was pretty much the same as the previous years, so they might pull a switcheroo in the future to refresh the formula.)

The setup

The reception was at one of the Hilton reception rooms, the typical big rectangular reception room you expect to see there.
Before entering, you had to be registered and get your Blizzcon badge manually verified at the entrance - just like most con-goers got checked during the day at the convention center.
And inside the room, you had lively music happening, the lighting was in hues of blue, and the place got pretty crowded in the first couple of hours.
You had a setup of little round tables with chairs spread around the edges of the room, and an open bar on 2 opposing sides.
And in the middle and the back of the room you had several tables with cold and warm good tasty foods. (Keep in mind that it's a charity event, so don't expect the cheap tasteless sandwiches.)
So it's a standing room kind of deal, with optional chairs here and there.

The crowd

As for the people - you have 3 types that show up there: the charity people, the devs and the players.
You'll spot the charity people very quickly as they overly dressed up as if it were a gala and feel a bit out of place from the thousands of con-goers that are crawling in the Hilton.
The devs are easy to identify as they either wear their special Blizzard-only shirts and/or wear a name tag.
Which leaves the rest of the people as players, and you have the usual representation of gamers - from regular people of all ages to the extremely stereotypical (there's not too many of them though).

I'm mentioning this because the question I frequently see online and don't see many answers for is: Is there a dress code?
The answer is there is no dress code.
But given the quick description of the peoples you'll find there, you can guesstimate that "not too casual wear" is what I saw people wear.
The stereotypical gamer dudes were wearing their worn-out black-turning-grey-from-over-washing gaming t-shirts, and the ones I was close to had elected to not shower that particular day.
Some people came really dressed up as if it was a gala.
Most people were casual chic.

The event

An hour after the event had started and all the people that had lined up were inside, the speeches happened, to thank everyone for being there, to remind everyone that their monetary contribution is going to an actual good cause, and to enjoy the evening. (With a special note to the introverted / not outgoing people not to hesitate to talk to any of the Blizzard people in the room. It may not seem like something important to note, but for socially awkward Me it was the gentle nudge that I needed.)

And that's the occasion to meet any of the Blizzard people you want to talk to.
You want to ask a question to a dev?
Don't want to feel the social pressure of managing to ask a question at a public and recorded Q&A?
Just... keep the forum-type questions in the forums - the guys there don't feel the need to be harassed about whiny complaints. (Or just turn your complaint into a "Can you explain why you...?" and there's more chance you'll get a genuine good response to that. It's communication basics to not be aggressive to the person who you're trying to get an answer from.)

I talked with Jason Huck, the campaign designer for Starcraft 2, and with Legacy of the Void coming the following week, it was the perfect guy to talk to.
He confirmed a bunch of information that I already knew, but I wanted an update on how things were working internally: how stories were created in Blizzard in general, how Starcraft stories were shaped and broken down into chapters, the difficulty of making interesting campaign scenarios, the value of multiplayer versus single-player campaign, etc.
I chatted for a while with Dustin Browder, lead designer on Heroes of the Storm, and found out we had a similar background in theater!
I also discovered that he's actually really cool and not at aaaaalllll like the person you see on stage at Blizzcons as it's the old theater reflexes coming in where you want to project your voice as much as you can if you're in front of a huge crowd (I can relate).
Had a quick chat with Josh Mosqueira, the then-lead designer for Diablo III, found out he worked in my town for 4 years and I geeked out a bit about the new Season 4 stuff (and made him really happy about a few points I brought up about the system).
I asked a bunch of tiny systems questions to Ben Brode and Jason Chayes (about the difficulty of the Blackrock Mountain adventure, and me asking about an in-game achievement system) and Yong Woo (about their automated testing systems, the possible pitfalls, and what happens when they encounter Turn 2 or 3 opponent-crushing combos).
I said hi to Nethaera, saw Ion Hazzikostas and Mike Morhaime but couldn't talk to either of them because a swarm of people were surrounding them constantly, and had a quick glimpse of the elusive Chris Metzen who showed up for 5 mins just 20 feet away from me and then disappeared from my view before I could end the conversation I was in.
There were a bunch of other devs that were walking around but I didn't get the opportunity or time to talk to them, but I've spent 4 hours there and most of it was spent in conversation with someone working at Blizzard.
It was worth all the Canadian money I've put into that ticket.

Here's another tip: if you see someone you want to talk to - go to them, because you never know if you'll spot them ever again in the evening or during Blizzcon.
The crazy thing about the Charity event is that is also happens typically the day before Blizzcon begins, which is also the day where all the big parties happen.
We had at the same time the Wowhead party, the Con Before the Storm party, the Blizzard Influencers party, and a couple of other significant ones that I don't remember.
So it'll naturally happen for someone to get bored of one party and naturally go to another where they have people they want to see or people that want to see them, etc.

And when you felt like leaving the event, you could grab your goody bag and print that were on a set of tables in one corner of the room where they were all piled up.

That's all I had to say about this!
Hope this is going to be something handy for anyone wondering what the Charity dinner is like.
If you've got the money to do it, it's totally worth it!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Whatlords of Nothing

(That's the closest title I could come to something remotely clever, shut up.)

I've been silent about the Warlords of Draenor expansion because I didn't know what to make of it.

After it was revealed at Blizzcon in 2013, I wrote a post (WHYlords of Draenor) detailing why I was feeling so unsure about the upcoming expansion, and now that I've played through the entirety of it, I want to address all those concerns before I step into the Legion expansion.

People have already debated the Pros and Cons of Draenor to death - mostly because we've all had a lot of time to do it.
I'll just address my personal concerns and not go into topics that have been covered incredibly thoroughly.

My personal Pros:
  • The leveling experience was the best they've ever done (XP gains, the cinematics, the voice acting).
  • Treasures were a fun addition.
  • There were some good sides to the garrisons feature.
  • The artwork was fantastic, as per the Blizzard norm.

My personal Cons:

It was a lore detour
Even though Mists of Pandaria originally felt to some players like it was an unnecessary detour, as we progressed further into the story of the expansion, we discovered that everything tied up to matters that were very important and close to home and all ended up being a part of the overall story of World of Warcraft.
We beat up the remnants of an Old God, freed many peoples of its influence, ended up with factions in turmoil and Wrathion telling us that we needed to rebuild the final Titan and prepare for the incoming return of the Legion.
These matters, along with a handful of previously unanswered still on the table, were on the table and it was up to the writers to decide which story thread was going to be picked up next.
Instead we addressed none of these concerns, extended the Garrosh storyline, and came back with a replacement Gul'dan.
Nothing else has progressed in the overall story of World of Warcraft during Warlords of Draenor.
Which in retrospect feels like we've all collectively wasted our time.
That does not feel good.
It feels like we've lost our focus and went into a tangent that was unnecessary - kinda like a bad season of a TV series.

Warlords lore went nowhere
I was expecting interesting lore reveals but what we got is a series of "what ifs" and stories that weren't really that interesting or compelling.
People were labeling this as "the Draenei expansion" but they didn't have much to do besides being the people that lived in that land, and I've found them to be as interesting as the usual 2nd or 3rd race we encounter in an expansion and have a few quest lines with but end up not being incredibly important (like the Jinyu or the Hozen).
Surprisingly, the Arrakoa storyline was the most interesting and compelling thing we've played in the expansion and that story itself didn't even connect with our fight against the Iron Horde!

What we've learned is null and void
You might say that we did discover new information about the races' past and how they lived on Draenor, and that some devs mentioned that we could take mostly everything as canon.
But we can't.
We cannot add all this knowledge into the collective story of our timeline and take it for granted because this all happened in an alternate timeline.
At any point in the future, if we bring in some facts taken from our experience in Warlords, anyone at Blizzard can pull out the "It happened in an alternate timeline" card as a reason to explain or retcon some details to make their job easier or for whatever reason.
It's convenient for them as it gives them some room to develop any story they want, but it's inconvenient for the players.
"You remember all the stuff that happened when you were there? Well forget about all of that because it never really happened."

Missed timey wimey potential
This is a very minor point, but people were excited about the potential time-travel stories and awkward/funny moments that stem from this expansion.
Among the more popular ones: Thrall meeting his parents, Maraad meeting himself, Garrosh meeting his father.
Now while some of these encounters happened, barely anything at all was done with that and no character development (even internal development) resulted from this.

Nothing happened in our timeline while we were gone
Some players suspected/dreaded that events might've happened in our timeline because the Best of the Best were in Draenor and any of the aforementioned potential threats that could crash down on us could take this very advantageous moment to make their move.
But no, nothing happened.
Much like in a movie where a group of bad guys will attack the hero by walking towards him in single file, our enemies waited in the wings for us to return from our expedition.
Vol'jin's Horde was also something that could've been explored.
It was mentioned multiple times that the new Warchief would have the difficult task of mending relations and strengthening the Horde and turning it into something that fits the current needs of the Horde post-Cataclysm and post-Garrosh.
But we had no development on that front either and Vol'jin turned out to simply be the Warchief that held the seat to pass it to the next one.
Which is a shame because they wrote a novel to give him a solid backstory.

No tension + no threat = no engagement
What was the best moment of Warlords of Draenor?
The introduction scenario.
We fight the Iron Horde head-on, zig-zag our way through Tanaan, see all the Warlords, escape their forces, gather allies, destroy the Dark Portal while the Iron Horde is literally cutting us down and swarming onto us, and then make a wild dash to the docks, steal one of their boats and land in our starting area.
That was tense, that had energy.
And then we set up our base.
And the rest of the expansion happened.
The real tension and sense of foreboding could've come from the threat of keeping us trapped in the alternate universe, keeping the pressure on us and making sure we couldn't go back, or the Iron Horde finding new ways to invade other worlds or try again to get to our own timeline.
That Black Gate Gul'dan opened would have been an interesting plot point if we had known about it before going into Hellfire Citadel.
It would have been a motivation for us players to press on without delay and sabotage Gul'dan's plans.
But there wasn't any clear and present threat to us once we built our garrisons and the expansion just became a series of things we did while being there.

WHYlords of Draenor?
So what was the point of Warlords of Draenor?
What did it contribute to the overall story of Warcraft?
We got an alternate timeline Gul'dan in our original timeline.
That's it - that was the point of this expansion: it was to get Gul'dan back so he could get the Legion back on to Azeroth.

I gathered through various interviews and posts that something went wrong when they developed content patches for Warlords.
I don't know exactly what, but we know that Grom Hellscream was meant to be the last boss of the expansion and the WoW team changed their minds about that and had to change the content they had been working on.
I would guesstimate that Gul'dan's presence was meant to be felt throughout the expansion, but not come at the forefront as we've seen in patch 6.2, and in the end after beating Hellscream we discover that Gul'dan managed to find a way to travel to our timeline.

The difference here is the level of subtlety this story element is told.
What happened is that this twisting of events made the Iron Horde and Hellscream incredibly weak and useless as threats, instead of the mighty adversaries that we were meant to battle in a final confrontation while Gul'dan skulked in the shadows.
And what we got was a weird situation where we became friends with Grom and Gul'dan is the Big Bad Evil that gets away and we'll end up finally killing in the following expansion (*cough* Like Garrosh *cough*).

So I understand that things might've gone wrong in the development process, but the end result that we got certainly transpired that, and that didn't feel good - it felt awkward.
We went from "Let's stop Garrosh" to "Let's stop the Iron Horde" to "Fight the Burning Legion".

And in an alternate timeline situation, what ends up mattering is how the original timeline is affected.
With the rules that we have here, the only thing that matters for our timeline is the sum total result of what goes in the alternate timeline and comes back from that alternate timeline.
We went in - we came back.
Our forces went in - the ones that didn't fall in battle came back.
Maraad went in - he didn't come back.
We met allies in Draenor, trained them, made an army with them - they aren't coming back with us.
Yrel and the gang - they aren't coming back with us.
Gul'dan - made it back to our timeline.

So Garrosh finally died, we lost Maraad and Admiral Taylor, and gained a Gul'dan.
That's what mattered in the end.
That's the result of Warlords of Draenor.

The future is bright green
Legion looks promising, mostly because it deals with threats in our timeline.
The situation is serious and dire, and during the Legion invasion event we understand that this invasion means business, and in the Broken Shore event we see that the threat of the Legion is scarier and more lethal than it's ever been.
I just hope that the WoW team isn't front-loading all the drama, tension and threat, only to remove it when we travel through the Broken Isles, but I am crossing my fingers for an interesting and engaging expansion.

I want Legion to make me forget that Warlords of Draenor was an expansion that existed for practically nothing.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Legion pre-patch Q&A

First things first:
  • Remember to update your addons
  • Remember to check the "Load out-of-date addons" checkbox in your character screen

How do I hide my helm / my cloak / my shoulders? The option to hide isn't in the Interface menu anymore!

Short answer: Go to a Transmogrification NPC. When you'll select the slot for your helm, cloak and shoulders, the option to not display will be the very first one at the top left.

Long answer: With the appearance collection system, they decided to take these options from the interface menu and put everything related to your character's appearance in with the Wardrobe, because another thing that they've done is do a pass at un-cluttering the game's menus that were getting filled with too many options.
Yes, it does come at the very minor inconvenience of not being able to not display your helm whenever you want, but it makes sense as a system and there's multiple Transmogrification NPCs spread at key places in the game now plus the Yak mount.

Where are the Demon Hunters? I've pre-ordered Legion, why can't I create one?

Short answer: Be patient, keep an eye on your WoW news, they could be available at any time between now and August 19th, but don't expect them in the first 2 weeks after the patch.

Long answer: This pre-patch contains so many changes to the existing game, the developers want to play it carefully. First they'll fix all the broken things (there's always broken things on a live server, no matter how much testing you can get in), then make sure all the class changes are okay, the numbers are balanced, they do hotfixes and patches and make sure everything is stable - and then they'll flip the switch to allow Demon Hunters to be created.

What's the point of pre-ordering anyways?

You get to create a Demon Hunter before players who will buy their copy of Legion on or after launch day. You'll be able to play their starting zone and then be able to play the rest of the game content. So, you can already start farming your Blades of Azzinoth from the Black Temple if you want. It's just a head-start for your character to be ready and jump into Legion content when the expansion goes live on August 30th.

What's the time limit to pre-order?

Game goes live on August 30th, so any time before that is a pre-order. (Don't ask me about Collector's Edition - I don't know.)

I'm looking for "this spell" or "this ability" and I can't find it anymore. Where is it?

The pre-patch introduces huuuuuuge changes to classes and specializations, so if you're not finding your usual spells or abilities, it's possible they've been either removed or moved to a different spec. For most people, this is the beginning of an entirely new way to play all of your characters. I'd recommend you take the time to read everything about your specs in-game and maybe have a look at the Legion class guides that are posted on Wowhead before you make a decision on what to choose.

I'm not doing enough damage / My character feels broken / I'm not healing as much as I used to / etc.

It could be many things:
  • these are new specs and we all need to adjust to them;
  • don't worry about the numbers because these are Legion numbers and we aren't playing the expansion yet, which also means we're not wearing Legion gear and don't have Legion full abilities;
  • could be that the way that spec is played now just isn't your cup of tea so maybe look at a different class or spec.
I say: don't cry wolf just yet about how your class/spec is "broken" because maybe it's not.

Where's the glyph tab? Where did my glyphs go? What's happening with my cosmetic glyphs?

The glyph system as we knew it is removed from the game.
BUT cosmetic glyphs still exist, not exactly the same ones, but you'll be able to use them by applying them directly on your spells in your spellbook.
And Scribes are still very useful, don't panic, don't go changing your profession without looking into what you can do now.

Where do I get my Artifact weapon?

That's in the Legion expansion, not the pre-patch.

Why did my hunter receive a polearm in the mail?

Survival hunters are now melee and their main weapon is a polearm. So if you want to try it, the devs are giving you a weapon to try it, because trying to melee with a gun or bow isn't quite as effective.

Where's the Demon Invasion event?

It's not in yet. Same explanation as I gave earlier for Demon Hunters.
They are meant to start happening around the 2nd or 3rd week of August (but no later than Aug. 17th) and will last up until Aug. 30th when Legion launches.
Important thing to know: there are things you can get from this event that will never come back again.
There's transmog sets, a mount, a pet, 16 unique weapon appearances, toys, feat of strength achievements - get them while you can when this will be active.
(Check out this guide for more info)

What about that Broken Shore event?

That is the intro quest for Legion. It will happen when Legion goes live. EDIT: Communication of that info got screwed up somewhere at some point and it was live when the pre-patch landed.

What happened to all the gold missions I used to get at my garrison?

The gold has been replaced by garrison resources.
Same thing goes for the Jewelcrafting follower daily quests.

Some of my mounts and pets in my collections are in gift-wrapped packages - what the hell?

They're trying a new thing for you to easily find your new mounts and pets you've received either as gifts or that you bought from the in-game store. It used to be they were added to your collection and you'd have to take a long time to find out where they're hidden in your collection. I think it's cute, but give your feedback to the developers!

Might as well add these questions if you have them in the future...

OK imagine that you can create Demon Hunters now - your questions will be:

I'm looking at the Character Creation screen and I'm not seeing Demon Hunters anywhere - how do I make one?

Only Night Elves and Blood Elves can be Demon Hunters for the Legion expansion.
(Also check if you've pre-ordered Legion.)

Why only them?

Because of Demon Hunter lore (I'm not going into that here).

Will other races be able to be Demon Hunters in the future?

Developers have already thought of that and hinted that now that Night Elf and Blood Elf Demon Hunters will have been roaming on Azeroth for a while, it certainly would make sense for them to end up teaching people from other races who would want to volunteer to become Demon Hunters. So most likely yeah. In a patch this expansion? Don't think so, it could be possible, but I wouldn't keep my hopes up.

Hope this answers all of your burning Legion pre-patch questions!
If I've forgotten anything that you think might be a popular concern, let me know and I'll add it to this post!