Life — WoW: Classic

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have any interest in playing Vanilla WoW again when they first announced it. After so many years of updates and so many quality of life changes, I wasn’t convinced that nostalgia could save it. There was just so much that the original game was lacking that current players take for granted. Despite this, I knew I’d give it a try just for its own sake.

It’s odd to think about, but how many games are out there that were released specifically as an older version? Even old games that are re-released get remastered with better graphics and less glitches, but WoW Classic required an enormous amount of effort to unmaster. They didn’t even “digitally remaster” the graphics or anything like that, because obviously they wanted it to be as faithful to the original game as it could possibly be.

And, for good or for ill, I’ve been playing it a lot. Nearly all my free time has been spent playing it, (though I’ve still been taking time to keep up with writing projects, blog notwithstanding) and there’s something that I didn’t expect WoW: Classic to revitalize…

Back in the early days from 2004-2007, I would say that World of Warcraft became popular for two reasons. The first is that mechanics-wise, it was the best of its time. There’s little question about that, all you have to do is look at the numbers. But more than that, it was a great way to socialize. After you got home from work, you would log onto the game, see all of your friends online in the guild, and chat with them. Hang out with them. The game made it so easy to connect with people—as well as make new friends.

Fifteen years later, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., we are so globally interconnected that people have rekindled relationships with friends they otherwise never would have met again. (For example, I’m Facebook friends with my best friend from 2nd grade, whom I haven’t seen since.) So, at least in the retail version of World of Warcraft, you really don’t need to talk to people. Partly because the majority the content can be done on your own (or at least it connects you to strangers automatically), but partly because the online connections you have don’t need to be done through an MMO like WoW.

This was my main concern. “You can’t restore a game to its original glory when its glory was so contingent on a tight-knit community,” I said. And I still think some of that is true, but oh boy did I underestimate the players.

In a lot of ways, playing WoW: Classic is like stepping into the past. The chat channels are always full, strangers are constantly inviting you to their parties and guilds, making the same jokes, you name it. If you log in at 5pm realm time, you have to wait about an hour just to log into the server I’m playing on because it’s full. In ways I can’t quite put into words, and in ways I certainly didn’t expect, I feel like I’m once again exploring a world with other people. Something I haven’t really felt in probably any other MMO.

This isn’t a review. If it was, I would tell you how awful the quest design is (which is actually worse than I remember), and how much time you have to waste running back and forth from Point A to Point B to get pitiful amounts of money and experience. I’d tell you how everything is hard, and since there’s so many people around, you have to compete against those around you just to get to the next quest, or how you constantly have to fight your inventory just to be able to maximize profits when you get back to town.

I’ve also been struggling with finding a good game to play lately. I needed a time sink so that I can watch YouTube streams and listen to audiobooks, but everything I had been playing was either tired or too high maintenance to multitask. So this came around at the perfect time.

Me — The State of the Gaming Industry

An unconscious but nearly constant frustration I have these days is my growing disappointment with what the gaming industry has turned into over the past decade (or two, depending on how you look at it). Also, before I get into it, just going to say this could easily just be nostalgia talking, but I think at least a few of my points are valid.

The crux of my argument is that I feel that the days of waiting for a game to be as good as it can be before publishing it and releasing it out into the world are long past us. When I think of these games, the first two examples that specifically come to mind are the Halo franchise and most Blizzard Entertainment games (the Diablo 3 launch being an exception). You’ll see why I bring up these two in a minute, but if you know games you probably already know why.

No big calamitous event ruined video games, I’d say. It was a slow, gradual descent into madness as corporations realized there was money to be had there, and started taking over the gaming world. Huge names like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, etc., bought every smaller studio they could get their hands on, and as a result took hold of a lot of video game franchises that were stellar. Games became about money, not games, as mobile gaming became popularized, purchased DLC, and subscription fees all put game developers’ time and effort where it shouldn’t have gone—that is to say, out of the hands of the player. (I will say that mobile gaming in general was a great thing; it opened up a lot of realms of possibilities, but things like Candy CrushAngry BirdsClash of Clans, etc, were never about making a good game, which is the core of a lot of gamers’ hatred towards the genre as a whole).

So as companies realized they could make more money by locking more and more content behind larger and larger pay walls, a lot of focus started to be driven towards constructing those walls when it could have simply been spent making the experience the best it could be.

The worst of all this was that it is not and has never been an issue with the game developers. Everyone wants to make something awesome. Something everyone loves. But when the people in the big chairs say you have to release on a deadline that is immovable, regardless of setbacks and challenges, you will invariably get rushed and unsatisfying results.

Bungie is a good example of this. The Destiny franchise was strangled by Activision’s deadlines and rules, gutting a story without having time to rework it, simplifying content to fit a deadline, and locking all meaningful content behind seasonal DLC destroyed something that could have been amazing. A little digging will tell you that a lot of Bungie’s most iconic names have since left the company in the wake of a lot of disappointing corporate decisions.

This is the same story with Blizzard. Fortunately it took longer for the company to be eaten as they were larger to start with, but slowly Blizzard became less about its three flagship franchises and more about regularly releasing content for half a dozen games. Hearthstone hasn’t had anything innovative in years, it’s just a run of the mill card game now. Heroes of the Storm, which I still love dearly, has lost virtually all support from Blizzard, and it’s abandonment has left what semblance of a competitive multiplayer experience it had in shambles. World of Warcraft has been going downhill for about a decade now, and Overwatch hasn’t been getting the audience it used to now that it isn’t shiny and new anymore. Diablo 4 will inspire some new draw, for sure, but with how many veteran employees have left over the past two years, I can’t help but fear there isn’t much of a future left for what was once a titan of the community.

There are still good games being made. Nintendo is still the same old same old (God bless them). The newest God of War game is a masterpiece, and despite Fallout: 76‘s controversy, I’m optimistic Bethesda will Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI the best games they can be. But the only people I really feel I can trust in the industry these days are indie companies like Team Cherry and Chucklefish Studios. The only downside to this is that indie companies can’t make proper competitive multiplayer experiences without the support of huge servers and a large fan base (and I sort of always need a good PvP game to jump onto every now and then).

I’m not surprised that it’s come to this by any means. An optimistic Kollin would have hoped that Blizzard was above this ten years ago, even if capitalism consumed everyone else. Funny thing is, this nihilism does nothing to curb my interest in working for a game studio as a writer, because if anything I’d want to join an indie studio.

Me — Feb ’19 Update

I somehow forgot to post this last week and wrote something else instead. Whoops. In any case, my life hasn’t been terribly interesting the last couple of weeks, so there isn’t a ton to say. I’m happy to report that my mood has finally started to stabilize on the higher end. It was harder to shrug this one off because the last time it got this bad (3 years ago), I changed a lot about myself—I started the blog, changed the way I dressed, and started to write more so that I didn’t feel like I was lying when I told people I was a writer. This time none of that was an option, but over time I’ve been able to breathe a little and bit by bit reclaim myself.

That said, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

I don’t foresee any blog changes in the near future. I like the casual two posts a day. It makes me feel like I’m keeping up without forcing myself to write an insane amount. I do plan on writing about the road trip my siblings and I took to Chicago and back, but I need to go through my pictures and find all the good ones, and that’s going to be a chore because I’m not a picture person. That’s the main thing that keeps me from just writing a Saturday post travel log: I’d want to include pictures but I don’t want to do the work to find them. Either way, expect that soon.

Writing plans. I’m still going through a bit of a rut as far as that goes. I do feel like a piece of myself is missing right now because I still have the stories in my head but I have no willpower to write them. And it’s not like how it used to be where it was just difficult to get started but I’d find my flow. This time I can’t even find the power to even consider writing. It’s hard to explain, but this mental block has been getting stronger and stronger for almost a year now. I will say though: I have to write for one of my classes, and my professor and I have found a workaround to my problem. He gives me a prompt based on the last story I wrote for him, a few random words to incorporate, and a time limit. I have to write as much as I can in one hour based on his prompt and words, and the restrictive nature of that assignment has worked astonishingly well. I do think it requires somebody reading and responding to the work I’m producing, though. This strategy wouldn’t work for stand-alone short stories on the blog.

In the realm of video games, I actually have not been doing much. I’ve been playing Season 16 of Diablo 3, but I’ve pretty much expended the amount of available fun in that realm. Mostly I’ve just been playing really casual games while watching YouTube videos of streamers I enjoy. Hearthstone is a big one, but I’m also playing a simple mobile game and a casual browser game: RWBY: Amity Arena and Flight Rising respectively. The RWBY game is pretty much Clash Royale (basically a card game MOBA). Don’t know if there’s a genre associated with it. Flight Rising is basically Neopets, only you collect dragons instead of random creatures and you play games to get money and collect clothes to dress the dragons up or change their coloring. You can even make custom skins for them using Photoshop, and the game has a lot of community input to game development, which I think is neat.

I haven’t been reading or listening to anything beyond those streams. Critical Role and anything Day9 puts onto YouTube is pretty much the extent of my consumed media right now. That’s all I have to say about that.

School is going well. My intention is that this will be my final semester, to which I will have two AA’s to show for my time. At this point I’m taking exclusively theatre related classes, which is both parts fun and stressful. Another one of my plays is also being produced this semester, but apart from script edits, I’ve decided to take a back seat and let other people put their vision on it.

That’s about it. My Aleor D&D campaign is going great, more updates to come, and the cool collaborative passion project I’ve been a part of the last few months has been a ton of fun, too. This might be the first time I’ve brought it up, but I will definitely speak more of that in the future, as well!

Review — War Crimes

Of the many novels written in the Warcraft universe, I’ve actually read a scarce few of them. To be honest, this is only my second. However, having played WoW off an on for the majority of my life, and having many brothers and friends that are well versed in Blizzard and Warcraft lore, I’m quite familiar with the characters and events, generally speaking. I won’t give spoilers here, though, for as familiar as you may be with the story before and after this book, the novel itself does contain some pretty neat, self-contained things.

War Crimes is a somewhat recent addition to what surprised me to be a collection of over twenty canon books, and chronologically it was the latest addition to the universe until Before the Storm published last month. It takes place between the Mists of Pandaria expansion and the Warlords of Draenor expansion, serving as a segway from one to the other. It explores the trial of Garrosh Hellscream, the former Warchief of the Horde after he basically killed thousands of people and was, to put it mildly, a jerk to everyone, even the people who should have been his friends.

I’ll be honest—I didn’t expect much of this book. The main plot is a trial, and I hated Garrosh’s character simply because he’s boring. In fact, if I were to buy a Warcraft book, it probably would have been one of my last choices for those reasons. When I’m reading a story like this, it’s generally because I want to dig deeper into a universe I’m already familiar with, and not only does this book basically not have that, but it doesn’t have very much action in it, either. It is, as you might expect, almost entirely placed in the Temple of Xu’en, where the trial takes place.

But the book is fair. To call it a bad read or a waste of my time would be out of line. It does the characters justice while also showing different sides of them. It explores the morality and virtues of many of the main characters in Warcraft lore, and you see different sides of them you might not otherwise notice. Flashbacks are used as evidence in the trial (via magic, of course), so we also get to see some interactions between characters outside this moment in time, and that can be really interesting when you didn’t realize those characters knew each other at X point.

I’d say one of the best things about this book is that it’s a balancing act of two parts, and it does a great job. Writing a book (or any piece of media) based on a game where the player has a direct impact on the environment or story of that game is hard. You have to either pretend the player doesn’t exist, which makes any player made choices seem inconsequential, or you make the player a main character, which only works if they don’t get to make their character. The second part is writing a part of the story that isn’t important enough to be essential to the gameplay, but is interesting enough to not waste the reader’s time.

War Crimes does a great job on both of these fronts. The players are the ones that managed to defeat Garrosh and put him in “prison”, but they aren’t necessary for the trial. Players want combat, and this part of the story has very little of it. You wouldn’t want a trial scene to be in your video game anyway, unless you’re playing Ace Attorney, in which case what is a bloodthirsty orc doing there? As far as being interesting but not essential, the story does a good job of that, too, exploring nuances of characters, as I’ve already explained. The ending of the story is a bit obvious if you’ve played the beginning of Warlords of Draenor, or have seen even the trailer of it, but nonetheless it’s a good read.

Overall, this book is a good read if and only if you are interested in understanding the personalities, flaws, or beliefs of the major characters in the Warcraft universe. You really get to know the characters as people in this book, not as the walking stereotypes they can sometimes fall under. If you want to read action scenes, understand the lore of Azeroth (or Draenor etc.), or read about the major events of the world, you’re better of picking up pretty much any other book in the universe.

As a side note, it dawned on me reading this book how little opinion Warcraft players probably have based on the characters in the lore. Basically any player will tell you that Cairne Bloodhoof, or Vol’jin, or Jaina Proudmoore are basically cool people. (Or at least they were, given various points of the story.) For as divisive as Warcraft tries to be—splitting the players into Alliance or Horde—I’ll bet 90% of the playerbase will be able to tell you which are the honorable, good characters from both factions, because while the lore tries to paint in broad strokes of “good and evil”, it does a great job at putting both of those extremes in either side.

Me — July ’18 Update

With the onset of summer comes a few disappointments, mostly in plans that didn’t come to fruition. It’s all good, though. The heat wave hasn’t quite reached, (though it’ll be over 100° F next week) so I haven’t yet hit the threshold where it’s too hot to hurt my productivity.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Okay. Minor blog changes! I touched on this a bit ago, but I finally have a plan. Posting all of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday isn’t working for me anymore. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have zero free time to be writing, as I’m either at work, at my writer’s group, or at D&D for basically 100% of those days. I was originally going to rework the schedule entirely, but really it’s only the Wednesday posts that are troublesome, given my lack of free time the night before. So while I’m not going to change the content of what I’ve been putting out, I will be pushing the Wednesday posts to Thursday. That way I can use the free time I have on Wednesday nights to write instead of twiddling my thumbs. That’s it. I also can’t promise I won’t continue being late on the fiction posts. I still don’t have that spark of creativity that makes writing compelling, so it’s hard to actually force myself to write. I will continue to try my best to post fiction every week though.

Speaking of that, it hurts a little bit to have writing plans be one of the main categories of things I talk about in these monthly updates when I have had no writing plans for months. I don’t intend to remove it from the list, though. I think it’s important for it to stay there.

Video games are also pretty simple: I’m still playing Heroes of the Storm almost exclusively, but in all honesty I don’t have a whole lot of time to be playing video games right now. Working full time means that when I do finally get home I’m super tired and I either have to write or go do something else. As much as I’d like to be playing stuff, it just doesn’t have priority. Not to say that that’s a bad thing.

When I do have free time, I’ve been listening to a new podcast I’m not sure I’ve mentioned on the blog before: No Such Thing as a Fish. It’s a weekly British podcast where all the hosts each bring a fact on any topic, and then they each spend ten minutes talking about things tangential to that fact before moving on to the next topic. The useless information is interesting, and their commentary can be really funny. As a side note, I’ve also been watching West Wing with a friend. We just finished the first season, and I might do a review (on just the first season) soon.

Also, some unfortunate news about school. My summer semester class was cancelled, and since I was taking a big fall semester, I was planning on graduating at the end of the fall. Without that class I needed, I’m going to need to take another spring semester—something I was trying pretty hard to avoid. But, when all’s said and done, it’s only a few extra months. So, not currently in school, but hope to be mostly out of it soon.

Other things. Well, the only other thing I have to talk about is D&D and all my plans that never happened. I intended to run a new campaign just over the course of the summer. One with super weak commoner characters, but that never happened. I do have an entirely new idea for a campaign, but this inkling is small and needs time to grow. I also intended to write a weekly journal of my character’s adventures in this new campaign, but in all honesty that would be a lot of writing I’m not all that interested in. Instead, I think I’ll keep the tales of Taldarrin of the Twiceborn in my back pocket until I have some good ones to share.

P.S. When looking for the picture to post with these monthly updates, I always just type in the month name and find the first picture without words I like. With July, though, it’s all America and fireworks. Did the USA single-handedly commandeer the month of July because of one national holiday, or do search engines base searches off of country?

Review — Heroes of the Storm (Jun. ’18 Edition)

Since Heroes of the Storm is basically the only game I play given how busy I am, I think it’s only fair that I take the time to dedicate a little bit of my blog to it every once in a while (beyond saying “I’m still playing HotS” in the monthly updates). Being an online, MOBA style game, it’s constantly getting new features and characters to play, so reviewing it at one stage of its development will be totally different from another, even in broad strokes like “state of the game” as I intend to talk about here.

So, for timeline context—the newest character and battleground were released a few weeks ago: Yrel and Alterac Pass. This is following the releases of Deckard Cain and Fenix.

Overall, Heroes seems to be in rough shape, even with the newest batch of content. Keeping myself updated on the subreddit for the game means reading a lot of complaints about how toxic people are (as with all MOBAs), how reporting other players does nothing and there’s no reason to do so, and how frustrating a lot of characters are to play against. There’s a power gap between newer characters and older ones simply because the system is advancing, albeit slowly.

Unfortunately, Heroes of the Storm was crippled from the beginning. The game’s foundation is an engine (at least) nine years old, as it started off as a mod to Starcraft II. This means that connectivity issues and overall capabilities are limited from the start, and it can’t compete with new stuff, given how fast the gaming industry evolves. This will always be the biggest issue with the game—it’s built on old foundation.

And you can see the aging in the game, too. Older heroes like Raynor have very simple abilities, such as “increase attack speed” or “push enemies back”, whereas heroes like Fenix have “fire a laser that spins around your hero twice, hurting and slowing enemies it hits as it passes”. This becomes a problem when most of the characters being picked in high level play are the ones that were released in the past few months.

Overall, Heroes of the Storm is pretty solid. The best thing about it is that the vast majority of games last 15-25 minutes, and only on rare occasions can you give or take 5 more minutes. It’s completely free, you can play with up to five friends, and there is absolutely no “buying power”. You simply can’t buy stuff that gives you the upper hand against your enemies. (The only thing is, as with most MOBA’s, you have to play a lot in order to be able to buy the characters with in-game currency. Not a lot, mind you, and there’s no hero that you can’t buy with in-game currency, but it’s worth mentioning.)

It does have loot boxes, which the entire gaming community hates right now, but honestly I think it’s fine in this case because it’s mostly cosmetic, and you get them at a reasonable rate.

The game is, as it always will be, at it’s best when you’re playing with friends that don’t take things too seriously. Being competitive is fine, but there’s something about MOBA’s that really churns up hatred for other people. So as long as you’re fine with losing, and you can have fun without blaming the people you’re playing with (even if it is their fault), you can have a good time.

Me — June ’18 Update

Well, here we are. I’d like to thank the academy for this astounding accomplishment. Spring 2018 semester is over. The Summer (and hopefully my penultimate) semester is fast approaching. I have big news (for me), too. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my friend’s apartment in Oregon, after having flown for the first time in seven-ish years. This is the first “vacation” I’ve ever had to myself, but I’ll get to that.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Alright, I finally have some blog news: I will be resuming the weekly fiction portion of my blog! Every Sunday I’ll be posting a flash fiction based on an image writing prompt. I intend to also record them and upload these videos to YouTube around the same time they post to my blog, but we’ll see. I don’t intend to be posting chapter excerpts of anything, though. Just the weekly flash fiction. Plus, that way, you won’t need to have read anything else of mine to enjoy them.

As for writing plans, well… that’s why I’m only posting one thing of fiction a week. I’m still not really devoting any effort to any larger project. Lisa Stenton has once again found herself in a muck of irreconcilable conflicts too large for me to enjoy writing her stories. I just… don’t know how to make technology and urban fantasy marry without copying other writers or making it stupid, and frankly it’s hard to hit the exact right chord I was going for with her stories. I think “The Last Laugh at the Lake of Lava” was pretty good, though. Spear Gate’s new outline is still on the to-do list, but it’s honestly not that interesting to me anymore. ‘Cause, you know, that’s what new writers do. We love something until it’s hard and then find a new passion project. So, as for now, still no bigger project. Oh well.

Lately I’ve been playing almost exclusively Heroes of the Storm and World of Warcraft. Less so HotS because I’m kind of burnt out on it, but I did calculate that in about 600 games (or about 200 hours) I’ll have reached level 10 with every hero in the game. Problem is, all the heroes that are under that cap are because I don’t enjoy them much. So instead I’ve been playing WoW, mostly as a way to pass the time while I listen to podcasts.

Speaking of podcasts, I’ve finally caught up on Story Break! This means I’m caught up on six of the eight podcasts I’m interested in. After that I intend to listen to podcasts I have no hope of being caught up on. Ones that have hundreds upon hundreds of hours of content. I also have some unread audiobooks on my phone, so I still need to dive into those.

As I said, the Spring semester is over. I’m almost done getting two Associate’s Degree’s though. I just need about six classes total, so that’ll be great. I have tentative plans for what I’m going to do after, but nothing concrete. So after the Summer and Fall, I should be done… ish.

Okay, so Oregon. I’ve only been here for about 18 hours as I’m writing this, and roughly half of that has been asleep, but oh my gosh. So many trees. Living in So Cal means that I’m used to sky lines being rocky mounds of… you know, rock. But Oregon is swarmed with trees, I’ve never seen so much green in my life. There’s just… so much. It’s honestly pretty much the same (it’s less than a thousand miles, after all), but at the same time, so different. I’ll talk about it more later.

One thing I didn’t account for on this trip is the fact that I’m introverted. Being around friends for nearly 72 hours straight is… well, let’s just say I’m tired and it’s taking a lot out of me. I want to have fun, but it’ll be a struggle to keep my mental energy running for that long without burning out.

Also, the Tuesday and Wednesday blog posts will be late. I won’t be back home until late Tuesday night.