Thursday, December 18, 2014

Warlords, The Opening Chapter

The launch of the Warlords of Draenor expansion was probably the greatest since the game began.  Greater than Burning Crusade and possibly greater even than Lich King I realized that's quite a sweeping statement, and that the state of morpgs has changed over time, but the reason is easy to see.  All the lessons the developers have learned through the years were brought to bear on this opening experience and they got nearly everything exactly right. 

So, to back up a bit.  I started on launch day and suffered through the gauntlet of servers being down and lengthy queues, but that was sorted out relatively quickly.  It was a minor annoyance for the first few days and by now it has faded into oblivion.  I think there were three major things that came out of the initial stumbles, however.

The first message from the launch of Warlords of Draenor is that when it comes to delivering a quest-based story that is replete with vivid characters, engaging narrative, and dynamic events, Blizzard still knows what its doing and does it better than nearly everybody.

This is almost immediately followed by the thought that there are millions of players who return to the party at each new expansion, many of whom have never left.  Yes, that's caused a few headaches for us during the past week with lag issues and extended queues, and yes it makes the game a target for mischief makers.  But there is a reason why the millions return:  the outstanding quality of the initial experience.

Warcraft once again has become way more popular than anyone was really expecting it would.  Back in the doldrums of August, when the content drought had sapped everyone's will to live, the reported subscriber numbers had sunk to the 6 million range and people were openly speculating about whether or not WoW was dying and we were observing its final decline.

Suddenly,  the sub numbers jumped up to over 10 million - so many that even Blizzard didn't properly anticipate the overwhelming numbers of players that wanted to get into their game.  We see a resurgence with every expansion but these kinds of sub numbers were returning us to the heady days  when WoW boasted over 12 million players.  The glory days were back.

Second, the design of the initial entrance to the Warlords expansion was electifying.  It was all about motion and purpose.  With Khadgar, I felt the echos of the Sons of Lothar and a hint of what it might have been like the first time the Sons plunged through the unknown portal.  This was a much stronger storytelling experience than we've had in the past, and one that put the players in the main heroic role.  Yes, we were following an outsized lore figure, but in many cases we were the one taking direct action, action where we could see how our contribution advanced the plot.

And what's more, we were taking action against the named enemies of the expansion.  Yes, we were fighting for our lives, for the most part, but we were successfully striking at the Iron Horde and completing our mission objectives to close down the portal.

Third, the larger story had focus. From practically the first moment that pre-expansion foreshadowing appeared in Azeroth, we have been focused on one thing: stopping the Iron Horde.  The pre-expansion invasion gave us a clear idea of who the enemy was.  And this was coupled with the cinematics and video short series that brought us face to face with the backgrounds and excesses of these warlords, and gave us an indication of why we were fighting.  The Draenei provided an object lesson of what might happen if we didn’t succeed.

This is in sharp contrast to previous expansions.

In Mists of Pandaria, we didn’t really know who the enemy was, didn’t really know why we were supposed to be fighting.  Remember the triumphant entry on our airships?  We were explicitly fighting the opposing faction, rather than anything in Pandaria. And after the initial excitement of the landing had subsided, the narrative channeled us into what was largely a side story involving the Jinyu and Hozen, minor players who would take no part in the greater story of Pandaria.

Our brief stay with the Jinyu would almost completely sap our momentum, and whatever energy we had left dissipated entirely with the climax at the Statue of the Jade Serpent.  It was with the entry into the Valley of the Four Winds that the story of Pandaria properly began.

In Cataclysm, we had a poster boy, Deathwing, who we then promptly ignored throughout the entire expansion and who we only saw again in the final raid.  Instead, we began with the evil menace of Cho-gall who, though a key lore figure, was largely unknown to players whose sole source of information was the MMORPG. It was a lesson Blizzard learned for Warlords, with their extensive cinematic retelling of the enemies’ origins.

So, even though his picture was on the box, Deathwing was forgotten and the players moved through a series of unrelated zones, not even tied together by a common enemy.  With little through-plot to weave them into a common story, the different elemental zones appeared to be a series of separate mini-expansions.  Lacking the golden thread of a central story, Cataclysm felt confusing and ultimately dissatisfying.

Compare that experience to the first hours of Warlords of Draenor

We start in the Blasted Lands, and face an advanced guard of Iron Horde, who we battle into submission.  Then, we cross through the portal and hold these same Iron Horde at bay while we dismantle the mechanisms of the portal.  In the process, we face many of the chief generals of the opposing army, general whom we recognize from the advanced stories Blizzard showed us.

Next we establish our own base, raising it out of the native soil, building by building.  Again, this is in contrast to previous expansions, when we think we are the vanguard of our forces only to find that the place has been occupied for months and a fully fortified stronghold already exists, complete with a resident commander who we are now to become the errand boy for.

When we are sufficiently established, we join forces with the local Draenei (from the Alliance perspective) and fight off a major offensive against Karabor from those same Iron Horde we faced at the beginning.

At the end of this, we know exactly who we are: the resident commander of the primary Alliance or Horde force on Draenor.  And we know exactly what we must do: oppose and defeat the many warlord chieftains that comprise the Iron Horde and render them powerless to threaten Azeroth.  There is no confusion about where we are heading either, to Tanaan to confront Grommash Hellscream, Kilrogg Deadeye, and Kargath Bladefist.

Of course we know that new patches may introduce elements that could change the picture somewhat and we may be heading places that we can’t, now, anticipate. But at this moment, everything is clear.

And it is this moment of clarity that makes this expansion so compelling.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Great Expectations: Lessons from Pandaria

We're poised on the eve of destruction, with the time until a new Warcraft expansion opens counted in hours, now, rather than days or weeks.  And from this perspective, I have to look back over the past two years and say that it has truly been a wild ride.  But more than that, it's been a revelation.  What from the outset seemed like a questionable choice on Blizzard's part has turned into a story experience that I found to be both unexpected and, ultimately, deeply satisfying.

So let's back up over two years ago and join in the BlizCon where it was announced that the new expansion would be called Mists of Pandaria, and the new race to be added to the game was a giant panda.  The look of shocked incredulity soon gave way to full fledged rants about Kung Fu Panda and how Blizzard was dumbing down the game, and trying to attract the pre-teen customer base with silly cartoon avatars.  Like Chris Metzen said at a Q & A session, "This is going to hurt, isn't it?"  This was nothing short of the developers ruining the franchise; a once-proud tradition thrown away for a quick buck.  I'm sure that there are still some people who feel that way.

But I don't.  After two years of playing on this continent, I am still impressed with the detailed paintings that we call the playing environment.  I can still follow the twists and turns of the ever-changing narrative and marvel at how far we've come, how deep we've become a part of the land, at how fully-formed and consistent the culture of the Pandarens was developed and slowly revealed to us through gameplay and interaction.

As a quick example, I like the way the story of the Mantid was handled.  First we see it from the perspective of the pandaren in the Valley of the Four Winds, to whom the mantid are monsters in the night, horrors who come seeking only to kill and who must be held back by the thin gray line of the Shado-Pan manning the Wall -- the only thing that keeps out the darkness.

Then we cross that wall and see things from the other side.  We see the wall in reverse, and come to know what motivates the swarm, and what trials they are subject to from within the Klaxxi council of Paragons.  And then, finally, after we have struggled along side these mantid champions to correct the wrongs in their own society, suddenly the perspective changes again.  We are brought down into the inner chamber and realize that the mantid are exactly what we knew them to be at the beginning: monsters in the darkness, with whom there is no reasoning, no negotiation.  There is only the madness that comes with worshiping Old Gods.

Everywhere we turn, from the Klaxxi to the yaungol to the hozen in upper Kun-lai Summit, the enemies we face weren't simply impersonal mobs to kill.  They were characters like we were, dealing with the reality of their own situation and the interaction of various pressures that drove them.  And these pressures were made the more urgent by the resurgence of the Sha.

The pandaren had imprisoned themselves within their own continent, sealed from the rest of the worlds by the mists, but also leaving the pandaren to their own fate.  Because of the ever-present spectre of the Sha, they could not fully live at peace.  At the same time, any hostile or violent act  threatened to unleash the sha that lurked beneath the Pandaren soil.  As a result, no progress could be made, and the pandaren culture remained virtually unchanged for the past 10,000 years.

All the violence represented by the Yaungol and the Mantid  could not be addressed, for fear of awakening the Sha, so year after year the pandaren endured the Mantid invasions from the stasis of their wall, fought a stalemate war with the Yaungol in Townlong Steppes, but never to the point where they could come to terms of peace with them;  never to the point where they could negotiate a peace from a position of strength.  Instead, they were locked in an ongoing struggle to hold the wall, against the mantid and yaungol alike.

As a result of this uneasy peace, this tenuous stalemate, Pandaria has remained largely unchanged.  This has been both a blessing and a curse.  When we look at what has happened to the rest of Azeroth in just the last 10 years, we can see events that would have effectively threatened the very existence of the planet, invasions that would have reached even the mist-shrouded pandaren and they have had no influence in the outcome, mere passengers on this burning train that is the Titan's favorite planet.

So then along came the Alliance and the Horde.  And the first thing they did was to begin to enflame old hatreds, both with each other and between the indigenous populations of the Jinyu and Hozen.  This culminated in the tragedy that happened the Jade Valley, destroying the jade statue 100 years in the making and manifesting a fully formed sha.  Even after this obvious display of the factions' inability to handle the situation, the White Tiger agreed to let us enter the Vale of Eternal Blossom.  And the question is, why?

The answer lies in the meaning of the tests that Xuen set for us in the great audience chamber of his temple.  The first was to see if we could master ourselves. It was the test of Violence.  "Let us see how this stranger deals with turmoil of the soul," Xuen advised Zhu.  The White Tiger declared, "We can agree that it is noble to fight for a righteous cause." The first trial showed that we were a war-like people and that not all violence is evil.

The second was the test of Anger.  As Zhi the Harmonious offered, "to live without anger is not to live at all."  This was exactly the life that the Pandaren had come to know over the past 10,000 years.  Not all anger is evil.

Finally, we were faced with the Sha of Hatred, and as Xuen commented, our hatred has a face - that of Garrosh Hellscream.  Our anger wasn't unreasoned and universal (like the hozen), but focused against a specific aggressor.

When we defeat them, Xuen says, "This one has indeed proven mastery over anger.  Between the young cub's words and the actions of this hero, I think I understand.  Those from beyond the mists are hardened by battle.  They are scarred, yes, but they have learned much."  Now the subtle implication here is that the Pandaren may have not learned as much.

As Taren Zhu predicted, that went all wrong in the end. but Zhu's initial reaction was one of fear.  Here was a group of adventurers who didn't understand the delicate balance that he had had to maintain all his life.  They were reckless and would "leave misery in their wake."

Ultimately, however, it was by throwing away the careful balance that Pandaria could actually move forward again.  And the pandarens themselves weren't able to make this choice.  As Lorewalker Cho explains on several occasions, it was only through the agency of the Outsiders that the beautiful Vale of Eternal Blossom could be ripped open and the corrupted Heart removed.  And it was only the Outsiders who had the strength to defeat the Heart, once it surfaced.  This was the real meaning of Xuen's test.  He was looking to see if we were strong enough to finish what we began.

I have to say that after taking part in this story, I truly feel like I was part of its development; not passively watching it unfold, but taking an active part to bring it about.  I felt like a hero in an epic saga, a participant in the great story of a people coming to fruition.

And I haven't even begun to talk about the more personal interactions with Jaina, Anduin, and Varian from the Shieldwall storyline, or the unmistakable feeling that somone is toying with your soul every time you talk to Wrathion.

Which brings me back to those initial misgivings about Pandaria and our experience there.  Whatever doubts we had were more than erased by the actual experience.  I fully expect the same thing to be true for Warlords of Draenor.  Experience has shown us that Blizzard is capable of putting on a great show, and telling tales woven with nuance and contradiction.  To me, Mists set a high standard for future expansions to live up to, and while I will be examining Warlords with a critical eye, I have to admit that I'll be mixing that with a note of optimism as well.  I think the new expansion will be great, and I'm going to give it every opportunity to live up to my expectations.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Attacks of Opportunity: the Pre-Expansion Patch

Nothing good has ever come from complaining about a pre-expansion patch.  The devs are more likely to nerf things that are too good rather than attend to deficiencies.  But all in all I think we can say that the new expansion has well and truly started.  All eyes are looking forward, either in anticipation for what's coming, or in preparation for it by working through the final fragments of the old game that's rapidly falling behind us. 

I'm not going to enumerate every change that the patch brought with it, but certainly if you have many alts there were some distinct benefits.  First, the new quest line in Blasted Lands is worth taking your characters through, if for no other reason then to get re-acquainted with Thrall and Maraad as living characters in the lore.  The side benefit is that the series rewards you with several 515 armor pieces and one 520.

Or it would have, provided that you didn't complete it the first day like I did on my favorite character.  Yes, Blizzard has acknowledged the mistake but it's an open question whether they're likely to do anything about it.  On the other hand, if you were one of the few running old raids, you found that they were significantly nerfed by the stat squish to the point that Blizzard felt the need to power them back up a bit in the next patch.  So while I was an early adopter of the new content, and not getting the reward, I was not soloing raids on easy mode and, similarly, not getting rewards.

The irony here is that this quest series was advertised as an opportunity to boost the gear level of new characters before heading into Draenor.  So players flooded to the Blasted Lands with the characters that needed the rewards the most, excited for new content and a brief glimpse of what is to come.  The good news, of course, is that all of this has been fixed and the quests are rewarding gear as they should.

Gearing opportunities

For alts that are arrayed in Timeless Isle 496 gear, there are several options for improvement.  The Iron Horde quests have three rewards at ilevel 515 (necklace, cloak, ring) and one at 520 (trinket), which have helped several of my characters that don't always get enough attention.

At the same time Hallow's End is in full swing.  The Headless Horseman drops a 540 ring on every kill, not tied to the once-daily loot pumpkin, that come in four stat varieties.  Since a ring drops from every kill, it's perfectly reasonable to chain queue for the Horseman until you win the roll for the ring you need. This gives you your second ring, along with the one from the Iron Horde.

Within the loot pumpkin itself is the possibility for a plate helm or an agility sword.  While the  sword might be good for your enhancement shaman or rogue, the helm is an option for most of the plate-wearers. 

The other avenue available to the alt-friendly is the Shado-Pan Assault.  With the last patch, all gear from the Assault is purchased with gold; there's no longer any need for valor.  At neutral you can just walk up to the vendor in Niazao Temple and purchase a 522 necklace.  At friendly, however, you can pick out a number of other 522 pieces (rings, trinkets, bracers) everything but shoulders (which need higher rep) and boots (which they don't offer).  It seem that the whole ladder structure of unlocking a few items at each rep level has been eliminated and its now one giant buffet when you reach Friendly.  The catch is that the main way to gain reputation with the Shado-Pan Assault is by running the Throne of Thunder raid.

Raid Finding

Which brings us to LFR.  I've run a lot of RaidFinder recently, using undergeared alts, and I have to honestly admit that much of the toxicity and acrimony is gone.  I'm speculating that this is because everyone is so well geared and the raids are no longer so difficult that people's frustration levels are much lower.  Every run has been generally successful and peaceful.  Even when we've faced a few wipes, no one's become bitter.  All the bad behavior of the past (demanding that we kick the little ones, blaming the healers, mocking the fallen) has largely been replaced with patience and thoughtful explanations.  I don't expect it to last into the next expansion, when even in LFR things will be unfamiliar and challenging, but for now LFR has been a fun thing to do.

The main  reason I mention LFR as an attack of opportunity is that I was able to move from Neutral to Friendly with a single complete pass through the first of the Throne of Thunder raids, The Last Stand of the Zandalari.  The LFR drops from the raid bosses are only level 502 but the reputation unlocks grants access to the 522 gear at the vendor, as mentioned above.

The other reason, though, is that this is the last chance to see these raids while they are current content.  This is the last chance to run them with motivated and experienced players while they are even somewhat of a challenge and while they offer potentially useful rewards for something other than transmogging..  Soon enough they will be relegated to nostalgia runs that you grind for pets.

Draenor Rewards

Each of these activities is interesting in its own right, but I think it's worthwhile to question the entire exercise as merely an opportunity for better armor.

The argument runs like this:  in three week's time, we'll be rolling into the new expansion on Draenor and be up to our necks in new quests and quest rewards.  Also new in Warlords is that some quest rewards will be randomly boosted from green to blue, and from blue to purple.  Aren't we going to be replacing a lot of this gear in the first zone anyway?

Quests in the first zones should give rewards in the 510-520 range.  The quest rewards we pick up from the Iron incursion are typical of the first zone.  This means that your Timeless Isle gear will be replaced in short order with early quests.

However, anything above 510 will be a help with those early quests when you first hit the portal.  I remember many players experiencing frustration in Cataclysm when they entered Mount Hyjal in questing greens and blues and found it very difficult to solo.  The same will be true for alts whose gear is 429 and 463 blues from Townlong Steppes. Mists had Adventuring supplies vendors to help people catch up; it's unclear if Warlords will do the same.

The report from the Beta is that rewards from the questing portion of the game, from level 90 to 100, range from item level 500 to 600. Raiding loot, and anything from subsequent patches will move higher on the ladder.  The ranges overlap what's currently available from vendors and dungeons, so it won't be the same as Burning Crusade where elite raiding gear was replaced by the first quest rewards that came along.

Anything that you can do now will put you in a better position to experience the full story of the new expansion, to have the time and freedom to look around you as you travel through the new landscape, and the freedom to take advantage of new opportunities when they appear.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chasing Revan: the xp bonus

In a very perceptive comment to my last post, l0n3gun brought up one of the features announced with the new Shadow of Revan expansion for SWTOR that has already gone live. Bioware is increasing the experience gained from class quests by twelve times.  It has all sorts of implications not only for current subscribers but also for how the game may be played in the expansion.

I've seen a few misconceptions about the strength of the experience boost.  It's an odd number, 12, and it doesn't seem as impressive as it is.  It's easy to confuse 12x with 12%.  Think about the 2x XP boosts that you can buy on the cartel market or are sometimes awarded for quests.  Think about the double XP weekends that were so welcome last summer.  Now consider that this boost isn't 2x but 12x.  This bonus is huge.

The extra experience is only awarded to class quests, rather than the overall xp of other boosts, but I think this reveals a very purposeful intention on the part of Bioware.  It isn't just that they want to keep their players in the game while we wait for the expansion to be released, although that's definitely a significant motivation.  And it isn't simply to make sure that players have characters ready to see the new content, though again that's a primary factor.  And where did that number 12 come from anyway?  Why not 10x or 15x?

I suspect that the deep thinkers at Bioware limited the xp boost to class quests because they are genuinely proud of the stories they created for each of the eight classes and they want their players to experience them before they are consigned to irrelevancy.  They could have provided boosts for all experience, as they have in the past, but instead they decided to focus on class stories.  With a 12 time bonus it's very likely that you would advance far beyond a planet's level range if everything was boosted.  And in that situation, the player is likely to simply leave the planet half done and move on to the next one that provided the most efficient xp.  The golden thread of the story would most certainly be lost as you jump around from planet to planet.  Like having the entire season of your favorite TV show on DVD and watching the first 15 minutes of every episode.

In fact, this is the disjointed kind of experience that the early levels of Warcraft offer.  XP comes so rapidly that if you venture into a dungeon you're likely to complete it and find all your quests have turned gray.  I'd like to think that Bioware has learned from Blizzard's experimentation and has improved this next iteration.  I'm guessing that 12x boost was carefully designed to give enough xp to level the character with Class quests alone but allowing you to fully complete at least one story on each planet.

But that brings us to the implicit negative that's lurking here as well.  If the Class quest is the "good parts" version, what do we say about all the other quests that don't get boosted.  Are they mere filler?  I'm hoping that we could, perhaps, be seeing a subtle re-examination of the quality of quests on Bioware's part, that might be reflected in the upcoming expansion.  If Bioware acknowledges that all quests aren't the same and they've decided that the very best of the 1-50 experience lies in the class quests, it may not be too much to hope that the devs might bring us more of what they consider the best.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Old Republic Continues

In what was almost a stealth reveal yesterday, Bioware announced a new major expansion for Star Wars: the Old Republic.  Titled "Shadow of Revan", this is the second major story expansion of the game following "Rise of the Hutt Cartel" and like the previous release also includes 5 additional levels added to the cap.  We're also promised more flashpoints (unlike last time) and two new 5-boss operations.

In addition to the major story content, Bioware is also re-working the skill trees into a system they call "Disciplines."  Like Blizzard did last expansion, Bioware is replacing the largely ceremonial skill tree, where your choices are all but a foregone conclusion, with something more like a skill path.  As you level, the character progresses along a set path of acquiring new skills, but the path also unlocks a small pool of additional "Utility" skills from which the player can choose.  Theoretically, these utilities will change the way you play that character.

Finally, a way forward

What interests me most about the way they've approached this expansion is that they finally appear be adopting a "story first" philosophy.  Again this is all looking at appearances from a long way out, but it seems that Bioware has chosen a major story line involving a great, overarching enemy who threatens the galaxy, Empire and Republic alike.  At lease initially, every element of the expansion appears to be oriented toward facing this threat.  Finally, everyone is on the same page and participating in the same story.

This shared purpose and shared story isn't something we've been able to achieve since the game launched.  The initial 50-level experience was more like 8 stories being told in parallel, rather than one single story in which every class participated.  Each character ends up as a hero in its own class story, but relatively isolated from all the other classes.

At the same time, the galaxy has been torn apart by a number of minor and isolated threats, again, that were largely unrelated to each other.  From the Shroud to Toborro to whatever was happening on CZ-198, from the Gree to the Rakghoul, the characters seemed to be rushing around the galaxy putting out small fires.  I felt like we were watching the TV series, with each event a different episode, rather than watching a movie.

Even the Dread Masters were confined largely to something that happened in Operations.  It was only on Oricon that we eventually brought everything back together into a single story.

Star Wars Episode X: Shadow of Revan

Now, the approach feels different to me.  We've just experienced three story-rich flashpoints that introduce new characters and new environments and given us pieces of the puzzle, glimpses of what is to come.  And building anticipation for the main event, something that will require our total commitment and reward us with an epic and heroic adventure.

I realize that somewhere inside, I'm still yearning for Star Wars Episode X: Shadow of Revan.  I want an experience that rivals one of the main films, and I believe that the MORPG is capable of delivering it.  Clearly, Makeb did not reach that scale but Revan has the stature to be the next great villain.

 A brief glance back...

Just as a post script, I want to indulge myself for a minute by directing our attention to one of my posts back in August, SWTOR: Fall Calendar where I predicted that the new expansion would be released on December 2nd.  If you are a subscriber and pre-order, that is indeed the date when the game is first available.  That's also the date when the mechanical changes to skill trees go live.

So, while I claim that prediction is accurate, it's still up in the air whether we'll see any further update in the late October/early November timeframe as I also suggested. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Out of the Wilderness

Anyone with even a cursory interest in Star Wars probably has reason to celebrate this month, and it has nothing to do with The Old Republic MMO.  For me, this marks a pivotal moment in the history of the intellectual property.  And ever the optimist that I am, I think this turning point will mark the beginning of a profound upward trajectory when it comes to Star Wars storytelling.

As a brief aside, after the mad frenzy of posting inspired by the Blaugust Challenge, I took a week off from posting to recharge my brain.  My brain felt like a sponge that had been wrung dry, and needed a few days to regain its normal shape.  Now I feel like I haven't posted in months, which signals to me that I'm ready to go again.

Everyone who has a passing familiarity with the Star Wars IP is aware that Lucas sold the rights of the franchise to Disney, and that Disney, in turn, has announced its intention to make new films based in the Star Wars universe.  This is old news, of course, though to me it did signal a subtle change in the alignment of the universe.

To be specific,the Expanded Universe (EU to its friends) was a cheerful and chaotic place, full of rich and sometimes contradictory tales.  And not a few works either. Between the novels, comics and graphic novels, short stories, video and roleplaying games, hundreds of works using the Star Wars property have been produced. Only passing effort was made to reconcile the different characters and elements as each author was forging their own narrative.  Some of it was well done, others were wild flights of fancy that frankly weakened the core concepts.

At that time back in 2013, Kathleen Kennedy, the de facto CEO of all things Star Wars and confidante of George Lucas, established a Star Wars Story Group.  Their job was to be the keeper of the canon, and to establish what was accepted history, and what were Legends. Everything except the six films and the Clone Wars series was set aside - valuable contributions but not part of the Core Canon.

However, Kathleen had no intention of leaving things there.  Just as other properties had done before it, Star Wars indulged in a necessary reboot of the franchise. With the downsizing of the lore behind them, the SWSG began deliberations with several authors to create a new series of works that would be coordinated around the core of the films.

Which brings us to the present.  Early in September (just a few days ago) a new book called Star Wars: a New Dawn was put out in kindle and hardback with the contents endorsed by SWSG to be fully cannon. This is scheduled to be followed at regular two-month intervals, by  
  • James Luceno's Star Wars: Tarkin on Nov. 4,  
  • Kevin Hearne's Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi in Jan. 2015, and
  • Paul Kemp's Star Wars: Lords of the Sith next March.

The first book, A New Dawn is designed by SWSG to be a direct prequel to a new TV series in the style of SW: The Clone Wars called Star Wars Rebels which premiers October 13th.

All of this is in preparation for the new Star Wars movie Episode VII, as yet unnamed,  to be released next December, 2015.

What's Different This Time
From a personal perspective, as someone who is interested in the overarching story of Star Wars, I love the fact that we will still have the plethora of books, comics, games and films but their stories will be coordinated, rather than allowed to run wild.  I've talked elsewhere about how stories are told on three levels, the personal, the people, and the epic world/universe levels.  With this move, the SWSG is shoring up that epic universe level that has never quite made sense before outside the main movies.

Sometimes a franchise reboot gives audiences an entry point, a place to jump on to the moving train so they don't feel like they can never catch up.  After a while, the EU became overwhelming with it's sheer volume. If EU material had begun to dissolve in a tangle, this is the opportunity to climb on just as the train is leaving the station.

Now, provided that the SWSG is up to their rather difficult task, we don't have to worry about weeding out the dross, don't have to engage in fan edits and retcons of the EU timeline.  It will finally be worth while to pay attention to every venture, to follow each narrative, because for the first time it all counts.  Each of these disparate stories will make sense and all of it will be worth the serious SW fan's time.  That is the promise that the Story Group is making.

Third, there is some wishful thinking on my part.  The old narratives are being brought to a close and the focus is on the time directly after Return of the Jedi, the third of the original movie trilogy.  This choice is crucial because it allows the audience, if they wish, to largely ignore disappointing material from the prequel series.

Instead, it returns us to the beloved original characters that captured the essence and excitement of the films that started everything.  Audiences can start with A New Hope, the original Star Wars film, and move directly through those three movies into the new material from the Disney movies, without ever confronting midichlorians or Jar Jar.  This more than anything else shows me that Kathleen knows what she's doing.

I'm struck by the campaign-like structure of this release.   I reminds me very much of the MORPG timelines that we've seen recently.  Starting this month, there will be something new to see and learn in Star Wars every month or two until at least March, with more things undoubtedly planned to bring us up to the film release next December.  This is the kind of pre-planning that more closely resembles a MORPG, and seems designed to immerse the audience in the Star Wars universe - an audience that has been craving immersion for a very long time.

So with that calendar ahead of us, we head into the new era of Star Wars.  And right now we have the opportunity to start from the very beginning.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Twilight of Blaugust 2014

We've finally arrived at the conclusion of Blaugust and I'm fairly pleased with the result.  Not only did I post every day, but I also polished off a personal goal of reading at least two other Blaugust contributors each day as well. And I was but one of a large field of nimble posters who punched boredom in the face every day.  In the words of Zyngor, I say to all of them "Congrats on Blaugust Victory!"

I want to thank Belghast for bringing the idea to fruition, and providing the structure for making it happen.  It was a great motivation for me to write more and a great excuse to read gaming blogs while I was supposed to be working.

Personal growth
Perfect is the enemy of the good, and the enemy of my blog posts has been the need to revise.  Typically, I will think of something that inspires me to write, and I'll get the basic idea onto a page somewhere, but then I'll be overcome with doubts.  Maybe it really should be better researched, shouldn't this bit here be more completely sourced, have I really captured the essence of the argument?  I'll just set this aside for a few days until I can give it the treatment it really deserves.

By the time I look at it again, the event is no longer current, the discussion has passed on to something else, and I don't feel the urgency of my convictions anymore.  It would sometimes take me a month to write on a single topic, and by the time I was finished I wouldn't have improved the post that much anyway.  Blaugust taught me how to put an end to that nonsense.

Attacking on both fronts
Ultimately, I think there's room in blogging for both thoughtful commentary and initial honest reaction.  I think both lead to a better understanding of an issue and how I think about it.  Writing the initial surface thoughts lets me examine them more objectively and build them into something more coherent.

Not writing about something, conversely, means that this unpolished thought will bounce around in my head, always bringing my thoughts back to that initial starting point.  Blaugust has been the perfect exercise for sorting out these two different types of writing, and its a realization I never would have come to if I had continued to struggle with my old habits of a single post a month.

I've decided not to lose anymore posts to the monster of doubts.  I've also decided not to continue posting every day, but at the same time to set up a regular posting schedule.  I've decided to be more active in curating my blog roll because I've realized how useful it is as a tool for my own research.  I've decided to read, comment and like others' blog posts because as Chelsea pointed out every blogger is encouraged by a little feedback.

  • I think the format of reblogging individual posts onto the central Anook site was key for my enjoyment of the challenge.  It showed me how many other writers were posting every day, and it provided a central location to find everybody's new stuff.
  • I'm looking forward to next year's challenge.
  • I think we need a Blaugust Challenge 2014 Survivor badge.

This is the Thirty-first entry in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Taking the M out of MMO

I haven't really played an MMO in years.

Yes, I've played WoW and SWTOR and LOTRO, but for many years now I've associated with the same group of players and we all tend to play the same games. We regularly start characters together and tend to keep them about the same level in functional teams.  Of course we also begin other characters that aren't bound by that sort of social pressure, but as likely as not if one is playing on a particular faction and level and server, others will join in our Ventrilo server and tend to naturally group up.

It may be that I'm lucky in this regard, because for the first few years I didn't have this social support, and MMOs can be very lonely when you are a solitary player.  However, I wonder if this isn't how the games are designed to operate.  This is the model that the guild concept has been trying to replicate in WoW for a long time: a group of friends coming together when necessary but maintaining the freedom to spin off and do their own things in between.

Aren't Guilds the Answer?
I've been in guilds of all sizes and I've usually been the most lonely in the largest guilds.  Felt more isolated than when I wasn't in a guild at all.  At least when you are unguilded, you don't have the expectation of any social support. When I'm in a massive guild, it's been an uncomfortable sensation of being surrounded by many players none of whom know you or interact with you. 

In my experience, when there are 75 people in guild chat most players are less likely to say anything or respond as compared to when there are 7.  When there are seven, players seem more likely to speak casually, to engage in conversation or toss in a comment or quip;  to simply be themselves with more freedom.  When I'm in a guild of 400, it's like rats in a warehouse, huddled around the edges.  What's really happening is the 400 are usually subdividing themselves into smaller groups.

Guilds are too quiet.  In an effort to avoid pressuring anyone, to be welcoming and encourage people to stay, guilds tend not to place expectations on new recruits.  I wonder if the opposite approach wouldn't work better, get that new recruit into a group and break the ice right away.  Could it be better to have 7 genuinely cooperating and interacting players than to have 75 players who are silent?

Bigger isn't Better
I guess I'm just feeling that for me, larger groups aren't always better.  Larger raids, bigger battles, just sheer numbers, don't equate to greater enjoyment.  There's a lot of rose-colored nostalgia recently for 40-player Molten Core raids, and massive pvp battles between Southshore and Tarren Mill, and they are monuments to a time when the game really was played in huge assemblies.   But for me the recollection of MC is much more fun than the actual exercise: standing around for an hour waiting for everyone to show up,  the uncertainty of wondering if you would be chosen to be included, the stress of constantly having your dps performance monitored to see if you were worthy of continued participation, the frustration of never seeming to make the loot process work for you, the terror of putting a foot wrong and wiping all 40 players in your raid by accidentally pulling something at an inopportune time, who then had to run back from the other continent, apparently.  Good times! but much more fun as a recollection.

It takes work to keep our little social group together.  It takes a subtle re-adjustment of expectations, as well.  People become more flexible and less goal driven, knowing that they will achieve much more with the group then individually.  We tend to be group focused as well, sharing crafting and resources among the group equally, and are much more likely to do that then to deal with people outside our group.

I guess what's happened is that I've mostly stopped interacting with the thousands on my server, and tended to deal with those immediately around me. I've come to realize that it doesn't matter to me if I have 6.8 million playing my game or 200,000; when the most I interact with are the several dozen at my particular location. In fact, until I started playing GW2, those dozen around me were more likely to be my direct competitors than something that was enhancing my gaming experience. I would rather play a game with less than 500,000 others who were genuinely interested in what it offered, than try to play something that wanted to be all things to all players and ended up being mediocre at everything.

What I have wanted, personally, would best be described as an NMO, Narrowly multiplayer online game because frankly that is how I play now.  I'd like a game that targeted the small group and designed content around that reality, rather than one that promised that all the best experiences would be reserved for groups of 25.  So in response, I've started using the label MORPG.  I find that I can leave the massively out of the name and retain the same meaning.  And at the same time re-emphasize to myself the RPG part of the name, which can sometimes be lost in all the fury.

This is the Thirtieth entry in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Center Cannot Hold

So here's a quick question.   We've said that after ten years of adding more and more abilities to our WoW characters, it's become too much. We can't continue doing that and expect the game to hold together.

Now, take that statement and replace that word "ability" with class or race or with capital city or  zone or ... pick a word and throw that in there.  Is there a point at which the game itself is simply so large that you can't continue to add to it?  Can you have too many races, like we have too many buttons?

At some point one of two things happens:  either there are so many elements to the game that
the game itself simply collapses from all the minutia, or you stop adding things to the game and it begins to stagnate. Currently, we have 13 races in World of Warcraft and we could easily add a couple more.  Could we add six more?  I can instantly recognize all of these races right now, but I don't think I could do it for nearly 20 of them.  The nature of the game will have changed at that point.
"It's important to remember that the point of these changes is to increase players' ability to understand the game, not to reduce depth of gameplay." Beta patch notes. 

On the one hand, you can have so many races that you can't keep them straight.  Any newly introduced race would incrementally erode the distinctness of all the others.  It may not be in our best interest to continue to expand the lore laterally, adding new continents and new civilizations.

On the other hand, the fate of any new race might become the same as that of the Worgen, where they have their beautifully designed starting area and then we never hear from them again.  Is it a race, if the race never takes any major part in the world?  And does the developer have an obligation to that race to include it in future world events?  And if you don't, have you really added that race to the world or have you just given the players another cosmetic skin on the order of importance of a new hair color.

It will be a different world, certainly.  And there are other possibilities.

Blizzard has been almost draconian in streamlining the leveling experience up to this point. I think it might be difficult to speed it up even faster and still maintain any coherence in the existing zones. We've certainly already minimized the importance of many areas in the game.  At least two or three zones in each expansion are already rendered inconsequential by the speed of leveling.  We are, in effect, removing those zones from the game.  The developers have purposely removed the necessity to visit Shattrath or Dalaran, and declined to put a major city in the more recent expansions, giving us shrines instead.  In addition to removing buttons, we're also removing cities.

Have we seen the last race introduced at level 1? Any character you roll up after Warlords drops will have to level from 1 to 100, just to get to end game.  We're likely to see the price of level boosting come down quite a bit, but what about other options.  Perhaps in the future you can simply choose to start your character at level 60, or 80 or 100; just check the box at character creation. Or pass a proving grounds trial to instantly gain 10 levels. Maybe it's time for a new level-100 heroic class in the manner of the Death Knights.

Clearly all of the preceding is merely wild speculation.   I think, however, there is a kernel of truth in the idea that the traditional experience we're all used to from WoW and other older games - basic handful of races and classes with level 1 starting areas and normal leveling curves - has already begun to change.

This is post twenty-nine in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Questing on Voss

Voss isn't one of the typical planets in The Old Republic.  It's a place where secrets are revealed.  Where seeds that have been planted 15 or 20 levels ago slowly come to the surface.  By its very nature, it's designed to turn the whole Lightside/ Darkside question on its ear.

I'm leveling my Republic trooper to 55, which is the final class story for me on the Republic side.  This will be my 6th or so visit to Voss, on as many different classes.  Each time, I learn something more about the TOR universe and the overarching story that SWTOR is trying to tell.

Alien Life
Voss isn't a popular planet.  The residents of the planet are a bit bizarre, a bit distant; with blank compound eyes that seem to be looking everywhere but right at you.  They aren't cuddly ewoks.  Nor are the Gormak menacing enough to be truly threatening. On the other hand, it's one of the few planets in the game that is entirely populated by an alien species, and it's only when you finally get here that you realize how unusual that is. For a franchise that is noted for inventing fantastical alien species and making them seem realistic, The Old Republic is a little thin on new creatures.

Voss is also one of the few planets where the designers have allowed us to look at the society of a native species.  On a few other planets we find scattered pockets of another species, like the Ortolons and the Talz on Hoth, but most of the planets are dominated by humans.  Not here.  When you reach the city of Voss-ka it legitimately feels different. 

At this level, players are so close to level 50 that they are impatient to get off this world, make it on to Corellia where they will finally reach max level.  I've done things in reverse, in that I'm already level 50, and don't need anything from this planet but the story it has to tell. To understand the changes that are shaping the Republic/Empire conflict, though, you need to experience Voss from every perspective.

Extending the Mythology
One of the reasons why Voss is unusual is that its people are force sensitive, without being consumed by the Light side or the Dark side.  The Voss are unaware of these distinctions.

 A couple of days ago, we talked about a yardstick for judging the art of the storyteller: do we accept implausible things as possible because the framework of that secondary world is strong enough to support them?

Here’s an example of a time where we do.  The Voss Mystics can touch the Force, and use it to consistently and accurately predict the future.  Even though the Star Wars core cannon has been very careful about how the Force is manifest, The Old Republic takes a mild risk and extends force wielding power to an entirely different methodology.  The Voss mystics are considered gray force users by the Jedi, neither of the light or dark side.  And the mystics appear to be very successful in using the force for prophecy, something that seems to present difficulties for later Jedi like Yoda.    

Clearly, Voss mystics are an extension of Force mythology, but a reasonable one.  And the Force myth, and the created world of The Old Republic, are strong enough to accept and support this extension.

This is post twenty-eight in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

And no one dared...

Are game developers listening to their players?

If so, where?

If I had something that I wanted the developers of a game to hear, where would I go to voice my concern?  Now it's very unlikely that a lone individual would be privileged to get the ear of developers.  I'm not asking for that. But even if I merely wanted to join my voice with many others to get some attention on an idea, is there some accepted avenue to follow that has any chance of being effective?

I was piqued by a thought by Roger Edwards at Contains Moderate Peril that summed up the situation nicely.
"But the forums are not in any way representative of the LOTRO community. No gaming forums are. They are merely a platform for a vocal minority. So Turbine could, if they wanted to, completely ignore them."
As players, we'd like to think that developers are listening to their own forums, but we know that's probably not the case.  For one thing, game forums are traditionally wretched hives of scum and villainy.  It's amazing that any discussion takes place there at all, when the pass time is more likely to be finding out how quickly an original post can be torn to shreds over spelling or word choice or personal attacks.  The truth is that the contention and rancor that typify game forums have driven most of the thoughtful commentators away.

In that fabled Sapience quote, the one where he discussed how few raiders and pvper played LOTRO, the more interesting part was where he ended by saying that these minority groups were vastly overrepresented in the forums. You can't blame those groups for being vocal about what's important to them, but the community manager did give the impression that he discounted the feedback he was getting from his own forums.

Imagine the loneliness the developers must feel when they realize that their forums are awash with strident single-issue voices and social assassins.

I distinctly remember a moment in the pre-release forums of SWTOR when the discussion turned to flying mounts.  The overwhelming consensus was that flying mounts were entirely undesirable and the posters were quite open about why: it would minimize the viability of open world pvp.  Flying mounts were never a serious possibility for The Old Republic, but it became clear that many of the most visible posters were there to ensure that pvp was well represented.

I have a similar recollection about the announcement in no uncertain terms about the removal of tree form from druid healers in World of Warcraft.  At that time there was considerable negative outcry from many quarters but the decision was presented as a fait accompli.  Apparently, there was a thread somewhere on the forums, or even on Reddit, where the possibility of removing tree of life was discussed with the devs.  Since the consensus there was that it wasn't a big deal, ToL got the axe, so to speak.

Blizzard has the reputation of being tone deaf when it comes to player desires, particularly when shouted on the forums, but suddenly this extremely unpopular decision was actually presented as an example of the devs giving druids what they wanted.  The message was that if druids were unhappy, they should have participated more.  Ironically, the community managers then proceeded to scold the druids, who had finally been motivated to bring their complaints to the forum, for being too negative.

It wasn't too long ago that several bloggers when leaving major MORPGs (WoW, ESO, WS) had trouble completing the exit interview where they had a final opportunity to say why they were unsatisfied.  For most, the available list of reasons to choose from didn't adequately represent what they were feeling, and other options weren't available.

I think that many developers would like to listen to their players.  At least, they would like to know what players think, even if they can't always be accommodated.  But I'm not sure that they have any reliable method for receiving valid responses.   I think that well reasoned commentary and opinion by bloggers and gaming journalists probably has a greater chance of being heard than any single post on game forums.  (I, myself, am not in danger of writing anything well-reasoned, but I regularly read people who do.)

Bloggers speaking on similar topics can refine and concentrate thinking that has the possibility to reach employees working on games at all levels within their respective companies.  And it can reach them when they are likely to be receptive to ideas rather than when they are hunkered down and wading through the free-fire zone of forums. For example, opinions affected the thinking of SWTOR developers at the time. (Torwars is now inactive because the webmaster was hired by Wildstar).  Warcraft Hunters Union was able to bring ideas to Ghostcrawler at a time when hunters were going through some major changes.

Developers will admit that they like interacting with their players when they can do so in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and support.  Devs like their games, and they like reading about their games, and reading people who like their games.  That's the opportunity we have to be heard.

Blaugust is still going strong.  This is post twenty-seven in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our part of the game's narrative contract

I was listening to the back catalog of Extra Credits today, which is totally worth it by the way, and I came upon one of my favorite episodes, The Magic Circle.  Basically James is talking about ways that storytellers use ritual or structure to allow us, the audience, to enter into the 'magic' of the tale being told without having to abandon our knowledge and reason as thinking adults.  It is the contract that we make with the storyteller that we are willing to listen to whatever she has to say without rejecting her medium as foolish or childish or unimportant. 

EC gives the example of the mystery of the campfire as a circle that allows us to experience ghost stories in a way would never be as effective in another setting.    But circles can come in many forms. Think of the effect of the opening song from Firefly.  It is a wrapper around the story that signals the kind of magic the author is offering.  Once we've passed that boundary, we've given the author permission to show us space ships in the wild west, and the author has given us a promise to make that magic make sense.

In return, the storyteller has an obligation to treat our attention with care, to not stretch the permission we've extended to them too far and make us feel foolish.  By entering this circle we expose a little of our own credibility.  And again, we must be willing participants in this contract for it to have any effect.  Someone outside that circle may well look at some of our cherished tales and disparage them a bit.  It's easy to laugh at X-files, or Doctor Who, or Rocket and Groot and say, 'It doesn't make any sense. I just don't get it."  This ridicule is part of what the magic circle gives us protection from.  It's OK to believe.

Corey Olsen is a popular commentator on Tolkien's works and he talks about "secondary belief" a term he uses to refer to the investment in the world of the story by the audience.  We might call it a willing suspension of disbelief.  "If the art of the storyteller is good enough we will be led to accept things like magic or dragons as perfectly plausible within the bounds of the secondary (the storyteller's) world."

This is the complex social contract that we enter into every time we play a narrative game like an MORPG.  The players are willing to cross the boundary of this artificial world, and must be willing to overlook its weaknesses and the artificiality of game mechanics in order to gain the freedom to live in that other world.  This is were we as players have an obligation to be something more than passive observers.

On the other hand, if the game is willing to invite players across that boundary, they had better have something to offer them other than game mechanics and dexterity puzzles. Very often that magic circle has been lost when we log in and start to grind out dailies.  Where we queue for an instance and then start farming for cloth drops. This is what we begin to lose on the long stretches between expansions.

Post twenty-six in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Regarding GW2

I am a simple newcomer to Guild Wars 2, despite having purchased it slightly before it was released.  I played it for a good while, slowly drifted away for no particular reason, and came back with more determination.  Which is where I am now.  And I feel a disquieting sense of deja vu stealing over me.  The truth is dawning that I am beginning to feel the same sense of listlessness that fueled my apathy the first time around.

Worry not, gentle reader, for I have prepared for this possibility and am determined to push ahead. But now that I'm aware, I want to look around and discover why.

All the good things that I wrote about a while back are still true.  The community is different, the camaraderie and natural cooperation are still inherent draws into the game.  Yesterday I participated in a guild challenge, and I wasn't even part of the guild, and the guild stewards offered me as much help as one of their own.  I got my chest of goodies along with every one else and then joined in clearing the spiders for the other runners.  No one scorned me for a moocher or told me to cheese off, and we parted as friends.

No the issue is not the community, but it's really more the game itself.  Yesterday, I came upon a heart and helped a Charr engineer gather reservoir samples by clicking on some odd pump things and killing a bunch of skulkers.  And if that is boring to read you'll understand when I say that I had to shake myself awake about halfway through.  There was  nothing wrong with this quest location except that it felt unconnected to the overall world, or to the zone, or to the Charr, or to my character.  It simply was there, and I did it.

One of the true strengths of GW2 is that it is so easy to get into.  Log in to your character, check the map for nearby activities, and you can be playing within seconds.  No need to worry about being in the right zone or the right level, or having the right weapon.  Pick up a branch and join in the fray.

But that same ease of entry can also be a barrier to a deeper connection to the game.  Most of the areas I've been in have been interesting, but not distinctive - like the Ebonshore Plant, for example.  I don't feel like I really know what's going on there (other than they have annoying skales in the water) or why I should care what's going on there.

But as I was standing around contemplating the banality of my life, something happened, as it always does in GW2.  The Flame Legion started to attack - its shamans polluting the precious water that I had worked so hard only minutes before to clear of noisome creatures.  This may be the most boring place on earth, but it was MY boring place, I wasn't going to let the Flame Legion pollute it.

Recently, the Mystical Mesmer gave an extensive response to Belghast's post in which he mentioned how he couldn't get into GW2.  And I have to say that I am sympathetic to Belghast's complaints.  There is something surreal and ethereal about Tyria, particularly when leveling, that makes it hard for me to tightly connect to it.  I reach for the thread of a storyline, and it all disappears from my grasp.

I'm sure that I'm going to cover several more zones and levels before I intuitively grasp what's happening around me.  Then, perhaps, I'll understand what I'm missing right now.  But as I've said before, I'm playing the long game.

Post twenty-five in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Focus on Draenor

The new Warlords expansion for WoW is launching with neither a new class nor a new race for playable characters. BC had two new races, LK had Death knights, Cata had Worgen and Goblins, Mists had pandaren and monk, and now Warlords has nothing.  Before anyone silently cringes, I'm not saying this is a nail in the coffin, or that the expansion will be a failure, or that WoW is dying or any of that nonsense.

Instead, I'm asking if it's possible for a game to reach maturity such that the basic trappings of a growing game are no longer necessary.  And after 10 years, hasn't Blizzard earned the right to say this about Warcraft.

"We don't need to," Wow Insider Adam Holisky vehemently declared about a new race. "There's no reason to do it."  And a little later in the discussion, "I think it's going to be five or six years before they add another class." I don't really disagree.  I don't have a problem with the lack of class and race this time and that's actually what surprises me.  And I can think of a couple of reasons

First, this is the first expansion that is entirely forward-looking, with no new class or race tempting you to go back to level 1.  I am secretly pleased that I don't have to start again with the obligatory new character just to level it all the way to the top.  Everybody's going through that portal, this time; freshly boosted to 90 if necessary.

Second, WoW has advanced to the point where it really doesn't need a lot more mechanical support to feel like a full experience.  WoW has reached a state of maturity where it's achieved internal stability.  There aren't any obvious holes in its organization, unless we really need a cloth-wearing ranged tanking class.  And I would totally play the pistol-wielding swashbuckler if she appeared but I'm not distraught at her absence.  Adding new classes seems like something that a younger game (like Neverwinter) would be actively doing.  

I have the same feeling for this continual reworking of game and class mechanics every expansion.  Shouldn't we have this done by now?  When it comes down to it, I'm not all that thrilled by the reworked character models either. (Not that I begrudge anyone who has fallen in love with the new look.  I'm still going to be looking at the back of their helmet most of the time, anyway.) 

So, if Warlords doesn't have these superficial trappings of an expansion, what does it do instead?  If you wanted my vote, it would be: Lots of story content.  Not just leveling content, but post-100 narrative zones that Bashiok said would take the place of daily quest grinds. The garrisons, I'm sure, are designed to be a big part of it as well. New dungeons and better scenarios, absolutely.  With all the experimentation we saw in Mists, I'm sure they are well prepared for the demands of this new expansion.

This pull of the lever I want it to be all Draenor, all the time.

Post twenty-four in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.