Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interpreting Cataclysm's Ending

I wasn't very happy with the ending cinematic of Cataclysm. The whole thing felt like a re-run, as if I'd seen this movie before. And Ag'ra's pregnancy was just the cheesy center of a cheesecake sandwich. But then, I stopped thinking about cheese and started to try to think of it from an old-god perspective.

What if this was what the old gods wanted?

They put their cards on the table, field their entire army, however feeble it might be, release their strongest lieutenants into the wild and say, "Go. Wreck Azeroth." All the while, they knew full well the army they unleashed, their champions, even Deathwing himself, could not possibly succeed. But success was never their intention.

When the Titans left, their caretakers were the Aspects. It was among their list of charges to keep the old gods in check. How well they did this is debatable, but consider what Deathwing does from an old-god perspective. He creates the Dragon Soul - an object so powerful that it's capable of defeating the Burning Legion - but also an object infused with the essence of every Dragonflight. This diminishes the Aspects, but not enough to matter.

For the old gods to escape, what they really need is to be left alone by the Aspects so they can pursue their agendas.

In comes the Destroyer - who must himself be destroyed if Azeroth is to continue. The Aspects can't do it alone. They need the help of the mortal races - but that's just a distraction. The old gods are still playing this game - and what they really need is for the Aspects to channel their essence into the Dragon Soul to destroy Deathwing, thus diminishing themselves permanently.

Which is exactly what they do.

At the Maelstrom, emerges in full out old-god mode and we were just the catalyst the old gods were waiting for, and at a time when they sensed everything was in place, they played their cards. Nihilistic fool that he is, Deathwing never suspects his true purpose and dies, taking with him the last of what made the Aspects great.

The old gods's hand might look like a mess, but the last couple of cards have yet to be turned and that hand might turn out to be a flush. If you were an old god, you'd be pretty damned happy right now, wouldn't you?

The keepers are gone. There are no more aspects, and the mortal races don't really know or understand the old gods enough to face them down. Without the help of the Aspects, we're on our own against all of the old gods.

We've already seen C'thun come back in the Cho'gal fight. Who knows how quickly Yogg'Saron will return. N'zoth is still out there, and we haven't seen any sign of it at all. Our best hope may lie in the fact that the old gods hate each other almost as much as they hate us, and in that conflict, we might have some hope of victory.

But man, this is a good time to be an old god.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two Years


This post will be a bit sentimental and melodramatic, so you have full rights to skip this - it might even get sappy and mopey in places.

I've been writing this blog for two years as of today.

155 posts, 192 comments, 31k page-views and about half of those from non-US sources, including Brazil, Denmark, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden...

The bulk of my traffic has come from a very small subset of posts - the story got a lot of attention, another entry picked up WoWInsider got some eyeballs, and my transmog posts seem popular, as do a couple of guides in particular, but the rest of my entries are not particular standouts. Some posts that I put a lot of thought and effort and emotion into just kind of slipped into oblivion and I find that sad, but such is the way of things in the frequent writing market - you produce a bunch of stuff and throw it up on the wall and some of it will stick and most of it will just kind of melt into the plaster becoming the background for the standouts.

It's kind of crazy (and somewhat depressing) when I think about the number of number who've read this blog is bigger than the number of people who've seen my plays or read my fiction. But it's a privilege to have people read and take an interest in anything one writes, and I do appreciate the people who've followed me for this long, or have even taken an occasional gander at a Google-result that plopped them here. I appreciate every one of you who has taken a few minutes to read what I had to say, and if it helped you in any way, I'm twice as glad.

155 posts in 2 years is almost 1.5 posts a week. That's not a terrible average, though I've had more productive months than others. Especially in the end-tier of the expansion, when MoP is bringing so many changes, a lot of what there is to say seems somehow irrelevant or too-late or after-the-fact so I find myself starting topics or looking at old drafts and slowly deleting them one line at a time, as I realize they're well past their best-use date.

I've also been thinking of stopping completely, but I don't think that'll happen. Even if my readership dropped back to the dozen or two views a month I used to get when I started, I think I'd just keep writing to catalog my thoughts.

Often, I find myself wanting to blog about topics that aren't relevant here - my issues with politic and economics, my struggle with atheism while trying to bond with a religious family whose culture is tied into faith, I could write all day about my son who's nearly a year and a half, and I want to write about the last year of depression treatment that I went into... but none of that is relevant here, none of these are things I want to tie into Warcraft, even if all of these are entangled with my Warcraft experience in deep, intractable ways.

My guild that I play with, my friends that I play with, are all carefully chosen people who reflect my political and non-religious ideals. Not only their tolerance, but their acceptance and involvement with me and my family keeps me engaged. My wife doesn't play, but some members of my guild are friends with her on Facebook, they ask me about my son, I share videos with them over YouTube. I bond with some of them about my treatment, and... it's all tied up.

Two years ago was also, more or less, when we started this guild, when the six or so of us decided we would play the game on our terms, and wouldn't be held to crappy standards of play, nor would we be exposed to homophobia or sexism just to be able to progress as raiders or have strong PvP teams. And we've succeeded in almost every way imaginable.

And through it all, I kept writing, about my frustrations, about my triumphs, about my concerns, during that time I went from co-GM and Raid-Lead to Raid-Lad to merely an officer and attended nearly 95% of the raids that happened during this time. I did Arena in three seasons reaching ~1600 rating every time on two classes.

All of that to wind up exactly where I started two years ago. The end of an expansion, goals in hand, hope and excitement for the future, surrounded by friends... but there are two fundamental differences from the way things were two years ago.

1. I'm a dad.
2. I'm not depressed.

The dad thing and its constraints on time is obvious, but the depression thing is a bit more complicated. At some point in 2009/2010 I slipped into a major depression, and it sapped me of all ambition and creativity. I couldn't write or play music, couldn't follow through on projects, or do much of anything really, and the last year of medication and therapy have slowly brought me back to life and a lot of that creative energy that I was missing has started seeping back into my life.

And with it come the constraints on time.

There is the small game-development company I'm working with as a designer and programmer. There are the numerous publishing projects I'm working on with my wife and a friend. There is my own writing to pursue, my first major play that I'm trying to finalize and find a company to read, my book that I want to draft and send to an agent, the songs I want to record...

Do I have time to raid? Do I have time to write about Warcraft?

I don't know. Not yet. I'm trying to do everything, and a lot of it is suffering from a lack of attention - but my philosophy about creative projects has always been to enjoy the process and not worry about the product, and that's what I'm doing right now. After two years of gray, dull depression, just being involved with these collaborative projects is enough to fill my life with color.

As my son gets older, that time squeeze will get tighter and tighter, and at some point I will have to do something to curtail my Warcraft time-slot. But that's still some time away, even though time seems to be accelerating. When I think of my son being a year and a half old, it seems crazy, how could so much time have passed by already?

But it has. And more will be gone soon. The patches keep on coming, the dungeons and raids get cleared, dragons die, gold is collected from sold auctions, we run our dailies, log in and out, make alts, laugh over vent on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and after enchanting the loots and cuts some gems to fill empty slots, we say good-night and turn off the monitor plunging the room into darkness.

And, as well all know, it doesn't end there, completely, does it? In the secret moment, in the instant of vulnerability when the day's exhaustion catches up, we sometimes experience an out of body moment of connection.

In the darkness, motes of light dance on the screen, illuminating the outline of my avatar, Innana, my identity present in Azeroth, Innana, a stronger, braver version of me with the strength to protect her friends from harm, with all of her issues, her stories, her nightmares and dreams, she looks back at me, waves, wondering who I might be, and I wave back, knowing exactly who she is, before she fades into the matte, shadow shimmer of the black screen and I turn slowly to climb into bed, well past midnight, and close my eyes, caught between her and me for an instant, between dream and reality, before sleep takes over.

I don't know if I'll still be here in 2 more years, but I know I'll be here 2 days, 2 weeks, and 2 months from now, and more than that, I'll just have to wait and see.

Thank you for sticking with me for so long.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Various and Sundry


Deathwing, after six-odd weeks of kills, has dropped two rogue axes, not once, not twice, but multiple times.  In addition to the agility polearm and the bow for a raid with no main-spec ferals or any hunters, Deathwing can go DIAF. I'm tired of disenchanting the same goddamned things while pining for a Souldrinker and the rest of the raid is still using crappy 397 gear week after week.

In fact, the loot-tables have been just miserable. I don't think we've seen more than one or two healer trinkets drop and other than Resolve of the Undying (which drops every week like clockwork) we have seen no Tanking trinkets. I could also complain about the fact that this week we saw 4/5 tier token drop for the Hunter/Warrior/Shaman set which we have none of, but that would be just the icing on the cake.

Bah. Normal mode Dragon Soul has gotten super-boring at this point, as we're mostly finished with all of the achievements as well, except for the Gunship and Madness ones. At least we started working on Heroic bosses finally, which has been incredibly gratifying. We're also nearly finished with the Firelands meta achievement, which I'm eager to put behind us, and we're maybe three weeks from finishing the legendary. And then I never have to do Firelands again!

You know what would actually be kind of fun? Going back to T11 and doing the hard Heroics there. These Heroics are still a hold-over of the super-hard T11 tuning and they didn't really nerf this content so I'm kind of hungry to go see it. Heroic Yor'sahj kicked our ass for a while this week though, so working on the current tier isn't a bad thing either, for me.

Other than that, and some mid-level Arena, and occasionally playing my Death Knight, I really haven't had a whole lot to do in game. I wound up almost emptying my bank last night to buy a relatively cheap Deathcharger (60k) and immediately liquidated some assets on the AH overnight to get back up to 35k, so maybe I'll play the AH for a few weeks.

Mostly, I'm working on some off-line writing and programming projects, and I'm excited for MoP to start so we can leave Cataclysm behind for good. I did pay for the year-long subscription, but I likely won't be logging into Beta as I hate spoiling myself, or having to do all that work twice on the same character. I might log in to test the class changes and talent tree stuff and so forth, but I won't do any leveling or dig into the new zones at all.

As far as when to expect the game, my crystal-ball gazing has revealed the following to me:

Alpha: This month
Beta: Mid-April
Release: Mid-August

Unless I'm very wrong and my Insider Source(tm) has been misinformed.

And finally, have you guys seen the new Paladin tree? It's pretty interesting and I want to chew it over and write a full post about it. And for those of you freaking out about Ardent Defender missing from the talents, it has been made a base-line ability under protection. Relax.