Trade Chats: Interview With Big Bear Butt

We’ve been rocking a new feature called Trade Chats for a couple of months now. Okay, so it might not be new persay, being a couple of months old, but each Trade Chat is as new and fresh as the summer’s day Hugh and I spent plotting the feature while on holiday. In our home city. While talking about work projects. Yep, we know how to party.

Turns out… we do. Every Trade Chat so far has seen us talking to an MMO blogger and thoroughly enjoying it, ‘cos they’re all such intelligent and articulate people. Today’s interviewee is no exception. Articulate he certainly is given his posts are almost always long but incredibly entertaining and well written. And intelligent – well. For a bear who’s spent years being hit in the face and writing about it, he’s still on track as one of our most versatile bloggers, giving thoughts both straight forward and salient at once.

So without further ado, here’s our chat with John, the Big Bear Butt Blogger. It’s a little long so is truncated with a “continue reading” button, but keep reading after the cut to hear John’s thoughts on Blizzard’s priorities, playing WoW with his wife and more.

Q: You say you’re looking forward to leveling new toons of classes you already play – for example a new troll bear tank, where you already have an 80 night elf bear tank. But how do you think leveling same-class characters will interact with the experience you already have from your high level characters  – and are you worried that the lower level characters will suffer from the leveling-class imbalance we’re seeing at the moment?

BBB: What I’m looking forward to the most isn’t necessarily the leveling, as much as taking a measured approach to enjoying the new content and opportunities that are coming with the expansion.

With each expansion I’ve gotten a little bit more experienced in how the entire cycle will flow, and now I think I know what I want to get out of the game much better.

When the first expansion was released, I felt the excitement, the rush to level fast and hurry up to see what the end game had in store. Every thing I did I rushed through to get to the next thing to rush through, right? Then of course came that time when I was at max level, I hadn’t really paid attention to all that leveling stuff I’d rushed through, and there wasn’t much new for a non-raider to get involved in. And I wasn’t alone; the forums were awash with cries of “When is the next expansion due? Wait, two years? WTF Blizz, QQ.”

It was certainly a wake up call. I sat at 70 and asked myself, “Why did I do that?”

With Wrath of the Lich King, I was better prepared mentally for taking my time, easing into it, and enjoying all of the twists and turns along the way. Fun like the Wrathgate chain, and exploring the secrets of the mountains in Storm Peaks, and all that stuff.

Even so, at the time my attitude was still that the journey may be delightful, but the true destination is end game, and planning for running instances and raids and other group activity.

With this expansion, I’ve got a much different attitude. I no longer give a damn about end game, or being at max level. Now, for me it really is all about having fun along the way. I’ve made it a point to not read spoilers or look at screenshots from the beta, to keep the Cataclysm as spoiler-free as possible. I know the broad strokes of the story brush, but I want to see the final masterpiece myself without preconceived impressions obtained second hand from failed artists-turned art critics.

I’m planning a lot more carefully, and intend to rotate what I do on which characters a whole lot more. I’m planning on giving the content a chance to last, rather than obsess or race to the finish. New class/race combinations for fun, new alts on different factions, classes I haven’t tried before, and my wife and I have already planned our new leveling team for group play, I’m going to start a new Troll Druid as a Feral Tank while she smashes things in the face with an Orc Enhancement Shaman that can also toss me some heals if necessary.

I fully expect that I’m going to be yelling, “Ding! Level 60 Troll Bear Tank!” right about the same time the majority of 10 man raiding guilds are saying, “What, that’s all the end game 85 content there is? Well, when the heck is the next content patch due? I’m bored!”

Q: You’ve talked quite a bit about how keen you are on the class changes since 4.0.1, particularly for classes you don’t play that much. But are there any classes you think have suffered, or missed out? Anything you just plain don’t like? Why?

BBB: My only real BIG regret is losing Treeform as a permanent form. I’ll never be happy with the removal of Treeform as an always-on healing form.

I see the logic, I certainly understand the reasoning, and I do accept that there are plenty of players that wanted the Treeform changed. But while I know I might be out of line, I think most of the reasons around changing the form are based on game balance and rules changes, or in other terms, cold logic. If I wanted a game of cold, hard logic I’d play tabletop Star Fleet Battles. Or Toon. :)

The Treeform, and the Treeform dance, are things of beauty. I was hoping for an artistic upgrade, a changing of the seasons in the form, and instead I feel we got our hearts ripped out for the sake of adhering to a stat system principle that it is reasonable to think they may scrap and change during the next expansion because they came up with some new gee whiz improvement idea. Next time, no more mana at all! Everyone uses a static Energy system! Or whatever.

Each time they overhaul the stat and rules system, it’s a definite improvement, but it makes it kinda hard to buy into the “We had to do this for the sake of the game, there was really no other choice” argument, when six months down the road it’ll be “Oh, we had to change this back… for the sake of the game.”

I mean, let’s add Armor Penetration… oh wait, let’s remove Armor Pen. But we need weapon skills…. Oh wait, no we don’t.

Things can change all the time, things do change, and I just don’t see why this was one of those changes that just had to be made come hell or high water.

My second regret is that Warlocks didn’t get some demon pet love. I think it’s long past time that male versions of the Succubi be made available as an option. If it’s going to be in the game in the way it is, inappropriate cheesecake should be equal opportunity inappropriate cheesecake. Gamers should have the option to have a demon pet stud muffin if they so choose, why discriminate?

And as long as I’m on the topic… I’d actually like some cheesecake, right about now. With some of that delicious cherry sauce on top? Kthxbai!

Q: You’ve recently mused on the female worgen dance and used it in conjunction with another example to highlight how Blizzard’s priorities seem to be all over the place at the moment. Can you expand on this a bit?

BBB: I personally think that the observed behavior from Blizzard concerning dealing with changes in the game is pretty random.

For myself, my first priority when it comes to the game is, is it stable to play? Game stability is paramount for me. I don’t care how shiny it is or what a wonderful idea you’ve had, if the implementation has caused the game to be unstable, crashing, causing errors or bugs that interrupt game play or make it difficult to simply log in, stay online, complete a quest, obtain a reward, train a profession skill and log out, or run a raid without wiping the team when someone freezes in place or gets a forced disconnect, then there is a problem that needs to be fixed.

A second priority is improving the gameplay experience, and the third for me would be adding new opportunities and content to the experience.

In patch 4.0.1, I again, just my own opinion, feel that the priority list put new content at the top, and stability is hovering somewhere around third, unless it’s so egregious that websites like Yahoo start taking notice and wondering “wtf?”.

As an extra example, purely anecdotal but one of the things that swirls around in my mind when thinking of this, is that within days after Blizzcon, the masterly Red Shirt Guy had been established within the game beta as the “Wildhammer Fact Checker”, with appropriate model, shirt color, everything. Days.

But it’s been weeks since 4.0.1 was pushed live, and quite often if I open a vendor tab like in the Argent Tournament, or if I’m offered quest rewards, the items come up blank. No description, no tooltip, no text. Just icon pictures. It makes leveling without gold or Heirlooms mighty interesting when you have no idea what you’re being offered as rewards, doesn’t it? And Alchemy of course still doesn’t have trainable max level Gem Transmute recipes to learn from the trainer, and there are so many other things besides.

It’s a question of priorities, and it feels to me at least that whatever they’re really worried about right now, improved stability and restored functionality are not as high profile a priority for Blizzard’s developers.

Of course, I’m both sarcastic AND cynical. YMMV. :)

Q: You’ve stopped posting so much about WoW in recent weeks and made it official a week ago: your blog is now your blog and not just about the wisdom you gain from zooming around as a bear. The change is understandable and yours to make but what *do* you intend to be blogging about from now, and how have your readers reacted to the change?

BBB: Well, I did have one reader who commented anonymously that it was about time that I admitted I sucked, who I then ‘outed’ thanks to the wonders of IP tracking history on comments. A protip: if you’ve commented on a WordPress bloggers’ website from the same IP before, and that blogger bothers to search the comment archive for that IP, it will show them ALL the comments left by that IP, no matter what name they were under.

If you’re going to be a nasty little cowardly troll, geez, at least use an IP blocker, hopper, or someone else’s computer, right? You may not have any guts, but at least have a clue. It’s not the first time I’ve personally busted a troll that way, either. I had this idiot named Petal/Doodlebug who used to do the same thing until I publicly outed him in the comments. If you’re going to be nasty, at least be honorable enough to stand by your own words. Maybe not put your real name on them like I do, but at least stick to a consistent alias.

At any rate, for the most part the comments folks have left have been positive and understanding.

What’s interesting to me is that most folks that comment or email me make it clear that they may like my writing and continue to read my blog even though they might not play a Druid or even the game of WoW anymore… but all of them share a similar way of finding me for the first time, and that is by looking for tips for new Druid Tanks.

With my moving away from writing guides, I imagine far fewer folks will find my blog, and the number of folks that continue to read it will dwindle away over time.

Only time will tell, but so long as there are a few folks who continue to take the time to read what I write, and talk to me about what they think, I’ll continue writing. I enjoy meeting nice folks I never would have known otherwise entirely too much.

Q: And reassure us! Even though you’re not writing about WoW as much, are you still enjoying it – and are you playing anything other than WoW?

BBB: I don’t play anything other than WoW. I do write quite a bit, both on the blog and in support of the PBeM game I’m eternally behind on, but when it comes to video games, I’m just not interested. I even stalled out on Starcraft II, and I really LIKE that game.

It’s just that there is always so very much I’m still interested in doing in WoW, it never really gets all that old. I may get amazingly cranky with things like stability and bugs and whatever crack the Developers seem to be smoking on tank balance changes and intentions, but the game itself has yet to bore me. Usually right around the time I start thinking I’m bored and maybe I should move on, I give myself an old fashioned attitude adjustment a la Hank Williams Jr, and realize there are so many other things I have yet to see or do.

And as far as enjoying it… I’m also still loving my Bear. I fully expect that I’ll be posting about and gushing about my Troll Bear Tank / dual specced Moonkin once Cataclysm rolls around. I’ve never, ever specced my Druid as a Moonkin before. It should be very exciting.

Q: You mention your wife Cassie quite often on your blog, in relation to WoW. It sounds like she plays as much as you, if not more. If you (and she!) don’t mind me asking, how do you find gaming as a couple, and do you only play together or do you both enjoy some time to fly solo in game?

BBB: Cassie does play quite a bit, but she’s got a lot less tolerance of video game BS than I do. She straddles that fence between seeing WoW as a great, exciting game to have fun in, and as a monumental waste of time that could be better spent reading a book or watching paint dry. Or raking leaves in the yard. [shudder]

When we play, we both make it a point to have characters we can do our own thing on, other characters we only play together as a team, and then characters we keep available for support of the other’s alts.

Much like other couples we’ve spoken with, we each have characters on both factions that can serve as “Run through tanks” for low level alts, at least up through Hellfire Ramparts and Blood Furnace. So, even if I were to solo a character all alone, when the time comes that I get the quests for an instance, I know Cassie will have someone available to run me through, and vice versa.

Right now, my gushing about my Warrior has inspired Cassie to try one as a Draenei, and she’s reached level 18 as Fury and is loving the experience.

Q: You’ve been a part of the blogosphere for a while – I’d say you’re in that select band of esteemed, reknowned bloggers that ‘everyone knows of and no-one crosses’, if such a thing exists. But we see you moving with and supporting the community – I see you’re supporting Gnomeaggedon in his Movember efforts this year, and you’ve been giving new feral blogs a shout out every now and then. Have you ever thought about building a dedicated community portal around the Big Bear Butt site?

BBB: If there is some kind of band of esteemed bloggers, I don’t rightly know that I’m a part of it. If I am, it’s from pure inertia and longevity. I’m the Energizer Bear, I just keep blogging and blogging and blogging… even when people would really wish that I’d stop.

I appreciate your saying that I support the blogging community, but in truth I really don’t think I do nearly enough, and it digs at me a little.

One thing I wanted to do a long time ago was move to having a “Shout Out Friday”, where every Friday, instead of a post of my own, I’d do a roundup, pointing out some of the great posts from bloggers I had read during the previous week. I really wanted to do it, Cassie thought it was a great idea, I was all set to get started, and then… I was laid off from my previous job, and I took a new position where I’m in charge of a department that runs 247. My life went through a dramatic structural change when it came to how I spent my time.

As a consequence, I’ve found myself having a LOT less time available to look for new blogs and new bloggers, to browse the web, or even to stay current with what’s going on out there. For the most part, I try to follow the folks I know, stay in touch with friends, and follow the links to other new bloggers as my friends find them and share them.

I’ve been blessed with readers that sometimes email me to let me know when they’ve started a blog of their own, whether about Feral Druids or anything else. I also have some very nice folks that leave links to their own blogs when they comment. I always go check out their blogs myself, and often I’ll find something that I love, so I’ll share it on the website.

Basically, I may post links and share shout outs to new blogs or to posts and writers I really like, but I always feel that there was so much more I could have done, and wanted to do, and I just didn’t git ‘er done. I keep hoping that I’ll be able to do it ‘someday’, but until then, if I get a few free moments, I do what I can do without browsing the web or copy/pasting links, and that’s write.

I’ve never considered turning the Big Bear Butt site into a community forum portal. I’m personally too eclectic in my interests to make for a good portal site.

In my opinion, it’s bloggers like Big Red Kitty, World of Matticus or the geniuses behind the Twisted Nether Podcast that are the folks that truly are the heart of the blogging community. They’ve given and shared so much, and worked to give readers an opportunity to really talk together and share ideas and get to know one another, and it’s made WoW blogging a wonderful thing to be a part of.

They are the ones that I consider to be our best and brightest, our shining stewards of what blogging can be, and I’m proud to know them, if not to actually be one of them.

Thank you very much for asking me to take part in this interview. The best part of blogging for me has always been having the chance to meet so many folks out there that share the same interests as I do, and most especially share the same quirky sense of humor, folks that I’d never have met if not for WoW and blogging.

So long as there are great folks to chat with and who for some strange reason read my posts, I’ll undoubtedly still be around in some form or another.

Your turn! Would you have asked John something different? And who would you like to read us chatting to in the future?