The Piggie Award Winners 2011! Part 3: Bloggers and Blogging

Part 1 of the Piggies Awards – Game Elements | Part 2 of the Piggies Awards – News and Affairs | Nominees for the Piggies

And so, we come to the main event of the Piggie Awards 2011: our awards for bloggers and blogging in the MMORPG blogosphere.

Before we start – it’s time for me to say something that sounds cliche, but is very, very true. We had a hell of a time choosing these. The arguments raged. In some categories, we wanted to make every single nominee the winner. You all rock.

OK, hang on to your hats, here we go!

Most Charming Games Company Employee

This was a tough one to choose, but at the end of the day, whilst everyone else can be lovely, fun and gracious in their interactions, only one person combines that with a transparency and honesty about his work that’s just inspiring to see. Thus, out of all the nominees, we’re choosing the marvellous Eric from Elder Game, for his tremendously interesting and honest work on Gorgon, the MMO that he’s developing in full view of everyone in the blogosphere – a brave choice, always a fascinating read, and a great member of the blogosphere!

Best Podcast

Both Twisted Nether and The Instance add a hell of a lot to the MMO community online, and we simply couldn’t choose between their different styles. Plus, they complement each other so well, it doesn’t seem fair to raise one above the other. Thus, we’re announcing this category as a tie, and awarding the Piggie to both Twisted Nether AND The Instance . Congratulations, guys.

Most noticed blogger breakthrough

This one was really tough. Flavor Text Lore have written some stunning posts over the year, and suddenly leaped into the eye of the blogosphere in the latter half with a couple of brilliant collaborations between Hamlet and Percula. Gamer’s Fridge and Niki are not only plying a fantastic idea, but doing so consistently and steadily gaining an audience. And Stubborn’s analytical, intelligent posts have become such a fixture, so quickly, that until I wrote my year’s roundup I thought he’d been around for much longer than he has.

The vote-in favourite for this award was Garrosh Hellscream, whose brilliant in-character writing – and occasional deviations into spot-on epic verse parody – has established him as a voice like no other in the community, and given him not a small fan following. We’ve never really seen a blog like his, and he earns an Honourable Mention for this category.

Bravetank has become someone we just couldn’t imagine the blogosphere without. Her posts are open, honest, and laugh-out-loud funny, and she’s become an established and distinctive voice in the community. There’s no-one else who does what she does, and the rest of the blogosphere notices and appreciates that. She’s our second Honourable Mention.

But in the end, we decided the award had to go to Apple Cider of Apple Cider Mage. She’s not new to blogging, but her blog is very new indeed – it only started in October of 2011. But since she started, she’s exploded into the blogosphere. Her passionate posts on extremely important issues are incredibly widely retweeted and reblogged (over 50 retweets on some posts), she’s known as one of the conversation-starters of the blogosphere – when she talks about an issue, you can bet that other posts will follow – and she’s willing to take risks on issues she believes in. From calling WoWCrendor on victim-blaming to highlighting WoW’s evolution Apple Cider Mage is our Most Noticed Blogger Breakthrough 2011

Most Solid Content Provider

I’m reading from Johnnie’s notes here, and above the listing for this category is a note which reads “they’re all awesome”.

And really, they ALL are. Nils fires out precise, cutting analysis day after day. I’m not sure Rohan could write a boring post if he tried. Derevka’s healing advice is invaluable, and has earned him a near-fanatical following. Anne Stickney not only works incredibly hard to highlight the best of the blogosphere – something we all have a soft spot for – but comes up with original, intelligent lore insights week after week. And Tobold – well, he’s Tobold. Five years of solid almost daily blogging and he’s still a must-read.

I frankly have no idea how Cynwise does what he does. I mean, he tells us that he has a family, a job, and actually plays MMORPGs from time to time, but I assume there’s some kind of Prestige-like legerdemain going on, because the frequency, quality and sheer, fascinating length of his posts have to be a full-time job. Oh, and did we mention he maintains not one blog but two ? For his astonishing hard work, he gets our first Honourable Mention.

And talking of spoilers for popular films, Rades must be doing the same plot-twist-I-won’t-reveal-here. I can’t think of another blogger who ranges so widely over the subject, from art posts to his trademark awe-inspiring lore posts, to transmog guides, to comment and opinion, to hardcore tactics and theorycrafting. And almost everything he does is really, really good. Dammit. He gets not only my envy but also our second Honourable Mention.

And then there’s Gazimoff and Mana Obscura . I’m going to let you into a secret here – Gazimoff is one of the few people whose work I will not wait until the evening to read. If I see there’s a new post on Mana Obscura, I’m off reading that bad boy right away. His writing is consistently insightful, intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining. So, if you’re waiting for me to fix an egregious guide typo or approve your comment, and Gazimoff’s updated that day (which, let’s face it, is more likely than not), I’m probably off reading his post when I should be working. He gets not only the blame for my procrastination but also our award for Most Solid Content Provider 2011.

Best Writing

And once again, the response of your humble judging team was “Seriously? We have to CHOOSE here? AAARGH!”

Cynwise is always engaging and original. Beruthiel can put an argument to paper like no-one else. Tzufit combines serious intellectualism with a rare warmth and compassion. Stubborn – well, he’s a teacher by trade, and his skill at communicating shines through.

But in the end, we came down to three, and then to one.

Rades is too goddamn talented for his own good, frankly. Not only can he theorycraft, Photoshop, and keep up a publishing schedule that would make Troma Films say “whoa, hang on a minute there”, he’s also a damn talented wordsmith. His “here’s an idea for a WoW plot” posts are un-put-downable stuff – and I’ve never gotten to the end of one yet without thinking “dammit, Blizzard, hire this man already!”. Some of that is brilliant ideas, and some of it brilliant writing. He’s our first Honourable Mention.

One of the marks of a really great writer is an unmistakable style. You can read a single passage from Hemmingway or Hunter S Thompson and immediately identify who’s writing. And our second Honourable Mention, Jon Big Bear Butt Patricelli, has that same quality. He achieves the remarkably rare and difficult trick of writing conversationally, so that you really feel he’s talking to you, possibly over some kind of malted beverage, and he’s a gifted, engaging storyteller, whether he’s raising ire or telling a heartwarming tale.

But the winner of Best Writing 2011 has to be Melmoth of Killed In A Smiling Accident. Here’s a random quote – not the best one I could find, just a random quote from a random post of his:

“Like the marathon runners, we race along these paths, through landscapes and cityscapes of majesty and beauty, but always staying true to the well trod, well defined path. Barriers line the runners’ route, broken infrequently by refreshment stations where NPCs stand and offer bottles of XP to revitalise and give energy to our enthusiasm as we trudge ever onward. “

Try reading that out loud. It’s remarkable. His writing has rhythm, flow, a cadence to it that very few people ever achieve. For pure writing quality, his work is just astonishing. I don’t know what he does in real life, but were I to discover he was a White House speechwriter or a well-known playwright, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Most hugged blogger

The MMO blogging community is generally a very friendly and welcoming place, but even then some bloggers stand out as going that extra mile. The people who are not just a part of the community, but a cornerstone of it. The anchors around which the community gathers. The people everyone loves.

We were unanimous in our desire to give the first Honourable Mention in this category to Larisa, AKA Jessica, the originator of the Piggies and a vibrant presence in the community for many years. She’s no longer part of the WoW community – although we whole-heartedly recommend The Velvet Cafe , her new film blog – but when she was here she was an absolute pillar of the community, and her legacy will live on for a very long time indeed.

Our second Honourable Mention goes to Oestrus of The Stories Of O. She’s a fearless and intelligent blogger, who has rapidly built up a community of followers on her site and on twitter. Oestrus is always willing to help her fellow bloggers, and there’s a lot of love for her in the community.

In the end, though, the award for Most Hugged Blogger has to go to Alyzande the WoW Gold Queen. She had already established herself as a prolific and popular blogger, but the reaction of the community to the horrible events in Alyzande’s personal life last year proved in just how high a regard she’s held. Dozens of bloggers displayed a white ribbon in solidarity, and I’m sure the support of the community must have helped her get through such a difficult time.

Bravest Blog Post

We have a surprise category!

Yes, in our discussions over the awards, Rebecca, Johnnie and I all felt that a new category was needed. And so, with much fanfare (and an apology that we didn’t think of this in time to solicit nominations) we’re introducing a category for “Bravest Blog Post”.

What do we mean by that? Well, we felt we needed a category for the posts that not only talk about something important, but something close to the blogger’s feelings, too. Blog posts that require bravery to write, because they’re about things that could well get the blogger criticised or attacked, and are about very personal topics.

Our nominations for this category were:

  • Jaded Alt, for Mental Illness and WoW. Mental illness is still a taboo subject, and one that many people have extremely unpleasant opinions on. At the same time, it’s literally life and death. For Windsoar to write this post, and talk about her own experience with mood disorders, was both laudable and courageous.
  • Alyzande, The Gold Queen, for World of Warcraft Gold – What’s the F—-ing Point? and NSFW White Ribbon. Sexual assault is a hotbutton topic on the Internet, and one where victim-blaming is rife. For Alyzande to talk about what happened to her shows considerable courage.
  • Oestrus, for Out. Transgendered people are marginalised, abused, mocked and assaulted in our society. The wider World of Warcraft community is far from accepting of TS/TG people. And that needs to change. Oestrus was well aware that she was likely to be a target of abuse and hatred when she came out as transgender, but she did it anyway.
  • Bravetank, for Don’t Be Greedy. Bravetank risked being ridiculed when she talked about the difficulty and fear that the act of looting in WoW causes her. Indeed, I even saw people being rude about her for it – and yet anxiety’s no joke, and I know more than a few people who struggle with the social pressures of WoW grouping. Her post was valuable, useful, and, true to her name, brave.

And our winner is Oestrus, with Out . Writing that post and potentially making herself a target took a rare form of courage. I quite literally can’t imagine what it took to put a fact she’d carefully guarded, knowing how it could hurt her, out there. And by doing so, she’s serving as a model for everyone, saying loud and clear to everyone in the MMORPG community that transgender people are worthy of respect.

Great stuff.

Most memorable blog post

Wow, this one was really tricky.

There were so many great blog posts in the past year, from the inspiring and laugh-out-loud Out of the mouths of, well, you know from Big Bear Butt, to the Windsoar’s post which almost became a manifesto, I’m doing it wrong and I’m OK with that

After much debate, though, we settled on three absolutely stand-out posts. Our first Honourable Mention goes to Falling Leaves and Wings for Are 400 Pull Kills Good Design? Are They Fun?. It was a superb post: well-written and well though-out, with an inescapable logic that genuinely changed the way the blogosphere thought about end-game raiding.

A Honourable Mention as well to Orcish Army Knife for Sylvanas, the Val’kyr, and the REAL master plan. Rades has always had the ability to write excellent lore posts faster than most of us can even read them, but this post is one of his best. Rades sees conspiricies everywhere, but he’s often right. Johnnie, who read the post the same evening he finished leveling his goblin through Silverpine, is convinced that Rades has hit upon the real truth behind Blizzard’s secret master plan for the Forsaken.

We also decided to award a special min-award in this category – a Piglet, if you will. The award for Best Comedic Blog Post goes to Killed In A Smiling Accident for CSI: MMO.

It was close, but the winner of this year’s Piggie for Most Memorable Blog Post is Cynwise, for On The Forsaken. Brilliant even by Cynwise’s standards, this post permanently changed the way we think about the Forsaken. Cynwise details the greatest (and most terrible) moments in WoW’s Forsaken storyline, comes to a horrible – and I mean genuinely shocking – conclusion via an argument that none of us can fault, and in doing so reminds us why we love the game in the first place. Bravo!

Congratulations to all the winnes, and here’s to a fantastic 2012!

How to display your Piggie

Winner of a Pink Pigtail Award

Are you a winner, or Honourable Mention, this year? If so, you’ll want to display a PInk Piggie badge. It’s easy – just copy this code and add it to your website or blog.

<a href="http://www.mmomeltingpot.com/2012/01/the-piggie-award-winners-2011-part-3-bloggers-and-blogging"><img src="http://www.mmomeltingpot.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/PPIPiggiesIconGreenNGold.png" alt="Winner of a Pink Pigtail Award" title="I won a Pink Piggie!"/></a>

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Vote on the Piggies People’s Choice Awards 2011!

Yes, it’s time to have your say! So, let us know what your favourite blog post and games company was in the year that just finished!

Blog Post Nominee Links:

[peopleschoice]

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And A Happy New Year!

For those who didn’t know, the Melting Pot is based in Scotland – which means that right about now (this post was scheduled in advance), we’re all deep in the throes of the annual Hogmanay hangover.

So, we’ll be back tomorrow with the September episode of our Review Of The Year – Firelands Nerfs! Two-Healing! – and in the meantime, good luck recovering from your post-celebration tiredness, wherever you are!

And finally, if you haven’t put your nominations in for the Piggie Awards, you’re technically past the deadline, but we’re too hung-over to notice – so sneak ‘em in quick if you have any last minute noms, before we all wake up!

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Is LFR the new LFD? Has information ruined raiding? And is LFD the reason we can’t have nice things?

There’s a loose thread running through a number of posts today – a wondering about where WoW is going, and a dissatisfaction with the nature of the various Looking For… tools as they are now.

The Grumpy Elf kicks it all off with an idea I’d not even considered – that LFR will, over time, eclipse and replace LFD. He follows that up with a solid series of arguments demonstrating that for almost every purpose, the LFR environment beats LFD

“Can something protect anonymity and be more social both at the same time? Damn straight it can. While the people that just want to stay in the shadows can do so in the looking for raid setting a lot easier then they can in a five man, the person that wants to be the center of attention can be so more easily in the 25 man setting then they can in the 5 man setting. They have more people to talk to and more people to look at them and we know they want everyone to look at them. Social people want to be noticed and what better way for them to be noticed then to have 24 others trapped in a room with them.

For social people the LFR is a great fit for them.”

Interestingly, Grumpy’s most telling arguments center around anonymity and social elements. He successfully argues both that LFD offers a greater chance to avoid griefing and abuse for most classes – and that brings us on to our next post…

Big Bear Butt, meanwhile, has been chatting with friends who enjoy WoW, but aren’t familiar with the ecosystem of sites, guides, and recommendations that many hardcore players feel are “needed” to play the game (an interesting echo of the discussion about addons that’s still raging in the comments). And that conversation leads him on to thinking about how he used to play WoW, without websites to rely on, and what that information ecosystem has done to the game’s community

“You know what’s funny? For a long time now, gear upgrades and drops have not excited me.

Each new piece of loot has represented an increased possibility that I will not suffer abuse for my performance at the hands of complete strangers in a random group using specs and gear builds they read off the internet, pulling for me or on the wrong target, assuming any mistake is the fault of anyone but them.

And along the way I have had to remember that, if my choice of upgrade is not the approved item “as seen on TV”, I can get shit for that as well, and I have to be prepared to justify my choice with reason and logic.

And be ready to take shit for it anyhow. /ignore is your friend, until it is full.”

Obviously, both the Melting Pot and BBB himself are or have been part of that same information ecosystem, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing so. Indeed, the messages of thanks we get every day make me darn proud to write guides that help people out .

But nonetheless, WoW is part of a huge information network that’s unprecedented in the history of gaming, and the results of that network are… unexpected. And, unfortunately, where there’s information, there are idiots who overvalue it, and are willing to heap abuse on anyone not singing from the same hymnsheet as them – even if they are (as they usually are, in my experience) partially to completely wrong.

Which brings us, finally, to Darraxus The Warrior, who today writes an angry and personal post relating his experience taking his wife – someone who doesn’t normally participate in the LFD environment – into an LFD run

“Then he goes on a rant linking a few of the blue items my wife is wearing. Last I checked, you do not need full epics to get into the instance. He just kept going and going. Unforunately, the vote to kick was on cooldown because we had to kick a tank who DCed immediately after we zoned it.

It is not like they were doing terrible DPS. They were both doing between 12 and 13.5k DPS, which is more than enough for these instances.

The whole situation literally made my wife cry. In real life. This is the reason why I never had her do LFG instances. People can be douchebags. It was a new encounter, her gear and DPS was plenty sufficient, and some asshat decided that it was his mission to make someone feel like shit.”

No matter what the cause might be, when a game is causing encounters like the one Darraxus describes, it’s pretty clear the situation isn’t ideal.

Will LFR change things for the better? Can ANYTHING change WoW, or MMOs, to make them a less hostile place?

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Everybody’s Raid Findin’

Now that the second part of Dragon’s Soul is on the Raid Finder in WoW, it would appear that Raid Finding Madness is in full progress. From a trickle, to a steady flow last week, the commentary, insight, and sarcasm about the Raid Finder has now reached a full flood.

So, if you’re out there Finding Raids (as opposed to “Finding @_Rades”, which would be something else), here’s a selection of amusement, consideration, and advice for you today!

  • Matticus at World of Matticus enumerates 11 Raid Finder personalities you’ll never escapeCAPSLOCK CAROL: HER KEYBOARD WAS BROKEN AT AN EARLY AGE. DOESN’T MATTER SINCE SHE DOESN’T THINK IT’S RUDE TO TYPE IN ALL CAPITALS BECAUSE SHE BELIEVES IT’LL DRAW ATTENTION TO WHAT SHE’S TRYING TO COMMUNICATE. SHE’S ALSO KIND OF DENSE. “
  • The Grumpy Elf goes nonlinear with a fascinating stream-of-conciousness on LFR“If they are not going to fix the loot problem, there is no reason to pug … They should give tanks a ready check option, even if they were not assigned leader … The leader never does a ready check and then asks, what are we waiting for? … Well, I can’t do a ready check so you do it and let me know when I can pull.”
  • Tzufit at Tree Heals Go Whoosh has a fascinating piece up asking whether the Raid Finder will cause a nasty case of cognitive dissonance in future raiders“Does Raid Finder give people a good sense of what raiding is like? Absolutely not. In fact, some part of me is worried about the effect Raid Finder will have on my guild’s recruitment from here on out, because I worry that our less experienced applicants may assume that raiding with a guild is like what they’ve done on Raid Finder.”
  • And Rank 4 Healing Touch concludes the day with some great tips for making sure that your fellow PUGers do it, you know, kind of right“The fights in Fall of Deathwing aren’t really so bad on the whole but what I’ve found helpful is a whole array of handy ‘raid warning’ macros that I drag onto my bar prior to every fight.”

Have you been Raid Findin’ on the weekend? How was it?

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Can you get something positive from being told “YOU SUCK, NOOB!”?

“Lol, noob! Learn to play, moron! You suck!”

We’ve all met people who shout things like that – and unless we’re very lucky, sometimes at us. Most of the time, when we talk about that experience or write about it, we’re talking about how angry it made us, or how best to avoid it. But can you do more?

Cynwise wrote a post today that I know I personally found pretty challenging, but really worth reading. In it, he recounts the tale of a rogue who whispered him to persistantly shout abuse about his playing style as he did a Battleground – and how he eventually realised that rogue had something useful to say

“I remember the first time I got actively ridiculed in Warcraft. It was on my 59 DK, and some guy came up to me while I was at the training dummies. He laughed at me and said my spec was terrible. “Okay, I’ve been playing him for about a week, any suggestions how to improve?” “lol noob l2p” was all I got back.

I was pretty chuffed at that. But I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing on my DK yet, I knew I didn’t, so once I got over the gall of someone criticising a stranger, I went and asked for Twitter help on my build. I rebuilt my Frost spec and, indeed, did better. I stopped sucking.

It was easier for me to accept that criticism on my DK because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, and the criticism was open. On my Druid, I actually felt like I knew what the haps are, and in WSG I feel like I know what the fuck I’m supposed to do.

So this impertinent rogue had a lot of gall telling me to learn to play. I know WSG, buddy!

But the rogue was right. I wasn’t playing well. I certainly wasn’t playing as well as I know how to play.”

I found this article very interesting from a personal perspective – obviously, we get a lot of comments on the Quick-Start Guides on the Pot, and not all of them are that polite! But I think we’ve all been in something close to the situation Cynwise describes – and the article’s actually quite challenging as a result.

Do you learn from people who are hostile to you?

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Theck of Maintankadin.com on how his work influences the game, how advanced theorycrafting works, and what he thinks of Theck’s Emberseal

Do you ever wonder where the theorycraft we depend on as raiders comes from? Today I’m interviewing one of the prime movers behind theorycraft as we know it, a man so well-known for his mathmatics work on Protection Paladins that Blizzard actually named an item after him – Theck, of Maintankadin.com (where he is known as “Theck, the bringer of numbers and pounding headaches”) , Sacred Duty (Theck blogs!) and of course the eponymous Theck’s Emberseal .

In real life, Theck is a laser scientist, but in WoW, his work underpins virtually any writing about Paladin tanks you’ll ever see, including the Elitist Jerks guides and the Melting Pot’s own Prot Paladin guide . We talked to him about how he does what he does, whether it’s possible for a normal person to start theorycrafting, and what influence his work has had on World of Warcraft.

How does theorycraft work?

Hugh A lot of people think of theorycrafting as just adding up the formulae behind the game and coming up with the best result. But it’s obvious from reading your MATLAB posts that you’re doing a lot more. In broad terms, what’s the process from Blizzard announcing a new glyph, say, or a major ability change, all the way through to recommendations ending up in a guide? I’m guessing it involves some serious math, some in-game testing and a lot of arguing with very smart people in forums!

Theck It depends on the magnitude of the change.  The point of most theorycrafting isn’t just to model how things in the game work, but to use that model to help you make smarter decisions during play.  A very simple change, like changing a spell coefficient or multiplier, might just require the tweaking of a line or two of code, and the re-running of a few sims.  That can be as fast as a few minutes.  But for more complicated changes, the process can get very involved, because you might have to fundamentally change the way you’re performing your modeling.

As an example, let’s say they make a significant change to a particular ability.  There’s a host of tasks that you might have to perform.  The most obvious is to get the basics right, like making sure you’re modeling the spell itself correctly.  That usually involves in-game testing of spell coefficients, interactions between different talents, buffs, glyphs, and so forth.  If two things combine additively instead of multiplicatively, that sort of thing will stand out with a properly executed in-game test.  Sometimes it can be very time-intensive though, especially when trying to nail down things with a low proc chance.

Once you have the ability modeled correctly, you move on to the higher-level stuff.  How does that ability “fit” with our existing ones?  How should we prioritize it – do we want to use it on cooldown, or save it for a special occasion?  Sometimes that’s an easy question, because the answer is encompassed by a simple metric like DPS or HPS.  In that case, you may just need to run a bunch of simulations to see what “wins.“  But often the answer isn’t so simple.  Maybe the new ability breaks your old modeling technique, and you need to start over, or revise the way you do your calculations.

And sometimes, there just isn’t a simple metric.  That’s where forum discussions come in.  For example, Word of Glory (WoG) is a spell that’s easy to misjudge based on simple metrics.  A lot of players feel that the “right” way to use WoG is to try and use it on cooldown to get the most HPS out of it.  But in practice, it’s usually better to save it for an emergency and mitigate a damage spike.  That’s something that’s hard to figure out from a simple model.

By the time information gets into a guide, it’s usually fairly thoroughly peer-reviewed via forum discussion.  I don’t like to interject radical new theories into a beginner’s guide, especially, because that sort of thing generally isn’t useful to a beginner.  They just want the basic, reliable information that will get the job done.  The advanced players that min/max and nitpick the details tend to gravitate towards the theorycraft discussions anyway, so they’re more likely to skip the guides entirely and dive into the discussion of the raw data.

So in short, the process is to figure out the basic mechanics, then determine how the new mechanics affect what you’re modeling, and revise the model accordingly.  All the while, discussing these details with other theorycrafters to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Hugh So, you say you’re “simming” the game – I assume that means simulating the game mathmatically? (Although I must admit I had a mental picture of you building a little WoW guild in The Sims initially…) How on earth do you build a model like that? Is it just essentially figuring out the calculations that the game makes (Hit table, damage and so on) or is there more to it – are you, in fact, basically recreating the game?

Theck “Sim” is just a generic term for a numerical simulation, yeah.  What type of simulation you write depends on what you’re modeling.  For example, you could simulate a few thousand GCDs worth of combat, making all the same rolls the game would make, and making choices for your character based on some sort of pre-chosen action or priority list.  I believe that’s how the Simcraft utility works.

I used to use that method as well, but the problem is that it ends up taking a really long time to get accurate results.  Especially if you want to try a bunch of different settings or do comparisons (for example, to create graphs or see how things scale with certain stats).  We’ve moved to slightly faster solution methods that give us better accuracy in a smaller amount of time.  But you still need that basic mathematical model describing each ability, its hit table, damage, cooldown, and so forth.

Hugh I’d guessed that Simcraft was basically simulating GCDs from what it spits out – I hadn’t realised there was a faster way to do it, though! Can you explain a little more about the alternative methods you use?

Theck The faster method we now use is a finite state machine (FSM) approach.  Basically, it breaks the problem down into a (finite) number of states, and then figures out all of the possible state transitions.  By doing that, you can calculate the steady-state probability for each state, and based on the priority queue you’re simulating that tells you what you’ll cast and how often.  I’ve written up a more detailed description of how this works here, with examples of what the states look like.  This ends up being much faster than a simple monte-carlo; to put it in perspective, what used to take me nearly an hour of simulation with the monte-carlo method can be done in less than a minute with the FSM version.

How Theck became the “Bringer of numbers and pounding headaches”

Hugh You’re pretty astonishingly well-known as a theorycrafter – you’ve even got your name on an in-game item. How do you think your work became so well-known? Did you publicise it at all, or is it just because you do sensational work and other people noticed it?

Theck I’m honestly not sure.  I don’t go around publicizing my work, but I also don’t feel like it’s that sensational.  It looks impressive, but I think that’s because I post a bunch of pretty graphs that make it look more impressive than it is.  Never underestimate the power of a graph.

In all honesty, I think that any notoriety I have is mostly because I’ve been at this for a while, and I was very active in the community for a long time.  I didn’t limit myself to high-level discussions about the modeling aspects, but dove in and answered very beginner-level questions and wrote guides based on my calculations.  I think that’s really what spreads your name around, because those guides get linked to and re-copied all over the place.  There used to be a few threads on the official WoW forums where someone basically took the results I posted on Maintankadin and summarized them, citing me as the source.  That gets your name out to a much broader audience than what you’ll get on any forum, even a forum as big as MT or EJ.

Does Theck’s work influence Blizzard?

Hugh We know Blizzard are aware of your work – do they actually consult with you at all, and do you think that your work actually influences subsequent mechanics designs?

Theck They’re not calling me up and asking what I think about changes, no.  But I’d like to think that my work has had some indirect influence on the design process.  For example, one sentiment expressed by the developers pre-4.1 (I want to say in a blue post, but I can’t remember, maybe it was a watercooler or class blog) was that they were concerned about players skipping the Grand Crusader talent.  I was pretty adamant and vocal about the reasons why players were skipping the talent.  Partly, it’s because I demonstrated that it wasn’t as efficient as other talents for DPS.  But the most important reason was because Avenger’s Shield just wasn’t high on our priority list, because Judgement was being propped up by the Sacred Duty talent (which at the time, only affected Judgement).  It’s something I stressed a lot in posts around that time, because I felt that the interaction was being completely overlooked by the developers amidst their tweaking.

And one of the announced 4.1 changes directly addressed that issue by adding Avenger’s Shield to Sacred Duty.  I talked about it a good bit in this post , which was after the fact but summarized a lot of the points I had made elsewhere over the prior few months.  So I’d like to think that my constant hammering on the topic played some role in encouraging the developers to look at that interaction and fix it.  You might note that in that same post, I’m identifying the 3-second cooldown on Crusader Strike as the root of a lot of the problems with our core rotation, and urging the return to a 4.5-second cooldown; a change which the developers have hinted is being made in 5.0.

That was part of the motivation for starting our own blog (“our” being Meloree, Anafielle, and I).  I felt that at least occasionally we were saying things that were important enough that they shouldn’t be lost in a sea of forum posts.  By having our own, more easily-accessible soapbox, I think we can get the word out much more effectively.  And with any luck, that means that those words will be heard by the developers more often, and maybe lead to quicker corrective measures if something does go awry.

Hugh So, looking at the other side of the coin, are there any times when the game hasn’t changed as you’d like? Are there any changes that you think Blizzard SHOULD make, that they haven’t yet, or are showing no inclination so to do?

Theck Oh, sure.  There are plenty of things they do that I disagree with, or think should be done differently.  That’s bound to happen in a game with this many mechanics.  For example, the recent buff to threat modifiers was completely unnecessary, in my mind.  The argument we’ve been given is that the devs decided threat wasn’t a compelling mechanic, so they effectively removed it.  I personally disagree; I think that without threat, there’s no interaction between tanks and DPS, and no incentive for a tank to perform their rotation well.  The claim is that active mitigation might provide that incentive, but not until the next expansion.  I think they jumped the gun on that change as a result; the threat buff should’ve been saved for when active mitigation actually gets implemented (or better yet, give us AM and keep threat!).

Also, the Vengeance mechanic.  I really don’t like Vengeance in its current form.  The 4.3 changes may help, but it’s still a clunky mechanic.  Its only real purpose is to keep tank damage low in PvP but higher in PvE, but the way it accomplishes that causes a lot of collateral problems.  It would be better off as a simple “+X% damage to NPCs” buff.  Yes, it’s less “immersive,” but it’s a far cleaner implementation that doesn’t carry as much baggage with it.

Can anyone theorycraft?

Hugh I look at the kind of theorycrafting you do, and frankly it just looks impossible to me. I’m pretty techie, but what you’re doing sails way over my head. IS it possible for someone who isn’t a laser scientist to learn how to do the kind of theorycrafting you do, or do you need that massive math background from the beginning? And if it was possible, where would I start?

Theck You certainly don’t need a degree in laser physics, but some math background doesn’t hurt.  At its heart, the game is based on a bunch of mathematical operations.  So a basic understanding of statistics will let you hit the ground running.  At a higher level, being able to do a little Calculus lets you do some more advanced modeling of the aggregate statistics.

Beyond that, a large part of theorycrafting rests on understanding the game mechanics.  Unlike the real world, we don’t have fundamental ideas like conservation laws that govern everything.  For example, the mechanics of the attack table might not be clear to someone making their first foray into theorycrafting.  But there’s no way to derive that from first principles; the attack table is set up the way it is because a desginer chose that method at one point in WoW’s life cycle.  The only way to figure out how it works is to do a lot of testing.  Luckily, a lot of those mechanics have been studied already by other people, and there are a good number of guides and sources to consult to learn about them.  So for someone interested in getting into theorycrafting, those guides would be the places to start.  Learn how the fundamental mechanics of the game work, and build up your knowledge from there.

Hugh So do you think there’s room for a new theorycrafter to make valuable contributions these days? Obviously, a lot of the theorycraft has been pretty highly developed already – what’s left to do?

Theck Sure.  I think the barrier of entry is higher, in that a lot of the more basic questions have already been addressed.  But there’s always more to do.  Every expansion introduces new mechanics and raises new questions to answer.  That happens on a smaller scale with every content patch, as well.

The easiest way for a new theorycrafter to make a valuable contribution is to sign on to an existing project that’s looking for more manpower.  The biggest factor limiting what I can accomplish with regards to theorycrafting is usually simply a lack of time.

Should the game be this maths-based?

Hugh Do you think it’s appropriate that the background of the game is this mathmatical? I mean, I’m a pretty math-literate person, and yet when it comes to things like figuring out the best stat to use, or (in the current system) figuring out ideal talents, I’m pretty much at sea – I’m relying on the advice and modelling of experts like you. For less maths-oriented people, that goes double. Do you think it’s a good thing for the game to be designed so that the many rely on the math of the few, so to speak?

Theck Well, it’s a game played entirely in a computer, so it almost has to be set up as a mathematical system.  There’s not much else they could do.  I don’t think the designers are specifically trying to make the game complicated, I think they’re just trying to make fun abilities that make the game interesting to play.  You can successfully play a class and have fun playing the game without optimizing every aspect of your play, and a lot of people approach the game that way and have a good time with it.  It’s really only at the raiding level that all of the modeling work we do becomes important, in my opinion.

And they are doing a lot of things to help reduce the mathematical knowledge you need to play the game at that level.  The new talent system is one example of that – no more choosing between an X% increase in one ability and a Y% increase in another.  You get all the stuff you need in your spec, and you know that the talent choices are all mostly up to you.  Even when the choice is between DPS skills, and there’s a clear “winner,” the weaker talents shouldn’t be far behind (provided, of course, that they do their job balancing them properly).

There’s a limit to how much of that you can do while keeping a compelling play experience though.  Spell rotations aren’t always obvious, and that’s where a lot of theorycrafting is focused.  It would be hard to make 30 distinct (class/spec) play styles that were all so simple that a new player could sit down and determine the best rotation within 5-10 minutes of play.  You’d have to give them a very, very small selection of spells with very obvious interactions.  Imagine if the rogue class only got Sinister Strike, Backstab, and Eviscerate.  You could probably figure out a near-optimal way to play without too much trouble, but I think it would end up being pretty boring to actually play.

Upcoming changes to the game

Hugh Blizzard are introducing some pretty big changes to the way the game works at the moment, with the Great Squish, new talent systems, and more. What do you think of their changes, and how do you see them affecting theorycrafting in the future?

Theck I’m generally positive on the upcoming changes.  I was really amused by the “great squish,” because it’s something Meloree and I had been talking about a week or two ago during a conversation about how out-of-hand scaling is getting.  We generally increase in DPS by a factor of ~5 every expansion, and it feels like that rate of progress is unsustainable for a lot of the reasons GC outlined.  One proposal Mel and I discussed was roughly doubling DPS each expansion, which would slow the rate of exponential growth considerably.  I like the item squish idea, but I’d love to see it done within the game system automatically rather than applied arbitrarily at the beginning of each new expansion.  At the same time though, all of these ideas are just buying you time; the only real fix is a complete reset (i.e. start from scratch with a new game).

I like the new talent system.  The old system gave very few real choices to most classes – the variations from “cookie-cutter” were just too few and far between.  There were a few specs where that really worked, but it just didn’t happen for most of them.  The only way to make it work is to reduce the number of “required” talents, which is essentially what the new system does.  It takes the no-brainer talents and just gives them to you.  Then, you get to choose from amongst a bunch of similar options that are mutually exclusive, which means those options can be both powerful and interesting, because there’s no risk of someone taking more than one at a time.

As far as theorycrafting goes, the item squish is mostly irrelevant to us.  The new talent system is convenient, because it means I’ll know that every level 90 paladin will have the same basic toolkit, so I won’t need to worry about different talent tree permutations as much as I do now.  One of the things that makes theorycrafting complicated at the moment is the sheer size of the parameter space – the rotation acts differently depending on your investment in several different talents (and in T13, even set bonuses!), and it causes the modeling to change slightly.  Being able to avoid running and re-running simulations to cover all of those different parts of parameter space is going to be convenient, and will eliminate some of the drudgery.

So, in my mind it makes the theorycrafting a little easier (or at least, less work-intensive).  That’s good though – running numbers over and over just to rule out things you’re pretty sure won’t work anyway isn’t interesting.  Answering neat questions and discovering the nuances of how mechanics interact, on the other hand, is.  I feel like I’ll have more time for the latter with the new system.

What does Theck think of his Emberseal?

Hugh Last question – Blizzard introduced Theck’s Emberseal, but ironically it seems like it’s rather a badly itemised ring for most paladin tanks! What do you think of your in-game namesake?

Theck Well, frankly, I’m flattered.  Sure, the itemization isn’t ideal, but it would feel really egotistical to complain about being honoured in-game.  It’s more than most players get, and I certainly don’t feel like I’ve done all that much to deserve it myself.  So even though they’re not the stats I would have chosen, I’m still very happy to be honoured that way.  It’s definitely one of those items I’ll keep in the bank (or void storage) long after it’s outlived its usefulness.

That said, I wouldn’t object to getting a slightly better-itemized vanity item if there’s a next time.  I hear there was talk of a legendary shield at BlizzCon…. 😉

Hugh Or perhaps a tanking mace? I can see the [Bringer of Pounding Headaches] being popular…

Thanks very much for taking the time to chat, and for those really illuminating answers!

You can find Theck blogging at Sacred Duty or theorycrafting all over Maintankadin .

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Rades of Orcish Army Knife on future Warcraft storylines, whether WoW’s story is about straight white men, and more

Today on the Pot, we’re interviewing a psychic. Well, OK, not exactly a psychic, but certainly someone who appears to have a direct line to the World of Warcraft developers’ brains – Rades of the blog Orcish Army Knife.

Rades is best-known for his stonkingly detailed and interesting WoW lore speculations, including that time when he predicted the origin of the Legendary Dagger , and his “I’d prefer to play this than the actual announced dungeons” ideas for Stromgarde instances . We caught up with him to grill him about lore, future predictions, Blizzard’s storytelling and more…

Lore and upcoming WoW stories

Hugh: Hello, and thanks for volunteering to be grilled for the Pot!

OK, you got the Legendary Dagger right and SM Heroic right – you’re clearly some kind of WoW prognosticator. So, gimme three other predictions for things that are going to happen in WoW that we don’t know about yet?

Rades: 1) The Sha being connected to the Burning Legion. Sha means Light in the Eredar language, and what are the chances that Blizzard just happened to name these terrible nightmare monsters formed from negative energy “Light” in a language and format we’ve seen numerous times before, in-game? (Shattrath, Sha’tar) I think it might lead into a more thorough understanding of what the Light really is, and how it’s more of a reflection of positive/negative energy than an actual “good” force.

2) Neptulon is playing possum. There’s simply no way an Elemental Lord would ever get beaten by a Naga, or get kidnapped by Ozumat, especially when they’re on Neptulon’s home turf. Either he’s playing weak and letting us players handle the Naga for him, or it’s a trick and he’s actually working with Azshara. Plus he’s historically actually always been the cruelest, most evil of the Lords, even over Ragnaros.

3) Thrall is going to name his son after Cairne.

3) What? Ok, a real one. (Though I do actually think that will happen.) Um, how about I think we’re going to see Lilian Voss and/or the Brotherhood of the Light start to throw their weight around a little, possibly replacing the Scarlet Crusade as antagonists, or as the “zealot” faction?

Hugh: Interesting. In more general terms, what are you really looking forward to or annoyed by in WoW at the moment? What’s got your attention?

Rades: I’m really looking forward to Void Storage and Transmogrification, for obvious reasons, as well as the excitement of new dungeons and a new raid. Story-wise, I cannot WAIT to read about the Wrathion/Fangs of the Father questline, since that is bound to be some delicious new lore and developments! Sadly, I don’t have a Rogue, so I’ll have to live vicariously through others. I’m also greatly intrigued by the Theramore destruction topic, as I think it will have significant long-term repercussions.

As for annoyances, I’m very disappointed we didn’t see Calia Menethil involved with Deathwing somehow. To not use her here seems a complete waste of an amazing story hook, and even if Blizzard brings her in later, it won’t have the same meaning. I want to know where she’s been, I want to know if she’s on Deathwing’s side or our side, and I want to know how she feels about the Forsaken living in Lordaeron. Plus there’s the whole Arthas angle, and the fact she personally knows most of the Alliance leaders. So many great storylines that will probably never be explored now.

Hugh: Yeah, as you know, I’m fascinated by the Theramore Incident too – I think there’s a lot of very rich material possible from an event like that, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Blizzard does with it.

On the annoyance front: a lot of people are saying very rude things about WoW and Pandas right now. How do you see the Pandaren playing out? Will they actually add to WoW lore, and in the right way?

Rades: It really bothers me to see people so incredibly negative about the Pandaren and writing them off – or the entire Mists expansion off – as nothing but a joke race, when we really don’t know anything about them yet. If you don’t like them yet, that’s fine. And if you don’t like them later, when we know more about them and what their culture is like, that’s fine too. But to dismiss them already is pointlessly cynical, in my opinion.

I think the Pandaren have a lot of potential to be very interesting, and even more serious or even dark than what everyone thinks. How exactly their culture and societies function is going to be very interesting to see, since the whole monk/inner peace/calmed emotions seems to be such a prevalent theme. Are they just a naturally happy race? Or are they forced to live this way out of fear of creating Sha?

Of course, on the other hand, there’s also a lot of potential to be terrible additions to the Warcraft universe. If they do end up as kung-fu panda caricatures with no solid hooks or noteworthy characters, it’s going to be very disappointing.

Compared to the other new races that were introduced, the Pandaren are at a severe disadvantage in that they have very little prior history. There’s some Warcraft 3 hooks, but nothing compared to the YEARS of established personality of the Elves or Goblins. The Draenei had a similar obstacle to overcome, and while Burning Crusade’s heavy Outlands influence did a very nice job of pushing them to the forefront, where are they now?

Currently the Draenei don’t really fit in and haven’t been incorporated into Azeroth in any real quantity. I worry that the Pandaren will be be similarly out-of-place after Mists.

Lore knowledge and how Orcish Army Knife developed

Hugh: HOW do you get to know all this lore? You seem to have a massive, comprehensive knowledge of it – how on earth did you develop that?

Rades: It partially stems from a love of Warcraft lore dating back to the old RTS games – one of the reasons I was excited to play WoW was to see what had changed since then, and what had become of my old familiar characters.

Really though, my lore knowledge comes from the simple fact that I’m madly interested in it! I read the novels, the comics, the manga books, etc. But it’s not like I have this infinite lore database in my brain – I actually do a ton of research when I do lore-heavy posts. WoWpedia, of course, but I also dig through the RPG books, look at Wowhead comments to find out what people thought of an item or characters years ago, or go visit the site/person in question in-game and poke around.

However, I do try to stay quite informed about topics I really enjoy, such as Sylvanas or the Scarlet Crusade, so that I can have spontaneous discussions with friends about them without having to resort to WoWpedia every 30 seconds.

I also pay a lot of attention to quests or NPC dialogue in-game. If someone says something strange, or if there’s a curious rarespawn, or if an item has some curious flavor text, I’ll make a mental note and go look it up later.

One of my favorite lore potential characters in the game right now is a character with no lines, no dialogue, and no related quests. She is literally not for any story purpose at the moment. And yet, I’m fascinated by her potential. But sorry – she’s a secret, for now. 😉

Hugh: It seems like Orcish Army Knife is becoming the #1 lore predictions site, but you started with a bunch of different posts on different topics. Did you always intend to write a lore site, or did you “pivot” after seeing everyone’s responses, and if so, why?

Rades: I definitely did NOT intend to write a lore site! I started off mostly as a “random thoughts / Hunter ramblings” blog, without a real focus. It wasn’t until a post I wrote about, bizarrely, a philosophy of ignoring unpleasant quests from a roleplaying perspective, that I started to shift my blog’s focus to other things.

My first real lore prediction post was actually a series of two posts about what I thought Blizzard should have done with Jaina at the end of Wrath. They were pretty popular posts, considering Jaina’s popularity, the general dissatisfaction among the player base with how she had been handled, and the fact that I was suggesting ideas that would have enhanced her role as a strong female character. The feedback was very encouraging, so I started to think more and more about alternate storylines and plot hooks for characters.

Tips for MMO bloggers

Hugh: Interesting! So, do you attribute your success to doing one thing well, then? Do you think other bloggers should try to focus on a single thing, or is it possible to be a jack of all trades?

Rades: I think bloggers should focus on whatever they love writing about. Whether that’s a specific thing, like Resto Druid discussion, guild leading or making gold, or a wide variety of topics, as long as the love/passion is there, that’s what will make the blog exceptional. I certainly do value some blogs in my blogroll for being specifically tailored to a specific niche topic, and I rely on them as resources and advice. Meanwhile, I like the jack-of-all-trades blogs for their variety, and for remaining fresh and interesting!

There’s pros and cons for both methods. For example, many bloggers will find it helpful to focus on a specific theme, because it helps you decide on what topics to write about, or what news to cover. And it is usually the single-focus blogs that end up being most trusted/reliable leaders in their respective “fields.”

However, narrowing your blog to a certain niche also ensures that some potential readers won’t ever read you because they simply aren’t interested in your chosen topic. You could write the best Rogue blog in the world, but if I don’t care about Rogues, I’ll rarely read it. On the other hand, if you write about lore, Rogues, and making gold, chances are I’ll keep popping in to see what you’re talking about. I might ignore the Rogue posts, but if I’m interested in your other topics, I’ll check them out.

Hugh: Focussing certainly seems to have worked pretty well for you and Orcish Army Knife, I’ll say that! You’ve pretty quickly become a pillar of the community – you’re one of the most RT’ed blogs, you’re commentating for the Twisted Nether.

Any tips for other people trying to get their blogs known in the community?

Rades: There’s so many things a person can do! Hmm. I would strongly encourage embracing the idea that it IS a community, and join in! There’s countless ways to do this – join Twitter and talk to other bloggers, comment on other blogs you enjoy, link to other blogs you enjoy, join blog communities such as Blog Azeroth, etc. You want to get your name known, and networking and simply being out there as a friendly face/name is a great way of doing this.

I have found countless blogs I enjoy through them leaving a comment on my site, or talking to them on Twitter. I also like this because it’s not aggressive, you’re not shoving your blog URL in someone’s face. It’s more like “Hey, this person is pretty cool, oooh and they have a blog, too! I’ll check it out!”

That being said, the MOST important thing…is to write a good blog! This sounds obvious, but some of the best WoW blogs I’ve read completely ignore the networking process, and just write quality post after quality post. Obviously, this should be everyone’s goal as a blogger, but it helps to write about things you feel very passionately about.

I strongly believe that your first priority as a blogger should be to write for yourself, not others. If you write posts purely for the goal of getting hits, your writing will be dull and less interesting than if you write about things you legitimately care about. And if you aren’t writing about things that you find fun, why are you even writing to begin with?

Hugh: Talking of writing, what’s your process for writing a post?

Rades: I rarely actually outline, and I usually just spew words out, editing and rearranging them as I go. I do like to have a mental checklist of things I want to talk about, however. I’ll usually write about each individual subtopic separately, writing down everything I can possibly think of, and then repeat the process for the other subtopics. Then when I’m done, I rearrange the chunks in a manner which makes sense when reading it, and add transitional paragraphs/sentences to make it all flow smoothly.

For example, Lilian Voss and the Brotherhood of the Light. Were I to write about this idea, I’d want to write about, let’s see:

  • What Lilian wants to do now that the Scarlets are gone
  • What the Brotherhood of the Light wants to do now that the Scourge is (basically) gone
  • The personalities/attitudes of Lilian and the Brotherhood leaders
  • Possible allegiances to other factions that Lilian/the Brotherhood might have
  • Possible connections to other historical events/characters, and how they might be involved. For example, what would Tirion think if the Brotherhood started getting a bit too overzealous?
  • How their actions might weave into the current story. In this case, the major hook would be the Forsaken. All the Scourge are dead, now what? Well, what about those other undead? Bam, hook, possible storyline, done.

This process works very well for me because I can compose a post in chunks instead of all at once (drafts are your friends!) and during the writing process I almost always think of other angles or ideas that hadn’t occurred to me, which I can then include. If I have a particular point/metaphor/line that I want to use – sometimes posts are based around these – then I write that down first, and work from there. Sometimes huge, sprawling posts all originate from a single thought.

Hugh: Nice. And where do those thoughts come from? Where do you get your ideas in the first place?

Rades: Honestly, I just try to take everything story or lore related that I come across – via blogs, in-game, or just discussions with people – and then I try to think of it completely differently. I’m constantly asking myself, “What if this is a trick? What if there’s more to this quest/character than meets the eye?” I WANT people to read a speculation post and go “Wow, I never thought of that!” or “Ooh, or what about this possibility?”

I also ask myself a lot of questions and see if I can answer them using existing lore, because if I can’t, why can’t I? Is there a good reason? If not, that can be worth exploring too. For example “What does Sha mean?” (Answer: Light.) “Why does it mean Light?” (Answer: No logical answer at this point, which means it’s great post material!)

Blizzard and gender/race/sexuality

Hugh: Going back to Blizzard’s lore and writing – a fair number of people have accused WoW’s writing of being overly simplistic, focussed on male, straight caucasians, and similar issues. Do you feel the various criticisms of WoW’s storytelling have merit?

Rades: Overly simplistic? Possibly, when compared to other story-heavy games like Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, Dragon Age, etc. But I think such comparisons are a little skewed. I think overall, the WoW storylines are great, especially for an MMO. MMOs have difficulties that single-player, conventional RPG games just don’t have to tackle, and I think WoW does a nice job of maintaining a cohesive, engaging storyline with some unexpected twists and interesting characters.

As for how simplistic the plots are? As someone who is always creating “alternate” storylines in my head, I do often wish WoW’s storylines were more complicated and deep. But again, another challenge of plotlines in an MMO is keeping the storylines on a level that the majority of the playerbase can relate to. I would love a 10-twist, triple-swerve convoluted Xanatos gambit storyline with hooks dating back to obscure Warcraft 2 events. It’d be awesome! But many players would not understand such a storyline at all, not being as interested in lore as me, or having zero knowledge of the old games. So they can’t really do those storylines without alienating players. Unfortunate, but it makes sense.

I DO think that so far, Blizzard has been slow to get away from the stereotypical “everyone is white and male and straight” trope. Race is an interesting topic, since 75% of the races in WoW aren’t really comparable to real-life races. And while there are some black or dark-skinned humans, there’s a definite lack of other nationalities represented. Then again, it’s not like they have the other Human skins available to work with. This doesn’t make it right, of course, but the simple fact is that even if Blizzard wanted to introduce a slew of non-white Human NPCs and be racially diverse, they couldn’t, not right now. At least, until they redo the character models like they’ve been hinting at for Mists. I hope they do listen to player requests for more racial representation as soon as they can.

The male dominance is definitely a trend that has been prevalent through much of WoW – just look at the racial leaders. 16 racial leaders (including Jaina, Malfurion, and Moira/Falstad/Muradin), 4 of which are female, Jaina, Sylvanas, Moira and Tyrande. And of those 4, Jaina has done nothing – literally – in Cataclysm, Moira has done next to nothing, and Tyrande has been little more than arm candy so far for Malfurion, something which has upset MANY players. The Malfurion/Tyrande leader fiction story released by Blizzard a while back really didn’t help. Sylvanas is the only female leader who’s consistently shown strong character traits, even if Garrosh DID call her a bitch in a Silverpine quest, which is a whole new issue completely.

However, I think that in many ways, Blizzard is taking steps to fix this trend. There are many, many strong female characters that were introduced in Cataclysm that have become very popular figures. Thisalee Crow, Lilian Voss, Therazane, Fanny Thundermar, Stormcaller Mylra, Zaela – these are all memorable, strong female characters that players LOVE and are hoping to see more of. Fanny Thundermar and Therazane in particular are fantastic examples of characters who are not only great in their own right, but are especially admirable because they go against type and subvert the traditional gender/image stereotypes so commonly associated with female characters in modern media.

So while I think that currently the male predominance still exists, especially with the major characters/bosses (the lack of female ‘end bosses’ is a common complaint that has been true in WoW since Vanilla), I think Blizzard is aware of this, and trying to improve.

The lack of gay characters in WoW is hardly surprising, considering that they are only slowly starting to pop up here and there in the video game industry, period. That being said, WoW is such a powerhouse in the video game world…I think if they were to set the bar and implement some non-straight characters or couples, it would set a nice example for other gaming companies to match. Because if WoW think it’s fine, everyone should.

On a related note, I found Chris Metzen’s response to the “will we see any gay or lesbian characters in WoW?” question at Blizzcon very interesting. For those who don’t know, he basically said that it’s certainly possible, as long as they fit in the story. I’ve heard a lot of people criticize his response as non-committal and wishy-washy, and chastised him for not saying outright “yes we will introduce some clearly gay/lesbian characters.” But I think that’s a dangerous attitude. The point isn’t to have some gay characters, it’s to have NORMAL characters, who just happen to be gay. I’d much rather see characters who are memorable because they are interesting, who happen to be gay, rather than a token gay couple who are only noteworthy because of their sexual orientation.

For example, those two druids in the Molten Front who really care for each other. I think they’re great – they seem extremely concerned for each other, so much so that many players suspect they are a couple. But it’s quiet and realistic – they’re not blatantly in-your-face screaming that they are gay, and oh look, a gay couple, or HEY GUYS here’s the gays. They also aren’t stereotypes – no stereotypically-gay mannerisms or anything. They’re just normal people in every way.

Rades for Head Story Dude!

Hugh: One last question – Chris Metzen suddenly quits to become a surfer. After an emergency meeting, the board vote unanimously to hire you to replace him. So, where would you take the story and the lore from here?

Rades: Haha, nice. I’d immediately compile a list of all the floating plot hooks – Alleria, Danath, Calia Menethil, etc. – and hammer those up on the wall as IMPORTANT ELEMENTS WE SHOULD NOT FORGET ABOUT. A common attitude I currently encounter when proposing some bizarre tinfoil-hat theory is that “Blizzard is lazy and will just take the easy route out”, and I would want to change this attitude. I’d then try to give races other than Humans, Night Elves, Orcs and Forsaken big moments in the spotlight. Give some love to the Trolls, the Goblins, the Gnomes, but especially the Draenei. Not just story moments, but some cool heroes too. I mean, name a memorable female Gnome character. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I’d also strongly listen to player long-term complaints, such as the lack of female characters or the “Horde bias” and be sure to examine those closely and see what could be done to address these concerns. Seasonal events would have their stories updated and tinkered with annually, as I have always felt these are HUGE opportunities to deliver little hooks or clues about upcoming major events, without actually revealing anything. It seems a tremendous waste not to utilize them. (It would also make them more interesting.)

Finally, because I wouldn’t be able to resist, I’d strongly push for more twisty, sinister major plots, with more elements of deception, trickery, and overarching long-term schemes. Nothing where you’d need a synopsis just to figure out what’s going on, but stories that would keep players surprised and engaged. I’d also push for well-rounded villains with genuine goals and motivations, rather than the cliche “pure evil” bosses we’ve encountered so far in Cataclysm.

Hugh: Dammit, that sounds really good. I’d love to see some more nuanced villains in WoW too – more nuance often means we’ll want to put them down even more, because we can understand just what they’re doing and why.

Thanks very much for all your thoughts!

If you want more pure unfiltered Rades lore power, head over to Orcish Army Knife for the latest from his lore-soaked brain!

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Matt “Matticus” Low on WoW Insider, blogging, healing and Enjin

Our first interview this week is with Matt Low, better known to the WoW community as Matticus. He’s been a longtime WoW blogger over at the group site World of Matticus, which is also where Rebecca, who founded the Melting Pot, got her start.

Subsequently, Matt joined the WoW Insider team, where he writes the “Raid RX” column, as well as working with the rest of the team on general raiding and healing subjects. He’s also the Community Manager for Enjin.com, which he’ll tell us more about in the interview!

Let’s go!

WoW Insider

Hugh Hi, Matt, and thanks very much for agreeing to be grilled here today! So, obviously your highest-profile gig is probably working for WoW Insider. What’s it like working with such a huge blog, and how does it differ from working on a personal project?

Matt A much, much higher reader base. That’s one of the bigger differences. Contributing to WoW Insider is considered a paid gig so there is that as well. The freedom to write is a little diminished.

On my own blog, I can write about practically anything I’d like because I’m my own boss and there’s no restrictions. On WoW Insider, I don’t have that luxury largely because my areas of expertise are limited (namely to healing or raiding). I wouldn’t be the best choice to write about commentary for mages or tanks.

Then there’s the accountability factor: If I screw up on my own blog, I can easily resolve that. If I screw up a fact or something on WoW Insider, I’m usually alerted early on prior to the post being published. If it’s missed, I’ll get a barrage of emails and tweets from people with pitchforks screaming how I misspelled Circle of Haeling. I try my best to minimize those though. I love my colleagues on WoW Insider and they’re great people to work with and bounce ideas off of.

Hugh So you guys think of yourselves very much as a single blog, rather than a blog collective? I ask because obviously there’s such a huge range of styles and expertises over there.

Matt Since we all live in different places and we’re able to telecommute, we do coordinate news or articles idea with each other to ensure there’s no double shifting of posts.

And yes, WoW Insider is a single blog with multiple contributors. Sometimes our expertise will cross with each other. It’s always a thrill getting into internal lore debates or discussing mechanics (or watching others go at it /popcorn style).

Hugh Yeah, that sounds very cool. Does that happen over Twitter, or email, or are you guys all on some kind of IM thing?

Matt We coordinate with each other using our own software.

Hugh Cool.

Hugh Do you ever have a situation where multiple people want to cover the same topic, and how do you resolve that?

Matt Yes actually. If the angles are different enough, sometimes both of them might go through and work collaboratively on the same post. other times, depending on the breadth of the topic, it could just be split up into 2 posts covering different sides.

Hugh Overall, it sounds like you enjoy writing for WI a lot – we’ve talked about the challenges, but what are the best bits?

Matt Sounds really cheesy, but it’s always a thrill working with and meeting the team once a year annually at BlizzCon.

You also get to interact with the readers and the community. Just a whole bunch of exposure and people (less the trolls of course ^^).

Hugh Ah, the trolls. Where would we be without them? Less stressed.

Last WI question – obviously, you’re owned by AOL, and there have been a few reports on the Internet about writing for AOL sites being basically a giant content-farm treadmill, where you get handed article titles and have to write them in tiny amounts of time. I take it that the WI experience is very different – why do you think that is?

Matt Probably because our editors are just that damned awesome. I can’t comment on other AOL sites (I’ve never contributed to the others). Not to mention since our main topic is about WoW, theres’ always something new to see, something fresh to analyze and some question to ponder.

Ideas come to us basically.

Hugh That makes sense. I find the same on the Pot – if you’re short of viable article ideas, something’s gone badly wrong :)

Hugh Do you ever see the Hand of AOL at work in WI, or is all that dealt with at editorial level?

Matt Not really, I’d like to think we’re pretty autonomous.

We’re still a business, we still need revenue streams and all that. So as long as our results are there, we can still do what we do.

Enjin

Hugh So, obviously your other gig is Community Manager for Enjin. Is that a full-time thing, part time, or more of a consultancy deal?

Matt My work at Enjin keeps me busy. Definitely full time.

Hugh Cool. So, there are quite a few guild hosting solutions out there, some a lot more entrenched than Enjin, plus of course there’s always the “just run WordPress/PHPBB” option that a lot of guilds take – so what was it about Enjin that attracted you to work with them? What’s the secret sauce?

Matt Because Enjin is clearly the best hosting solution for guilds and clans /cheesymarketingvoiceguy

Hugh Does it leverage your dynamic synergy toward a win-win solution?

Matt Hahah! Catering to the casuals!

Now I’m a gamer at heart. I’m not limited to just MMOs. I like shooters, I like RTS games and all that. Some of the other hosting solutions limit their services to guilds OR clans. Enjin was one of the few that offered support for guilds AND clans. Last I checked, almost 5000 games could be supported. That diversity greatly appealed to me.

Hugh So how did you end up hooking up with the Enjin guys in the first place? Was it blogging-related?

Matt Absolutely yes. They initially approached me due to my work on WoW Insider, my blog and so forth. After trying out their system, I made a few requests and offered them some feedback from a GM Perspective (Why this tool is good, this widget feels weird/clunky, I think you should try this approach, etc). They listened politely and introduced a few changes. I’d just continue to keep offering them feedback in general.

I’d introduce them to other contacts of mine I’ve developed within the community and across other games and… then I got signed!

Hugh Pretty cool. So I guess that’s basically a classic “where your blog can take you” story? Or do you think you’d have ended up doing something similar even without WoM and WI?

Matt Yeah, it’s the standard, academy award winning “Work hard at blog, watch what happens story”. But don’t get me wrong. It takes a RIDICULOUS amount of work and time investment. Remember I only started my blog 4 years ago. I got picked up by WoW Insider about a year after that and started at Enjin recently last year. So it takes a lot of time, perseverance and drive. You have to be driven and motivated. If you’re not, then don’t expect to see many results. I’ve sacrificed much to get where I am. At the end of the day, I’m satisfied with the choices but there are times where I think about what could have been.

Without the support from WoM and WI, I doubt I would’ve been able to get to this position. Influence does matter and it certainly helps. People are skeptical about you and your skills unless you have something tangible to back it up with. “Why should we hire you?” is a question that’s always going to come up in the mind of the company. Saying you contribute to one of the largest WoW blogs and are an active writer with multiple years of blogging under your belt is an excellent card to lay down.

World of Matticus

Hugh No kidding! So, yeah, let’s talk about WoM. For an independent blog, you grew it to be pretty darn massive. What did you do and how did you work to get it that large?

Matt Simple. I wrote. A lot. There were nights I stayed up to 2 or 3 in the morning hammering out posts, getting my Photoshop in and all that. Lately that’s gone down a bit but that’s just due to my increasing responsibilities. One of the basic “strats” I use is to just comment on other blogs. Have something interesting and appealing to say. Don’t underestimate what kind of traffic you can pull just for being the first person to write something helpful or beneficial. People DO read comments.

I see a lot of well written thoughts and posts from other bloggers. But there are two things: One, they typically stop writing after 60 days and just give up on blogging or something happens where they’re not able to do it anymore. Maybe they lose interest, I don’t know. Two, no one knows about their blog. Again, tons of great writers but they’re not the best at marketing their blog or raising exposure which is often difficult. It’s a simple concept. If no one knows about your blog, you’re not going to be read. So go out and comment on other blogs. Email other blogging colleagues and ask them to check out your stuff.

Hugh Was WoM your first blog? I’m guessing you learned a fair bit whilst running it – are there any resources you used that you’d recommend to other bloggers wanting to learn how to do something similar?

Matt Yup, WoM was my first blog. I learned much about publishing and site administration during high school. I actually managed my high school’s website for 3 years while I was there. Things like design, copywriting, content management and all that experience came in handy for the blog. One of the challenges I faced then was how to make the site both appealing for my peers and appropriate for the parents and teachers.

For resources, I’d highly recommend both problogger.net and copyblogger.com. Problogger is great for different blog related techniques. things like new widgets, new tech, how to get traffic and that sort of thing. Copyblogger was great because it helps you become a better writer. I don’t mean technically. I mean writing for the web and for people. Not writing for academics (which is what I was doing before before I slowly shifted my style).

Hugh I’d second both of those recommendations. Copyblogger’s particularly good – I’ve been following it since it opened.

Hugh So, what’s next for WoM? I saw a mention recently that you’re in the process of doing a relaunch of sorts…

Matt Oh, that would be the Matticast. Our podcast team will be coming back together soon and offering our collective thoughts on a weekly basis for WoW, healing, raiding and all the stuff in between.

Hugh Very neat. I’m not a big podcast person (no commute) but I’l make an effort to catch an episode or two! Any plans for WoM itself, or are you on “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

Matt Write more! I love writing but I just haven’t had the time. I’ve got the ideas and such in place, but argh I just need to make time (that goes for the rest of you bloggers). You need to MAKE time for blogging.

Hugh Seconded. It’s like any other kind of writing.

WoW itself

Hugh OK, so, just wrapping up, two final things.

This has been really interesting, by the way – thanks!

First thing – we’ve talked about sites talking about WoW, we’ve talked about blogging about WoW, we’ve talked about hosting guilds who play WoW. But we haven’t talked about WoW!

So – what’s most interesting/exciting/infuriating to you about World of Warcraft at the moment?

Matt Geeze, all these hard questions

Hugh Old-school interviewer :)

Matt We’re still working our way through hard mode 25 man Firelands content. Standing on my head healing continues to be my main interests. It’s exciting, challenging and it CAN be really infuriating. Aside from that, I’ve fallen back to blowing up stuff on my Shaman, Shadow Priest and Ret Pally. What’s infuriating for me is just being Ret and trying to react to the different abilities and when they come off of cooldown and so forth.

It’s not exactly like healing.

Hugh “standing on my head healing”? Are you saving time by combining your yoga and your raid times? :)

Matt Sometimes its nice to have a different perspective.

Hugh Yeah, I’ve been brewing an editorial on that, actually – it’s increasingly seeming to me that healing and the rest of WoW are diverging as game types. Writing class guides I notice this particularly – healer guides are MASSIVELY harder to write because healing is so much more individual and situational.

Matt Correct. there isnt a straight up rotation like playing a Mage or an Elemental Shaman for example. It’s more of a action-reaction type of deal.

Hugh Nods I see a lot more super-hardcore log analysis and so on out of healers than any other class – do you think that they’re actually harder to play, or just differently hard?

Not trying to trick you into annoying half the WoW-playing world here :)Just curious because, as a someone who doesn’t heal that often, frankly healing frequently looks scary-complicated.

Matt See, now there’s a question I should’ve asked to the Q&A about ease and accessibility for non healers _ I don’t think they’re actually harder to play or anything. I just think that there’s so much more pressure and accountability. When things go bad in an encounter, where does the raid look first? Healers. All that hardcore log analysis is done as a method to CYA so to speak.

Hugh There’s my pullquote for the article :)

Final thoughts

Hugh Other MMOs – are you tempted to go to the Dark Side? Or are you sticking with WoW for now?

Matt We’re expanding to SWTOR. Currently looking for someone to assist me with the GM side of things. So anyone out there with GMing experience looking for a strong infrastructure and support system, come to me. Love to have a chat. I’d only be a casual player in the game since I’m devoted to WoW and all that. I’d love to have a Conquest guild for SWTOR. Sith side though.

Hugh Cool – I’m not sure there’s going to be anyone left who isn’t at least dual-specced WoW and SWTOR come January :)

So, final thing – give us your elevator pitch! Should the guilds reading this interview consider moving over to Enjin for hosting, and if so, why?

Matt Historically, the guild website was managed by the person with the most technical expertise: Design, programming, etc. Enjin takes that equation away. Doesn’t matter what your experience level. It’s extremely easy to use and customizable as well. As a GM myself, I’ve cut down on the amount of time I had to spend managing the site because of that. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend more time playing then administrating a site.

Hugh Nice :)

It’s better than the elevator pitch I’ve got for the Pot :)

That’s been great! Thanks very much for agreeing to be grilled for the Pot!

If you’re looking for more Matt after that, you can find him at WoW Insider , World of Matticus and making guild hosting a better place at Enjin .

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Bottom-of-the-page ad and Supporter memberships

Quick note – after some conversations on Twitter, I’m working to add a “close” button to the ad at the bottom of the page here! Unfortunately the Javascript is proving a little less trivial than expected (partially because I’m trying to do it in a Clever way), but I should be able to get something going soon, so you can actually close the darn thing!

Update – fixed it. The ad now has a close button at the top.

And that got me thinking.

Would you be interested in a “Supporter Membership” / “Publisher’s Club” option on the Pot, a la Rift Junkies or The Escapist? On those sites, you can sign up for a small annual subscription, and in exchange you get an ad-free experience, private forums, mobile app versions of the site, and so on. Plus, of course, you’d get the warm, glowing feeling of knowing that you’re supporting us to keep finding the best from the blogosphere and telling the world about it.

Would you be interested in something like that?

[poll id=“14”]

By the way, next week’s Pot should be really interesting, and a bit different – we’re running a series of interviews with some VERY prominent members of the WoW community, from the universally-respected to the extremely controversial. Stay tuned!

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