#NoFlyNoBuy Are You Listening @WarcraftDevs?

Once again the moderators have struck.  I had a pretty decent thread going over on the forums.  This morning at 4am or thereabouts it was 7 pages long.  I had managed to avoid blatantly violating any rules by directly discussing bannings that the moderators have inflicted on me in the past.  Managed not to talk blatantly about any of the rules which govern the boards. Managed to keep myself from fucking cursing every other fucking word, so they couldn't pretend that bitching was something vulgar this time. Thought it was going swimmingly until I logged on this afternoon to see if anything else had posted.

Not only had nothing else posted, but the entire thread had disappeared into a black hole, like every other thread I've started on Blizzard's forums. No matter how many times Blizzard's customer service representatives in-game assure me that the developers want to hear from you, go post on the forums I know from experience that the opposite is true.  They really don't want to hear from me.

I'm generally well-school in dancing around the sensitivities of others. Just last week I managed to piss of the acting Guild Master of my now-former Horde raiding guild (Crimson Retribution - Terenas) because I dared to suggest that not only was he wrong about flight always being a perk in World of Warcraft , but that if his training as a systems administrator instructed him that all hackers are criminals (right after he had called me a criminal for rooting my cellphone) I didn't think much of the value of his education.

Funny part of that was that he stopped talking to me because I insulted his education.  The dust-up wasn't over his accusation that I was a criminal.  No, that insult to me was completely overlooked. His tender feelings were hurt. So I left the guild, because that is what happens when those with lesser authority have a disagreement with higher authorities.  You move on.  It is not a threat, it is what reasonable people do.

Similarly, there is no winning when the entire structure of a company wants to silence what you have to say, when the only place you can say it is on their forums and have it reach an audience. If you read over the Blizzard forum guidelines it should become painfully clear that any subject that isn't praise for Blizzard and World of Warcraft generically will not live very long on their forums. They have (like so many other forums on the internet) created an echo-chamber for self-congratulation.

...and why not? I mean, Blizzard has created what is inarguably the most popular game in all the history of electronic gaming. World of Warcraft (or WoW) still boasts subscriptions that are North of five million, which is a number that nearly any other gaming company would give their firstborn children to have access to.  Never mind that at its peak WoW  boasted a subscriber base of over twelve million people, or that the release of Warlords of Draenor did not lift subscriber numbers from their slow downward slide for longer than a month or two.

They have a certified hit, a cash cow. But how to keep milking that cow without killing it? That really is a tricky question, the multi-million dollar question that speaks to the future of the company. I mean, Blizzard isn't alone out there. Some would say that they aren't even at the forefront of gaming any longer.

My children only play Blizzard games because I play them. Left to their own devices, they like their Steam games, playing any number of them for pretty much as long as we allow them to play (him anyway, and only for a few years more) when the daughter heard that Legion would be the next expansion for World of Warcraft her only request was that I get her one of the art books.  The game? Well, if you are playing dad, sure.

Steam has tapped into something that only Facebook is doing better at; and that because it doesn't require any real talent to be on Facebook. You just have to have the connection and you can share memes till the end of time, play flash games till you die of repetition.  Facebook is to the internet was TV was to broadcast. Radio was informative and entertaining, TV had pictures!

I can't explain what it is that Steam offers.  I haven't been impressed with many of the games. I'm certainly not impressed with their business tactics involving the children that make up a majority of their player base (I've mentioned this before) But they have a loyal following, and Blizzard has noticed this, which is why they introduced Battle.net and its launcher.

Battle.net is a pale comparison to Steam and it's myriad of indepedent developers, though. Blizzard is now facing the same kind of broad-based competition that Microsoft laughed at when Linux was introduced.  Microsoft is no longer laughing now that Android (also Linux/Unix) runs on more systems than their software; similarly, Blizzard (or more accurately Activision/Blizzard) cannot long outpace a group which can essentially grow to incorporate all programmers who don't work for them.

I had several players insist to me that Blizzard would stop WoW at level 100 for in-game characters, back in the days when I was writing about Cataclysm and its failings. I knew then just as I know now that there won't be an end to World of Warcraft so long as Blizzard continues to see a profit. With the announcement of Legion and its 110 level cap, the notion that World of Warcraft might stop anytime soon has been left in the dust.

With new content needed, and the demands of the players for more and more challenging content to master, WoW programmers have a serious problem on their hands.  How to keep the players challenged?  How to make programming goals achievable in the foreshortened time that Activision was allowing for game development?  The developers, after seeing the new subscriptions and interest in WoD declared that they would exclude flight in all future expansions of WoW, reneging on their promise to introduce flight to the new content as this blue post goes into;
There's a lot of discussion about flying/not-flying and I'd like to try to sum things up and maybe realign the discussion a bit. Some of the other threads are near-cap, some have really gone down tangents, so I'm just picking this one to throw a reply into. Apologies to the other threads.

Flying trivializes combat. A lot of people like to say we're trying to force world PvP, or that we just really want people to look at the pretty trees we made, but those really aren't the reasons that drive this same decision we've made every expansion. Flying allows you to escape or enter combat at-will. There's a reason why flying isn't allowed in dungeons and raids, or battlegrounds and arenas, and that's because it would trivialize the core mechanic of the game in those areas - combat. For much the same reason it trivializes how content is approached in the outdoor world based on the simple fact that you can lift off and set down wherever you like
 
So that's the main reason. But sure there are a lot of other problems it can cause for content design such as zones having to get a lot bigger because flying mounts can travel so quickly (and thus making ground travel in them take much longer), it reduces the impact of elevation within zones, it completely removes the ability for us to pace or present content in any structured way, and in general removes our ability to determine how and when players approach a situation, see a vista or location, or charge into/out-of a combat situation. It just greatly reduces any gameplay we want to create by allowing infinite choice in how content is approached to best suit a player's intention to (usually) avoid that content. 
I totally sympathize with people's desire to do that, they want to be efficient and have it be their choice, but we have to balance our intent to create a game against creating a sandbox where anything goes. There's a happy medium there somewhere, but flying mounts in most cases just do too much to undermine too many of our core intentions with the game world, the basis of the game: combat, or guiding players through a game experience, and for those reasons we have continually chosen (when we could) to disallow flying mounts in the 'current' outdoor content. In the past that's meant only while leveling, but in our experiences with the Isle of Thunder and Timeless Isle we feel like we can extend that for a bit longer in the new content, and have it be kind of a big deal again once you're able to earn flying in the first big content patch, and in the meantime putting focus on flight paths as well as having some more interesting travel options for players to use.
I liked Timeless Isle, despite the lack of flight.  On the other hand I despised the Isle of Thunder and the clearly contrived lack of flight in that area.  Why not allow players to attempt to fly? Perhaps the more clever could have figured out how to make it work, that's why (more on that in a bit) so given the success of Pandaria, the increased subs for WoD, the developers thought that they had a solution to their problem of too little time/too much programming. Not so fast, though.

The player base is now abandoning WoD in droves. It is boring, being limited to ground travel. Being restricted to a very limited quest chain (which is allowed by making sure that players go where you want them) Once again the developers reverse direction and work in a gated introduction of flight into WoD.  Players who got a secret pleasure out of denying flight to players who wanted to fly were outraged.  The developers have to recalculate programming requirements for content that will now have to include flight. Things are not looking good for Blizzard.

The sad part of all this is that the same developers are still beating the same dead horse that was the established lore for Warcraft more than a decade ago, and trying to draw out the final few dollars they can milk from this story before it stops being profitable.  They could re-invent parts of the game as they did with professions in the current expansion (much to their detriment in this player's opinion) but that carries risk, and large companies are nothing if not risk-adverse. (I offer Overwatch as an example of this; a pretty game but essentially a re-hash of Team Fortress 2. Not that there isn't room for more of the same kinds of games)

Risk adverse developers throttle player content, rather than expand playability.  Warlords delivered this in spades, extending the amount of work and time spent in the game to achieve even less than you could do in previous versions of WoW.  Only now, after the announcement of the next expansion, do they finally grudgingly give players the last piece of playability we had in previous versions of the game.  The next patch will finally give the players the ability to fly in Draenor, the ability to use the mounts all of us have paid for with time, effort and real money.  Finally fulfilling the implied contract when they sold us flying mounts a year and more ago.  Those mounts will finally fly.

But is it too little too late?  Speaking for myself, it might be. I'm thoroughly burned out now.  Try as I might, there just isn't enough content in the game to keep me interested; or rather, there doesn't appear to be any one type of play that the current game encourages aside from the narrow channel of developer intent to progress through the garrisons and outposts. Without flight, exploration, pet battling, archeology, etc all become tedious slogs through NPC's you've already killed repeatedly.  Giving me flight now just reminds me how much of the game I liked in Pandaria that I'm already too far behind on to catch up now.

Which is why this article starts and ends with a hashtag. I'm not even going to contemplate playing WoW after the next expansion releases unless the developers include flight in the game from the beginning. Not just flight, but flight for all levels (as it was in Wrath of the Lich King at least) available at the time the expansion releases.

I'm done with being throttled, of playing Activision's version of a Blizzard game that reminds me more of Facebook games than it does of the MMO's and RTS' of previous years. Most of all, give me the sky to fly in, or I'll find some other game to play in the future. #NOFLYNOBUY
"I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take the sky from me" - Sonny Rhodes

(Started another thread on the forums with this title that references the Confirmation Bias post) 

Rotational Vertigo

I've had several requests to describe what Rotational Vertigo feels like to me.  It is actually quite hard to describe in a way that the average person might be able to visualize. When I'm pressed for time I frequently say something like imagine the worst drunken binge you've ever been on. For most people (a majority, sadly) that gets an enlightened response.

But that really doesn't do the symptom justice.  For me, being drunk (even mildly intoxicated) can be vertigo inducing, has always been vertigo inducing.  I don't drink and go to sleep anymore. That almost never happens.  If I feel like having a glass or two of brandy or cognac, I'm generally up for the duration of the effect (8 hours or so) because lying down makes the vertigo worse.

So what is rotational vertigo really like?

First, imagine you are at the center of a merry-go-round.  The merry-go-round is spinning. It doesn't even have to spin fast, it can spin quite slowly, just enough that you can't fixate on a single point in the background.

This is the key problem with the spinning. It isn't real, but your body doesn't know this.  Your body doesn't know that the balance mechanism in the ears is broken. So your eyes try to track the spin that isn't there, causing your vision to dance back and forth (this is why reading can be a chore when you have a problem with vertigo) mimicking the spin the balance mechanism says is occurring.

So you are on a spinning merry-go-round. Now imagine that every stationary object you want to interact with is spinning at the same rate. There is no fixed point to anchor to (if you concentrate really hard you might just be able to override this. Maybe) so the handrails on the stairway, the walls of the shower, the glass of water to wash your pills down with dance madly around you while you try vainly to grab them from thin air.

Now imagine that this dance continues for the rest of your life; figuratively, if not in reality. Because it feels like forever. I've fought this thing for days at a time in the past, just because I'd already slept for what felt like days and I just couldn't sleep anymore no matter how many pills I took.

I can't describe it better than that. I don't dare go looking for video to describe it.  Just seeing video that includes rotation in the theater can bring on sympathetic feelings of spinning.  I frequently must look away from films with rapid rotation (Gravity was torturous. Loved that film, couldn't watch half of it. Go see Gravity in the IMax and sit real close with your hands trapped at your sides) or hold my hands up in front of my face so that I can see that there is a stationary object in view.

The real answer is you don't want to know.  You can trust me on this subject.



So how should I treat it? is the question you are probably left with if you have this symptom.

Treating Meniere's & Its Symptoms covers general treatment suggestions for Meniere's. Dizziness and vertigo are so common that they rate a separate discussion.

There are various treatments for re-aligning the otoconia in the inner ear, which is frequently the culprit causing dizziness and vertigo. I've tried a few of them for persistent dizziness (dizziness that lasts several days) with limited success. The half-somersault maneuver looks like one of those kinds of treatments.

If the problem is the otoconia then this kind of treatment should alleviate the problem. If it isn't then it won't. It is pretty straight-forward to just try these procedures if the vertigo doesn't let up after a few hours. You are liable to find that it won't help for meniere's vertigo and dizziness. If you still feel dizzy it is probably a good idea to see a specialist before ruling this kind of treatment out entirely. I have given up on them unless it is a specific kind of dizziness that I recognize as being different from the Meniere's.

from My Neighbor Totoro
The one thing I have found that helps for vertigo and dizziness aside from drugs is finding a head position and/or a focus point to stare at. I personally find that turning the head slightly to my right (I am afflicted in the left ear) and looking slightly downward is the best position for me. I have a catbus that sits near the correct position next to the bed. A friendly catbus that smiles its chesire grin at me while I try desperately not to spin.

It helps long enough for the drugs to kick in, or until the spell passes. One or the other of these two things will occur eventually. 

World of Warcraft & the Engineering of Scarcity

Was browsing the forums today and noticed a thread titled Can't Do It AnymoreWhat is this it that someone can't do? Against my better judgement, I clicked on the link;
I ran 20 instances yesterday, 17 of them had DPS pulling ahead of me and dying regularly. I managed to get a number of them removed from group but in 2 groups they removed me instead, once during the final boss fight. I simply can't tank anymore. One less tank in your queues. I won't do it, it's not fun, it's an exercise in total frustration.

Good luck to those that weren't complete morons. I feel sorry for you on the queue times but I can't be a part of this anymore.
The first responses were predictable troll responses to hurry up and pull then and so forth, the kinds of things the worst of the worst players might say. However the thread goes on for 17 pages and there are some real gems in there.

None of them really addressing the point I felt needed to be made.

I don't queue as DPS (Damage Per Second. In a 25 man raid there are usually 17 of these spots, 2 tanks and 6 healers) DPS queues are astronomically long, a half-hour or more. I won't wait to get into anything (Hearthstone has started popping up queue times and I'm going to quit that too if that keeps happening) one of the reasons I despise amusement parks and shopping centers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not into instant gratification. I just despise the false scarcity forced on things which could be readily available if people were just more sensible. Amusement parks and shopping centers aside, most scarcity is engineered into the framework of the world outside; either by reality itself in the form of temperate zones on the surface of our planet that limits arable land, and through that, food and space to live in, or by the systems we humans create.

False scarcity, human engineered scarcity, is all around us.  It is present in the wasteful food systems we in the US enjoy (nearly half of all food going to waste while people starve right next door) It is reflected in the vehicles that we are sold (marketed as exclusive) the schools we attend, etc, etc, etc.

Group efforts in World of Warcraft are a hallmark of this. The reason that queues for DPS are so long is because DPS is relatively easy, whereas tanking and healing have specific duties which must be performed if the battle is going to be successful.  DPS'ers will argue that DPS is anything but easy, but the proof is in the structure that Blizzard has been forced to craft to cope with the relatively few people willing to heal or tank.  DPS queues are long specifically because DPS is relatively easy.  If it were hard, the structure would reflect that in tanking queues.

Tanks do not queue, and healers rarely queue. If you tank (and I do) you will be placed in a group almost immediately upon placing your name in the list as a tank. Be prepared though. No role is kicked more often (as represented numerically in raids) than tanks are. I mercifully am almost never kicked. I rarely let DPS die no matter how stupid they act. I try to pull as soon as the group is ready, try to keep damage off of my healers, who in turn try to keep me alive.

All DPS has to do is deal damage and move out of bad (if it's on the floor, it is likely hurting your character, GET OUT OF IT!) the amazing part of this equation is how few of them can seem to do even that much.

So the queue structure in World of Warcraft accurately reflects your talent as a player.  If you don't want to wait in queues, tank or heal.  DPS is where slackers and bots go to hide.  Don't pull if your tank is slow, you will get nothing but grief from it. Patience is a virtue (my most typed phrase while tanking) learn to meditate, you'll live longer.

Meditating is essential when caught in systems of engineered scarcity. Peace and serenity far more rewarding than being consigned to the prison queue when you finally snap after waiting half your life to get on whatever ride that is popular this year. Enjoy your summer.

Greece in Perspective

This was the piece I was working on before writing Sidelined by Illness.  It is important enough that I felt I needed to post it belated as it is.  Or maybe it is still current. In any case...
When I was in high school and later in trade school, I sacked groceries after school as a way to help the family.  It was common in those days (1980's) for high school students to have jobs on the side, and it was common for children to start working as soon as they showed interest in work, if not being forced to work simply to feed themselves.

We were a poor family. My mother was on her own at that point, had been on her own for several years. Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. Mom was trying to get an education at the time, living in what would loosely be called 'campus housing' (Avenger Village next to what was then TSTI. An interesting history if you are into that) so the 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

Which wasn't much. It was also typical back then for women to leave college once they had found a husband, sexist as that statement might sound; but women weren't expected to be wage earners, bread winners. They were expected to be mothers and housewives and to put up with whatever their husbands asked of them. So mom started a family with no real job skills of her own beyond the ability to raise children, and when she finally refused to put up with dad's behavior she was on her own with 4 kids and no skills.

We interrupted her education again, but she never complained about it. She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

I had already had my first job by that point, my one and only experience with fast-food work (a job you couldn't force me to do again) if you count work that dad found for me to do the fast-food work was my 3rd job, having worked off and on in his gas station for change to buy comics and sodas with, and then worked in the fields hoeing weeds with a one-armed hispanic friend of my fathers (he could work faster with one arm than I could with two and 20 years less mileage on the meter) but in any case I was no stranger to having to work to get the things I wanted, so back to work I went, paying for my own car as a senior, as well as feeding the family whenever I could afford it.

Which wasn't often, and not often enough.  There were many days where there simply wasn't enough food.  Oh, we never really starved, mother was sure of that. We survived on government issued milk and cheese, bread when we could get it.  Proud as my mother was, she wasn't willing to turn away a hand-out of perfectly good food.  She wouldn't take food stamps (to this day she refuses them, looks down on people who take them) but she would work at almost any job that was offered. As I said, sometimes three or four jobs at once. So we didn't starve even if we didn't have much adult supervision.

So here I was working at a grocery store, often hungry, my job being to haul people's groceries out to their cars for them, making minimum wage.  Rumor has it that in other states bag-boys (as we were called) got tips. Not in Texas.  In Texas you only tip the cute waitresses and the bartenders who give you a little extra alcohol in your drinks. You certainly don't tip uppity teenagers who carry your groceries for you.  Teenagers should learn to work hard, because hard work is all you can look forward to in this life.

Part of my job was cleaning the store at closing time (I can mop a floor clean enough to eat off of to this day) Part of that job was taking out the trash at the end of the day. Boxes went into the recycler even back in the bad old days, but there was always trash generated during the day that had to be taken out.  Sometimes in this trash there were unopened containers of food. Being an innovative lad, I would arrange things at the end of the shift so that I could drive around back and pick up the food that I deemed safe to eat, and take it home to my family.

That was, until the new night manager took over. The night manager took an instant dislike to me. He knew I was a poor kid, up to no good.  Set the manager against me so that I was watched specifically to be caught setting food aside.

There was a brand of cookie that came in paper bags back then (even more now) No matter how many times the night stockers were told not to open the boxes with box cutters, without fail, they always opened them with box cutters and slit the bags open. This happened so routinely that if the staff wanted a quick snack, there was always a bag or 10 laying around that the stockers had made unsellable by cutting the bag. Of the 20 or so people working in the store who knew this, I was the only one specifically targeted for reprimand for setting the cookies aside.

Starting at about that time, this petty little modo would check to make sure that I destroyed all the food deemed unsellable. Slice open the milk jugs. Shred the bread bags. Whatever it took.  If people wanted food they would have to buy it through the front door.  No one was getting free meals from the dumpster at their store.

This is the mindset of the average working-class American, in a nutshell. If you want anything, you work for it. If you don't work for it, you starve. If you can't work for it, you will starve even sooner. Handouts are for lay-abouts and slackers; no-one who takes a handout is worth anything in life.  Sick people are different; but sick people get better.  That poor soul in the wheelchair, we feel sorry for him, but we don't give him more than enough to keep him off the streets.  We certainly don't give lay-abouts enough that they can survive on without work; and if they do work their benefits are cut off.  If you can work you don't need any help.

You might well ask at this point What in Hell does this have to do with Greece? The title of the piece is Greece in Perspective.

Yet another person on Facebook blocked me over this difference in perspective.  No amount of reasoning with this person was going to break through her preconceived notions of the unworthiness of those lay-about Greek people. No recitation of facts concerning the equally ruinous nature of US policy; of our loophole filled tax structure, underfunded and understaffed taxing authority, the low tax rates that the wealthy enjoy (if they pay any taxes at all) Nothing would dissuade this person from her single-minded determination that Greece should be made to suffer for its peoples laziness.

Never mind that an entire country cannot be compared to one person, whose laziness might or might not be determinable just by looking at them. Never mind that wealthy US business firms instructed Greek authorities on just how to cheat the system, the same firms that then later had to go begging to the US government for bailouts (which shouldn't have been given in my estimation) in order to avoid the same penance that the Greeks are now willing to go down in flames over rather than pay.

Because they can't pay. Because Greece isn't Germany, in the same way that Germany isn't the US, and that whole regions and political entities cannot be summarized in the behavior of a single individual.  Because you can't get blood out of a stone no matter how hard you squeeze it.

Sometimes people really can't provide for themselves.  Sometimes lazy people really aren't lazy at all; sometimes the seemingly lazy lay-about really is sick.  Laziness is itself a survival trait, a reward for not expending energy the body might need to go that one last inch to get to water.

The final straw for me on this subject was when an acquaintance of mine described his daughter as lazy, because instead of going to college and following the track he had planned out for her, she got married and had a child.  Her husband is working, risking his life in the military. She's working even if she doesn't have a job.  She's raising a child, and that is the hardest work of all. Lazy isn't the word to describe this person.  You can question her intelligence, but not her willingness to struggle with life.

Sometimes the demands placed on people are just too high. Looking at Greece today we would be better served to remember Germany right before World War Two, rather than dismiss them as that slacker kid who mooched off of you back in college. The missed opportunity of all missed opportunities. Watching the suffering of the German people under the debt burdens laid on them following World War One, the rest of the world could have had pity and eased the burden, given them hope.  Instead we hardened out hearts and forced them to do the thing that made sense to them, empower the only man and his political party that gave them hope.

Shall we descend into war and chaos? Or will we be more like General Marshall? General Marshall who, after the destruction of World War Two and understanding that hopelessness was what motivated the Germans to such desperate acts, proposed what became known as the Marshall Plan.  Altering from that time forward how victors treat the vanquished.  Or so we should hope.

A bit of perspective, to brighten your day.
"The cost of war is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones." - General George C. Marshall.