Year The Second: An Unexpected Journey

I'm a little rusty at this, so you'll have to bear with me a bit.

I almost didn't realize it, but Tuesday was the second anniversary of the creation of Dwarven Battle Medic. It's an occasion that deserves celebration but is marred by the dust on everything around here and the conspicuous lack of party guests.

Still, it's totally worth it.
There are many reasons why I haven't been posting much lately, and for the sake of your sanity I'm not going to get into them. Suffice it to say that real life has fundamentally altered how I play the game.


Raiding, once my passion and purpose within in the game, is no longer possible. Scheduled, uninterrupted time simply doesn't exist.

This fact has been the largest contributing factor to the stagnation of Battle Medic: without raiding, what is there to talk about? Looking back on my past posts, I talked a lot about raiding. As a WoW player, being a successful raider (at least, within my own goals) was something I took immense pride in, worked hard to achieve and thoroughly enjoyed. As a result I've had to find other things to do to make my play time enjoyable. It's been a hard adjustment.

Gone are the days where I had a meticulously crafted gearing plan and would chain heroics in order to achieve it. No more meticulous research on mechanics, strategies or min-max gobbledegook. No more pressure to get to a point where I could contribute without letting my Guild or Raid Team down. Instead, I've been playing at a very relaxed pace. And once I got my head around the fact that I am, even if it is against my will, a non-raider, I've been enjoying myself quite a bit.

It's kinda nice not to have any pressure.

But the really interesting thing that is only now just dawning on me is that it brings me full circle to the way I played when I was initially levelling up my first characters. Before I hit max-level for the first time I would never look ahead or research or do anything that would take away from the joy of discovering what comes next. It was, in many ways, a very innocent time. A time when I could enjoy the game on my own terms and not have to worry about whether I was DOING IT RIGHT because it simply didn't matter as long as I was having fun. That's the mindset that I discovered, or rather rediscovered, as I trekked through Pandaria.

So as the second year of Battle Medic winds down and a new one begins I find myself in the strangely familiar position of enjoying the slow, immersive solo game and yet wanting to do more. Now, how do I write about that?


A Good Day

Over the past month or more I admit that I have been neglecting poor, ol' Battle Medic, and not without more than a little guilt. I have not, however, been neglecting the game entirely. I have been sneaking and conspiring, negotiating and stealing rare moments to indulge in Azeroth playtime whenever there was an opportunity.

And the majority of that time has been spent blowing stuff up. Mage-style. Warlocks beware.

My little gnomish pyromaniac has slowly and painstakingly progressed into the mid-60s and is slogging through the mire that is the Outlands.

Anyway, today was a good day. I have been intermittently fishing the high, lonely lakes of Terrokar Forest for the Mysterious Mr. Pinchy for a long time now. Every single skill point in Fishing that my Shaman has achieved has come in the futile hunt for this nearly-mythological crustacean. But no luck. Never even a sniff.

Until today.

Today was a good day.


Sightseeing and Raiding Achievements

"The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." - Albert Einstein
Perhaps one of the more lamentable facts of life when it comes to World of Warcraft raiding is that as each new tier of content comes out, the raids and dungeons of previous tiers tend to get quickly abandoned like an awkwardly phrased metaphor. This phenomena typically gets worse the older a raid is until the only time people will visit is to do the raiding equivalent of sightseeing. Now that's all fine and good if the purpose is simply to revisit a raid that has been completed previously for the sake of nostalgia, but what about someone going in to see a dungeon for the first time?

There are some magnificently complex and wonderful encounters in these old raids. The truly sad thing is that the typical sightseer will go in as an overlevelled and overgeared wrecking machine and rip through these old bosses with the same level of delicacy as it would take to open a Chunky Soup can with a stick of dynamite. Bosses die and encounters are completed with no regard to the very mechanics and elements that make the fights actually interesting. The end result is that the player smacks around some poor, lonely, underpowered bosses and gets the achievement for completing the raid, but doesn't actually experience or understand the raid on anything but the most superficial level. It's rather like going to Paris and never leaving the McDonalds in the airport; you get the stamp on your passport to say you've been there but can't really say much other than the hamburgers are awful.

Sadly, this essentially renders the Raid achievements and the titles that are associated with them meaningless.

Take my Shaman and Paladin as examples. My shaman wears the Starcaller title for defeating Algalon. She got it long after Ulduar was relevant, as an 85 in a full raid of level 85s. I defeated the encounter but really don't have an appreciation of what the fight is all about, nor does the title have any true emotional value; it just looks neat.

My Paladin, Thosif, on the other hand, typically wears his Kingslayer title with pride. I earned that title with my previous guild Shadowgarde through a lot of hard work and effort while the encounter was still the pinnacle of raiding (Halion just doesn't count and everybody knows it). The title and the achievement have meaning to me precisely because I feel that I earned them. The fact that a person can take a group of 85s and blitz their way through Icecrown Citadel in an hour and get the title makes it feel a little less special as well; I know I earned it, but others would probably just assume I got it the easy way.

Now, before anyone gets huffy and starts calling me an elitist, this is just how I feel about it personally. There are lots of reasons that people like going into old raids and dungeons at high levels, and I am certainly don't want to take anyone's fun away. But for me, the thrill of raiding comes from the challenge, and if I'm going to experience a raid for the first time, that's how I'd prefer to see it.

The obvious problem is that it's virtually impossible to get a group of people at the appropriate level in the appropriate gear together at the same time to run an old raid. Very few people will halt their levelling progress on a new alt long enough to gear him to run a raid, and even if someone did it's unlikely that they would be able to find enough other people who were doing that at the same time. It comes down to motivation: There simply is no incentive to do an older raid at the proper level. It's much simpler to either get a guildmate or two to run your alt through it, or wait until you're maximum level.


There is, however, one singular achievement (technically a Feat of Strength) that a sightseeing raider can't get: Herald of the Titans. This little gem of an achievement requires a player to be the appropriate level as well as have the appropriate gear for the encounter. No overpowered tourists allowed.

This title is unique in that it is only available for a limited time while a character is level 80 and once you've passed that threshold you're out of luck on that character. If you want the title now, you're going to have to pause your XP, gear up your level 80 alt and find a group willing to go with you and kill the encounter the old fashioned way.

In essence, what this achievement does is make this single old raid encounter permanently relevant.

This achievement is not new—it's been around since Ulduar itself—but as we move into the new expansion I think it can give Blizzard a template for future raids. Why couldn't each new raid tier have a meta achievement with similar requirements to Herald of the Titans, each one with a unique and desirable vanity reward such as a mount or pet? The players that are running it while it's current would get it as a matter of course, but it could give people reasons to run the previous tier with their alts using the proper gear even after it is no longer the cutting edge. This would allow people to get the feeling of Burning Crusade and Vanilla raiding (of having to progress through each tier sequentially) if they want it, but would not actually require anyone to do it if they didn't feel like it.

And while we're on the subject, why couldn't Blizzard add similar achievements to older raids? Why not bring the Hand of Adal title back, but require that only a level 70 in a level 70 raid group could get it? How difficult would it be to reinstate the Immortal and Undying titles from Naxxramas with a character and item level restriction? What would be the effect of a Karazahn achievement that awards a miniature Wolfman or Strawman pet? Would there be a massive move towards creating level 70 raiding teams on Twitter to farm this beloved raid instance? If the rewards were unique enough, the hardcore would likely start frothing at the mouth to get alts to the proper level to get them.

Hell, a new Lady Vashj title might even make Kurn resubscribe for Mists.

Blizzard has made a big fuss about making sure that there is lots of things to do at maximum level, but adding a couple of these little achievements and rewards scattered through the beloved and excellent older content would give people things to do before max level that are equally important to do. Right now, the content is massively weighted towards the maximum level, and that is by design, but that also means that—by design—there is a massive amount of content that the vast majority of people will never get a chance to experience properly.

With the advent of Cross-Realm Raiding and soon Cross-Realm Zones there will potentially be lots of players who might be interested in halting their levelling progression on an alt in order to do some older raiding for their one shot at a unique reward. It may help remove the pressure to level as quickly as possible just so that there's something that they can do with their friends, and allow people to stop, smell the roses and actually experience the content that's out there in this big, virtual world of ours.


The Lament for Theramore

Thee Theramore! O sadly lost!
Alliance lament frae coast to coast.
Now war grips, the barking host
May kill us a';
For noble Jaina's fabl'd post,
Is ta'en awa'.
Dwarvish Lament for Theramore *

It is the worst kept secret in the World of Warcraft that Theramore is going to be destroyed in the pre-expansion event leading up to the release of the Mists of Pandaria expansion. The details are still unknown, but the destruction of the city will change the Alliance's position in Kalimdor drastically. At this point it's unclear as to whether Theramore will be in Alliance or Horde hands, whether it will remain a quest hub or become an instanced scenario of some kind, or just be left as a smoking, purple glowing crater in the ground.

And while others (ahem, Rades) have speculated on what the destruction of will mean to the Alliance from a lore perspective, I want to talk about what it's going to mean from my perspective as a life-long Alliance player.

What brought this topic to mind is that I was watching this video of what Theramore will look like after the Horde have their way with it. It broke my heart a little bit.


Even the name isn't really evocative of a place you'd choose to go willingly, and certainly Dustwallow Marsh isn't exactly a vacation spot. It's not pretty or scenic. In fact, it's downright dreary and just plain creepy; the sort of place you'd expect a spider to drop down out of the trees at any moment as you're walking through it. As a player, I get an ominous feeling when adventuring in Dustwallow, particularly in places like the Wyrmbog with it's wandering Dragonkin, Witch Hill and the spirits that eternally haunt it, and Darkmist Cavern with it's endless supply of eight-legged beasties.

In stark contrast to the impenetrable depths of the Swamp stands proud Theramore, a small but gleaming (relative to the rest of the marsh, at least) Alliance city perched precariously on an island. Compared to the rest of Dustwallow and Southern Kalimdor, to the Alliance player Theramore seemed like a bright shining beacon of civilization jutting out of the literal middle of nowhere. It was the essential travel hub for an Alliance player looking to get anywhere on Kalimdor since the only other town with connections to the Eastern Kingdoms was in Auberdine (now Lor'danel) and trying to get to some of the more far-flung areas (I'm looking at you, Gadgetzan) could result in a half-hour long hippogriff ride and a good chance to catch up on some reading.

Theramore was also the main quest hub for Dustwallow, and for a lot of players like myself it was the first time setting foot on the Kalimdor continent after following a breadcrumb quest from a bloke eternally standing on the Menethil dock asking whomever walks by to deliver something to the Inn there.

Now, I can't really speak to how other people level their characters, but I always made a point to go through Dustwallow with my characters. It just seemed a more natural and interesting place to go after the Wetlands than Arathi Highlands or the Badlands. I always liked the stories that were told in Dustwallow during it's first iteration. The Shady Rest Inn storyline was particularly moving, with a great emotional pay-off at the end. I've always liked the chain of quests at Swamplight Manor to cleanse "Swamp Eye" Jarl. And of course who can forget setting the raptors loose on the unsuspecting Grimtotem?

It's a zone that reminds me a lot of one of my other other favourite zones, Duskwood. It has the same kind of creepy, foreboding atmosphere to it that I like so much. And both zones had an insane amount of running back and forth before they were mercifully streamlined in Cataclysm. And all of those great memories started in poor, doomed Theramore.


With the impending destruction of Theramore there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of Dustwallow as it continues it's transition from sleepy, moody swamp that felt very insignificant in the grand scheme of the world to the front lines of an all-out war with the Horde. What will become of the small stories? Who's going to take the time to cleanse Jarl of his demonic possession in the middle of a battlefield? Is someone going to walk "Stinky" Ignatz home with Horde siege engines laying waste to the landscape?

But all that having been said, why do a lot of Alliance players lament the loss of this town so much?

Well, it's been talked about to death, but during the early stages of the War (represented by the Cataclysm expansion) the Alliance has been getting the hell kicked out of it. Southshore lost, massive horde incursions into the Night Elf homelands of Ashenvale and minor ones in Darkshore, the loss of Andorhol after the Scourge were finally defeated, and our new allies in Gilneas turned to homeless refugees forced to live in a tree by the Forsaken war machine. To the Alliance player, Cataclysm has been one iron-booted kick in the nuts after another.

Now we're losing Theramore. Whump. That's gonna sting the ol' Dwarf Potatoes.

I think that for me, at least, losing Theramore is going to make Kalimdor feel a lot less friendly and much more foreign. It's hostile enemy territory now, with no real safe havens worth mentioning for the Alliance. Go away, Dwarves, you are not welcome here.

But in all honesty, the real reason that people are complaining about the loss of Theramore has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with human psychology: People embrace the familiar and fear the unknown. Things that we know are comforting. And in this terrifying new world of conflict, destruction and all-out factional war that MoP is bringing with it people are naturally going to cling to those things that remind us of a simpler, better time of relative peace.

You know, when all we had to worry about was an innumerable, unstoppable undead army that was going to take over the entire world and suck out our brains. The good ol' days.

* Adapted from Robert Burns' poem Old Scotch Drink.


Azeroth Photo Tour: Arathi Highlands


Over the next few weeks and months I am going to go on the Great Azeroth Photo Tour. I'm going to visit each zone in the game (in Alphabetical order) and create images of the most beautiful sights and places in each of the zones. I may, if I feel like it, add commentary on the zones or images as well. My hope is that I can get the entirety of Blizzard's magnificent fantasy world completed before Mists of Pandaria is released. I will be updating the Photo Tour on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.


Stepping over the magnificent Thandol Span and in to the Arathi Highlands for the first time one is struck by an overwhelming sense of emptiness. Gently rolling hills covered in grasses and thistle with bare rock jutting through the turf; you can almost feel the wind rushing through the zone unmolested by any trees to block its path. It's a zone that feels hushed and solitary.

There is very little in the way of civilization here. One lone Horde town that hasn't changed much from the prison that it originally was, a couple of camps and farm houses, and the ancient, crumbling ruins of a once-great city that is now in the process of tearing itself apart from the inside-out as three different factions vie for control of it.

The most remarkable thing about the Highlands is the mysterious circles of standing stones scattered about, seemingly at random: Huge monoliths impossibly stacked and arranged for purposes that are their own, and surrounded by vicious elementals that make discovering their true meaning hazardous.

The Arathi Highlands is a zone that time forgot. Not just for the lonesome and abandoned feel of it, but also because it is one of the few zones that did not get revamped after the Cataclysm. If you visit, keep your voice down; loud noises feel distinctly out of place in the lonesome and desolate highlands.


Repopulating the Old World: Cross Realm Zones

Sometimes I think you want me to touch you.
How can I when you build the great wall around you? - Tori Amos, China

In a move that surprised everyone, Blizzard has announced that they are going to begin testing Cross Realm Zones in the Mists of Pandaria Beta. I love this idea like a big sloppy Dwarfling kiss, and given the subject of my last post, the timing of this announcement is particularly serendipitous.

I am a unrepentant Wrath Baby; I created my first character in the very twilight of the Burning Crusade expansion, mere months before Wrath of the Lich King went live. Because of this I have never experienced the Old World as the thriving, vibrant place that it was in Vanilla.

For me and thousands of other people who joined the game late, levelling in World of Warcraft is a solitary experience. The wilderness of Azeroth outside of the major cities is filled with bears and bandits and monsters of all types, but even on busy, highly populous servers, meeting another character is something of a rare occurrence. It's a lonely life, being a lowbie in Azeroth, but the new Cross Realm Zones aim to change that.

The way that Blizzard is trying to implement this is quite brilliant, if you ask me. Basically, certain realms will be linked together based on population, and each of those realms will share certain zones that are flagged as "Cross Realm". Using the Barrens as an example, a character on Sargeras would walk out of a realm-exclusive Orgrimmar into a Barrens shared by 5 other servers, and would see and interact with characters from all of those realms normally, just as if they were all on the same server. At the same time, Blizzard will have the ability to keep highly populated zones (Cities, to be sure) exclusive. This way Stormwind won't be crushed under the weight of thousands of people standing at the fountain oogling the fifteen thousand naked Night Elves dancing on the mailboxes.

I think this feature is fantastic. Not just a technically brilliant solution to make an older technology scale and adapt to the changing reality of the current, max-level focused state of the game, but also as a step to the ultimate goal of eliminating realms completely. I talked about this back in January, but the elimination of the barrier walls around the different realms is a very clever way for Blizzard to extend the life of the game. Right now, if Blizzard chooses to do so, the only realm-specific areas are the main cities, the Auction House and any zone that is going to be populated enough not to be a concern like the Cataclysm zones and the new Mists of Pandaria zones.

As a social, massively multiplayer game, it is always a little bit odd to run around the world outside of the two major faction cities of Stormwind and Orgrimmar and see, well, nothing. By repopulating the Old World, new players will finally get an experience that is close to what older players experienced when WoW was new and when having a maximum level character was rare: A world that is full of people to interact with.

It really doesn't matter that there are no group quests in the game any more, nor is there any real need to team up with people to defeat the quests that people are given. Having a lot of people busily running around doing there own thing is exciting. It adds an immense amount of flavour to the game.

Like the bustling sidewalks of downtown New York, it's all about vibrancy and life and activity; it's about the soul of this game, which is missing in the low level zones. Bringing that kind of life back to zones other than the cities is going to go a long way to help make new players—and old players who love lowibe alts like myself—remain excited about this game for years to come.

After all, it is World of Warcraft. Bravo, Blizzard. Well played.


The Joy of Lowbies

"It strikes! one, two,
Three, four, five, six. Enough, enough, dear watch,
Thy pulse hath beat enough. Now sleep and rest;
Would thou could'st make the time to do so too;
I'll wind thee up no more."
- Ben Jonson The Staple of News

As I mentioned in my last post, I don't have much in the way of free, unimpeded time to dedicate to WoW these days.

The only raid boss that I attempt these days;
believe me, this is a fight with a lot of movement.
I'm sad to say that such an odd, irregular and easily interrupted schedule is not one that is conducive to raiding. Over the past couple of months or so my level 85s have withered due to neglect. My regular raiding has completely ground to a halt after going 8/8 on two toons with no heroic bosses down at all.

With only an hour or so of available time in an evening, running dungeons or LFR seem like an exhausting, implacable mountain to climb and not worth the effort. Doing daily quests gets very boring very quickly. Maximum level PVP is new and scary and intriguing, but would require a fair bit of effort to get the gear that would allow me to survive for more than the brief moment between when an enemy sees me and when he decides that I should be dead.

So what's a Dwarf to do?


I am an Altaholic, but not in the usual way. I am in a guild with several people who I would consider the norm for extreme cases of Altaholism: They tend to create an alt and focus intently on it until it reaches max level before giving a new one any real attention. Consequently, they have a lot of max level characters and characters that are well on their way there.

I am a little different. I have dozens of low level characters of every race and every class scattered around 10 or 12 different servers. Not including the Death Knights (only one of which I've ever gotten out of the starting zone; he's level 62), only a couple of these characters are above level 25. My highest level Horde character ever just dinged 18. Seriously.

I really enjoy low level characters and low level questing. There is something very compelling about boiling a class down to its very essence and seeing it naked and helpless in its infancy. In those initial levels each class is very similar: Uncomplicated, pure, and a joy to play. To see which skills are learned and when, and to discover how to use each new skill and see the way a class gradually becomes more complex is very intriguing.

I'm not really clear as to why, but I seem to hit a brick wall between level 14 and level 20. In the mid-teens the class will have taken shape and while many important and class defining abilities are yet to come, the fundamental structure of how the class is played is evident. For me, at least, this is when the experiment to test my attitude towards a class feels as if it's run its course.

As well, it's at that point that a character is out of the starting zones and into the next areas (Barrens, Westfall, etc). These zones are larger and more involved than the starting zones and feel more general and less specific to the character. This is when my mindset changes from, "This is a fun toy to play with," to "Oh gawd, I have how many freakin' levels to go?!?". Taking a character through these zones begins to firmly cement the notion in my head that I'm committing to the grind to get the character up to max level; a long and daunting process, especially for someone who levels as slowly as I do. Therefore, any character that makes it past that barrier and hits 20 is one that—in my head, at least—has been selected to survive and make the slow journey to level cap.

I have really only levelled a couple of different characters past this breaking point. My first character, a hunter, got to level 48 before he was abandoned and left to rot as I switched servers. My Warrior, Priest and Paladin all got to max level in Wrath, and two of them have gone onto 85. Thallie, my Shaman and current raiding main (the cobwebs on her are, at least, fresh) was the first character I created when Cataclysm launched and is the only one that I have managed to take to max level since then. So many more have failed this litmus test and remain unlevelled and unloved.

It seems that the decision to go past the level 20 barrier is a significant one for me. It is a mental commitment to that character; a commitment to learn and master the nuances of the class at the very highest levels. However, if the class, or the character's name or the server or anything else doesn't feel right, then that character is doomed to a shadowy half-life of neglect. Not to be deleted, but doomed to sit in the Inn at Sentinel Hill or at The Crossroads with pitiful white or grey gear, never to be the hero that they could be due to the capriciousness of my whimsy.

So having said all that, with a fervent desire to play but with limited play time in which to do it, I have been spending a lot of time with my low level Alts lately. Some have pushed past the elusive and mysterious Level 20 and have become, at least in my mind, actual characters, whilst some are still merely interesting toys to experiment with. It's been a lot of fun, and I've been indulging myself by seeing areas of the game and doing activities that I've never done before. It's as good a way as any to ride out the end of this expansion, at least until the raid healing bug bites me again.


To Beta or Not to Beta

"It is my desire ... to do nothing which I cannot do with my whole heart. Having said this, I have said all." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm sure this post will frustrate a lot of people who have been anxiously awaiting their Mists of Pandaria beta invite, if there is anyone left who doesn't have one.

As a Annual Pass subscriber I knew that I was going to receive a Beta Invitation eventually as it is one of the perks of committing to keeping a WoW account active for a year. It ain't all about shiny horsies, after all. When it finally did arrive I was thrilled; I had never had a closed-beta invite to anything before so this was something new. I was always a little jealous of people who could claim that they started WoW in the beta, so this was my chance to get into something at the very beginning.

Of course, as a blogger, the beta of a new expansion provides a vast new range of subjects to talk about. There are a lot of changes coming that need to be discussed and opined on, not to mention entirely new and gorgeous vistas that are awaiting my virtual, gnomish-engineered camera. There are endless topics in the beta to write about because the beta itself changes constantly. No blogger in their right mind would pass up the such a rich source of writing material, would they?

Well, perhaps I'm not in my right mind, but after the initial excitement I've decided not to participate in the Beta.

Don't hate me if you don't have one yet, let me explain...


With the great heaving chaos that is my life right now, any chance I get to play WoW is a rare and beautiful thing. It often comes in the few fleeting moments between when the Dwarfling is put to bed and the daily chores are done (which means cleaning up the swath of destruction that she leave in her wake) and when I go to bed. Sometimes it's an hour, sometimes less. And sometimes all I can manage is to stagger to the couch and pass out, leaving the great, menacing evil-doers of Azeroth unmolested for a night.

There are two great drawbacks to spending my very limited amount of playtime on a Beta server as opposed to the Live servers. One is that everything that is done in the Beta is transient because it will be reset to zero when the Beta ends and the expansion is launched. So any time and effort that I put into a Beta character is wasted and I think better spent progressing my characters on the Live Realms.

The other drawback has to do with the eternal frustration of crashes and inconvenient bugs. There is nothing more infuriating than having a glitch cost precious time when on a limited play schedule. I don't think I could handle the instability of the Beta. I think it would create far more tension than it would solve for me. And I get enough of that with the low level PVP that I've been indulging in lately.


The other, less concrete reason has to do with spoilers. I'm the type of person who values the quality of the experience as much as the experience itself. How something is done is just as important as doing the thing itself. A Beta, with all the bugs and unfinished bits, is not a great way to see content for the first time if the texture of the experience is a primary concern. Seeing things perfectly polished in their final forms is what I'm after, and if that means waiting, then so be it.

However, the other side of this particular coin is that on launch day it is going to be virtually impossible to see things the way they should be seen. The giant crush of people descending on the new zones will make things chaotic and mucky, as has happened with every expansion so far. The Pandaren starting zone is going to be wall-to-wall bear butts competing for the same quest mobs and objectives, people will be griefing with their gigantic mounts on top of quest-givers and things are going to be in a general state of higgledy-piggledy. Not really the best way to experience brand new content either, is it?


Of course, when I see things like this I can't help but be tempted by the Beta.

Taken from the official WoW site.

From what I've seen so far I am incredibly impressed with the quality of the visuals of Mists of Pandaria. It looks simply amazing; the best work that Blizzard has done so far, I think. I would love to experience it first hand and create some stunning Images of Azeroth posts, but time simply is not on my side.


6x6x6: The Challenge of Sixes

There is a new meme going around, started this time by Gnomeageddon. It's the Meme of Sixes and is an interesting one. It turns out this has been around for a long time; a little casual link-surfing took me back to February 2009 and a swedish blog and a photo of a dog cuddling a baby. It's now making the rounds again in the WoW blogosphere and I have been tagged by both Navimie of the Daily Frostwolf and Karagena the Reluctant Raider to participate in it. It's so nice to be loved.

  • Go into your image folder
  • Open the sixth sub-folder and choose the sixth image.
  • Publish the image! (and a few words wouldn’t hurt, though I dare say I couldn’t stop a blogger from adding a few words of their own).
  • Challenge six new bloggers.
  • Link to them.

Of course, those rules are nice. They're simple and easy to do. Honestly, I could have this post done in minutes if I wanted to. But that wouldn't really be in the Battle Medic tradition, now would it?

So let's complicate things a bit.


If there was a TV show for people who are incapable of deleting things on their computer, I would be featured on the premier episode. We'd call it Hard Drive Horders: Buried in Megabytes. I have all sorts of files and images that go back years, and quietly get transferred from hard drive to hard drive as I upgrade and then sit there collecting layers upon layers of virtual dust.

Consequently, I have many, many folders on my hard drive with images so picking just one doesn't seem quite right. Picking six would make sense, given the nature of this particular challenge, but that might take this innocent little challenge into deep, dark places of my computer that are better left unexplored. Who knows what one might find while picking through the decrepit ruins of my digital projects from the distant past.

Sounds like fun. Let's get started, shall we?

#1 - World of Warcraft Screenshots folder

Delving into my WoW Screenshots folder reveals a lot of subfolders. For simplicities sake, the source images of each panorama that I do get their own folder, and the sixth one happens to be Netherstorm. This beautiful panorama was featured in my Images of Azeroth: Outlands Part 2 post a few months ago.

However, the sixth image in this sixth folder turns out to be probably the least interesting image on my hard drive.

Yup. Nothin' but purple rocks. It's the sort of scene that makes your computer's video card wonder why the hell it's spending its considerable processing power rendering such a pointless, prosaic set of pixels. There really isn't much you can do with an image like this. Well, unless we decide to make it all about the textures instead of the objects. Hmm... let's try making it a black and white and then playing with the cropping and see what we get.

A little bit of creative blurring later, and suddenly we have something interesting and worthy of being featured on Battle Medic. Mind you, it's still not exactly a Monet.

#2 - Screenshots folder: Six Down and Six Across

Ach! This option puts me right in the middle of an unfinished Images of Azeroth panorama that I was saving for a later post.

Dude, you got your Deathwing all over my Tower. Ewwww.
One unexpected benefit to having a max-level Shaman at my disposal is the ability Far Sight. It gives me options for screenshots that I simply can't do on my Paladin. This image, for instance, was done after completing an End Time run and is a perspective that is not normally available to most other classes because it's half-way up a mountain on a completely vertical slope.

Look for the full image in an upcoming post.

#3 - Battle Medic sub-folders

The Battle Medic folder contains the very bones of this blog. Each image that I have created for Battle Medic, whether used or not, lies here in a state of perpetual readiness. This folder illustrates my image hoarding tendencies perfectly because I literally have no need for any of the images in this folder; the ones I needed have already been uploaded to the blog and are stored online, and the ones that didn't make the post aren't needed at all. It is an interesting archaeological dig through my blog's past, though.

The sixth subfolder of the Battle Medic folder happens to house the raw images from the photo shoot that I did with Ophelie of Bossy Pally and the Giant Spoon back in June.

Digging through the layers of this folder is a little frightening. One of the fundamental truths that one learns very quickly as a professional photographer is that only about 1 in 10 portraits that are taken is worth keeping. The rest have closed eyes, weird expressions, strange homeless people wandering in the background or some other flaw that necessitates editing that image in favour of another. Randomly picking an image out of this folder could be disastrous.

As luck would have it, however, the sixth image in this folder was one of my favourites.

As a photographer, an image's success depends as much on your personality as it does the subject's; how people respond to you shows up very clearly in the finished images. A laugh is always photographic gold. I like this image because it feels incredibly genuine.

The image above is the unaltered version and is just how I took it. Below is the finished image once I was done with it.

Ophelie, probably laughing at my bad Austin Powers impression,

#4 - Battle Medic folder: Six Down and Six Across

Like I said, I hoard my image files, and this illustrates it perfectly. This Blood Bowl image was pulled off the Cyanaide website for my post Encouraging Infidelity: On Burn-out and Blood Bowl, and I did use a portion of it in the article. I certainly don't need the full image any longer, so any sane, rational, non-hoarding person would simply delete it and move on. Not I. I kept it.

But not only that, I ended up keeping two of them. Because of the way that Chrome downloads files (possibly the only thing I don't like about the web browser), I accidentally downloaded an extra one; this is the second one.
"Some people think Blood Bowl is a matter of life and death. I assure you,
it's much mor... ARRRRRRGHsplorch."
And my wife wonders why I need to buy hard drives so often. Little does she know...

#5 - Artwork folder

The sixth subfolder in my Artwork folder lands us conveniently in the place where I store the finished work of my Portfolio. The sixth image in this folder is one that some of you will be familiar with already, as it was featured during my Images of Azeroth: 50,000 Words series of posts.

Sunset in Motion
Of course, the actual sixth image in that folder was the printer-ready version of this file which weighed in at a hefty 11 megabytes, so this is obviously a slimmed down version for the blog. I actually gave a 20" x 30" print of this to my sister this Christmas, and it should be hanging on her wall by now.

#6 - Dwarfling folder

This is what most of you were waiting for, I'm sure. Admit it, you're here for baby photos.

Of course, I have a folder of images of the Dwarfling. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of images in there. However, the sixth image in the sixth folder is this one:

The Dwarfling at 18 Weeks
Yikes. My daughter loves the camera and, at least in her father's eyes, is very photogenic. This one, on the other hand, is certainly not her best photo. It was taken by her mother and due to the camera-shake and the rather bizarre, doll-like quality of her expression this image would likely never have seen the light of day if not for this challenge. It would have been deleted except, as I mentioned above, I am an incurable image hoarder. It's times like this it can come and bite me in the ass.

Here are a couple of better, non-random images of her to keep you all happy.

One year old...
...and cute as hell.


And in keeping with tradition, I hereby pass the torch along to these fine folk.


An End to Madness

Deathwing is dead.

Actually, he's been dead for a couple of weeks now. I'm just damned tardy in my progression updates these days.

My guild, Mountain Top, cleared normal Dragon Soul for the first time just before the 5% Power of the Aspects nerf hit at the end of January. Sadly, I wasn't there due to a family crisis, but I'm proud that our guild managed to down Dragon Soul before it's difficulty was reduced. And we managed it despite losing key members of the team and not having a regular raid night.

Did I mention we're recruiting?

I got my own first Deathwing kill on the first week after the nerfs, and am going in again tonight for my third. We've also begun working on Heroic Morchok, whom we got down to 10% on our first night before time constraints forced us to kill him on normal difficulty so we had enough time left to clear the instance that night.

At the beginning of this expansion I set a raiding goal for myself; I wanted to clear each raiding tier while it was current, something that I didn't manage to do in Wrath of the Lich King. With Deathwing's demise at the hands of my Shaman I have now managed to accomplish that on the last two of the three raiding tiers this expansion.

I view Raiding Progression as a very personal thing. As much as I share the accomplishments with my guild and couldn't do it without them, I look at the raid bosses I've downed as my measuring stick as to how well I've experienced the content and how I am personally progressing. I was enormously disappointed that I didn't clear all of Tier 11 while it was current, only going 9/12; I didn't get Nefarian or either of the Throne of the Four Winds encounters down before 4.2 brought the nerfbat to them. Despite that disappointment, I'm very happy to have accomplished what I have done.


I promised myself that I would not make this post a discussion on the difficulty level but I need to at least mention that compared to Lich King, Nefarian or Ragnaros, Madness of Deathwing was a hell of a lot easier. It didn't take my guild very many attempts to finally kill him. I think I saw about five pulls on normal difficulty before I got my first kill. Even Ragnaros after the savage nerfs that he received seemed more difficult than Madness.

The question that I pose to you, dear reader, is: Was the Madness of Deathwing encounter inherently easier than previous end boss encounters, or did it simply seem easier because the vast majority of us had already seen and defeated a simplified version of it on the Raid Finder?


On Flexibility, Emotional Attachment and Mister Spock. With Ice Cream!

"Thus, flexibility, as displayed by water, is a sign of life. Rigidity, its opposite, is an indicator of death." - Anthony Lawlor, A Home For The Soul
Those of you who follow this blog closely and spend just a little too much time obsessing over it (and you know who you are) may have noticed that there has been a distinct lack of Paladin related posts around here recently. In fact, looking back at my archives the last post that talked about Paladins specifically was way back in July.

There is a good reason for this: I'm not raiding with my Paladin any longer.


You know, I started this post with the best of intentions: A short, to-the-point post about what I've been up to in WoW and why I'm not posting about or playing my Paladin. Half-way through it turned into something completely different. I guess you and I will both find out what the hell I'm talking about when we get to the end because I have no idea where this is going any more than you do. Maybe there will be Ice Cream and Whisky. Goodness, that would be nice, wouldn't it?

SHAMAN: The new Battle Medic? At least this one's actually a Dwarf.

With Dragon Soul on the PTR, I was approached by our Guild Master who asked me a question that took me by surprise: Would I be willing to switch my raiding main in order to help with raid healing? It turns out that our guild is so full of main-spec Holy Paladins that it is a little bit like a large, overfilled doughnut—taking a bite of which will get Holy Paladin goop all over your shirt. And that shit is hard to get out.

In the interests of trying to avoid a 10-man raid with three Holy Paladin healers—which would strain just about anybody's tolerance for egocentrics in a raid, I imagine—I switched my Raiding Main to my (then) newly 85 Restoration Shaman.

My GM's reasoning was pretty straightforward: Dragon Soul looked to be a very raid healing intensive series of fights and even with the strength of the 4.3 Holy Radiance changes it seemed as if our normal Paladin/Paladin/Priest setup wouldn't be ideal. This was made especially clear when we found that some of the fights would require only two healers, and neither Paladin had a DPS off-spec. My Shaman provided my GM with a different option.

So, the week before Dragon Soul opened I was running through Firelands, healing on my Shaman. I admit, it felt odd at first. Even though I had levelled her completely through dungeons I was woefully unprepared to take her on a raid. My understanding of the subtleties of the class were at a very basic level, my UI was not set up properly and her gear was, shall we say, eclectic; an odd mix of items cobbled together from every possible source and not powerful enough to even qualify her for the new Looking For Raid feature.

She's nicely geared now, although there are still some problem spots due to some very bad loot luck in Dragon Soul. I'm not sure why, but in our raids the only Tier Token that ever drops is Vanquisher tokens—we literally had a new Death Knight alt get his 4 piece in a single night, and the only reason he got each token was because all the other Vanquisher eligible players already had theirs. Meanwhile, I, along with a lot of other people in my raid group, are organizing strange voodoo rituals to influence the gods to drop something—anything that we can use. Now, I know that no one really cares about other people's loot problems, but that night made me want to roll a Druid just so I could actually get a drop.

THE SPOCK PRINCIPLE: The Needs of the Many, blah blah blah

Imagine, if you will, a dwarf lying on a brown leather couch, a worried expression showing through his beard and his armour poking holes in the leather and setting it smouldering because the shoulder piece is on fire, which for some inexplicable reason is perfectly normal. Next to him, seated at a comfortable armchair is a bald man with a white goatee neatly trimmed into a point and a notepad on his lap. He leans over towards the dwarf, and in a thick German accent asks, "Und how doez ziz make you feel?"

A long time ago I wrote an article entitled What Makes a Main?, in which it I talked about the emotional connection to a character as the fundamental element that determines which character would be a person's "Main Character". While that criteria certainly wouldn't apply to everyone (there are people who change their mains constantly due to many different factors, for instance), but it is absolutely true of me. My Holy Paladin is my main because I am emotionally invested in him, both in terms of character as well as the play-style and mythos of the Paladin. My Paladin just feels right.

So when Mylindara asked me to switch for the good of the raid, I felt a little conflicted. From a dispassionate point of view he made a lot of sense because even while temporarily undergeared, my Shaman brought something to the raid that we were lacking. Emotionally, however, my main is still my Paladin, and is the character that I am most interested in playing and progressing. Not only that, but I enjoy healing on the Paladin more than the Shaman.

So the real question that I, or anyone in a similar situation must ask themselves is: When does the needs of the group trump the desires of the individual? Should we always be selfless in order to help the group, or is it alright to say "No" so we can play the game the way we want to? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one when the ultimate goal of the game is individual entertainment? What would Spock do?

FLEXIBILITY: When is it okay to take one for the team?

I think the answer greatly depends on what type of player a person is. I believe that there are two extremes to this question where the answer is obvious and unchanging, and then there is a vast grey area in between where a large percentage of the player base sits.

The Activity-Centric people amongst us will look at this question as absurd because min-maxing every aspect of an encounter is fundamental to their play-style. Changing their character to bring that one extra buff or cooldown to the raid in order to gain any advantage—regardless of how small—is far more important than the attachment to a certain character or class. For them the emotional need is to progress at a personal level, and which character they do it on is only a secondary consideration; a tool used to achieve the desired end.

"Please don't shoot me"
The other extreme is the Character-Centric people. These folks form an incredibly strong emotional attachment to their characters, and asking them to switch their Main Character—or even to change their character's hair-style—is like asking them to shoot a puppy. It'll break their heart and the aftermath will be very messy to clean up. Not to mention that I like puppies, and well, shooting them is just wrong. I mean, look at those eyes.

The vast majority of us, I think, fall somewhere in the middle. I have always considered myself more of the activity-centric type, but again, if I am to be truly honest with all of you, I tend to let myself get attached to my characters quite a bit and was a little bit annoyed when I was asked to not bring my preferred character to the main raids. There is a constant battle raging between the two sides when I'm making the decisions as to what to play.

In the end I made the change and the raid team is the better for it, I think. We have a good core of raiding healers now, with a lot more flexibility than we would have had otherwise. I may not be playing the character I would like, but the decision was right because the activity, in this case, was more important than my personal need to play the character.

And I suppose that's the fundamental answer to the question of when it's okay to make a personal sacrifice for the team, and the answer is a lot more simple than the length of this post would suggest. Simply put, if the goal is more important than which character accomplishes it, make the change and be happy about it.

Now, as I'm writing this I'm thinking to myself, "Damn, you've really outdone yourself in stating the blindingly obvious. Should we do a section talking about the different ways water is wet? Way to spend 1400 words talking drivel, dumbass".

It is a pretty straight-forward concept, but I think that everyone is going to approach it differently and everyone is going to have a different reaction to being asked to change the way they like to play the game. It all depends on the balance between the activity and the character within a person.

For me, the activity of seeing our raid progress smoothly won the day over my own desires to play the Paladin. So for now at least, the Battle Medic is a Shaman.

Have you ever been asked to play a class or role that you didn't prefer so your group could move forward? How would you react? What sort of balance to you have?


Oh yes, Ice Cream and Whisky. Excellent.

There ya go. Ice Cream and Whisky all in one.
It doesn't get much better than that.


Images of Azeroth - The Waterfalls of Azshara

These images were requested by Navimie, the author of The Daily Frostwolf. She mentioned to me during my IntPiPoMo run that she had never been able to screenshot the waterfalls of Azshara to her liking. She asked me if I could give it a try.

This was at the end of November. I'm a little tardy.

Still, here they are in all their splendor. I admit, these buggers were hard to properly photograph. They're friggin' big and don't really fit into a screenshot terribly well. I had to get creative with the angles that I was using, and each image is a panorama of anywhere from 12 to 20 different screen shots. But I'm really happy with the drama and grandeur of these images. The first one is a particular favourite.

Going forward I hope to include image requests into future Images of Azeroth posts. I realize that I spend a lot of time in the Eastern Kingdoms, and so those images seem to dominate these posts. I hope that you folks can point me in a direction that I wouldn't normally think of. 

So, what would you like to see featured here? Leave your requests in the comments.

As always, click the images to embiggen.


Scribblings of the Clueless Noob

"There are old heads in the world who cannot help me by their example or advice to live worthily and satisfactorily to myself; but I believe that it is in my power to elevate myself this very hour above the common level of my life." - Henry David Thoreau
Earlier this month I wrote a rather long essay on the feelings of burn-out that I've been dealing with lately in which I offered ten different things to do to combat them. For those of you with the fortitude to actually read through all 3300 words, I congratulate you; that post was a monster.

Like many people, I don't always follow my own advice. As I was writing that post and thinking about the different things I could do to clear my head and find a happy place with WoW again, I realized that at the time I wasn't really doing any of them. Oh sure, I was playing a different game and taking a bit of a break—which was what the post was all about, after all—but the other things I talked about were merely theoretical. So I figured that I should put a few of those ideas into practice and see what happened.


I'm not sure anyone has noticed but I have been on a bit of a posting renaissance lately. This post marks the fourth post in January, two more than I managed in the whole of October, and I still have two more posts that I would like to get done this month. It seems as if my brain has a WoW infection and has been using my fingers to vomit all over my blog. Gross.

I started out this year with the idea of getting Battle Medic back to where I'd like it to be by posting smaller posts more frequently. Ideally I'd like to get back to doing about ten to twelve posts per month, so the frequency is better but still not where I would like it. The length, on the other hand, I've failed utterly and completely. So far in 2012 (not including this post), I have written over 5700 words and seem completely incapable of keeping a post under 1000. I guess we'll see how this one turns out, although with the amount of things that seems to get added in as I go I'm not hopeful—I'm already at 400!

Either way, writing about WoW is a wonderfully self-sustaining process.  I've got more to write about WoW because I've been writing about WoW, which in turn makes me more interested in WoW and makes it easier to write about WoW. It's a positive feedback loop that has done wonders in making me feel better.


Virtually every second of my WoW experience at maximum level has been spent healing. My first max-level character was a healing priest, the main that I ended Wrath with was my Holy Paladin and now, as Cataclysm draws to a close I've added a Resto Shaman to the mix as well. I love healing, and I have no plans to stop doing it any time soon, but in retrospect, my entire WoW career has been extraordinarily one-dimensional.

Oh sure, I've fooled around with other roles. I even managed to get my warrior tank into a couple of raids back in Wrath—an experiment that ended rather badly, I might add. Retribution, likewise, was used for levelling and then discarded upon reaching level 85. My Paladin has been unable to kill anything efficiently by himself ever since. I am the guy that always hears, "Oh, Fannon's on so we've got a healer" when he logs into Mumble. Simply put, healing has been the absolute focus of my attention for a long time now. And even as experienced as I am I still find it challenging and realized there is a lot for me to learn and improve upon.

However, doing the same thing for two years can get a bit monotonous. Imagine eating the same sandwich for lunch everyday for two years; I don't think you'd end up looking forward to the noon hour if that same damned ham on pumpernickel with yellow mustard was the only option. I think at least some of the reason that I was feeling burnt-out in the first place was because every time I was in a group setting I was doing the same thing that I always did.

And so I decided to do something completely different—for me, at least. I dusted off my badly geared, poorly understood Enhancement off-spec on my Shaman and took it for a spin in some dungeons and the raid finder.

Oh my, what a different world. As a healer, I have the luxury to say away from the boss where it's relatively quiet and I can play undisturbed. Not possible in melee range. It's wonderfully chaotic; at times the sheer amount of spell effects that are going off completely obscure both the mob I'm hitting and my character.  It feels odd trusting the health of the party to someone else, and I get damned nervous when my health dips. But then I realize that I'm only DPS, so I'm expendable, which makes me giggle to myself and want to hit the boss even harder.

I suck at it though. Yes, I am that noob at the bottom of the DPS meters in that heroic you're doing. Yes, I am in your dungeon group wearing that gear, horrible as it is. You'd better believe that I'm the one standing in fire or accidentally pulling mobs or doing any one of a hundred things that would make me pull my hair out if I were healing me. Yup, that's me.

And yes, I'm laughing the whole time I'm doing it. Sorry.

But I'm really enjoying whacking things with my giant beer steins. I'm enjoying the new challenge and the new responsibilities (or lack thereof) that come with dealing damage. It's given me something completely different to look forward to when I log into the game.

I'm still raiding as a healer, and it will always be my first, passionate love. But, if I can encourage infidelity to the game itself, why not cheat on my preferred role, too?

After all, unlike real life, in the gaming world, monogamy isn't good for the soul.

This post weighs in at 1029 words (not including the opening quote or this postscript). Close enough to call this one a win for brevity.