Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some updates to the concept

It's been a long while since I have spent any time here on the blog, and while I have continued toying around with the idea of the Dreamwalkers story, I have made little progress. A big part of that is that my focus changed: I got extremely busy at work for a while; then I started spending more time playing WoW again; then school stuff kept me busy; then I started dating and traveling (long distance thing). I did find time to start learning to play guitar, which has been fun, and I have been reading a bunch—mostly comics, but some real reading too ;)

Another reason for the long absence from the story was that I wasn't happy with the logic behind the meteor delivery system (and the resulting random nature of crystal deployment). At first I argued that it was like the Yarin using a random sampling process to get their subjects—which would, of course, be wise. But, in the end, I decided that it just didn't work. So, I thought about other ways of getting the crystals to Earth, and I think I have settled on one that wasn't planned by the Yarin at all (although they are still part of the story).

I also came up with a more viable reason for the villain to have an issue with the kids. His motivation is now very clear. I plan to post some more details at some point, but I want to write a bite more before I do. I have had a bunch of content written for a while now, but with these changes, I have a lot of rewrites. So, off to work I go!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dreamwalkers—concept, continued: The Origin of the Crystals

I have already shared that the crystals came from a meteor that was on a collision course with Earth, and you know that no one seems to know what blew the meteor out of the sky in the first place. This part of the story is likely to never even make it into the book (at least not the first set of stories), but the crystals do have a deeper origin than just "came from outer space."

An alien race called the Yarin, who live on a planet about 18.8 light-years from Earth, have been studying humans for generations. While they have only made one stealthy trip to our system, they did return to their home with several dozen human specimens from around the world. These humans were initially little more than lab rats to the Yarin, but were eventually provided with a secure communal living area so that they could live reasonably normal lives while still remaining as test subjects. None of the original humans remain, but their descendants are still on the planet of Yarix.

The Yarin discovered the essence within the human body—something they do not have. After years of experimentation, they developed a way to focus a body's essence through a device that is black and crystalline. This is not a naturally occurring crystal it's a technology that is crystalline-based. When developing the technology, the Yarin found that even with the crystals, the essence was only able to leave the body while the body was unconscious. This proved troublesome for testing and the Yarin began to induce sleep in order to study the essence further. A second complication arose when the Yarin discovered that each Essence was much more powerful than the human it inhabits: when an essence was free of the body, it displayed abilities that took the Yarin by surprise. They were not ready for what they had let loose on themselves. There were many death—both Yarin and human—and the program was shut down.

Years later, the Yarin Science Consulate discovered that their star, Draconis, was dying. It would still be able to support life in the system for a few thousand years, but there was nothing they could do to save it. H0ping to find a way to revitalize their star, the Yarin turned once again to studying human essence. While none of the humans remaining on Yarix possessed a power that could help, the Yarin were determined to find one that did. They constructed a device that could deliver thousands of crystals to Earth. To lower the chance of their exposure, they constructed the device to look like a meteor. It was designed to shatter shortly before entering the Earth's atmosphere, so that the crystals would be distributed across much of the planet's surface. While they could not control where each landed, they hoped that more would find their way into human hands than not. Along with the crystals, the Yarin sent a Science team to earth, disguised as human, to search for one or more powers that could help save Draconis—and Yarix, along with it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dreamwalkers—concept, continued: reluctant heroes

As I had mentioned last time, these characters are not really the hero types. I would actually consider them reluctant heroes—or some, even antiheroes. My central cast of characters may be the heroes of my story, but they don't want to be. Calista Hart (17), Josiah Wakeman (17), and Tristan Wolfe (15) are three teens from Norristown, Pennsylvania. They all attend the same school but all travel in different circles. They each acquire a crystal—I'll get into how when I discuss their individual stories—and they begin dream walking. At first, they think they are simply dreaming; they wake up each day believing that what happened overnight was a lucid dream. However, that all changes when they witness the villain of the story, Robert Porter (34), committing a murder. The next day they learn that the murder really occurred and realize that everything that has happened while they were asleep was real.

A couple of other dreamwalkers take this as an opportunity to do some good and try to become real heroes, but the central characters are more interested in helping themselves than in helping others. However, when the villain starts coming after other dreamwalkers, they realize that they will have to work together to survive. This doesn't come easy to them: They haven't fully mastered their powers individually, and they sure as hell don't have any clue how to fight as a team. But, fighting as a team is what it will take, and they will need to work together to develop their powers so that might have a chance at defeating Robert.

I am still determining the exact number of core team members that I want to have. Right now I am planning for the three I have already listed, but there is potential for me to add one or two more depending on the direction I decide to take the story.

I know this post was short, but it's really just a continuation of yesterday's. Tomorrow I will write about the origin and purpose of the crystals. Soon after that I will start writing up some character profiles / back stories.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


A while back—well, years ago now, even—I had a sketch/idea book. I used to write little blurbs in it—just ideas for stories or brief poems. I sometimes even drew in it (although I am not a very good artist. In the end, though, it was just for me, so the quality of the art didn't much matter. A couple of months back, when I was digging around in my closet for some Advil, I came across it again. I picked it up, read a few pages, and was brought right back to when I actually had a creative outlet that was not work related. That night, after our raid was done, I read through the rest of it. I had so many unfinished ideas back then! When I went to bed that night, my mind was racing with these ideas. Some of them I started expanding on... others I realized were complete and utter crap. I couldn't sleep; all I could do was think about these stories.

The next day I decided that I was going to start expanding on some of these ideas. I started by working on a drawing that represented a poem I had written. Again, I am not the best artist, so it wasn't that great, but it was a start. Later I decided that I would be better off working on one of the many stories I had started. One, in particular, caught my attention: It was called "Dreamwalkers." Now, the original idea was just a blurb—nothing more than a single paragraph that outlined an idea for a story that would take place entirely in a dream realm. I liked the idea, but the more I thought about it, and discussed it with others, the more I realized that it was too limiting. Sure, I could write this one story, but what about after that? Would there be room to continue with these characters if I ever wanted to? Now, I am not saying that I will end up writing more than one of these stories anyway, but I don't want to write myself into a corner either. I'd like the option to continue with it if I one day have the desire. To do that, I would need to take these characters out of this dream realm and have them affecting the real world more directly. That's when my idea morphed from a world of dreams to astral projection. These dreamwalkers could be used in more than just one good story—I could now begin.

The concept begins with a meteor headed for Earth. Various global powers see it coming, but not before it is too late to do much. There is just too much sky to watch, and by the time anyone sees the behemoth of a rock hurdling toward Earth, all they can try to do is blow it out of the sky and hope that the pieces that make landfall don't cause too much damage. There is no hope of diverting its path—this is not going to be a near miss.

The story will primarily take place in the U.S., but it won't be limited to just one area of the world. This event directly affects an entire hemisphere (and indirectly affects the entire planet). Somewhere in the U.S., a military base is getting ready to fire a barrage of missiles that they hope will break the meteor into small enough pieces to not be much of a threat, but before they can fire, the meteor shatters into thousands upon thousands of pieces—seemingly on its own. Governments from around the world are confused: Who took it out? Who saved their asses? The sight is a beautiful one. The sky is filled with shooting stars. Most of the pieces appear to be small enough to burn up without making landfall. The ones that do, don't appear to cause significant damage. There are a few deaths, some fires, and some fear induced panics, but overall, the damage is low.

In Norristown,
Pennsylvania, landfall occurs. What makes it to Earth is not rock-like. Instead, the surviving pieces are crystalline. The crystals look similar to pieces of pure black onyx, but they are not what they appear to be. Several residents come across them. Unaware of what the crystals are, or their origin, most take them home—after all, the crystals are of stunning beauty. Most notable of those that found crystals in the Norristown area are three teens. They all attend the same school but are not friends; they all travel in different circles. None of them is prepared for what was to come next.

Before continuing on, I must explain a part of this universe that I am creating. In it, a body is just a shell for a person's essence. Their essence, or true being, is contained within this vessel. This containment is necessary for the essence to exist in our world. Without the body as an anchor, the essence would eventually dissipate, unable to hold its form; without the essence, the body would be catatonic. Each essence has the potential for a power. When first born, a person's essence is pure, unscathed, naive, a blank slate. As the person matures, and experiences life, their essence will develop an ability that is a result of their experiences. While trapped within the body, the essence cannot manifest its power, but the power is there. Each power has three stages of development (or strength), however, the power cannot progress through these stages without being used.

The crystals are not as benign as they may look. When a person has one of these crystals close to them while they are sleeping, their essence is able to manifest outside of their body. The crystal allows the essence to remain anchored to the body even though there may be a great distance between the two. Once outside of the body, the person's essence is finally able to manifest its power. However, because these people have never used their powers before, they will have to discover them... grow into them... develop them.

While the teens are not friends, and definitely not the hero types, they will eventually come to rely on one another and will even fight for a common goal. I will get more into that part of the story next time. That's it for now, though. Feel free to chime in if you have an idea or criticism. Nothing is set in stone yet. I have a lot of writing to do, and I am still in the early planning stages.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dos Drakes

For the last couple of weeks, my 10-man raid group has been attempting Sartharion +2 drakes. We have been leaving Tenenbron and Vesperon up. The first night of attempts was an absolute disaster. After back-to-back tries leading up to respawns, we eventually went back to one Drake (Tenenbron) and completed the raid with ease. It seems that now, leaving Tenenbron up is easy for us. I guess that makes sense after a couple of hours of working toward killing 2 of them.

This past weekend we tried again. We definitely improved. Our DPS on Tenenbron was much faster, and we downed him pretty consistently before Vesperon landed. The practice and upgrades our group had gotten over the past week had made a difference. However, we still were unable to win. We got Tenenbron down and even got to the point to clearing whelps a couple of times, but never without losing people. The damage everyone was taking was just too high. We finally (again, after respawns) gave in and killed Sarth with one drake up—but this time we chose to leave Vesperon up. We wanted to get practice on this second drake. We all assumed it would be as easy as Tenenbron, but there was a distinct difference: When we were doing 2 drakes, we had to leave our third tank (me) and his dedicated healer (Tamzz) outside of Vesperon's first portal to continue handling the many whelps and fire elementals that were still up from when Tenenbron's last batch of eggs hatched. This left Laeryn (our Ret Pally) to attempt to tank the add inside Vesperon's portal and left Whammie (our Ele Shaman) to heal him. Basically giving two of our DPS players non-DPS roles in the portal. That just left Ay (Rogue) and Vressa (Boomkin) to burn down the dragonkin. By the time the portal was cleared, another was spawning—and people were dying. We learned a lot by switching it up. It was clear that we can't complete the fight with that strategy. Without trying Sarth + Vesperon (rather than Tenenbron), it may have taken us much longer to come to this conclusion. See, when we moved to one drake, we still used the same setup. There were no whelps, but Tammz and I still stayed out of the portal and just dealt with Fire Elementals. The four who went into the portals just were not set up for success. Once we discovered this we decided to have Tammz and I go in and let our DPSers get back to DPSing. Wouldn't you know, it was cake.

Lesson Learned: Six of us need to go into ALL of Vesperon's portals. In order to do this, when we have two drakes up, we'll have to clear out all of the whelps before entering the first portal. We were under the impression that the portal should take priority over the whelps, but freeing up Tammz and I make dealing with the portal possible, so the whelps need to take priority. Next time we go into Obsidian Sanctum and try Sarth + 2, we'll handle all of the whelps before any of the six of us enter the portal. Yes, that means a longer amount of time with no one in the portal (and more damage occurring outside), but it also means that (once we are in the portal) the dragonkin will go down quickly. Once the first one is down, it should be cake. I think we'll get it the next night we try it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Glory of the Hero

Last week, my five-man group finished the Glory of the Hero achievement. It was a long road and the reward of a Red Proto-Drake was felt to be well deserved. As far as I am aware, this makes Aille, Ay, Bluid, Laeryn and I the first in the guild to complete the meta-achievement. Some of the achievements were very easy, and some so difficult that I am not sure how Blizzard intends for them to be done, but we completed all of them. We also did this without respecs or even a specific group make up. Our group consisted of a Holy Priest, a Rogue, a Feral Druid tank, a Retribution Paladin, and an Unholy Death Knight. The all melee group drove our healer batty at times, but in the end, we were successful. Now that we've completed this, I'd like to reminisce on the best and worst of the required achievements.

The Best
  1. Emerald Void: This achievement requires players to Defeat Ley-Guardian Eregos in The Oculus on Heroic Difficulty without anyone in the party using an Emerald Drake. Because the Emerald Drake is the only drake that can heal in this instance, this achievement has to be done with zero healing. We completed this achievement by using five Amber Drakes—at least the first time we did it. We had to do this achievement twice because Laeryn was out of town the first time we did it. The second time, we used four Amber and a Ruby, but the strategy we used was nearly identical. This achievement takes a lot of coordination (probably more than any of the others). It also relies on skill and timing, not on luck. Properly timed Time Stops and perfectly coordinated Shock Lances and Temporal Rifts make this achievement possible and my favorite of all of them.
  2. Consumption Junction: This achievement requires players to defeat Trollgore in Drak'Tharon Keep on Heroic Difficulty before Consume reaches ten stacks. To complete this, we had to play with line-of-sight and make sure that, when Trollgore cast Consume, everyone but the tank was out of his view. It took coordination and good timing. It was another very well designed achievement.
  3. Volazj's Quick Demise: This achievement requires players to defeat Herald Volazj in Ahn'kahet on Heroic Difficulty in 2 minutes or less. It all hinges on players being able to kill their shades quickly enough during Insanity. We also found that stacking at a specific position during Insanity made it much faster to come to the aid of party members who were not able to kill their shades as quickly as others. This one took some crazy DPS and a good amount of skill.
Those are my three favorites. Here are the three I disliked the most:

The Worst
  1. Watch Him Die: This achievement requires players to defeat Krik'thir the Gatewatcher in Azjol-Nerub on Heroic Difficulty while Watcher Gashra, Watcher Narjil and Watcher Silthik are still alive. We tried many many different strategies for this achievement; however, none of them really worked. Everything we found online said that players simply zerged it and hoped for good luck. Some kited adds away, and some didn't, but in the end it was simply a DPS race to the death. We wiped even when we successfully completed the achievement (as did everyone else we read about completing it). I can't imagine that Blizzard intends that the successful way to complete this is to wipe, but that's the only way that we were able to complete it.
  2. Less-rabi: This achievement requires players to defeat Moorabi in Gundrak on Heroic Difficulty while preventing him from transforming into a mammoth at any point during the encounter. Unfortunately, his cast speed just gets too fast when he is below 30% health. Even with a few players who can interrupt the cast, it becomes nearly impossible to stop him from transforming. We took the easy way out on this one and kited him to the door so that he'd reset. I hated that we had to cheese it, but without stacking classes with silences, there was no other realistic way for us to complete it. Blizzard now says "Take the player, not the class," but that doesn't hold true with this achievement. This one needs to be reworked.
  3. Defenseless: This achievement requires player to defeat Cyanigosa in The Violet Hold without using Defense Control Crystals and with Prison Seal Integrity at 100% while in Heroic Difficulty. The reason I dislike this achievement is not because it was too hard—in fact, it was the exact opposite. This achievement was a joke. We got it without even realizing we had done anything special. We did it with quest greens and blues. It was way too easy. Most PUGs have an easy time completing this one. It simply isn't challenging in the least. In order to fix this one, Blizzard needs to make the instance more difficult than it is.
There were many other achievements that we needed to complete, with varying levels of difficulty, but these were the ones that stood out to me. I very much enjoyed the challenging ones that were not absurd. If the achievement is too easy, it doesn't feel like an achievement at all. Hopefully, with future instances, Blizzard refines their achievement system so that more of them are a challenge to most groups but still feasible. But, for this round, I win—I have my Red Proto-Drake.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why it's broken and ways to fix it

I have talked about Blizzard dumbing down World of Warcraft before. Today I would like to take that topic further and explain why I think that this "dumbing down" is ruining the game (at least for the segment of the player base that I am a part of).

Back in the days of—well, all previous days before WotLK—groups had to think about pulls.
  • In Molten Core we had to be careful to pull one mob (or small group of mobs) without aggroing another nearby group or patrol. Pulling additional mobs usually resulted in a wipe.
  • In Black Temple we had to sheep or banish specific mobs within a group while we killed others. Leaving the additional mobs active would likely cause a wipe (or at minimum, several deaths).
  • In The Eye we would require some mobs (who had one beast of a whirlwind) to be tanked outside of the group, while others were sheeped, and still others killed. Further into the raid, there were pulls where we had to banish one or two mobs (within a larger group) at nearly the instant we pulled—without mistake—or there would be many deaths.
  • Even in the Vanilla and BC 5-mans, CC was an important and necessary part of grouping.
In WotLK, CC is pretty much a lost concept. No one even attempts to CC most of the time. Sure, every once in a while you'll get a player who triesto CC something, but it's less out of necessity and more out of habit (a habit that is quickly fading). Now, when we pull a group in a Naxxramas raid, we just charge in and AoE everything. If another group pats by and aggros, we just add it to the AoE we already have going. Usually, even when we have multiple groups at once, we don't have many (if any) deaths. This shouldn't be possible, but everything just dies so quickly in the AoE that it doesn't have a chance to do much damage at all. Sadly, this takes a lot of the fun and challenge out of raids (and 5-mans) for that matter. Sure, you could still do it the old fashioned way, but at this point if you're not AoEing it when it's the most efficient means of clearing trash, then you are just wasting time.

So, what has caused this? There are a few factors that have combined to create this issue, but a lot of it comes down to the same basic concept: Blizzard wants to make every part of the game more accessible to the casual gamer (except for Arenas, it seems—those are less accessible than ever, now that ratings are required for all decent (non-VoA) PvP gear.
  1. Current tanks have amazing threat generation compared to that of tanks from Vanilla or BC. Not only is their single target threat much better, but their AoE threat is great too. It's now to the point where threat is rarely a concern for any DPSer. We can go in and single-target or AoE DPS to our hearts' content. Sure, increasing the tanks' threat generation has made even poor tanks decent at holding threat, but this also made it so that threat is a non-issue for nearly everyone involved. It's very very rare that anyone pulls aggro from a tank in most normal fights. I remember a time when Fury Warriors were limited by their threat output. They would have to hold back or risk pulling aggro and dying. Without the threat limitation, Fury Warriors just go all out on damage all of the time. Threat being a non-issue makes fights too easy for all parties involved.
  2. Buffs to AoE are another problem. In WotLK, too many classes have strong AoE. Some classes, like Mages, Warlocks, and now Death Knights were meant to have strong AoE. Other classes only had limited AoE (like Druids, who's Hurricane spell used to be on a cooldown). But now all classes have some form of AoE and most of the AoE spells that had cooldowns have had the cooldowns removed. With the repeated pressing of one button, Rogues can AoE as well as most other classes. On pulls with lots of mobs that die quickly, Rogues can out AoE DPS pretty much anyone. Hunters' Volley, Druids' Hurricane, Priests' Mind Sear, Rogues' Fan of Knives, and many many other spells have created a game that does more than take advantage of AoE, it necessitates it. How could Blizzard even expect CC to be used when every class has solid AoE available. Sadly, classes that were not designed around AoE typically only have one AoE spell. This causes these players to be reduced to pressing a single button repeatedly in most trash pulls—a boring concept indeed.
  3. General accessibility has also impacted CC. In trying to make the game easy enough for everyone, Blizzard has made most mobs pretty tame. Some are more dangerous than others (and should be killed first), but in general, none are really large threats. There are some exceptions, but they mostly affect melee (such as mobs with Whirlwind or other AoE spells of their own). Even when a mob does have a more-deadly-than-average attack, groups usually still AoE them and just deal with the few casualties incurred. The only melee class who is particularly susceptible to death due to Whirwind is the Rogue (and the rarely seen cat Druid). All other melee DPS classes wear plate, so they can usually survive the first barrage from a Whirlwind and back out in time to not die—Rogues typically get one-shot. In our raids, it's pretty easy to see when a Whirlwind happens, because all of the Rogues just drop dead at once. This could be avoided by separating the mobs with Whirlwind from the rest of the pack, but since everything is AoEd, this separation doesn't happen. It's clearly not the way it should be done, but even with the Rogue deaths, it's still most efficient. One of my roommates plays a Rogue, and he's getting to the point where he doesn't even want to participate in these pulls (and sometimes the raids in general) because he believes Rogues are seen as expendable—a point I can't really argue with based on how we handle the AoE packs.
Obviously there is a problem here. AoE and CC are clearly broken. All AoE and no CC make Srom a dull boy. Sure, I play an AoE class, but I should be forced to single-target sometimes. There should be SOME strategy to the game. Right now it's just a joke. So how can we fix it? I have a couple of ideas that could help.
  1. First, not every class/spec has to be equally capable of the same amount of damage on AoE packs as other classes—just like not every class/spec should be equally capable at single-target damage. Leave AoE damage to the Mages, Warlocks, Death Knights, and the occasional (non-spamable, cooldown-based) spell from other classes. Classes/Specs that have limited AoE should have their single target damage buffed in some way. One solution would be to create a debuff that all (direct damage) classes/specs have that stacks on a single target up to X times. The debuff would drop off quickly if not reapplied by any DD attack (AoE spells would NOT apply the debuff). A single character's debuff stack could only be on one Mob at a time and each stack would increase their DD output by Y (X and Y are variables that I am not comfortable assigning a specific value to because I do not claim to be capable of MMO damage output balance, but I would guess that you get the idea that I am trying to get across). Casting any AoE spell would remove the stacks immediately and prevent them from being reapplied for a few seconds. Classes/Specs that are heavily AoE-based would not have this stacking debuff, but they would, once again, be much stronger in AoE.
  2. Blizzard could create mobs that have to be CCd. Having groups of five elites AoEd down with no CC is just boring. Creating packs of mobs that require a specific kill order or a specific amount of CC would go along way toward making raids more interesting.
    • For example, Blizzard could add a stacking aura to mobs in a five pull. Each mob emits the aura while they are active, but if they are CCd in any way, their aura is suppressed. Up to three stacks of the aura would provide no additional buff—the mobs would just do 100% damage. However, if four stacks are active, the mobs would do 200% damage; with five stacks active, they would do 400% damage. This example could be modified, but the basic idea is that if groups did not CC at all, even the tanks would be one-shot.
    • A second option would be to give specific mobs buffs that protect other mobs or give other mobs special abilities. For example, have one mob in a pack provide a 90% damage reduction shield to all other mobs within a short radius. Obviously, groups would want to kill that mob first (or CC it, or pull it away from the group). Another example would be to have one mob that, while alive, gives all other nearby mobs an AoE attack that would necessitate that mob dying first. Forcing a kill order would provide some much needed diversity to the game. Sure, there could still be some AoE pulls, but not every pull should be AoE.
I am hoping that Ulduar provides some of this diversity, but I am not counting on it yet. As long as Blizzard is trying to make all of the game content accessible to the casual gamer, we'll likely be seeing similar trends.