Milestones

My eldest hits 10 this week.  There’s something about society looking at the X0 ages as big stepping stones.  I think it’s mostly about easier math, cause I can easily think of 2010 and what was going on.  The summer was a heat wave, everyone in the social group was having kids, and I went through a massive career shift in the fall.  With the support of my wife, in the first year I pushed extremely hard to get progress then, which I knew I’d be unable to do with a kid running around.  It’s paid off, and today I have the flexibility to spend more time with the family.

My eldest has seen some really crazy stuff.  She has little concept of a disconnected world.  For the longest time she didn’t understand that her grandparent didn’t have access to the internet.  Social Media has exploded in her lifetime, and kids her age end up watching TikTok, or some other insanity. She gets annoyed at TV ads but will accept ads on YouTube.  I think we’ve done a decent job at balancing real world and connected world, since she’s not bugging us for a phone.  She can follow, or she can lead.  She shares a lot of my passions, and has plenty of her own that I try my best to support.

The most fulfilling bit is seeing the sense of discovery in her eyes when she finds something I take for granted.  She (her sister and friends) fully dissected a fish at the cottage this weekend, and it was as if they had found hidden treasure.   The first time she rode her bike alone, her eyes were like saucers.  When she build a brand new tower in Minecraft that has a secret passage… it’s like showing me a new puppy.

Oh, there are days where she can drive me up the wall.  There are days where I drive myself up the wall, so that’s sort of part of the game.  I know there’s only a finite amount of time left where time together is assured.  Eventually she will spend more time with friends, have a job, and eventually university or other.  Eventually she will spread her wings and I will sit here with my wife and watch her soar, hoping I did good enough to keep her in flight towards happiness.

But that day is not today.  Today I get to appreciate the time I have, the opportunities COVID has presented to be with my family.  I can see her every day try, fall, get up, and grow.  I can share in her success and her stumbles.  And while this post references my eldest, it applies equally to my youngest… but it’s my eldest’ milestone.

And this milestone is just a reminder of how lucky I am to have a great wife and two amazing kids.

WoW Expansion Content

Going through the leveling process a few times now on alts is certainly putting the various expansions basic content in focus.  Where it doesn’t do a great job is at the max level content, since it’s not really relevant today.

Leveling content, for a dozen reasons, is not a focus.  That there’s any quality at all is impressive given that 99% of the content is seen once per leveling stream.  The older hub/spoke model has turned into a storyline 3-5 quest node system instead.  You discover a zone, get some basic Qs, then branch out.  When you don’t spend half your time travelling.  The content from Legion is pretty much the same in BfA, even in terms of how much of that content is expected to be completed.

As the clock is turned back, WoD really was the kickstart for this model.  The hubs were larger/denser, but the bits were there.  Area bonus quests, hidden chests, rares, quest chains that culminate in a big showdown.  Pandaria had big hubs, but also a kick at a better integrated storyline to explore the world.  Cataclysm, WotLK, TBC are just… well they are just not good.  You pick up 5-10 quests, head out around the map, then come back for another wave of quests.

Now, once you’re at max level, things start opening up.  Dailies have been around for a very long time, but really took off in WotLK.  Pandaria brought in rep/rewards to a larger level.  WoD had the Apexis stuff, with rotations.  Legion brought World Quests and BfA just cut & pasted it forward.

Dungeons have been all over the map.  They were only ever relevant up to WotLK.  Pandaria had some at launch, but never tweaked them past that.  WoD’s were completely ignored as garrison rewards were better.  Legion tied a bunch of quests to them, and implemented Mythic mode for better rewards.  BfA has next to no reason to do normal/heroic dungeons – everything is mythic.

The system around Mythics is essentially a 5 person raid. It’s honestly a good system, allowing for difficult content in smaller chunks.  Long gone are the days of 40 person raids.  Now we have mythic raids and flex raiding.  These two systems really do focus on the core gameplay loop for WoW in the past few expansions – competitive PvE.  It builds a tiered community, and one that is always circling the drain.  Some bad flashbacks on the whole TBC keying mess.  If the carrot is a stat stick with slightly better stats, then eventually that horse stops running.  Those types of horses aren’t exactly common, so you end up with poaching/mergers of groups and the conflict that follows.  It’s not a sustainable model.

Tangent

I’ve gone back with my mage to get their class mount in Legion.  The class hall has no comparison in any other expansion.  The quest line, the exploration, the quests the characters… all of it.  The downside here is that characters only get to see it once, and it’s gated with table quests.  But it’s there!  Suramar as a zone had a pile going for it… and the daily zombie quest is much better than the Horrific Visions grind.  The Mage Tower was neat as it wasn’t power bases, but cosmetics.  There was depth and breadth in pretty much all the content.  The major gaps were around the proliferation of RNG.

On Track

The kicker for me is what is deemed worthy of “making the cut” from one expansion to another.  Some bits are so well used they can’t really be removed once added.  LFG is one.  LFR is another, stemming entirely from atrocious raid completion numbers in Cataclysm.  Transmogs aren’t going anywhere, and Pet Battles are a system that is screaming for the spotlight.  Mythics are now the content du-jour.

The concepts of invasions started in MoP, but really took hold in Legion.  The 8.3 version works for the most part (minus the bug variant in Uldum).  It’s somethign to do, every other day or so.  And provides another catch up mechanic.

But there remains a larger gap in the middle tier, the training wheels if you will to the Mythic world.  I’m calling back to the badge model of WotLK here, one where FF14 has done a tremendously solid job of making basic group content relevant.  Daily badge limits, and buy-ins to +10ivl upgrades is a start.  Piles of cosmetics.  Have pets drop.  Have mounts as a random reward for filling a specific role.  Make it a horizontal progress system.  I don’t see Blizz having the willpower to implement something like this.  I mean, technically it’s only a tweak to the timewalking system.  Pretty sure there are over 100 different dungeons WoW could re-use.

You’ll notice I haven’t even touched on professions.  The less said about them the better.  I am surprised that the fishing/cooking combo is still as valid today as it was in WotLK.

It will be interesting to look at BfA a month after Shadowlands has launched.  The paint is still relatively fresh on 8.3, and it’s already a massive improvement on 8.0/8.1. Yet, taking some time to take a solid detour in the Legion content really puts the variety and quality of content to the forefront.  Would be super cool to have a solid experience again.

 

 

Life Can Suck

Wife and I paid our respects to a friend last night, who lost his son to COVID impacts.

This whole COVID stuff is having interesting impacts on people.  The “fluff” of everyday life is taking a backseat, and people are checking their priorities.  The need for a double americano just doesn’t seem all that important.  People are managing without awesome haircuts, and plenty of women are getting by without their nails done.  The concept of “essential” is really hitting home.

I’m not dismissing the joy of those specific luxuries, at all.  There are people that make a living providing luxuries, and frankly, provide a larger benefit to the world than any hedge fund manager ever would.  I won’t go into the whole wants / needs / rights conversation – blogs can’t convey the context required for it.

Instead I’ll take a different look here and focus on loss.  In the past 4 months, I’ve had 2 employees pass, one lost his dad, and 2 hockey buddies lose their adult children.  There’s no right way to mourn, and no consistent way either.  You could lose two uncles and one hits more than another for a billion reasons. The stages of grief may apply, but the time between them is unique to the relationship.

When the 2 staff passed, it was within a week of each other.  One numbed the impact of the other.  Was a reminder of the humanity behind the work, and that each person matters.  When my employee lost his dad, I didn’t even think to ask what he needed, I just said “take what you need”.  Some prefer to focus on work, others to reflect.  When my hockey pal’s children passed, that was a reminder to look at home and what I have here.  No parent should ever say goodbye to their child.  There’s a level of empathy here that’s made me take pause.

I’m an advocate for mental health in the workplace.  It’s easy to see someone with the flu who shouldn’t be at work.  Someone who’s suffering from mental health issues is a whole lot harder to see, but the impacts are similar.  Their productivity suffers (often for longer periods) and their situation can certainly impact others.  Taking pills generally wont fix it, just hide the symptoms.  It’s a much longer road to health.

I know when I lost my uncle a few years ago, I took a few days off to reflect and tried to go back to work.  I was not at all ready for that, and lasted about an hour before I just got up, told my boss I needed more time, and took another week to sort some stuff out.  No questions asked, no guilt trips.  Someone replacing me at 25% of my rate of work would have been better than me sitting there staring blankly at the wall.

My wife’s a teacher.  There are a significant number of kids who find refuge at school.  Not everyone has an ideal home – it wouldn’t be ideal then would it?  Same with people who work, or who socialize.  They may do it to avoid another situation.  There’s a spike in domestic violence, and people are struggling left right and center.  It feels like a boiling pot, ready to overspill.

To cycle back, this COVID stuff is making me re-think my approach to life and work.  Corners are a bit less sharp.  Making sure the foundational stuff is taken care of first, so that people feel value in their work lives.  The bells and whistles will come when they come.  For now, it’s more important that we treat each other with humanity and compassion, and realize that our neighbour needs it as much as we do.

RNG Sprinkles

Part of the process of leveling of an alt (Void Elf Priest), I’m getting a clear reminder on multiple aspects of the dev thinking process over the years.  Quest design from Cataclysm in particular is a level of gameplay that really takes me for a loop.  MMO dev has come a long way.

The pace of leveling (or really, futility of it in WoW) is another post.  This one is about character design.

Quite a few class/spec combos really devolve into 3 main buttons, which are cooldown/resource related.  Talents then add a proc mechanic.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get another long cooldown button to press.  So what you see at level 20 is pretty darn close to the rotation you see until you ding 120.  I won’t get too much into the balancing challenges posed by talents, just enoguh to say that there are ones that are clearly better than others with only a small amount that aren’t viable.

The ability “un-pruning” for Shadowlands may address this, but effectively requires some redesign work for each class/spec.  That’s a ton of work.

But THIS post is about the RNG of character development – specifically Azerite and Corruption, as each are item-specific.  I’ve yet to find a spec that didn’t have a clear winner in the Azerite trait category.  There’s been a lot of tweaking since launch, but you’re not going to find a Frost Mage that isn’t stacking 3x Flash Freeze (2 stacks give more than 3 stacks of anything else).  The was a main pain point I had with the original system, where you would have a great trait, then get a clear ilvl upgrade but without the trait and just ignore that new piece.  The end result is a best-in-slot list that has massive variations, and you’re looking for 1 drop from 1 boss that is not so much optimal as super-powered.  Some Azerite traits will change player rotations, making some more suddenly more viable to use.

Corruption is the inversion of Azerite traits.  Instead of have the points on hand, you’re working on credit.  Your corruption “debt” has penalties to playstyle, but provides an insane boost.  Infinite Stars & Twilight Devastation are like a nuke on a fly.  They can account for 50% of a player’s DPS.  There are other traits that have benefits (Masterful for Frost Mages is quite impressive), but that requires a level of math that isn’t obvious without sims.  You put IS on any player, and they will immediately see the difference.  Doesn’t change the playstyle, you just have a massive passive source of DPS.

Oh, and Corruption is applied through RNG on drops, or RNG through a vendor with grindable currency requirements.  There’s no way to target a trait, other than grind currency and hope the vendor eventually has it in stock.  I’m cool with the RNG part, I am less so with the crazy passive power gains.  If you thought Titanforging was bad, then this would make you go up the wall.

The design choices here are quite odd.  The “plan” was to have scaling difficulty and less of a gap between a fresh 120 and a max 120.  That really didn’t work at launch of BfA, and Corruption traits seem to be the answer to it.  There are certainly catch up mechanics to get over that hump, give everyone a passive DPS boost, and sort of sweep 8.0/8.1 under the rug like it didn’t happen.  Azerite traits could use a bit of balancing, but the method of acquisition is straightforward enough.  Corruption as a concept is actually really cool, and parts of the implementation are a nice twist – the debt aspect in particular.  It’s the sum of the parts that I find irritating.  May just be time to accept the fact that stat squishes are going to be part of each expansion, as the power curve inside each is now at the exponential level.

 

 

 

 

WoW: War Mode

In the previous post I mentioned that War Mode had great benefits for leveling – in particular in the portions that are pre-Legion.  The BfA content with War Mode puts you in the same zones as fully geared 120 players – you’re going to die a few times.  Still worth it if the bonus is 20%+.

War Mode as a concept is neat.  Add some extra risk for some extra rewards.  Where things gets messed up is in the actual risks and rewards.  So let’s start this backwards.

The rewards themselves scale from 10% to 30%, depending on faction balances.  At low amounts, the rewards aren’t exactly stellar.  1 death per hour is enough to offset a 10% gain to experience.  But let’s say you’re 120.  The rewards are limited to gold, war resources, and azerite power.  War Resources have been meaningless since 8.1.  Azerite Power has marginal use today.  Gold is always useful.

The risks are more complex.  You are sharing space with the other faction, and therefore you can be killed by the other faction.  You only share space with people who also have War Mode on, and if your % is high (20%+) then odds are there are MORE of the other faction than yours.  So yeah, the chance of dying is higher but in practical respects, most other levelers have no interest in attacking you.  People at 120 do, which makes leveling in BfA zones riskier.  The way WoW is built, most classes offer AE attacks as an effective way of dealing with content.  AE often triggers a PvP battle if you’re next to someone.  So you are going to be less effective if you avoid AE attacks.

Since the rewards are related to completing activities, you want to complete those activities safely and quickly.  Is it better to get 10% more gold completing a quest alone, with threat of PvP, or to complete a quest with 5 other people, no chance of death, and 5x as fast?  Any elite WQ is effectively impossible if there’s no one around to help.  So in this respect, it isn’t really a risk, it’s an active hurdle.  At max level, if you are not in a critical mass of other players, then there’s no point to War Mode.

Does it matter?

Really, does it?  Is WoW a PvP game?  Taking  BfA’s (poorly received) storyline out for a minute, when’s the last time we saw PvP as any sort of driver for content?  Even WoD had both factions working together, so you need to go back to Pandaria (early parts) – 8 years ago.

On even footing (like a BG), the Horde has a marginal advantage to the Alliance due to some racial skills.  That inherent advantage has attracted min-maxers where every advantage counts.  That adds yet another advantage to PvP for Horde players.  There are only two ways to offset that advantage – more “good” Alliance players, or more “power” for Alliance players.

War Mode tries to get there with incentivizing playing Alliance.  But the rewards are so miniscule that they cannot be seen at all as any advantage to pull someone AWAY from playing Horde.  Even if you were to swap all racials between factions, the playerbase is stronger on Horde and enough to offset the racial imbalance.  Not to mention the $$$ impacts of a faction change.  There’s only a small percentage of players who would pay to swap for a 1% gain to power.  There’s an astronomically larger percentage that goes “I’ve got friends and dozens of hours invested in this character, I’m good.”.

Way Forward

War Mode for leveling has next to no risk, it’s all reward.  Shadowlands is re-writing the leveling experience anyhow.  Unless the incentives are massively swapped (e.g. a % boost to primary stats in non-instanced content), there’s really no purpose to it for max level characters.

A good experiment, in the social carrot aspect is much larger than Blizzard had assumed.  But unlikely to matter in the long run.  Better off putting money in breaking the faction divide and getting people playing together.

WoW Alts

When BfA launched my first 120 was my Monk.  Seems to have been the case since Pandaria, for reasons I’ve gone into a bunch of times.  My 2nd was a Horde Demon Hunter, on another server due to the DH restrictions.  I wanted to see the Horde storyline and DH is a ridiculously efficient leveling class.  When both hit 120, there was a major gearing wall, and the azurite system made by blood boil.  I dropped out until a few weeks ago.

I figured with double faction and xp, it was an ok time to use my pile of WoW tokens.  When I started, the roster looked like this:

110: Hunter, Rogue, Death Knight, Demon Hunter, Paladin, Druid

100: Shaman

80: Mage, Warlock

Warrior and Priest as bank alts.

Before I get into the details, there’s a question of why?  Alts are easier to play in BfA than Legion (by FAR!), and allow running older raids for pets/drops with less waiting for lockouts.  Also lets you see if you want to run another class as a main / fun factor.  It is in no way practical to run multiple max level characters.

Goals

First up was unlocking flying.  That took just over 3 days, as I had already unlocked Pathfinder 1 way back at launch.  Mechagon was the holdout faction, even with a contract that added +10 per world quest.  The bugger here is that Mechagon doesn’t have world quests, only dailies.

While I was unlocking that portion, I was testing the waters with the 8.2/8.3 content.  The Heart of Azeroth boost in Naz is quick enough, and you unlock a huge power increase.  That’s enough to survive the invasions that 8.3 brought, though you need an ilvl close to 420 to do the horrific visions for the cloak upgrade.  The side areas can’t really be done by anything but a tank and low ilvls.

I was keeping mental notes of what happened when.

The Alt Plans

Heirloom gear to 120 (head, shoulder, chest, legs, cloak) gives +45%xp.  The generic 100% boost helps.  The choice was with or without war mode.  I wanted to try without to see what happened.

Gearing would be weird bit, since scaling in BfA is all over the place.  I know that starting BfA gives you a weapon, and that there’s 1 quest per zone that gives you another.  Starting Nazjatar gives you a i370 weapon, and there are really high odds you get enough mana pearls to get 4 benthic (i385) armor pieces.  Get that sorted out, then WQ to fill in the ring/trinkets, and then armor again.  Mechagon is effectively useless for this.  That’s enough to start an invasion from 8.3.

The Execution

The Rogue was the next up to 120.  Stormsong Valley + another dozen or so quests in Drustvar (unlocking the first village).  That was pretty quick, a single death, but felt like I was hitting with a wet sponge compared to my Monk.  Gearing went relatively smoothly, focusing on upgrading the worst pieces first.  The cloak quest was painful to get through.

Next is the DH to 120.  Drustvar + up to the boat crash section in Tirigarde.  While it took more quests, the Drustvar experience was much faster than Stormsong due to the quest design.  Stormsong has at least 4 quest hubs that are just a massive pain to get through due to mob density.  If people aren’t leveling, then it’s just not fun.

Finally, I brought my mage up with War Mode enabled.  I’ll talk about that mode in a bit, but the experience gains were massive.  Drustvar alone was enough to hit 120, and that’s without any rested XP.  However, the mage died a LOT.  A bit from ganking, but way more due to power balancing.  They have no real armor, making them ultra dependent on damage output.  I leveled Frost, which is super proc dependent, which is greatly impacted by Mastery.  Crappy gear = low weapon power + low mastery. = low damage.

War Mode

This is a really, really weird system.  +25% experience and +25% rewards (gold while leveling).  Since every single zone up until Legion is designed to be faction specific quest lines, you rarely ever see anyone from the other faction.  When you do, it’s clear you’re both leveling. The gains are significant XP-wise, but 25% more gold on a 3g reward is meaningless.

Legion has some rough spots, as you can’t really use AE or trigger a massive fight.  If I did, it was often just easier to stand there and die than waste time fighting back.  The optional “clear this area” quests were skipped for that reason.  It was pretty quick, though I have to say the Artifact Weapon stuff is a bummer without the special skills.  Since Legion doesn’t give any weapon rewards, getting the artifact at 100 is the only thing you’ll see for 10 levels.

War Mode in BfA.  80% of Drustvar is cool.  The last 20% in the haunted village is less so.  I got ganked, and then corpse hunted for 10 minutes.  Being level 5 or 119, you are going to get stomped by any geared 120.  The flipside is that the XP gains are solid (saved ~1hr or so), and the BfA gold rewards are significant.  Was around 10k total by the time I hit 120.  That said, the second I hit 120 I turned off War Mode.

Why?  Cause 95% of world content is better in a group, and that means AE.  AE + War Mode = massive battles.  Useless battles.  I would much rather complete a WQ / event 5x faster than get 25% more gold.  More in another post.

Lessons Learned

There are many, many tools to help level up faster.  Only a few are really worth it.  Doing dungeon runs in LFG can be substituted.

  • Heirlooms armor – getting +45% xp is easy enough (head/chest/shoulder/back).  I suggest only having 1 cloak for all alts, rather than 3 of the (int/str/agi) if money is a thing.  A single piece costs 500+1000+2000+5000 = 8,500 gold.  Armor type matters (e.g. cloth for casters)
  • Heirloom weapons – from 1-100 this is very useful and relatively cheap.  At 100 you get an artifact weapon, and BfA is over quick enough.  1-100 costs 2,250 for a single weapon.  Getting it to BfA quality adds 10,500 to the cost.  The stats on the thing make a difference too.  Hunters are the worst here, since they are the only gun users.
    • Flying.  Sweet baby jeebers, make sure this is unlocked before leveling in a zone and that you buy the associated skills (Master is optional)
  • Zones: 1-60 any Vanilla zone is fine.  60-80 you want to do Borean Tundra (this is the slowest portion).  80-90 is Jade Forest.  90-100 is the starting WoD zone of your faction.  100-110 is Azshara.  110-120 is Drustvar / Vol’dun.  You’re only going to see 1 zone per level range.
  • Bags:  Get 20 slot bags.  You’re going to fill up like crazy.
  • War Mode: Turn it on.
  • Professions:  Mining and herbalism gives great xp.
  • Treasures / Rare mobs:  Treasure chests are worth collecting for xp.  Rare mobs should generally be avoided.
  • Gold: At best you’re going to make 15,000g from 1-120 doing quests and selling loot, and nearly all of it coming from BfA content.  Flying (280%) will cost you ~5,000g.

Heirloom Table

To give you an idea of where you can re-use Heirloom gear, as a full set of armor + weapons for 1-120 = 55,250g.  Druid as a Cat saves money.  Shaman as Enhancement as well.

STAT TYPE WEAPON
WAR STR PLATE 2HDN/1HND
DK STR PLATE 2HDN/1HND
PAL STR PLATE 2HDN/1HND
MNK AGI LEATHER 2HND/1HND
ROG AGI LEATHER 1HND
DRU AGI/INT LEATHER 2HND/1HND
DH AGI LEATHER 1HND
HUN AGI MAIL RANGED
SHM AGI/INT MAIL 2HDN/1HND
WLK INT CLOTH STAFF/1HDN+OFF
PRI INT CLOTH STAFF/1HDN+OFF
MAG INT CLOTH STAFF/1HDN+OFF

Bit of a Rant

Within the first 2 weeks of this COVID emergency, things were a mess.  People were stressed to high hell for what was coming next (they still have stress), and there’s a wide swath of people whose income streams just dried up.  I’ve been pretty consistent in saying how fortunate I am to be able to do all my work remotely, or I hope I’ve been.

At our first team meeting in this new setting, we were all taking time to bring up concerns with the work from home situation.  Expectations and whatnot.  As added context, this meeting happened after 9 days of working 20 hours, and the end wasn’t exactly in sight.

One leader was doing their job, and raising some members concerns around entitlements – things like having an extra monitor to work from home, refunds on parking fees, monthly mass transit passes, and home internet packages.  In the best of times, I need to bite my tongue when it comes to entitlements, things that are often seen as a perk.  The majority just see it as a neat thing to have, there’s a tiny part of any group that will argue for it.  I know this leader has at least 1 member who is part of the tiny group.

So this question just threw me over the wall.  I am 99% certain my first sentence was something like “you’re telling me they have a well-paying job, they want an extra $100, while their neighbour can’t put food on the table?”  The rant lasted a solid minute, then silence.  I could feel my blood boiling, so I took a few deep breaths, apologized for the outburst, thanked the individual for bringing the issue to the table, and told them to not bring it up again for 2 months so that we could take stock.  If the person wanted an extra monitor – they could buy one.

2 months go by.

Leader brings the topic back up again as the staff is asking questions. This time we had done some prep work for the concern.  Since all the transport items were private organizations, employees would need to sort it out themselves.  The extra equipment (for those that didn’t sort this out themselves in the past 2 months) would be managed through a central warehouse, but with a standard offering.  Topic closed.

Campfire

I’ve retold this story quite a few times now.  My wife has as well.  It is very interesting to see the reactions from people to this story.  Most are astounded that people are even thinking about this, given the situation.  Some go quiet and avoid eye contact, through some sense of guilt.

I mean, I can understand why someone would think this is reasonable.  Their own stress, combined with a near complete lack of social empathy.  As soon as I talk about people who haven’t been able to work a day for months, it just clicks.  There is the odd chance that they are in a relationship, their SO has lost their job, and this $100 is a tough decision.  It’s a bit easier than people with zero income (CERB aside).  In the larger context, an extra monitor or a parking refund is a luxury.

 

 

The Hunt for Fun

At some point, the RPG went from ROLE playing to NUMBER playing.  Sure, the P&P games always had numbers (THAC0 was my bane), but they were more indicators than absolutes (the quad power gain of wizards is a thing long gone).  The dice had a major impact, and with a solid DM, you could act your way through a ton of content.  When’s the last time you saw a Bard trick a dragon to killing their mate because they thought there were planning to usurp them?  That sort of insanity is only found on paper.

There was a point of yore where even video games focused on the classes rather than the numbers.  They were simpler times, where zerg-rushes and tank/spank was the norm for challenging combat.  No we’ve moved into roles, where pretty much any class in a given role can fulfill that role to the 98th percentile.  Unless you’re aiming for a world first, you’d be hard pressed to only accept a priest instead of a pally to heal.  On one hand, this has provided a larger breadth of viable choice to the players, in that it’s practically impossible to make game breaking decisions.  On the other, this has homogenized the content where the player really isn’t relevant.  In WoW, the Proving Ground NPCs are pretty much as effective as any LFG group.

So if the choice is not the class utility, it becomes the class fun/constraint as the driver.  Mat Rossi (BlizzWatch) is a super example, where he only plays Warriors – always has, always will.  Not because of game utility, but because of his enjoyment of the class.  The “fun” aspect is the skill kit – what the class can do, and how it makes you feel.  In WoW, I have to say I absolutely love the Demon Hunter toolkit.  Double jump, eye beam, and metamorphis are used often enough to pack a visual punch.  I can only play a Panda as a Monk ’cause my brain can’t make that race be anything else, or that class be any other race.

Other classes, they have some interesting bits.  I love the concept of a Rogue, always have.  The implementation in WoW isn’t fun to me anymore.  Paladins feel like holy crusaders.  Hunters have the whole pet collection bit that is borderline obsessive (pet battles scratch that itch too).  The Druid utility kit is admirable, but the bear/cat rotation is just boredom.  Monks have a great toolkit and have that old martial arts movie feel to them (as long as you play a Panda).  I can’t seem to find fun in Warriors, Mages, or Priests.  Mechanically they are sound, but they feel like the archetype.  I mean, imagine if Mages had an avatar form, where they because the focus of their given element!  Or Warriors had a bladespin move that sucked opponents towards them.  Or if Priests called down a Valkyr (I know) for a major group heal.

Looking back, this is one of the best parts of Legion.  There are classes I played solely for the class halls (Shaman) and their story.  As much as it was largely about following Illidan about, I still felt like my character mattered and the smaller story did too.  Aside from hunting Sylvanas and then Azshara/N’Zoth, can someone tell, me what the character did in BfA?  If you didn’t raid, then there’s no actual character beats.

I’m picking on WoW here because it’s low hanging fruit.  What I find fun, others don’t, and vice versa.  WoW is a buffet of choice.  Buffets aren’t known for amazing cuisine, but they are known for pleasing a very large crowd.  If I look to something like Monster Hunter, the weapon choice is the most important factor.  I love Charge Blade.  Love it to death.  The bow guns are amazing for their utility, but nothing beats a SAED to the head of a massive dragon.  That the game tries to make all weapon choices viable – without forcing you to master everything, is a great achievement (and my largest gripe with Dauntless).

Now, I may optimize my character to be best at what they do, but my choice of that particular class is still based entirely on if it’s fun. And we can all use some fun in our lives.  Now if there was ever a fishing class… oh man.

Strategic Planning

There are parallels, sure, but this post isn’t directly related to current world state.

My strengths focus on strategic planning.  Which is a fancy buzz word to say “I am good at pointing to things, explaining why those things are good, building a road to those things, and convincing people to come with me.”  A lot of people think they are good at the first 2 parts.  There are people who are great at the last 2 parts.  There aren’t a whole lot who can do all 4.

A job change in the fall was meant to have me focus on this particular skill set, and I was really stoked to get going.  The original goal was to look at the service offerings to clients and then help refocus them.  What ended up happening for the first 6 months was putting out internal fires and (re)building a new work culture.  The reasoning is simple, you can’t run shop if your house is on fire.  And whooboy, was the house on fire.

There were 3 main streams of effort – human resources (people), finances (money), and leadership (people).  I won’t bore on the details, but the general steps include:

  • identify the problem
  • consult internally and externally to get perspective on the problem and potential solutions
  • determine a realistic goal, but it has to be a goal that’s worth celebrating, not one that no one knows you’ve reached
  • break it down into chunks that can be measured with SMART metrics (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-based)
  • find the culture enablers (the heart of a team) and the workhorses (the blood) and break it down into smaller pieces that can be communicated
  • plow the road of obstacles, manage the escalations, and provide a stable point of reference
  • publicize everything.  Platitudes are window dressing.  Results are what motivate people, build tr
  • measure progress regularly and modify the plan as needed
  • recognize the achievements for the various chunks

After 6 months, the HR request went from 2 hour meetings and 80% rejections to 20 minute meetings and 90% acceptance.  The finances have automation and logics rules applied, and forecasts are more aligned to actuals.  And the leadership teams have been moved from temporary folks to permanent appointments.

Looking back, I have some pride in the progress.  Some big foundational items have been set up to make life easier for everyone.  We’re saving a ton of time not arguing, just working together.

I’d like to say that the next step is the service offering change – and that is certainly one of the items I’m working on.  COVID has pushed a massive change on my services and my clients.  We already had plans to do some transformation, but this event has put that into overdrive.  What would have been done in 2 years now needs to be done in 6 months.  People are freaking out – rightfully so.   Same process as above, each of my direct reports has to articulate their personal vision and achievable plans, then we work together to mesh it all up, and publicize it.  In this paragraph, I have grossly understated the effort and impact – it’s a year’s worth of work, impacting nearly 800 people.

The other change going on at the same time is an internal restructuring to manage the load.  While I fixed part of the house on fire, I’ve been unable to replace the front door.  People keep walking in and asking for work to anyone they see, and people stop work to help them out.  The intake process is non-existent, and the people delivering the work are currently managing client expectations.  You ever tried doing something important, yet kept getting interrupted?  Takes you 10x as long to do the work if they left you alone.  That’s what I’m trying to fix.

‘Course, people have built up their own domains and claimed kingship over them.  There are verticals everywhere, with people who don’t want to talk to others.  My job now is to break all of that down, rebuild it functionally, and establish a sense of trust between the leaders of those teams that working together is going to be more effective.  Convincing someone that they need to let something go and trust that someone else will keep their interests at heart…that is a really tough ask.  It takes years to build trust and minutes to lose it all.

It’s a much easier conversation handing someone a $5m invoice for peaks in consumption or scope creep than it is to change a broken culture.  There are a few key aspects that I’ve found very useful.

  • Find the enablers.  These are the positive social glue.  The ones that instigate a watercooler conversation.  Get them into the plan early.  They are the health and pulse of the work.
  • Find the disablers.  These look near identical to enablers, but they actively work against change.  It’s possible (and ideal) to covert them to enablers if they help build the plan.  If you don’t, then these people will derail you.
  • Find the workhorses.  In most organizations, 10% of the workforce does 80% of the work.  I don’t mean the day to day stuff, I mean the above and beyond stuff.
  • Take every punch thrown and don’t retaliate.  Have those conversations in private.  Change is tough in the best of times.
  • Focus almost entirely on the goals and let the experts manage the details.  They are experts for a reason and you need to trust them.

Seeing as how I’m repeating the same process again and again, I figure it would be best to “package” that plan as a teaching tool.  And that’s my personal career goal for the next year.  I’m still working out the broad strokes, but I figure if I’m able to do it well, then I should be able to teach it to others in some fashion.  And I should at least try.

 

Cynicism in Trying Times

(More of a diary than a dialogue.)

I am (mostly) conscious of my inherent privilege.  There are doors that open for me that will barely budge for others.  I am allowed to make a serious amount of mistakes before paying a price, while others are not provided that same leniency.  It’s systematic, it’s cultural, it’s tightly woven into some fabrics.  At the global scale, there are places where people will outright kill each other in a lost war of hundreds of years.  No reason other than “it’s always been this way”.

I make no excuses for this.  I have no ability to be articulate on the specific issues at hand as I’m barely impacted.  I won’t even bother to do so.  I’ll take a larger societal lens instead and let the experts dig into this complex issue.

This post is not a global post, it’s focused specifically on my southern relatives.  What’s going on now is the build up of years of events.  It’s built on the foundation that one life is worth more than another’s.  That there are “others” in our midst.  That isolation and division is a better way forward that working together.

There’s no one root cause just like there’s no one solution.  America’s version of capitalism is a warped affair that only benefits the already-rich.  It’s not possible to become “wealthy” in that sense without being an athlete, artists, or getting an insane amount of seed funding / gift (which has it’s own gates).  The simple matter is that you become richer by getting the money from people who have less than you.  The lack of tools for the social masses effectively makes the US remain a state of servitude to survive.  How the “best country on the planet” doesn’t think affordable health care for all is a good thing is amazing to me.  Even more folly when you consider that the US is beaten by Cuba in health scores.

It’s a social dissonance to claim to have ethics and morals, only to not hold your elected officials to the same standards.  The concept of trusting the person representing a group of people is just plain lost.  That gerrymandering is not only allowed, but encouraged is disgusting.  2 party systems don’t work, there are enough historical examples of it.  Pendulum swings cause larger and larger after effects, and there is only 1 outcome – social upheaval.  Sure, you may have a dictator (self-appointed leader) installed in the interim (like say China or Russia) but the end result always ends in the same place.  As long as you think of people as “them”, then there’s no real progress to be had.

Being a first responder is a calling, it is not a job.  They are meant to represent the best of us, a position of trust at our weakest points.  In Canada, all first responders go through a psych assessment prior to deployment.  I won’t say it catches everything, but I do know that it filters out a lot.  When something does happen (it will eventually), there’s an inquiry and they are treated with the same laws as everyone else.  It is not perfect, but it says something that in 2019 7 people have died in Canada to law enforcement, compared to 132 in the US (403! in 2018).  There are deep seated cultures in law enforcement, and it only takes a tiny percentage to exemplify the worst of those qualities to bring out the marches.

Now we get to the cynicism part.  Peaceful protests are ok, but kneeling is not.  Respecting all values and lives is ok, but supporting Hong Kong is not.  Taking no responsibility but claiming all credit.  Abortion is wrong but letting seniors die is ok.  Supporting businesses in need is ok, but first you need to pay your friends.  It’s ok to have white folks with guns charge a government building, but people walking in the streets deserve attack dogs and to be shot.  You can have one or the other, but not both.  Speaking from both sides of the mouth means you can’t actually do anything.

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There’s a limit to society’s patience.  It’s like a wave of change, and the dam that people in power put in to try and change the flow, or reduce the impacts.  That dam works for a while, but eventually the flow becomes too much and destroys that dam. Now the cynic in me says that this is a phase, and that a new dam is being built because of a lack of leadership & power in that wave.  The people that could implement meaningful change simply don’t want to because it means less power for them. (I am bitter about electoral reform up here).

The video of the Canadian PM reflects my own ability to digest and respond to these events.  That 20 second pause says more than everything else that follows.

Sometimes, the house just can’t be renovated anymore, and you need to build a new one.  The US hasn’t seen that for 200+ years.  Dozens of countries have undergone it in the last 100 years.  All of them, without exception, were triggered by social unrest.  I would be surprised if that was the case today, but it’s not far off.