Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

The Road to Perfection

Joe Perez (Lodur) over at WoW Insider wrote an interesting article about using the new scenario dungeons to create a way for healers to learn/practice on their own, the same way that fancy new DPS dummies in Shattrath simulate a raiding environment by granting raid buffs etc. I’ve also heard that these new dummies are only for beta use and won’t make it to live, but that’s beside the point (and I’m not sure either way).

I used to spend more time with target dummies than I do now. It’s a certain mark of pride for a DPS player – make a new spec, test it out on the dummies. Want to try different gear configurations? Test them on the dummies. Playing a character you aren’t that familiar with? Get a “feel” for the rotation by paying a visit to the target dummies. I remember when I was still pretty new to the game and a player I admired used to say, “Time to go visit the target dummies.” It cemented itself in my mind as something that “serious” players do. They serve a useful purpose; sometimes you want something to attack that won’t just keel over like a regular world mob. When I wanted to figure out what I was doing with tanking, I went out and found some of the big elites in Icecrown and that was somewhat useful but not exactly the same. The premise of giving healers a place to practice healing (especially if they are new) seems to follow along with this notion. DPS players have target dummies, tanks and healers have a harder time “practicing” what they do.

I think that’s a good thing, though. I don’t think target dummies are all that useful, either, as any DPS will tell you. They can give you an approximation of how you might perform in a raiding or boss environment, but we know not to expect those numbers to be accurate. Firstly because the “live” dummies don’t give raid buffs – I hear the ones in Shattrath do, so that’s a step closer to “reality.” But dummies can’t simulate things like movement, or adds, or phases, or distractions from Mumble or otherwise. I know that if I stand there until my evocate and mana gem are on CD I may have done x amount of DPS over the course of three minutes, but during a raid fight it’s going to be a different story altogether. The same is true for healers. When it comes to being a healer, my “testing” usually consisted of asking someone to group with me so I could make sure my UI was correct. There’s always the tried and true method of casting spells on yourself. And Joe is right; in no way does that prepare you for an actual healing situation. You don’t see those bars dropping. You don’t have someone ignoring an important mechanic almost getting one-shot – someone who might be your tank!

At the same time, though, while I can see the value of such a tool I am almost leery of introducing any more of these types of practice activities or zones. Why? Well, because at some point I just want to play the game that I am here to play. I don’t know if this is a reflection of my newer, more casual mindset, but pretend DPS or pretend healing strikes me as the height of boredom. If I want to practice DPSing I don’t go to a target dummy, I’ll queue for a five man or LFR (with or without friends). I’m not ashamed to admit that after I got my Dragonwrath I queued for LFR repeatedly just so I could pit myself against other casters with DW in a raid-like environment. (And no, I never post a meter or boast about my DPS and if you do that there is a special place in hell reserved for you where a voice echoes endlessly, “Is anyone running Recount? Is anyone running Recount?”) When I was learning to heal, I mostly did it with friends in five-mans. Actually, the first dungeon I healed was as a former shadowpriest at level 40 something in Zul’Farak. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’d never healed an entire group. Someone in my guild needed a healer for ZF and this was before the days of LFD so I was roped into it.

I was practically hyperventilating the whole time. Did someone die? I’m pretty sure they did. Was I perfect? Not even remotely, but that’s how you learn. To me, that’s what playing a game is about. The comments on that article are interesting because some of them say, “We tell our new healers to go practice in pugs.” Other people reply, “How can you DO THAT to your friends? I would hate to be in your guild,” etc. I’m actually 100% behind the first guy. You all know I’m not a stranger to pugging. Pugging is one of the best environments to learn to heal. You have an element of chaos and unpredictability that you’ll seldom find in a “safe” guild or friend run. Yes, it can be taxing and frustrating. Yes, you may leave some groups. But you will leave those groups a better healer than you went in. I like to play a little game with myself. Instead of practicing retribution healing, I make it my goal to keep the worst player in a group alive. Does the group have a melee DPS who’s never heard of fire on the ground, pulls aggro on every pull and then tries to run from the tank? That guy right there is my prime target. In addition to keeping everyone else alive, I will keep that guy’s bar above zero, against all odds. It’s like a mini-game.

That’s why I could go from healing five-mans to healing Naxx to later healing heroic Firelands coolly. Not because I am this awesome super healer, but because I practiced and I wasn’t afraid to put myself in situations where I was at a disadvantage. I’ve been the healer barely able to drink, slamming mana recovery abilities on CD, desperately chasing after my tank and hoping he doesn’t pull an extra group because I’m still clad all in greens. I understand what the article is saying – the punishment for a tank or a healer who doesn’t perform well is usually much more severe than that of a DPS. Many DPS get by simply coasting, and it’s not fair but they are less likely to get called out. There is great power and responsibility in the healing and tanking role and they are hard to step into. You have to cultivate a thick skin. I ran a Zul’Aman pug with a guy once who made fun of me every time I used Tranquility.

“lol why you Tranquility?” he’d say. I grit my teeth and ignored him; he continued. I finally told him, look, it’s a three minute cooldown, not ten minutes anymore. Using it on trash doesn’t hurt you, it heals the group, and will you just shut up about it? If you want, next time YOU be the druid and ignore your Tranquility button all you want. Until then, this is my show.

There will be guys like that. You may need to leave groups. You may be removed from groups. But the only real penalty there is pride. If you leave an LFD group, you may have to take a deserter debuff – play another character or do something else until you can queue again. It’s not really that big a deal. I’m reminded of this book I read a few years back by Carol Dweck called Mindset. Basically, in a nutshell: everyone is one of two mindsets, either fixed or growth mindset. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book changed my outlook and even my life. I grew up with a completely fixed mindset, no question. I was proud of my accomplishments but I also felt that I had to be perfect…at everything. With this mindset, you might find that you attempt less because if you try and fail, you will be a fraud or a failure. It’s better to “play it safe” and do things you know you can excel at. Everyone thinks you are really smart and awesome, and nothing ever happens to challenge that.

A growth mindset is different. It approaches the world and challenges from a malleable perspective – everything is a learning opportunity. Of course you will fail at things and you won’t be perfect at them right away because you have to practice in order to be perfect. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If there was a place for healers to practice in a basically no-risk environment, sure, it might help them to try healing when they otherwise wouldn’t. But I’d argue that it’s a lot better to just dive in and start healing from the get-go. There will be bumps and scrapes, but who cares? It’s not a reflection on your character, it doesn’t mean you’re bad, it means you’re learning. And anyone who has a problem with that can take a hike (or you can leave them in your dust). I was thinking just last night about how Voss and I joined Business Time. Without any hard mode experience and with gear that was only as good as we could get outside of raids at that point, we were more of a liability than an asset. But we promised we’d be able to learn quickly. I studied the Mimiron hardmode video for hours. I took notes. I knew I could apply my skills to that environment. Over the years since then, I’ve taken on tasks I’m not always comfortable doing. I hate messing up and feeling like I’m wiping the raid – and obviously, it’s a continuum. You start out learning in places like five-mans, then maybe LFR, then a raid. You can start PvP healing in a battleground and then move to arenas if that’s your goal. All experience in the game will serve you elsewhere, whether it’s just to sharpen your reflexes or help you fine-tune your UI or whatever.

When 5.0 drops next week, I’ll respec and set up my UI and probably visit the target dummies to make sure all the buttons are in their proper places and get a feel for them. After that, I will want to hit some fives or an LFR or whatever else is going on, because I’ll want to really learn what’s new and the only way to do that is with practice, practice, and more practice. Remember that there’s no shame in being new, or needing to improve, no matter what anybody tells you. Whether you’re playing an unfamiliar alt or a completely new spec or role, you can do a certain amount of preparation on your own but at some point you’ll need to play with other people to really learn and get truly great.

As most people have probably heard, the Mists trailer is out this morning! I watched it eagerly and I really enjoyed it. I saw some comments going around where people were comparing their “favourite” trailers or rating and numbering them. It seemed like a good opportunity to go back in time a little bit and reflect on the trailers for the previous expansions. It’s interesting to see the evolution in both aim and tone.

Vanilla

For me what really stands out about the classic “World of Warcraft” trailer is that it’s quite ambitious for the time. Keep in mind, I didn’t play the original Warcraft RTS games nor did I watch this trailer when it was current. Based on the way it’s put together, it feels to me as if they really wanted to highlight and showcase the various races that would feature in the game that people knew and loved from the originals. So it’s very, “Look, it’s a dwarf! Look, it’s a night elf! Look now she’s a panther OMG you guys!” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either!

Something interesting to note for later (if you’re watching the cinematics along with me) is the characterization of the orc versus later orcs. The orc in this cinematic is very much “ROAR” and look there is fire and I am big and scary. To my ears he even sounds more bestial/brutish; if watching this trailer were my only experience with any Warcraft stuff I might think he was a monster rather than a playable, sentient race. This cinematic sets out to get people excited about what they will see in the online version of Warcraft, and is obviously aimed mostly at fans of the Warcraft universe.

The Burning Crusade

This is a trailer I watched closer to when it was actually released. I didn’t have any idea of the backstory of Illidan (Tyrande, Malfurion etc) at the time so I had no idea who the scary guy with the voice was. Watching it now with different eyes, I can appreciate the impact of the Illidan voiceover. You know it had a lasting effect, because how many times did you hear someone make a joke or quote, “I/You/Your Dog was not prepared”?

The blood elves and the draenei are characterized; they did a particularly good job with the female blood elf, in my opinion. Especially the first time you watch this trailer, you’re surprised by her sudden shift in attitude from seemingly innocent to sinister. There is a need in her that’s frightening, which is exactly the story of the Sin’dorei in the Burning Crusade.

Up until this point with the cinematics, Blizzard has been outdoing themselves each time. I’m not talking about the actual graphics of the cinematics (although they have obviously improved, along with technology) but also the scope and ambition. This one shows the Dark Portal with its swirling door – challenging players, even mocking them. “You are not prepared” became a catchphrase because it was so memorable and it hits right at the heart of gamers. You think I’m not prepared? I’m going to show you how prepared I am!

Wrath of the Lich King

This trailer. (Did you watch it again? You really should.) This trailer gave me chills. It’s so cleverly done. The juxtaposition of Terenas Menethil instructing his son on the responsibility of royalty paired with the dark visuals and the true horror and irony of what his son went on to become are nothing less than masterful. I don’t know if it’s because Blizzard had such a legendary figure from the previous games to build upon, but in terms of cohesiveness and impact this trailer blows all of the others out of the water. I can’t even find something to nitpick about with it. It has awe-inspiring visuals, emotional heft, and it also tells a story. Even the music used for it is phenomenal and it lends much to the story itself as the trailer unfolds. It is a tragic lament, an incredibly sad song – in keeping with what is also a tragic story.

The cinematic leaves you wanting to defeat the horrors that are hinted at here. I look at the legions of undead and I still get twitchy even to this day. I really want to kill the Lich King and everything he stands for. And this is knowing that I’ve already done so! This trailer is successful even when it’s an anachronism. Basically, I love it, and I loved Wrath, so I am clearly biased.

Cataclysm

The trailer for Cataclysm is an interesting case. I would argue (and you’re welcome to disagree) that it is much less successful than any previous trailer, even the Vanilla trailer. Oh sure, it has impressive visuals. You get the lava and the forge and the big dragon. But for me therein lies the problem that we’ve been talking about for all of Cataclysm: the story told in this trailer really boils down to “I am a big dragon destroying your Azeroth rawr.” It’s sad because the character of Neltharion has a lot of meat to it, none of which featured in Cataclysm at all. I found myself struggling to remember whether I even heard his voice when you’re fighting him, or if I only read what he said on the screen? The fact that I can’t remember seems eloquent enough to me.

That’s where this trailer falls down. It has some emotional impact, yes, but all of the weight of the trailer rests upon the locations Deathwing is destroying. It relies on you caring about seeing them destroyed. In that sense, it works. Seeing Thousand Needles awash in a great tidal wave is definitely upsetting. But other parts of the trailer just expose the suspension of disbelief necessary for Deathwing to work as a villain, and why he simply wasn’t that effective in Cataclysm. He was STANDING on Stormwind and he didn’t just raze it to the ground. Yes, it’s distressing to see a dragon with his claws planted at the front gate of Stormwind. But you know that Stormwind wasn’t actually destroyed, and then you have to wonder, why not? It took us an entire expansion to take him down, but for the majority of that he was just flying around randomly breathing fire on some things. Someone on Twitter pointed out (I’m sorry, I can’t remember who to attribute this to) that Deathing is basically a griefer. He waits until you are AFK and then ganks you by setting a zone on fire. I know some people joked that during Wrath we saw Arthas a little too much, but we saw him just enough as far as I’m concerned. I’ll never forget running into him in the “dream world” near Utgarde and how he squashed me like a bug. He was a villain who made things personal.

Other people have delved into this more deeply than I want to get into here, but essentially: Deathwing is just a big dragon (yawn) and that’s basically this trailer to me.

Mists of Pandaria

Now we get to the exciting new shiny that everyone wants to talk about! First of all, I want to talk about the orc  here. (Remember how I mentioned orcs earlier?) Notice what a huge difference there is with this orc versus the first orc featured in the classic WoW trailer! This orc is canny. He doesn’t just come lumbering up to the human, he’s watching him for a moment, gauging his opponent, thinking. Oh, there’s no doubt they are going to end up fighting (hello, orcs and humans) but he doesn’t just charge in blindly. When he accidentally reveals his position with a sound, then he’s lost the advantage and he seizes what he has left to him to try and catch the human off-guard.

I really like the way they chose to portray both the orc and the human here. The human is also a grizzled veteran and someone used to command. He’s not going to back down from a fight with the orc, and it’s a great fight scene. As the trailer goes on, the appearance of Chen Stormstout just makes it better. Of course it has all the kung fu movie type tropes (effortlessly dodging attacks and putting both opponents down repeatedly, etc. Although the human does take a chunk out of his hat!) This is basically just a good, wholesome fight scene and it’s enjoyable to watch. There are moments of subtle humour, too – Chen replaces the pedestal the orc broke and then straightens it (you can almost hear him thinking “HMPH,”) and when the human hands the orc the spear their open-mouthed gaping is priceless.

But what about the story, since I was so down on the Cataclysm trailer and Deathwing for lacking a story? Well, it’s an interesting trailer because unlike the previous three expansions (and as Blizzard themselves have made this clear) it doesn’t have a “big bad.” You don’t see any villains in this cinematic at all, unless the humans and orcs are the villains, and we just might be in this context. But that doesn’t mean it’s lacking a story. Chen’s voice over speaks volumes about that with the more philosophical questions. “Why do we fight?” etc. The moment when the mists dissipate to reveal the rest of Pandaria gave me chills just like the Wrath trailer. Again, it’s a completely different approach and that’s what I like about it. It takes several themes – the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance, the nature of the new race we are meeting – and interweaves them.

We know that Mists doesn’t have one overarching villain the way previous expansions did. That doesn’t mean it lacks conflict. The trailer left me with a strong wish to explore this land and get to know its mysterious inhabitants. That is the best place you could hope for a trailer to leave you – excited, anticipatory, and impressed. If this world is even half as beautiful as the trailer would suggest, I am going to be ridiculously happy wandering around it at the end of September.

This is a pair of avatars I did for the inestimable Ratters of Needs More Rage fame. It is Ratters’ character Kinnavieve (who I’m sure you all know) and his wife Julie’s character, Shianti. He asked me to make them so that they could go together and would be looking at each other, like so. Accordingly I did the background in one long piece and then pasted it behind them. They do also exist as separate avatars, though.

I was happy with them! More importantly, I think that Ratters and his wife were happy with them as well. Ratters just recently hung up his (Warcraft) blogging hat, you should go and read his last few posts. Bring tissues though.

Meanwhile, Outside Azeroth

I know it’s always frustrating to see a blog slowly begin to flounder as its owner posts reassuring messages, “I promise I will be posting again soon!” And either they just never post again, or they eventually have to post to admit that they are closing or stopping or taking a break.

I’m not necessarily at that point, I’m more dancing along the shore of something and knowing that it is struggling to stay afloat but not knowing how to stop it. I would like to post more often and yet I seem to become paralyzed every time I see this white space for typing (or else I start writing an entry, get frustrated with how its going and leave it saved, never to see the light of day).

The thing is, this isn’t a personal blog. It’s a Warcraft/Gaming/Mage blog, and so I’m not comfortable going on and on about personal life things, but for the sake of this post I’ll give a snippet. I have a chronic illness that I don’t usually talk about (that I in fact, for years, told no one about) because I don’t want to be seen as a “sick person.” I don’t even want to see myself that way. I don’t think my biological father even knows. Anyway, I may have even been pretending for a long time that I don’t have a chronic illness. I’m not writing this now to say “oh poor me,” either. Many friends of mine struggle with worse things and they don’t talk about it much, either. For me, this is coming to the forefront now and it makes it tougher to deal with. I’ve been at the doctor, or the lab, or both, pretty much weekly (or more often) since June. I’ve got lab requisitions galore so it’s not letting up any time soon. I’m tired. I started some new medication that makes me feel nauseous/ill – but I’m confident it will ultimately feel better, just that right now it doesn’t. We’re trying to have a kid and it’s not working (related to illness) so there are more tests/doctors/medications/worry in our future.

Voss and I have both been coping with the grief of losing his father. At the same time, he started a new job which was good and exciting but it meant that we lost his group health insurance and had to acquire private insurance and no preexisting conditions (read: anything I’d ever need covered) are paid for with the new insurance. We can afford it, it’s just one of those worrisome things on top of other things. Also, this morning I found out my credit card had been compromised and a bunch of charges put on it before my bank locked it down. This happened right at the time that Blizzard announced they’d been hacked. Now I’m not saying that for sure this was how my information was obtained, but you might want to keep an eye on your credit cards just the same. The timing was awfully close, and I’ve used a credit card online for a decade without incident – but perhaps it was just a coincidence. Perhaps not. Anyway, better safe than sorry, right?

I’ve been trying not to let any of this stuff affect my professional life or my other endeavors like the blog and From Draenor but they do affect it because my state of mind hasn’t been good. I can’t seem to concentrate on things for very long. Every small thing feels like a struggle. I haven’t missed a From Draenor, but unfortunately the blog was one of the first things to suffer. I’m also working very slowly on my list of commissions. Unfortunately I swamped myself with (much appreciated) new business right after losing my wedding ring, not knowing that we’d be making an emergency trip for a funeral, or that medical stuff would leave me so tired. If you’re on the list or in any other stage of waiting, I appreciate your patience so much. I’m going to try to knock out some of the avatar list, but most of the “new” commissions I got were larger ones and so they aren’t completed as quickly.

Someone on Twitter remarked the other day that they thought I had stopped playing WoW (presumably because I haven’t been blogging, or because before a drop in blogging I talked about how we were “going casual.”) I am still playing WoW along with my guildies and also picked up a bunch of games on Steam I’ve really been enjoying. Most recently, I spent the weekend playing Civ 5 as the Egyptian empire. I’m also playing through Bastion and I’ve played Borderlands once with a friend. I have Mass Effect I and II ready and waiting for me when I get to them. The summer heat has been fairly prohibitive for much computer time (we don’t have air conditioning, something that we’ll be remedying in time for next summer, I can assure you). I’ve spent some nights curled up on the couch in the basement watching Firefly on Netflix. No, I’d never seen Firefly before! Yes, I like it. I know I’m a bit behind the times.

Anyway, I guess what I’m getting at is that the blog is still here and I still think about blogging. I have a few possible post topics lined up and I’d like to make writing them more of a priority. Blogging is a hobby I really enjoy and I love interacting with people here. I’ve just been a bit distracted, and far from a bid for sympathy, I just thought I had to get a bit more personal for at least one post to explain myself. I expect I’ll have more to say about Warcraft and mages as Mists creeps closer to release – just over two months away, now! I’m excited for it in a way I wasn’t really excited for Cataclysm. I think Mists is going to be just my speed. I am also still staunchly a mage, so no worries there. Voss interjects randomly to quiz me on a regular basis.

“So, I was reading about this thing on the Globe and Mail the other–”

“Who’s your main?!”

“Millya.”

“Okay.”

I didn’t end up playing much beta because I really like to experience things for the first time when they are “live,” and I realize that now. I’m definitely going to make a pandaren character (class to be determined) and a draenei MONK. I just need to think of a name for her. If you’re looking for mage specific stuff, Christian Belt of Arcane Brilliance has been doing a series covering the basics. The inestimable Lhivera has been handling more of the theorycrafting mage stuff over at Lhivera’s Library. If you have any other great mage links, feel free to leave them in the comments. I may or may not do a gear guide similar to what I did at the start of Cataclysm. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also pretty prosaic and straightforward and that might be a good focus for me as we get closer to the new expansion!

Recently, my mouse died. I’d had it since sometime in 2010. I can’t remember precisely, I just remember that when I got it I was a boomkin/resto druid and we were doing ICC. I had a hard time getting it set up and I had a hard time learning to use it. Yet when it died about two years later, I went right out and bought another one just like it.

The mouse is the Razer Naga. No, not that kind of Naga.

Why would I buy the same mouse, you  might ask? (And no, this isn’t exactly a product endorsement, I’m definitely not getting paid by Razer). Well, for a few reasons. The first one is that it fits my hand perfectly, which isn’t easy to come by. I find most gaming mice to be too large or unwieldy or simply the wrong shape for my hand. I would go so far as to say that the Naga might be a bit small for the average male hand, but it is exactly the right size for mine. So ergonomics is one strong reason; when you use a mouse really often it matters whether it’s comfortable or not.

The second reason I went out and bought another Naga after the first lasted for two years is because this mouse changed the way I play games, more than any peripheral or addon. Here is what my new one looks like:

You see those buttons on the side? 12 side-buttons, the main two buttons, a wheel and two extra buttons ensures that there are a ridiculous number of buttons to press at any time. The Naga is specifically designed for MMOs and maximum button access. The way that the Naga is able to achieve so many extra buttons on a mouse is by making them correspond with buttons on a keyboard. There’s a slider on the bottom of the mouse that lets you determine whether you want buttons 1-12 to match the number keys at the top of your keyboard, or the number pad on the side. I choose to use the numpad, because I don’t use it for anything else otherwise, and I still need access to my nuke keys at the top. I’m going to let you have a rare look at my UI so I can explain more readily how that works out in-game. Don’t judge my really messy bars – there are duplicates, there are random things, but all the important things are within reach.

So here are my bars, as a mage. I’ve highlighted a block of buttons on the side; those correspond to the 1-12 keys on the Naga. I laid them out to match the configuration of the physical keys because I find that less confusing, but that isn’t strictly necessary, it just works for me. My most important buttons are 1-5 (in the first row):

1. Mirror Image
2. Fireball
3. Pyroblast
4. Fire Blast/Impact
5. Combustion

And on the Naga’s buttons:

1. Flamestrike
2. Living Bomb
3. Scorch
4. Dragon’s Breath
5. Counterspell
6. Assist
7. Blast Wave
8. Mage Armor
9. Flame Orb
10. Use Extra Action Button (primarily for Dragon Soul; I switch this in and out depending on whether a fight requires it like Ultrax)
11. Iceblock
12. Invisibility

There is a reason for the placement of most of these abilities. All of the abilities I’d want to be spamming are kept on the keyboard. Primarily Fireball in position two and Pyroblast right alongside. What I find the Naga really excels at are abilities that are either instant, or that require placement. So for example using the Naga for Flamestrike or Blast Wave is really fast and intuitive, because I can be hitting the key and already moving my cursor into position to place the reticule. This would also apply for Blizzard, when I happen to be playing Frost. I keep my Counterspell in a really easy to hit position for ease of use. My assist macro doesn’t really NEED to be on the Naga but I find it convenient for it to be. Scorch also occupies a position in the first row of buttons so I can cast all the scorches while moving.

I also use the same set-up for my healing characters. Here’s a glimpse at how that plays out.

As a healer, I tend to favour all of my healing abilities being on my mouse in one way or another. Here you can see I’ve set up mouseover macros for all of my castable abilities: Holy Shock, Flash of Light, Word of Glory. Light of Dawn is over at button three because it’s a moving/situational ability anyway so it’s easier to hit three after I’ve maneuvered to cast it. Next on the Naga comes Rebuke, a few of the Hand spells, bubble, Aura Mastery, healing cooldowns, and a warlock cookie. (I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t remember what paladin cooldown is called, but hey I’m not a paladin blogger! I’m pretty sure it’s something either divine, holy, or Handsy).

The rest of my healing abilities depend on simple key clicks via Vuhdo (e.g. left click is “bread and butter moderate cast/mana heal,” the right one is “longer cast time heavier mana/oomph heal.”) My dispel abilities are likewise “hidden” in this UI because they are variations of CTRL + clicks or SHIFT + clicks. Although my method tends to be a bit haphazard, it works for me!

It’s pretty evident why I’d be reluctant to give up the mouse now that I’ve been accustomed to it for two years. I’ve always struggled to use the far right portion of the keyboard, although I do use some other buttons in other places. (Note that “Blink” is bound to F, so it’s never far from any of my standard WASD keys). I also use Button 4 and Button 5 (on a standard mouse, these are usually the side buttons while Button 3 is the click wheel). B4 is my mount button and B5 is Spellsteal. This has been one major drawback of the new Naga – these buttons have switched positions.

This is really messing with my head at the moment. Although I understand why the buttons were moved – on the first generation mouse they were hard to reach and it took me a long time to get used to them at all – now they are right underneath where I’m used to letting my hand rest and I really have to think about how to reach them. I don’t tend to use the “click” feature on the mouse wheel for the same reason, but currently I have it set up through Vuhdo to cast Slowfall on myself or others.

The newest Naga has another feature that wasn’t present on my old one: adjustable side-plates.

You can see them fairly well here. From what I can tell, a magnet holds the plate onto the mouse itself, so you can just pull one off and pop a new one on. I am using the one that’s most like the old Naga (why fix it if it ain’t broke) but it comes with two other sizes, one of which seems fairly wide and might help to alleviate size issues for folks who find the mouse doesn’t fit their hand properly. I was concerned initially that the side plate might be prone to just pop off, but so far that hasn’t happened. I’m generally happy with the new Naga. Most importantly, after I installed the drivers it worked perfectly with my existing WoW set-up. Here are some Naga pros and cons for you.

Naga Cons

1) Mandatory registration via the Razer website: The idea is that this “Synapse” system of theirs will save your mouse settings and sync them if you’re on a different computer, like at a LAN party or a gaming tournament. That’s not really the kind of thing I do so the registration was a bit annoying. I saw a reviewer comment that it was a deal breaker for him and he wanted to return his mouse, which seems a bit over the top to me. It takes five minutes and is just one in a long list of things I’ve had to sign up for but didn’t really want to.

2) Longevity/Durability: I mentioned that my previous Naga only lasted two years or perhaps a bit less. With this in mind, I bought the in-store warranty for this one and I hope if it is has issues they will happen within that window. I fully believe that Diablo III pushed my aging Naga over the edge; the problem it was having was an issue with double clicking. I’d click just once and it would think I clicked twice (which is more aggravating than it sounds). Youtube had various people offering fixes for this, all of which required opening up and lubricating the mouse – and they also admitted it may only extend its life for an extra few months. This wasn’t worth it for me, and I’d rather go out and get a new one. The moral of the story is: don’t play Diablo III. (clickclickclickclickclick)

3) Adjustment period: For a new person getting the Naga, there IS a period of time during which none of those buttons will mean squat to you. You can’t just take it out of the box and begin to play with it, it has a learning curve, and for some people that may be a major drawback. The mouse does come with tiny little “training” stickers that you can place on the buttons to help your thumb get its bearings. I never used these, and after a certain number of hours of gameplay they weren’t necessary. They are there if you need them, but if the idea of learning HOW to use a peripheral doesn’t appeal to you, you may not like the Naga. I would urge you to persevere with it if you want to try it though! It’s definitely been worth it for me.

4) Cost: At $79.99 (Canadian) it’s not exactly cheap. The fancier version, the Razer Naga Epic carries a whopping $129.99 price tag for its wireless capability and colour changing backlighting. Not worth it for my needs but it’s pretty snazzy.

Naga Pros

1) Ergonomics: I find the shape of the mouse to be exactly ideal for me. The new adjustable sides make it so you can potentially change between three configurations and find one that suits you best. For hours of gaming, you want a mouse that will support your hand and not cause any strain.

2) Buttons: The Naga’s side buttons are fantastic and I love them. I honestly think I would be really frustrated if I had to play with a “normal” mouse that lacked them, now. They are a Must Have, so I guess Razer has snagged me for as long as I require a gaming mouse.

3) Style: The Razer products all look pretty cool, if that matters to you. I am a bit sad because my previous one had blue backlighting (matched my keyboard and tower) and this one is green so it’s odd-man out, but nobody notices that stuff besides me anyway.

There are fewer “pros” written here than cons, but for me the pros are pretty big ones. I hope this Naga will last me more than two years this time, but even if it doesn’t and I am still playing MMOs, I will probably be likely to buy another.

Tuesday Art Day: Matty

These were done for Matty over at Sugar & Blood – she wanted two portraits! Here’s the first one, an avatar.

Matty! If you are a reader of her blog you may spot something I added after we’d discussed the image.

The second one was a watercolour, and I was trying something a little different with it – I tweeted progress pics at fairly regular intervals.

Just getting started! (I’d laid the first wash the night before and then let it dry). You can also see my lightbox, tracing paper, etc.

Starting on the background and the lighter areas. You can be a little bit sloppy with washes if they fall where shadows are going to be, but when it comes to colours like yellow you have to be pretty careful not to muddy them up.

You can see that I realized the handle of the right axe had been wrong – well, technically it’s the pommel that was wrong. I had to try to cover it up, you can still see it a bit here but I think in the final painting it was covered pretty well. I’ve also added a wash to her gloves, most of which will be covered after. With watercolour you really need to think in sequential layers – so I’m always asking myself “What will this need to look like after, and what needs to get done first?”

And that’s it! This was an actual scan of the painting, rather than a photo taken on my phone like the others.

So those are two of the commissions I’ve recently finished! Matty also has them on her blog both here and here. I think she was happy with them, and that’s the most important thing for me! My commission dance card is pretty full at the moment, but please remember if you want to be added to the list, do e-mail me; it’s puggingpally AT gmail DOT com! It’s the easiest way for me to make sure you don’t get lost in the comments.  You can see my commission entry for more info.

This was a quick gift for my good tree friend, Rezznul. I added the eyebrow line at the end and I like how it gives him a look of happy consternation. He’s not quite sure how he feels! I haven’t done much besides art posts here lately, primarily because a family emergency brought us out of town suddenly. Without going into it too much, unfortunately my father-in-law passed away after fighting cancer for some time. I appreciate everyone’s patience as I have settled back into life and work here. If you’ve asked about art, I am trying to get caught up on my e-mails. Also, if you have art questions please do e-mail me rather than commenting on the blog. (I may have said otherwise before, in which case I was just plain wrong-o). It’s much easier for me to keep track of inquiries via e-mail, whereas blog comments have a tendency to get away from me. (Out of sight/out of mind, etc.)

Anyway, I’ve been taking advantage of this quiet period in WoW to straighten out and handle RL things, but I’m still here and we’re doing fine! I’d also recommend you check out From Draenor With Love today (especially if you came to Firelands with me at any point) because I finally finished my special Firelands strip! It’s a doozy, and it took ages, but I’m really happy with the result. It’s my big “thank you” to everyone who helped!

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