Monday, January 23, 2012

"Guide dog" player and guild embrace sightless guildmate, steer team to victory

"Guide dog" player and guild embrace sightless guildmate, steer team to victory

Davidian and Hexu
After seeing this guild's victories through the lens of their mutual friendship, you'll never look at the bonds and teamwork among guildmates within Azeroth the same again. Writes our tipster:
My name is Nico and my character is Ignatious on Chamber of Aspects (EU). I'm co-GM/officer in a guild called Die Safe. We are a small (15 to 20 accounts) casual guild whose members like to raid on a couple of nights a week. I'd like to make clear that as a guild we are not hardcore or elitist, and we try to stay out of the realm spotlight as much as possible, so this isn't exactly familiar territory for me.

In our guild, we have a member that raids with us who is completely blind. His name is Ben Shaw, and he currently plays an enhancement shaman called Hexu. Ben used to be a soldier in the British Army and, whilst serving in Iraq, was involved in an incident with a roadside bomb in Basra. As a result of the explosion, Ben suffered multiple shrapnel wounds and had to have both of his eyes surgically removed.

Ben is a strong-willed individual and was not prepared to accept that he could no longer do all the things he previously enjoyed, even if that meant challenging peoples' preconceptions about blindness. Since the incident, he has embarked on numerous activities considered off limits to the visually impaired, some of which have been reportedin the international press.

Everyone does their fair share of relaying information to Ben, but none more so than Davidian, our resident death knight.
Davidian is played by a young Scotsman called Owen, and without him I don't think it would be possible for us to make it work. Owen literally operates as Ben's in-game guide dog -- he's just as hairy as one, too! Our Mumble chat is always filled with details of upcoming dangers and the constant scream of 'Follow me, Ben!' and 'Bloodlust, Ben, Bloodlust!!!!'

This guy is genuinely a superstar and deserves the same amount of credit and acknowledgement, if not more. Ever since he took on the role of leading Ben around, he has never once moaned or complained and never considered it a burden. He's always coming up with new and innovative ways to execute the fights, and, honestly, I cannot sing his praises enough.

Introducing Owen, aka Davidian, Ben's in-game guide and friend.

DavidianMain character Davidian
Guild Die Safe
Realm Chamber of Aspects

WoW Insider: Reading the links Nico provided in his news tip makes it easy enough to see the fire and determination that's brought Ben back to playing WoW, but what about you, Owen? How did you come to play World of Warcraft in the first place?

Owen/Davidian: I only started playing WoW in February 2010 after being a very committed console gamer looking for a change. I was a FPS player always playing games that took minimal thought and that you could throw down after a few matches, but my girlfriend told me to tryWoW, and I haven't looked back.

And how long have you known Ben?

I was greeted by Ben with a very enthusiastic hello on our guild's Mumble server when I joined in February 2011 and haven't looked back. Unfortunately, I did not know Ben before his deployment and loss of sight, but this did not stop us forming a tight bond in game.

How did that bond evolve?

I came to take on the role of Ben's personal "guide dog" after a few others had tried and failed. Before I joined the guild, Ben was not a consistent raider, as it often relied on ex-members' being in the mood for an extra challenge. Where people were seeing it as a challenge, I see it as a delight to have somebody as committed as Ben to raid beside. Ben and I clicked straight off the bat, and this made it simple to see Ben as a raider not a burden.

Autofollow the leader
So how do you actually guide and facilitate Ben's gameplay?

My role to Ben is that I play as his in-game eyes, using the follow function put into a macro he can tab through the group and target and follow me. ... Every encounter, Ben is using a series of macros (e.g., target of target) to play his way through the game. Everything from boss fights to a simple repair goes through me. An example of this is the drakes in Dragon Soul that take you out to Warlord Zon'ozz and Yor'sahj. I have to first target them for Ben to interact with my target to take the flight out before I can.

Probably one of the most helpful things in the game for me is the addon GTFO, which helps me that little bit extra when there is loads of things going on. That just gives me that clear signal of "OK, I am dying ... That means Ben is as well -- gotta move." Other than that, clear voice communication is probably the best thing to go by. Our Mumble channel is always flying with commands to help Ben, from a simple "Run in, Ben!" from a knockback to a "BLOODLUST, BEN!!!!"

What key changes must the raiding group make to accommodate Ben's gameplay?

The main key changes are the time and preparation that people have to put in to not only learn the fight but learn a completely new way of doing the fight. It's all fair going on YouTube watching a fight, then doing it, but when you have someone who cannot free roam on his own, things have to get mixed up. Our guild needs to be confident with each boss' tactics -- but not only do I also need to be confident with the bosses' tactics, I need to be confident with Ben's positioning too.

A huge thank-you needs to go out to Amy (Kors, GM) and Nico (Ignatious) for their creative tactics and approach to boss encounters, also to everyone else for their input on the encounters.

Hexu DPSWhat was especially tough about getting Ben through Ragnaros, which you've pointed out was a particular struggle for the group?

It wasn't specifically Ben that made the fight difficult. [It] was more my timings and others' were off, but we managed to overcome this when everyone took a step back and just thought about it. Having someone else firing the meteors that were targeted on Ben made it easier than having to get them myself and sending myself into a panic.

Just to add to everything, as of [this week], our guild -- Ben included -- has just downed Deathwing, so on to heroics next week. Can't wait. (Just thought I would send you a picture of the DPS at the end of Deathwing to show that Ben is not carried through and is a solid damage dealer.)

What's been the most difficult aspect of folding Ben into the raiding mix?

I feel the most difficult part of having Ben in the raiding mix was for me having to change the way you play the game. I mean to begin with, guiding Ben through raids was probably one of the hardest things I have had to do in WoW, seeing as I did not have much prior raiding experience anyway. But nowadays, it's second nature to me, and I actually find it harder to raid without Ben now 'cause it's something I am so used to. I remember going into the looking for raid and left-clicking things before right-clicking like I have to with Ben -- it's just an auto-pilot for me.

As a former FPS fan, what is it about WoW that's made an MMO player out of you?

I think it was the fact that you could sit down and learn new things every day. There's only so much you need to learn in an FPS before you can play well. [In] WoW, on the other hand, you have a variety of classes that can be advanced to do different things, and you're always changing to make yourself the best you can be. I don't want to count the gold I have spent on respecs or the amount of time I spend at the training dummies trying new things.

Other than that, the social aspect of WoW is so much more friendlier than what you get on your average FPS, where people are just screaming down the microphone thinking they're better than everyone. That's just annoying.

Davidian and Hexu
Well, your guild sounds like a pretty tight-knit group. Even so, having a raider such as Ben on the team is bound to be a challenge at best and a real roadblock at worst. What's been the overall reaction to including him in raids?

I have to say from my point of view that without Ben hot on my tail, I would just be lost in a raid. Everything I have accomplished and us as a guild, Ben has been there for it. Yes, we all have our off days and things seem to be impossible (e.g. Ragnaros), but it's never held against anyone. There is never a reaction to Ben alone; we don't see that having Ben there makes us more special than other guilds. He's just another one of the guys (and girls).

A huge praise needs to go out to all of the raiders in Die Safe. Without everyone's dedication, this would not be possible.

It sounds like the guild went through a period of struggling to learn how to work around Ben.

Yes, I would say it took some time to get the right group of people together -- but now that we have this committed group, I wouldn't change it for the world.

Davidian and Hexu in action
From Nico's initial letter, it sounds like many of your guildmates may have met on video or face to face.

Some of us have met personally, but I haven't met Ben, although we have spoken about everyone getting together and meeting at some point this year, which would be an awesome adventure.

What's ahead? Do you see you and Ben and the rest of the guild sticking together in WoW and other games in the future?

Hopefully, start progressing through heroics in Dragon Soul and on to bigger things, but nothing will ever take me away from WoW, so you can expect to see me kicking around for a good few years still.

But other than WoW, our guild play loads of games together through Steam and are maybe looking to try out Star Wars. Not looking forward to this. ... I do think Ben and myself will be a solid unit that will continue into the future -- and who knows, maybe try conquer the guide-dog, ranged DPS side of things? But who knows what the future holds?

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from a player battling Alzheimer's disease to Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn)gaming industry insider Liz Danforth and El of El's Extreme Anglin'. Know someone else we should feature?

The art of sleeping in a box

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The art of sleeping in a box

This is a How-to with lots of pictures to make it easy. Start with simply sleeping on your back. 

or on your side.

Consider using the top flap of the box as a pillow.

If you are longhaired, use the benefit of your coat and tail.

Remember that you and your box must nearly become one.

Use your imagination: try an S-like position.

or an inverted C-like position...

or even an L-like one.

If you totally trust your humans, relax your back legs to the maximum.

Sometimes O-like positions do not fit the box well, but you can always experiment.

If the box is rather small, try sticking your paws & tail out of it...

or stretch just one paw out, like this (back paw).

or like this (front paw).

Invite your friend to join you.

and enjoy it.

Your humans may wonder how you can sleep like that.

ignore them and enjoy..

Perhaps they will not even notice you.

To avoid unwanted attention, choose a box that matches your fur color. or you can trying hide in an absolutely unexpected box.

This position is for experienced yoga cats.

as well as this one.

Even small boxes will do in a pinch.

You can use any box-like structure you can find to get some practice.

Just remember to be creative!

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life
Music and cats - Albert Schweitzer

Read more:

70-year-old raiding grandma wields legendary and leads her guild

70-year-old raiding grandma wields legendary and leads her guild

Fighting Warlord Zon'ozz
You don't get much more charming than the Knitting Grandma, the surprise hit guest at last fall's BlizzCon 2011 WoW Insider Reader Meetup. Remember her? She charmed our staff and meetup guests alike with her dry wit and talk of Thunder Bluff-themed socks.

Today, we press forward from the warm, fuzzy territory covered by the Knitting Grandma with two window-rattling volleys in the battle against gamer stereotypes:

  1. You don't have to be a granny to knit and play World of Warcraft. Even the author ofClique, the preeminent click-casting addon, gets his knit on.
  2. Whether they knit or not, even grannies can be GMs. Of raiding guilds. Who've raided since original Molten Core. And top the DPS meters. Wielding Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest. (So yes, that does indeed qualify her to tell you kids to "GET OFF MY LAWN!")

Meet Marthazon, the 70-year-old GM of Spartans on Dalaran (US-A).

MarthazonMain character Marthazon
Guild Spartans
Realm Dalaran (US)

WoW Insider: Level 70 in real life -- and of course, GM of a raiding guild in game ... That's not a usual mix! Take us back to how you got started in this crazy WoW endeavor we all love.

Marthazon: I started playing the game on the Alliance side as Marthazon in January of 2005. I had played for about a month earlier as Horde in order to play with my daughter. She had an undead warlock. My daughter, who is 33, knew that I enjoyed the genre of swords and sorcery in literature and movies. I had readLord of the Rings to my three children as a nightly ritual when they were young. She had bought World of Warcraft when it came out and kept nudging me to give the game a try because she "knew" I'd love it.

And obviously, you did! Coming into the game via grown children who play is a pretty common method of entry for older players, although most folks your age seem to stay on the casual side of things. How did you make the jump into raiding?

I joined Spartans at level 15, and I think that our GM at the time was at level 40 and the highest level in the guild at the time. We did every dungeon in the game as a guild, but our first venture in Molten Core hooked me on raiding. I really loved learning the fights, learning to figure out the most efficient and safest way to down each boss. At the time, the guild was using signups to fill the 40-man raids, and many raid nights we struggled and watched the time tick away before either filling our raid or cancelling the raid.

I turned to PvP when raiding slowed down or stopped. The fact that I managed to reach the PvP rank of Marshal prior to the first expansion says a great deal about the difficulties of filling a 40-man raid.

Marthazon in action
Old school! And now you're the GM ...

During The Burning Crusade, our GM found that he had too much going on in his real life to continue playing, and he passed GM to me in December of 2007. Suddenly I was responsible for enabling every player in the guild to meet their own raiding goals. An in-depth discussion between all officers led to the same conclusion: Move the guild to a set team format and maintain a roster of raiders able to commit to three nights a week. Acknowledge that real life is the more important factor for all players, and do not penalize players when real life prevents participation in the game.

Topping the metersThat sounds like a pretty typical raiding guild, then -- nothing granny-style about that!

We raid three times a week: Tuesday, Thursday, and we end the raid week with the Monday raid. As I said, we raid with a set team – slightly more than 25 players to hopefully cover players that need to post out. We try to hold to a 25-man raiding format but when we can't field 25 players, we are able to quickly form 10-man raids -- two 10-man raids, usually. We are recruiting and hope our future holds a third 10-man -- and give the 25-man raid a better chance at filling spots.

Our members all have my phone and text number, and they are good about keeping me informed about being able to play as I've scheduled them. I set the entire schedule up every month and adjust it as players call when they can't play. Working the schedule every day is the first thing I do in the morning. In addition to the Dragon Soul raids, we also play two ad hoc Fireland raids on the weekends, helping several other guild casters get their own Dragonwrath staffs.

What is the guild currently working on? 

25-man Ultraxion; Spine of Deathwing and The Maelstrom in 10-man. The holidays cut into our raiding quite a bit, along with demands for overtime at many workplaces. With the economy so slow, many players relish the extra pay.

And on top of all that, we spy a Dragonwrath in your inventory -- congratulations! Tell us a little bit about the long road to achieving your legendary. 

Dragonwrath was quite simply a gift from my guild. I only had to run around a pick up the various items while they killed or after they killed the bosses. The process of collecting the various items takes so long that it requires dedicated raiders willing to show up week after week to make those collections possible. The one solo part of the quest line -- the Nexus dungeon -- was amazingly fun to do, but nothing compared to the work the guild put in.

Now, your husband doesn't raid, so when do you get to play with him -- or do you?

We do dailies together, and we farm for those ever-needed mats that raids require. It is very rare that we miss a day of playing together. We play together mostly in the morning, logging off around noon. I might return in the afternoon for some randoms and those ever-needed valor points, but I also work at our family genealogy. Afternoons often have me playing, as their ads say, family detective at

When it comes to raiding, I like fielding dedicated, knowledgeable people that have that singular desire to figure out what the developers are throwing against us and how to most efficiently down the fight. My husband enjoys the storylines and leveling, but says he has no patience for raiding and the seemingly endless wipes.

Getting ready to raid
Sounds like a perfect blend. So has Marthazon always been your main? Do you play any significant alts?

Marthazon has always been my main. I do have alts -- I leveled most races and classes to enjoy their storylines and zones. I have a priest that I can raid at need for the guild when we are short healers. She's fun ... but she's not my mage. The others are only farming alts and taken down for a spin when I need some mats for something.

What's the average age of your guildmates, without considering you and your husband? 

Average age is around 28 to 33. We have a number of husband/wife players and many with young children and several with children almost ready for college.

Do you find much of a generation gap in social interactions with your guildmates? 

Not really. Now and then, someone will say something (especially in trade channel) that I don't quite understand ... I just ask in guild and someone will (usually with much laughter) tell me.

Probably the biggest generation gap I experienced was back when I was around level 40. I should paint in a bit of background first. When I first joined this guild, I was thrilled that so many of the other guildies -- the toons -- were women. I remember thinking that that held great promise for women being involved in technology. The day came when the guild was running Zul Farrak and one of the players, a female night elf, typed something out in chat that made me say in chat, "That sounds like something a man would say." The run came to a standstill as the other players took great pains to explain to me (with much leet laughter) that I was the only woman in the guild at that time and why they played female avatars.

Daily quests
Were you comfortable with computers before you started playing World of Warcraft, or has playing been an introduction to that world as well? 

Computers have long been a part of my life. My father worked with early computers for the GSA as a data programmer after he retired from the Army in the '50s, and I've always been fascinated by the technology. My last job before retiring was computer tracking a large fleet of commercial trucks and their deliveries. I helped design the in-house program to track the data we needed to maintain, and I acted as the office IT.

When my children were toddlers, we bought a VIC-20 and a handful of text games -- you know, the kind where you get a clue like "The bear is sleeping in the clearing. What do you do?" The kids would offer suggestions, and I'd type each suggestion in until we got the right one and the game responded. Two of my children went into computer technology fields.

So you've been at this a good, long while! Is there anything in World of Warcraftyou feel you're slowing down at or getting less efficient or effective at as you get older? Would you say that your age is affecting your game?

World of Warcraft is sort of like the French Foreign Legion of games when it comes to age. As long as you can do your part, it's rare for someone to ask "How old are you?" As long as I can maintain the same focus and the awareness that I want from other players, I feel that I can hold my own.

I'm not the oldest, by the way, in my guild. That honor goes to my husband, who is 72. He doesn't like to raid, however. He is our AH king, keeping our raiders in repair gold. WoW is an excellent and inexpensive recreational outlet for us old codgers. A lot less expensive than golf.

Marthazon at work
Fair enough! That said, what's the continued draw of World of Warcraft for you? What keeps you playing? 

Living on a fixed income, World of Warcraft provides a lot of entertainment that is fun and affordable. At the same time the game doesn't require using the car, fighting traffic, crowds, or weather, buying tickets or paying fees. I have to think about what I am doing in game. I'm not a couch potato just watching a cartoon on the TV. Blizzard's work at keeping the game open-ended and providing new content keeps me coming back.