Monthly Archives: February 2012

On Never Saying Never Again

Well, I don’t think I expected Cataclysm to turn out this way.

It’s not really a secret that I have a Forsaken Warlock. I wrote about her in my CFN essay, On The Forsaken, and it was pretty clear that while I didn’t dislike playing a warlock per se, I wasn’t really very enthusiastic about the alt. I didn’t sit there and go, I’m so enraptured by the gameplay that I am not paying attention to the story. In another post, On Revelations, I had talked about how I hadn’t leveled a Warlock past level 10, and how I hadn’t picked up my main since the end of Season 9.

So here I am, questing through Silverpine on a Forsaken Warlock when it hit me.

this is actually a lot of fun.

I don’t know if it’s the zone (it might be), or if I’m doing everything deliberately as wrong as possible on my little baby warlock, experimenting to find out what really works while leveling, or if it’s just because I’ve let go of big Cynwise, I’ve grieved for her and gone through my dark night of the soul. I hoped I would come back to Silverpine and see it someday; I just didn’t know when.

But I honestly didn’t expect to have fun again on a warlock until Mists. I thought I would do the Silverpine/Hillsbarad quests and then delete this toon.

Nope. She’s not my primary character right now, but she’s in my top 3.

It’s hard to reinvent ourselves.

It’s hard to look at ourselves and say, this isn’t working, this isn’t the way I want things to be going, and then to do something about it. It’s hard to selectively let go of the past, to say, I know I said I would only do these things and never do these other things, but … maybe I was wrong.

Or, more likely, maybe I became wrong, over time. It might have been the right thing then, but now it’s time to change, and to let go of the past and embrace new things.

Never say never again, and all that.

You may have noticed that this website looks a little different today. It has a different title. It has a different look. If you’ve been following me on Posterous, you know that I’ve not been writing as much about warlocks and PvP, but I have been writing a lot about Warcraft. And I haven’t been entirely happy with the platform, but I’m happy with the writing, and the rules around the writing.

I think it’s safe to say, actually, that my best writing in the past 6 months has been over on my Field Notes blog – an experiment I started on a lark – than over here. And that that has led to a bit of fracturing, a feeling like I’m picking up blogs like detritus and that I’m losing my focus. That I can’t keep this one going and this one and this one and oh god Go Mog Yourself is picking up massive steam.

So I’m going to change things a bit. Jettison the old, consolidate, focus. Digital stuff is still stuff, and it still weighs on one’s mind.

  • Cynwise’s Field Manual Notes will be moving over here and merging with Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual to form Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual. I’m not stopping writing about PvP, or Warlocks. Those topics will still be here, but will be mixed in with other topics again.
  • I will be closing up Green Tinted Goggles and Cynwulf’s Auction House Manual. Having both a PvP blog and twink PvP blog made some sense when twinking was a more controversial topic, but now the division doesn’t really make any sense.
  • I will be moving the archives of CFN, CAHM, and GTG over to this site over the next few days. (My apologies in advance if this floods your feed readers!) This is to make searching easier on everyone. One site.
  • Go Mog Yourself will continue to be a collaborative fashion site and remain separate and fabulous. Punt This will also remain right where it is – neither of these have ever really been my blogs – I’m more like the Chief Kermit running around trying to stay on top of the wonderful chaos with them. :)

(Nobody reads Cynix’s blog, and I dont blame them, so I’m not worrying about it for now.)

This is kinda weird for me to talk about – I don’t do a lot of administrative posts – but sometimes we have to talk about reinventing ourselves, about how we are changing, so that people can follow along and know that while we might be ending some things, we’re continuing with new ones in their place.

I never thought CBM would become what it did. I never thought GTG would find an audience. I never thought CFN would become a place with my best writing. (I think a lot of my early commentary about it was, “I have no idea what I’m doing here.”)

But they did.

So here’s to jettisoning the nevers, and getting on with reinventing ourself.

Let’s go.

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The Sixth, and Ten to the Sixth

This is Gnomey’s fault. And Nymphy’s and Orv’s. And Jaedia. And Magritte. They tagged me in the sixth meme while I am on vacation, so here is the sixth screenshot in my Dropbox folder, because that’s all I’ve got access to out here.

Behold, the northern end of Arathi Basin. Trollbane Hall, home to the League of Arathor, stands nestled in the embrace of the ridges which define the fertile basin. (Well, fertile for Arathi, come on, it’s no Sholazar.) The Stables sits, undefended, waiting for someone to come fight at the flag.

This is now my desktop wallpaper on this little netbook.

And, as the rules of this little game state, I now have to tag six more people. So I’m going to tag Psynister, Anexxia, and the 4 talented authors of Flavor Text Lore. (Yes, I went there with FTL. Yes, I’m going to spread this meme over to SW:TOR blogs.)

However, this post is really your fault. You. Yes, you.

You see, this happened this weekend.

… and it wouldn’t have been possible without you.

I can tell myself that a million hits (10^6, naturally) is just a number, that this is odometer worship, it’s just the same as any other day. I debated even talking about it – much like discussing one’s salary, talking about one’s web traffic can be gauche in many circles.

But a million hits is a humbling number. It’s one that makes you sit back and go, I am really lucky. I am really grateful for everyone who stops by and finds something I’ve written worth reading. It is astonishing to me, even now, that this has happened.

So, thank you for visiting, for reading, for commenting. Thank you.

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On the Holy Trinity, Roles, and Role Playing

Cynwise_-_uldum_-_lighting_the_obelisk_of_the_moon

Like many of you, I played AD&D before I ever touched Warcraft. My introduction to the world of fantasy gaming wasn’t through computer games, but through traditional pen and paper RPGs, and that pretty fundamentally shaped how I approached the genre. You start with the character first, and then figure out how to express them in game terms, and the same idea could often be realized through different classes with different results.

Swashbucklers are an easy example to use; you could choose to make them more combat-orientted, and so choose a Fighter (or later a Warrior). Or you could make them more agile, more daring, and make them a Thief – or later even a Bard. I didn’t like Swashbucklers so much in a fantasy setting, though – I loved playing Scouts. Masters of concealment and ambush, highly sought after by military forces – oh yeah, that was my thief. Or a serious archer with woodsman skills? Ranger, maybe a Fighter, depends on if “archer” or “woodsman” was top in my mind for the character. The great thing is that I could do this and still have a fun game  – one campaign was me playing a stealthy ranger with 3 PC thieves, which meant that our adventures were high on espionage, intrigue, forgery, politics, diplomacy – and the occasional assassination via archery.

Computer fantasy games never had that kind of flexibility. I remember Bard’s Tale (in various editions) and Dungeon Master allowing me to make parties of characters of different classes, but they weren’t really characters – I think my Bard’s Tale part was named entirely after X-Men? – because their classes defined them. This was certainly better than earlier fantasy video games like Gauntlet, where it really didn’t matter which of the 4 characters you took on – all it determined, really, was the look of your avatar and what it shot. “Elf, don’t shoot food.”

I liked to play the Elf. “Elf is about to die.” “Elf needs food badly.”

One of the (many) things I liked about AD&D was that there wasn’t a sense of roles you needed to fill to make a group. There were some things it was nice to have – always great if someone wanted to play a healer! – but it wasn’t like someone would say, no, you can’t run this dungeon without a healer. Play smart, play creatively, and group comp didn’t matter. This was, in part, because the GM could tailor the adventure to a specific group, but it was also because the assumption was that you didn’t need a damage soaker and healer for encounters. Some classes might be better suited towards a specific environment or situation, and some might fare better or worse against specific enemies – ask me about my sorceror who had a bad run-in with some undead and considered becoming a paladin – but by and large, class choice wasn’t an obstacle.

I didn’t really play much 3rd edition AD&D – it was almost all 1st and 2nd – and I know that this changed later on. But from what I saw, in those 10 years or so where I really played the game, was that you could make just about any character concept work. Game balance might be a different matter entirely – but the idea of tanks, healers, and damage dealers never really came into my fantasy games.

And then came Warcraft.

Cynwulf_-_vortex_pinnacle_-_cloud_bridges

THE HOLY TRINITY

Even after three years of playing WoW, I still don’t really know what to think about threat annd the holy trinity of DPS-Tank-Healing. I mean, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense if you posit intelligent opponents. It’s the fundamental flaw of Warcraft PvP. But it’s the foundation of the game, this idea that for an encounter to be challenging, it requires players to form the triumvirate and work within it, suspending disbelief and requiring some mental gymnastics to believe that this superpowerful being your group is facing wouldn’t go right after the healers, or the mages and warlocks, and instead will doggedly beat on the few people in front of it who are most able to take the punishment.

This is not a new topic. I bring it up not because I’m making an original critique of WoW’s holy trinity, but rather to contrast it with the original AD&D skirmisher style, and to get that contrast in your head while talking about roles in WoW.

I read Matthew Rossi’s Ol’ Grumpy post today about roles and this contrast came immediately to mind. I thought about those days of being a Ranger and how, sometimes, that meant I wanted the bad guys to focus on me for a bit because I was the “warrior” of the group. I think at the time it was mostly because I had the most hit points, not because I could take it any better than the rogues! But then I also remember games where my Magic User was the one who took the brunt of a dragon’s attacks, precisely because he specialized in defensive magics!

These are two very different ways of designing encounters, and designing classes for these encounters.

Part of me wants to say that the roles themselves are the issue, that the AD&D skirmish model is “better,” but I don’t think that part of me is being fair. That kind of model requires a deft touch and human intelligence – or really good AI – to make it work. Epic boss fights are possible, I suppose, with enough mitigation and damage swapping, but it would look a lot different than what we have now. And it’s certainly not a model that is worth scrapping an entire game platform for – instead, this kind of change is something that will take place over iterations of games, not within a game itself.

So if I accept roles as being part and parcel of my computer gaming experience, then I’m left with how characters fit into those roles, which flips me right into Matt’s article and how roles conflict with those concepts, and how some classes are able to fill multiple roles, while others cannot.

ROLES AND ROLE PLAYING

Are my WoW toons more like AD&D characters or Gauntlet characters?

At first blush, that seems like a good distinction to make. Is Cynwise like a sorceror or a half-elven fighter/magic user (conjuration spec), or is she like the Wizard? Is she a unique concept with a class describing her, or is she just a Warlock?

Scratch at that a little more, and I think that it becomes a bad distinction, because the two poles of the spectrum are actually the same thing. Both AD&D characters and Gauntlet toons existed in a game where their roles didn’t really matter. The Elf was interchangable with the Valkyrie; I could play a D&D campaign with all Fighters, Rangers, and Barbarians, and still make it work. It didn’t matter if they were pen and paper characters or video game characters, despite their apparently huge difference in flexibility – when you got down to it, your character choice didn’t restrict you from playing part of the game.

This is where Warcraft gets weird. I mean, it’s just weird. You have all the trappings of a fantasy RPG – characterization, race selection, class selection, fantasy setting – but class choice matters more than any other choice you make about your character. It determines what roles you can play in the game and how you play them. As much as it irritates me to be called “tank” or “healer” in an instance, or warlock or warrior or priest or shaman by some PuG, it’s actually a pretty fair assessment of the situation. I’m not Cynwise, mercenary spellcaster from Northshire, responsible for the Morshan Ramparts disaster. I’m the ‘lock in the instance or raid. The distinctions and subtleties fall away in an MMORPG.

I’ve said this before, but I think it’s illuminating to look at what you can change in a pen and paper RPG versus WoW. In WoW you can change your race, your gender, your faction. You can change from a giant Tauren to a pint-sized Gnome, an alien spacegoat to a werewolf. But you can never change your class. You can change what you are, but not what you do. This is backwards from regular RPGs, where you can pick up additional classes (though it may be easier or harder depending on the system), but changes to your character mean that you’re making a new one. Character continuity is essential.

This ties directly into roles.

We choose our characters based upon a lot of reasons – the flavor of a class, the look of a race’s animations. Maybe we have a character concept we’re trying out, or we just want to do something that amorphously “looks fun.” Each class is different enough that perhaps something about it clicks with us, where we understand it and it’s effective and it makes us feel powerful in game. The flavor of a character is important, otherwise we’d all be playing pink cubes with player inputs and special abilities influencing other pink cubes. The world and setting is important.

But because of the Holy Trinity, the choices we make for flavor reasons have a real impact on gameplay. So, to experience other parts of the game, we have to either discard that character and make a new one, or hope that we chose a character class that allows us to do those other things.

(I’ve gone this long without mentioning the term ‘hybrid’. But that’s what this is about.)

This is the rub, I think, of the holy trinity, and I don’t think it’s a solvable one. As soon as you say, encounters are designed to have three specific roles, one of two design choices are necessary.

  • Inclusionary Design: all classes can fill all roles.
  • Exclusionary Design: some classes cannot fill all roles.

It doesn’t matter the extent or breadth of the exclusion – as soon as you make the choice, be it for flavor or game balance, that some classes are not going to be able to fill all the roles in the game, the game is exclusionary and conflict will result. The conflict will be simple, manifest in a similar pattern every time, and will be insoluble.

We’ve seen all this with WoW. Faction-specific classes, hybrid tax, class/role superiority in PvE or PvP. And as long as classes are exclusionary, we’ll keep seeing it.

The argument is simple.

Either:

  • Classes should be able to perform about equally well in the roles they are able to do. In this case, the advantage is the hybrid’s, since they can perform multiple roles, giving them flexibility.

Or:

  • Some classes will have a distinct advantage over another in a given role, due to increased DPS, healing, utility, CC, damage avoidance and mitigation. The advantage will be to that class, which is the only situation in which a pure DPS class could be advantagous to play to offset the lack of flexibility.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too with the Holy Trinity. You can’t have roles and roleplaying in the same game without them coming into conflict. If you want classes to have a specific look and feel, different playstyles, then players will naturally choose between them. This is good! If I wanted to play Gauntlet again, where it doesn’t matter which controller I grab, then I’ll play Gauntlet! I don’t, so I play Warcraft, where I’m a pretty good Warrior and Warlock, a passable Resto Druid, and should really put in some more time to learn how to be a better Priest (because 5 mans taught me jack and shit for how to really play the class.)

I enjoy all three roles of the Holy Trinity. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy healing and tanking, to be honest, and I’d like to do them all on one character.

Since I didn’t happen to choose a class that could do that when I started, I’ve had to roll several more so I could enjoy those parts of the game. That’s okay, I guess, though I think it’s sad that choices which were made for playstyle and flavor have such a dramatic impact.

I don’t think this is a solvable problem under the current system. Even adding more roles to different classes, of breaking the Pure DPS model and letting everyone be a hybrid – only moves the line between full hybrids and partial hybrids. If you give Warlocks, Rogues and Hunters tanking trees, and Mages a healing tree, you may make players happier – but all you have done is move the line from Pure/Hybrid to Two/Three Role Hybrids. DPS spec heavy hybrids, like Shaman, Warriors, DKs, and Priests now face off against Paladins and Monks.

Druids will remain the most flexible choice of all.

Whether your choice will be the best choice, of course, will depend on which way the pendulum swings, and which class is on top this month. Because no matter what, an exclusionary model will have a right choice, and a wrong one. There will be an optimal class to have rolled for what you’re trying to do, and hopefully, that’s whichever one you picked.

NO EXIT

I’m trying to make sure that I’m not complaining about my lot as a former Warlock player. Just like my AD&D experience, it shaped my views on the Holy Trinity, protecting me from the pressures of healing and tanking but also preventing me from experiencing it without another character.

The experience left me somewhat bitter and jaded about the whole idea of roles within the game, to be honest. Why should I be locked in to only DPS roles? Why should I have to roll another toon if I wanted to heal or tank? I didn’t know what those things were when I rolled my first class of toons, and now I have to go roll another one? Put aside my main to go do these things? Is this fair?

But in the process of rolling those alts, I came to see the other side, too. Why should I be penalized for rolling a class that can tank? Why should my DPS spec be worse just because I can heal, too? How is that fair?

Both positions have a point. How is it fair?

And the answer is, it’s not. No matter which way you look at it, it’s not.

Warcraft has an exclusionary class and role design philosophy. That’s okay, it adds interest and spice to the RPG part of the game.

But it also presents an insoluble problem for class balance. And we, as players, have to deal with the fallout from that problem – constantly shifting class abilities, utilities, and balance.

(Even Druids! They can’t escape it, either!)

This isn’t all about being on top of the charts, or having the most utility, or the best tank.

It’s about how our role playing choices set and limit our roles within the game.

As long as Warcraft requires tanks, healers, and DPS, and classes have to choose between them – this is one of those problems we’ll have to deal with.

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On Digital Detritus

Cynli_-_green_druid_-_isle_of_queldanas_-_tranquilty_cast

I was moving over files – iTunes library – from my laptop to the new desktop when something strange happened.

I suddenly felt TERRIBLE about what I was doing. I was filling up my new, pristine hard drive with hundreds of gigs of … stuff. Stuff that I didn’t even USE. I don’t listen to my music collection that often, and when I do, it’s not that I need that much variety.

I have a lot of junk in there. A lot of junk that I just can’t be bothered to throw away.

And here I was, loading up a clean hard drive with … crap. And I felt it.

Storage space shouldn’t be an issue in my current environment – I have several NASes humming along, I have about 4TB of networked data storage available in some form or another. I have 10 years of hard drives in my closet in various enclosures that I can use to back data up and move data around and make backups and backups of my backups and backups of my backups and yo dawg we herd you like backups so we put a NAS in your NAS so you can backup while you backup.

Seriously, I have a lot of backup drives. I’m not even counting my offsite storage in this little soul-baring audit!

And yet, there I was, going … why am I putting all this STUFF on the machine I want to work on?

It wasn’t just iTunes. It was 40k photographs, it was a hugely messy home directory with documents scattered all over the place. I’d been going with that home directory for about 6 years now since the last good cleanout, and it showed. Documents EVERYWHERE. It didn’t matter, I kept saying. All I do is use Spotlight or Quicksilver for search. Doesn’t matter where I put stuff.

But … it does.

Cynli_-_tree_form_-_isle

I purge my toons periodically in World of Warcraft. If you follow me on Twitter you know that sometimes I’ll just get into a mood and start slashing alts. I used to be more judicious about keeping alts around, but after a long friendship with Psyinster and Fynralyl I adopted a more live-and-let-die approach to my toons.

CYN’S THREE QUESTIONS OF TOON SURVIVAL:

  1. Are you still fun to play? If no, go to #2.
  2. Do you have something irreplaceable on you, or a profession which would be a total PITA to relevel? If no, go to #3.
  3. Do you have your own blog? If no, you’re gone.

The third rule is the Cynwulf Rule – I leveled him to 80 and promptly stopped having fun on him, but I couldn’t bring myself to delete him because he had his own, dusty blog. He is a character in the ongoing story and GOD DAMNIT I MIGHT NEED SCREENSHOTS.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t posted there in a year… and a half. He’s safe.

My Shaman is trying to exploit the Cynwulf Rule for her own benefit. Or maybe mine. She has a blog solely so that she doesn’t get the axe! I’m like, this is silly, I have to stop deleting toons and give them an honest shake.

Yeah. It’s the only thing that kept her around last month.

Characters weigh on my mind. Leveling characters, especially, but character in general. They take up mental space. They have … presence, even when they’re not doing things. I like having them around, I like having them available, I like trying out new things, but …

Digital things can take up space.

Physical stuff dragging you down, I understand. Paul Graham’s essay Stuff is a great short read on how our society has come to a point where we accumulate and accumulate because stuff is so fucking cheap now. I go into my garage and attic and am like… why do I have all these boxes? Why do I have all these old college papers? WHAT POSSIBLE USE IS THIS BOX TO A CAMERA THAT DOESN’T WORK? It’s all stuff.

Oh, hey, George Carlin on Stuff:

Physical stuff takes up physical space. It’s matter! Can’t change the laws of physics. But it takes up mental space too. You have to remember where your stuff is. Stuff has memories attached to it. I’m not anti-Stuff, by the way – I think it’s good to hold on to important memories. But I know I have too much Stuff, too.

Digitial stuff is weird. It has no real presence… I mean, sure, there’s a stack of hard drives, there are computers lying about, there are those old Zip drive disks and 3.5 floppies I’m NEVER going to bother getting a drive together to read again – but it’s the digital ghosts inside those things which haunts me. It’s the 35 backups of my iTunes and iPhoto library which, when I think about them at all, makes me want to curl up into a ball and pay someone to just sort it all out for me.

Seriously. I’ve considered outsourcing organizing my photo library before. WTB competent tagger, PST rates.

It’s tough trying to clean this stuff out. It’s all mental once you get past the ones and zeros, it’s all mental. Do I need this file? Do I need this photo? What about this movie? Should I digitize it to preserve it? Do I save this or that? Did I encrypt my tax returns? Did I remember to save that PGP key?

Warcraft really isn’t any different. You have to maintain toons (hello, endgame). You need to keep their UI tuned up through various patches. You need to keep their possessions organized.

You ever log into a toon after a few month hiatus, look in their bags, and wonder what the hell you were doing the last time you played? WHY DO I STILL HAVE THIS why are these bags so messy why do I have vendor trash ON MY MAIN oh god I fail at this game /logout /posterous.

Each one is effort.

Each one takes up space.

And sometimes, just like the toys you have to clean out periodically when you have kids, or are a kid, you have to free up some space.

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There are times I want to wipe it all out and start over.

I don’t think I’m alone in this desire. Zero it out, fresh clean slate… start over. No expectations, no baggage.

No resources.

No accumulated knowledge.

No history to search through and say, oh, that’s right, I did this, I needed this to do that.

There are tradeoffs to starting over.

I was going through some old websites of mine on Tumblr tonight, trying to reconcile what I used to do with what I do now. It’s so different. So, so different. But each one of them was out there, a record of a different time. Maybe it’s not worth deleting the past. Maybe it’s worth starting over, but leave a trail of digital detritus behind us, so that we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

Maybe we should leave those old toons where they are, in peace.

Or maybe we should type DELETE at the screen, and hope they don’t have any mail left.

Ashwalker_-_dwarven_district_-_ironforge_outfit

My time in WoW continues to shrink. My time spent in game dwindles as I find myself in the midst of a creative … explosion. I don’t know how else to describe what’s happening right now. Things are so hectic, so stressful, yet instead of logging in to veg out I want to MAKE THINGS and WRITE THINGS and CODE THINGS and DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS. When I do log in, I have been picking the strangest toons to play. My Forsaken Warlock? SURE. A random DK? OK.

I have two weeks left before I have to make the decision to go buy that game card or not, and I’ve thrown the bucket list out the window. I’m playing World of Fashioncraft more than world of Warcraft. I’m more worried about getting a decent outfit for my Druid than I am completing the grind for her BiS trinket.

I know before I talked about how constraints create focus, and they do. What I find interesting is that I’m focusing on things that don’t have a lot of digital baggage with them. Go, make someone look nice. Do they look nice now? Ok, go to the next one. Rinse, repeat.

WoW’s hold on me is very tenuous right now. I’m not compelled to go on, except to create something, or capture an image of something. Images and words, not accomplishments.

I don’t know what to say about that.

This is one of those posts where I write and write and hope that I come to a point, eventually. But I don’t know that I will, tonight. I mean, I’ve got stuff. Digital stuff. It weighs on my brain. We all have digital stuff, at least you good folks who are reading this do. What can we do about that stuff?

I’m deleting my iTunes folder off my new computer right now. It is stuff that I’m not prepared to deal with. It can stay on the old computer for a while longer.

The pictures might stay, but maybe I should get rid of them, too.

And my characters in WoW… are they passing the three questions of toon survival, or not?

Maybe that’s not even the right question.

What if the game itself is what needs to be going through that test right now? Is it a good tool, good entertainment, fun?

Or digital debris?

My sub runs out in mid-February, and then I’m on vacation for a week.

We’ll see what happens then.

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WANTED: Cataclysm PvP Forum Feedback

Eldacar over at Battlemasters.org writes:

If you are an avid PVP’er and want to help improve the PVP side of the game for Mists of Pandaria now is the time to make your voice heard. Hit up this feedback thread on the official forums and put in some good constructive feedback about what you did and didn’t like about Cataclysm’s PVP. The better our feedback the better our chances of creating some positive change in the coming expansion.

http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/3967948445

Please consider Kaivax’s advice when posting feedback on this forum: specific single points are nice, but breadth of content is nice, too.

Thanks to Eldacar for starting this thread going on the forums!

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