Thursday, June 23, 2016

Screens of Blue - The Update

My next task was to run Memtest86 and Check Disk. Both utilities reported no issues. That was the first bit of good news I had had from the computer in a while. At that point, the issue was narrowed down to either the video card or the motherboard. I ran down to a local 'chop shop' (that's what I call a store that sells computers and used computer parts). For $20, I was able to get both fans and a cheap video card (RADEON 4600 512MB).

I replaced the rear exhaust fan, but had some trouble getting the case off to access the front fan. I left that for later and kept the case open with a regular desk fan blowing in it. I replaced the video card, fired her up and installed the drivers. Word came up without an issue. Okay. I tried GiMP. No problems. No crashes, no blue screens.

That was already an improvement over what I had been getting. I took a deep breath and started testing my games. I started small with Hearthstone which should be less taxing on the video card than anything else. Hearthstone came up and I played a match (Tavern Brawl - I won!)

There was only one test left I wanted to perform. I needed to see if I could run WoW without a blue screen. In a few moments, I was looking at Honors' face in the load screen. I went ahead and loaded in and checked on my Garrison. The RADEON 4600 was really struggling. I was getting around 15 fps. I went into the video settings for WoW and turned it all the way down. That got frame rates up into the 40s until I went over to Tanaan. I'm not sure what they did in Tanaan but my frame rate dropped back to around 18 to 20fps. It's playable, but it's not something I'd want to do long term.

My main goal was to test if the video card was the issue or something on the motherboard. While I can't rule out that there might still be some issue lurking in the motherboard, everything I'm seeing points to the video card.

My current theory is that something caused the front and rear fans to stop working. It wasn't power because even with a new power supply they still wouldn't spin so it had to be mechanical. Either at the same time or because of fans stopped spinning, the power supply fan stopped spinning and the power supply overheated. Either the heat or bad voltage from the power supply damaged the DDR memory on my video card. Whenever the video card tried to access that part of RAM, it would blue screen.

The new GTX 1070s are running about $500, but I found a deal on Amazon for a new desktop AMD FX-6300 for about the same money. It's only got an R7 260, but that's still better than the RADEON 6870 I was running. That will get my computer up to the recommended specs for Legion and I won't have to worry there's some lurking issue on the motherboard I haven't found yet.

If I need to, in a year or so, I can save up some money again, and those fancy GTX 1070s I'm drooling over will (hopefully) come down to a more manageable price point and I can upgrade.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I See Screens of Blue

I was merrily doing my Garrison chores one fine evening when the screen changed to this wonderful technicolor display. The sound froze and then the screen turned blue and filled with a bunch of computerese. I recognized from the file name that one of my ATI RADEON dlls was the culprit. I shut down and restarted and everything came up fine. I chalked it up to a glitch and after a few moments started up WoW again.


When the blue screen returned, I knew I was in trouble. I dove into trying to figure out what was going on starting with the video card drivers. The card I have is a RADEON 6800 series and they stopped supporting it back in March, but I tried every driver available for it on the ATI website, even the beta ones. No driver I tried made any difference.

My next thought was to see if maybe, somehow the video card had become loose in the PCIe slot. I didn't how that could happen, but at that point, my main goal was "what", not "how". As soon as I touched the case, I knew I had much bigger problems. The outside metal of the case was hot, like the hood of your car right after you turn it off.

That led me to the fans. I opened the case to give me visibility on all the fans and fired up the computer. CPU fan, check. GPU fan, check. Main air intake fan, not spinning. That's not good. Side air intake fan, spinning. Well, that should help. 120mm Rear exhaust fan, not spinning. That's not good. Power supply fan, not spinning. That's really not good.

I'm on a UPS so I'm not sure what could have caused the power supply fan to stop spinning, but if the power supply overheated, that could have led to it not sending the right power out, which, like crossing the streams, would be bad.

I ran to the store and picked up a new power supply and had a friend help me swap out the old power supply for the new one. We tested both the front intake and rear exhaust fans and still nothing. Those are easy enough to replace. I set up a regular fan in front of the open case to simulate the two case fans and fired up again. When I opened MS Word, I got an error that said the video card driver had crashed and recovered. Not great. The next thing I did was open GiMP and boom, blue screen.

I suspected at this point that the video card itself was the issue. My computer has an integrated video card on the motheboard, but the cable from my my monitor doesn't fit the plug for the onboard video card.

I've alread replaced the power supply. At a minimum, I need to replace the front intake fan and the rear exhaust fan.

Cheap Option: I could get an adapter that would let my monitor hook up to the onboard graphics. It's an i5 CPU with integrated graphics, but I have my doubts it would be powerful enough to run WoW, but I won't know for sure until I hook it up. If the RAM or Hard drive are the problem, this won't matter.

Cheap to Expensive Option: start replacing components one by one, probably starting with the RAM, then the video card.

Really Expensive Option: Build or buy a new computer.

At the moment, I'm dead in the water. I can do Internet, but Office, and WoW (and I assume all other games) are not possible.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mr. Hammer Goes To Beta

Thanks to a contest run by the good folks over at WoWhead, I am now in Legion Beta. This blog post is Spoiler Free.

Legion goes live in 82 days. I leave for vacation in 79. If you are thinking, that's great, plenty of time to play, you'd be wrong. If I try to break out the laptop and fire up WoW during this vacation, Mrs. Hammer will ensure that the Happiest Place on Earth isn't so happy.

My goal with Beta is to both enjoy the story and figure out where everything is. When it is live, I'll be going as fast as I can in order to catch up. It's hard enough securing a tank spot. There's two and only two per raid. Being behind won't help.


Hello Beta


Logging into Beta was a jarring experience. I've been using ElvUI or Spartan for so long, I had almost forgotten what the default UI looked like. Character copy isn’t implemented yet so you get a stock Level 100 of your chosen class. Sure, I can call him Honors Hammer and make him look like Honors Hammer, but in reality, he’s not Honors Hammer.

One cool thing is these premades have all these incredibly rare mounts. I’ve now gotten a chance to ride around on a Love Rocket, Invincible, and Mimiron’s Head just to name a few. My premade had old world flying, but not Northrend flying. Without spoiling the story too much, let's say that not having Northrend flying (or any Northrend flight points opened) made one of the early quests a little more cumbersome than it would have been on Honors.


Gear


Premade Paladins start as Ret but you have a full set of Holy and Prot gear in your bags. The gear is all iLevel 680 which is a little worse than my Live set which is iLevel 700.

It's not only the iLevel, but the itemization itself is worse. I don't have my 2 or 4 piece set bonus. My Stamina, and Strength are way down. Apparently, Blizzard HQ still hasn't gotten the memo that we love Haste. My Mastery and Versatility about doubled. It makes comparing Beta to Live a little difficult because you've got this huge gear variable to contend with. 
Live Stats versus Legion Premade Stats

It's pretty amazing the amount of difference it makes. I'm definitely squishier. On Live, I fear basically nothing. I’ll pull anything outside of a raid zone and expect I’m going to live including Tanaan Rares. In Beta, I'm far more mortal. 


Story/Questing


The story is impossible to discuss without a one way trip to Spoilerville. There were parts I didn't like and parts I loved. It's still Beta so there are quests that don't work quite right or places where the scenes get a bit jumbled because the dialog starts over every time someone turns it in so you have a character repeating phrases or having phrases out of order.

I've been a bit surprised by how many times I've come across bottleneck quests. These won't be a big deal a month after launch but during the initial leveling rush, they will be frustrating. Didn't the developers learn anything from the opening of Vash'ir in Cataclysm, or the Jade Forest in Mists?


Play Time


After all the complaints I've heard, I was worried about how my Tankadin would play. I'm almost Level 101 and so far its been enjoyable. I could feel some inertia toward change during my initial play sessions, but after a while, I settled in. Most of my enjoyment is coming from the story characters and locations. Combat feels pretty much the same as Live, only slower on Beta. Some of this might be from missing my 4 piece and some from missing all that beautiful Haste.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

So Today Is Kind Of A Big Day

In April, I was perusing my Twitter feed when I saw an announcement from Matt Walsh aka Rhidach.



Matt and his wife recently had a baby and I remember well from those days with both my baby Hammers that neither free time nor energy was in great abundance.

I’ve wanted to write for Blizzard Watch for a long time, going back to their days before they were called Blizzard Watch. Once I heard about Matt stepping down, I contacted the editors to apply. I had applied a couple of times in the past for different positions, but each time I had come up short.

After detailing my experience both as a long time Tankadin and Blogger, I was offered the gig. I’m now the new Protection Paladin Class Columnist for the premiere Blizzard games fan site on the Internet. I am at once amazed and humbled. I also might be in completely over my head, but I guess we will see soon enough.

I'll still be blogging here at Honor's Code. My column on Blizzard Watch is only once a month, and much of what I post here wouldn't be applicable to my Blizzard Watch column. You’ll continue to get the ongoing adventures of a Dwarf trying to make his way in the World (of Warcraft).

By the time you read this, my first column will have gone live on Blizzard Watch. This is really happening.

Hey, Blizzard Watch!!

IT'S HAMMER TIME!!!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Blizzard Address Low Level Content Concerns

In early April, I talked about my experience with leveling a fresh toon in World of Warcraft as part of the Hearthstone promotion to get the new Lady Liadrin Paladin skin. The main issues I ran into were: combat was too short, other players were antisocial and heirlooms made dungeons not fun for anyone who lacked them. Rohan of Blessing of Kings had similar issues leveling for the promotion though he also had issues with the story in the low level zones.

I didn't think that the Warcraft Development team would have time to address these concerns with Legion Alpha and now Beta taking up most of their efforts. They proved me wrong.

The Devs started rolling out hotfixes to address some of the issues with the low level experience and one specifically to address what Rohan called the TTK (time to kill) issue.
Due to the accumulated effect of years’ worth of max-level tuning adjustments, many classes were killing low-level enemies nearly instantaneously, even without heirloom gear or other advantages. 
Reduced player damage at low levels to improve overall combat pacing. In general, Strength and Agility classes saw a larger reduction in damage than did casters. Damage dealt is unchanged from level 40 onwards. Level 1-10 enemy NPCs now deal slightly more damage. Reduced the bonus to out-of-combat health regeneration that players receive when below level 20. 
Rogue I used was an Agility class. I've heard stories of Brewmasters one shotting things with Keg Mash well into the 40s. As I was leveling my Rogue, I never got more than one or two combo points built up before the mob was dead.
Most quest bosses from level 1-20 should now be multitap and will scale their health with the numbers of players fighting them. Added dynamic respawn behavior to most level 1-20 outdoor areas, so that spawns will be more readily available during times of high player traffic.
While I didn’t encounter any problems with tapping, other players, especially those in the Blood Elf starting zone, ran into issues. There is one quest that you need to progress to the next phase and it requires killing a specific ‘boss’ type of mob. There were more players trying to kill him than his respawn timer could handle so you had players waiting around and those who could were AOEing trying to make sure they tagged him as soon as he spawned. Many were on trial accounts and therefore could not form groups nor chat effectively which only made the issue worse since no one could talk or form groups.

Clearly, these players were not leveling Paladins as the Sunwalker (Tauren) is the superior choice for your Horde Paladin if you have to roll Team Red. For Team Blue, there’s really only one choice – Dwarf!

With the Warcraft movie giving out free copies of World of Warcraft in select theatres, a barrier to entry will be removed for some people and I'm sure Blizzard is hoping many will try the game. The low level experience still needs plenty of work but hopefully these fixes will make their first impression with WoW more favorable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

[SWTOR] Chapter 13

What do you do with a free night and no Legion Beta invite? SWTOR!

I finished Chapter 13. It was pretty good, but again, like all of them, I found it too short. For this chapter, I was really looking forward to seeing Vette enter the KotFE storyline. 

Recently, I started a baby Sith Warrior with a guy I used to work with and I've been getting to know Vette better through that toon. Spoiler Alert: I like the way this character is written quite a bit. The initial interaction with her sets the tone well with her wisecracking the prison guard.  In Chapter 13, Vette is more the supporting actress. The star of the show is the Bounty Hunter companion, Gault. I never got far enough with my Bounty Hunter to meet Gault. He was something of an unknown to me and it didn't take long at all for him to turn off my Light Side Jedi Knight. I would have liked the Chapter better had Vette had more screen time. She is still the fun, wise cracking side kick but you can see the last 5 years of dealing with the Eternal Empire have taken some of that lightheartedness away. Perhaps BioWare could have gone into their vaunted "choice" bucket and let you choose which companion you spend more time with like the Koth/Senya choice in one of the earlier chapters.

Minor spoiler


Initially, I was disappointed when Chapter 13 didn't address the cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 12 in any meaningful way. I felt the hand waving "lost communication with all parties" was a little weak. They did finally address it in the epilogue of Chapter 13. While I liked the impact and consequences it had, it felt like they could have done more. Basically, you get a "here's what happened" kind of resolution. I have a sneaking suspicion the ending would have played out exactly the same way regardless of my choices in Chapter 12 which is a weak point in their narrative. If my choices don't matter much, why am I bothering making them?

Two for the Road


I've been having a great time playing with my buddy as we work through the low levels. SWTOR is a really great game for a duo. Unfortunately, our Presence is so high from our other max level toons that we are blazing through everything with little trouble. It also helps that I (prepare to be shocked) rolled a tank (Immortal Juggernaut) and my friend rolled a healer (healer spec Operative).

We are basically playing through the story like it’s a single player or co-op game. SWTOR works very well like this and the leveling stories are really solid, though I'm finding the Sith Warrior story to be inferior to the Jedi Knight story to this point.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

[WoW] Raiding Hiatus Leads Back to Pandaria

I work the first Wednesday night of every month and I had told our raid leader I wouldn't be on for last week's run. Technically, I volunteer, since the job I'm doing on Wednesday night doesn't pay me, but I like to think of it as work in my mind. I love my Wednesday night job so it's not work in negative connotation, but it's easier to tell someone I can't do something on Wednesday night because I'm 'working' and it has 'work' level priority in my schedule.

Much to my surprise when I did log on the next night, I was greeted with a new guild message of the day that stated we were on a raiding hiatus until Legion.

Old Raids


Even though we have Beta starting today, Legion is still months away. A couple of the team wanted to work on the old Mists of Pandari Meta achievements and I joined in. I'm a relatively easy Dwarf to please, just point me at something that wants to tear my face off and I'm happy.

We started with Pandaria Raider which covered Mists' open trifecta of Mogu'shan Vaults, Heart of Fear and Terrace of Endless Spring.  It was interesting being back in these old haunts and I was amazed how quickly my muscle memory took over. I raided more in early Mists than any other time since and as I pulled a boss I started moving almost instinctively to my old tanking position.  It was like my fingers knew what to do before my brain did. It could almost imagine Wichita's DK right there alongside me. Man, I miss tanking with that guy - we were such a good team.

Feng the Accused is still one of my favorite fights in that raid, and with my knowledge of the fight I kind of took over the raid and made all the calls so we would get the achievement. It felt really good to have some success in a quasi tanky role for the group. It reinforced to me that my biggest problem in Warlords has simply been a lack of practice. My other favor fight in there was Will of the Emperor, but they died before we could even do the first 'dance' for an Opportunistic Strike.

Somehow, Garalon, in Heart of Fear, still managed to frustrate me. His achievement for the Meta is to kill him without killing one of his legs and one of our Hunters hit an AoE (Chimera Shot?) by accident. The other achievement we couldn't finish was Power Overwhelming which requires you to kill the 3 bosses in a specific order. We figured out which order would complete the achievement for most of the group and did the fight that way. A good number of us did finish Pandaria Raider and got their Cloud Serpent. I was not one of them. The plan is to go back in next week and finish up the ones we need for the rest of the group. After that, we'll move on to Throne and Siege. I'm not in any way looking forward to seeing Siege of Orgrimmaar again, and I'm more than a little nervous about my two nemeses in Throne, Tortus and Durumu

Alts

Rophe (Elemental Shaman) is starting to get his Garrison in order and Theogrun's (Beast Mastery Hunter) Garrison is doing well. I still haven't decided which server to put my future Level 100 boosted Brewmaster Monk on, but I'm thinking I'll put him on Greymane/Tanaris (Rophe and Theogrun's server). I already have two max level alts there so that might become my alt server.

The next guy up is my soon to be renamed Fury Warrior, HonorsSword, He's currently working his way through Pandaria although he's nearly done despite the fact that he's not even out of the Jade Forest (first zone) yet. Originally I wanted to blast him up to max level to get his Garrison going but after seeing the investment it took to get Rophe up and running, I'm in no rush to do that again. He's on yet another server (Arygos) so I can't borrow funds from another max level toon to get it going. I may need to think about getting him to Greymane. Man, I wish Blizzard would go to shards so I can have the whole team together or at least let us mail items and gold to any toon on our account.

My lone Horde max level toon, Ice Mage Kishuf, is still plugging along. None of these alts has the oil production to really do much with shipyards.

That will be 5 Artifact questlines (Shaman, Paladin, Monk, Warrior and Mage) I can see when Legion hits. I've got no real interest in DK, Rogue or Warlock so that leaves Druid, and Priest as classes I lack. I'd rather level a Druid, but there's one rather large problem with that. They can't be Dwarves!!