Head Start Chili & Cornbread

By popular request, I present you with my chili and cornbread recipes. I will make these on the first day of WildStar’s head start and will hopefully end up with plenty of food to carry us through the first few days. If we run out, well I guess I’ll just have to make a second batch!

I hope you enjoy, and have a wonderful head start weekend.

Slow Cooker Chili Recipe

The first time I made chili in my slow cooker, I used this recipe. I’ve modified it somewhat because it had no beans* and gave it a little more heat, but it is still predominantly a sweet chili. Choose whatever protein you prefer and top with sour cream if you want. If you have access to / want to use more fresh ingredients rather than canned for the chilies and tomatoes, absolutely go for it. I tend to go for canned veggies here simply because it saves time and 8 hours of heat is going to obliterate them anyway. We usually eat this with either tortilla chips or the cornbread recipe posted below (or both).

Ingredients:

2.5 pounds of beef chuck OR ground turkey OR protein crumbles
2 tablespoons brown sugar
salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 small cans of chopped green chilies, drained
2 cans of black beans, drained*
2 cans of pinto beans, drained*
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/4 cup chili powder
1  14-oz can diced tomatoes with chilies
2 tablespoons green hot sauce

1. Cut the beef/turkey/protein into small cubes and toss with brown sugar, salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook your protein in batches until browned on all sides, approximately 5 minutes. (Cook time will vary depending on what protein you choose.) Transfer to your slow cooker or crock pot.

2. Add drained black beans and pinto beans to the slow cooker.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add the chopped onion to the skillet. Cook until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chilies, cumin and chili powder and cook 3 minutes. Add 1.5 cups of water and the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Transfer entire contents to the slow cooker.

4. Place the cover on the slow cooker and cook on low for a minimum of 7 hours. (I generally prefer to allow it to go 8-10.)

5. Stir in 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and the green hot sauce before serving.

*Apparently the choice of whether to put beans in chili is a deeply personal and controversial thing (thanks Twitter)! If you like them, use them. If you don’t, don’t.

 

Cornbread Recipe

This is really, really simple and really, really good. Make extra and eat it for breakfast with maple syrup.

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat your oven to 400° F (200° C). Grease a medium round cake pan. (I usually use a 9×2 inch round.)

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, white sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg, milk and vegetable oil until combined. Pour batter into greased pan.

3. Bake at 400° F / 200° C for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean.

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End of Beta Devtacular

Last night marked the end of WildStar’s beta phase, and WOW did the developers decide to throw one heckuva send off.

The end of beta event began at 1 am my time, so that meant a quick power nap last night and plenty of black coffee this morning.  But regardless of how tired I may be at the moment, I’m thrilled that I stuck around to see the entire show the devs put on for us last night. Several of my guild members jumped into our voice server so that we could chat and laugh as we watched all the ridiculousness unfold.

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The beta realms were treated to shows by 1-2 developers in each faction’s home city. On my realm, Olyssia, the Exile city of Thayd played host to Cougar, WildStar’s Director of Operations, and CRB Grug. The 2 devs herded us into relatively open areas where they then spawned mobs, dungeon bosses and raid bosses on top of our heads as we attempted to dodge level 50 enemy telegraphs with something like 1 FPS.

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It was SO much fun.

We died repeatedly, thanks in part to some of the bosses camping the graveyard. (I’m sure that was completely NPC AI at work and not at all another joke from Cougar and Grug.) Cougar in particular decided to change his model and size once every few minutes, though the crowd favorite was certainly this amazing lopp.

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Predictably, we followed the lopp as it hopped around Thayd – because who wouldn’t follow an adorable lopp anywhere? And, also predictably, this resulted in the deaths of basically everyone in Thayd when Cougar once again dropped a raid boss on our heads.

Other festivities included “cheat codes,” some of which were more helpful than others. A command which appeared to auto-level a player to 50 actually opened this. A different command made your character learn every available mount in the game, though unfortunately we only had a few minutes to run around on our new mounts before the servers went down.

So many thanks to Cougar and Grug in particular, but also the entire WildStar team for such a fun and chaotic end to the open beta. I can’t wait to get back into the game once the head start begins on May 31 so that we can see what other surprises you have in store for us.

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Treehouse Livin’

Over the weekend I spent lots of time and plenty of currency creating a treehouse on my character’s housing plot:

Given how indifferent I’ve always been to MMO housing systems in the past, it was a really big and strange deal for me to be so engaged with this project. I can’t even say particularly how or why I decided to get started. Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could do it.

From the Ground Up

I started out slowly with plenty of staircases, wooden 2x4s, pillars and wooden platforms (which are all, thankfully, some of the cheapest materials you can buy). Eventually I circled the tree multiple times. While there are no true physics in WildStar’s housing – you can place anything anywhere – I wanted to make my treehouse seem as if it might be structurally possible.

It’s really difficult for me to pinpoint what exactly it is about WildStar’s housing system that has captured my interest. If you told me last week that I would have spent several hours over the weekend laying individual 2x4s in a video game, I’d probably have said you must not know me very well. Normally I just have no interest in that kind of minutiae, and yet on Sunday I agonized over how to place pillows so that they looked as if they’d been casually tossed on my deck.

Some of the appeal for me is simply how many different pieces of furniture are available, and how well each of those items fits into WildStar’s overall theme. While I did end up placing a lot of individual pieces together in order to create curved steps or the railings that you see in the picture above, so much of what I needed already existed. The housing system has a good balance between giving you the materials you need to be able to create things from scratch and also giving you plenty of options for pre-made pieces. Essentially, you can do as little or as much work as you want and still end up with a house that looks like a home.

As much as I enjoyed putting together my treehouse over the weekend, it was pretty sad to think that all that hard work would disappear once open beta concludes. Fortunately, one of Carbine’s engineers, Aaron Chard, wrote an add-on in his spare time (i.e. when he wasn’t being paid to work on the game) that will allow you save your decor, reuse it later and even share it with other people. Grace over at Moonshine Mansion has written a post explaining how to install add-ons in WildStar and her experience with “Decor Set Manager.”

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Keeping Up With the Jonses

Another huge aspect of why I have enjoyed WildStar’s housing has been the social side of designing your home. You can become Neighbors with someone in order to allow them to visit your house whenever they wish – even if you’re offline at the time. This has led to some very good-natured and light-hearted competition between my guildmates and I to test the limits of what we can create. When I first log in, I tend to do a circuit of my neighbors’ houses to see what amazing new ideas they’ve come up with since I last visited.

There is also a choice to make your house public. If you do so, your house will show up in a list of public housing plots that anyone on your server can visit at any time. It’s a great way to show off your decor, and it’s also a nice way to make any challenges you’ve placed on your plot accessible to everyone. Challenges are timed events in WildStar. You will encounter the vast majority of them while you are questing, but there are also certain challenges which you can place on your own housing plot. They award cosmetic items and dyes, and can be used by anyone who visits your lot. In my experience, many people who have found some of the rare housing plot challenges have made their lots public so that other players are able to experience those challenges as well.

Some of the rarer housing “plugs” I’ve seen are even a step above challenges. There are a handful of plugs that are actually portals to instanced mini-dungeons. In at least one case so far, defeating the final boss of the mini-dungeon rewarded me with my own version of that housing plug, so that I can now go back to my house and put that portal on my own land for all my friends to use.

I love the idea that when you find an interesting rare item – like one of these housing plot challenges – the goal really isn’t to keep that for yourself, but instead to share it with as many people as you can. Though the house owner really doesn’t benefit from having players running around her lot, the prevailing attitude still seems to be “I have something fun that other people would probably enjoy. I should let them visit and experience it for themselves!”

Public housing is yet another way that WildStar encourages its players to get out there and meet other people. This option, along with zone events and mobs that do not tag to the first person who hits them, seems to demonstrate a commitment to encouraging people to play together and help each other out.  I hope that this positive attitude survives the game’s launch, and I can’t wait to see the ideas that people on my future server come up with.

First Impressions of Healing in WildStar

Choosing a Class

Brutal honesty time. I decided to try an Esper healer because I loved the way the spells looked. Espers heal with butterflies, fish, giant lanterns, paper lanterns, balloons and a giant absorb shield that turns your target into a super –armored golden knight. They’re basically amazing.

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Fortunately, I also ended up enjoying the Esper’s healing style. It has more single-target spells than the other 2 healing classes (Medic and Spellslinger), but since my tank was the only person taking consistent damage I was able to mostly keep her targeted and heal the rest of my party with my telegraph abilities. I only found myself needing to switch targets when another party member was either targeted by a specific ability (which was rare) or when one of us failed to move out of a telegraph in time.

The non-tank damage in WildStar’s Adventures and Dungeons is almost entirely avoidable. If you are quick enough to move out of telegraphs before they hit you, it is very possible to go through an entire encounter and take very little damage at all. That may sound like it has the potential to get boring, but remember that you will also be dodging those same telegraphs as the rest of your team as well as aiming your healing spells so that they will hit your tank.

While I was using 2-3 single-target spells in the Dungeons I ran, I noticed that those spells tended to be more expensive to cast than their telegraphed counterparts. So while I suppose I could have worried only about moving out of enemy telegraphs rather than using my own healing ones, it would been a significant strain on my Focus (your spell-casting resource) to only use my single-target heals.

The Add-on Frontier

For many seasoned healers, the use of an add-on to augment our efficiency and speed has become second nature. I have been using some type of healing add-on for very nearly the entire time I have been healing in WoW, and I have always suggested at least the use of mouseover macros.

But WildStar is, of course, still in beta and while its developers have decided to allow add-ons, the functionality and availability of them can change from day to day. This week I did stumble across a Grid-style add-on for WildStar healing, but I haven’t downloaded it just yet. In fact, the only add-on I’m currently running is BijiPlates, which draws friendly and enemy nameplates in a way that feels more natural and readable than the default UI.

So all that said, I have been running 5 person Adventures and Dungeons without any healing-specific add-on for the last several weeks. And you know what? I’m doing just fine.

I’m never going to make the obnoxious argument that using a healing add-on is akin to using training wheels, and I totally understand if folks will want healing add-ons if for no other reason than it’s what we are used to and what feels most comfortable. But a major part of why I feel that I can go without healing add-ons in WildStar is directly tied into why I enjoy its healing in the first place.

What Makes It Fun?

Everything I’ve said so far today pertains only to healing in Adventures and Dungeons. I have yet to try healing in raids, and I am sure I will not do so until sometime well after launch. But despite my limited experience, I’ve gotten enough of a taste to be pretty sure that I’m going to enjoy what’s next.

As I discussed yesterday, WildStar’s combat system feels more engaging because it requires me to pay so much more attention to my surroundings. I was initially very skeptical of its developers claim that their combat system would have healers doing something more than watching green bars. Now, let me be clear. I do still spend plenty of my time keeping an eye on green bars. The first thing I did was move my party frames down to the bottom of my screen so that they’d be at the same eye level as my feet – the eye level I’m used to from my WoW UI.

Over time, however, I found I was able to train myself to start looking up rather than down. I was keeping an eye on the friendly nameplates above my teammates’ heads rather than the party frames. It’s a small psychological and semantic distinction, but an important one. By encouraging me to raise my eye level to the characters on the screen, the game made it possible for me to simultaneously watch my allies’ health and positions, the telegraphs of enemy mobs and also my own healing telegraphs. It felt much more like a system that was designed with all the pieces moving together, rather than a setting in which my focus on a healing add-on feels distinctly divorced from my attention to positioning and boss abilities.

Essentially, I was able to focus on the screen in a way that is usually reserved for tanking and DPS players, which is a much more intuitive and fun way to interact with a game’s PvE content. I suspect that this may also be a part of why players who usually do not enjoy healing in traditional tab-targeting environments are likely to find WildStar’s healing more engaging and accessible to them.

Why WildStar?

Sure as shucks happy to see you ’round these parts!

Sorry, but poorly-recreated Western slang is just something you’ll have to get used to around this blog. If you’ve ended up here because you know me from the World of Warcraft community, then thanks for giving me a chance to talk to you about another game I enjoy. If we’re crossing paths for the very first time, then hello and howdy – glad to have you here.

Many people have asked me over the last 6 months why exactly I’ve been talking about WildStar and why I intend to play it at launch. I’ve tried to explain its appeal in quite a few tweets along the way, but a brand new blog seems like a much better space to explore this question.

Personality, Style & Humor

The thing that first stood out to me about WildStar wasn’t anything about its combat or its systems, but simply how it looked and how its creators talked about it. The trailers and “Dev Speaks” (brief videos that introduce some part of the game) are some of the funniest and most eye-catching marketing I’ve ever seen for an MMO.

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I was engaged immediately by WildStar’s incredibly stylized visuals, and while that sort of cartoony brightness doesn’t appeal to all, I found that it was a refreshing and amusing change from the games I typically play. Even more importantly, however, was the amazing sense of humor the game displays about itself, its marketing, games in general, its characters and pretty much anything and everything else you can think of. Though WildStar recognizes the seriousness of having fantastic gameplay and systems, it is never in danger of taking itself too seriously.

I find myself laughing constantly when I play this game, whether it’s because I find a new creature that’s one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen (I’m looking at you, vinds) or because the in-game narrator has congratulated me for being a “total badass” when I reach a new level. I am constantly amazed at how well this humor is balanced, because it could so easily tip to the side of feeling like a self-congratulatory brofest extraordinaire. But it never does. It expertly toes the line between teasing gaming culture and yet also being a part of it, and since that line is a place where I spend quite a lot of my time these days, WildStar made me feel right at home.

Building a Home

Speaking of homes, WildStar has a player housing system that rivals The Sims in its depth and customizability. Now, again, if you know me from the Warcraft community, then you know that I pretty vocally don’t give a rowsdower’s patootie about player housing – or so I thought. When I started playing around with customizing my home in WildStar and then inviting my friends to become my neighbors, all that changed.

Over the last 2 beta weekends, I spent hours at my home. The housing system in WildStar feels as if someone handed you all the bits and pieces that game developers use to create a world and said, “Here. Let’s see what you can do.” It isn’t simply a matter of choosing a bed and some curtains that you like. Items can be fully manipulated in 3 dimensions, allowing you to create literally almost anything you can imagine (even a grand piano made one piece of wood at a time, or a giant skate park for you and your friends).

Engaging Combat

WildStar has chosen a combat system that is primarily based on “skill-shot” mechanics. This means that rather than simply choosing an enemy to target and then using your keybinds to send spells or other attacks at them, you are constantly and actively aiming your skills to ensure that they hit the maximum number of targets possible.

While this type of system isn’t completely new for MMOs, it was completely new for me since my MMO resumé only included games that used a standard tab targetting systems. I found WildStar’s skill-shot (more often referred to as “telegraph”) system to be highly engaging, entertaining and rewarding. It required me to focus on what I was doing during combat more than I usually need to, and gave me the freedom to turn nearly every ability into a multiple-target attack if I was able to line up my shot correctly.

Because I have primarily been an MMO healer for the last 5 years or so, I couldn’t wait to see how this system translated into healing mechanics. While that will be a post of its own, for now let’s simply say that WildStar’s healing is so engaging that I’ve seen MMO players who never play healers talking about how much they enjoy doing it in this game. More on that to come.

See Ya’ll in Nexus!

So yes, obviously, I intend to play WildStar at launch. I can’t wait to spend my time in a place that makes me laugh so loudly and so often, while simultaneously challenging me with new gameplay systems and mechanics that I hadn’t considered before – and it doesn’t hurt that I’ve managed to wrangle a few amazing friends to make the journey with me.

Happy trails to you and yours!