Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Way to Fix Rogues

Greatly buff haste rating, but add diminishing returns.

I'm talking double the current effect of haste rating for a 2.5 speed weapon. As for diminishing returns, I don't mean a linear "the more haste you add, the less it's worth" in the traditional sense. I mean that the faster your weapon gets, the less effect haste has. So for a 2.7 speed sword, 30 haste rating might increase your swing speed by 1%. For a 1.4 speed dagger, the same 30 haste rating only increases your swing speed by, say, .6%. And from the starting point of your weapon's base speed, the value of haste decreases slightly as you gain more, since your weapon is getting faster.

This fixes a lot of problems at once:

It would increase sustained white damage without making Mutilate or Evis hit harder in PvP.

It would buff Combat more than Mutilate thanks to the diminishing returns aspect. Slower Combat weapons would scale extremely well with haste, and this would be a major overall raid buff for any combat rogue who has haste rating. Faster daggers would see a slight bump to white damage from the overall increase to haste rating's effectiveness, but it would be blunted by the fast starting speed of their weapons.

This also helps alleviate a current problem with Mutilate: they heavily favor faster weapons, even at a loss to weapon dps and stats. This would make a 1.8 speed dagger more desirable than it currently is (right now they get DE'd or given to a hunter), without at the same time making players throw their 1.4 speed daggers in the bank.

Haste is a crappy pvp stat, so this wouldn't do much to increase their pvp damage, especially since almost all pvp rogues use daggers.

Note: This also has the potential to make haste rating more desirable to DKs, Ret Pallies, and DPS Warriors, since they use very slow weapons. However, I don't think those classes need a dps buff right now, so unless this is accompanied by some other nerf to them, I would recommend only changing how the formula for haste applies to Rogues.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to Fix Rogues

Reduce the base damage of Mutilate significantly, and slightly reduce the base damage of Envenom and Eviscerate. Then, let Deadly Poison stack to 10 and increase its duration. Continue to allow all moves to scale the way they currently do with stats like Attack Power.

You've buffed overall rogue damage for all three raid specs in raids, while reducing Mutilate's burst damage in PvP only.

Deadly Poison will do more damage, but won't reach its full potential unless the fight is long enough for you to get your stacks up. It lasts longer so you aren't punished for having to move during raid bosses. It also reduces how much of rogue damage is mitigated by armor by making a larger portion of it poison damage.

In PvP, rogues will face a major trade-off if they choose to use Deadly Poison: they get less advantage from Deadly Brew (which procs Crippling off of other poisons besides Deadly), and they can't use Gouge or Blind as freely on a target that has a DoT on them. So you force pvp rogues to pick between either more sustained damage, or more control, while nerfing their burst damage. Their raid damage is still the same because the extra Deadly Poison damage makes up for the nerfs to Mut and Envenom, while raid damage for Combat goes up. HaT builds (deep Subtlety raid builds based off the talent Honor Among Thieves) stay at roughly the same damage as their Deadly dps goes up but their Eviscerates go down a little.

Busy day at work, Dale the Game Mechanic is still on his way.

LATE NIGHT EDIT: I was thinking about this, and just realized that Envenom wipes Deadly Poison stacks, so this wouldn't be very Assassination-friendly. If the damage of Envenom were reduced slightly, could we get away with having it not remove Deadly?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Intermission: The State of Rogues

Taking a break from my regular schedule because I wanted to point out a few recent revelations in the world of roguing. If you don't play a rogue, this stuff will probably bore you to tears and only half make sense.

  • It appears that with the buff to FoK, my aoe dps matches even mages. Just keep SnD up and white hit one target while pounding on your FoK key and you win.

  • Combat Rogues have been using the Glyph of Slice and Dice, along with the Improved SnD talent to extend the length of their SnD. Recently, it's been discovered that a 7/51/13 rogue (the most powerful combat spec right now) can actually increase his dps by exchanging the glyph for the Blade Flurry or Adrenaline Rush glyph. Further, if they are using a fist MH/sword OH combination, they can take a point out of imp. SnD and use that point to finish out Sword Specialization for an overall DPS increase (see the build here). An optimal rotation for this setup keeps Rupture uptime at 100%. It alternates 3 or 4 point SnDs with 5-point Ruptures. This rotation doesn't require all of that extra time on SnD, so you don't need the glyph and only need 1 point in the talent. This becomes even more advantageous with the 2-piece tier 7 set bonus, which increases Rupture damage by 10%. 15/51/5 rogues still want to stick with something like a 5s/5r/5e rotation with their SnD time maxed via glyphs and talents.

  • Ghostcrawler has announced that Mutilate specs vastly outdamage Combat specs, and that a Combat buff (and a rogue buff) is imminent. According to the spreadsheet, at my current gear level, I see at most a 100 dps difference under optimal conditions by respeccing Mutilate. It must be that this difference appears at higher gear levels. Also keep in mind that my available Combat weapons are slightly better than my available Mutilate weapons. I'm betting a Mut rogue with 2 Webbed Deaths (good because they are so fast) is probably beating a Combat rogue with their optimal weapon combo (Calamity's Grasp and Hailstorm).

  • In case you didn't know, you should use Wound Poison instead of Instant Poison if you are playing a Combat spec.

Ixobelle's Design a Raid Challenge Phase 2: Dale the Game Mechanic

After overloading your mind's eye with awesomeness yesterday, it's time to take a step back and largely ignore the wrappings for a moment. Instead, I want to design an encounter that only serves one master: game mechanics. I want to make something fun and innovative that covers all of the bases that make a fight interesting.

Phase 2: Dale the Game Mechanic

To start with, the wrappings have to serve my game design. To give myself as many options as possible, I've decided to make Dale a gnome, who works as a mechanic (get it!?!?) fixing various robots and machines. This way, I can invent any gnomish machine I might need to accomplish any design goal. If I want a robot made out of reflective diamonds that breaths fire and can jump across the room at will, then nothing about the lore or ambiance prevents me from doing that.

So, what are the core things I want this fight to have:

1) Something to prevent "tunnel vision". Ixo observed that this function is important. We don't want the player to be able to zone out the entire time.

2) Accountability. You should NOT be able to beat this encounter, no matter what your gear, while carrying 30% or more of your raid. But I want you to be able to bring along one friend who isn't very good without it screwing you over completely, so this aspect will need to be carefully balanced.

3) Your mistakes reduce your effectiveness, but don't kill you outright. Void zones that instantly kill you are just too punishing of minor mistakes. Instead, have them take you out of the fight temporarily. Having them do raid damage can be OK, but only if you aren't already taxing the healers. Many current encounters in WoW are only difficult because they are brutal to your healers, but not anything special to the dps.

4) Avoid dependence on luck. It's frustrating when you fail because the boss randomly summoned 8 adds when it's possible he could only summon 2. You do not want a situation where people just purposely wipe on the boss over and over until they get the "lucky" combination of abilities.

5) Phases should be dictated by the mechanics of the fight. Sometimes 1 is ok, but usually you want 2-3 so it doesn't get boring. More than 3 would be too confusing.

6) Don't require resist gear or any other unusual preparation. I think this type of barrier to entry is unnecessary, and lazy game design. Make the encounter itself a challenge, not farming the mats to be able to face him.

7) Include a dps "burn" phase. Because these are always fun. It's always disappointing if you never get a chance to really attack a boss. People have a lot invested in their characters - let them play their characters. In fact...

8) Let people play their characters. Don't put them in vehicles the entire time, and also don't make them spend the whole fight running somewhere or clicking something so that they rarely get to use their abilities.

9) No decursing. This is a pet peeve of mine. Decursing is never fun. It also makes your encounter favor some classes over others, which I want to avoid.

10) Don't favor any classes over others. Players cannot switch class at will, and you can't really choose the class of your friends or of the good players you know. Don't make my guild bring a crappy player or annoying person because that person happens to be a shadow priest or a shaman or whatever.

11) Give tanks something to do besides stare at the boss's crotch and spam threat abilities.

12) Deal with the fact that your raid is going to have more than one tank in it, because most encounters require more than 1. Give that offtank something to do besides terrible dps.

13) Stop punishing melee dps! You make them avoid all kinds of crap the ranged don't have to worry about, but you don't give them extra dps to compensate or anything. So just stop with the abilities that only effect the melee.

14) Variable difficulty with commensurate rewards. This is a hard one. I probably will leave this out at first, because it deserves its own separate examination. But my ideal encounter would allow it to be done on a "hard mode" that requires more skill and coordination (NOT MORE GEAR!) and offers much better rewards for completing it that way. I think I will design the encounter without this first, and then either find a way to build it in, or design a new encounter around the idea.


Well, this post turned into my list of guidelines for designing a fun raid encounter. Instead of getting into the specifics of Dale today (I'll save him for tomorrow), I'd like to open the floor to commenters: what would you add/subtract from these guidelines? How would you change them? Hopefully you can help me improve my guidelines before I present an encounter based on them.

[note: image is some fan art submitted to blizzard. I couldn't find the right person to credit for it.]

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ixobelle's Design a Raid Challenge Phase 1: the Awesomeing

On his own blog, my lone commentor Ixobelle issued a challenge to the blogosphere: design your own raid encounter. If you don't like how things are, show how you can do them better.

Since I work better when I have a laser-like focus, I'm dividing my response into 2 or 3 parts. Each will get their own post.

Phase 1: The Awesomeing

Ixo says:
"It doesn't have to be terribly complicated. I think the initial problem is that people immediately WANT to make it some huge event where you need to push levers or everyone needs to be involved in something extravagant to make it enjoyable. Let's take a look at a few (varied) examples."

Though I'm not intending to make it terribly complicated, I have a feeling that Ixo isn't going to like The Awesomeing. I have a feeling he's going to prefer my second entry, "Dale the Game Mechanic".

You see, for me raid encounters have two key aspects:
  • The game mechanics
  • The wrappings (set pieces, events, graphics/sounds, characters...basically, the "coolness factor")
A good example of coolness factor is Malygos. He has some unique graphical effects, including the zoom-out on vortexes, the "platform in space" fighting arena, henchmen on floating disks that the players can ride, and in the piece de resistance, he shatters the ground out from under you, but you are saved by opposing dragons whom you then ride for the remainder of the encounter. Malygos is a major lore figure, and another major lore figure shows up after the fight to give a speech about how awesome you are. All of this contributes to a feeling of novelty, coolness, and weight that makes the player feel heroic and just makes the encounter more entertaining.

You can have the best game mechanics in the world, but if your fighting a gray box in a plain room, your raid isn't going to hold my interest. Now, if you replace that with a rotating observatory inhabited by an awesome vampire werewolf, suddenly you've piqued my interest.

So what I'm going to do today is focus mostly on awesomeizing my encounter. I'm going to try to make the game mechanics as interesting as possible, but not focus on that aspect. Tomorrow, I'll try to make the most interesting raid to play I can think of using generic window dressings. Then, I will most likely combine both approaches into one final encounter that balances both interests. But I thought it would be a fun exercise to first look at coolness factor on it's own, and then look at game mechanics on their own before creating a balanced encounter.

You'll find that, by the end, I simply prove Ixo right.

--------Yogg Saron vs. the World: THE AWESOMEING-------------------

Game-mechanic-wise, I first looked at what I think needs the most fixing about current WoW raids. They need to require skill and personal responsibility, but not be over-taxing nor over-punishing. There will be no decursing (annoying!) and no void zones that instantly kill you (frustrating to completely die because you made on small mistake!). In fact, there will likely not be either of those in any encounter I design unless I build the entire encounter around them just to be a dick.

I also want the encounter to be flexible. If your raid has 2 tanks, that's cool. If your raid has only 1 real tank, that's cool too.

So let's set the stage: your raid flies in or is summoned to a stone just outside your faction's camp. The horde and alliance front lines stand beside each other, fighting a constantly-raging battle in front of a massive Titan tower, which appears to be corrupts and ovverun by inky black tendrills and other Lovecraftian horrors. A group of Azeroth's mightiest heroes gather in the space between the camps. Present are Thrall, Jaina, Tirion Fordring (the Ashbringer), Mograine (the leader of the Ebon Blade), and Sylvanas. Seeing that your group has arrived, they summon a hired goblin engineer to hand out an item you'll need for the upcoming battle: a pair of goblin rocket boots.

Once you are equipped, Thrall and Tirion shout some brief, but stirring words, then the horde and alliance shoulders charge forward, cutting a swath through the advancing faceless ones and opening up a hole to allow your raid, accompanied by the heroes, to run into the tower.

Inside the tower are 5 teleportation pads. A hero stands on each one, and you must split your raid into either pairs or sets of 5 (depending on raid size). Once you are ready, the pads teleport each group to a separate section of the room at the top of the tower.

The boss is a shadowy monster, using some awesome visual effects, with many creepy tentacles and toothy maws. Yogg Saron sits in 5 pieces, one in each walled-off room. Each pieces isn't super-hard, but will have a random special ability. They will be manageable no matter how you broke up your group: 2 dps can take one out just as well as a tank/healer pair, especially considering that each groups is aided by a powerful NPC hero. This part enforces individual contribution. If one or two of your raiders are really bad, you aren't getting past phase 1.

Once all 5 pieces are defeated. Massive amounts of energy are unleashed, destroying all of the walls to the top floor as well as the ceiling, leaving your raid standing on a cracked platform with low, jagged walls (about 15 feet high) surrounded by nothing but dramatically-colored sky. Throughout this phase, an airship approaches in the sky, and circles the tower, bombarding the raid periodically. On the bright side, the platform is very large.The pieces come together and slowly start forming a whole. The heroes and raid attack. Every few seconds, the boss will use telekenisis to randomly lift and throw a raid member away. You can use the gnomish rocket boots to boost yourself back to the fight. If you fail to do so, your only penalty is a small amount of fall damage and the lost time as you run back to the fight.

The boss does 4 other attacks, each corresponding to one limb. One will be a cone of raw aoe damage in front of him. One will be a shield that requires the raid to stop dps for a moment.
One of them causes him to need to be moved around by the tank (an aoe damage zone, or something like the sparks from Malygos). One tentacle will shoot into the ground, then give some warning before popping out of the ground under a player. This is meant to prevent players from getting tunnel vision, and functions like a void zone. It just doesn't one-shot you, instead simply doing minor damage and taking you out of the fight for a few seconds.The specific abilities aren’t important, just that they have variety and cool factor without being annoying or unduly punishing one group, such as melee.

At 40% health, it calls in a literal army of minions to protect itself. At first your group helps, but soon the monster tries to make an escape on the airship. Jaina teleports your raid and Thrall up onto the airship, while she and the other heroes remain behind, holding back the army in an attempt protect the remaining horde and alliance troops.

On the airship, you battle the boss, who has shadowy mind-powers. Without the damage of the heroes, the health of the boss drops a lot more slowly. At 20% health, he’ll do a desperate mental attack that makes each raider phase into a shadow realm where they fight an image of themselves (their own personal demons) individually. This works a lot like the last fight in the AK 5 man instance.

After that, when the boss is at 10%, he’ll get even more desperate and say “if I’m going down, I’m taking you with me!” The airship will shatter, and everyone will begin to fall. Thrall will summon wind to slow our fall, and we must continue the fight against the boss while in free-fall. After about a minute, we’ll hit the water. Thrall’s wind will help us, but if we don’t use our rocket boots at the right time, we take some fall damage. Thrall will then freeze the water immediately under the group, so we fight the boss on a platform of ice, and have to swim back when he throws us. Thrall will periodically summon tidal waves to batter the boss, and in order to avoid collateral damage the raid must dive under the water at the right time.

The boss dying has to be a HUGE setpiece. Thunder, flashes of light, the sky going dark, shockwaves, the whole 9 yards.


So, each member of your raid must contribute to pass the first phase. Then, there's personal responsibility, particularly with the rocket boots. But, mistakes don't cause a wipe, and instead just reduce your group's effectiveness by taking the failing players out of the fight temporarily. Melee are not unduly punished, and neither are healers, who have constant minor raid damage to fix, but nothing as demanding as KT's Ice Blocks, etc.

But the bottom line is that the fight is awesome. It includes Azeroth's greatest heroes, a great-looking and lore-rich enemy and fighting environment, and some exciting changes of set pieces, including a section of the fight done completely in free-fall! Seriously, I dare you to beat the combination of rocket boots, airships, old gods, lore heroes, free-falling, and tidal waves for coolness factor. This was basically the most over-the-top fanservice encounter I could possibly imagine. But overall, as a raid encounter, is it the best I can do?


It's too much of a slave to it's own coolness. Does it really make actually playing the fight more fun to combine 5 different fighting environments? Do we really need all those heroes? In the end, the game mechanics suffer because I wanted the most epic feel I could get. I like some of the game mechanics I came up with for this, but I think the encounter could be a lot tighter.

So tomorrow, I'll experiment with designing an encounter that focuses solely on a fun, rewarding, and novel gameplay experience, without concerning myself with whether or not it's awesome.

We'll see how that works out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Malygos: Finally, Some Real Raiding. Will Ulduar Restore the Balance?

I've done a lot of raiding in the past week. I started with Archavon 25, then Obsidian Sanctum 25, then my first-ever Naxx 25 (yes, appallingly, every boss except Thaddius and KT is much, much easier on heroic than in normal) clear, all as part of an alliance with another guild, along with a few pugs. Then, my small 10-man guild decided that we were going to take out Malygos. We'd only even entered the Eye of Eternity once before, and only had time for one attempt to try out the fight (we made it to the 3rd phase, but then hit the 10-minute enrage timer). After finally downing Malygos, we went and got the achievement for killing Sartharion with only 8 people in the raid (we are very close to also having this in Naxxramas, with only the abom wing and sapph/KT left to be done with 8. We even did 4 Horsemen with 8 people, even though they are the only boss NOT part of the achievement, presumably because it would be too hard!). Then the next night we cleared all 4 wings of Naxx 10 in about 3 hours, leaving Sapph and KT for tonight before the reset.

So Naxx 10, a mere 2 months after Wrath's release, is already more trivial than Karazhan was 2 years after TBC's release. I can't decide if this is a good or bad thing. Kara was too hard for entry-level raiding. I think the problem right now is that Naxx is pretty much all of the raiding content we have. Once Ulduar is out, I think it will become clear that having an easy entry-level raid instance was a good call. It just isn't working at the moment because the next step hasn't been patched in yet.

So, back to Malygos. Learning and defeating Malygos took us about 3 hours of concentrated attempts, with no breaks. Maly is the only boss in Wrath where learning him felt like a real raid encounter. Back in vanilla WoW or TBC, when it was time to learn a new boss, you'd spend an entire night or two wiping on him over and over while you figured out your strategy, got everyone to follow it, and perhaps optimized your stats or group makeup. In contrast, every Wrath boss until Maly took at most 2-3 attempts, but were usually one-shot the first time we saw them. The old experience of feeling that rewarding progress through content was gone. Defeating Malygos is the first time my guild actually cheered over vent since the day we got our Amani War Bear. Winning really felt like an accomplishment.

At first, we struggled with the sparks until we got a good system down. The sparks move toward Maly, and must be killed before reaching him. Ideally, you kill them on top of your dps so you get a damage boost. Once we found the right way for our group to manage that, it mostly came down to practicing the third phase, letting everyone get the hang of their dragon's abilities and when/how to use them. Manuevering was especially difficult, since everyone needed to stay together and have split-second reactions to shield themselves and get out of aoe damage areas while staying with the group. We had many attempts where we brought him down to 10-15% health and hit the enrage timer, mostly due to losing too many people during the dragon phase. It just goes to show how much practice can pay off that when we finally beat him, we had over 30 seconds left and only 2 people were dead. What an improvement!

What really worked for us was using a Death Knight to control the sparks, allowing us to stack two at a time and cut down how long we were in the first phase. We started with a TG warrior in the raid, but he had to leave and we swapped in a DK. The first few attempts were much more difficult due to the lack of Death Grip; I feel sorry for any 10 man group doing this encounter without a DK (which seems like an oversight in designing the encounter). We managed OK with good movement of the boss, and with a Druid rooting the sparks, but we still had to settle for usually having only one spark buff on our DPS instead of a stack of two.

On phase 3, we used 2 healers and 8 dps stacking their fire dot. What really pushed us over the edge, though, was realizing that the combo-point-building HoT was largely useless compared to the aoe heal finisher. So we had the healers spam their fire attack for combo points, and then just use the combo points to AoE heal. This proved to be by far the most effective strategy.

Even though we wiped at least 10 times, this was the most fun I've had raiding in Wrath, and the jubilation when we downed him was nothing short of amazing.

There is a place for easier encounters, for entry-level raids that can be pugged. But there is also a place for "real" raiding. As I've been harping on non-stop lately: I hope that balance will be restored with Ulduar.

And hopefully my gear concerns will be answered in 3.1 as well. It would be nice ifUlduar 25 was tuned to require much better gear than Ulduar 10. That will at least make Ulduar 25 somewhat more difficult than 10, helping justify the tier jump in rewards.

I also hope that Ulduar 10 gear is a clear upgrade over Naxx 25 gear. It would be pretty sad if elite 10-man guilds, no matter how good they got at Ulduar 10, still only managed to match, rather than exceed, the gear of some scrub who got carried through Naxx 25, which certainly will be easier than Ulduar 10 in every way.

But I'm also wary of the common belief in the community that Ulduar will "save" raiding. There is no way for it to live up to the expectations that are being put on it. If only Blizz hadn't allowed the raiding game to get to its current, sorry state, we wouldn't have to be pinning all of our hopes on Ulduar. I have high hopes, but I'm keeping my expectations low. I'll whine and complain here about bad game design and poor choices, but in the end I'm going to keep paying Blizzard so I can beat up dragons with my friends. And I think Blizzard knows that.

WTB an MMO market that isn't monopolized. I'd love a real alternative to WoW. Other MMOs on the market, like City of Heroes and WAR, have appealing qualities, but in the end don't offer an experience that I find competitive with what WoW has to offer. I wouldn't fault others for preferring different MMOs, but I've tried many and I know that for me, WoW is the most fun. They have yet to screw it up so badly that I'll accept what are, for me, vastly inferior alternatives.

People complain about ads on the general forums, and other ways Blizzard is further monetizing the playerbase. Personally, I think we are lucky. Blizzard could probably insert in-game ads, sell ad space on the loading screens, start offering true micro-transactions, and go to other cynical lengths to increase profits. I think they could do all of that, and still retain 80-90% of the playerbase, because they are the only real "game in town." I think we're lucky that the Activision accounting department hasn't already forced them to do so.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Laziness: Protector

This Friday's Laziness is brought to you by Protector, the incredibly addictive flash game you can play in your browser. I have now verified that it is entirely possible to spend all of one's regularly scheduled blogging time playing this game. I do this research for you, people!

Play the most updated version, subtitled Reclaiming the Throne, here.

It's a super-addictive, extremely deep tower-defense style game in a fantasy setting. Give it a try, unless you value being productive.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Has Blizzard Stopped Caring About WoW?

A comment on Tobold's blog by Gevlon got me thinking.

"There is a catch though: The whole game can get the "hype" of being "peon-game" played by losers, morons and small kids, that can eventually kill it. However Blizzard is already working on other games so they don't have to bother."

Has Blizzard really stopped caring about WoW?

First, I have to address Gevlon's first point. It's true that people will (and already are) start to perceive WoW as an easy, mindless kiddy-game only played by morons. But the thing that Gevlon is forgetting?

Almost everyone is a moron.

The entire reason Blizzard made this xpac so easy is because out of the 11 million subscribers, 10.5 million of them suck, and the Actiblizzard accounting department was tired of losing profits because paying customers were quitting when they found the game too hard, or hit a point where they could no longer advance because they were too dumb or lazy to improve.

In my opinion, the dumbing-down of the game is not a sign that Blizzard doesn't care about WOW's reputation and has simply moved on to the next-gen MMO we all know they're designing. I think they want it to have that reputation. They want WoW to continue to be the Nintendo Wii of MMOs: everyone knows that it's fun, easy, and anyone can do it. It's not as geeky or hard as those "hardcore" games that only those loser "gamers" play. Everyone plays WoW, because everyone can play WoW. Blizz-Act-ard wants that type of reputation for their flagship cash-cow. Cha-ching.

So I don't think that the dumbing-down indicates that they've stopped caring, I think it means simply that Blizzard has much different priorities in designing their game than you do (or that you think they should). I'd like WoW better if it didn't have a reputation as an easy game played by children, and if I didn't have to assume that 90% of the people I encounter in pugs will be flat-out terrible at the game. But Blizzivision's accountants like the game better when it prints copious amounts of money.

If anything, Blizzard seems to care more about the game now than ever. Or rather, they now have the resources to show how much they care. Ghostcrawler's new level of community engagement, the new (and better, imo) approach to design decisions (except for difficulty), all the new features, the fact that Wrath was full of innovation rather than a simple retread . . . all point to them continuing to care about the game, rather than letting it coast along while they work on "some other project that they actually care about".

Terrible bugs and balance issues have always been there, in one form or another. They just keep moving to different places. Three years ago, druids were by far the worst class in the game, now they are arguably the most desireable. Two years ago, classes that now dominate arena couldn't get a spot on a team. Warlocks are in terrible shape now (which NEEDS to be fixed soon!), but that was after being the flat-out golden children of most of TBC.

I love Gevlon's blog, but I think he's wrong on this one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yes We Can wait too long, Hoping for Change from patch 3.08

My apologies for missing Monday and Tuesday this week, I was busy preparing for and attending a little-known event where the position of the leader of the most powerful country in the world is peacefully handed from one man to another. A mere 2 million are estimated to have attended. Not much, really.

Anyway while I was standing in the tightly-packed throng, waiting hours to see history in person, at the other end of the country Blizzard was pushing through the long-awaited patch 3.08, the first since Wrath launched. It's about time. The patch is full of bug fixes and balance changes, many of which Blizzard admitted were problems as much as a month or 6 weeks ago. And we all just had to wait around and live with them while Blizzard took it's sweet time getting the patch out. I know this is logistically difficult for them, but really: you have a million jillion kazillion dollars, you can afford to put the patch out in two parts rather than making us wait for urgent bug fixes while you got the numbers right on a new weapon enchant that no one actually wanted and you ended up pulling from the game (specifically, the +stam enchant).

So it's finally here. As always, you can find an exhaustive list over at MMO-Champion, and it would be futile for me to go into everything here. So what am I excited about?

  • Fan of Knives loses it's cooldown! Word on the street is that we rogues can finally compete with casters on AoE pulls by spamming this. And not a moment too soon, as every single group trash pull, from heroics to Naxx, has worryingly become a mindless, CC-free AoE spam-fest. Rather than tune the trash so it can't be AoE'd down, Blizz has instead had to radically alter every class/spec to give them competitive AoE. Having strong AoE for the rare times you need it used to be a special benefit to bringing a mage (and later, some other classes). Now it is a necessity if you want to get a spot in a group. Overall, pretty lame, but I'm glad to be able to compete better on trash now. The patch also improves FoK's damage when wielding daggers, so that's nice.
  • DK +Defense weapon enchant! I just hit the defense cap of 540 with my Death Knight, but it was quite a struggle, requiring enchants, multiple heroic drops, 2 revered reputations, a number of crafted items, and gemming exlusively for defense. Now I can hit the cap more easily, and balance my stats better (more HP here I come!)
  • DK sigils! These should have been in the xpac from the beginning, honestly. As far as I know, the only available sigils were: a) the one all DKs got in the starter are, b) one that drops in Naxx25, and c) one from pvp rewards. None of them were really that great. Now, we can spend badges on a +defense sigil (even more help for reaching cap!), and do a few easy quests in Grizzly Hills for one of 3 spec-specific dps sigils. Very nice.
  • No more watching a moonkin aoe stun your entire arena team with Starfall stun procs!
  • They didn't put in the DK tanking weapons, nor the stamina weapon enchant! Deleting these was an awesome decision. Putting either of these in would have eliminated choice completely. No tanking DK would ever be interested in a Naxx weapon drop, because he'd have to keep his Blacksmithed tanking weapon. He wouldn't even really want an Ulduar drop. And no other weapon enchant would ever be used by tanks. I was quite disappointed when these appeared in the patch notes a few weeks ago, and quite happy when the devs gave the exact reason of "it would have eliminated choice" for axing them both. The only bummer is that I want a level 80 sword that looks like the Runeblade you get at the end of the DK starting area, and one of the blacksmithing tanking weapons shared the same model. Small price to pay.
  • Enchanting mat prices will balance out a bit more! Shards will rise in value while dusts will drop from their current insane levels.
  • Now make a DK on any server! Granted, this isn't working yet, but it will make it so much easier to join friends on another server casually, or to get my friends up to speed if I change servers. They should really do this with the other classes in some limited way. Like, if you have a level 55 on a server, you can make 1 level 55 of any class on any server, but you can only do it once per level 55 you earned the normal way. It would make it easier for friends to play together.
  • DK survivability not so bursty and cooldown-dependent! They buffed Frost Presence while nerfing our cooldowns, resulting in what I'd consider an overall tanking buff. The other night, I was tanking Heroic Nexus, and on the final boss I took almost no damage for the first 9/10 of the fight while I could keep popping cooldowns one after another, but once I ran out of cooldowns I died in about 3 hits. And my gear is not bad at all. This also fixed the "feature" that DKs were nigh-unkillable in PvP.
  • "Tapping: All player spells which cause a creature to become aggressive to you will now also immediately cause the creature to be tapped." SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE GAME FROM DAY ONE. Letting it go this long was nearly unforgiveable.
  • Druid gear now finally starts to make some sense! Feral Attack Power goes away, as does the need for Bear tanks to use a level 60 or 70 blue +armor trinket over level 80 epics with any other stat. No longer will my guild, without a single feral druid, have to cry every time we kill a boss that can drop a feral staff. Screw you, Illhoof. My entire guild has your hentai staff, but not a single person has actually ever used it for anything but very creative cyberz.

Well, I'm just glad this stuff finally came through. Despite how long it took to hit the live servers, I'm very heartened by what appears to be a rennaisance of Common Sense among the devs. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I think they've finally promoted all those "torture the player" holdovers from EQ (coughTigolecough) high enough in the company that they can't ruin the game design with their outdated philosophy anymore. You also have to give Ghostcrawler a lot of credit.

Thank you, Blizz. Now figure out a way to get this stuff out faster!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Un-Laziness: Gear Tiers

Ixobelle's comment on yesterday's post got me thinking:

"until you consider that the loot from 10-mans is an entire tier lower in quality than the loot from 25 mans

this is arguing semantics, but isn't really true... 7.5 and 7 are both basically the same. the difference between an iLevel 200 item and an iLevel 213 item is pretty insignificant."

I wondered what exactly constitutes a "tier" of gear in World of Warcraft.

Let's start with ilevels. As we know, tier 7 is ilevel 200 epic, while tier 7.5 is ilevel 213.

Taking one step back to TBC, there were 3 official sets of "tier" gear for rogues: Netherblade from Kara, Deathmantle from SSC/TK, and Slayer's from BT/Hyjal.

Netherblade is ilevel 120, while Deathmantle, a tier higher is 133. Exactly 13 ilevels of difference. Meanwhile, Slayer's pieces vary between 146 (another jump of 13) to 154 (for the pieces that dropped in Sunwell). Further, 159 (another jump of 13) was the ilevel of the pseudo-tier available in Sunwell.

So maybe in TBC, Blizz established a consistent standard of 13 ilevels per tier.

But let's go further back. Maybe the old-world sets can shed some light:

The classic Nightslayer from MC was ilevel 66. Bloodfang from BWL was 76 (hrm...the plot thickens!), and Bonescythe from the original level 60 Naxx was 86-92 (most pieces were either 86 or 88, with just the ring at 92). So we can see that back at level 60, a tier increase was only 10 ilevels, not 13.

It's very difficult to make assumptions based on this data, as there are a few possible interpretations that jump out at me:

1) In the original World of Warcraft, Blizzard didn't really know what they were doing when designing raid gear. During their richer and more enlightened recent years, they've settled on 13 ilevels as a "tier" and will probably remain that way indefinitely.

2) The ilevel gap between tiers must expand as the player increases in level. So if the ilevel gap at level 60 was 10, and the ilevel gap at 70 was 13, then the ilevel gap at 80 is either something like 16 (add 3 every 10 levels) or 17 (add 30% every 10 levels). This would put tier 7.5 at slightly less than a full tier apart from tier 7.

We won't really know which of these is true until Ulduar is released. Then it will become very clear what "a tier higher" really means.


Now whether the stat difference between the tiers is big enough to really care about...that's another question.

According to wowhead's item compare, just switching my 5 heroes pieces to valorous pieces gives me:

48 Agi
44 Sta
58 Armor
86 AP
21 Crit
5 Expertise
25 Haste
10 Hit

That seems pretty significant, but I'm not entirely convinced.

According to Vula'jin's most recent version of the rogue dps spreadsheet:

My theoretical max dps in full Naxx 10 gear (nothing from KT/Sapph/Maly except helm) with my usual 10-man raid buffs is:


While in full Naxx 25 gear is:


That's a 10.25% increase for replacing 16 items (I kept the Mirror of Truth trinket). Is that a lot, or a little? Seems smaller than I expected.

So it comes down to a matter of opinion: do you think that after gathering all of that gear, a jump in dps of 10% is significant? Was it even worth the extra effort? That is definitely debateable. And certainly not worth getting upset over.

But the thrust of my argument stands either way: tier 7.5 is more accessible to bad players than tier 7 is, and that's not the way it should be.

-Thanks for the comment, Ixo! I hadn't looked at it that way before. It's actually a big relief to know that I don't have to worry about scrubs in tier 7.5 using the gear advantage to brute force past me on the damage meters, since it's really not that big a difference, especially if they only have a few pieces. I don't really plan to do much 25 man raiding, now that I no longer have to herd all those cats just to see the content.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

25 mans are easier than 10 mans because you can carry more people at once.

The thing about the horse-rider relationship is that the horse does pretty much all of the work, while the rider calls all of the shots, and reaps the majority of the benefits. Sure, the horse gets food and shelter, but so do human slaves. The rider gets on-demand transportation at will, at great discomfort or pain for the horse. This is especially interesting because the horse holds a great deal of unused power: the horse can at any time choose to stop listening to the rider and go off in whatever direction she chooses, and the rider must either come along for the ride, or leap off and become stranded. And yet, the horse does not make this choice, because serving the rider allows her to achieve her main goals, which are food and shelter. So she accepts the extra work, and the indignity, in order to get what she wants.

This is my analogy for all 25-man raids outside of hardcore raiding guilds, by the way. (by hardcore, I mean with serious raid attendance and performance requirements, competing for server progression status: basically guilds where raiding is all that matters).

The horse is the high-performance raider (highP for short, because I don't feel like typing it out every time). This is someone who is familiar with their class mechanics, has a good rotation and idea of how to set up their stats and spec. They bring consumables, learn the fights, and can generally stay out of the bad stuff like lava. You know who I'm talking about.

The rider is the low-performance raider (lowP for short). They don't gem or enchant consistently, they may or may not have consumables, they never bothered to find out what crafted gear was available to them, let alone make it, and regardless of gear their performance is constantly half that of the highP's. Again, you know who I'm talking about.

In a PuG or a casual raiding guild, the highP needs the lowP (as the horse needs the rider) because without the lowP, she cannot get enough people to even attempt the raid. The lowP needs the highP because without her, the lowP will experience a lot of pain (wipes), will take a lot longer to reach the destination (killing the boss), and may never even make it there at all.

This is much less true for 10-man raids. It's undeniable that it's much easier to find and gather 10 good players than it is to find and gather 25 good players.

25-mans are much friendlier to lowPs than 10 mans. I know from experience you can do a lot of the current 25-man content with only about half the raid performing well, and the other half performing at a sub-par level.

Now imagine trying to clear all the 10-man content with 5 good players and 5 sucky players. Sorry, ain't happening.

So not only can a greater percentage of the raid be lowPs in 25-mans, but they are also simply greater in number. In a 10 man, you've got at most 3 lowPs getting loot mostly from the work of others (by exploiting them, basically). In a 25 man, you're likely to have 12 lowPs exploiting the efforts of the highPs. There are more people being carried, and you can get by with a higher percentage being carried as well.

This in and of itself isn't necessarily bad, until you consider that the loot from 10-mans is an entire tier lower in quality than the loot from 25 mans. So these Naxx10 clears, with a higher percentage of highPs, is getting gear that is a tier weaker than what's being handed to a raid with 12 lowPs in it. Do you start to see the issue? Very quickly, the game becomes overrun with scrubs who are actually better geared than many of the excellent players! Anytime you see someone wearing a pieces that says "Valorous", there's a 50/50 chance that person completely sucks at the game or just doesn't put in the effort to do reasonably well. Alternatively, when you see someone wearing a "Heroes" piece that can't be bought with badges, such as the shoulders or pants, it's a pretty safe bet that that person can play reasonably well, and puts some effort into it. It's a joke. People are being rewarded in reverse of their contribution.

The only counter the horse (who puts in all of the grunt work while the rider just sits there, remember) has available to get loot that simply equals that of the person exploiting him is to- wait for it- accept exploitation. If the highP player wants competitive gear, she can either join a super-competitive, life-consuming guild full of nothing but highPs (which is not fun for most people), or she can accept that she will have to carry half of the raid with her efforts, knowing that the scrubs have exactly the same chance of getting the loot that she does. Her effort effectively counts for nothing, since people who put in minimal effort receive exactly the same outcomes.

So why don't the highPs simply throw off the yoke of their oppressors? Because unless both sides accept this arrangement, no one gets anything. The lowPs won't improve, and will instead move on to look for a new horse. The highPs won't suddenly be able to clone themselves into a 25 man team, and won't all be able to join an elite hardcore raiding guild. So there will always be highPs available to exploit.

And besides, I know some lowPs that I just like hanging out with for their personalities. We don't make decisions in an MMO in an asocial vaccuum. Who we like plays a part. Sometimes I'd rather carry a bunch of my friends than run with a bunch of high-performance jerks.

This disparity between contribution and reward is the problem, . But how can Blizzard fix it? Here are my suggestions of things they could reasonably do without revamping the entire game:

1) Make 25 mans actually more difficult. Sure, it's harder to get 25 people together than 10. But that alone does not justify an entire tier difference in loot. I know that many bosses have extra abilities, or more deadly abilities in 25 mans, but this actually only serves to bring the difficulty on par with the 10 mans. If Noth's curse didn't do a ton more damage in 25 man, then it would become even more trivial because you went from having 2 healers to having 8 or so. You inevitably have more people who can decurse. The main reason 10 man 3-drake OS is harder than 25 man is because it's harder to stack extra tanks in a 10-man raid. Period. Being able to bring more people in many cases actually makes things easier. The extra abilities and damage do not do enough to bring the difficulty back up to 10-man levels when you are rocking 3-4 times as many healers.

2) Reduce the loot spread. It's a step in the right direction that KT, Sapph, and Malygos drop loot a tier higher than other 10-man bosses (and the same in 25 man). But it's not enough. Instead, have the first 2 bosses in each wing drop heroic-level loot in 10 man, then all the rest of the 10 man bosses drop tier 7. At the same time, change the first 2 bosses of each wing in 25 man to drop tier 7 instead of tier 7.5. The remaining 25-man bosses could then be the only source of tier 7.5. There would no longer be anything better in the game (currently KT/Sapph/Maly drop tier 8 level loot in 25 mans - stop that).

Another idea in the same vein is to give Valorous badges for some 10-man content, such as KT, Sapph, Maly, and OS 2 or 3 drakes. Make some changes so that a group of really excellent 10-man players can eventually get the same gear as an average or below-average 25-man raider, rather than the current hard-gating of Valorous badge rewards and most tier 7.5 and above.

3) Require more personal responsibility. This goes hand-in-hand with reducing the loot spread because that makes it harder to get overgeared raid members who can compensate for undergeared ones. Social pressure and constant wipes will encourage at least some lowPs to make crafted gear and gem/enchant appropriately. Add aspects to fights that require each person in the raid to perform reasonably well, rather than making fights that you can still win after half the raid dies from standing directly under a wave of lava.

4) This one's on the players: stop giving out 25 man loot on random rolls. Stop believing that just being present at a raid earns you an equal shot at loot. If you do 1600 dps on patchwerk, then the other guy who did 4000 should get the resultant drop before you do. Realize that this is fair. You aren't getting screwed by this. Stop expecting to be carried, and understand that expecting equal loot for poor performance is exploitative. If you want a pragmatic reason not to do it, if the moral ones aren't enough: it's going to drive away the good players who allow you to kill bosses in the first place. All of us have personally seen guild split for exactly this reason.

DISCLAIMER: I am not arguing that all content needs to be hardcore. In fact, I think it's awesome that raiding is more accessible and easier. The ONLY thing I have a beef with is the fact that the version with the best loot is tailored to the most casual players, while the version with inferior loot caters more toward the hardcore or expert players. It should be reversed. People who don't put much effort into their character and just want to have fun or be social? They are more than welcome to raid, and fill up on all the tier 7 they could want. But reserve the tier 7.5 for the people who put the most time and effort into their character and their performance. Right now, the loot availability is backwards.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jurty Duty Finally Over, Drama, Raider 101 Wiki

After a week of trial, 2 weeks of deliberation, and a 2 week vacation in the middle, jury duty is finally over and I can return to my normal job, which means I again have access to a computer over my lunch break and on other breaks, allowing me to return to my original every-weekday schedule here at Escape Hatch.

Right now I have a lot of catching up to do at work and am dealing with some serious guild drama in-game (I recently left a very successful guild in which I was a founder, main recruiter, primary officer, and raid leader), so forgive me if content is a little on the light side for this week. The drama has been saddening, but it does seem that things will turn out just fine for me in the end. At least the split wasn't over loot or anything silly like that. It was just a personal thing.

I've always found drama to be riveting, and enjoy reading Wowinsider's Guildwatch and the now-defunct AFKGamer blog, which entertainingly described the most spectacular guild drama I've ever heard of.

But I'm not going to talk in detail about my personal guild drama here. Partly because it's more personal than a simple loot issue or something. Partly because there's just enough information out there for someone in my guild to figure out that I'm the one writing this blog. But mostly because it's not fair of me to present my naturally biased side of the story to a public audience without giving the other side an opportunity to respond. As much as I find other people's drama entertaining and would love to juice up the soap opera factor of my own blog, I just can't bring myself to sucker punch people that I know so personally.

Surely, my Cynics Society of America card is about to be revoked.

On a different note, I've decided to contribute a bit to Rohan's (Blessing of Kings blog) Raiding 101 Wiki, so far to the Combat Rogue and Unholy DK dps sections. So go check it out, I think it will shape up to be a major asset to people new to raiding with their class, or to anyone who enjoys raiding casually and doesn't want to spend hours poring over Elitist Jerks or sites like mine. It's also a good opportunity for me to really work on my concision.

EDIT: Sometimes, I say how I feel about my own situation, and only later realize it can be taken as a criticism of someone else's actions. To be clear: I have no problem with other people talking about their guild drama, in fact I LOVE to read about it. In my specific situation it wasn't the right choice for me (the drama itself was barely even related to WoW anyway), but it's often the right choice for others.

So yeah, don't get mad at me. :)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Naxx clear, Malygos fun, still deliberating.

I'm not allowed to say anything about my jury duty, except that it is continuing. I am not happy about it. I'd like to get back to my normal life. I had a good thing going with this blog every weekday, and now whatever momentum I earned has pretty much been completely sapped. Sigh.

Anywho, a few days after my last post, we waltzed in with capped frost resist (combine the 3 polar pieces with a totem or aura) and killed Sapph in one shot. So I can confirm that even if the fight is perfectly doable without FrR, it becomes downright trivial in comparison once you put the resists on.

Kel'thuzad was pretty much a pushover after that as well. Since we'd only been raiding for like an hour after downing Sapph and KT for the first time, we went to check out Malygos. Malygos is seriously fun. We only did a few attempts on him, but I'm really looking forward to riding a flying disk and a red dragon.

Here's how the fight works:

It takes place on a platform in the middle of outer space, or some mystical approximation thereof. It has 3 phases. During the first phase, Maly will periodically call sparks to him from off to one of the sides of the platform. We need to bunch the DPS up and kill the sparks right on top of them, giving them a damage buff and preventing Maly from getting said buff. The tank has to keep moving the boss around the raid group so that he's always on the opposite side of the raid from the incoming spark. Oh, and he'll also do a vortex, which combines an awesome visual effect with roughly 18,000 damage to each raid member. Oh yeah, and since you are flying around in a vortex, you can only use instant-cast spells. This makes healing during the vortex a tricky affair, though I've heard some suggestions that the vortex can be made trivial if the raid stacks stamina. In phase 2, the raid must hide under protective domes while Maly rains down destruction with the help of his minions. The first catch is that the domes are constantly constricting, forcing the raid to move to a new dome every few seconds. The second catch is that some of his minions are flying high in the sky, out of reach. Luckily, some of his minions ride their hovering discs (coughwarhammercough) down to the group, which we can then commandeer to flying up and bring the fight to their faces, which is where I generally prefer to bring my fights. Phase 3 starts once all of the minions are dead, and it starts with a bang, literally. The platform shatters, sending your group falling into the emptiness of magic-space. Luckily, the red dragonflight is there to catch you, and you perform the final phase on their backs, using a new set of moves rather than your normal abilities.

What's awesome about this fight is the theatricality. The way I just described it, it's actually rather simple to execute once you figure it out and get used to the new mechanics. What makes it fun is the eye candy, the variety, and the set pieces. Everything looks and feels awesome and epic. Every phase requires completely different activities, some of which you may not have even done before (though there is a quest that allows you to practice the dragonriding). And the set pieces: the fight being in outer space, the vortex effect, the flying discs, the exploding platform, the last-minute dragon save, and then the ending, featuring a guest appearance by the queen of the dragons's all just plain epic. It just goes to show that you can really spice up a game encounter by paying attention to the detail and the feel rather than just the mechanics. It definitely beats the fights where the boss stands in one spot, repetitively wailing on the tank for the entire time.

Another interesting thing to note about this fight (and this is also true of the dragonriding portions of the Oculus instance): No matter how good your group's gear gets, the 3rd phase never gets trivial. Your gear has zero effect on the dragon, so even when we come back in full tier 9, dual-wielding Frostmourne and The Ashbringer, phase 3 Malygos is going to be exactly as difficult as it was the day we were wearing gear from heroics. I'm not sure yet how I feel about it. I do know that now that my gear is far beyond what's needed for heroics, I avoid Oculus like the plague because it's the only place I can't recklessly aoe my way through. Sometimes I play this game for a challenge, and sometimes I'm looking for a way to zone out.

Hopefully I'll be back in full force sooner rather than later.