Saturday, January 17, 2015

Too Soon, Blackhand, Too Soon!

We found out a few days ago that Blackrock Foundry will open on February 3rd.  This has me extremely frustrated for several reasons.

1, we only had eight weeks from Mythic unlocking in Highmaul to Blackrock Foundry opening (and we'll need to clear Heroic Blackrock Foundry the week it opens so that week is shot).  Not only does that mean we had to basically average a boss per week, we had to do so with finals for students, work schedule changes due to the holidays, and family events/trips that go along with the end of the year.  Realistically we only had about six weeks to clear Mythic Highmaul.

2, Blizzard indicated they wanted to do this differently than how they handled Mogu'shan Vaults and Heart of Fear/Terrace of Endless Spring.  They said they didn't like how MSV wasn't out for nearly long enough.  Well, guess what?  They're doing it again.  MSV was out for a month with six bosses, HM will be out for a month and a half with seven bosses.  Not exactly much difference there.

3, based on the last two expansions (Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria), I feel like my guild has had a stable pattern: we clear the hardest difficulty with a month or two left in a typical raid tier while only raiding two nights a week. Our general ranking in the US/world has stayed roughly the same, so that's another metric to go by -- not like we're suddenly doing much worse or much better relatively speaking.  Yet we're only 5/7M at the moment with six more raid days to go.  Which means we'll hope to kill Ko'ragh this week (haven't even pulled him yet) and then extend our Mythic lockout for the next two weeks to try to get Imperator.  Hopefully we'll manage to get 7/7M but it's going to be close regardless.  This is also reminding me of the launch of Throne of Thunder (that Blizzard also said was much too soon) where we killed Heroic Sha of Fear the night before ToT hit.  In this case I understood that it was a mini-tier and that we wouldn't be farming for a month or two before BRF hit, but I expected us to be able to clear 7/7M without extending at a minimum.

4, speaking of extending, Blizzard is on the record saying they don't want people to be extending!  They want people to get some more gear each week to help make the bosses easier and did not like how people felt compelled to extend to try to finish in time before the next tier (believe this was in tier 14, aka MSV/HoF/ToES).  But guess what?  Extension time!

5, between the extension and lack of farm time, we're also going to be behind on gear.  The typical pattern is the guilds raiding more per week race ahead and finish faster, then we eventually catch up in progress and then have time to at least mostly catch up in gear before the next tier hits.  But we're going to be severely behind in gear for BRF this time around.  So we're at a further disadvantage than usual.

I am definitely not happy with the situation.  Even another week or two would make a huge difference -- when they said BRF was coming out in February I didn't imagine it would be the very first week!  Not after what they said about wanting to avoid repeating the mistake of MSV.

Yet here we are.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Racist and Proud of It

Or should I say...HUMANIST.

I mean, I suppose I could carefully mix and match abilities to counter threats...

...OR, and bear with me here, I could just apply human supremacy to the problem and solve it without any thought.  Even the Ogron bow to the power of their human overlords.

As you've hopefully figured out by now, the idea is to use racial preferences to make it significantly easier to counter threats on Garrison missions -- to the point where with the right set-up you can literally ignore two of the six abilities on a raid mission and still have 100% success rate (or very close to it).  This indeed means I'm making a team of humanists and aiming to pick up human humanists if possible.  Yes, I'm racist.

Blook is particularly useful since he not only provides the humanist trait (which is why I'm doing humans -- my warrior's Blook is Child of the Moon so I'm going night elf squad) but also the unique Combat Experience trait.  Two racial preferences will cancel out an ability, and a racial preference plus Burst of Power/High Stamina/Combat Experience/Environmental Preference/Enemy Preference will nearly cancel out an ability.

What you can't see from that screenshot is that Soulare actually managed to pick up Child of the Moon when he became rare, which is super amazing.  That means if I get a night elf with Humanist (and use them instead of Blook) then this squad will have four racial preferences -- which completely cancels out two abilities.

And, yes, this means a team of something like a human with Dwarvenborn and Child of the Moon, a dwarf with Humanist and Child of the Moon, and a night elf with Humanist and Dwarvenborn could cancel out three abilities.  Of course, that's insanely difficult to get...but canceling out two abilities is quite feasible.

It's a good time to be a racist.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I've Been Playing Games and Having Fun...Mostly

It's been a while.  Things have been busy in RL.  When they aren't, things have been busy in WoW.  When they aren't, things have been busy in other games.  You get the gist of it.  Things are calming down more and hopefully I will be able to start getting out a post or two per week, at least.

Today's post is really just going to be more of a taste of upcoming stuff that I'll be posting about (and a recap of some of the things I've been doing).  These are listed in no particular order, mind you.

World of Warcraft
You may not have heard, but there was a new expansion released about a month ago called Warlords of Draenor.  Things are generally going well overall right now, guild is 7/7 normal and 6/7 heroic on two nights a week.  We'll be starting Mythic this upcoming Sunday.

First of all, Draenor is beautiful.

And I mean that.

Did I mention it was pretty yet?


All right, nearly done.

Last one incoming!

Suffice to say I really, really do not understand how people complain about WoW's graphics.  Sure, it's not photorealistic...but does that mean that animated movies like Monsters, Inc, Frozen, etc have terrible graphics?  We're in a world of magic and dragons -- sure, it should look GOOD but I don't see why it really needs to look REALISTIC.

On the non-graphical side, some of the stuff near launch was a bit...wonky.  Like this quest:

Uh...yeah...he's totally gone.  Right.  Moving right along... a rather overzealous Postmaster.

Thanks, Postmaster.  You make us proud.

Then I had another fun issue.  Being the lore nut that I am, I did every quest in every zone as I leveled (or tried to, at least, apparently I did miss a few along the way).  This resulted in me hitting level 100 in Spires of Arak and still wearing mostly SoO mythic gear since even an item with a few more ilevels didn't outweigh the enchants and sockets on the SoO gear.

I knew heroic dungeons required 610 ilvl to queue, though obviously you could walk in on foot if needed, so I decided to go and do some normal dungeons for 615 gear.  Slight problem: you apparently needed 600 ilvl to queue for NORMALS.

Well, I remembered that you needed Silver Proving Grounds as well to queue for heroics, so I figured I'd go and see how difficult that was.

That led to this:

Well then.

Needless to say, I was not very happy with the situation (note that while Proving Grounds does scale with your gear (more health with higher ilvl) it does not scale below 615 -- and I was 27 ilvls below that).

What wound up happening is that I manually walked straight into HEROICS with my guild at <590 ilvl.  I'm 650ish ilvl now and have still never done a normal dungeon at max level.  Blizzard has since lowered the required ilvl to 595 to queue and presumably most people would have some gear from Nagrand (or be using the slightly higher ilvl pieces I discarded due to them being worse than mythic SoO gear) so it's less of an issue now...but it was still pretty stupid.

Speaking of dungeons, we were also doing the daily Challenge Mode for 640 gear.  Some of the bosses were a bit crazy, notably the second boss in Skyreach.

Yes, that is 37.5k HPS sustained for the fight.  Fun times.

One of the benefits of doing Challenge Modes early on was getting the Feat of Strength (and thus unique title) for realm best times, sometimes because we WERE the very first group to complete it.

And my favorite one...

Along the way we also picked up all Silvers without too much trouble, leading to...

Those yetis are HUGE!

In total we managed seven realm best times out of the eight dungeons -- some group had gotten a pretty good time in Skyreach and that's the only one we didn't want to dedicate the time to getting quite yet.  And a personal goal of mine is to possess the Lord of Blackrock title again -- it's my favorite of the titles (though most of my group seems to prefer Grimrail Suplexer).

Last but not least on the WoW front, sometimes we see interesting things on Garrison missions.


Civilization V
I've also been playing Civilization V a bit (a lot), though I'm past the initial craze and more interested in playing with friends at this point.  For those not aware, Civ V is what's called a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate).  You start with a simple settler and some warriors with clubs and try to leverage that into an empire while advancing through human history.  You don't necessarily need to win by fighting and can indeed sometimes avoid fighting at all -- can win through domination, culture, science, or diplomacy.  It's turn based as well which is interesting to adjust to and also makes it more about good strategy than APM -- which means if you struggle with playing SC2, for example, because it seems like there's too much going on at once, you might particularly love Civ V.

I've been playing this with a variety of people including half a dozen people in my guild, Stubborn, and Talarian.  Fun times.  One game I was playing with a RL friend (his first time out of the tutorial) resulted in me deciding to go culture focused.  The results:

I realize that doesn't mean much to people not familiar with Civ V, but believe me when I say that is an INSANE amount of culture/tourism.  I bet Stubborn is feeling rather jealous at the moment.

I am also playing a single player game a bit in an effort to improve my earlier warfare -- I'm quite good once artillery and planes arrive on the scene but am less comfortable with going on the offensive early on.  So I decided to pick up the Mongols and give that a whirl (as you might guess, they have some bonuses towards trying to dominate during the medieval period -- specifically a ranged Knight unit called the Keshik which specializes in hit and run attacks).  My offensive spree went well, conquered half the world during the Keshik's prime period, then I sat back to rebuild my economy and consolidate my holdings.

Unfortunately, Austria decided they weren't happy with my taking their capital earlier and declared war on me.  They brought hordes of Calvary, Riflemen, Cannons, and Gatling Guns.  And my half dozen Keshiks were half the globe away.

Yes, that's 15 military units plus a Great General while my army of half a dozen Keshiks were down in the south middle of the map.  I guess they figured they could take their time and try to surround my capital to try to avoid unneeded losses by zerging it immediately.  That was a bad idea on their part.

Four turns later, my Keshik's arrive (hurry for having 2.5 times the movement of most units due to being mounted and a Mongol special ability -- and then having a good road system to improve their movement even further).

Yes, I am going against Riflemen, Calvary (with rifles), Gatling Guns, and Cannons with archers on horseback.  It's hardly fair...TO AUSTRIA.

The result five turns later.  Never bring a rifle to a bow fight, sheesh.

To be clear, I was able to do these for three main reasons.  One, Keshiks.  Two, Keshiks have a special ability that makes them earn experience 50% faster, and gaining experience lets you gain promotions to improve the unit (such as attacking twice in one turn, 15% bonus for fighting on a certain terrain type, gaining an extra range, etc) -- which meant my Keshiks had something like the following:
  • 45% more damage to targets in rough terrain
  • 45% more damage to targets in open terrain
  • Attack twice
  • +1 range
  • Heal every turn even while attacking
  • 66% more defense versus ranged attacks

That's a total of 11 promotions right there -- which takes a very, very long time to rack up (3 experience per bow shot, need 10 XP for first promotion, another 20 for second promotion, a further 30 for third promotion, etc).  Good thing I used those Keshiks to conquer the world with their experience bonuses so they had all those bonuses.  If I trained a new Keshik with experience providing training buildings it would start with like...

  • 30% more damage to targets in rough terrain

So you can see there's a *slight* difference there.

Also, the third reason?  Keshiks.

(In all fairness, the Khan (Mongol special great general) also helped a lot -- Great Generals give combat bonuses to nearby units and Khans are mounted and can thus keep up with the Keshiks, unlike a standard Great General).

I do want to point out that at the next tier of units the Keshiks would simply not be strong enough -- they'll get slaughtered by Great War Infantry, Landships, and Great War Bombers (think WWI stuff).  But during the Mongols heydey, they wreck.  And thus the idea of the Mongols is to use those units to get a massive advantage while Keshiks are relevant in order to win long term.  Other civilizations, such as Korea, get large science bonuses.  Others, like Egypt, get bonuses to building world wonders.  Etc.  While a few civilizations are just flat out weaker and a few are basically god tier, most of them are pretty balanced in their own unique way -- if you take advantage of their bonuses at the appropriate time.

Final thing -- I picked up some extra copies of Civ V Complete at 75% off during the Steam Thanksgiving sale.  If anyone is seriously interested in playing it (as in will actually play it and not "Oh, I'll fiddle around with it for fifteen minutes or maybe just let it sit in my Steam library and never actually touch it") then I'd be happy to send you one of the copies.  Can play single player or multiplayer, I just want you to actually play it!  Can email me about that.

Neverwinter Nights
I've also been playing NWN a little bit, shocking news.  It's also on sale again right now, so if you email me while it remains on sale I'll get you a copy to promote the game -- I WANT more people to be playing it!  I'd sing its praises more but you have that link if you want to read about it.

Mainly been working my way through the Darkness Over Daggerford custom campaign: "To many, the town of Daggerford is of little consequence. To others, however, it is of immeasurable value. The nearby great cities of Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate would do well to look over their shoulders at what is brewing in this once sleepy town. Prepare to delve into the dark mysteries surrounding Daggerford..."

You start as a somewhat experienced adventurer (level 8) and work to unravel the dark plots surrounding the town and threatening the region.

While the game is certainly older at this point, it still looks more than good enough for me to enjoy it.

I also played the custom module "Small Village Woes," which was a lot of fun and I hope to make a post proper about it in the near future.  Note that there are dozens of custom campaigns which are quite good (in addition to the three official campaigns which range from decent to good) and at least half a dozen campaigns which are much BETTER than the official campaigns (and better than Dragon Age, Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect, or Mass Effect 3).

Starcraft 2
I also usually play SC2 once every week or two with a friend -- we play with him having an AI ally two levels of difficulty above an AI ally of my own and we see how it goes.  I usually win anyway but he's managed to pull off some wins and is getting better.  Happy to play some games with people if they so feel inclined.


I'm pretty sure this is longer than War and Peace at this point, but that's what I've been up to lately.  Hope it was at least interesting reading about it and cross your fingers for more regular posts going forward.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

So I'm at BlizzCon...

Yeah, yeah, I've basically been a ghost for three months.  RL has kept me very busy.  When that wasn't the case, WoW guild business has kept me very busy.  When that hasn't been the case, finishing some NWN projects before deadlines has kept me very busy.  In whatever free time I had left, I just had no desire to write for the blog and mainly filled it with Civ V (which I seem to have a love/hate relationship with since I picked it up like 2 months ago).

Anyway, to the important stuff...

I'm at BlizzCon for the first time ever!  Should be a blast, managed to already get my pass for tomorrow, and excited for the charity dinner tonight.  I imagine this is the part where you're hoping I'll say something about how I'll write about the stuff that happens at BlizzCon.  And perhaps I will (no guarantees), depending on how things go.

But more importantly, I wanted to throw this information out there in case anyone wanted to meet up.  I happen to have about 4 hours right now prior to the charity dinner and obviously can meet people over the next two days as well.

So if you're in the neighborhood and want to say hello, drop me a line!  Can leave a comment here or email me at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com.

Monday, August 18, 2014

So There's This 10:10 Thing Going On...

Sorry on the absence, been dealing with a lot of 12+ hour days, getting ready to leave on a research trip next week, having to lead my guild (incidentally, we started sales of Heroic SoO stuff -- more information here if interested), and been working on another post that involves blog drama but that, I hope, will have a happy ending.  Suppose we'll see.

In the meantime, I figured I could jot down some notes for this 10 Years :: 10 Questions deal and some of my answers are noticeably different from most I've seen.

Fair warning: I'm going to totally cheat and go beyond the technical bounds of the question asked though it'll be on the same general topic as the question.

1. Why did you start playing Warcraft?
Because I had been introduced to Warcraft III like a year before WoW launched and I started seeing advertisements for it on  I figured it was just the next Warcraft game except with a fancier title, I had no idea what an MMORPG was.  Hell, WC3 was the first game I'd ever played online (I technically did play another game (Lords of Magic) with a dial-up modem with a friend who moved away, but that was just the two of us).

You can imagine my surprise when I picked up the game and realized it was very different.  Luckily I had been playing Neverwinter Nights prior to WC3 (and still play NWN, you may have heard me mention it a few times) and Lords of Magic had some RPG elements so I wasn't completely lost.  Of course, after installing it and signing up for an account I learned apparently I would have to pay monthly to play, which I thought was insane -- after all, why should I keep paying for a game I own?  I didn't understand initially about how Blizzard maintained the servers we connected to (unlike single player games or online games like WC3 multiplayer) and would add in new patch content.  So I set it aside for a month before deciding I might as well give it a shot since I already had a month to burn by buying the game initially.

2. What was the first character you ever rolled?
A human mage.  I had always loved magic in games like Legend of Zelda, Lords of Magic, and NWN (Magical_Master was/is my NWN nickname since Balkoth was taken) and I thought the mage channeling Blizzard at the end of the intro cinematic was completely badass.  I made it until about mid-20s before being annoyed with just how squishy mages were (very different from NWN where they were gods).

So I rerolled a human paladin going Holy -- figured I'd have a sword and shield and wear down anything that tried to fight me.  Auto attack and heal.  I made it until about level 35 where I got into a duel with a Kurzen Medicine Man who I literally could not kill.  He couldn't kill me but I couldn't kill him fast enough to outdo HIS heals either.  After about fifteen minutes of fighting I dumped the paladin in disgust.

So then I made a human rogue -- figured it would be lethal without being as squishy as the mage.  That guy made it to 60 easily and in fact my first three 60s would all be rogues (different servers, no paid transfer back then).  Then a 60 night elf warrior (charging from Shadowmeld!).  Then a 60 human warrior (different server) who I reached rank 11 with in the old PvP system.  Then in the break before Burning Crusade I made Balkoth -- who was undead initially.  I kind of made him to kill Alliance who I met while PvPing on my warrior that I didn't like.  Wound up falling in love with shadow priests ever since.

3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?
I nearly always played humans in NWN, they were one of the best races.  My favorite faith in Lords of Magic was Order which was mostly humans.  And my favorite race in Warcraft 3 was humans.

Oh, and the mage in the intro cinematic and the female mage on the CD cases/bags were human.

Guess which race I went with first?  Hence Alliance.

Though I will say that I liked the idea of the Horde -- the outcasts just trying to make their way in the world.  Which is why I was fine with going Horde when I made Balkoth and was Horde for all of BC.  Lost most of my enthusiasm for the Horde in WotLK, though.

4. What has been your most memorable moment in WoW and why?
I honestly do not know.  I'm a very practical person and don't suffer (much) from nostalgia.  Some moments that stand out to me looking back (in order of timeline):

- Topping the damage meters in Zul'Gurub by 20% on my rogue.  My rogue had a level 50 blue dagger (no, not Barman Shanker) and a level 55 green sword in my offhand as combat daggers.  And I was annihilating rogues with mostly epic gear and level 60 epic weapons because they were playing Seal Fate builds (Assassination) and didn't maintain good target uptime.  I swear I could see their jaws drop in-game.

- 45 minute Baron run in Stratholme.  Good times.

- Hitting rank 11 on my warrior.  That's Commander Talnor to you.  I formed *the* PvP group to be in on my server at the time, the only groups that did better were ones literally made out of all members of a raiding guild who were completely decked out in epics.

- Joining a raiding guild in BC as a Shadow Priest.  I applied to the guild as Shadow (which had just been made viable) and they wanted me to heal...but I was adamant.  Shadow or nothing.  They invited me to a random BG and apparently I impressed them enough during the battle (Eye of the Storm) that they just ginvited me mid-battleground.

- Getting server first on all heroic dungeons in BC.  We had a core group of four plus a fifth who fluctuated.  Tank was a Feral Druid who I became best pals with, basically.

- Writing the original Elitist Jerk Shadow Priest guide.

- Topping both the damage AND healing meters on our first Gruul kill.

- After that guild disbanded a few weeks later due to internal drama, Feral Druid I mentioned earlier convinced me to join his raiding guild and help it become better.  Was promoted to be an officer within a few months

- Getting a Netherdrake.  Pertinent:

- Server first kills of Vashj, Kael'thas, Archimonde, and Illidan.  All amazing fights, all in their own way.  Could write a post about each of them.

- Getting Amani War Bear and selling them.

Note: quit from a few months prior to the end of BC to a few months prior to the end of WotLK.

- Leading a PUG group (with a core of 4 RL friends) to 11/12H in 10 man ICC.

- Getting Herald of the Titans back in WotLK.

- Doing Cataclysm heroics near launch.  I loved those, so much fun.

- Killing Heroic Nefarian and putting ourselves on the map with an Alliance first kill for a guild practically no one had heard of two months before (started Cata with 4 members and had to PUG for months).

- Getting a server first Heroic Ragnaros and establishing ourselves as the top two night a week guild in the US.

- Organizing "For the Alliance" near the end of Cataclysm with several other guilds.

- Getting 200 pets prior to MoP launch.  At which point I stopped caring because it became a serious thing as opposed to "Get that collection number higher!" and over 500 pets existed.

- Getting the server first Galleon kill with like 10 level 90s and 30 level 86-89 players.

- Killing Heroic Gara'jal literally as he raised his hand to wipe us AFTER he started the beserk emote.

- Heroic Lei Shen.  So, so much fun.

- Heroic Siegecrafter pre-nerf on 10H and H Garrosh pre-4/4 upgrades.  Siegecrafter was more fun, Garrosh was more brutal.  Both immensely satisfying in the end.

5. What is your favorite aspect of the game and has that always been the case?

 Raiding (surprise).  It's been my favorite aspect of the game ever since the beginning of BC.  I love the sense of teamwork and coordination needed to defeat an epic encounter.  You need everyone on the same page with a variety of skills and all able to trust each other to do their jobs in an extremely demanding environment.  It's why I still play and love WoW 10 years later, haven't heard of another game able to offer the same experience.  Some games have tried to replicate it but only succeeded in pale imitations.

As you can probably gather from the previous questions, though, it wasn't always my favorite.  I didn't even really understand what raids were for most of Vanilla, I simply did five man dungeons.  Then I tried to get into raiding but was aggravated by the guilds that wanted me for having so many bad players and was rejected by the better guilds due to lack of experience/gear (or they wanted me to tank on my warrior rather than DPS on my rogue or warrior.  Kind of interesting to wonder what would have happened had I accepted the offer to act as an off-tank in Vanilla using an Arms/Prot hybrid spec).  Was frustrating.  So then I got heavily into PvP on my warrior.

But then Vanilla hit, I was loving my new Spriest, they became hot commodities in raids, and things took off from there.

6. Do you have an area in game that you always return to?
Nope!  That was easy.

7. How long have you /played and was that continuous?
Well, I started playing about a month after release and have played continuously except for a hiatus from the end of BC to the end of Wrath.

In terms of going through my level 10+ characters, I have a total of about 625 days /played with 305 of those on Balkoth.  That's about 15000 hours over eight years (since I wasn't playing for two years) so that's 15000/2950 = 5ish hours per day on average.

To be fair, probably at least one of those five hours a day was spent AFK/alt tabbed.  And I typically only play about 15-20 hours a week on average these days, often less.

...but during Vanilla I was PvPing like seven hours a day seven days a week for the rank 11 grind and during BC I was playing about the same number of hours a day seven days a week again.  Main raid four days a week, alt raid two days a week, Karazhan casual clear one day a week, plus PvPing.

Would be interesting if I could look solely at /played since I returned at the end of WotLK.

8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?
Absolutely.  I'm a huge lore nerd and can recite many boss RP speeches by heart.  Even if I stopped raiding, I'd at least subscribe to WoW every now and then for a month just to do the quests and see the lore.

9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?
Nothing grand and overarching.  I suppose there are four things that stick out to me, though (in chronological order).

First, I sometimes wonder what my WoW career would have looked like had I accepted the offer to tank for a guild in an off-tank role back in Vanilla, as I mentioned above.  But since I was trying to claw my way up through the PvP system I didn't want to handicap myself in PvE to off-tank in raids.  Might be in a very different place now.

Second, upon being promoted to an officer in that BC guild, I said something along the lines of how I could finally fix some of the problems player X had caused.  And I had forgotten that player X was technically an officer for some silly reason, he was completely useless and didn't do anything (and I mean anything) worthwhile anyway.  Was made an officer long ago for social reasons, I think.  So he saw my comment and I was mortified.  "Fortunately" the other officers and GM completely agreed with my assessment and wanted me to do exactly that, but still...

Third, I hate having to cut people from raid teams.  Had to do it back in BC.  Had to do it even more since forming Despotism.  I know it needs to be done.  I know it'll help the team overall.  I know the people getting cut are causing massive frustration and making people unhappy.  It still sucks to do.  Really sucks.

Fourth, I missed Ulduar while it was current content.  Though that's more of a regret from time NOT in-game.

10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside of gaming?
It helped me become a lot more confident and able to lead people in many different ways from social groups to teaching positions to supervisory roles.  It taught me organizational and motivational skills (though the motivational stuff is less speeches and more about good incentives and fair treatment).  It improved my writing through creating this blog.  It helped me create new bonds with people I met in real life due to shared experiences.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sometimes I Just Have to /Facepalm

I get that a lot of people have different perspectives and enjoy different things.  I lead a raiding guild that full clears heroic content every patch.  Navi leads a casual raiding guild that's working through heroics on this crazy long raid tier.  Stubborn plays WoW casually, doing Flex/Normal modes when the opportunity presents itself.  Theck is a theorycrafting genius who loves doing loads of complicated math.  Etc.  People are different.

And because of that, people like different things and thus have different opinions about stuff.

...but sometimes, you get people who are just flat out wrong.  Not different opinions, not valuing different things...just wrong.

Like this blog post, for example.

Now, before we get to picking it apart I want to explain *why* I am coming down on this so harshly.  One of my major pet peeves is rose colored glasses and nostalgia.  I hate it when people go "OMG IT USED TO BE SO COOL, NOW IT SUCKS!" without any actual reasons.  Keep in mind this is coming from someone who still plays several 10+ year old games (such as NWN, Half Life (2), WC3/TFT, etc) so I still enjoy older games.  I'm not obsessed with the "latest and greatest."  But I do strongly dislike when people instinctively hate newer and different things simply for being new and different (especially when they don't even UNDERSTAND the newer things).

So let's look at the blog post title:

"Slower Combat Had More Depth."

Okay.  I can somewhat buy the general premise.  Games that require reasonably fast reaction times don't give you a lot of time to consider your best move, part of the challenge is deciding on a good action quickly.  The board game Chess has more depth than the card card Speed.

But then we just go into loony town with bizarre and incorrect statement after bizarre and incorrect statement!

Complexity of Decisions
Today there are very few decisions to be made. One simply walks up to a mob and executes abilities in any order. The real decision is which order to use the abilities to kill the monster fastest–everything is about actively attacking. There isn’t much thought to being hit yourself, or minimizing usage of abilities to preserve mana or stamina. The two real thoughts that I have are, (1) Do I need to kill this, and (2) Do I want to? The HOW has been completely lost.

First of all, there's contradictions right in that paragraph.  So we can execute abilities in any order...but we're also making a decision on how to kill the monster fastest...but we don't have to make a decision on how to kill the enemy?  Huh?  I'm already lost!

But which order to use the abilities to kill the monster the fastest actually winds up being incredibly important, as anyone who has done challenge mode dungeons or raiding in WoW knows well.  Hundreds of hours of theorycrafting and testing are done to determine optimal strategies for play.  The differences between playing correctly and not playing correctly can easily double your damage per second.

On top of that, there's plenty of thought devoted to being not hit yourself -- one of the basic mantras of WoW raiding is "Don't stand in the fire."  Sometimes the fire is lightning strikes on the ground, sometimes the fire is a cleave type ability, sometimes the fire is robotic bombs trying to run to you and explodes, and sometimes the fire is actually simply fire on the ground.  Etc.  NOT getting hit by stuff is insanely important or you will simply die.  Or, in other cases, you'll require so much healing that you'll drain the mana of the healers and thus your group will die...which is an example of how you DO need to minimize usage of abilities to preserve mana (see the fourth sentence above).

This isn't even talking about things like kill priority, AoE vs single target, pooling resources for burst windows, holding DPS to time things better, ets.

This ALSO isn't even getting into PvP where using abilities correctly, not getting hit, preserving resources, etc, are also critical.

In short, that paragraph is so, so, so very wrong.

Tanks used to require a decent amount of time to get aggro. I really can’t remember the last time I grouped and waited before DPSing. In EQ a wizard absolutely would not nuke until the mob was below 80% — the wizard wouldn’t even stand up. Healers wouldn’t even heal because aggro would come off the tank. Tanking took time, monsters took time to taunt and build up a safe aggro, and players respected that or died.

And...where is the awesome depth in this?  Sitting around for 15-30 seconds doing nothing is some kind of compelling gameplay?  Not only that, but consider some numbers.  Say 1 damage = 1 threat for everyone, you have a group of 1 tank, 3 DPS, and 1 healer, and we'll remove the healer from consideration.  Let's also assume the DPS do twice the damage per second as the tank and let's assume the tank is doing 1% of the mob's HP per second.

After 20 seconds the mob is at 80% HP and the tank has 20 threat.  The three DPS open up.

After 30 seconds the mob is at 10% HP, the tank has 30 threat, and each DPS has 20 threat.

After 31.43 seconds the mob is dead, the tank has about 31 threat and the DPS each have about 22 threat.

That means the DPS were literally sitting around for 20/31.43 = 63.6% of the fight doing nothing at all.

If the DPS want to live dangerously, they could open up at 87.5% of the mob's HP and each DPS and the tank will wind up at 25 threat the end.  Which is *still* sitting around doing nothing for 50% of the time.  This sounds like depth and good gameplay?  Really?

Class Specialization
This could also be called the “characters do one thing well” category. Having certain classes in your group would actually slow down the rate at which you could kill a single mob, thus slowing combat, but might improve your abilities to survive, pull multiple mobs at once and take a tougher spawn, or recover from battle quicker and move on to the next kill. Sometimes a class would literally be invited to do nothing but pull and contribute very little to DPS. Sometimes a class would do nothing but heal or buff. These days everyone is a DPS.

Everyone is a DPS?  Weren't we just talking about tanks and threat and how healers would wait to heal them?

I mean, even look at that second to last sentence: "Sometimes a class would do nothing but heal or buff."  You healer?  Part of the holy trinity?  Usually about 20% of a group?  Ring a bell?

But let's be generous.  Let's even assume they meant "All non-tanks and non-healers are DPS" instead of some classes being solely about pulling or solely about buffs or something.  That rings a bell...raiding during BC anyone?  Bring an enhancement shaman (but only one) to buff the melee group?  Bring an elemental shaman (but only one) to buff the caster group?  Bring a boomkin (but only one) to to give a debuff?  Bring an Arms warrior (but only one) to give a debuff?  Bring 2-3 shadow priests to regen the mana of your casters and healers?

Blizzard moved away from that model for a reason -- it's not fun or engaging or deep or anything to have to deny players because the optimal path is to have only one boomkin or one enhancement shaman or whatever.

But even within the "all non-tanks and non-healers are DPS" model there's still class variance where certain DPS classes and specialization are stacked for encounters.  And even when they aren't stacked for encounters certain parts of encounters are handled by certain DPS players based on class differences.

Ask someone how a warlock compares to a rogue compares to a mage compares to whatever.  They each have different strengths, different weaknesses, and different buffs (though usually about 1/3 of the classes can bring a specific buff).

Managing Resources
Managing mana consumption was often the difference between a great player and a good one. Healers who knew which heals to use and when, Wizards who knew how many times they should nuke to add the most efficient DPS to a group (the key being “efficient”), etc. Consume your resources and combat was slower. Have to worry about them at all and combat naturally becomes much, much slower.

Interestingly enough, healers *still* need to know which heals to use and when.  They *still* need to manage their mana.

And a caster conserving their mana as part of a DPS rotation is just another DPS rotation.  Except now the DPS rotation involves standing around doing nothing apparently because this is more deep?  Or something?

Auto Attack
Remember our old friend “white damage?” I love auto attack. I remember the days when it comprised of a massive portion of overall damage done by melee characters.  The entire concept is all but completely done away with in favor of rotations and constant ability usage. Older MMOs had fewer abilities (most of the time).

Isn't this the *opposite* of deep?  It's literally saying "I wish more of my damage came from stuff I didn't have to control or worry about so the game has more depth."

That makes zero sense.  If you want depth and the most decision making, in theory you'd want NO auto-attack (like a caster) so EVERYTHING is your decision and has to be chosen wisely.

Please, consider this a PSA.  Check your rose-colored classes at the door and shed your nostalgia.  Approach things critically and think them through carefully.  Don't get so attached to "the way things used to be" that you blind yourself to all of the flaws that existed then.

Newer isn't always better, no.  In fact, perhaps it's not even better most of the time.

But by the same token, newer isn't automatically worse either.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Some Thoughts on Going 14/14H 25 Man After Being 14/14H 10 Man

Long time, no post.  Real life has been hell and in my smaller amount of free time than I'd like I've been busy with three separate projects:

1. Transitioning my guild from a 10 man heroic raiding guild (14/14H) to a 25 man heroic raiding guild (14/14H).
2. Finishing a project in NWN, which is something I'll have an upcoming post on regarding class balance in RPGs and various conundrums of healing systems.
3. Helping another NWN module author beta test and polish a module.

So let's talk about #1 up there for a bit.  <Despotism> is a two night (Sun/Mon from 7:30 CST to 11:30-12:00 CST) guild I formed at the end of WotLK well after the zone buff had begun.  It consisted of 4 real life friends plus myself and we PUGed our way each week to 11/12H in 10 man.  Fast forward to Cataclysm with increased 10 man difficulty.  We decided to get an actual raiding team together and, after lots of recruitment and slowly progressing, we managed to go from 5 players PUGing the first first bosses to a team that killed 7/13H with our last kill being Heroic Nefarian.  First Alliance guild to do that on our realm, too, and it put us on the map.

We kept improving the roster during Firelands and killed Heroic Ragnaros while current, getting server first and being the top two night a week guild in the US (possibly world, I forget).  Been full clearing heroics every tier since then and, as I recall, been the top two night guild in the US throughout our history.  Got murkier in Siege of Orgrimmar since 25 man guilds killed the dramatically easier 25H Garrosh before we killed the harder 10H Garrosh.  Mythic solves that problem, I suppose.

Speaking of Mythic, we had to get ready for it!  After we killed Heroic Garrosh on 10 man we began slowly recruiting so we could transition to 25 man.  Six weeks ago we were able to do so and got 13/14H our first week as a 25 man.  Killed Heroic Garrosh three weeks after that (had some undergeared people and had to replace some people) on 25H and we'll kill him a third time by the end of this week (hopefully tomorrow, potentially on Monday).

Let me put this frankly: recruiting sucked.

Granted, it was harder for us as a fairly niche guild -- casual two nights with hardcore skill requirements, you might say.  Very small recruitment pool and maybe other guilds had it easier.  But thank goodness we were 14/14H as I cannot imagine how painful it would have been otherwise.  I suspect a lot of guilds are going to die off with this turmoil.

Strangely enough, now that we're 14/14H on 25 man we're getting quite a few good applicants!  The Catch-22 of raiding.

Going to talk some more in other posts about some of the changes we've had to make in terms of guild policies and raid environment but this is already a reasonably long post.  So I wanted to finish this by discussing each boss for 10H versus 25H (this analysis is assuming equal gear, which we obviously didn't have but I'm extrapolating).

Heroic Immerseus
Holy cow this fight is a complete joke on 25 man.  The new heroic mechanic is irrelevant and the puddles are so easy to control with this many people.  Went from being harder than Protectors/Norushen/Galakras/Nazgrim on 10H to definitely being the easiest heroic.

Not much to say about this fight, about the same, except more zergable due to the all the extra cooldowns.

Definitely can get a lot crazier with a lot more adds for people to control up top, had to be a bit more careful than on 10 man, still easy as long as you're not greedy with purifying people.

Sha of Pride
About the same as 10 man.  We spread out and ignore the Gift of the Titans buff (unlike 10H), have to deal with two more prisons, and have two adds to kill...but we have a lot more cooldowns to use as well.

Basically the same.

Iron Juggernaut
Much easier than 10 man, more cooldowns to throw at problems.

Dark Shaman
Easier but not obscenely so like some of the other fights.

General Nazgrim
Joke on both sizes.

Now we get to the harder bosses!

Much easier than 10 man, soaking puddles is trivial.  Only thing more difficult is taunting all three adds in.

Basically the same.

Easier but in a weird way.  Instead of needing 3 groups of people during screech phase we only needed two.  Screech hits for a lot more proportionally but, as I might have mentioned, we have a lot more cooldowns to use as well.  About the same post-nerf.

Still easier on 25 man post-nerf (unless you have an insane 10 man composition), so much more CC to control mines.

Surprise, Paragons is still harder on 25 man, though all the extra gear means it's mainly "DON'T STAND IN THE RAPID FIRE OR FIERY LINES OR CAUSTIC AMBER!"  95% of wipes were due to people standing in the metaphorical fire (and there is so much of it).  It's a fight where we expect to have people dead at the end, though that will improve.

Hard to say.  It's a lot easier to trivialize the DPS check for Garrosh on 25 man with kiting but at the same time it's REALLY not that hard to just "spread out, kill adds" on 10 man (all the gear and 4/4 upgrades makes the DPS check very easy to meet).  The first intermission in Jade Serpent Temple is miles easier, that's the biggest difference at this point, I think.  With much worse gear, though, 10H was definitely far harder since you couldn't kite the adds for extra DPS and the first intermission was absolutely brutal.

Anyway, sorry for the absence, got some posts coming up on both how 25 guilds work differently from 10 mans and some RPG game mechanic discussion revolving around that NWN module I mentioned.