Thursday, December 29, 2011

An actual post! Hunter UI Modification.

To give credit where it's due for the previous post: the idea was totally my boyfriend's. It made me laugh, though, so I had to embellish on it and make it into a blog post. Now, though, I should write a real post, or at least as close to a real post as anything I do. There seems to be more interest in interface modification than there is in slogging through uploaded combat parses - and now that I put it like that, I'm not really very surprised. I'm definitely going to do a post on hunter log evaluation, but it can wait a couple days.

Before I get into posting a UI screenshot and talking about configuration, however, I want to talk about how I think about my UI.

I see a number of people that post threads in forums that are along the lines of "I'm playing a hunter! What mods should I get?" and I really don't think this is a very helpful way to go about it. Not least because 30 different people will give you 30 different recommendations, and without any way to choose between them you're going to end up looking at blurry screenshots of mods and trying to figure out if you should get it or not.

I think everyone should ask themselves this question: "what are the problems with my UI that I want to fix?" It might even help to get out a piece of paper and write down your answers to that question. Without asking that question you're groping blindly, and you're just as likely to confuse yourself as you are to help yourself.

So before I post the big screenshot, here are my answers to that question:

  1. I need to have all my most important information near the middle of my screen, so I can easily see when I'm Standing In Bad.
  2. I need to be able to accurately and easily monitor a wide variety of different buffs, debuffs, and cooldowns.
  3. I need to be able to see adds instantly as well as switch targets quickly and accurately and I have to be able to misdirect to and use Master's Call on anyone in the raid in the middle of an encounter.
  4. All of the above have to be accomplished with as much visual economy as possible: cluttering up my screen with bars and timers and flashing buttons defeats the purpose by making it impossible to see that I'm Standing In Bad.
Those are my four goals. Every addon I have I picked and customized specifically to address one or more of them. Here's what my UI looks like shooting at a target dummy:
Click for full size.
I'll talk a little bit about each of the mods, in numerical order. I'm not really going to go into step-by-step configuration of individual mods, because they all for the most part have guides out there already. It's more important to think about the mods I use might or might not help you fix the problems with how you use your UI.

This pair of addons works together to clean up the game's default health plates and add features to them such as transparency, resizing, and additional visual effects that can be used to display threat information. Tanks, for example, can set the health plates for mobs targeting them to be smaller, more transparent and green while the plates for mobs targeting other people can be big and red with an attention-grabbing aura around them. As a hunter, I have the plates for mobs not targeting me a little smaller, transparent and green; mobs that targeting or could target me are big and red and so on. This makes tasks like picking a particular mob out of a whole pile of them much easier, while doing so with a minimum of distracting visual clutter.

I make fairly sparing use of Power Auras. It's a venerable old mod, widely used because it's so powerful. As is often the case though, all that customizability means it takes a little more effort to configure. I only do fairly basic things with it: you can see in the screenshot a small, somewhat transparent icon letting me know that I've got a haste proc from a trinket. I need to know this so I can adjust my expectation for things like "how many steady shots can I fit in before CS comes off cooldown?" I also use it to really scream at me when I've got Fading Light on Ultraxxion or I'm being targeted for Shrapnel on Madness.

I love this addon very, very, very much. Here's a closeup:
As you can see, the center of the mod is a focus bar. The tick mark is the amount of focus it would cost to use a Chimera shot, and the number is the amount of focus I have at that second. To the right is an animated indicator warning me that I don't have Hunter's Mark active on my target. Below that is an indicator so I know that I'm in Aspect of the Hawk.

Now, you can see that there are two Rapid Fire icons, one above the focus bar and one below. The one on top is because Rapid Fire is currently active on me, with 12 seconds remaining. The duration of the buff from Improved Steady Shot is displayed here in the same way, as is the cooldown of Chimera shot. As the cooldowns or durations tick down to 0, the icon moves from the right side of the bar to the left. So it's both an intuitive visual indicator of time left, as well as text indicating number of seconds.

I use the space under the focus bar to display my longer cooldowns, so the "3" there is white to indicate that it's referring to minutes rather than the yellow seconds of the icon on top. Once that cooldown is under a minute, it will display in seconds as well. This makes it super-easy to use make sure I use Rapid Fire again as soon as I possibly can.

Not pictured here are other things you can have Serenity monitor and display, such as notices that your current target has a buff that Tranquilizing shot can remove or the time left until Freezing Trap wears off of something you've got trapped.

This is a really great mod, and I would encourage all hunters to at least consider it.

4. Quartz
This is another classic mod that I've used since BC. Basically it lets you change the size, location, and appearance of any and all castbars (your own, your target's, target's target, focus, etc). It can also monitor things like the GCD, your autoshot/swing timer, debuffs and buffs on your target, and so on. If you're moving everything else in your UI around, like I am, you need to be able to move around your castbars.

I use Pitbull for much the same reasons that I use Quartz. Having my own healthbar stuck in the upper right-hand corner of my screen was resulting in my death occasionally, and anyway it was ugly! So I use this mod to make my healthbars prettier and move and resize them to fit my own desires. You can see I have my pet's healthbar visible but small, sitting atop my own. My target's target is displayed in a similar fashion, and everything is tucked in neat and clean in the bottom-center of my screen, so I don't have move my eyes very far off-center to scan them. I also use it to display large, easy-to-see icons of the buffs on my current target so I can easily watch things like the stacks of Warlord Zon'ozz's increased damage-done buff.

6,7. Grid/Clique
I first picked up using this pair of cooldowns as I was learning to heal on my priest, and I've found that they lend themselves to things like answering the question "is everyone in the raid alive?" and "where's the healer so I can use Master's Call on him?" These are also highly customizable mods, and if you decide to use them make sure you do so with a clear goal in mind. I wanted extremely clean, compact raid frames that I could tuck in a corner and use for very specific purposes; I didn't want a massive set of healthbars covering half my screen and covered in vibrating, pulsating icons.

Continuing the theme of many of my other mods, BT4 allowed me to resize, move, rearrange, and change the appearance and transparency of my various action bars and menu buttons. My mini-menu and pet bar have been made tiny and tucked under the chat box so they don't obscure anything. I've got an action bar hidden along the left-hand side of my screen where I've got bindings for a few macros for pet control and aspect swapping as well as placing traps (it becomes visible if I mouse over it). My regular action bars are still visible, but are much smaller, reducing visual clutter.

Other considerations/not pictured.
You can't see it but I used a tiny little addon called Tipsy to move my tooltips to the upper left-hand corner of my screen, so they wouldn't get in the way of my raid frames. I have Omen and Recount installed, but Omen is hidden unless I'm in a party/raid and Recount is hidden unless I specifically bring it up to look at something (during raid time, this is usually the "Deaths" page).

You can see that I've set up a few custom chat tabs and made the background of the chat window transparent. The tabs are so that I can restrict the chat I can see to just party, raid and guild, and the transparency is so that it doesn't get in the way.

Anyway, altogether I hope you can see how I've chosen my addons to fix my UI problems. Maybe some of these would be the right ones for you and maybe they wouldn't! There's no way for anyone else to know what addons are best for you.

That said, I am always curious about how other people play! So if you have any favorites that I've missed, please do drop me a note, tweet it, or leave a comment!

Upcoming Change to the LFR Loot System

As you know, all of us here at Blizzard take customer feedback very seriously. We all spend a lot of time every day reading the Battle.Net forums for World of Warcraft, we communicate with our fans through Twitter and Facebook, and we have a variety of statistical tools that monitor and report on what actually happens in-game.

The new Looking For Raid feature has generated a lot of feedback. Indeed, it has generated so much feedback that we had to bring another 38 quintillion petaFLOPS of server capacity online to handle the new topic requests sent to our North American forum servers alone.

A lot of the feedback we've received has been very positive, and we're extremely happy about that. People with irregular schedules, or in guilds that don't raid, or who have a variety of reasons that make it difficult for them to tackle the normal modes have informed us that they've had a lot of fun with LFR. We really could not be more pleased about this.

Unfortunately, there have also been some complaints. Most of that server capacity we added has gone towards serving the topic-posting needs of people who rolled on a thing that dropped in LFR and yet, somehow, did not receive it. After reading a representative sample of threads with titles such as "LFR Loot System has hit rock bottom" and "A Simple Look at, Looking For Raid Loot" and "LFR loot issues thread#29992", we have come to a conclusion that we feel best serves the needs of all our valued customers.

We are currently deploying a hotfix to all realms that will remove all loot drops from Dragon Soul bosses in the Looking For Raid difficulty. Instead, bosses will drop Legendary Satchels, with each player able to loot their own individual Satchel. Satchels will have orange text and contain a small but non-trivial amount of gold and have a small but non-zero chance to drop certain easily obtainable companion pets, as well as a basically-zero chance to drop the Ashes of Al'ar.

All of us here on the World of Warcraft development team are extremely excited to read your feedback about this latest change, but we have anticipated that the volume might very well be beyond even our ability to capture a representative sample. We have so far been reading and collating results from between three and four-hundred threads on the LFR loot system posted to Battle.Net every second, and this has allowed us a reasonable grasp on the contents of the other seventy to eighty million threads posted that second. Conservative estimates from our research team have indicated a likely post volume far in excess of the total information contained in the observable Universe, and as such we are simply incapable of adding sufficient server capacity to address your needs.

We would need to secure the services of an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent Being merely to handle the posts made by customers upset that they received a cockroach pet of the wrong color. Incidentally, should such a Being be reading this post, I would like to personally encourage you to visit our Careers Page and apply today! We offer competitive benefits and will assist with your relocation to Irvine, California.

Until such time as we are able to hire a Supreme Being or Beings, however, the most cost-effective measure to throttle feedback and allow us to continue delivering the reliable gaming and forum-reading experience you've come to expect from Blizzard has turned out to be hiring third-party professionals skilled in stealth and infiltration to administer a powerful paralytic neurotoxin to all active subscribers to the World of Warcraft. You should be feeling the toxin's effects shortly: do not be alarmed! Our hired professionals will also be connecting you to intravenous nutriment delivery for the approximate two-week duration of the paralysis. We do not believe any convincing evidence of long-term harm has been shown to occur from this toxin, but do be aware that you agreed to be paralyzed against your will when you clicked "Accept" without reading the updated EULA and TOS.

Thank you again for being such amazing fans of World of Warcraft! It has been a dream come true to work here. We're looking forward to your feedback in a couple weeks, when you've had time to relax about it a little bit.

Good luck obtaining the Ashes of Al'ar!

Greg "Phantomcrustacean" Road

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Totally wonderful video.

Everyone should watch this. It is unrelentingly righteous. Its veins course with the most purified forms of awesome. I do not have enough likes for it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

We play this game for fun, right?

There are a few recent posts out there in the WoW blogging ether whose intersection I want to talk about a little bit.

The first is Cynwise's post on motivation - and I highly recommend watching the presentation by Chris Hecker that I linked in a comment on that post.

The second and third posts are Karegina's post about LFR and Windsoar's response, touching on mental illness more broadly.

What I think is important about looking at these three posts together is that if you find a good answer for Cynwise's problem, I think you're well on the way to having a good answer for Karegina and Windsoar. I shall tell a short story to illustrate what I'm getting at.

To begin the story, we'll have to go back to the Burning Crusade. The raid guild I was in at the time was working on Mount Hyjal. I don't think we'd yet begun progression on Archimonde. In those days, Cursed Vision was the best hunter hat (and rogue hat, ret hat, cat hat, enhance hat,...) in the game, but obviously we weren't at Illidan yet. The second best hat was the season 3 PvP hat.

At the same time, my boyfriend was playing a holy paladin and the best healing gloves in the game were the PvP gloves.

The solution seems obvious, right? Obvious and, if you did arena PvP at all during season 3, pretty horrifying. It's hard to imagine a worse pair of classes to arena with at that time, and it's especially hard to imagine a worse pair wearing mostly raid gear.

I won't go into the process in detail, but we did get our PvP items, at the cost of sinking a lot of time into doing an activity that wasn't fun for either of us and made us fight and like, really? Fighting with the person you love over WoW arena losses is pretty unpleasant. And so we swore it off foreverrr-r-r-r-r!

Until, you know, Cataclysm. Kinda. Independently of other things going on, I started to do some PvP on my priest, just random BGs, and it was a lot of fun! It was even more fun when I did them with guildies, because as few as 2 or 3 of us working together could really dominate a BG. And one of the guildies I was doing them with was my boyfriend (on his DK), and we weren't fighting! Yay!

I don't remember who initially brought up the idea, but at some point it was suggested by someone that myself and my boyfriend and one of our guildies do 3v3 arenas. I thought that two factors would keep us from fighting. First, now it was me healing instead of him, so I figured he'd be less stressed by watching healthbars drop. Second, we were doing it with another person, which I thought would be better. I'm not sure why or how.

Instead we ended up in the same place we'd been before, in BC. We stopped queueing for arenas, and honestly since then I haven't done any WoW PvP.

Looking back, I think that the core mistake we made was forgetting why we'd started doing BGs together: they were fun! It wasn't particularly fair of us to (mostly) steamroll uncoordinated random BG teams, but we were having fun playing as a group, and we didn't need to have a full raid of 10 people online to do it.

So once we'd kitted ourselves out in honor gear - which took no time at all with a 85%+ win percentage - we said to ourselves "we could do arenas! We could get rating and better gear and titles and stuff!"


We shifted focus from the intrinsic fun of wrecking BGs with friends to the extrinsic carrot of titles and rating and stuff. And part of what tripped us up is that we were right about some things. We were all individually pretty capable people! But it takes a while to pick up the specialized skillset for arenas, and even then you're still vulnerable to hard counters. More importantly, the MMR system does its best to give you a 1:1 win:loss ratio, and if you're chasing rating then every loss is like "ugh we lost rating points" and it just feels crap.

Similarly, when we were doing arenas for points in BC, we wanted those points to buy things with. Every loss meant we'd have to queue one more time for the necessary points to buy the things we thought we wanted.

If you're going to be doing arenas, you should be doing them because they're fun for you. Not because you want gear for your raid toon or a cool title.

By the same token, if you're going to be queueing into LFR, it should be because you want to do LFR. Sure, when I'm in there on my hunter I'm partially doing it for gear, but it's also fun for me to do things like compare my damage done with others and just sort of watch the on-screen chaos of 25 totally uncoordinated people flailing away at nerfed versions of the encounters. For my priest and now my warrior, LFR is a way for them to do what they do in a raid-like setting.

I have encouraged my raiders to do some LFR for the gear to help with our normal-mode progression but I have also (I hope!) been clear that I totally do not require them to do so. I have tried to emphasize that I've had fun with it, and getting free purpz is a surprising side effect of that (seriously, every time I win a roll I'm astonished).

The flipside to this is that I think some guilds might require people to clear LFR weekly until they can't get anything more from it, and I think that's ok too just so long as the guild as a whole agrees to that.

What is definitively not ok is a guild that says it's fine with people that don't do things like farm the TB trinket or farm LFR but then puts a lot of pressure on members that don't want to do those things. Especially because for some of our fellow raiders and friends there are issues that magnify and compound the flaws of extrinsic rewards, totally wrecking their enjoyment of the entire game:
A couple of  years ago during a depression, I almost completely disappeared from the game. I felt too pressured to do anything but group activities, and I just couldn’t handle it. When I screwed up my courage and started telling people not now I found that, not only did my guildmates not despise me for leaving them high and dry, but I could handle playing the game on a regular basis again.
From here.

We all choose this hobby. We choose to fork over our $15 every month. We do it because we want to. It's surprising, then, that it can be so hard to keep an eye on why we choose to do that. I actually think that keeping up with this blog has helped a lot with that, for me at least, because when I get really excited about something I write about it.

I've always got a record of the things that have made me happy.

So hey - has anyone else tried that? Especially if they're feeling crap about the game at a given moment, either written down or gone back and read a previously-written bit to remind themselves about why they're in Azeroth? If not, it might be worth a shot.

And if you're considering doing something that you dread, or simply have no desire to do - I say just let it go. Concentrate on what's fun. Jettison the rest.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4.3 Survival, haste, and focus income

I saw a really intriguing post on the Blizz hunter forum the other day, from a highly progressed hunter (6/8 Dragon Soul heroic) who wanted to ask Zeherah (the female dwarf behind a question about haste. Specifically, she wanted to know how much haste she would need to bring her cobra shot cast down to 1.5 seconds.

As it happens, Zeherah has included a super-handy haste calculator that made the question really easy to answer. In fact, I doubt the asker would have even asked her question, but I think she probably didn't see the small-text link to "haste calculator" in the upper-right hand corner of the screen. It turns out that you need 33% haste (including the 10% buff and 3/3 Pathing) to bring your CoS to 1.5s, which translates to a minimum of 2264 haste rating for most hunters. It'd be a little less for goblins or hunters that get Dark Intent, but again, you just need to see at least 33% character-sheet haste.

Ok. the interesting bit is why this hunter wanted to know this.

As mentioned before, the T13 2-piece bonus for hunters is amazing. It's actually better than the T12 4-piece or possibly even the T11 4-piece. It is really good. It dumps so much focus into your bar that with it you can probably do a tight Survival DPS cycle with two cobra shots and two arcane shots per explosive shot, rather than three CoS. A 1.5s CoS fits all of these shots neatly within the six second cooldown of ExS.

Just in case you're not sure of that, it's easy to check: 1 second GCD from the ExS + 3 seconds from cobra shots + 2 seconds from arcane shots = 6 seconds total. That is of course the ExS cooldown. Looks good!

Sadly, 2264 haste rating is a pretty steep requirement, especially since you're still going to want to reforge for crit first. You absolutely want critical strike rating on every single piece of your gear, and you never want to reforge out of it. Then you have to make sure to reach 8% hit, and there's little enough hit on T13 gear that you'll probably end up reforging into it. Finally, you don't want to go any lower on mastery than a 5:1 ratio of crit:mastery. I actually don't think you're likely to run into a problem with this last one (if you have 600 mastery, which is not much at all, you'd need to go over 3,000 crit rating before you were worried about it), but it is something to keep in mind.

Basically it's just going to be tough to reach 2300 haste rating even in 397 gear. It might be more reachable in 401 gear, but by the time you've reached the point where you have 401+ in every slot, you've completed all the heroic modes anyway, right?

All is not lost, however!

There are a lot of haste effects in the game right now. Rapid Fire, Bloodlust, The Hungerer, Arrow of Time, and Starcatcher Compass will all bring almost anyone over 33% haste. So if you're playing Survival with the 4.3 buffs, I'd recommend having some way (probably Power Auras) to track all those effects and procs so that you can know when you can switch to a 2 cobra/2 arcane DPS cycle.

And if you don't have T13 2pc yet, get working on it! Get into those LFR queues and start rolling need on tokens!

Oh, editing in a bonus question that just occurred to me: do you suppose that this DPS cycle might mean Kiril is not BiS for Survival? It is a mystery!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Emailed Questions!

Hooray! I love emailed questions, they make post topics so easy. So here are some questions I got recently, regarding having multiple hunters in a group:
What's the best way to handle the Hunter's Mark?  Mine will cancel theirs and vice versa. Does only the shooter get the benefit from the Mark or does any shot fired after the Mark is place benefit any shooter? If it's not a boss and there are multiple adds, is it appropriate to go ahead and select a secondary target and fire away? Or should I keep my dps on the tank's focus that has already been marked?
Luckily the first part of that is easy: both the standard hunter's mark and the mark from Marked For Death give their AP bonuses to all hunters attacking the marked target. So you don't have to worry about who's putting the debuff on the mobs.

As far as target switching, in general I just single-target one mob after another. Having all the DPS kill one trash mob is the fastest way to get it to stop hurting the tank, which can be a real issue with some high-damage mob packs. This was also more important before the threat change, when targeting a mob the tank didn't have targeted was likely to pull it off her, but that's way less likely at this point.

And here are a few more questions from the same email:
What about traps? If my Hunter friend places a Frost trap to slow down the mob, can I place an Explosive trap to help proc Lock and Load and Sic 'em? Will one trap negate the other? I know that some mobs are immune to fire damage, so I'm assuming that if that is the case, I won't get the proc on the talents. Is that correct?
Yep, different hunter traps can definitely all affect the same target (or targets) at the same time. Heck, you could drop your own frost, explosive, and snake traps on a group and they'd all do their respective things to the mobs.

Also, especially with regards to LnL procs, I should point out that explosive trap is the preferred use of your fire trap cooldown for Survival hunters right now, even on bosses. Black Arrow does more damage, it's true, but it costs over three times as much focus as a glyphed trap launcher and ticks only half as many times. So as long as you're engaging a boss that can be kept in the AoE of an explosive trap (and you're confident that the tank will in fact keep it there), you should definitely be using explosive trap to fish for LnL procs*.

Finally, you're correct that explosive trap ticks on a mob that's fire immune will not proc LnL for you. Luckily, there are very few elemental-immune mobs at this point in the game, as they've realized that problems like this aren't very fun to deal with.

Thanks so much for your email!

It also reminds me that I need to go back and update my gear guides and my survival guide for 4.3. At this point with the gear guide especially, I wish I'd held on to my original recommendations for Cataclysm release. That way I could have easily had several successive steps of gear so that new-85 hunters could easily bring their average item level up to the point where they can queue for the DS heroics, which would shortly get them into the LFR queue.

I think just a paragraph saying "take it if it has more agility than what you're wearing and use your JP to buy item level 378 stuff" should be just about as good, though.

*This is another one of those things that keeps happening that totally mystifies me. How do the very smart class design teams at Blizz not remember that this happened before (even before trap launcher!) and is going to happen again as long as BA is an inferior method to proc LnL?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hooray! Ultraxion down.

After last week and getting to 14% at our closest, I was pretty worried about Ultraxion. This week we walked in, pulled him, and down he went! With three healers! According to WoL I clocked in at 30,973 DPS.

I think I got relatively lucky with fading light (only got it twice). I also lucked out and got a T13 chest token from LFR and a T13 leg token from Hagara this week, and the insane focus income from the 2pc bonus is a huge help with DPS. I parsed better on it than three better-geared hunters in the server's top raiding guild, anyway (yes I'm petty and went peeking at their logs). Although to be fair I think I've got a nearly-ideal buff setup in my raid. The only thing I personally was lacking was the trauma debuff, and I should be able to get that more frequently once our prot pally is able to come back to raiding.

I'm just generally pleased with my own performance and my guild's performance tonight. By the end of the night (and this is our first raid night of the week!) we were getting clean trash phases on Blackhorn, so we just need to iron out cooldown usage and shockwave survival for Blackhorn and we'll have him down. We recently had some roster shakeups that allowed a frost DK to return to raiding, and he was really awesome on the Blackhorn trash, every sapper wandered into DnD, got chainsed, and got gripped if it got too close to the cabin. I think we let one through all night. The only thing we kind of still need to work on with the trash is avoiding blade rushes.

Man! T13 has so far done a world of good in terms of rekindling the fun in raiding. I'm really feeling confident about getting the normals cleared out in a reasonable timeframe and being able to get a few heroics down. And considering we're a guild that started the expansion without clearing the T11 normals, that feels really good.

In more huntery mechanicsy news, I'm not sure what I'll do about T13 4pc. My first inclination was to glyph arcane and swap to using that as a focus dump, but dumping with AiS has been working really well on most encounters. Part of the "I'll have to use arcane" decision was based on the assumption that the T13 set bonus was, like the T12 bonus, without an ICD. Comments on the wowhead page suggest it has around a 60 second ICD though, which possibly encourages really awkward stuff like trying to somehow track the elapse of each minute and briefly swap to using arcane every time the bonus has come off of its secret cooldown. I'm not really excited about that idea. I should have a while to think about it though, so that's fine.

Now I think I'm going to go try out some of the candy cane hot cocoa someone got recently.

Oh, I forgot to mention! If you wanted to listen to the recorded interview with Twisted Nether blogcast, you can find it here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Should I break my T12 4pc for T13 2pc?


Sorry. Not yelling at anyone, I just actually found myself asking myself this question the other day, and then I went "oh yeah, duh, of course I should." T12 4pc bonus gives you free focus in different amounts at random times. T13 2pc gives you a predictable, never ending flow of free focus. It's a huge DPS increase and gets you that much closer to getting your T13 4pc, which is appropriately righteous for an end-of-expansion tier set.

Of course, luck being what it is, the LFR runs I did on my hunter dropped conqueror tokens, and the runs I did on my priest dropped protector tokens.

I am now a social media maven!

Ok not really. But I did sign up for twitter. The second... thing to "follow" me was porn spam.

I looked through the default widgets and stuff on blogger, but I didn't immediately find a good one to easily provide a link on the sidebar for people to follow me on twitter with a single click. Not sure how to do that, but I'm sure I can figure it out with a bit of googling.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Overthinking Raid Difficulties

I am now at work, having finished up my interview with the Twisted Nether folks earlier. It was a lot of fun! Presumably I was pretty boring to listen to, but I had a good time. As happens so often with me when I talk with my mouth rather than my fingers, however, I didn't manage to convey all the thinkin's I've been having in my brain parts.

See, it seemed like a good idea to listen to a couple previous episodes before I went on, and the most recent episode was with Kurn from Kurn's Corner. I've been reading her blog for quite a while now, and I think she's awesome, which is why I was kind of saddened at her response to the question "what went right with Cataclysm?" ("nothing!") as well as her pessimism regarding Mists.

I got across some of what I wanted to say about those things in the show, but the big thing I didn't address was her complaints about the raid difficulties.

I think that you have to establish some background before you start talking about how satisfied you are or are not with raid difficulty in Cataclysm, because the game totally and completely changed the way it addressed difficulties over the course of Wrath of the Lich King.

In classic WoW and Burning Crusade, when you'd killed a new boss you had killed a new boss. Full stop, end of story. You weren't going to clear the instance and come back later and kill a different, more difficult version of that boss. You either killed Illidan or you didn't. Ok.

This approach to raid difficulty is intuitive and viscerally satisfying. It feels totally awesome and great to come together and work as a team and get that first kill on Lady Vashj or Kael'thas or Archimonde or Illidan. Man it feels good. And then you've done it! You've cleared SSC or TK or MH or BT and no one can gainsay that.

There are some problems with this approach, however, because it means that you're going to pour a really staggering quantity of development resources into assembling and tuning content that single-digit percentages of your playerbase are going to see, if that.

That isn't even the biggest problem, though. The biggest problem is that there is no cap on player skill and no cap on guild teamwork. I loved Lady Vashj and it remains one of my favorite encounters in the game, but if the modern top-10 guilds were doing SSC and TK, they would have laughed at T5. They would have just wrecked those encounters with a violence that would be sickening and terrible to behold, yes, even before they were nerfed. We were starting to see this with vodka's pre-nerf kill of Mu'ru, an extremely brutal encounter. There were, what, 6 or 7 guilds that were able to clear that before it got nerfed?

The thing to keep in mind, then, is that they did in fact clear it. The gulf between someone like me and someone in those top 10 guilds is much wider than the gulf between me and someone 10k DPS behind me in the raid finder. And then you have to remember that that gulf continues to grow wider.

I think the best way to think about this is to look at some illustrative examples.

I think I'm pretty good at WoW*, and I'm in a casual guild with people I like and a raid schedule I can live with. We're totally average, the perfect target market for normal modes. Roster difficulties in T11 meant we never cleared Nef or Al'akir before the nerf, but we got everything else. We went 7/7 normals in Firelands and never touched a heroic mode. We're the scrappy little kid in the school hallway, with a heart full of fierceness that's at odds with our awkward, uncoordinated exterior. We are currently 4/8 Dragon Soul normals on 10 and Ultraxion is looking like a formidable challenge on normal difficulty.

Kurn is the GM of Apotheosis. They went 7/13 25H in T11 and 6/7 25H in T12, which is awesome and amazing. They are some straight-up swaggering brutes, covered in rippling muscles and arcing with fearsome eldritch power, heirs to the eleven fatal secrets of Shaolin and masters of the most deadly arts. They are currently 7/8 Dragon Soul normals on 25 and will almost certainly be working on heroics within a couple weeks.

Beru is an officer (or perhaps GM? Not sure) of Monolith, who went 13/13 25H in T11 and 7/7 25H in T12. They are nightmares risen from the depths of a fevered unconscious mind, the formless given a form which is death unending. They are the coming of chaos and the rending of the world; from their manifold mouths issues a ululation that sunders flesh and from their uncountable eyes issues a light that sears all it sees to ash. They have already killed their first heroic boss in Dragon Soul.

The top guilds in the world are 6/8 25H in Dragon Soul.

The very best players are continually just getting better and better, inching farther off to the right-hand side of the bell curve. Any encounter which presents a challenge to them is rapidly approaching the state of being an impenetrable citadel to the rest of the world. Two encounters in this expansion have prompted Beru to write posts asking "is this fun?" and coming to the answer that no. No it is not fun.

Unfortunately, any encounter difficult enough to present the gentlest of speedbumps to those top guilds is pretty much doomed to make her give the same answer to that question.

So I can understand Kurn's disappointment that she's almost cleared the normals already, but I really think she underestimates the unbalancing effect of her own skill and the skill and teamwork of her guild. Presenting her guild with normal modes that challenged them would mean my guild banging into a brick wall at Zon'ozz, while presenting Beru's guild with normals that challenged them would have Apotheosis hitting a wall in the same spot. At the end of the day, if the normals are too easy for you, blow 'em up and move on to heroic modes.

I totally get that all of these difficulties sort of dilute the raiding experience. I agree with that. In fact I think she's one of the people that got the short end of the stick: normals are too easy for her to really feel satisfied at clearing them, but she's also not necessarily clearing the heroic modes. That's not very satisfying either!

What it comes down to, though, is that I think the choices were between dilution and destruction - the one-lockout model did not and can not scale with player skill, and just ignoring either the hardcore or the casual segments of the subscriber base would have ended up scuttling the ship. The very fact that there are millions of casual players is part of what gives meaning to the hardcore being hardcore, and without the accomplishments of the hardcore to admire, the casual playerbase loses interest.

*I think that a guild around the level that Monolith plays at would be happy to have me, even if my current progression doesn't reflect that.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pugged players and personality conflicts

I have about as much affection for priest healing as I do for hunter DPS. My hunter was my first character, and she holds a higher percentage of time as my main character, but I have mained my priest in a raid healing capacity, and it was a lot of fun for me. It's actually a little unfortunate, because there's no way for me to heal without feeling twinges of "I wish I were on my hunter," and I can't play my hunter without getting similar twinges of "I wish I were on my priest."

Since I do main my hunter, this means I keep my eye out for opportunities to take my priest through current content. Somewhere in, I think, September I saw someone posting ads in trade looking to recruit a healer for their Firelands progression raiding. I sent her a tell saying that, while I couldn't be a permanent person that could make all their raid times, I could help out with their Friday raidtimes until such time as they found someone that could better fill in and was she interested in a discipline priest?

Her response was "no," which was fine, but then she gave me the reason for that no and said that it was because they already had a holy paladin.

I could go in-depth as to why this was an incorrect opinion to hold at the time, but I think it's enough for my purposes here to simply state its incorrectness. Having a holy paladin is just absolutely not a good reason to turn down a discipline priest with the current game balance, and it was an even worse reason before 4.3 was released. But this person Knew What She Knew and nothing was going to change her mind, certainly nothing so petty as the game's actual mechanics.

And you know what? That's fine. I shrugged and wished her luck and went on my way.

Earlier tonight, I posted a recruitment notice in trade and actually got a response from it, which was certainly a first. I'm not sure if this particular person is going to work out, but it'll be nice if he does, and since he didn't server transfer to play with us I won't feel any pressure to try force it to work if he's not a good fit with the guild.

Shortly after I'd invited him to the guild, he mentioned that he was pugging Firelands with the guild that I mentioned above. My sleep schedule is totally weird right now (totally weird) and, although I'm completely burned out on sick of Firelands, I could still use the trinkets from Domo and Rag. More importantly, it would be a good opportunity to hang out with the new recruit and see how he did, so I said sure, I'd come.

The raid essentially had one person in it who hadn't cleared the instance on normal before, and yet they felt the need to do full-length boss explanations on vent. Once more, that's fine. It's ok. Not everyone has my particular bias against pre-pull boss explanations going longer than a minute (maybe two minutes), and I get that.

What I don't get, and where I think I again have to say that I think they were just incorrect, was insisting that their raid leader be the only person to discuss encounter mechanics ever, in any capacity. Even on an AFK break, when said raid leader wasn't present, and someone not in their guild had asked a question.

I understand that it can be rough to bring in players from other guilds. Everyone does everything a little bit differently, and a lot of people have this notion that any difference from their method is wrong, rather than merely different. They feel like they're clearly better, and they have this weird misplaced arrogance happening, and they want to change the way you're comfortable doing things.

This guild leader pretty much instantly jumped to feeling like I was doing this, because the first time I mentioned anything her response was "we've been here countless times before." I could see the gear they were wearing. I could see the rote facility with which they went through the encounters. It was already obvious to me that they'd cleared all these places before and were just here to farm stuff for their mage's staff.

There was eventually some bad feeling about this, which is really unfortunate, and to be honest I think she's looking at things with the wrong attitude.

I've learned a lot by pugging myself into other guild groups, and I've learned a lot from people we've pugged in. We improved the way we did Valiona and Theralion, we improved the way we did Ragnaros, we got little tips for weird trash packs, etc. It is not necessarily disrespectful if someone mentions the way they're used to doing something. It is not necessarily confusing to have someone bring up an idea, especially if it's someone that's not doing things like talking over the raid leader. I think you run a very real risk of missing out if you declare that there shall be No Discussion of the Encounters.

So, I did get lucky. Domo dropped his trinket and I won the roll on it. Awesome. I don't think I'll be pugging with that particular guild any more, but I do wish them luck. I just think that things could be a little easier and more fun for them.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dragon Soul so far: pretty great, actually!

I think I spent maybe 6 or 7 hours logged into WoW for the entirety of November.

It just wasn't something I was really very interested in doing. I mostly logged in to farm the nerfed Firelands normals, but we pretty much gave up on trying out heroic progression. Killing the same stuff over and over again in hopes that the few things we needed would drop was extremely tedious. Beth'tilac was the first boss we killed in Firelands and she never did drop a single tanking sword. On the other hand, our rogue got kitted out in his BiS for every slot, so that's cool.

The point being that I was pretty much totally bored with WoW and couldn't be bothered to log in. Patch 4.3 has done a lot to address that, at least for the meantime.

Part of that has been the raid finder, and I'm forced to admit that I was completely wrong about it. Basically my thinking was that all mechanics would have to be nerfed to the point of irrelevance, thus robbing the encounters of any sort of inherent ability to be engaging. Socially, the raids would be poorly organized and raid chat would be the linguistic equivalent of the pus drained from a festering, poisonous boil (sorry for that image).

The first of these predictions was correct, but I've underestimated my fellow humans when it comes to the second. I've done a few different LFR jaunts, both on my hunter Peregrina and my priest Andaviel, and more than anything else it's been pretty quiet. To be honest, I do most of the talking! I do things like try to engage with other people there, make jokes, what have you, and I haven't had much luck with that. But it hasn't been a whirling cesspool of misspelled epithets and and trash-talking about overall damage done, so whatever! Well done, population of the raid finder queues in my battlegroup.

I've also been enjoying the new heroics. I don't have a whole lot to say about them: they feel easier than the troll heroics did on release, but whatever. They're pretty fun, and generally visually engaging. I like the mechanic for the shade of Sylvanas the best, requiring as it does some modicum of organization and halfway competent DPS.

The real meat of it though, the normal-mode raids with the guild, has really been the big bonus for me. Raid nights this week have been fun, damn it! I'm looking forward to logging in next Wednesday night and clearing out the first four and then taking more shots at Ultraxion. There's been more chatter in vent, discussion of how we're doing the different boss encounters and dealing with specific mechanics, teasing each other about stuff: all the fun parts of raiding in World of Warcraft.

The difficulty curve is really strange. We wandered in and killed Mor'chok the first time we pulled him, and I think we wiped 4 or 5 times total between Yor'sahj and Zon'ozz. Hagara took another 5 wipes on her own, and then we ran into Ultraxion and he is a really surprising brick wall of a gear check. One of our raiders was actually really upset about this: we're raiding Dragon Soul normal modes with Firelands normal modes gear, and our best pull got him to 14%. That's a pretty significant debt to make up.

Now, I think we'll kill him next week, but I think the way we'll do it is by going to two healers. I don't like making my healers take on roles that aren't really the ones they want to play, but I honestly don't see another way to do it. I talked a bit with someone in raid that had killed him, and they were sitting at almost 170k raid DPS (for a 10). We seem to be averaging around 140k raid DPS. And I really don't think we're doing bad with the 378 gear we've got. Our DPS mains seem to be pulling between 20 and 26k, with an average around 24. I think the drops to 20 are in large part due to bad RNG with fading light, but I should check that in the logs.

Anyway, as you approach that 5:00 mark, it seems to me that the damage very quickly ramps up, such that you're going to be wiping at around 5:30 regardless of the number of healers. Dropping down one healer shouldn't be a huge deal.

The important part for me is that we were having fun, even with the wiping to the gearcheck boss. I've also cleared the place out in the raid finder - the last two encounters are pretty fun. I don't think this particular guild is going to clear out Dragon Soul on heroic, but I think we'll finish our rogue's daggers and I think we'll get a few heroic modes down. I'm pretty happy with that.

I recorded a video of the Hagara kill, which means I'll need to finally find a video editor I like and address the compression issues. It was the first encounter that really seemed at all worth a video though. I will try to have that up in a week or two.

Oh yeah! I'm also going to be - gosh. I'm sort of embarrassed to say this? Like it seems silly that anyone would want to listen to this. But on the off chance someone would, I will mention that I'll be chatting with Hydra and Fimlys on the Twisted Nether Blogcast Saturday night, 10:00 P.M. CST. So if you're super bored I guess you could have a listen!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I thought this was hilarious

Reverted a bug fix that caused Bombardment to be consumed by the next Multi-Shot. Fixing this bug proved to be a significant dps loss, so Bombardment once again lasts for its full 6 second duration regardless of the number of Multi-Shot casts. The tooltip will be updated in a future patch to reflect that this change is intended.
From the most recent hotfix notes. And, as always, I'm surprised that no one realized this would destroy MM AoE, since "spamming multishot" is all we do, and we already had to wait a little bit after the first one for the buff to pop up. If we have to multi-wait a second-multi-wait a second, of course DPS is going to plummet.

Changing the tooltip is a far more efficient bugfix.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

(Probably) The Last Major Cataclysm Content Patch Is Out

Which means I Should Probably Make A Post.

Breaks like this are what separate professionals from amateurs, I think. Or at least, they're amongst the things that separate pros from not-pros. This month-long posting drought was brought on by a few different things, including lack of anything to talk about, lack of desire to find new things to talk about, holidays, and Skyrim.

I really think this break in content patches was too long. It was getting increasingly difficult to scrape together 10 people for a raid, and in fact the break from raiding for Thanksgiving conspired with a somewhat surprise-patch-release to keep us from putting together a raid for Dragon Soul. I think a few guildies have done the LFR thing, but I really have no interest in it. This is a little bit naughty of me - I could be getting 390 gear! - but playing with 24 people I don't know or care about and will never meet again is just not something I'm going to bother with.

This is going to be a tough patch for the guild in general. We're losing one of our main tanks to major surgery, and I doubt we'll get her back before mid-January. Our enhancement shaman has officially stepped down from raiding, although we hadn't seen her for a bit. Our students are getting nailed by end-of-semester stress and time crunch. I never succeeded in building a healthy off-night social atmosphere, which makes recruiting even more of a bear than it already was. So on and so forth.

It really doesn't matter how tiny and how casual your guild is, or how flat of a hierarchy you try to have: being in any sort of a leadership position takes time and energy, and if you don't put that time and energy in it begins to wither. Much the same as happens with a blog, in fact! Or well, anything else in life, I suppose.

It's been tough to put that time in, though, not least because I haven't been playing much or any WoW. There aren't going to be any more big mechanical adjustments to the game until Pandaclysm comes out. There was that little cowflop a blue dropped in the forums about how hunters just haven't figured out how to play Survival correctly, which is absolutely untrue. The problem with that spec is the same one it's had since Wrath: Explosive Shot damage doesn't scale with weapon damage. End of story. Even if they hadn't nerfed it, I expect top-tier raiding hunters with heroic Arathars would have been MM by now, and they certainly would have been MM with heroic Dragon Soul weapons. A physical DPS spec that doesn't scale with physical DPS is just not going to compete.

In fact, I hadn't looked at the 4.3 patch notes before now and I see that they buffed Explosive Shot damage by 15%. This is hilarious because the original nerf was 25%, and that was too severe so they nerfed the nerf by 10% (making it a 15% nerf from Cataclysm release). Now they're reverting that 15%. Hah! Guys, we could have (and did) tell you this was going to happen before 4.06 came out. Also before 4.0 came out. Tie ExS to weapon damage, dudes!

But in the grand scheme of things that's no bigs, really. The original "you're doing it wrong" comment was insulting and infuriating for the top-tier survival hunters, raiding in the spec because they do heroic tens and don't have an alternative, but balance stuff ebbs and flows. Frankly, the various specs in the game are the most balanced they've ever been, IMO.

Killing Nozdormu in a five-man dungeon is pretty WTF. Also it makes me kind of sad, considering he's still the hottest thing in the game.

But that's it, you know? What else is there to talk about?

I think that what I really need to do is reach out to some of the other small guilds on the server and - as dramaful as this could be - maybe try to arrange some kind of a merger or something. I dunno. I'd be playing more WoW if I had people to play with. As it is, I think my habitual absence means others are less likely to be playing.

Bonus addendum! If you look at my achievements, you'll note that I got Stood in the Fire. I have to protest that I did not actually stand in the fire. I tried to use disengage to get across the gap between pillars faster. It didn't work - instead, I fell into the Maelstrom. Definitely not fire. It actually confused the client, which decided that I'd died to elementium bolt and advised me to move next time. No, game! I fell into the Maelstrom between platforms. Did not stand in anything.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

DPS Decision Making

The current tier of equipment has added a lot of fluidity to hunter DPS. This has created potential fun for the class at the same time that it's created potential stress. The stakes have been raised, because instead of T11 where our ability use was more of a static rotation, we're now facing many more choices. If we make the right choices, we can do a lot more damage. If we make the wrong ones, we can really crater it. I certainly feel like I could be doing better with my current gear on many encounters, but I also feel much more engaged with my DPS during those encounters.

For these reasons, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at how I'd approach one of the situations where "what do I do next?" becomes a fairly difficult question to answer in the middle of a boss fight. Here are the conditions of the situation:

  • You're currently playing the style of MM hunter that hardcasts Aimed Shot and glyphs Chimera Shot
  • Your Steady Shot cast time, including the ISS buff and windfury, is 1.3 seconds
  • Your Aimed Shot cast time, including the ISS buff and windfury, is 1.9 seconds
  • You've got a free, instant Aimed Shot available from the Master Marksman talent
  • You've also got a free shot available from your T12 4-piece bonus. This free shot could be Chimera, Arcane, or Aimed Shot
  • Chimera Shot is coming off of cooldown in 3 seconds
  • Your ISS buff will expire in 3.3 seconds
  • Your focus is at 75
You see what I mean about having to make stressful decisions? If you can imagine what this situation would look like in your UI, you can instantly tell that there's bucketloads of potential damage here. The problem is that "emptying the buckets" is a little puzzle, and if you empty them in the wrong order you don't get to empty all of them. You want all the buckets! And you don't have any time to decide, because tenths of a second matter.

So what do we do?

Well, one appealing option would be to use the instant AiS, then hardcast another, then fire Chimera Shot. It's easy to see why. The 1 second from the instant plus the 1.9 seconds from the hardcast puts us at 2.9 seconds: almost perfectly in line for the Chimera Shot cooldown. This is further appealing because it doesn't really seem like it wastes focus, right? You use up your two free things, and then you're probably closing in 100 focus right as you hit that CS button, bringing you back down to 60. It entirely avoids the icky, unpleasant feeling of seeing your focus bar sit at 100 and imagining little motes of focus drifting off into the ether, never to damage a boss. Do they go to focus point limbo, drifting for an unfulfilled eternity, yearning for they know not what? Or maybe they'll haunt your focus bar, raging at their wasted lives and harnessing that rage to mess with your UI?

All I'm saying is that capping out on focus is disconcerting, and none of us like to do it. The thought of bringing a UI poltergeist into being is upsetting. At the same time, I think that not capping out on focus is the wrong choice in this situation.

This is because of what happens immediately after we fire that Chimera Shot in the above scenario. There were only 3.3 seconds left on that ISS buff when we started. Two seconds for the instants plus 1.9 seconds for the AiS is a total of 3.9 seconds. This means that the ISS buff is going to fall off after the CS and there's nothing we can do about it at this point. This in turn means that we have to watch the painfully slow 1.5s castbar of an unhasted Steady Shot twice in a row.  Then we've used up three seconds of our glyphed CS cooldown where we usually only use up 2.6 seconds, a disruption that compounds the DPS loss already inherent in losing the ISS buff.

The right answer, then, is to grit our teeth and cast a pair of Steady Shots first. I know, it sucks to waste all that focus. It sucks to sit there and wait four tenths of a second for CS to come off of cooldown before we can use it. But once we get past that point, we're in good shape. Take a look at what happens if we maintain our ISS buff first:

  1. Chimera Shot is free because of the T12 set bonus. The GCD uses up a second of the glyphed CS cooldown, so there's 8 seconds of it remaining.
  2. We can use our instant AiS immediately after. 7 seconds of CS cooldown remaining.
  3. We now stand at 6 seconds on our ISS buff and 100 focus, so we go ahead and hardcast an Aimed Shot. 5.1 seconds of CS cooldown remaining.
  4. This leaves us with 4 seconds on our ISS buff and 50 focus, so we can hardcast another Aimed Shot. 3.2 seconds of CS cooldown remaining.
  5. Now we have 2 seconds on our ISS buff and focus in the single digits.
  6. We cast a pair of steady shots. They're 1.3 seconds a piece, which means that the ISS buff will wear off for a little bit in the middle of casting that steady shot but the second steady shot will still be hasted. We now have probably around 30 focus and CS has 0.6 seconds of cooldown remaining.
  7. We cast a third steady shot. This means that we won't fire our glyphed CS until 0.7 seconds after it becomes available, but that's still 0.3 seconds sooner than we'd've fired an unglyphed one.
The average or standard MM DPS cycle will have 5 Steady Shots and either two Arcane Shots or 1 hardcast AiS used during the CS cooldown. We just used three Aimed Shots and three steady shots instead. That is a crazy huge-big-large increase in damage. It's also way more than we possibly could have gotten out of the "use the procs first" strategy and its attendant loss of the ISS buff for many seconds. In fact, that strategy will probably have to end up resorting to a single Arcane Shot or something similar, since it will probably be too focus-starved to actually use both Aimed Shot and Chimera Shot.

So then you may be thinking that you can't possibly be instantly extrapolating what's going to happen over the next 12 seconds down to tenths of a second, and that's true! I don't think anyone can.

However, we can do a couple things. The first of these is practice. Right when I first picked up my T12 four-piece bonus, I made very many mistakes with it. Sad times! But once you've made the "use up your procs" mistake a few times, you get the feel for how grindingly crap it is to have to cast two unhasted steady shots and see how much less you do in that DPS cycle. This alone will enforce better decision making in the future.

The second is to remember that our DPS priorities didn't change because we got new gear. Keeping our ISS buff up on ourselves is still our top priority. "Not capping out on focus" is not a DPS priority, it's a principle or a guideline. It's something to keep in mind. It does not override the need to keep up the ISS buff.

Perhaps the pithy summary of this advice is "practice your priorities!", but I have a hard time alliterating like that without wanting to have myself summarily shot.

Mostly I hope that this helps resolve some of those panicky "what do I do!?" moments in a boss fight, either in a raid or in a heroic. And of course, even if you do make the wrong decision: oh well! It happens! It happens to me, it happens to you, it happens to players in world-first guilds. Don't stress out about it, and be secure in the knowledge that mistakes made today are mistakes you don't make next week.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

If only I'd had FRAPS running!

Had a fun little Disengage moment clearing out Firelands last night. We were killing the two worms on the bridge right before Rag and I kind of spaced out and stood in the fire that launches you skyward. If you've never stood in that particular fire before, it's actually pretty fun! It launches you a really substantial distance into the air and then, at the apex, another fireball comes from somewhere or other and knocks you off to a side. This typically lands you in the lava, resulting in death.

Disengage, however, doesn't require that you be standing on anything to be used. Hunters are so awesome that as long as we're in combat we can just sort of fling ourselves around for fun. Whee! So, without the time to look and make sure, I tried to orient myself with my back towards the stairs and then as I began to fall, I tried to guess the right time to disengage back onto the path.

As it happens, I guessed correctly!

Peregrina just kinda alighted nimbly at the top of the staircase and then ran back down to resume shooting at the wormies. It felt pretty awesome. I'm also glad that this game can still put a big grin on my face from time to time, even if I have to stand in fire for it. My only regret is that I wasn't randomly taking video of it. It would have been neat to show that off.

Other than that, I have to say that I want it to be 4.3. Like, now. For a lot of reasons.

I look forward to clearing out the new heroics with guildies, and then even doing some tanking and healing in them on my alts. I'm actually planning on making video from those fives, if there's anything interesting in them (and it looks like there will be).

Even moreso, I'm looking forward to making videos of the encounters in the Dragon Soul raid. I never made videos past Beth'tilac for firelands because I kept dithering about not wanting to upload videos with me making huge mistakes in them and I was extremely disappointed with the results from Windows Movie Maker. I got Sony's amateur video program, but I've still had some difficulties finding a way to render the final videos that looks decent without taking up more hard drive space than the original video took up!

I think I've mostly solved those problems, though, so I'm really hoping to make some quality videos for everyone in the coming months.

Just need that freaking patch released.

On the other hand, my boyfriend is only about 350 seething cinders into the questline for the legendary, so it's kind of nice to minimize the amount of off-night raiding we'll have to organize to finish his staff. The raid is also crazy geared at this point, so it's mostly just been laziness keeping us from doing any heroic modes. We'll probably do some of those next week.

Anyone else excited for Cataclysm's last patch?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Apology from the desk of Mike Morhaime

Mike Morhaime, President of Blizzard entertainment, has posted an apology for the video played at Blizzcon. You can read it here, but I'll also paste it in to this post for those who can't read it because they're at work.

Dear members of the Blizzard community,

I have read your feedback and comments about this year’s BlizzCon, and I have also read the feedback to the apology from Level 90 Elite Tauren Chieftain. I’d like to respond to some of your feedback here.

As president of Blizzard, I take full responsibility for everything that occurs at BlizzCon.

It was shortsighted and insensitive to use the video at all, even in censored form. The language used in the original version, including the slurs and use of sexual orientation as an insult, is not acceptable, period. We realize now that having even an edited version at the show was counter to the standards we try to maintain in our forums and in our games. Doing so was an error in judgment, and we regret it.

The bottom line is we deeply apologize for our mistakes and for hurting or offending anyone. We want you to have fun at our events, and we want everyone to feel welcome. We’re proud to be part of a huge and diverse community, and I am proud that so many aspects of the community are represented within Blizzard itself.

As a leader of Blizzard, and a member of the band, I truly hope you will accept my humblest apology.

– Mike Morhaime

President, Blizzard Entertainment

For what it's worth, I personally was glad to read it and I think it addresses the issues fully. This heals the breach for me. I've also said and done things that I wish I could take back, and of course we can't do that. The best we can do is realize our mistakes and apologize for them sincerely.

Thanks to Mr. Morhaime and the rest of the Blizzard team.

Using your pet's abilities

I recently got an email with some great questions about the use of our pets' abilities. The sender has been playing the class for a couple years and has done a lot of their own research, but found that it seems like there are some things you're assumed to just know. In reality of course, there's no reason anyone would just know the answers to these things! In point of fact, I never really found any guides that answered these questions either, so the answers I have are all "this is what works for me." I'm not claiming that the way I do things is the best way or the only way, merely that it's a way.

That established, here are the actual questions as I understand them:
  1. Should pet abilities be on autocast or should the player choose when to use them?
  2. Is there any way to make the pet bar bigger, allowing you to fit more pet abilities onto it?
  3. If the answer to number 2 is "no," then is it possible to macro pet abilities?
  4. If the answer to number 3 is "yes," are they cast abilities, use abilities, or something else?
I think these are great questions, especially because pet control is so important to the class. If you're ever in a group with another hunter, watch their pet during trash pulls: does it run all the way back to their side in between mobs, or are they manually moving it to the next target right before the previous one dies?

I don't think that the latter is necessarily a bad hunter or anything! I just think it's more likely that that person doesn't think of their pet as an important part of their damage and hasn't developed the habits that make pet-control during boss encounters second nature.

Our pets' abilities are another aspect of pet control, and I think it's a great sign if you're asking yourself questions like those above and trying to find answers for them. To be good at something isn't to say "I know all the answers," it is instead to say "how could I be better?"

Ok! Having made a pretentious, melodramatic big deal out of things, I should probably answer the questions as best I can.

Number 1. The answer is "it depends." Growl should of course be turned off. Your pet's spammable attack, things like Claw, should be left on autocast. Call of the Wild and Roar of Recovery should be used manually and, more specifically, they should be stacked with either Rapid Fire or Bloodlust. I'll come back to that in a second. I leave Dash on autocast. They automatically use it whenever they have to get farther than a certain minimum distance, and with the short cooldown it's often available at good times. Any DPS you may lose from your pet using the focus on dash is more than made up for by increased time on target.

If your raid group is having you pet-tank adds (as happened a lot with Nefarian), then the usual recommendation is to leave Shell Shield and the similar scarab ability on autocast. The threshhold that pets seem to have for their Shell Shield use seems to work quite well. If your raid ever determines that they want access to abilities like Roar of Sacrifice for a specific encounter, then you'll definitely want to turn autocast off and use them deliberately there. The bat's stun is another example of this: some raids had their hunters bring bats for Ragnaros so they'd have another stun to use on Sons of Flame.

The reason I say that you pretty much must stack Call of the Wild or Roar of Recovery with Rapid Fire or Bloodlust is because RF and BL are cooldowns that multiply other effects. CotW and RoR could read more simply as "you do higher damage for a little while," so attacking more often with that higher damage is the best use of it. And don't underestimate RoR, either! If your raid needs Curse of Elements, you should absolutely use one of the two cunning pets that supply it. RoR allows you to fit a whole extra Aimed Shot in during the Careful Aim window, which is huge. My aimed shots have a 100% crit chance during CA, land for over 70,000 damage, and roll the Piercing Shots bleed, whose ticks get monstrously large by the end of the CA window.

Number 2. There's actually no way to change the size of the pet bar, even with mods, so far as I know. This means that yes, you'll probably be using macros.

Number 3. Yep!

Number 4. In general, abilities work through /cast commands in macros, while things like telling your pet to attack something or changing her stance work through their own specific commands. For the first example, let's look at how I use Call of the Wild in a macro:
/cast Rapid Fire
/use Potion of the Tol'vir
/cast Call of the Wild
Make sure to spam that button a few times to make sure everything activates. If you have an on-use trinket such as the Ancient Petrified Seed, put that in there as well. The /cast command will work for any activated pet ability. So if you're doing the bat pet for Ragnaros thing, you could make a macro that had "/cast Sonic Blast" and that macro would make your pet use his stun on whatever you've got targeted.

It's possibly worth noting that this opens up possibilities for doing cool things with pet control, especially with mouseover targeting. So you could make a macro that looked like this:

/cast [target=mouseover] Sonic Blast
Then, during Ragnaros, you could be targeting and DPSing one Son when you see that another is getting dangerously close to the hammer. Even if you're in the middle of casting an Aimed Shot, you could leave your current Son targeted, hover your mouse cursor over the worrisome one, and push the button for that macro. Your bat would swoop over, stun it, and then swoop back to your current target.

I mostly manage my pet's position through the use of macros telling her to attack, come to my side, be passive, or assist. Ever since the Burning Crusade I've developed super-strong muscle memory of hitting control-1 to tell my pet to attack, so I chose to bind my other commands to control-2 and control-3. I have these macros on a hidden action bar on the left-hand side of my screen that also houses trap launcher, my traps, and my aspect switching macro. Well, sort of! Control-1 is the default pet attack button, so I didn't change that, but I did make macros for the other things.

The first macro brings my pet to my side, and is used to make sure she doesn't get killed by things that target a specific spots. Mimiron's rockets in Ulduar for example, or Rag's hammer impact for lava wave, that kind of thing. The other thing it's good for is getting your pet in range for use of Master's Call. Whenever there's a dispellable immobilization or snare debuff in an encounter, you should use Master's Call. Let your healers know that you are not a priority for dispels and that they can and should conserve their mana unless you ask for help.

The macro looks like this:
That macro is 100% guaranteed to make your pet break off from whatever she's doing and come running back to you. Mine is titled "come". If you want to macro having your pet attack so you can bind it somewhere else, by the way, the command is simply "/petattack".

Finally I have control-3 bound to put her back on the assist setting. It's worth noting that you don't necessarily have to have her on assist. I use it for some fights and don't use it for others. If I'm going to be switching targets frequently but I want my pet to attack only one target, then I leave her on passive and just tell her to attack the correct target at the beginning. That said, here's my macro to put my pet on assist:
The /petfollow command is there because sometimes I'll hit control-3 after having directed my pet to stand in a specific spot. Petfollow does not make your pet come to your side, it simply tells her to follow you around if she's not doing anything else. Sending her a /petpassive command will always make her come back to you, even if she's already set to passive. Without that /petfollow in there, you could end up with her standing in some random spot, probably wagging her tail with a goofy look on her face.

That's most of what leaps to mind for me! Which tips have I missed? Also, I keep making these kind of long posts without really intending to. Blogger has an option to cut these into an intro and a body, hiding the body unless someone clicks to see it. Would anyone prefer that I start doing that?

Zeherah's Dragonskull Crown!

Zeherah, in case you didn't know, is the super-hero behind Female Dwarf. She is also, in my experience, a uniformly kind and helpful individual. I honestly can not think of a single other person that has contributed any single resource as important for hunters as her DPS simulation site. It has an intuitive interface, it's highly customizable, you can easily import your own character's information into it, the list goes on to the horizon.

And it looks like she's getting an item named after her in the Dragon Soul: Zeherah's Dragonskull Crown.

This is completely excellent and I'm just thrilled. Congratulations, Zeherah!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Grubtor and his faithful companion...

I did end up getting a race change, as some folks have already noticed. I'm fairly pleased with her new appearance, but I did want to share a quick little story from the appearance editor.

To begin with, I seem to have this weird thing where I prefer to play female characters in CRPGs and male characters in tabletop RPGs. I'm not sure why this is! It just seems to be true. From the Baldur's Gate series through Oblivion and Dragon Age and WoW - lots of ladies. My three 85s are all ladies. I dunno, it just happens! So when I brought up the appearance editor for the hunter formerly known as Pradzha, I clicked on the boy button just to see if maybe I wanted to make a guy this time.

Now, female Draenei are not all that petite. They're taller than just about all the other ladies, and as Sir Mix-a-Lot would say: baby got back. Ok. Nonetheless, when she was replaced with a boynei the difference was crazy. He covered two and a half times more screen than she had, you know? Like someone dropped off a refrigerator in the appearance editor, taped a bow to it, and lit it on fire (yay T12).

My boyfriend happened to be in the room and we both sort of laughed about this, and then we noticed that the race change editor uses the same framework as the character creation editor. Which meant that this meaty slab of Draenei had, hovering down by his knees, the teeniest little level 1 moth pet. So teeny! This inspired my boyfriend to introduce the pair in the voice of a gravel-throated, gritty fantasy narrator which I have attempted to reproduce in visual format below:

Click for full size
So we laughed and laughed about that, and having completed our sojourn into unfamiliar territory, I clicked the girl button again. Ahem.

I also did some looking through my screenshot folder and noticed something else interesting: my hunter has now been three different races and she has never, not once in her life, worn shoes like a normal person. From troll-feets to spacegoat hooves to puppydog paw-pads, shoes are not for her. Just kind of... armored leg warmers.

The only downside is that one of my guildies that draws things recently posted a drawing of her before her race change, reading a book to her wind serpent Temeraire. It's really cute! And now I feel bad about race changing, as if Pradzha has abandoned Temeraire, and now he's sort of flapping around, looking for his lady to read books to him. Gaah! Sorry Temeraire and Crapes!

My ability to make myself sad by telling myself stories about virtual things is unrivaled. By anyone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I would rather not be making this post

I wish I didn't have to make this post, but there's no way I'm getting to sleep without writing it. It's going to be long and unpleasant and it's going to directly confront things that, these days, I prefer to just not deal with.

At the end of BlizzCon there was a concert, in the way that there usually is. During this concert, Samwise invited a man named George Fisher up on stage to sing that metal song about being in the horde. George Fisher's stage name, by the by, is "Corpsegrinder" and he sings in the metal band Cannibal Corpse.

So far so good! Celeb plays WoW, wants to sing (probably for free) at BlizzCon, great! Then, to introduce him to the crowd, they play this video snippet of an interview he gave at some point presumably during BC:

This is substantially less awesome. It was pretty clear to me what lived in those beeps, but in case you're in any doubt, here's the unedited version (skip to 1:01):


Then a thread gets posted to the official forums about it. You can find that thread here. It is really weird. The thread is - for the most part - not about how Blizzard just put a really bigoted rant on the screen because they thought it was funny. The thread is mostly about how Alliance players feel marginalized.

Basically this whole situation is screwed in twelve different directions. It's honestly pretty difficult to know where to begin, but it's easiest for me to start with the totally weird faction focus that has characterized things thus far. Let's all be clear about this: there is nothing inherently Horde or Alliance about any of us. We're all human beings that may or may not have a preference to play one faction or another for any of a zillion reasons. If you're insulted by Mr. Fisher's diatribe because you play Alliance, you are honestly being kind of silly.

There are some folks in that thread talking about how, soon, there could be soccer-style riots with jackbooted Horde thugs stomping on fragile Alliance skulls. I guess I'll just say that if that day comes I will eat my hat. Hats. I've got a few of different sorts, and I'll eat all of them. The factions are not real, we do not really owe allegiance to them, and insulting your faction can never be equivalent to insulting you as a person.

The actual problem here isn't even that this guy used unequivocally, completely, unapologetically bigoted language.

The problem is that Blizzard put him on their big stage at their event and then deliberately played the video of him using that language. What this looks like, to me, is Blizzard as a company have said loud and clearly that they think his little rant was hilarious. That the Blizzard company culture is one that considers LGBTQ people of every description sad, disgusting little jokes. That the official Blizzard nomenclature for a homosexual man is "cocksucker". That Blizzard thinks jokes like
"Go fucking cry a river and tell me how you're gonna slit your wrists you night elf faggot."
are especially funny in light of the gay teens who have committed suicide, often after being urged to do so by their bullies.

That they chose to do this says to me that Blizzard thinks that everything I just pointed out is so common sense, so truly and obviously funny, that it's a proper way to make a gag about faction rivalry.

I can almost guarantee that there were queer people in the audience at that concert. A lot of them probably play Horde. After all, Horde is the faction of the castoffs and the rejects, the marginalized and the despised. It's not surprising that it's home to the largest LGBT guild network in the game.

It must've felt pretty awesome for those players to hear that video and hear the cheers that it was met with.

I say again: sigh.

WoW is a hobby for me. It's not my only hobby, but I like it. Mostly I like my guild. We have representatives for every letter in the LGBTQ initialism, most of whom are regular raiders, as well as a few just regular old straight folks. I log in, in part, because hanging out with these people is a fun way to get away from everything else. To get away from the George Fishers of the world. To get away from having to explain my DADT discharge at every job interview and then, now that I've gotten hired, coming out to coworkers. Wondering each time if this will be the one that has an issue with it (so far so good!).

I don't live every day with the crushing chains of oppression hung around my neck or anything. I've had an easier time of things than probably most gay guys out there, or most women or people of color or any other minority, for that matter. Even for me, though, it gets wearying. Listening to the things our politicians say. Having to mute or /ignore at least one person any time I play any videogame online ever. It gets old. I like being able to log into WoW for raid time, hang out with my guild, and know that I won't have to bother with any of that. We just spend a few hours killing pretend monsters and taking their stuff.

Except now even that is just a little bit poisoned. A little ruined. Not totally, not even majorly. But wouldn't it be nice if it hadn't happened? Wouldn't it be nice if we felt welcomed by the game's makers, not just by the people we play with?

Wouldn't it be nice if we hadn't been totally blown off at the open Q&A? In case you don't know what I mean, here's the only queer-related question they got the in entire con and its response:

Where are the LGBT characters in WoW Lore?
Everything is gravy as long as its just a great character. There is the possiblity of adding them, as long as the story is compelling, might see it in the future.

Translated, this is pretty much "yeah yeah whatever, next?"

I suppose it's worth mentioning that Bashiok kind of apologized for the concert thing on the forums. Although a little later on he made this post, kind of nullifying it. Yes, we know he was joking, Bashiok. That's why it sucks: because we're the butt of the joke. The joke's not funny if you don't think a gay man is a grotesque parody of a "real" man, debased and degraded by any expression of his own sexuality. If you think that queers are just people, then his rant lacks any humor.

This kind of stuff makes me so tired. Misogyny, racism, homophobia. It's all so old, and so evil, and the defenses are always the same. Just thinking about it makes me feel as if I'm 97, rickety and exhausted, standing at the bottom of a stairwell that I have to get up to get home. Writing this whole long post is the equivalent of shuffling my left foot a few inches forward so that it nudges against the first riser.

This is why reading this essay was so tense for me. Most of the time, you just don't want to deal with the bigots on the net. They're just these endless turds of varying sizes scattered along the sidewalk, making it harder to get where you're going. And a lot of the time you can't win, anyway. Sometimes the racists have better aim than you, or they've been playing longer, or you screw something up because you're shaking with emotion, or whatever. To put one in his place is positively ambrosial.

Heh. I wish I'd found out about this whole debacle before I signed up for a year of WoW, damn it.

Addendum: I may as well preempt a few likely responses. There's a whole swath of "it's just a joke," "it's death metal, what do you expect," "but they beeped it out," and similar defenses. They take different tacks, but they're all sailing for the same port: "it doesn't actually matter that he said those things."

My response to that is to ask you to imagine if he'd said "I don't play Horde because it's full of niggers and kikes," or "go kill yourself, you downsy cow."

Did those sound different to you? Worse, more shocking? Because they shouldn't.

Update: online petitions are often of dubious efficacy, but there is one up at I signed it - it's something, right?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hunters in the Mists

I'm going to start with a brief discussion of the new talent system. Just to be totally upfront: I think this is a great change. I was really excited about the way they talked about the talent revamp for Cataclysm, but I was disappointed in how it actually came out. The proposed system for Mists is exactly the radical change that needed to happen. I also think that the change is being widely misunderstood, because I'm seeing tons of people calling it "simplified," "dumbed-down," or "pandering to casuals".

In fact, it's the exact opposite of these.

Since the game launched, talents have largely been a system whereby you spent points to modify abilities. So you gave something haste, or caused the use of a certain shot to proc a buff, or added 10% damage to something, so on and so forth. Any talent that just gave you a new ability was almost always automatically taken, such as Readiness. Not taking Readiness as a Marksmanship hunter is just a mistake. It's not actually a choice, there's nothing complex about it: if you don't do it, you're just wrong, end of story. Similarly, if you don't take Careful Aim you're wrong. No Improved Steady Shot? Wrong. You're not making choices, you're just picking the right things and not-picking the wrong things. The underlying theorycrafting may have been complex, but you probably didn't do that: you went to EJ or a blog or both and took the right talents. That's the antithesis of complexity.

The new talent system is largely about choosing between abilities. To get any given thing, you must give up something else. The talents they talked about at Blizzcon obviously aren't yet in beta, but looking at them gives us something useful to think about the changes coming up. Here's a helpful chart from MMO Champion:

Potential Hunter talents
If you'd prefer just a plain-old text version, Hugh from MMO Melting Pot has helpfully transcribed them here.

Take a look at the first tier talent, which becomes available at level 15. You can choose between your autoshots:
  1. Applying a free snare.
  2. Giving you a TON of focus.
  3. Stacking a DoT on your target.
Those are hard choices! And the fact that they're hard makes them compelling. PvP hunters will be torn between the free snare and the free focus. If I had to guess, I would actually guess that (if these talents go live), the focus-on-autoshot talent will become the PvP standard. Less time wasted in AotF casting steady or cobra shots will be huge for PvP hunters, who already have pretty decent kiting tools. But then maybe that free, stacking dot will do enough damage to be chosen for PvP. And it's easy to imagine either the DoT or the focus becoming dominant for PvE, and I think their goal is to have either of those be a valid choice.

I do think that the hunter talents as we see them right now will require some tweaking. It seems to me that some of the tiers still have wrong answers as far as PvE goes, but I also acknowledge that it's difficult to make compelling choices for PvE. The question we're usually asking is "what does more damage?" and it's hard to get around that in interesting ways. I think possibly they could do something like toy with making survival a spec that's constantly starved for focus by removing Explosive Shot's cooldown: then you'd have things like survival hunters taking Thrill of the Hunt while marks hunters took Readiness.

Even if they don't get it totally perfect this time 'round, though, it's absolutely an improvement.

I was also thrilled by the announcement that hunter melee weapons are going away. Especially because they've said that they're looking at bringing back quiver/ammo pouch graphics that could be customizable in some way! This is completely righteous. Ever since they removed ammo I've missed the sight of a quiver on my back. So not only do we get rid of the annoyance of letting the feral have the staves/polearms first, we won't have to worry about enchanting a melee weapon any more and we'll get quivers back. Perfect.

Finally, while the new tiger model is absolutely gorgeous, I'm a little sad that it's not something else. Really, anything else. I have a low-poly wolf, a low-poly raptor, a low-poly hyena, and a medium-poly windserpent from BC. I would kill to have high-poly versions of the my other pets, but it seems like half of all the pretty pets are cats. Loque/Gondria, Sambas, Skarr, the shiny glow-eyed tigers from Neferset City, etc. Hell, even Skoll is a low-poly wolf with some zappies. Come on dudes! Why no pretty raptors? Why no lovely wolves?

With the sole exception of that gripe though, I am surprised at how pleased I am with everything out of Blizzcon. Mists of Pandaria is looking like an unexpectedly delightful expansion.

I'm also considering race-changing from Draenei to Worgen (still female, natch). OPINIONS?