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.