Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wrapping things up

Well, gosh.

It's certainly been a while, hasn't it?

I'm not sure when I last logged in to WoW. I did the annual pass thing - mostly for the free Diablo 3 - so I'm still subscribed. But I haven't felt any desire to play, or talk about it, or think about it. RPS linked to an interesting essay on the future of the MMO today. I think Mr. Johnson is struggling with the same questions that many of us struggle with. What was so amazing about our initial connection with WoW, or whatever MMO it was that you connected with?

I also think he comes to all the wrong conclusions, even though the correct one is obvious in his own essay. He talks about boss guides and boss videos getting in the way of formulating your own approach to an encounter, the casual/hardcore distinction, odd gameplay mechanics, all the sorts of standard things we talk about it when we're considering these things.

At the same time, throughout the piece, he's telling stories about memories of his time with Risen. Opening the gates to Ahn'quiraj, raiding Hogger with level 1 gnomes, seeing Ragnaros for the first time (and I encourage you to read the snippet of raid chat in that screenshot), all of that stuff. To be fair, he does talk about those social connections as being the biggest, most important part of why he got into WoW, and that's where I agree with him.

I realize that this isn't a new thing for me to say on this blog, but I do think that that social aspect is the most important one in the game for me, even though I didn't necessarily realize this in the past.

I like a lot of the people in my guild, but it's such a tiny guild on a dead server. Even when if I did log on, would anyone else be online? Probably not. Especially working the hours I do. And if there was someone online, what would we do?

I like raiding, but putting the raids together was an almost-constant headache, we either had too many people or too few. And to be honest, there was never as much chatter as I would have liked, either on vent or in raid chat.

At the same time, while I do like raiding, I have also really liked having those six hours every week freed up. Even if I sometimes still use it on gaming in one way or another, you know, it's nice to not have that obligation.

I remain pretty conflicted. At this point I'm honestly unsure if I'll even get Mists of Pandaria. I think they're going good places with the gameplay mechanics, but also kind of so what? Burning Crusade's gameplay mechanics sucked in a lot of ways but I was raiding three nights a week with a 25-person raid guild full of people I really liked. I logged in during off hours and farmed consumables just to hang out, really. Just to chat.

Now, well, I don't know. I should probably give up the pretense of this blog. I haven't even had the courtesy to respond to comments left here, and it used to be that comments got a response as soon as I knew they were there.

I guess I've never really felt like a part of the WoW blogging community, either. There have been times when it's begun to feel like that, and that was great in the same way that an active guild that I fit with socially was great. It never really gelled, though.

So I suppose I should just go ahead and say that Piercing Shots is taking a nap. I can't say as I think it'll return? It seems pretty unlikely, if not impossible. I do want to really sincerely thank everyone who has commented or emailed at one point or another, it pretty much always made me smile. And I think that the guides I wrote were helpful for a few people in Cataclysm, so that's pretty awesome. Nonetheless, I've reached a point where I just don't have anything to say, and that seems like a good time to close up shop.

Friday, April 27, 2012

On bumptiousness

Look I don't mean to be a boor here but I have to say I would like some accolades and adulation. A team of heralds, maybe. You know just some guys with big trumpety things wearing my custom livery in a tasteful sea-foam green with fine silver-thread embroidery. They could give a little tootle whenever I open up recount. This goes for when I'm healing too of course, I'm thinking maybe a cheering section for the HPS meters. I'd be ok with showers of rose petals. I wouldn't say no to that.

I mean, I've got my boyfriend, and I suppose that's nice. "Look!" I say, "look at all these damages I did! I did the most of them. More than the other people."
"Mm." he says.
"Boyfriend." I hiss (yes, we do address each other with relationship titles sometimes; "Mr. Friend" is popular as well). 
"Mm?" he says.
"Notice this recount! Admire it!"
"Mm." he says again. "Very nice. We could print out a screenshot and put it on the fridge if you want?"

The problem of course is that I'm well aware of how unbelievably off-putting and juvenile it is to do stuff like this. Literally juvenile! Kids are forever bringing over a thing for you to notice and praise. They'll put some masking tape on a lego and draw a smiley face on it and then thrust it at you until you exclaim in disbelieving wonder "by George it's a working philosopher's stone!"

So once you reach the wizened age of, you know, maybe ten or eleven you have to start figuring out how not to do this any more.

To be honest I still haven't really gotten a lid on it. But since I know it's really insufferable behavior, I try to tamp it down.

I'm pretty successful when it comes to not actually posting or talking about damage meters. I mean, I slip up! I definitely do it sometimes. But eighty to ninety per cent of the time, I'm able to suppress that particular impulse.

The real problem, the thing I almost always succumb to, is when a particular deadly cocktail is brewed. The ingredients are thus:
  • Insecurity in comparison with another person's in-game achievements
  • That this person is a fairly recent acquaintance
  • Who I would like to be friends with
So in effect I really want to go "I'm pretty awesome at WoW! So you should totally be friends with me!"

This results in awkward locutions about how proud I am of my guild's current progress of 2/8 heroic DS-10 while at the same time I'm aware that a great many persons or guilds would consider that level of progression to be embarrassingly poor. Even now I'm fighting back the urge to add little caveats and qualifications and clauses so that the theoretical readers of this post won't sneer at me.

It's tough!

I'm not alone in this, right? I am probably not the only person that has to keep a lid on their inner bloviator, right? I know this is a pretty random post for this blog, but I'd love to hear anyone else's stories or strategies for keeping this tendency in check.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beta screenshots!

Click any of these pictures to view full-size!

First: the new specialization selection screen! I love this change. "Are you new to the game? Great! Here are the buttons you should push!" Or at least some of them. Thumbs up from me, Blizzard!
Yes, I keep my bags organized. Nyah!

Next: the pet size bug! All the pets are showing up in their original size from taming, which makes the target dummies in Stormwind pretty hilarious, mobbed as they are but 7-story tall devilsaurs and hotel-sized fiery purple spiders.
Extra points if you know where his name is from!

The grim carpet of corpses outside the Wayward Landing (where pre-mades and people teleported from Stormwind show up). Pandaren corpses are also weirdly squished right now, like they were killed and then smooshed, looney-tunes fashion.

New waterfall effects need some work! Right now they look like they're flinging ping-pong balls into the void.
Also pictured: Enchilasagna the beta monk.

Here's an entrance to this spooky ghosts-and-zombies looking bamboo forest in Valley of the Four Winds. It really reminded me of similar looking scenes in Japanese horror and action movies. Big ups to the art and design teams for this.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ok internet, fine. You win. Ok? You win.

I have been trying really hard not to write a post about Ji Firepaw. I tried to scratch the itch by poking people with sticks on the forums, then stopped when I actually started getting angry and sad at the responses. I mean, it's silly for me to be writing this in so many ways. The change is already made! It's done! Good job, Apple Cider! My input is not needed! Especially because I would never in a million years have noticed the original as a problem!

But it just keeps going and the things being said are driving me nuts because I am immature. So fine. You win. I'm going to write this thing even though I should be writing about Grubtor. Or posting screenshots. Or anything else, really.

Alright so let's get a few quick, rhetorical jabs out of the way first.

Why do y'all care so much about the change? It's just a videogame guys! Didn't you know it's a videogame? You're not allowed to care about things in it. And frankly, if you're that upset by a minor change to one quest, maybe you should just find a different game to play. Maybe you should stop playing WoW is what I'm saying here. I mean if you're going to be writing blog and forum posts about it, clearly you've got bigger problems than this one level three quest. Didn't you know that there's poverty and starvation and civil war in the Sudan and radiation and earthquakes? You're not allowed to care about this since all that other stuff is happening. Anyway, if you don't like the change you're pretty obviously a dyed in the wool misogynist right? It's the only explanation. If you don't like the change, you hate women*.

Oh man. Whew. That felt pretty good. I know I know, sarcasm is the lowest form of blerbity blobbity bloo, but really. So very many people have been saying all that stuff without even the slightest hint of awareness and it's really been burning my omelettes, you know?

I continue to be gobsmacked - maybe gobwalloped - at the people that are claiming the NPC's character has been rendered "dull" or "gutted" or "stale" or "cardboard" or whatever other synonym. To begin with, if your character can be destroyed by a change this minor then honestly who cares about him in the first place? That is some painfully weak, uninteresting characterization that can be gutted by changing like 50 words. Like half a tweet dudes! Why is this a big deal?

Also, on what planet is the original text interesting? On what planet does it even make sense within the lore?

If you get sad or angry or doubtful or indignant or insulted in Pandaria you summon a demon. This is a whole culture of sentient beings that have developed around the reality that getting upset can call into existence powerful beings from another dimension that will try to kill you and everyone near you. Do really think that this culture doesn't have strictly enforced rules of protocol? Do you really think this is a culture where catcalling is going to be A-ok? Seriously?

But even if we grant all that - sure, why not, I'm magnanimous - it is not interesting. It's not a "unique flaw." It's not compelling. It is dull and expected. It is a confirmation of boring, old, Western societal mores.

Look at the forum threads on bnet. Look at the threads on MMO-C. Count the number of people saying "it's just a compliment," and "can't a guy compliment a woman" and on and on and on and on. Ji's initial dialogue is standard, rote stuff. In fact in the real world, men feel entitled to positive attention from women and often lash out in degrading, terrifying ways when they don't get it (that image is an XKCD comic remixed by a woman to more accurately reflect the world she lives in). It confirms the myths our culture likes to tell itself about women and men. It confirms the myths our culture likes to tell itself about how everyone's straight. Ji's culture should be wildly different from ours, and yet he behaves like just another dude from down the street.

Hey guys, you know what can make for an interesting, compelling character? A man that is so alien from our culture that he treats the genders equally. You know what would be really interesting? If that equality of treatment extended to his romantic liaisons.

I mean, we all know that's not going to happen. But the terms of the debate so far have been just unbelievably surreal, I felt like it fit right in.

Look. My boyfriend and myself really, really like the TV series Trueblood. Probably our favorite character is Lafayette. The show is based on a series of books, and Lafayette is killed in the first of those books. His character on the show was so popular, however, that the scriptwriters kept him alive in their adaptation. You know what I said to that?


You know what usually happens to the gay guy, or the black guy, much less the gay black guy? Yeah. Most of the time he dies. So throwing out that part of the source material to keep that character alive? Actually choosing not to kill the gay black guy? That is amazing. Stunning. Interesting.

Making a race of magical talking pandas that treat women the same way they're treated in the real world? Not even a little interesting. Making a race of magical talking egalitarian pandas? Compellingly original!

Finally, what is going on in your brain when your first worry is "oh my god they might take all the bigotry out of my game." Like the worst possible outcome in the world is that 10 million people can play the game and not have any of them be offended.

I mean to begin with, that is so far from a possibility that you should sooner worry about getting sucked through the monitor and turned into a low-level quest mob. There is plenty of every kind of awful thing for everyone! We can all have second helpings!

And even if that were to somehow happen then like really who cares? If there existed one perfect wonderland MMO that everyone could play and no one playing it ever felt badly about themselves... why is that bad? Really?

Look. Guys (and yes, I know some of you are women too). Some women have enough to deal with in the real world. Is it that much to ask that some of them be allowed to get to level three without having that real world intrude, especially since the WoW quest text system does not allow any kind of response? Is it really that important to you that this one NPC be boringly identical to legions of actual men? Is it really necessary for something to be unenjoyable for other people in order for you to enjoy it?

If it is too much to ask then you know what? Get over it. Get. Over. It.

However! Let it never be said that I am not gracious. You want more misogyny in your WoW? Fine, awesome, let's do it. We can make the big bad of the next expansion the dread Lord Misog'yn'Thoth <The Lecherous One>. The initial raid tier can be headed up by the Gross Demon Goreanton, who sits on his mighty throne of sandwiches and demands ever more to be heaped at his feet in tribute. The storyline will be about how Misog'yn'Thoth wants to subject women to chattel slavery and Horde and Alliance can band together under the joint leadership of Tyrande and Sylvanas to crush his initial footholds on Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms then chase his followers back to the dank realm of Neanderthalia. After the raid takes him to 10% the captive women around the raid space burst their own manacles and strangle him down to zero with his intestines and then Jaina immolates the remains. That's just a quick sketch really, I'm sure the encounter design team can work something out.

I would absolutely get behind that expack, y'all. That is some compelling storytelling or whatever.

*In case it's not obvious, this whole paragraph is just parroting what people are saying against the change. They are uniformly terrible arguments and are rightly excoriated. If you respond to this post as if I was actually advancing those views, you should be embarrassed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Aspect of the Iron Hawk is totally the wrong direction

Guys, I'm getting pretty worried about Aspect of the Iron Hawk. And Spirit Bond, for that matter! They're bad talents. The passive damage reduction tied to Shadow Priests' Shadow Form is bad. Passive damage reduction for Moonkin is bad.

Greg Street has himself written many times about exactly the reasons these sorts of talents are bad, especially when they're a talent or glyph. They eliminate having an actual choice between compelling options and instead provide the player with one unequivocally correct choice and one or more "traps." These other choices may look good to the casual or the less than completely thorough player, but the vast majority of players will be picking the single, mathematically best option.

This problem isn't unique to passive boosts, of course! A Cataclysm Marksmanship hunter that didn't take Readiness, for example, is absolutely just speccing wrong. There's no wiggling around it: if you don't talent into that button, you've made a mistake. The difference is that at least with Readiness, when you spec correctly you get a new button to push that has exciting ramifications for how you plan out your burst phases in a boss encounter.

With the current Aspect of the Iron Hawk, you get nothing of the sort. You simply take that talent because it's the correct choice. Then 15% less damage happens to you. The end.

Compare this with the relationship between Exhilaration, Crouching Tiger, and the Glyph of Deterrence.

Picking these three choices feels really good. They all synergize with each other in fun and exciting ways. Crouching Tiger lets you push the Disengage and Deterrence buttons substantially more frequently, while Exhilaration and the Glyph of Deterrence improve survivability value of choosing to push those buttons frequently. Considered as a whole, this set of choices rewards and encourage you to look for opportunities to use those abilities skillfully. You're going to be actively looking for excuses to use Disengage, ways to abuse Deterrence, encounter mechanics that present puzzles you can solve as a hunter.

Aspect of the Iron Hawk does none of that, and yet we'll be forced to take it, because it will overall be more effective in getting guild-first kills.

Think about the thousands and thousands and thousands of damage that happen to you during essentially any progression encounter. There are rare exceptions like normal Baleroc, but for the most part there is plenty of unavoidable damage to keep the healers busy. That's part of how they punish you for taking avoidable damage: on a progression encounter, your healers are already going to be stressed, so making mistakes means you can die very easily.

Iron Hawk just shaves 15% off the top of that constant, ongoing damage. There is no way that the healing from Exhilaration and the DR from Deterrence will catch up to that. It's just impossible. Spirit Bond, in addition to itself being a dull and dreary passive talent, is a joke compared to Iron Hawk.

Iron Hawk needs to go. I am 100% behind Mr. Street's stated goal for Pandaria when it comes to compelling choice. I think the current talent model is looking good, and I think the philosophy is looking good in Diablo 3 as well. But we've still got a few of these reprobate abilities sitting around, and the last thing we need to do is add more of them.

Or well, that's my opinion anyway! If anyone can make a good argument in Iron Hawk's favor, I would be delighted (if somewhat incredulous!) to hear it.

Great changes to the CS window

Read the official notice here.

I'm a little nervous for Blizzard with that "make a suggestion" button. I hope they're aware of the flood gates they're opening with that one.

I love that there's a "report player" button though. I really think that will help people be more comfortable when someone steps over the line and it's time to get a GM involved.

That's all! I think this is a great step.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oh and if you're in the beta

Update: added a third thread.

Please take a look at my two three current threads:

First is a bug report on not being able to put individual traps on my bars in my secondary spec. Please try to replicate this, and post in the thread if you can.

Second is a feature request for a built-in button to toggle between Aspect of the Hawk and Aspect of the Fox. If you agree (or disagree!) with this idea, please respond to it with your thoughts.

Finally: flat Damage Reduction talents/abilities. Passive "take xx% less damage" and "do xx% more damage" talents and abilities are boring, and they reduce the other talents to the status of being traps to weed out the clueless and the less careful. We should really be getting rid of these.

More coherent thoughts on the beta

Update: I hadn't originally read the current beta tooltip for Aspect of the Iron Hawk correctly, and the fact that it's a flat 15% DR changes my conclusions. Thank you to Jackbelucky and Pathemeous in the comments for pointing out my mistake.

I've done some more playing around with the beta so far, and I think I've got some more coherent thoughts on it.

First: as they currently stand in the beta, hunters are mostly the same.

Every spec has a their big nuke, and that nuke is hard-limited by a cooldown. Every spec uses a 2-second cast time focus generating shot and dumps excess focus using 1 or 2 abilities that don't have a cooldown. The differences between the specs, as I see them, are:
  • BM managing Focus Fire and Bestial Wrath.
  • MM maintaining their 15% haste buff.
  • SV managing an additional cooldown (Black Arrow) and Lock and Load procs.
Second: I do think that some of the talents look pretty close to mandatory, for PvE anyway. If you're a raiding hunter and you're not taking both Exhilaration (large heal when you Disengage) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera (reduced cooldowns on Disengage and Deterrence) Aspect of the Iron Hawk (flat 15% damage reduction while in Aspect of the Hawk), you're probably making a mistake.

In fact, I'll go ahead and say that if the current Aspect of the Iron Hawk goes live as it is on beta and you don't take it, you're wrong. A flat 15% damage reduction that's on almost all the time renders the other choices nothing but traps. That will be the talent we'll look at to instantly dismiss hunters as being clueless or being worth a further look.

Obviously it's beta and that may change. Obviously I haven't used those abilities in a raid environment. Nevertheless, I find it hard to see any counter-arguments against them as of yet.

Third: glyph choices have some fun tradeoffs, but I think there are going to end up being standard PvE glyphs as well. They've turned the Cataclysm MM talent Marked for Death into a glyph, and I think it's probable that most raiding hunters are going to take that glyph.

I'm also pretty sure that not taking the glyph that adds another 20% damage reduction on to Deterrence would also be a mistake.

The third major glyph spot seems more up for grabs. I'm currently using the glyph that strips DoTs from anything that hits a freezing trap. It's not super useful in the beta at the moment - no one uses CC in the one dungeon that's available - but it may be a good choice for heroic trash mobs.

Or it may not. We'll have to see how the release heroics are tuned when Pandaria goes live.

Miscellaneous thoughts: I can't get a good feel for the Call Beast talent right now, because it's bugged and has no cooldown and no cost.

Lynx Rush felt great as a BM hunter on the Sha of Doubt - it ate really significant chunks of health off of all the adds in a hurry.

Binding Shot also feels pretty good. It's instant with no travel time, and I think it's going to be a near-universal choice for hunters in PvP. Take the following with a grain of salt because I am not a PvP hunter, but: the class is looking very strong to me with the current toolkit. Lots of survivability, lots of control, lots of utility, no minimum range. I wouldn't be surprised to see hunters considered a dominant class in the first season of Pandaria's arenas and RBGs.

Unrelated to hunters: I love the animations for female Pandaren monk healing. Love. Love love love them. And their animations for fighting, for that matter. I am almost certainly going to roll one when the pandatimes strike. Who knows if I'll level cap her or anything, but they really do look absolutely amazing. I can not give the art and animation teams enough accolades on this one.

I've been taking some screenshots, but of course they're on my desktop at home. I'll comb through them and see if any are worth posting tomorrow.

I have to say folks, I'm actually really optimistic and excited for this expansion. How's everyone else feeling?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lowering the stakes in asking for help

All of us, sometimes, need help. We need help getting things from tall shelves, which is why I like having a boyfriend that's seven inches taller than I am. We need help doing our homework. We need help doing our work-work. We need help understanding the games we play.

There are a variety of people and organizations that help with a variety of problems. Some examples are:
  • World of Warcraft GMs
  • World of Warcraft Customer Service representatives
  • Police
  • Forum moderators
  • Poison control
  • Human Resources
  • Social Workers
And of course many others.

Sometimes we need help with really serious, scary things. This post was inspired by someone in a WoW-related community who had been cornered at a convention in a way that terrified her so badly that she can't remember what the man who cornered her said. She made her post because she was worried that she might have overreacted, and she wasn't sure if she should or should not have contacted con security.

Reading her post made me really sad.

It also reminded me of posts I've read regarding much less serious issues, such as posters on a forum reluctant to use a feature that flagged a comment for moderator attention. Many persons felt that their concerns were, perhaps, too minor to make use of this feature.

What I want to do here today is to lower the stakes as much as I can.

I think that probably the most important thing to remember is that alerting someone to a potential problem does not force them to respond in a certain way. All we're doing, when we ask for help, is saying "hey, there's something here you should be aware of."

You can see this really well if you ever report someone to Blizzard for their behavior. You'll eventually get a message back that will say the following:
  1. Thank you for the report.
  2. We'll do an investigation.
  3. We will not discuss our findings or any action taken with you.
This is a great system, and I really think that it helps remind us of just how small of a step we're taking when we report someone to the GMs. Blizzard does the investigation. Blizzard reaches its own conclusions. Blizzard takes action as it sees fit, and it neither consults with us nor notifies us of what actions it took.

All we're doing when we put in a ticket is bringing something to their attention. Nothing more than a "hey, you should take a look at this."

Of course, it is in some ways more serious to take this step with a body like con security or the police. I would urge people to think of it in very similar terms, though. If you notify the police of an issue or ask for their help, they may or may not do an investigation. They may or may not take action as a result of those investigations. Those are all steps they take on their own, though. Just like GMs depend on players to alert them to problems, police rely on citizens to alert them.

All of that being said, many people have many reasons for not reporting any given thing. It's not as if I've ticketed everything that's ever bothered me or called the police for everything I see. I'm not trying to pressure anyone into doing things they don't really want to or that they don't think will help. If, however, you want to ask for help or put up a flag on something but you're worried it's "too minor," I would really encourage you to go ahead with your plan.

Whether something is too minor or not doesn't have to be solely your decision and solely your responsibility. There are people whose function it is to make that decision, and ideally they'll have a wider experience to pull from when they're doing that investigation and making that determination. If you're in doubt, why not at least give the experts a crack at it?

Sorry this post has wandered pretty far afield from hunters! It's just been knocking around my head a little bit, and hey, it doesn't really do any harm to post it, right?

This, my readers, I do for you

I got a beta invite in the mail last night, which I think means pretty much everyone that's eligible should have one by now. Normally I wouldn't even have opted in, but I decided that if I want to keep doing this blog thing, I really ought to.

I've only done a very tiny amount in it, basically I've spent some time at the target dummies as BM and as MM.

Re-doing the 4,800 hunter keybinds from memory was a pain.

I feel like my guesses at how to play BM from the previous blog post seem like they were pretty much correct. It's really, really rough going back to default UI with a 6-second cooldown signature ability, though. I keep having to flick my eyes back and forth between the middle-bottom of my screen to look at action bars and the top-left of my screen to look at focus. At some point they really, really, really should bake some improvements into the default UI. I know they've at least provided semi-functional raidframes for healers, but looking in totally different quadrants of your screen for cooldowns and resources is honestly terrible.

MM also seems to be much the same as it was. Keep Chimera Shot on cooldown, keep whatever the renamed ISS buff is going, dump focus with Aimed Shot.

Both specs were - I'm sure - easier to play with my T13 2pc bonus.

I'm running around on my bear trying to locate the entrances to dungeons at the moment. It's... it's not straightforward. I'm hoping that once I do locate them, I'll be able to fraps some video in various specs. Of course, there's also no recount or anything? So I have no way of comparing damage really. Still, it'll be nice to get a feel for how things go.

I'll keep y'all posted!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

MMO Gameplay: Some Assembly Required

Note: updated April 11, 2012. I know I said I wasn't going to update this, but I used WoWHead links for the pop-up tooltips and the stuff on there was missing/incorrect about some pretty basic stuff.

There is a tendency amongst players of mediocre abilities and inflated egos to say things like "just go read Elitist Jerks," as if this advice alone suffices to bring a new player up to speed on the intricacies of playing their character in a raid environment. Unfortunately, the problems with this statement are legion. To begin with, the World of Warcraft isn't going to last forever. I'm increasingly excited about Guild Wars 2 for example, and in the past I've tried out EVE online, Warhammer Online, and Champions Online. The forums on Elitist Jerks were obviously not helpful for any of them.

Even after we limit our discussion to WoW, though, the EJ forums aren't necessarily going to be of much help. Did you want to play a BM hunter in Wrath or Cataclysm, or an MM hunter in BC? Sorry, EJ's got nothing for you. Threads weren't even posted. Or if they were posted, they fell into disrepair and neglect. Or perhaps there was lively, vital discussion going on in the thread proper, but the first post never got updated. If you're new to the class or the game, are you likely to learn anything useful combing through page after page of tendentious argument broken up with annoying ads? It seems unlikely.

And let's not forget that the EJ forums are run by an actual guild, the Elitist Jerks of Mal'ganis! They've been around far longer than most guilds survive. What happens if and when they break up? Will they outlive WoW, and if not, where do you go after that? What if they just get sick of paying for hosting?

Finally, even if the forum exists, and there is a thread for your spec, and it's not abandoned, and the first post is regularly updated, and the writing is intelligible: are you really likely to perform well in a dynamic environment if you're simply parroting information you've read elsewhere? What if it's wrong? I mean, sometimes it's going to be! No one's omniscient, we all make mistakes, and opinions evolve and change over time.

I certainly support doing external research, but it's not enough. We all need to be able to do our own evaluation and thinking to some extent. That's what this post is about, and we'll take it in steps.

Step One: determine your core purpose.


As a hunter in the World of Warcraft, our core purpose is doing a lot of damage per second. A holy priest's core purpose is keeping everyone alive by healing the damage they take. A blood death knight's core purpose is surviving the boss's attacks to protect the raid. And so on.

These are not the sum and totality of anyone's responsibilities! These games would be super boring if they were. This is the central skeleton upon which everything else is built. You may have to kite adds, or apply CC, or interrupt a certain effect, or any of a number of other things. The core reason you're there, though, is to take the boss's health from 100% to 0% as fast as possible. If you're doing that part poorly, you're failing in your role in the raid, regardless of how well you do everything else.

Step Two: identify your resources.

These can vary quite a bit. There are the obvious ones of course: focus, mana, rage, energy. In other games you might encounter things like action points or other concepts. These tend to be sort of the main "bar" or pool of points that you spend by using abilities.

There are a variety of twists on this main resource though, such as runes for death knights or holy power for paladins. Secondary and tertiary resources that interact with the primary resource as well as ability use. WoW hunters of course don't have any secondary resources, just focus.

Even for us, however, I think it's useful to think of one final resource: time. I mean this both in the sense of the passing of seconds as well as the global cooldown. The global cooldown - often called the GCD - is a very common restraint in MMOs (and RPGs more broadly) to keep everyone from just pushing all their buttons at the same time all the time: since everything can't happen simultaneously, you have to choose what you're going to do with each global. This means that I think it's easiest to think of GCDs in terms of being a resource that you have a smooth, constant income of.

Knowing what your resources are is important to keep you from wasting them. Focus maxes out at 100 points, and if even one second passes with you sitting at 100 focus, you've wasted the 4-5 focus you would have received in that second. If a warrior sits at 100 rage and then lands another melee swing, the rage they would have received for doing so is wasted. If a paladin has three holy power stored up and then uses holy shock, they've just wasted a point of holy power. If a second passes by and you don't use an ability, you've wasted that global cooldown.

Know what your resources are. Know what constraints they have, how you accrue them, and how you spend them.

Step Three: narrow it down.

Will the pandatimes bring BM back into ascendancy!?
The typo is Blizzard's. Hah!
This step can be easier or more difficult depending on your class (or profession or specialization or whatever) and on the game you're playing. You're pretty much just trying to simplify your problem by concentrating on the smallest number of possibilities. So instead of trying to understand the hunter class in WoW by looking at all three specializations at the same time, you look at just one.

Obviously this decision is already made for someone playing a warrior that wants to tank - they're going to pick protection. Likewise, a druid that wants to heal is going to be looking at restoration. But what about a priest that wants to heal, or one of the two remaining DPS-only classes in the game?

Well to be honest, there's nothing wrong with being arbitrary with this step. Pick the one you like and roll with it. It's a new expansion! No one knows what the "top" specialization is yet.

I'm going to be using the Beast Mastery specialization as my example for this article, mostly because outside of about a 10-minute trial on a target dummy at the start of the expansion, I didn't touch it at all for the duration of Cataclysm. I'm going to be as clueless as anyone else going through this!

Step Four: identify your abilities.

I don't mean this in some sort of arcane "to defeat your enemy you must know yourself" fashion! I mean it in the extra-straightforward sense of knowing what buttons you can press. We're concentrating on the core purpose we identified in Step One, so we're just going to look through everything for abilities that do damage. As time wears on, the abilities are going to change from what I've got linked. This is a feature! We'll be able to see how things change, and how that affects and changes the conclusions we reach.

Base abilities:
Arcane Shot
Steady Shot / Cobra Shot
Kill Command
Serpent Sting
Kill Shot

And that's it when it comes to base abilities every BM hunter will have that directly do damage. There's a lot of other stuff - of course! - but in terms of non-talented buttons you can push to make hurting happen, that's all of 'em. This is the skeleton we'll build our gameplay around, so let's start by sort of looking at each of these guys in turn.

Arcane Shot (ArcS): Instant (push the button and it happens, no cast time) - this means that use of this ability will be limited by available focus and available GCDs. Costs 25 focus - that's a quarter of the bar. Does damage.

Steady Shot (SS): 2 second cast time. Generates 9 focus. This ability is not limited by anything. However,  2 seconds is a long time to not be doing anything else, and if you're on full focus casting this will be a waste of time. It's interesting to note that the only thing making ArcS a higher-value attack than SS is the cast time: if SS were instant-cast, it would be more damage to just spam it. Since it does take 2 seconds, however, the goal is going to be to use this one as little as possible.

Cobra Shot (CoS): 2 second cast time. Generates 9 focus. All the same considerations apply to CoS as do to SS, with the added wrinkle that CoS extends the duration of any previously-applied Serpent Sting.

Kill Command (KC): Instant with a six second cooldown. Costs 37 focus. The hard limit on this ability will be the cooldown, while the focus cost is a softer limit. This is going to be where the lion's (or raptor's or hyena's or sporebat's) share of our damage is coming from. We want to push this button as soon as it's available, every single time, and that means making sure we have 37 focus available every six seconds.

Serpent Sting (SrS): Instant, no cooldown, costs 25 focus. Does its damage over the course of 15 seconds. This means that if you cast this again before it wears off, you've wasted some amount of that 25 focus you spent on it. This ability is limited by its own duration.

Multi-Shot (MS): Instant. This is an Area of Effect (AoE) ability that costs more focus than Kill Command and does not have a cooldown. This means that you pretty much just go out and test - see how much damage your KC does, then see how much MS does to a single target. Figure out how many things you have to hit with it before MS does more damage than a KC. At a guess, having never used MS in Pandaria, this is probably three or more targets.

Kill Shot (KS): Instant. Costs no focus. Has a 10 second cooldown. Can only be used on targets under 20% health.

So from this we can work out some basics. You're going to want to keep Kill Command on cooldown. That's 37 focus every 6 seconds. One second of those 6 will be used up by the GCD, leaving 5 seconds.

Steady Shot / Cobra Shot without haste take 2 seconds to cast, which means you can neatly fit in at most two in between KCs. That's 18 focus. The last I checked, focus also regenerates passively at a rate of around 4 points per second. So over 5 seconds you'll get another 20 points, for a total of 38.

This means that you're definitely always going to have enough focus for another KC just from casting two SS between KCs. And you should be starting the encounter with a little over 100 focus, so you've got some wiggle room to work with. This all means that as we're looking at the skeleton of BM ability use, we're going to see a priority something like this:

  1. Kill Command
  2. Kill Shot
  3. Arcane Shot/Serpent Sting
  4. Cobra Shot
That third priority is because some of the time we're going to have spare focus, enabling us to use that last second in the 6-second KC cooldown to do something like apply a SrS or fire an ArcS. Not all of the time! Because those two things are 25 focus each, so if we used one every single KC cooldown, we'd starve ourselves of focus. But every few we'll definitely be able to sneak one or the other in, depending on which one actually does more damage (it may well be that either SrS or ArcS isn't particularly worth casting for BM, this is the sort of stuff that just takes testing).

I've decided on CoS over SS as our focus-generating shot because I just can't see any reason not to. As far as I can tell, CoS simply does more damage than SS and it extends the duration of SrS, making it an easy decision to apply that dot at the beginning of an encounter.

And that's our skeleton!

Step Five: flesh it out.

In the final step, we look at everything else the spec has going on, look at talents, and think about cooldowns. This is the part where a lot of people tend to get a little bit intimidated, but I would say this is really the fun part! This is where you've got the most wiggle room and you can play with the various talents and glyphs and decide which options work well for you.

To begin with, we'll add in the relevant hunter/BM abilities that don't directly do damage, but have an affect on damage:

Focus Fire
Bestial Wrath
Cobra Strikes
The Beast Within
Rapid Fire
Kindred Spirits


Frenzy is just a passive addition to damage that builds up over time. When it stacks up fully, you can consume it with Focus Fire and get a big haste boost. There's no cooldown on it! So you can just start out by using it as often as it's available.

Interestingly, this creates probably our first sort of counter-intuitive interaction with some of our other abilities here. Bestial Wrath gives your pet a percentage damage boost, and the thing with percentage damage boosts is that you want to stack those with other damage boosts as much as possible, because then the percentage is multiplying a bigger number. It's also a sort of intermediate cooldown: it's not a six-second thing like KC, so it's not going to be part of your regular priority. On the other hand, it's only a minute, so you're going to be using it several times in the course of a boss encounter.

This in turn means that you're going to want to have a sort of regular plan for how you'll generally use it. If Bestial Wrath were just out there on its own, you'd never want to use Focus Fire and Wrath at the same time, because you'd want to multiply your pet's Frenzy damage with the percentage bonus you get from Wrath, and Focus Fire consumes those Frenzy stacks.

The Beast Within, however, gives you a percentage damage bonus whenever you give your pet Wrath. So that makes you want to stack Focus Fire with Bestial Wrath, so you're getting that Focus Fire haste at the same time you're getting your percentage bonus from Beast Within.

Here's how I'd solve this conflict:

  1. Even BM hunters are doing the majority of the hunter/pet total damage, so in general you'll want to err on the side of improving your own damage.
  2. This means you'll generally plan on stacking Focus Fire with Bestial Wrath.
  3. However, you'll start the fight with both Rapid Fire and Bestial Wrath available, of course. So for that first beginning portion, I would wait until Focus Fire became available. This means your pet has a full stack of Frenzy.
  4. Then I'd use Rapid Fire and Bestial Wrath at the same time. This gives your pet the full benefit of Frenzy + Bestial Wrath while giving you a huge haste buff to pair with Beast Within.
  5. While Rapid Fire is on cooldown, I'd stack Focus Fire with Bestial Wrath. Your pet's damage won't be as high as it could be, but your own damage will benefit from it.
The final effects - Cobra Strikes, Kindred Spirits, and Invigoration - can all be considered together. Cobra Strikes reward you for using ArcS, which costs precious focus. Kindred Spirits gives you a bigger bank of focus to work with, and Invigoration gives you bonus focus you can spend on Arcane Shots! Pretty neat! Given all of that, I would question if Serpent Sting is worth using at all!

Regardless of the eventual answer to that question, however, we can really see the shape of Beast Mastery DPS coming together. The last step is to figure out our talents and glyphs, and the beauty of those is that they're designed to be interesting choices that don't necessarily have a wrong answer. This is where you can experiment, run a dungeon with one configuration, and then change things around and run another.

Just from reading the tooltips, here's an idea of the talents I'd probably try out first.

  • Exhilaration because I never really seem to need more distance on Disengage, but a big heal every time I use it? Yes please!
  • Silencing Shot. Since I'm primarily a PvE player, the reality that I see in raids is that "having another interrupt" is generally more valuable than an in-combat CC of short or medium duration. Those are really better suited for PvP in my opinion.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera - despite its silly name - synergizes with Exhilaration and gives us a huge cooldown reduction on Deterrence. Having access to immunity and/or 30% damage reduction twice as often is just insanely good. The combination of this talent and the first will make recovery from mistakes very easy, and that's a huge part of those imperfect first kills.
  • Thrill of the Hunt was one of the more difficult choices for me. I was really, really tempted by Readiness. BM hunter cooldowns are already very short duration, though, and in the end my intuition is that TotH will synergize better with Cobra Strikes.
  • Black Ice. Hunters are frequently called upon to kite groups of little adds around, and I think that this talent will be amazing for that task. Solo-kiting all 3 adds on the last guy in heroic Blackrock Caverns and getting the achievement would have been trivial with this talent, whereas it took me a few tries to get it in early Cataclysm.
  • Powershot has the advantage of lining up nicely with the Bestial Wrath cooldown, which means you should also pretty much always be able to take advantage of the haste from Focus Fire to help reduce that 3 second cast. It's kind of boring! But it just fits in so nicely with the BM cooldowns.
You can see how I'm building all of this up in layers. I started with assembling the DPS skeleton, added on the other abilities in a manner that made intuitive sense to me, and finally picked talents that would complement the choices I'd already made. When you write it all up later it might seem complex and arcane, but it's really not! Each individual step was a small one, following naturally from the previous step and leading naturally into the next one. I'll leave the choosing of glyphs as an exercise for the reader!

It took me a lot longer to write all of this out than it did to see the patterns in the first place.

Of course a lot of this stuff is going to change, and even if it doesn't, some of the stuff I've written here will be wrong guesses! You don't have to - and you're not going to - get everything right on the first pass. You're going to be spending much of the expansion making mostly-small tweaks and adjustments in reaction to patch changes and testing and actual raid performance.

Finally, while the example I chose was a BM hunter from World of Warcraft, you could absolutely use this framework for any class or spec or role in WoW or other games. At the end of the day, the important part is just the thinking, the having of reasons for the choices you make. As long as you're not picking stuff wildly at random you are, to be quite honest, doing better than most of the people playing.

And that's not to make fun of those folks! It's just that they're not playing the game for the same reasons. They don't find the same things fun. If part of the fun for you is stepping up to content that's challenging for your group of friends and bringing it down, then I think this process will serve you well.

As I keep harping about though, I definitely don't know everything! I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on how they make their decisions, what talents they think they'll be using, and what fun new buttons to push they're looking forward to pushing.

I'm almost done!

With that post I was talking about! But it's also my birthday and my boyfriend wants to take me out to dinner, so I have to go! I'll try really hard to get it posted by midnight!

Monday, April 2, 2012

State of the Blog

I recently received a couple very kind emails from a reader, and they've given me the first idea for a post in a long while. This person wanted to know if I'd received an invite for the beta (I haven't) and, if so, if I had any thoughts on it.

In fact, I hadn't even opted in to the beta until after I got their first email. I've also been largely indifferent to the beta information that's been posted so far, for a few different reasons that I won't really go into here. The thing that struck me, though, is that this person felt like they'd really had to struggle at the start of Cataclysm, and this time they wanted to be prepared.

When I read that, I realized that while I'm pretty confident in my ability to ferret out the basics of Pandatimes huntering, this wasn't always so. I came into this game with a pretty big advantage: my boyfriend. As I stumbled through the leveling process, did dungeons with people I found in general (this was before the RDF), and finally capped out at 70, I could always go ask him what the deal was with stuff, things like "what's Omen?" and "why should I have it?" I could ask him to help explain the peculiar mechanical oddities of the World of Warcraft such as the infamous BC steady shot macro. To this day, he's more knowledgeable about the game as a whole than I am, even though I think I've got a pretty good grasp on a lot of things.

On the other hand, with Mists, Blizzard has continued its movement towards a more intuitive model. When I started playing in BC, there was a lot of deeply weird stuff in the game, and the ideal way to play often made very, very little sense. These days, they're continuing to pare down the bad talents, give you the mandatory things, and try to make the glyph and talent choices interesting. This means that I think we'll be able to look at our spellbook and pretty much figure out what we ought to be doing based on that.

So, that's going to be my next "real" post. Not "here's how to play once the Pandatimes happen," but rather "here's how to know how to play." Expect it later this week - Thursday at the latest.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The duty of leisure

Warning! This is post is as long and pompous as the title implies - read at peril of falling asleep and/or rolling your eyes right out of their sockets!

Thank you to Hugh over at the Melting Pot for finding something I can write about. He picked up on an essay Bravetank wrote about feeling guilty for playing WoW. He then also links to an essay by a developer about why downtime is necessary. I don't think the second piece was written in response to the first, but it's pretty clearly applicable.

As far as these things go, I don't really disagree with Psychochild's position. It seems clearly true to me that a human expected only to work, sleep, and eat is going to go mad or die. Further, the only work such a person would be capable of doing would be the most rote drudgery you can imagine. They wouldn't have the energy to do anything else. Something like digging ditches would probably be your best bet. You wouldn't even be able to have them do something physically less demanding, such as standing guard, because a guard shift in a legitimately hostile or dangerous area requires real concentration and attention.

So he makes a good argument, but I honestly don't think that he even needs to appeal to a need for downtime to "justify" hobbies. Especially a hobby like gaming.

I recently said on twitter that "culture is collaborative," which isn't a new sentiment at all, much less one that originated with me. At the time I was saying it in response to complaints about the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings (the films are not the books, that's the point, deal), but I feel that it's a much broader truth.

The culture we live in is a huge, goopy mess of currents and masses and deformations and eddies. We are affected by it and we shape it in turn. It reaches into every aspect of our lives. Gaming is a part of culture, as is reality TV, literature, film, advertising, the nauseating Republican debates, fanfiction, folk art: everything. When we game, we're taking part in that grand project.

It's tough to talk about stuff like this because it's so nebulous, and to be frank it begins to sound pretty silly. Like someone logging in to camp for Loque has some kind of mystical bearing on the Greek debt crisis. Of course I wouldn't go that far. Amongst the analogies that I would use to illuminate my understanding of culture is one of gravity. All of us little gamers are tiny little specks of matter out there in the void. We have gravitational fields, and we do a lot of jostling between each other. No particular individual will have noticeable pull any of the big elements in the system, but in the aggregate we shape the way things look in the future.

The games we play today and the ways we play them determine the games that get made tomorrow. Games, films, books, visual arts, music, and conversation all impact each other. Mass Effect 3 is going to introduce gay male romance options, and that fact did not occur in a vacuum. Nor is the fact of gay marriage in six states in the union.

What games we play and how we play them are important. Not only is downtime necessary, but how we spend it shapes the society we live in, and it is also a part of shaping ourselves. Quite apart from the enormous, impossible to grasp nebula of "culture," I think that humans have responsibilities to ourselves. I guess I take an almost Aristotelian view of virtue, in some ways. I would say that we should always strive to be the best version of ourselves possible. Work can be and is a part of that, but for me personally I feel that I grow into a better self by the consumption of media.

This goes beyond games, of course! I am a voracious devourer of the written word (fiction, non-fiction, prose and poetry), some varieties of TV and movies, and lots of different games. In fact recently I've felt guilty because I've been doing so little gaming, to an extent that I think I've been failing a duty to myself.

Obviously, everything in moderation! But the mere act of playing WoW should not trigger a feeling of guilt. When you engage with a facet of culture, as you're doing when you play the game, you're doing the collaborative work of shaping culture at the same time that you're advancing yourself as a fully realized person. Take pride in your work!

Monday, February 20, 2012


Oh, since I've reached a point where I'm pretty happy with my transmogrification set, I thought I could let people see what it looks like:

Click for bigger!
Hat: disabled
Shoulders: Fortified Spaulders
Chest: Val'kyr Vestments
Back: Cloak of Fiends (no longer available, sorry!)
Gloves: Silvered Bronze Gauntlets
Belt: Ironspine Belt
Pants: Cormorant Leggings
Boots: Southfury Greaves
Polearm: Lotrafen, Spear of the Damned (oh how I wish I could turn off enchantments!)
Ranged: Bristleblitz Striker

I think she looks pretty freakin' huntery!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Words with friends

This past week, my boyfriend and myself celebrated our fifth anniversary together (aww) with a week-long trip to Chicago. I tweeted about our destination on the way down and it turned out that Apple Cider was nearby! So we had dinner with her on the way down, and then on Thursday we hung out with her and O! It was a lot of fun - they're both lovely people - and of course we did a lot of talking about WoW and WoW blogging. I think my boyfriend might even pick up blogging again, which is pretty neat because he's probably one of the smarter people about the game out there.

Of course, in all this talking about the game and blog community stuff, I couldn't really escape thinking about the fact that I haven't posted anything since January. The problem is that this blog is so class- and game-mechanics oriented that in the absence of big patches, it's tough to have very much to talk about. I'm also really bad about talking about stuff from upcoming expansions (such as the impending Pandatimes) because it changes so much and everything is changing around it such that it's difficult to have any sort of sensible opinion about things.

For example, I took a look at the most recent Panda talents, and there were some changes that (on the face of things) seem sensible to me. Removing the stacking DoT from auto-shot: great choice. Making people choose between Fervor, Readiness, and Thrill of the Hunt: awesome. Same with having to choose between the interrupt, instant sleep, or pet stun. That's all really good stuff. The way they're thinking about things gives me a lot of hope.

I do think that it's going to be tough to really make that final tier an interesting choice for PvE hunters. I would suspect that either the boringly-named Power Shot or the Binding Shot (really, why not Arrow of Binding? Come on guys) will come out on top for DPS. I don't see this is as a criticism of the devs or anything - I honestly don't think it's realistic to try to come up with talents that directly affect damage done without having a mathematically best option. Overall, though, I remain excited for the way the changes are shaping up. I don't really get why someone leveling an MM hunter doesn't get Chimera Shot until 60 while their Survival and Beast siblings get their respective signature abilities at 10, but whatever, that's not a big deal.

On a totally different front: I should also mention that Apple Cider tagged me for a post-thing! The idea is that you go into your images folder, go to the 6th sub-folder, and then pick the 6th image from there and post it and talk about it.

Unfortunately that doesn't really work for me!

My raw screens folder is just a directory with screens. The 6th image there is of the skybox in the Eye of Eternity, which I took for the background for the guild site.

In my images directory, the 6th folder is an empty one that gets made whenever I plug my phone in to my computer (argh!).

The 6th image in the base directory is an old version of my blog banner.

In my WoW images directory, the 6th one is a super-boring picture of a small bug from Wrath, where hunter pets appeared to be their original size inside one of the tents on the Argent Tourney grounds. There's a big devilsaur in it.

I guess I'll just post a picture of my guild having fun with Potions of Illusion:

Probably the best name/title combination up there is Crusader Liecrusader.

As for picking other people to do it, good lord. I don't know if I can, really! Who would I tag? How would they know it had happened? The whole endeavor seems fraught with peril. I think we'll stick with the dancing chorus line and leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Staggering intellect at work

The other afternoon - possibly Saturday or Sunday - I was doing a little LFR tanking on my warrior. I don't do this every week, but sometimes I feel like I want to, so I do. We were in the process of clearing Zon'ozz trash, which means disinterestedly pushing buttons and praying for the tentacle to throw you so you can leap back to it, which is about all the fun that's to be had there.

And then I saw someone in /say insult someone else's DPS. I kind of rolled my eyes - whatever, it's LFR - but then I saw the response. The person being attacked was a rogue, and their response to link their achievement for getting a rating of 2400 in 3v3 arena. That made me roll my eyes even more than the original insult did, because again! This is LFR. We do not care about your arena rating.

Our intrepid DPS-checker says "whatever that's fine, but all you're doing is white attacking, if you're better than me then show it."

The response was "I don't raid. I'm just here for the vial."

This was all in /say of course, so most of the raid didn't see it. And then before I could bring it up, the other tank pulled the boss.

Immediately after the boss, I said in raid "so anyway, this rogue straight up said they're just white-attacking for a chance at the vial, so let's kick it."

Rogue's response? "You mad, brah?"

I felt like the only sensible response to that was "you hurf, durf?"

Then the kick went through, so that was nice.

Pro tip to all the pros out there that wanna leech off of LFR without expending even the barest minimum of effort: keep your fat, stupid mouth shut, you lazy idiot.

Sorry, this is a really lame story! I was just completely blown away that some guy feels so entitled to the fruits of another's labor that he didn't even try to hide it. Usually, someone trying to deliberately cheat others at least feels a little shame, you know? Tries to be sneaky about it? This guy was all "pushing buttons in PvE is beneath me - bring me the loots, peons! Hoist me upon a palanquin and deliver unto me the purples that I so clearly deserve! And be sure to peel them, first!"

Remarkable. Just remarkable.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Damage Per Second: the MMO fundamental?

I've been toying around with an idea recently.

There's an extent to which I think about the world in ways that I imagine a structural engineer might (although I'm definitely not a structural engineer!). I always want to think about fundamentals, principles, platforms, and foundations. Right? These are all words I've used a lot in my posts. I used one of them in the title for this post, before I even knew I'd be writing this paragraph.

I'm drawn towards finding those few, simple things that you should get good at, and I think of everything else following on naturally after you've attained some degree of proficiency at those simple things.

There's a lot to recommend this viewpoint! When I was an amateur-competitive fencer in college, for example, the fundamental that you could always go back to work on was your footwork. Your ability to move your body up and down the strip at will compensated for almost any other failure you might experience. You could completely misread your opponent's intentions, betray your own plans, and otherwise bumble just about everything but if you were sufficiently agile and athletic on your toesies, your opponent couldn't touch you.

This works for playing a hunter, too.

Imagine a survival hunter that did a lot of things wrong. Maybe she just came back to the game after playing in BC or early Wrath and she's not sure what this cobra shot thing is, so she uses steady shot. Maybe her spec is weird here and there. Nonetheless, if she understands that Explosive Shot is her most important damaging ability and keeps it on cooldown, she's going to do pretty good damage. Fixing a substantial error like using SS instead of CoS is going to net her another 2-3k DPS maybe, but that will just bring her from "above average" to "even further above average".

To go back to the analogy with fencing: the most fundamental of the MMO gameplay fundamentals is pushing buttons. Regardless of role or class, we interact with the game world by pushing buttons, and I think playing a DPS character is really instructive in this regard.

If you learn the game by playing a damage dealer, you have an understanding that you must always be pushing a button. There is never a time when you could be performing better by remaining idle. Further, there are often times you could be performing better by pushing a different button.

Last night I reviewed the video I recorded of my guild's most recent Blackhorn 10-normal kill. Assuming I actually buy a video editing program, this will probably be the first video guide I do because it honestly seems like the first (and almost the only) normal-difficulty encounter that warrants a video guide from a hunter PoV. But I'm wandering.

What I actually wanted to say was that it was painful watching that video. I winced - a lot! - at DPS mistakes I made. Pushing the wrong button, or the right one one at the wrong time, or not pushing a button, etc. I did fine with the encounter. I wasn't hit by a single Blade Rush. I stood in a couple swirlies it made sense for me to stand in. I killed my drakes in time and helped out on the melee mobs when I could. My pet spent moooooooost of his time biting something. And yet still it was painful for me to watch because of the times I misjudged the CS cooldown, or triggered the haste from T13 4pc at a dumb time, or whatever.

This awareness of wanting to always be pushing a button, and further, to be pushing the right button is what I'm trying to get at.

I've currently got a little druid alt that I very occasionally do some leveling with. I've had him for quite a while now, several months, and he's like level 40 or something. He quests feral and dungeons resto. When I'm healing low-level dungeons on him, I spend a lot of time spamming Wrath, because there's no healing to be done and it feels wrong to just stand there.

But what if I weren't someone leveling an alt? Especially what if I weren't in heirloom gear, just the well-itemized stuff from helpful satchels and quest rewards, such that my hots (which mostly depend on level at that point) were roughly as effective, but mana was more of an issue? Wouldn't I then feel like I was playing correctly but standing idle much of the time, so I could have a full mana bar and an innervate ready just in case?

What about tanks that hold on to their cooldowns "just in case," even on trash, and then never end up using them?

This was a huge problem for RDF groups when Cataclysm was released. Warriors that never used shield block or shield wall, Death Knights that never used vampiric blood: they all made difficult trash pulls more difficult because of an inclination not to push buttons. Trash wipes happened pretty frequently in those groups. Think of heroic Deadmines or the Stonecore, when a tank would go down with all their cooldowns available.

When I play my tank alt, I am basically always staring at my cooldowns, waiting for them to come up so I can use them again. Trash and bosses alike.

When I play my healer, I have power auras specifically set up to remind me to use inner focus, power infusion, power word: barrier, and pain suppression.

I think part of that mentality comes from growing up DPS. Use your cooldowns early and often, right? Use every global. Always Be Casting.

I think you can make a pretty good argument that playing a damage dealer is the footwork of WoW. Sure, as you tank Warlord Zon'ozz you'll get better at timing your shield wall for Psychic Drain. Sure, as you heal heroic Morchok you'll get better at finding the right time to channel tranquility. But you can paper over a lot of mistakes by always being active. When I'm playing my healer, if damage is low I just start bubbling people and spamming PoH, because why not? Damage is going to happen eventually, I may as well have some shields on people, right? If I'm tanking and shield wall is on cooldown at a time that I'd like to use it again, I might live through it anyway just because I started with higher health because of damage I didn't take earlier.

Basically: there's a lot to be said for having an understanding that you need your button-pushing to be something that happens without conscious thought. I have to be careful not to think of the things my fingers are doing while I'm raiding! Some of the contortions the poor things have to go through are pretty weird. But because I'm not thinking about them, I have brainspace free to watch the rest of the encounter. I think that playing a damage dealer well is the best way to train yourself to play in this fashion, and I think that doing so has huge benefits for both tanking and healing.

Anyway, sorry! In the absence of big game things to talk about, you get rambling nonsense about footwork. I think about this game too much!

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This will be something of a rambly post, covering several small things. There haven't been any Big Things recently, but rather a slow trickle of small things.

Regarding the upcoming gentle, incremental nerf to the Dragon Soul: I am largely indifferent. If it is really actually definitely the challenge that you crave, turn it off. My little casual guild will leave it on, although I'm fairrrrly certain that we'll be able to get heroic Mor'chok down before the nerf is in place. I suspect that we'll get 1-2 additional heroic mode bosses over the course of February.

Our rogue is just about done with the first shadowy gem collection. After that it should be another 7-8 weeks to finish the next step in the quest. Good lord. Building a legendary takes FOREVER for a 10-person guild. Just absolutely forever. The upside to being a super-casual guild, though, is that he'll probably have an opportunity to put them to use on progression encounters, rather than finishing them and then putting them in his bags and never using them again because the Pandaclysm has happened.

In this way they're a slight advantage for guilds pushing for heroic progress in 25 instead of 10-person mode, but on the other hand, the instance was cleared on heroic before anyone in the world completed their daggers. So.... whatever, I guess.

We never did complete a Dragonswrath, and it seems unlikely that we will in Cataclysm. On the other hand, that made it a lot easier for my boyfriend to swap his main from his shadowpriest to his DK when one of our main tanks had to step down from the raid team because of scheduling conflicts.

We also got a mage app! When I saw it in the inbox I almost expected a little "Guild first! Mage applies to your guild." achievement window to pop up. We'll hopefully be bringing them in this coming week to see how it goes. Said boyfriend from earlier has been healing previous pulls, and our ret paladin will be trying out his holy offset, which hasn't seen a lot of use. So I'm not sure how all of that will turn out. It might cost us a pre-nerf kill. But on the other hand, it doesn't really do us any good in the long term to have people playing essentially alts just to get a kill before a 5% nerf happens. So if the roster changes cost us the kill, so be it.

I hadn't actually worked through that before now - thanks, rambly blog post!

I am eagerly awaiting 4.3.2, a little bit for the extra 700 AP and a lot bit for the 30% damage reduction on Deterrence.

I'd like to do more videoguides, but to do those I need to drop $45 on Sony Vegas, feckless amateur edition, and there have just been other things to spend money on. Like this light-up mouse that should arrive on Monday.

In my defense, I didn't realize that it lit up when I ordered it, and my elderly current mouse finally had its first button die after around a decade in use. I hope I like the new one! Returns are a huge pain.

Anyway, what have y'all lovelies been up to?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hunter Log Evaluation

Log evaluation is probably one of the least-practiced branches of WoW nerdery. This is a shame, because it's a really powerful tool both for individual improvement, fixing problems that are stopping progression, and figuring out if that new applicant to your guild is going to be a help or a hindrance. It's also not actually that difficult! World of Logs has some really great summaries and analysis screens that make it easy to find what you're looking for, so long as you know what what is.

We'll start by taking a look at my most recent Ultraxion parse. I won't link to the report itself because it's going to get deleted in a month or so, but I'll have screenshots of the relevant stuff. One thing I won't screenshot, though, is the one screen that everyone always checks out: the summary of damage done, with its pretty bars and its ranking. There are two things that this screen is good for: making fun of your healers for their low DPS, and getting a very rough sense of how you're doing as long as you already know what decent damage output for that encounter looks like. Seeing that you're doing the most damage in your guild really does not mean anything, for a whole variety of reasons.

The trick with log evaluation is to find objective measures of performance. Or at least as close to objective as we can get.

So what's the most important thing for pretty much every spec of hunter? Keeping their signature ability on cooldown. Chimera Shot for Marks, Explosive Shot for Survival, and Kill Command for Beast hunters. This is handy because it's a truly objective measure of an incredibly important part of how hunters DPS. It's also pretty easy, if laborious, to check. The first step is to go to the log browser within WoL:

It's going to have a default query already in there. Go ahead and remove that, then click "Add Query" and fill it out like this:
Click for full size.
Once you've added your query, click "Run." You'll get a list like this:

Next is the annoying, laborious part. You can do this however you want, but for me it's easiest to copy the whole thing into notepad. Then you go down the list and find out how long it took in between signature shots. I'm still playing MM until 4.3.2, so for me that's Chimera Shot. I also have CS glyphed, which means it has a 9 second cooldown. Accounting for latency and similar factors, I'd be pretty happy to have about 9.2 seconds in between my CS casts. The interval between the first two CS is 9.3 seconds (57.882 - 48.559), not bad! The one after that is longer (11.5 seconds), but if you add a second query to see Hour of Twilight casts, you'd see this:

I think it's reasonable to cut someone a little slack for missing the CS cooldown when they're not-dying to encounter mechanics. And then between the 3rd and 4th CS casts, we once again see 9.3 seconds. This isn't the 9.2 seconds I would ideally like to see, but especially as a casual raider I can feel pretty happy with it. Then you just go down the list and see how the signature ability timing looks. You can even divide the total number of seconds by the number of times the ability was used to get an average. Heck, you could even throw out some of the intervals for things like "dealing with Hour" if you want!

Keep in mind that what you're evaluating here is not overall skill with or knowledge of the class. You're just looking at the most basic DPS fundamental. This is the platform upon which the house of good gameplay is built. In order to make further evaluation, you'll have to know some things about the class and about the various specs. For example, you need to know that Deterrence can be used to ignore Hour of Twilight, so you'll want to run a third query, for spell casts of Deterrence and to see when Deterrence fades.

What you're checking for here is to see that not only does the hunter use it, they don't just let it go for the full five seconds of its duration. Ultraxion begins to cast Hour at 7.3 seconds. It's a 5 second cast, so it will have finished casting at around 12 seconds. Deterrence fades at 13 seconds, only 3 seconds after I cast it. So that means I popped it, then canceled it right after Hour hit. These are all good signs. These are the sorts of things you're looking for in your own huntering, and in the logs of any hunter applicants you're evaluating.

You can also see why I like using Ultraxion for this level of log analysis. It's a very basic encounter, with a couple "push a button or die" mechanics, no weird DPS gimmicks, and no role requirements like you'd see with a hunter tasked with kiting Rageface on heroic Shannox. Just good, fundamental class knowledge stuff.

Now, could I have planned out my focus income around that Hour better and put CS on cooldown faster? Sure! But in the case of my guild, a casually-raiding team, that's not something I'd really consider a negative in an applicant. It may be something I work on for myself, but I'm not going to be demanding flawless perfection from applicants to my guild, right? We have some objective measures of skill available to us with World of Logs, but we have to be rational in how we think about them.

Another thing we want to take a look at is the uptime for various buffs. If you go to the damage done summary and then click on someone's name, you'll get this screen:

Click for full size.
If you click on the "Buffs Gained" tab, you'll get a long list of buffs and debuffs. Evaluation here does require some class knowledge. To begin with, for all specs, you want to find the line that says "Tol'vir Agility" and you want to make sure the person has just under 50 seconds of time with that buff on them. The potion lasts for 25 seconds, so if you see 47-49 seconds of the buff, that means your applicant is properly pre-potting and then remembering to use a second potion later on.

For Marks hunters, you'll be looking for a couple specific things. First, you should see the uptime percentage for "Improved Steady Shot" at 90% or better for most encounters, even for things like Yor'sahj. The first encounter I've run into that's really messed with my ISS uptime has been heroic Mor'chok, due to the combination of constant movement and having to move in to melee range to raptor strike for damage reduction. Low ISS uptime isn't necessarily automatically bad, but it's something you can ask someone about. "I noticed your ISS uptime on heroic Mor'chok is lower than it is anywhere else, why is that?"

The second thing you want to see is about a minute's worth of time spent under the effect of Rapid Fire. Marks' reduced RF cooldown plus the addition of Readiness means that an MM hunter should be able to get 4 RFs (or about a minute) into pretty much every encounter. SV and BM hunters should have a second use of Rapid Fire in any encounter that goes longer than about 5:30.

Is this hunter in a raid with a Holy priest that specs into Lightwell? Check the buffs gained for Lightwell Renew.

And that's my rough outline for the things you want to look for, whether you're evaluating yourself or someone else. Start by verifying the fundamentals, then add in checks for things like "are they pre-potting?" "are they clicking the lightwell?" "do they know what encounter mechanics they can negate with deterrence?" "are they using Disengage to move around the encounter space?"

And that's about it! This is a rough sketch, but it gives you a really solid starting point to do some of your own log evaluation. I think that the trick is to keep in mind that you want to look for specific things. Ability use timing, using Deterrence at the right time, etc. Don't just try to stare at a log for a whole night and holistically extract useful information. It won't work.

And for those of you for whom this is all old hat, what do you look for in a hunter's logs?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Passion in the Maelstrom

Note: this post could be kind of NSFW! I mean. It's not strictly NSFW? But it could still be tough explaining it to a coworker or supervisor that happened to read some of it over your shoulder.

It's kind-of-but-not-really fiction starring the inimitable Grubtor, who you can read about here.

Also it's embarrassingly long.

Warnings made, may I present to you:

Passion in the Maelstrom!

I hadn't been planning on doing LFR that week, but I'd been unlucky with tokens and still needed new pants or a hat for the four-piece bonus, and picking up a Maw of the Dragonlord wouldn't hurt either, so I decided to queue up. It popped in a couple minutes and I accepted the summons, instantly transporting me to the top of Wyrmrest temple.

The aspects and Thrall were standing around in a circle, staring mutely at each other or glancing at myself and my twenty-four compatriots as we tumbled out of thin air. I considered wandering over to Nozdormu to give one of his immortal nipples a friendly tweak, but being the Aspect of Time, he knew my plan before I did and was already growling an icy "I'll shave off your beard if you come an inch closer, dwarf" when I tried to give him a sly glance.

"Hah! You're just afraid I'll flip up your skirt and see how far the tattoos go!"

Did you know that you can hear a Dragon Aspect grinding his teeth in rage from 30 paces?

Without warning, there was a hearty Draenic laugh behind me and I was almost knocked flat on my beard by the impact of a meaty slab of hand. Recovering my balance, I turned around to stare up at the ridiculous gray bulk of a Draenei hunter.

"Ho ho! That was good joke, short bearded friend! You are making him so mad, it is for laughs! Ho ho ho!"

His laughter was deep and booming, and although I didn't know his name, I already felt that he was something special.

"Ho ho ho! It is very well to be meeting you, short bearded friend! I am Grubtor! And this," he said before sticking two cheek-tentacles into his mouth and issuing a sharp whistle, "is my ferocious and faithful war-moth, Tinkles!"

With a plink! a small moth popped into existence by his knee. A little below his knee, actually. It flapped its wings and shivered, surrounding itself with a brief nimbus of iridescent pink dust.

"Do not be afraid, short bearded friend! Tinkles is a highly trained war-moth and will attack only on my command!"

At the word "attack," the moth darted forward - I flinched in spite of myself - and burrowed into my beard, where I could feel it digging around. I was too astonished to so much as splutter. Grubtor frowned. "Tinkles! Cease attack! Cease! Come to Grubtor!"

After a few moments the moth emerged and fluttered lazily back to its position by Grubtor's knee, leaving a trail of sparkling motes behind.

"Are you hurt, short bearded friend!"

I peered at Grubtor.

"No. I ... am not hurt."

"Ho ho ho! It is well! You are hardy as well as bearded! I am sure with allies such as yourself, we will succeed in none time with the killing of dastardly Deathwing!"

I shook my head to clear it rather than try to understand what had just happened, then looked around the platform where the raid was pretty much assembled. At least half of our allies were slack-jawed and empty-eyed, strings of drool trailing from their chins. Gem sockets gaped black and empty everywhere I looked, while the tell-tale shimmer of powerful enchantments was largely absent. As I watched, one human paladin that had been walking in circles slowly sank down into an awkward sitting position, pulled his shield off his back, and began to absent-mindedly gnaw on it. I shuddered and didn't even think about trying to find the other tank. I was better off not knowing.

"Yes, Grubtor. These... are definitely some... stalwart. Um. Companions." I sighed.

Suddenly the Aspects stopped staring about blankly (or in the case of one, glaring at me) and began channeling things into the big floating butterscotch candy otherwise known as the Dragon Soul.

"Ho ho! Grubtor sees the encounter is to be beginning! Munificent!"

The paladin continued to gnaw on his shield, so I went over to nudge him with a foot. "Hey. Hey uh. Paladin. You should probably, you know. Stand up. Tank some things. Some of these purple dragons? Tank them?"

No response.

By then, Alexstrasza and Deathwing had finished being dramatic at each other and some of the purple dragons started to show up. My taunts didn't seem to have the necessary power to bring them down to attack me (my mum had always stressed politeness, and the best of the worst that I could summon was "I bet you're only ok at singing 'happy birthday'!") and many of my stalwart companions seemed to be too noble to taunt anything, so several dragons began to fill up the platform with fire. I started to heal the various people standing in it.

To my astonishment, Grubtor, who had been occupied with the loving, caressing inspection of what appeared to be a lightweight ballista, sprang into sudden action. He stood behind the paladin and fired a crossbow bolt that spiraled into its target and made a rude farting noise. When the dragon whipped its head around, he jumped up and down pointing at the paladin. "Ho ho purple dragon! It was him that fired the taunting arrow, yes!" Enraged, the dragon swooped down upon the paladin, who gazed back at it impassively. Incredulous, I began casting a heal on him.

Grubtor was a blur, darting and running to every which side of the platform, pelting the attackers with bolts more akin to javelins than anything else, his crossbow ratcheting and twanging furiously. Being bitten by a dragon had roused the tank, such as he was, into a modicum of activity. He'd stood up and was attempting to place the shield in between himself and the dragon, while occasionally shouting incoherent gibberish at new dragons as they appeared.

A Death Knight, one of the warriors hand-chosen by Arthas for his prowess in combat, stumbled off the edge of the tower to his second death. I rolled my eyes. After the Lich King's defeat, the former lieutenants of his that found their way into our ranks seemed to be both foul-smelling and imbecilic, leading me to wonder how he'd ever been considered a threat in the first place.

Before too long, Ultraxion fluttered up from below and started declaiming things. I rolled my eyes again. The dragons are undoubtedly the campiest race on the face of Azeroth, and this guy somehow managed to be the campiest. Ultra, honey. You're the fifth boss in the instance. You can be the shadow which blots out the streetlamp, making an alley look scary, ok? The sun is just overreaching.

But I'm wandering.

Grubtor spent most of the hammed-up speech looking bored and occasionally petting Tinkles, but once the start of combat got close he pulled out a vicious, serrated super-bolt of some sort, then turned to me and winked.

"Ho ho, short bearded friend!" He was clearly trying to keep this sotto voce, a skill that I don't think he's ever likely to master. "This one is to make froofy pink dragon bleed!"


Grubtor had cranked the crossbow back as far as it would go and then let fly. The "tank" was covered in twilight dragon blood and began swinging his hammer wildly, flinging globs of the Light every which way. The slim, Night Elf druidess standing next to me buried her face in her palm for a moment - I think I could hear her mutter "just one more piece of tier and I can never come back, come on, one more piece" - then transformed into a dire bear and charged forward growling, wresting Ultraxion's attention away from the mostly-dead Gnome rogue he'd been chewing on, letting the tiny angry man fall to the ground. I gave him a renew.

The encounter went pretty smoothly. Once the paladin had cleared the blood out of his eyes, he managed to somehow taunt whenever the druid was afflicted with fading light. Of course, when he got fading light he just died and got resurrected by one or another Death Knight or Warlock, which I found hilarious.

After it was all over and Ultraxion had gone tumbling to the ground to join the Death Knight from earlier, I snuck a few peeks at everyone's healing epeens and compared them to my own. I felt pretty smug - I'd grabbed the red crystal as soon as it had appeared, then yanked the blue crystal out of the hands of another holy priest, who'd stamped his feet and disappeared from the raid in disgust.

The weird thing about turning from Alex into Kalec is that your hips actually get wider. Strange, huh?

Anyway, then I looked at the epeens of our damage dealers and my eyes widened.

Grubtor's epeen was massive. It was majestic and radiant in its glory. It was bigger than the next six epeens combined. "No wonder that dragon went down on us so quick..." I whispered.

While I was caught in the throes of admiration, a Draenei restoration Shaman clopped up on her fastidiously pedicured hooves (how come I'd never seen the hoof-polish merchant in the Exodar?), batted her eyelashes at Grubtor, and said "oh why hello Mr. Hunter. I'm sorry I'm such a silly shaman, but would you mind telling me where the Skyfire is going to dock for us to board?"

"Grubtor is smart and experienced, of course he can! It is that way!" Time seemed to slow down while Grubtor pointed with his left arm, his right for some reason curling up until he touched his shoulder with a fist. At this point, his shoulderguards, cuirass, gloves, and pants simply burst off of him, unable to contain his magnificent physique. The shaman and I gasped at the same time as he stood revealed in naught but his bracers, boots, and chainmail boxer-briefs.

They actually said J U I C Y across his behind.

"Well well," said the Shaman, "my name is Kandyce. You can call me Kandy for short. Ta!" and she skipped off to the Skyfire, trailing a finger across his chest as she went. I narrowed my eyes at her. I'd seen him first.

For his part, Grubtor seemed oblivious, looking around at the detritus of ruined equipment scattered on the ground. Eventually he shrugged and as I wandered up he boomed at me, "It is good that guild covers repairs, yes! Ho ho!" And off he went to the Skyfire.

Between the relative competence of myself and the other healers, our lovely bear tank, and Grubtor's turgid epeen, the next couple encounters went smoothly and we found ourselves standing on islands in the Maelstrom.

The smells of salt water and the scent of burning decay swirled together in the mist that sprayed over us. The center of the Maelstrom was a glowing red vortex, bubbling and sloshing with the corruption seeping from Deathwing's injured body. As he reared out of the water and clung to the rocks with his twisted, ruined limbs, I had eyes only for Grubtor.

The sheen of moisture on his skin.

The smooth action of his body as he pounded bolt after bolt into Deathwing's claws and tentacles.

The good-natured bellow with which he ordered Tinkles to attack, and the miraculous fact that the moth seemed to obey (although I'm unsure how much damage it could possibly have been doing).

As we advanced through the platforms, I found myself healing Grubtor more and everyone else less. A naughty urge began to bubble up from my unconsciousness, and although I tried to push it back down I eventually gave in. Blushing furiously behind my beard, I sidled up behind Grubtor (J U I C Y indeed) and cast another heal on him - a different one.

He shivered when it hit him, looking over his shoulder (still shooting crossbow bolts! Accurately!) to say "Short bearded friend! Never have I felt such a heal! What was it!"

Blushing harder - perhaps he could even see it through my beard by now? - I hit him with another. "That," I panted, "was a Flash Heal. Usually you'd only use it in an emergency, probably on a tank. Using it on a DPS at full health is," and here my voice grew husky with the illicit, deliciously sinful truth of it, "very mana inefficient."

"Ho ho! I am liking it very much! Yes! I think it helps me damage more damagingly!"

I gave in fully to the moment, letting go and dumping flash heal after flash heal into him, occasionally consuming Serendipity with a greater heal. It was wondrous.

Then we were interrupted by the cold splash of a chain heal in our faces, followed by a riptide landing on Grubtor and cascading down his back. It was... it was that shaman!

"Kandy! Hello! Would you also like to be healing me!"

She laughed, walking towards us with a confident stride. To my surprise, I found myself captivated by her ample, jiggling blue mana bar as it swayed with her hips.

"Well, I can't let you boys have all the fun, can I? Hey Priest - I bet you've never felt this before," and with that she cast earth shield on me. It was so wrong - so very wrong, and yet also so right. She'd spoken the truth: I'd never felt the firm yet gentle caress of an earth shield before. I was suddenly jealous of tanks.

It degenerated from there, as the entire healing team healed Grubtor and his epeen more and more, egged on by his lusty and excited bellows of "Yes, my friends! All of you! All of the healing for Grubtor! I am doing most damages, heal me with your heals!"

The druidess snorted in disgust and teleported to Moonglade. The gnome rogue, seeing the Corruption tentacle turn his way, vanished and used his hearthstone. But Grubtor, glorious Grubtor! He was enough! With a final bolt, the tentacle sunk into the sea and he turned his attention on the wing.

As he began to damage it, his hands a blur, Tinkles dusting the wing furiously, I noticed that Deathwing was watching. His tongue was undulating wildly - lasciviously, ecstatically - in the air and his molten eyes rolled this way and that, always returning to Grubtor. When he spoke, it was in a throaty, grinding growl, the sound of boulders tumbling in a magma flow:

"YES, YES!" he said.


The wrongness of everything that was happening was as pervasive as it was addictive. We continued to heal Grubtor, rivulets of sweat running between his shoulderblades, mixing with healing rains and glowing with the warm golden glow of the Light.

One by one, healers ran out of mana. Kandy and myself were the last and we both let our final heals go at the same straining moment before collapsing to the ground together, blissfully spent. Grubtor still stood, his epeen straining, still somehow growing. "Yes!" he would occasionally shout or "Ho ho!" or "More damages!"

Deathwing growled back at him, writhing in the middle of the Maelstrom, and although everyone else in the raid was dead I did not fear: Grubtor would clearly kill the wing before Cataclysm finished casting.

And then...


Then the Cataclysm castbar suddenly just finished all at once, eradicating all life on Azeroth, even Tinkles, who took 90% reduced area of effect damage.

As our souls drifted in the twisting nether, I heard a distant echo of Deathwing's voice. It said: "OH MY GOD GUYS I AM SO SORRY. THIS IS REALLY EMBARRASSING. THIS NEVER HAPPENS TO ME. UGH. PREMATURE CATACLYSM, THIS IS THE WORST."

And then I found myself on my back below the spirit healer. Even dead, I was still blissfully exhausted, but (literally) not above further crudity.

"Hey Spirit lady, I can see up your toga. Where do you even go to get wa-" and then, with a ringing, ethereal echo of "creep!" in my ears I found myself on my back at the Maelstrom, afflicted with resurrection sickness. Just before the various Aspects faded back into existence.

"Hey Nozdormu," I said, slightly muffled, "I can see up your skirt."