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."

Survival Guide Updated!

Just a quick note to say that I've updated the Survival guide. Zeherah dropped some science on me about how the Explosive Shot DoT works and it's drastically changed my advice with regards to Lock and Load procs. Please do check it out and, as always, let me know if I'm being crazy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Real Achievement

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in having that second of hesitation when I'm asked to talk about my hobbies or what I do for fun. I mean, I do a lot of things other than work, eat, and sleep. Playing an MMO is hardly my only hobby, but it is one of them. And I don't even care about the "those games are for nerds, real people play Madden and Halo" sorts of people. I have to say I'm completely indifferent to their opinions.

I'm much more sensitive to an objection that I've never actually heard, one that goes something along the lines of "how can you play an MMO? Don't you know it's just a virtual Skinner box with a variable interval payment schedule?"

And well, yes, there is that element to them. That is a true statement; it is not, however, the only true statement.

There are also folks who are totally fine with an MMO hobby, but they want to know "why World of Warcraft?" It's old and ugly and anyway, don't I know that Cataclysm was the worst expansion ever? They've lost like a million subscribers! And next expansion they'll be jumping the panda!

I get that Cataclysm was unpopular with a lot of people. Some think it catered to the casuals and the game got too easy or watered down. Some think it catered to the hardcore, becoming too inaccessible. A lot of people seem to have been bullied as a child by one of the Pandaren. I'm not really sure.

Let's talk about my guild.

I came to my guild by resubscribing to the game after taking a break from December 2009 to October 2010. That's a pretty long break! I had played Wrath from about the time when Ulduar came out to about the time Icecrown Citadel came out, when a new job made raiding pretty impossible.

I think it was probably my boyfriend that told me that a friend we'd made (or rather, that he'd made and I'd gotten to know through him) outside of WoW had become GM of her small guild, back on the little tiny role-playing server that we'd originally started playing on and had since transferred off of.

They had no need of a hunter, so when I transferred over I moved my priest first and started healing for them. Their raid schedule was about half as intense as what I'd been used to. They could only field a 10-person raid, and further that was all they wanted to field. In fact we pretty frequently had to find an extra person from outside the guild to fill in.

But then over time, some of those people became regular raiders. Eventually some of them joined the guild and a team started to congeal.

Cataclysm was actually the first time I went into an expansion on patch day. I wasn't playing the game when Burning Crusade was released and I was taking a break when Wrath came out. I went into it with a group of people I liked with a plan for how we'd resume raiding after we'd leveled to the new cap. We used the release of the expansion pack as a reason to change up the raid roster, allowing me to go back to playing my hunter as my main character.

We've built a guild culture - almost from the ground up - that we can all be proud of.

Both of our main tanks, a role most commonly held by men, are women.

None of the women on our raid team have to worry about being harassed or denigrated because of their gender.

My boyfriend and I don't have to worry about referring to each other as a couple.

No one yells or screams during raid time.

If someone needs a week or two off, no problem.

People have been able to change main characters and change roles because they wanted to.

There have been disagreements. There've been some hurt feelings. It happens, but we've dealt with it all as a group, and we've done a pretty good job with it.

I don't log on to push the loot-pellet dispenser lever.

I don't log on because it's Warcraft or because it's the Cataclysm.

I log on because I like playing with my guild.

We started raiding in Cataclysm probably about a month after most other casual guilds did, and a good couple months after the really serious raiding guilds did. We never quite cleared out the initial tier of raid bosses on normal difficulty, and we never did any of the heroic modes. We got close, with only the most difficult two (Nefarian and Al'akir) remaining, but then the Firelands patch was released and it was time to move on.

We started out on Firelands with Beth'tilac, a giant spider boss that most guilds killed second or third, and it was tough. The DPS, healing, and coordination requirements forced us to play better - so we did. The coordination and individual skill requirements of Alysrazor stymied us for a while too, almost a whole month, and we had to go back to basics and work on fundamentals again. In the end, we didn't quite get Ragnaros-normal down before the whole tier was nerfed pretty hard, but we did get him the week after that. We would have been able to kill him before he was nerfed.

As it was, we used the post-nerf Firelands content period as a time to sort of rest and regroup. It got boring doing the same bosses over and over, but we were able to mostly farm up all the gear people could have wanted, putting us in the unfamiliar position of really being prepared going into patch 4.3 and the Dragon Soul raid.

That raid was, of course, released right around the holidays, and out of the four-week period of its initial release, we only raided two. Bosses were dying, though. We cleared out the first four bosses on our first night in there, and those bosses - even on 10-person normal difficulty - have presented some significant challenges for a lot of groups.

I think that Zon'ozz and maybe even Hagara would have been huge speedbumps for the guild that first stepped into the Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight raids of Cataclysm's initial release. I personally didn't even start using Aspect of the Fox until halfway through Firelands. No one was pre-potting or knew what it was (if you're unfamiliar, "pre-potting" is the practice of drinking a potion just before combat begins, allowing you to drink a second potion a couple minutes into the encounter. Potions provide a significant benefit for a short period of time).

Everyone in this guild has gotten better over the course of this expansion. We've grown as a group and improved as players without having to give up any of the things that make raiding fun for us.

Every single week that we've actually raided we've killed a new boss in Dragon Soul, and we haven't had any trouble replicating kills once we learn them the first time.

Last night we completed the Madness of Deathwing encounter on 10-person normal difficulty. That's the big villain of the expansion, Deathwing himself. That's what we've been moving towards this whole expansion. We've reached this point without having to give up anything. We didn't have to add a new raid night, or kick people we liked, or scream, or raid when we'd rather be spending time with loved ones, or anything.
We've just been having fun, indulging in a social hobby with people whose company we enjoy, and we've killed some dragons on the internet in the meantime. And now, for the first time, we're going to do some heroic modes.

Cataclysm has been the best of the WoW expansions for me, and it's been that because I love my guild.

Click for full size.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Old and Busted: Haste Plateaus

The community of WoW players often seem to be to be very slow at changing attitudes. Even after the 4.3 buffs, you'll see folks saying that MM is "higher DPS" or that Survival DPS is "more forgiving." Neither of these statements is strictly true. In my gear, I sim about a thousand DPS better as Marksmanship and I just feel more comfortable with it and we have two good sources of the 10% haste buff in the raid, so I generally play MM. But most of the top parsing hunters are playing Survival right now, and I've had at least one Survival hunter beat me in LFR. I think the two specs are almost identical in damage capabilities, and your comfort with one or another spec will make more of a difference to the damage you do with it than anything else.

Further, at high gear levels (average item level climbing past 385), I think MM just gets easier and easier to play, while SV tends to get more difficult. As you get better gear as an MM hunter, you prioritize haste as a tertiary stat, and it just kind of makes everything easier. It makes it easier to keep ISS up, it makes it easier to cast AiS if you play that style, it makes it easier to keep CS exactly on cooldown, it makes it easier to squeeze one more AiS into your Rapid Fire duration, on and on.

Survival, on the other hand, gets swamped in focus and procs, making it very difficult to keep up. Whenever I play Survival, I find myself frequently capping out on focus and then a few seconds later either spending so much focus on Arcanes that I can't immediately use Explosive Shot or just pushing past the ExS cooldown by using one too many instants of one sort or another. When LnL procs you have to decide if you should wait a heartbeat between your first and second ExS, use Kill Command, or use a CoS; let's not even mention the number of times I've pushed the ArcS button right as LnL procs.

Accepted wisdom that carries numerical weight is even more difficult to change.

When Cataclysm was new and Survival was kind of king of the heap of all DPS in the game, it was pointed out that with around 20% haste including gear, Pathing, and Hunting Party, you could easily fit exactly 3 CoS inside the ExS cooldown. This came to be considered the optimal Survival DPS haste and gear point, and that accepted wisdom has never really been questioned.

It seems to me, however, that as soon as one obtains the T13 2pc bonus, that haste point becomes obsolete. Like I said above, modern SV DPS is completely frantic. At no time is there a period that allows you to calmly chain three CoS in between ExS. This just gets more pronounced as you pick up more gear such as the T13 4pc bonus, any of the haste proc trinkets, and then place yourself in a raid situation where you're getting Bloodlusted and using Rapid Fire as often as you can. If you look at your logs, you're probably spending at least 30% of the time under some sort of haste effect! What good does it do you to gear for 1.67 second CoS when you're going to be casting an array of 1-second to 1.5 seconds CoS?

No, I think it's time to retire the 20% haste point as an useful concept for end-game Survival hunters. The days of stringing three Cobras in between ExS are simply over. It's time to go back to basics, start thinking more about your priority, and do a few million damage to the target dummies. Look for patterns in your ability use, but don't be too surprised if you don't see any. Get used to doing things like ExS -> ArcS -> ArcS -> CoS -> ExS and get used to the feeling of waiting through the dead time at the end of that CoS unless you've got a haste proc up.

The same goes for MM, by the way. With T13 gear, I've started doing things I never did before this tier. I've DPS cycles that look like this:
CS -> AiS -> SS -> SS -> AiS -> SS -> CS
That orphan SS before the second CS is crazy! What is that little guy doing there? Well, he's giving me just enough focus for CS. Before 2pc, I'd've used that SS and still been starved for the focus to put CS back on cooldown. With the two piece, I can do crazy things like that shot sequence and keep glyphed CS on cooldown with 1815 haste rating. It's madness.

Haste plateaus don't exist any more. The concept is no longer of any use. Just know that the more of you have, the more focus-generating shots you can cut in favor of higher-damage focus dumps.

Or at least that's what I think!

I haven't looked at EJ in ages. Is there something there I've missed? Do you see a flaw in my reasoning? I'm eager to hear what anyone thinks!