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.