Saturday, April 30, 2011

Heroic Magmaw - 10 & 25 Man

For this guide on how to fight Magmaw hc, I will assume that you already are familiar with the normal version - if you want a quick recap, you can check out my 10 man guide on the matter. Therefore I wont talk about how to deal with everything that works the same as in normal, although you can assume that everything deals more damage (like Mangle). This guide will put emphasis on the differences to normal and what you have to think about extra carefully to get this fight right.

What is new?
Both 10 man and 25 man heroic have the same game mechanics, but you might choose to deal with them slightly differently, because you have less people to spare in 10 man.

Phase 1
Animated Blazing Skeletons will spawn from additional Lava Pillars, or rather a Meteorite called Blazing Inferno, they need to be handled by a separate tank. You can see where the Blazing Inferno will land by an effect simliar to the Lava Pillars, you should avoid them in the same way. The Lava Pillars that spawn ABS also spawn a Trail of Fire that moves slowly around the room and that needs to be avoided. The ABS cast Armageddon once they reach 20%, and should therefore be nuked at that point, regardless of how you choose to deal with them before that.

Phase 2
Nefarian will hurl shadow bolts (Shadowflame Barrage) at random raid members, which increases the aoe damage taken during this fight significantly. This is still considered the easier of the two phases since you don't have to bother about adds anylonger.

There are two ways to handle the pillars both in normal and in heroic. You can either have ranged stand ranged and move from the pillars in a group, left and right, or you can have everyone except a minimum stand in the melee group, which means only a few people have to run to move from pillars. The fight is usually easy enough on normal that either tactic makes little difference, but on heroic there are more pillars and more things to move from which means the fight is a lot easier with the latter tactic. Videos of the fight in heroic will show some doing the first and some doing the second, but I really do recommend the second. As long as the few ranged keep their distance and the melee group stay grouped up, it really does the handling of pillars and adds a lot easier.

25 Man
What you need;
  • 1 or 2 Magmaw Tanks: To switch between Mangles. You don't actually need an extra tank for when the MT is being mangled, since Magmaw doesn't attack anyone during that time. He does however still do the occasional melee swing, which can be avoided by melee stepping out a bit. It also wipes the current tanks aggro. To make things easier you can just have an offtank taunt Magmaw during Mangle to make sure any such melee swings land on them. Since you usually can spare the extra tank in 25 man I recommend using it if you can. If you do, it is preferrable to use a second Magmaw tank who can deal some decent dps while not tanking, like a feral druid.
  • 1 Animated Blazing Skeleton tank: Will stand in melee and pick up all the ABS adds.
  • 1 Larva Kiter (Lava Parasites): Since most of the raid will have to focus their dps on the ABS adds and Magmaw, you will have less time to spare for the regular adds, the Larvas. The best way to handle the Larvas is therefore to have someone kite them, while also slowly killing them. This is a key task in this fight and a frost dk with Howling Blast is ideal. Of course, any kiter up to the challenge can be used, but Frost Dks really have an upper hand here. If you feel like you can spare the dps, anyone can help out on killing the Larva adds when needed of course, but if the kiter does his work well, it shouldn't be needed.
  • 1 Misdirecter: Having someone who MDs the ABS to the ABS tank is highly recommended on this fight. The fight is manageable without one, but it makes it alot easier.

How to do it;
Phase 1 100-30%
  • Have everyone stand in melee range, except for 4 (some say 3 is enough in 25 man, we usually go with 4 just in case someone dies) people who will stand outside to make sure that the pillars land outside and not in the melee group. It is very important that you make sure to keep these groups up, the melee group should stand close to the boss and the outside group must keep their range. Getting a Lava Pillar in the melee group usually ends in a wipe unless everyone reacts very fast.
  • Every 35 seconds, Nefarian will throw Blazing Inferno at the raid (which should land outside if you've done everything correctly) that will spawn an ABS and leave a trail of fire. The Trail of Fire slowly wriggles around the room, but is fairly easy to avoid. As soon as the ABS spawn they should be picked up by their designated tank, who could be aided by an MDer to do so.
  • The ABS start casting Armageddon when they reach 20% hp, which means that once they reach that health, you must be ready to be able to burn them down asap. Which way you decide to deal with the adds is really up to you, most people burn them down asap as long as it's not during a "Head Down"-phase. If you have the dps for it you can kill them through splash-aoe, and burn them only when they reach 20%. It's not recommended to tank more than 2 adds at a time, but it depends on the quality of your raid of course.
  • If you have two tanks for Magmaw - Whenever the first tank gets mangled, the next one taunts Magmaw off him, and tanks until he gets Mangled, rinse and repeat. 
  • Larvas will spawn and work exactly as in normal. Because you usually don't have the time to focus dps both the ABS and the larvas, you will kite the larvas. Have the Larva kiter pick them up and run them around, trying not to be hit and infected of course, avoiding the Trailing Fire and not get out of reach of the healers. Like mentioned, this is a key role in the fight, and one of the trickier.
  • It is recommended to have at least one healer in the outside group, to make sure the Larva Kiter always has someone in range to heal them. Preferrably someone who can deal with healing and alot of movement - druids or priests for example. Making sure the outside people is getting enough heals will be one of the things to focus on in this fight.

Phase 2 - 30-0%
  • When Magmaw is closing in on 30%, make sure to clean up any adds still left, both ABS and Larvas. No new adds will spawn during the last 30%. You should also try to time his head going down with you entering the last phase, allowing you to burn his head at once and hopefully spend alot less time in the last phase.
  • As soon as he enters 30%, Nefarian will start hurling shadowbolts at the raid. I haven't found any evidence to it in tooltips, but they splash damage, which mean that you want to handle them the same way you do fireballs on Halfus, and spread out. The best thing is to start spreading out ahead of the 30% so that you're not in one big group when he starts casting the shadowbolts, as that can do a lot of unecessary damage.
  • The raid damage at this point is heavy, but definitely not crazy like Chimaeron Feud or Maloriak Red phase. Make sure to have everyone stick to their assignments, because it is easy to forget about point healing when raid healing seems to be tough. Assign a cooldown rotation to make sure not all healers burn their bubbles/hymns/tranquilities at once, since that will turn into unecessary overhealing.
  • As soon as you get his head down and are in this phase, is usually the best time to use Bloodlust.

10 Man
What you need;
  • 1 Tank for Magmaw
  • 1 Tank for ABS
  • 1 Kiter for Larvas

How to do it;
The big difference between 10 and 25 man is that you have less tanks to spare, because of this you usually don't have an extra tank to handle Magmaws random melee swings when the MT is being mangled. This can be dealt with by the melee group trying to step out a little from melee range and be careful on aggro.

Phase 1 - 100-30%
  • On 10 man you only need 2 people outside to make sure all the pillars stay out of melee, these two people should be your kiter and preferrably a healer. If you don't have a healer who is good enough to run and heal a dpser works just as well, but you will have to keep an extra eye on the kiter to make sure he gets his heals.
  • Adds are handled pretty much as in 25 man, meaning that you can decide whether you burn them down when they spawn or let them die on splash damage. They too need to be killed asap when they reach 20%, as they will cast Armageddon which deals massive damage to the whole raid.
  • Larvas will be kited around the room by the kiter.

Phase 2 - 30%-0%
Just as in 25 man;
  • Try to get his head down in time with him reaching 30%.
  • Start spreading out slightly before he hits 30%.
  • Have some plan for how healers use their cooldowns, and don't tunnel vision on raid healing.
  • If you have the head down, this is a good time to use Bloodlust.

Pitfalls - things to pay extra attention to
I've mentioned a couple of these already, but it could be worth mentioning them again.

  • If you use the tactic with only a few ranged (and you should), make sure those ranged always get their share of the healing love. They are easy to forget!
  • The Mangled tank takes some burst damage just as in normal (but more). It's usually easy to handle as long as you're ready for it.
  • Make sure to be ready to nuke the ABS if you splash them to 20%, you really don't want that Armageddon. This seems to be extra important in 25 man, where people tend to go "ah, those guys are dpsing him already, I can continue on Magmaw".
  • It's really important to keep your groups intact - melee with melee and ranged with ranged. A pillar in melee is a fairly sure wipe. Don't forget to replace ranged that die (unless you can res them of course, which usually is better)! 
  • If you don't have someone who can MD ABS adds to the ABS tank, he might have to move around to get into range for taunting. This does indeed make ABS handling a lot trickier, and opens up for dangerous situations (like healers getting aggro) and everyone will make sure to help the ABS tank out.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Field Report - It's all coming together

Things weren't looking too bright the last time I wrote about my raiding. Love had switched guild together with all my irl friends, and I had decided to stay behind to see how things would unfold in my current guild, since I think it's really a great place. We didn't have any more people leave the guild, but a lot of old members who decided that this was as good a time as any to quit WoW-ing overall. Things could've really have turned out bad.

But as Love put it - sometimes you have to burn stuff down to make sure it can grow up nice and fresh, and I definitely agree. Although this might sound horrible, in a way I am glad all those veterans left because it gave the guild a fresh injection of new people that it really needed. I'm not saying we're better off without those people, but our raiding is definitely better off without people who don't really feel like playing anyway. I don't think anyone can argue that.

We still had a tough time for a week or so when people were dropping left and right, but thanks to a particular officer really busting his ass off to find new people who wanted to join one of the last serious 25-man raiding guilds on the server, we seem to have gotten things running again. Approximately 4/5 in our raiding team now are players who have joined the last two weeks or so. Myself and the officer I just mentioned haven't been in the guild all that long either, me since the end of Wrath and he since early Cata. In our current raid team we only have four people left that were in the raid team when I first joined. It's crazy really, and one could argue that the guild isn't the same anymore.

It could've gone that way, but I feel like people have adapted to the guild rather than the guild to the people. That can be both bad and good, but like I said, people have joined this guild because it has the goal it has, and so the essence of the guild - that of being a serious 25 man raiding guild, but still fun - has stayed intact.

I must say I am really happy with our new raiding group. We now have a bunch of people who have left their old guilds, many of them even swapped servers, to get to what we have to offer. They are ready and willing to do what it takes for us to have some successful raiding. We no longer have a bunch of people who come for raiding just because "they've always done it" or who take it for granted. I agree that having a core group that hold things together is important for a guild and its raiding, but in many ways it holds progress and development back. And how do you tell someone who's been a loyal, and often great, member of the guild and raid, that their raiding just doesn't cut it anymore? That their level of commitment isn't good enough and that their lack of enthusiasm is hurting the guild? The best thing that could happen is that they realize the problem by themselves and take necessary action. One could of course debate whether choosing to quit when the guild probably needed them the most was the right thing to do, but everything turned out for the better now so I won't. It has given us the fresh start we needed.

Our new healing team is great. It's fun how things can sway from extremes to extremes. In early raiding (beginning of the year or so), we lacked holydins, but had loads of resto druids. With the great Dropout we suddenly had loads of holydins but couldn't find a resto druid anywhere! Right now we have a good mix, with plenty of holydins and priests. I'm not used to being able to raid with several healing priests at the same time, and especially not ones that are as eager as I am to thinktank and find out everything there is about the class. Right now it feels like just about everyone on the healing team are great players, and it's lovely to be part of that group.

The last couple of raids we have been wiping our asses off against Conclave HC. We're dang close, but as with most heroic fights there are plenty of things that can go wrong and one mistake usually inevitably leads to a wipe. What I really like about the Conclave fight, both in normal and in heroic, is that everyone have their cut role and everyone is really important. Sure, losing a dps isn't as bad as losing a tank or healer, as in any fight. But everything is on the margin so everyone is needed. I both love and hate fights where I am like a cog in a machine. It's great when I can trust everyone else in my raid group to do their job, it's awful when I know the machinery will unmistakenly break down as soon as the responsibility shifts to the weakest part. It's unforgiving, but I think that is what heroic is all about. If we wanted forgiving we should stick with normals.

We're close, but we've spent hours on wiping. I don't mind though, honestly! Every try I feel there is something I can perfect, or do even better. Heck, for the first ten wipes I failed on that dang Wind Blast, before I finally got it right. It re-he-heally annoyed me that I could continously fail on the very same thing, over and over. I finally realized that it was because I was trying to fix the wrong thing in my proceeding. I had to heal pre-emptively, so that I could fully focus on moving from the Wind Blast when it came, and then start healing against when I was sure that I was out if danger. I had to let the healing go during the most hectic moment, and since healing people when they're hurt was so deeply rooted in me, that was a tough thing to let go off. Also I had done the fight for an evening on 10 man where the Wind Blast and Shield don't come at the same time, so I had adapted my healing style to that. In 25 man they come at the same time the first time around, and I had to re-do my routine for the first portion of the fight. Sometimes it's better to not know anything about the fight than to get in there with presumptions that aren't correct.

I know I'll probably jinx it, but I think we've gotten our act together now. Summer is coming up and people will go on vacation, it's always something of a fire trial for a guild how they handle things during summers. Especially now that people seem to feel like this is a good time to quit WoW alltogether. It will be interesting to see how things will develop, and I am eagerly anticipating Firelands (which still is far off though).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Patch 4.1 - Nothing much but tweaks and fixes

Unless some alien race decides that this week is a good week to start taking over Earth, we can be pretty certain that patch 4.1 is being released on wednesday (or tuesday depending). I actually thought it would take another couple of weeks, don't ask me why. Blizzard manages to time their big patches with something else I've been looking forward to as usual, this week I am hoping that my Super Mario World and F-Zero that I ordered from Germany will arrive. We'll see who wins out of the two (probably WoW as always).

There are a couple of features that I am looking forward to a little extra in this patch, for example I intend to start burning through instances like there was no tomorrow (aliens attacking?) with my dk, maybe even my warrior, due to the new Call to Arms. I like tanking - I just need a little more incentive to stand the douchy pugs. Maybe this will be enough, we'll see. Also as I wrote about earlier, I am really looking forward to the tank heirlooms! I don't actually have the JP to buy anything yet, but on the other hand, I don't need any until they decide to actually implement the server wide BoA transfer, so there is still time. And of course, I am eager to get to try out the new ZG/ZA instances!

What is new on the priest front? Not much, a little tweaks here and there, but still worth of making a mental note or two about.

They want us to dispel less
Some have got it into their minds that priests won't have dispel anymore. I've tried explaining that it would be silly for Blizzard to give dispels to all healers, only to then remove it from priests. It is true that priests won't be able to dispel others, but Holy and Discipline get a new passive to circumvent this, which means it will only affect spriests. They've made it so that spriests can't dispel anyone but themselves, which I figure is mostly because of pvp-reasons, but it will affect us in pve too of course. Although they did give all healers the possibility to dispel, I can imagine this being a slight strain on serious 10 man guilds, who already are being pushed by pretty harsh set-up requirements for some heroic modes (which I might write a little more about up ahead). I don't see this as a big problem, but there are still some things to keep in mind here. Dispel is expensive, and in tougher content, mana doesn't grow on trees. Being able to resort to a dpser for dispelling is useful in many situations, not only because of strained healer mana pools, but because of lack of gcds and in some cases even range. There's a but here though, as there usually is. They haven't actually said anything about Mass Dispel, so I can only assume that it will work as usual for spriests, actually allowing them to dispel magic if really needed, but to a (lot) bigger cost.

"Absolution (new passive) enables priests to use Dispel Magic on up to 2 harmful effects on friendly targets."
"Dispel Magic can only be used on the casting priest as a baseline effect."

They want us to Smite more
I belong to the group of priests who don't like Atonement-Archangel-Evangelism. It's not awfully bad, it's just not very good either, and therefore I don't think it is worth the trouble. Back in late Wrath, when they released the new Cata glyphs I remember how I pondered the usage of Smite in Cata. I was very optimistic to say the least, so maybe my aversion for Smite is simply because I was so disappointed that it didn't turn out to be everything I wanted it to be. There were some things I were sceptical to already back then however, using Holy Fire as part of the healing rotation was one such thing. With the glyph it would increase healing done of Smite by 20% as long as the dot was up, which is no small sum. But there were several issues around using Holy Fire. First of all, it didn't heal anything in itself, which meant we spent mana and time on not healing just to boost our healing. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, Shamans have a similar thing in Focused Insight which has its usages. Secondly however, we had nothing which would increase the hit of Holy Fire, since Divine Accuracy only increased the hit of Smite. This meant we could spend mana and time on not healing, only to actually not get the debuff we needed to buff our Smites. Blizzard have realized the problems with Holy Fire and buffed it in several ways. It will now deal more damage, will be affected by Divine Accuracy, can proc Evangelism and will heal through Atonement. It won't solve the issue about the dot duration being really short however, shorter than the cooldown on Holy Fire actually. And it won't solve the overall issue about AAE being an iffy way to heal. These changes won't have me smite-healing anymore than before, but for all those priests actually using Smite as a way to heal, this is very welcome news.

"Atonement now works with Holy Fire in addition to Smite."
"The direct damage portion of Holy Fire can now trigger Evangelism"
" Glyph of Divine Accuracy now also affects Holy Fire in addition to Smite."
"Holy Fire damage has been increased to be approximately 30% higher than Smite."

They're making priest healing slightly more comfy
They're actually going to fix a couple of things that have been rubbing me the wrong way. For instance, although I like the idea around Chakra, I don't like how they have it work. Having to reapply it constantly annoys me, and they've made several changes to it since early Cata to make it less of a hassle - from 30 sec dur/cd with talents to increase duration based on cast to what we have today, 1 min dur/30 sec cd and no possibility to increase duration. Now they'll finally make it an aura instead of a buff, which means we're in the stance of our choice until we decide to change it, instead of having to reapply it constantly. Thank you! It might actually make me a lot more willing to go holy in raids.

Something that was way less of an issue, but nonetheless a welcome change, is making Inner Fire/Will into permanent buffs (until cancelled). Since I mostly raid on my priest and therefore can count on dying at least once within a 30 minute period even when we have a good raid going, I've rarely had to think much about my Inner Fire/Will buff running out. I've always reapplied it as a reflex when running back from a wipe (I always forget to do it if I get ressed though). I do remember it being slightly more trouble when I was leveling my priest however, and I can imagine priests who do dailies and stuff are happy. It's a small but nice change.

We're also seeing that they're making our big cooldowns more worthwhile. As I've mentioned before, the problem about pulling out a Divine Hymn was usually that we never ever actually got all the ticks from it. Having to interrupt it by moving is a lesser issue because personally I think that it's part of some healing skill to identify the best time to use it without having to interrupt it prematurely. Another issue that we had less power over however was the fact that basically all raid bosses have some sort of raid damage that shortened the duration of our channeling, which meant we rarely got everything out of the rather expensive spells. Druids had the same trouble with Tranquility. Now they're making all three of these skills - Tranquility, Hymn of Hope and Divine Hymn - pushback protected, and slightly more worth the mana.

Having the holy priest accidentally shield the tank will now be less of an issue, since we'll be able to remove the duration from other priests shields through Renewed Hope. Although come to think of it, most of the time it was actually the holy priests complaining about the disc priests shielding the "wrong" targets, since it removed their ability to use Body & Soul on them. I don't see how this change will make much of a difference with that problem, since we still need to throw 2-3 Heals on the target for the debuff to go away, which usually is way too much time for any Body & Soul to still be useful in tight situations. Nonetheless, it makes the RH talent a lot better, since it allows for several disc priests in the same raid!

"Inner Will and Inner Fire now last until canceled."
"Chakra now lasts until canceled, up from 1 minute."
"Priests now innately have 100% pushback protection from damage while channeling Divine Hymn and Hymn of Hope."

"It is now possible to remove Weakened Soul effects that were a result of another priest's Power Word: Shield through Strength of Soul.

They're nerfing discipline
There was loads of discussions regarding what Blizzard could do to make shields less overpowered without nerfing them too much. One suggestion thrown around the bloggosphere and various forums was to reduce the duration of the Shields, since that would require a lot more planning without actually reducing the effectiviness of each shield. Even if I personally still think that shields are too expensive to be spammed throughout a fight, I will admit that there are times when I do get a little spammy with the shields. My group on Rohash just before the shield on heroic mode is one example, since it allows me to focus more on the Wind Blast than healing and let the shields to the job (and I will miss being able to do that...). Apparently shields were somewhat of a problem however since they're smacking them rather hard with the nerf bat, reducing duration from 30 to 15 seconds. This won't require a little more planning, but probably a lot more than we think right now. I do look forward to this change with modest enthusiasm however, since I always like changes that can sort the wheat from the chaff healing wise. I might sound elitist, but I mean that spamming shields isn't difficult, but identifying the right targets and when to pop a shield is. The right amount of difficulty could hopefully lead to added fun! Here's to hoping.

To compensate for the nerf to shields, at least to some degree, they're buffing Divine Aegis. DA is a tricky one. In easier content it wasn't very useful because it didn't last long enough to make much of a difference. In tougher raid content where people are taking damage constantly it's more useful however, actually I can question whether the extra seconds will make much difference because most DA procs are rather small and quickly absorbed. Still of course, I won't look a gift horse in the mouth, I am glad for this change as well.

They're also nerfing the allmighty Bubble. Boo. I realize it might be a little too good, and they're making the same nerf to Divine Guardian (which on the other hand really is an imba skill). Unfortunately it feels like Blizzard nerfs it because they don't want to make disc priests a requirement for difficult fights, but I feel like they really should nerf the fights rather than the bubble (or perhaps both) in that case. If that many raiders feel like the bubble is the make or break of the fight, then it's partially because the bubble is good, and partially because the fight is very hard (they wouldn't care about the bubble if the fight was manageable without one). They should look into both of those problems (and maybe they are!).

"Power Word: Shield duration has been reduced to 15 seconds, down from 30."
"Divine Aegis duration has been increased to 15 seconds, up from 12."
"Power Word: Barrier's cooldown has been increased to 3 minutes, up from 2, and its effect has been reduced to 25%, down from 30%."

They're buffing Surge of Light
Haha, no. Just kidding. They're adding Binding Heal to the proc-spells, which won't make much of a difference. It's still a pretty shitty talent.

"Surge of Light can now also trigger from Binding Heal."

They're buffing Holy
It's always fun to see Blizzard buff something by as much as 35%, because it really says a lot about how bad the spell must've been before. Kind of like they're doubling the damage on Feral Cat Swipe. Sanctuary did need a buff though, since it had more requirements than any other ground heal, longer cooldown, was costly and didn't heal very much. It does have the longest duration out of all ground heals, but considering how much people move around, that's not really a very good pro. I'd rather have a short duration ground heal that heals for more, than a long duration ground heal that heals for less - which unfortunately was the role designated for Sanctuary (shamans got the former). Hopefully Sancturay will feel like it does some difference when we place it now, even if people don't decide to stand in it for full duration.

"Holy Word: Sanctuary healing done has been increased by 35%. In addition, it has a new spell effect."

Overall we're getting some tweaks here and there, some more needed than others, most of them welcome. It'll be interesting to see how the shield changes affect us, but I'll stay optimistic on that one, I think it could force some thinking into disc healing, which honestly it has been moving away from more and more.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tales from the Random Pug - 6th story

I've been laying unusually low with the alting for a couple of weeks now, although I'm not sure why. I usually juggle some 5 alts around simultaneously, but lately I've been focusing on my mage, with a dash of shaman and paladin on the side. Still more than most people, but not so much to be me. But then I managed to convince Love to start playing a lowbie with me, and got to tank some lowbie instances again. Also Love got me to try out boomkin on my druid, and I love it! So she has been taken out of retirement and back into action. So the last week, a lot of lowbie instances have been done. Although many stories about lowbie pugs are horror stories about people who don't know their head from a pineapple, need on everything, don't speak english (except for "lol"), go randomly afk for 5 minutes at the time (or more) 10 times throughout an instance and make you wish you could queue for instances as just 2 people, there are other things to say about them too. There is 95% of that, but there is 5% of other stuff as well.

The other day I was doing Nexus on my druid, as a healer actually. I was watching a movie while playing (Drag Me To Hell no less, it was a decent movie) and didn't want to do something which needed much attention *ahem*. In Outlands and Northrend instances, you usually need a lot more attention to dps than to heal, at least if you want to do a decent job or like me like to top the meters (having a hard time against dks though). When healing I can just occasionally glance down on my Vuhdo bar and see if someone needs a Rejuv. So anyway. Just after the first boss, the dwarf which isn't even a boss in normal, the tank drops off. Getting a tank actually goes really fast on those levels, I usually don't have to wait more than 4-8 minutes as dps. So we queue up and expect a new tank to join us any moment. Now, the entire group was fully decked in BoA, so instead of waiting around idly, we decided to continue until the new tank arrived. And that is where I experienced something interesting. We didn't actually get a new tank until the third boss, which meant we made it all the way from the dwarf to Anomalus without a tank. Like I said, Outlands and Northrend instances are really easy but still, suddenly everyone in my group pulled out their A-game. We had a mage, a hunter and a shaman and we had traps, sheeps, frost novas, silences and focused dpsing all over the place. It made healing easy. I could easily continue with my movie watching, although I did help out with some rooting here and there.

When we finally got a tank, it actually made healing more difficult (marginally, but still). It wasn't because our tank was bad in any way, but because when we didn't have a tank, everyone cc'd everything they could which meant we fought only a few mobs at a time. Since no one had aggro for a longer period of time, everyone took a low amount of damage instead, which suited my hotting healing style perfectly. When the tank joined however, it was back to the mega-pulls with all the damage focused on one player or mobs running everywhere hitting everyone (instead of just one or two mobs hitting everyone). It was no problem, but the difference of the two styles really struck me. Does having a tank in a group actually make people play worse? My group had gone from careful and beautiful team work, to the regular "all dps ninja pull, tank tries to keep aggro on everything, everyone are taking damage etc"-group.

Of course, I could've been unlucky enough to end up in a group where no one knew how to cc, and we would've failed miserably without a tank, making the tank our savior. I've had plenty of runs like that as well. But it really fascinated me how different people played depending on how difficult they saw the situation. Without a tank they did everything they could to make sure the pull would be as smooth as possible. With the tank, they must've thought that he would handle everything so their cc wasn't needed, which in an instances like Nexus definitely is true. Is it this we see in heroics as well? People don't want to cc because they think it's too easy, and we tanks and healers are really the ones who are making it easy? I did grace on this in my last "Tales from the Pug"-post, where I said that;

"Are we seeing a betterment in the general puggers behavior? I am inclined to say yes. I actually feel like the increased difficulty of instances, even normals, have turned most people into friendlier and more skilled players."

So when people think they can just burn something through, they won't even try to do anything but dps. They're thinking "ah, he's got it. I don't have to think about it" when the tank probably is thinking "dang it, I really have to do everything myself in this damn group!" and the healer goes "oh no, not another steamroller tank without any regard of my mana...". I remember in early Cata when healing was really tough for holy priests. I simply told people that "if you don't use my Lightwell you will die, and we will never make this boss. That's fact", and left it completely in their hands. People usually did understand this (omglol) and started using the LW. We are all working toward a common goal after all, namely finishing the instance. If you make it clear that some part won't be taken care of by you, then hopefully someone else will actually make an attempt. It's a fine balance where you as tank don't really trust anyone but yourself to get the job done, but by taking on all the responsibility you will also get dpsers that don't help out, because there doesn't seem to be a need to. Maybe we should go on a strike, declaring that we won't tank more than 3 mobs at a time, just to make sure dpsers keep their A-game going.

As a bonus anecdote story, I wanted to share a little tidbit about lowbie tanking, which I have recently started doing for the umptififth time, but this time with Love by my side as mentioned. When doing instances from level 15-60 ish (or maybe a little more) you really get the feeling of being some sort of overlord, taking your measly minions on a stroll. It's not good for my tanking megalomania that I honestly don't need anyone in the group, except perhaps my healer. I usually do more than half of the groups damage, by myself. I do all the interrupting, I know exactly where to go and how to complete quests. In lowbie dungeons you really get to feel like a God when tanking. Maybe that could be enticement for people to try it out?

I'm not just blowing my own horn here, here's another example!

 It's crazy really...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Should Game Characters Be You, Or You Them?

Love has recently been enjoying the new Crysis 2 game, which apparently is a really good shooter, despite what some had thought. Although I might write a review on Crysis 2, that isn't what I was going to talk about this time around. Crysis 2 is an overall great game, but it does have one interesting design choice which got me and Love into a discussion. The main character, the protagonist, the one you are playing, is mute. He lacks any kind of personality. It might seem odd, but it's not entirely uncommon and the reasons for choosing it are obvious. To let the player immerse themselves more into the game, the designers allow you to play a tabula rasa without any special traits, so that you can fully identify yourself with him. It is kind of like when designers decide to let the main character suffer from amnesia (such a cliché) to avoid the anchor that a background story might turn out to be to the way you want to play the game. So you find out the character you play is an old convict, a father of 3, a cross-dresser, an alien... anything really. It will influence the way you play the game. But does that necessarily have to be a bad thing? Let's take a closer look at character personalities, when we want them and when we don't.

At first I thought about how characters have evolved throughout the gaming history. They started out rather modest. Remember games like Super Mario Bros, Pacman, Space Invaders? Everything we put so much emphasis into nowadays, were more or less unimportant in the 80's; graphics, character design, storylines all stood back for what was really important, and then also the only thing in which people actually had the technical capacity to make a difference - gameplay. I'm not trying to be all nostalgic and say that games used to be better. Games were the way they were because of limitations, and now that those don't exist anymore we can afford to demand more than just great gameplay from games today (although I will still argue that good gameplay is the most important ingredient to a good game). The games that actually had characters and storylines, like Mario, had those elements work more as tools to allow us get to the game, rather than adding anything of their own, much like a baseball bat or football. The best way to examplify this is the evolution of rpg games. In the first Final Fantasy games you play a very anonymous bunch of people, simply named "White Mage", "Knight" and so on. They're not actually characters yet, they are a tool for you to experience the game. These would however eventually involve into becoming not only tools for you to play with, but tools with which the game designers could tell a story. So we've got a series of events here. First off you had games with basically no stories, and without stories you don't really need characters. When storylines became an important part of a game, designers choose two difference ways of telling it. Either you had games with stories, in which you were the main characters. Or game designers decided to let the players shoulder the mantle of someone else, and tell the story through that character instead. These two schools, or ways of telling a storyline still exist. Either the game designers aim to have you, the player as the main character, or they want you to become an already existing character in the game to experience the story. I'd say the latter is more prevalent, but which way is the best? It depends completely on the game of course.

My first thought was that I personally preferred it when I got to shoulder an already existing character. To me, a good rpg (or any game trying to tell a story) is much like a good book. Have you ever read a book in which the main character is completely anonymous? Those can't be many in any case. We usually don't have any issues putting ourselves into the shoes of an already existing character in literature or movies, so why would that be a problem in games? I know you will probably say that games are more interactive, and yes, that is probably what the game designers are thinking too. So does the interactive part make that much of a difference? In a way, yes.

Let's take a look at another very interactive way to play stories - playing with toys. You can either shoulder the role of Batman, or play with an anonymous plastic figure. Most of us have had no trouble playing with characters that already have very set personalities, in fact I think most of us preferred to be someone cool rather than someone who no one knew anything about (I had dibs on the Venom toy) . The big difference to playing with toys and playing a game is that when playing with toys you decide the story and when playing a game you rarely do. When playing with toys you also get to choose which character you want to play in your story. In games you can affect the story, but you can never change what it is about. Because of that we need to be handed a character that suits the story. For some games, that is just impossible to do, and that is the key here.

Although my first stance was that set characters were better, when I started thinking about WoW I changed my mind. Would I want my character to already have a personality in WoW? No, I want it to be "me" and reflect me completely. I know I'm not alone in getting slightly grumpy whenever a quest text slightly hints at my character doing or saying something that I don't agree with. "Hey, I don't feel sorry for those gnomes at all!". These occasions are extremely rare in WoW, and probably for this very reason. The character we play in WoW is supposed to reflect us, yet in most rpgs I wouldn't want to play "myself". So I asked Love, what is the difference between these two types of games?

The answer is - the goal of the game. When I start playing a game like Final Fantasy, or Mass Effect, or Crysis, I know that I will take part in a couple of hours of a story. The story can have different endings, but in most cases there are only a couple of ways to experience the game. Even games that are considered "sandbox" games, like GTA, have put loads of limitations to how you can experience the game. Whatever person you happen to be, there are only so many ways to play the game. This is not true with a game like World of Warcraft. When you first start it out, there is nothing about the game that forces you to focus on raiding, on instancing, on being a healer, on spending all your time chatting with your friends or herbing or just playing the Auction House. Because WoW has no defined goal for the player, no story that has to be told, we don't want to be handed a tool for telling us something that we're not interested in. If there was an option when you started the game to choose "Playing the Storymode" then I think I'd like a set character that helped me experience the big story that exists in WoW. Imagine if you could really be some hero, instead of just nameless spawn from Elwynn Forest, when fighting through the hordes of evil? But now, since there are thousands of ways to experience WoW, it would be impossible for Blizzard to design a character that fits all those play-styles.

For any other game, however, the character is an important piece of the puzzle to tell the story and add to the overall experience (or at least I think so). Even though Crysis 2 is an overall good game, playing a nano-suit shell, void of any personality is actually a flaw of the game. Not to mention all the awkward situations that rise when people talk to you and your character doesn't answer or situations that could've been solved in a simple way if your character had just talked. There are problems with designing a ready character for the player - if you fail in making the character insteresting, the game will take a major blow too. I've quit reading many mangas just because I couldn't stand the main character, even though everything else is just fine (I usually manage to get through movies and books because they're a lot shorter). Naruto is one example. But I still think in games it's rather difficult to create a character so annoying that people would've preferred a voice-less robot. Well, I can think of one good example - Tidus in FF10. Overall I don't think that people have to agree with the character they play in everything, since the character is part of a storyline. You're not supposed to "be him", he's not supposed to represent you. He's supposed to be a part of your game experience, just as much as any other character, you just happen to see everything from this persons eyes. A well designed character can add tons to a good storyline. Just look at Cloud.
All pictures from Wikipeda.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weapon Enchants for Tanks

I am sincerely hoping that the new Call to Arms implementation to the LFD-system will be the cream on the mashed potatoes (as we say in sweden) needed to have all those people who have thought about tanking but not tried it yet, or have grown tired of it, to decide to give tanking a go. I thought I'd do my part, by writing up a short post on the various weapon enchants out there for tanking.

The history of tank weapon enchants is a rather meager one. They're either few or bad, but usually both. It says a lot about them that most tanks preferred to use a Burning Crusade enchant back in Wrath. Fortunately, things don't look that glum in Cataclysm, but we're far from having a smorgasbord of enchants to pick from. Which is sad, I would really like it if more tank weapon enchants allowed for that little extra choice - more threat or more survivability? Survivability through reduced spell damage or physical damage? And so on, but alas.

Now in Cata we have 9 different 1handed weapon enchants, out of which only one is specifically designed for tanking - Windwalk. Windwalk, which gives 600 dodge and 15% runspeed on proc, is actually a great enchant and there is no question whether you should have that or any other if you could choose freely. Unfortunately, Windwalk costs no less than 6 Maelstrom Crystals. MC currently cost around 1000g each on my server, which means most people won't consider this enchant for anything but a really nice epic. When I can afford one for myself (or more importantly, get a weapon worthy of the enchant) I will write a post on the efficiency of that as well. For now Windwalk is out of reach for most upcoming tanks. Even though the prices probably will drop significantly with the upcoming 4.1 patch, I still think this enchant will cost a lot more than the options. So what are the options?

None of the alternatives come close in tanking efficiency compared to Windwalk of course, yet again, if money isn't an issue, that is the enchant you should go for. If money is an issue however, or you just want to enchant some crappy blue we have to take a closer look at the our choices.

Threat Enchants
Tanks can either go for threat or survivability. In the case of a threat enchant we would have to look at the dps enchants, such as Hurricane (450 haste on hit) or Avalanche (Nature Damage on hit). There is also Elemental Slayer, but I frankly don't see much use for that when tanking (or elsewhere). Haste doesn't do very much for tanking. For warriors and druids it might result in slightly more melee swings which will turn into more rage, but because of the rage and threat changes they made in the end of Wrath, we usually prefer to hit hard rather than fast. Paladins have even less use of haste, where the only benefit could be that more haste equals more melee swings which equals in more seal procs, but to all three haste would
be a fairly neglible effect on your overall threat. Dk tanks shouldn't even consider any other enchant than their own Swordrunes. So we can pretty much scrap the idea of getting ourselves a threat enchant, simply because the enchants available won't do that job very well.

Another threat enchant, which isn't really an enchant, is getting a weapon chain. The Cataclysm weapon chain, also known as Pyrium Weapon Chain gives 40 hit and reduces the duration of disarm effects by 60%. Disarm is very rarely an issue in pve content. Of the top of my head I can think of maybe two-three mobs that disarm in the heroics we have today. Although hit (and expertise) are valuable for keeping aggro, 40 hit is really low (about 0,5% hit) and most tanks prefer survivability anyhow.

Old Survivability Enchants
Let's take a look at some old survivability enchants. Does Mongoose still hold up, despite the fact that it is 4 years old by now? Would Blade Ward be a good idea? I wrote posts about Blade Ward and Mongoose back in Wrath which concluded that Blade Ward was decent, but Mongoose overall the best. What would they do for us today? If we assume the uptimes would be the same;

Teaches you how to permanently enchant a melee weapon to occasionally increase Agility by 120 and attack speed slightly. Requires a level 35 or higher item.

In my post I concluded that Mongoose was worth approximately 30 agility and 0,5% attack speed overall or 120 agi and 2% attack speed with 25% uptime. Back in Wrath, this was actually quite ok, since 30 average agi resulted in a decent amount of dodge. How good is 30 agility and 0,5% attackspeed today? Well, not very good. Most stats are worth some third or fourth of what they were in Wrath, leaving a neglible amount of crit, dodge and armor (less than half a percent) from the Mongoose enchant.

Blade Ward
Permanently enchants a weapon to sometimes grant Blade Warding when striking an enemy. Blade Warding increases your parry rating by 200 and inflicts 600 to 800 damage on your next parry. Lasts 10 sec.

My old testing showed that Blade Ward resulted in approximately 1 extra parry per minute. That will probably have changed somewhat since 200 parry is worth less now than it was in Wrath. It had approximately 1,5 procs per minute which would result in 300 extra parry rating each minute or 1,7% extra parry. What's interesting is really how many extra parries we would get from this enchant. If we compare to how it worked in Wrath, where 300 parry rating resulted in extra parry each minute - parry is worth approximately one third of what it is at 80, which means we should get one extra parry every 3 minutes. Not very impressive.

New Survivability Enchant

For survivability there is only Mending in Cataclysm, which will occasionally heal you when doing melee attacks or spells. So how good is mending? Some simple testing shows that it doesn't work wonders, but it's definitely worth the few gold that it costs. Here are some facts;

  • Mending heals for about 1000 hp when it procs.
  • It can crit.
  • Seems unaffected by stats.
  • It doesn't generate threat.
  • The inner cooldown is either really short (somewhere around 10 seconds), or there is none at all.
  • Can proc from melee dots (like Rend)
  • Can proc from spell dots.
I did some simple testing by instancing and 5 minutes worth of target dummy smashing on my paladin.

Total Healed - Approximately 140k.
Time in Combat - Approximately 22 minutes.
Healed per minute - 6000hp
Healed per second - 100hp
Hp5 - 500

Lost City of Tol'Vir
Total Healed - Approximately 120k.
Time in Combat - Approximately 16,5 minutes.
Healed per minute - 7000hp
Healed per second - 120hp
Hp5 - 600

Total Healed - Approximately 237k
Time in Combat - Approximately 34 minutes (damn that instance is long)
Healed per minute - ~ 7000hp
Healed per second - 116hp
Hp5 - 580

Level 85 Dummy
16 procs
50 hps
250 hp5

Boss Dummy
13 procs
40 hps
200 hp5

Level 85 Dummy - No Gear (except weapon of course)

10 procs
30 hps
150 hp5

The instances were tanked normally, using my skills as I always do, and as mentioned with a prot paladin. On the dummies I just used melee swings, with a 2,6 speed mace. As you can see the efficiency of the enchant varies widely depending on how many times you hit. As a paladin I have both plenty of spells and melee attacks, but I think the efficiency of the enchant is about equal for all the tank classes. In a regular tanking situation it has approximately 500-600 hp5. That's not an amazing number, but definitely not worthless. Will it make much of a difference whether you have this enchant or not? No, but a small one. If you want to pick an enchant for your tanking weapon before getting a weapon nice enough for Windwalk, I do recommend Mending out of the choices available.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Call to Arms - On second thought

My initial attitude to the Call to Arms news was a fairly neutral one. Although I didn't think it would actually solve the issue about making tanking more fun, I actually hoped that it would have more people interested in tanking. As some bloggers have pointed out, that in turn could have more people respect the effort there is in tanking. I've had some time to think and read other peoples thoughts on the matter since my last post, and I would like to make some additions. Most people seem to range from very negative to mildly positive about this change, with only a few being very positive. Although my first post might have made me sound as negative as anyone, especially with the title, I do think that this change could bring something good. Don't get me wrong, ideally I would prefer it if Blizzard could just wave a magic wand and have people act decent towards eachother in pugs instead. Most of the trouble I find in tanking is that other people really try to take the fun out of it, and succeed. But we all know that there is no magic recipe for getting people to be nice to eachother. So we really have to accept that we have to find another solution.

In my other post on this matter I wrote that the issue about tanking right now is that it is too much work and not enough gratefulness. If we look closely, everything we do in WoW comes down to attracting us by either being fun or rewarding enough (preferrably both), and by "rewarding" I mean in hard, cold epics (or any item really). The best moments in WoW for most of us is when we've really had fun with something, busted our asses off and got a nice reward for it. A good example would be to get a difficult boss kill for the first time. Most other things in WoW are usually either fun or rewarding though. I strongly doubt people do dailies for the umptififth time because "omg those quests are just so much fun!". It's rather for the rewards we get for doing them. The same goes with instancing. Although I hope not many people are outright bored with what they do in WoW, like I mentioned in another post, there are people who spend hours doing something they close to hate (archaeology), just to get a nice reward. So when we have something that is neither fun nor rewarding, it's not very odd that people don't want to do that. And that is where we have tanking.

Blizzard could've approached this issue in two ways. Either they make tanking more fun, which is what I hoped for. But like I said, that is basically an impossible task because the problem doesn't lie in tanking, but with the pugs. Or they make tanking more rewarding, which is what they are going to do. At first I didn't like this idea, but then I started thinking. Would I tolerate a bad run if I thought the reward in the end was worth it? Heck yeah! (To a limit of course, a girl can only tolerate so much). If the reward is good enough I'll just think "Ah what does it matter if they annoy me, I get a nice reward in the end and they don't Muahahaha!". Would that be any different from all the other times we spend time doing something we don't enjoy very much just to get to the reward at the end? No. Is this a good or a bad thing? Well that is another question, but in any case that system has been around in this game since the beginning and is a part of any game of this type. If we question this, we would have to question many other parts of this game. I don't personally ever do dailies, and I don't do many heroics just for the vp, so it's possible that these tank rewards won't do it for me either. But rewards are a big thing about what has so many people spend so much time in WoW, so it's quite understandable that Blizzard chose this approach, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if it really worked.

Some people have argued that this is an unfair reward since it's aimed at only a smaller portion of the player base, which has ignited the old debate about whether everyone has equal right to everything in the game or not, since we all in the end pay equally much for it. To me the whole argument is moot, since this isn't a reward aimed at only a portion of the players. Everyone has the possibility to tank. There is nothing in the game that prevents any player to roll a tank and reap the benefits of this change. So you don't want to tank? Yeah, join the club. That is exactly what Blizzard is trying to fix, and if you still don't want to tank even when getting this reward, that is really your choice. It's kind of like complaining that the garbage man does a better salary than you. He does a job no one wants to do, so in all fairness he deserves a good salary to go do what he does. And nothing is stopping you from go do his job (I don't really know what garbage people earn, but I hope you get my point). Even if there are things in real life that could stop you from getting to the most rewarding jobs, in WoW there is no such thing but your own preferences. I think this is a fair reward. We all have access to it, and the worst thing that could happen is that you have to level a tank to get to it, which really is done in a jiffy these days. And this reward isn't aimed at tanks exclusively like some people make it sound like. It is aimed at those people who currently fulfill a role that few others do. A role that is needed for everyone else in the queue. Even if you don't directly benefit from the Call to Arms, you will hopefully indirectly by not having to wait forever. The change is to smoothen the lfd-queues, not to woo tanks specifically.

Some people have compared this reward to prostitution. Now I don't usually care much about the political correctness about things, but this comparison seems about as valid and relevant as calling someone a Nazi in an argument. The worst thing about it is that it makes it difficult for me to take anything else that person has to say to heart, even though it might be good stuff. So just don't, it's silly and doesn't add anything to the real debate.

If we look closer at this change, instead of nerd raging about what it looks like on the surface, we will find that it's actually quite in line with how everything else in WoW works. We work either for fun or for rewards, so there is nothing stupid or strange in how Blizzard have decided to handle this. I love tanking, and I don't think there is much wrong in tanking per se. The issue is peoples attitudes. Would I have preferred it if people could just act nice to eachother in dungeons instead? Yes of course. But anyone who thinks that is possible to achieve is naïve. And like I said, what I really hope about this is that it will have people at least try out tanking, and maybe even get some respect for the role. It could actually turn out to fix peoples attitudes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tank Heirlooms!

I've always managed to stay fairly calm when Blizzard has announced various ponies over the years. Even things that directly affected my gaming and things that were pretty cool didn't have me do much more than raise an eyebrow. "We're getting a Barrier? Yeah, that sounds cool", "Disc becoming viable raid healers? Sounds like fun", "Holy getting completely revamped? That will be interesting". If there is something I learned from WoW and life it is that the lower you expectations are and the less you hope for something, the less disappointed you will be. It might sound like I'm rather the pessimist, but I'd like to argue that it's really the other way around. If I imagine that what I have already is good enough, and that whatever is coming can't be much better, I'm in a happy place. If I on the other hand start hoping for something else, it must mean that I think my current situation can become better, and if I don't get what I'm hoping for I will resent where I am right now. But enough of the philosophizing. The sum of the cardamum, as we say in sweden, is that I am pretty good at being content. Don't get me wrong, I like change and improvements as much as the next guy, but I don't get all excited about them. Until now.

The other day I was casually browsing around my regular set of pages - a couple of news magazines, a couple of science magazines, reading up on new blog posts, reading the guild forums and checking if there was anything new at mmo-champion. There are usually a couple of interesting things over at mmo-champ, like some new patch notes and the like. But this time there was something really interesting. Something that got me excited like a german in a wurst-shop (I'd go crazy in a wurst-shop). I'm talking about the new tanking heirlooms. I can't say how many times I've wished upon a star for this to happen, I could barely believe my eyes when it was finally was there. I had actually given up hope on a tanking heirloom set ever being implemented long ago. I had stopped thinking about it. It had become completely natural for me to just ignore the fact that I was the only one not totally decked in heirloom items when I did lowbie dungeons, sometimes having rogues and shamans with more hp than me.

Picture from mmo-champion, in case you didn't notice

I blinked my eyes and pinched my arm, but that bald human dressed in tank heirloom was still on my screen. Not only does the tank set look freaking awesome, it has tank stats dude! Combine this with the newly announced intentions of Blizzards to possibly make BoA truly account bound, and mailable across servers and factions, and I was close to fainting.

Leveling alts has always been one of my biggest joys in the game, and usually I level tanks, for some reason. I suppose there is something about taking command and the challenge that thrills me, actually I am a lot like that outside of WoW as well (when it comes to taking command, not about challenges). Whenever I was in a group for some group project at school, I made sure to be the secretary so that everything was written down the way I wanted it (and also because I enjoy writing). By being the person by the computer, I was usually the one with the most power (muahaha). It really confused me when I realized that Blizzard had completely neglected the tank heirlooms. Considering the tank shortage, I'd imagine designing a set to motivate people to re-play the game as tanks, and maybe find the joy in tanking overall and stick with it, would be top priority. Instead I think Blizzard thought "well no one tanks anyway, why do a tank set?".

The fact that you can tank just great with dps gear from level 15-80 is rather beside the point, although I am sure that too was a reason for why this tank set has taken so long. Anything can be done fairly well with the wrong gear at low levels, that's no reason to simply ignore one whole third of the holy trinity of WoW. Personally I think that there is no better way to learn tanking, and learn to enjoy tanking, than by doing it while leveling. Jumping on at max level isn't something I recommend, and I know that if I had started tanking now, I probably wouldn't have kept at it (especially not as warrior, yes I know, whine whine). But because I know that the class and the role has great potential, I stick with it and try to find fun in the challenge. The key to getting more tanks into the game is to have those people who are trying to find something new to do in the game, interested in re-rolling a tank. I think the availability of a proper BoA tank set is a good way to have people at least consider the option of leveling as a tank, and who knows, maybe even stick with it (and the new CTA changes is another example).

Blizzard shouldn't underestimate the re-levelling market and I can sometimes think it is an area of the game they are neglecting a little too much. On the other hand they're sitting with the statistics, and if I'm really one of very few who enjoy levelling alts, I can understand if they want to put all their focus at endgame, where the players are. Then again, they should have the money to do both *ahem*. Oestrus did a really nice post on the re-levelling value in WoW a couple of days ago, and I am inclined to expand on the subject myself, because like mentioned it is where I spend alot of my gaming time in WoW.

In any case, I am personally really looking forward to this. I can't even imagine the last time I was this excited about an upcoming change. Fortunately, there isn't much about it that Blizzard can screw up enough to make me disappointed. They could announce that they're changing their minds and not implementing the set, but I just can't see a reason for that. They could announce that they won't implement the cross instance/faction BoA transfers, and yeah that would be a bummer for me. They could announce a revamped design for the tank set that looks like shite, but it had to be pretty damn ugly considering I am running around in priest tier 11, and that is difficult to beat in terms of ugly. Overall, to me this is both good and bad news. Good in that it will probably have me level even more little baby warriors, and bad news in that it will probably have me level even more little baby warriors.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blizzard can still do a Nintendo

When I was 18 I did a school project, called simply "project". It's something most kids get to do in swedish schools around that age (usually the last year of what we called the Gymnaisum, approximately corresponding to College)). What the project is to be about is decided by the school, and depending on what kind of school you go to, it can be about anything really. My school was kind enough to allow me to write about anything I wanted because the point of the project was not so much the result, as the possibility to experience and learn the scientific method. To decide for a subject, narrow it down (you always have to narrow it down), collect relevant data and gather it into a result that is interesting and has a point. I had a class mate who did a dance show. I decided to write an essay on a subject that really intrigued me - games. More specifically, I wrote a nearly 70 page long essay on the question as to how Nintendo managed to throw a basic monopoly of the console gaming market into the gutter. My text was in large based on the great book Game Over by David Sheff, a book I really recommend by the way if you're into these kind of things. The answer to my question was simpler than I had thought.

Why did Nintendo lose their console gaming market monopoly? Self-confidence. The belief that the company ruled the interests of the gamers, and not the other way around. I won't give you an entire background history on Nintendo, suffice to say they've done a bunch of things before they decided to try out the gaming market. The former CEO of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, was in many ways a pure genious when it came to following his intuition and deciding what would work and what wouldn't. But that is all in the book. To grasp the control Nintendo had on the market, you need some quick information about how and what Nintendo could do during their heights (which lasted somewhere between 85-95). To get a license to create games to the Famicom (as the NES is originall called) companies had to agree to terms that shocked most people, like a royalty of about 20% of all sales, and payment for each cartridge created in advance. That way Nintendo would make loads of money even if the game never sold. But Yamauchi just told them that no one forced them to get a license, and if they wanted one they had to agree to the terms. In most cases, getting a license for Famicom games still quadrupled the annual income of a company. Companies that couldn't afford it tried to create their own, un-licensed cartridges. Nintendo didn't look kindly to those companies and forbade any magazines who wrote about Nintendo games to also write about un-licensed games or publish their advertisements. The Nintendo magazines were officially independent but because they completely relied on information provided by them by Nintendo, they obliged. This example is just a drop in the ocean of the close to despotic way that Nintendo ran the market.

But then something happened. Actually, a lot of things happened. If you're not interested in this run down and want to cut to the chase of this post, you can skip this part. This is of course a wrap up and not the whole truth. Like I said, if you want to know it all, read the book!

In 1986, Nintendo started a collaboration with Sony in which they were going to build "the next big console". It was going to upgrade the Snes with a CD-rom, and it was going to be awesome in every way. No one doubted that since Nintendo had basically revolutionized the market with both their NES (Famicom) and their SNES and had games that just were in another league of other game consoles such as the Amiga. Sony were basically done with the console, when Nintendo pulled out. Sony didn't agree to some of the terms that Nintendo had asked for, so Nintendo decided to accept a collaboration with Phillips instead, who offered a lot better terms (ie, agreed to Nintendos without much question). Sony announced that they would release their gaming console anyway, since it was pretty much done. Most gaming magazines, which wrote 99% about Nintendo games, mockingly wrote that it would be really interesting to see how the gaming console that Nintendo had declined to produce would turn out to make it on the market, especially with Nintendo themselves as the competitor. Needless to say, no one thought Sonys new console, named Playstation, would make it very far. Especially not Nintendo.

Around that time, Nintendo only had one really big comptetitor, which was Sega. Nintendo were still Goliath against Segas David, but Sega had a small but strong fan base which shouldn't be ignored. Initially, Sega really didn't have much to put against Nintendo. There are plenty of awesome games to the Master System, but the sales never even came close to the ones of Nintendo. Not to mention that Nintendo had loads of really big games - Zelda, Mario, Metroid to mention a few - where Sega basically only had Sonic. Nintendo couldn't care less about what Sega did, just as they couldn't care less about what Sony did. They still had 95% of the market.

In 1992 was Mortal Kombat released to both the SNES and the Mega Drive. Sega allowed Midway to do their game just as they wanted, whereas Nintendo decided that they didn't want all that blood thrown around. Games were for children, and children weren't supposed to see that kind of stuff they argued. This is where Sega made the first move that would soon spell Nintendos downfall, because Sega had understood something Nintendo hadn't. Markets change. It had gone 10 years since Nintendo really entered the scene and made video games a thing for common people. That also meant that all the people who had started out with the NES and who really loved video gaming were 10 years older now. They would've gone from being children to being teenagers. Teenagers who liked violence and blood and who didn't like other people telling them what they could and couldn't watch. SEGA knew to exploit this Nintendo mistake immediately. They launched the rumours that described the Nintendo console as a "console for children" and if gamers wanted "real games" they had to play SEGAS consoles. The players agreed. Nintendo had no right to censor games for them and they started jumping ship. Because Nintendo really did think their gamer base was mostly made up of 6-10 year olds as it had been during their glory days, they continued to make games aimed at those children. When the Nintendo 64 was released most people agreed  - the games were mainly designed to fit children. If you wanted grown up games, you had to go somewhere else. Nintendo never really managed to wash this brand away, and I remember how I had defend my Nintendo 64 to people who were dead set that there was nothing to play on it but games for small children.

Sony released their Playstation just after the SNES and some years before the Nintendo 64, and managed, miraculously really, to launch some great games to it like Final Fantasy. Somehow Sony had convinced Square to take the next part of their big seller series Final Fantasy to their console instead of Nintendos next console. Actually, it wasn't very difficult to understand why. Sony offered Square free hands and the new technology of the cd, which allowed Square to not only do exactly the game they wanted, but also to include butt loads of awesome 3d cut scenes, something they had been wanting to do for a long time. To most game designers it was like getting their hands untied, to be able to create a game exactly like they wanted to and without being buried under a mountain of terms and regulations. Nintendo didn't believe in the cd system, and the Nintendo 64 was therefor yet again played with cartridges. In a combination of Nintendo turning down games they thought were too violent, and game developers themselves preferring the free hands they were offered at the competitors, more and more great games showed up on other consoles than Nintendos. Suddenly, the game series that had been Nintendos great strength - Zelda, Mario and Metroid as mentioned, were also all that Nintendo had left that interested people.

Instead of reacting to the threat that Playstation turned out to be, Nintendo took their time with the Nintendo 64, just as they had done with the SNES. They "knew" that no one really cared about the Playstation and weren't worried that it would completely repaint the market while Nintendo were absent working on their next, big thing. In reality, this is exactly what happened. When Nintendo 64 finally was released, 2 years after the Playstation, Sony had been able to deal a fatal blow to Nintendo and shown everyone that their position on the throne wasn't set in stone. The Nintendo 64 had to be pretty dang awesome to be able to battle the damage the Playstation had done, but people were deeply disappointed.

Nintendo were staggering under the pressure of not being able to make the Nintendo 64 as interesting as the Playstation. That is when the final blow came. Sony released the Playstation 2, and it was compatible with every game to the Playstation. People were flabbergasted. Why had this never been the case before? Why couldn't people play their NES and SNES games on their N64? Since the games is what really makes the money, Nintendo had always argued that there was no reason to make a new console if people only played the old games. People had to buy the new games. Sony, ready to do anything that would please the player public, decided that using this could be a winning strategy, and it worked. Suddenly everyone realized that there was no reason to buy any other console than the Playstation 2. The library of games available to it was just unbeatable, and Sony managed to grab not only veteran gamers, but just about any parent who tried to decide which console to buy their kid for christmas. Just about anyone who decided whether to buy the Playstation 2 or another console inevitably decided for the former making the Playstation 2 the best selling console to date. Nintendo had by then lost basically the entire market to Sony, and noticed it of course. They desperately tried to save a sinking ship, releasing the Gamecube just shortly after the Playstation 2 and having accepted the cd-system (although not a regular one). But it was too late. The Gamecube wasn't backwards compatible either and Nintendo had been firmly branded the "childrens games"-company. Everyone were sure Nintendo would go the same path that Sega had done, closing down their console development and focusing solely on producing games.

Nintendo were down for the round, but definitely not for the match. They managed to get back to the arena because they learned from their mistakes and because Sony didn't. A new competitor came on the scene - the Xbox. The Xbox had one triumphant card - an enourmous economical backing, which would allow them to survive the first years of horror that were needed for them to be able to launch, make people interested, and have them stick, before they were out of money. This is something many mmorpgs recently launched have lacked. To be able to get a foothold in the fierce competition, you have to have the money to be able to go with negative figures for years until you've found enough of a player base to keep you afloat. Initially, Xbox's were sold for less than production cost, just to catch peoples interest. This was something Microsoft could do and they knew how to use it to their full advantage. Nintendo went down with the Gamecube, licked their wounds and made a full blown retort with the Wii. They looked back at their mistakes and figured how to best be able to learn from them and use that knowledge to their advantage. Sony and Sega had been able to get their foothold by pleasing the new adult gamer market. Nintendo decided that they too had to find a new market, previously untapped. They found the non-gamer. Everyone should be able to play games, even people who never played games. With the Wii, they definitely managed to make a come back through these non-gamers. Nintendo had also realized the power in backwards compatibility, and made the Gamecube games compatible with the Wii.

Sony on the other hand, went and made the very same mistakes that Nintendo had done. They decided to keep the launch of their console up to a year after the new Xbox 360 was launched, as did Nintendo with their Wii. Problem was they thought it would suffice to simply launch a better version of the same old. The key is to either launch your system first, or to launch something different (and still good) enough for it to be more interesting than the one that came first. Playstation 3 was neither. But that wasn't the only mistake. Sony too thought they had their player base in a firm grip and that basically nothing could get the players to prefer another console over theirs. After all, they had ruled the market for some 10 years (deja vu anyone?). They decided to not make the new console backwards compatible, and it was also by far the priciest console of the 7th generation. Sony had become too sure of themselves, and basically recreated the very same mistakes that had spelled Nintendos downfall.

Whenever I see how a big company loses market shares
, it's often preceded by decisions as the above. The company decides that they have nothing to learn from their own market, that instead the market should adapt to their needs, which usually haves the market travel over to the competitor instead. It's war out there, and if you get too sure of yourself, you will be shot down.

The reason for this rather lengthy post (beside that it is an interesting subject) is that I have been monitoring the decisions of Blizzard, and especially their responses to other mmorpg launches, very closely. They could've easily made the same mistakes as Nintendo (and Sony, and loads of other companies), become too sure of their own greatness and lost market shares because they didn't listen to their market needs. When Activision bought Blizzard, I was very afraid this is what would happen. But I must hand it to them, they have been really good at listening to the players and trying to find a good way to mediate between their visions and the players needs, handing out just enough sparkly ponies for us to stick around and for new players to choose them over the competitors. One great example of Blizzards plasticity is how they have incorporated various addons into their own UI over the years. What better way to acknowledge a player need? Overall Blizzard have been really active in their responses to competitor launches, having some interesting content of their own ready to keep their players interest and most importantly show them that they really care for us (and our money) and don't take us for granted. With the competition growing ever harder however, the margin for error becomes smaller and smaller. In the end, one delayed patch could spell the beginning of the end, and I will continue to watch the process of things to see how they unfurl in the future. It will be very interesting indeed.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Call To Arms - Adressing the right issue in the wrong way

Of course I am going to have to jump on the train and talk about the new Call to Arms change. Even though I said I was going to slow down my posting and not post anything today, it is difficult not to mention some thoughts about a bomb like this. I will admit, when I first read it I had to check the date it was posted to make sure that it wasn't yet another april fools joke. And then I couldn't quite decide whether I thought it was a good or bad idea.

The bloggosphere basically exploded upon these news in a way I've rarely seen any other kind of information affect us players. Maybe because it really affects us all, and not just a specific class, and because most of us didn't really agree with how Blizzard had decided to "solve" this. Here is a wrap up of a couple of posts on it that I thought were interesting.

Pradzha at Piercing Shots thinks this actually is a good idea (the only one I've found who thinks so). He argues that if it would interest bad tanks, then why wouldn't it interest good tanks?
Orvillus, guest posting at Oh my Kurenai says that this "solution" doesn't actually solve the existing problems with tanking, that of tanking being a rather tedious and ungrateful job. It only makes something most people think is too horrible to do slightly more worth it, but not necessarily more fun.
Rohan at Blessing Of Kings compares to Age of Conan where you actually use two tanks. By sharing the responsibility between two people it actually made the role more fun to play, and finding tanks in AoC was way less of a problem than it generally is in these kind of games.
Ohken of Shifting Nature also thinks that what the tanks really need is less responsibility or an easier way of tanking.
Rhidach of Righteous Defense means that this won't have him tank more instances, because the problem isn't (as mentioned) that it isn't rewarding enough, but that it isn't fun enough.
Jar of Rank 4 Healing Touch also talks about what makes people want to, and not want to tank today, mentioning gratification and responsibility as many others, and whether this really could solve that problem.
Ironyca over at Ironyca Stood In The Fire gives us a wrap up of the history of the lfd-system and shows us that it is pretty much covered in Band Aid solutions by now, this is just another one in the heap.
Mhorgrim at the Rusty Blades says that what the lfd-system really needs is some common decency between players. Does it really have to be too much to ask for?

I am a really nice person, believe it or not. I always have a hard time complaining at something someone does when I feel like they're at least trying. Whenever I do random pugs with Love and someone in the pug is just miserably bad, I always say "nah, leave him be. He's at least trying". Honestly. Trying their best is all I ask from people, as long as it still gets the job done. I don't care if I am boosting them, if they're nice I will leave them be and maybe give them some pointers on how they can improve. So in a way I feel the same thing about this. Blizzard are trying, and I just feel bad when I have to say - I am glad you're trying, but it's not the right way to go Blizzard.

So what is the problem? There are too few tanks. As Rohan pointed out, that is an issue in nearly every holy trinity based mmorpg. But why? Why does no one want to tank? I wrote a post about it a couple of weeks ago. The conclusion I had is the same as many others - tanking is too much responsibility and not enough gratefulness. Alot of responsibility doesn't have to be a problem, if it wasn't for the constant whining you get thrown at you. Ungratefulness doesn't have to be a problem either, if you didn't have to bust your ass off to get it. To sum it up tanking often feels like a job. This is coming from someone who has played 3 prot warriors to max level because I sincerely love tanking. I still prefer to level prot warriors because of the fun of tanking. I enjoy tanking with my dk and paladin too (my druid not so much). But there is no denying that it is alot more trouble tanking an instance, than it is to dps or to heal it. That is part of why I enjoy it so much. When the challenge has gone out of healing and dpsing heroics, the challenge of tanking them will always be there. Because you are fighting the players rather than the mobs, it never becomes easier (not when compared to healing or dpsing). I don't say this to whine about it - like I say, I enjoy it. But it is still something that scares most people off. And it is a fine balance. Even though I love tanking it only takes a particularly annoying ass hat for me to drop off. He is not worth my time or effort.

These issues have limited the people interested in joining the lfg-queue for tanking to two types of players;

Either you have the people who really enjoy tanking. I used to be one of them. Back in Wrath I always did at least one heroic on all of my tanks, just because I really enjoyed tanking. The same with early Cataclysm. Recently, the fun of tanking has gone out of me somewhat, especially warrior tanking.

The other group are those people who have the choice between going as a tank or healer/dps, can't be arsed to wait and go as tank just to get it over with. To them, the instant queue is incentive enough. I belong in part to this group as well. A big reason that I love tanking so much, is because I can just log onto WoW and get an instant instance. I don't have to wait around, it's there whenever I feel like it. If I have the option to tank on a char, I nearly always choose that option (except on my druid), just because I don't want to wait, and I don't mind tanking.

So who will the new system lure in? The people who already tank because they enjoy it will get a bonus. But will it have arms warriors decide to polish their prot spec enough to give it a go? Will it have resto druids get their bear gear in shape? Maybe, but I doubt that it will be enough. For those people to whom the instant queue isn't enough of an incentive already, for all those people who right now prefer to wait 20 minutes in queue over having to tank even though they could, I don't think that these rewards will be enough either. I know it wouldn't be for me. Because most people prefer the wait time only if they really hate to tank, or don't have the option to. Since the satchel is BoA I can only see that it could encourage some people to dust off that alt tank they have laying around. The positive thing I see in this is that it might be incentive enough for people to actually try out tanking at all. But it might not have them stick around with it since it's still not adressing the right problem - the fun (or lack thereof) of tanking.

Personally I'm rather going to look at this as confirmation about the fact that I am doing the tougher job in the group. I really don't think that tanks get enough recognition as it is right now, and I could tell you horror stories about how dpsers treat you like dirt under their nails just because you weren't doing the run exactly like they wanted to, even though the bastards have waited 20 minutes for you to join the queue. Yes, tanking has made me bitter. Tanking is extremely ungrateful, and in most random pugs you're not lucky enough to end up with 4 people who won't try to make your tanking experience miserable. I might sound cynical, but that is the sad truth. I won't decide to tank more because of this, simply because mounts/pets and other stuff like it rarely has been much of an incentive to me overall. To some people it might be, question is if it will be the right people. I might decide to tank on my paladin instead of heal, even though I feel more like healing, and I'm not sure that's right either. Blizzard recently changed the way dailies worked because you never should have to do something you don't feel like just to get the full reward. I know it's up to me in the end, but it still feels wrong that Blizzard hangs a goodie bag in front of my eyes and says "do the boring thing and you get this". Couldn't they try to make the boring thing more fun instead? Mhorgrim is absolutely right, tanking would be no trouble at all if people just had a little more patience with eachother. Unfortunately that seems as possible as asking a pig to fly. A possible solution could definitely be what Rohan suggests, in getting tanks to share the responsibility with another tank, kind of like how it works in a raid environment. It would require a complete redesign of the instancing system, but why not?

Maybe this shouldn't be seen as an incentive to join the instance as much as a "thank you" for doing the job no one else wants to do, but that everyone needs. When I do decide to tank, I will definitely feel like I've deserved those extra goodies at the end of the instance.

Friday, April 8, 2011

500 posts - Time for the next step of writing

500 posts! Wow... it feels freaky really. I remember when I was happy about my first 100 posts, when I was happy about my first 1000 pageviews and when I choked on my morning tea when I saw I was being featured on Wowinsider (it still has that effect on me). I want to thank everyone who has been with me on this journey, which I have loved since the day it started. I would also want to take this opportunity to make some changes. But first I would like to tell you all a boring fascinating story about me and my writing.

I've loved writing my whole life. I started writing stories before I could even write. I've got a couple of old note books filled with just doodles, where I thought up stories in my head and pretended to write them down. My first readable story was written when I was 5 years old. My mom helped me out, and wrote down what I told her. It was a story about a lost princess called "Sitas Adventure". My joy for writing started there somewhere, and has continued throughout the years. I wrote a diary from 8-17 (ish, don't remember exactly) and I still jot down random thoughts whenever they pop into my head. I've written my fair share of horrible poetry. I've written butt loads of short stories, and started a couple of novels throughout the years. And here we have a blog which consisted of 500 pages worth of text last time I counted (which was october last year), by now probably close to 1000. Needless to say, I really like to write.

When I first started out writing this blog, I made a post every now and then, with months inbetween. I had initially thought it would be a pure WoW-related blog, but hadn't really figured what to write about, and how. Then one day in november 2009 I decided I wanted to give my blog a real go. My fingers were itching to write and I had loads of things to write about. I decided that my blog would be about just about anything that popped into my head, not limiting myself to WoW. It turns out it is 95% about WoW, but some other stuff sneaks in occasionally. To avoid getting into the trap of not posting for weeks at a time again, I decided to make myself a challenge. Would I be able to post one post each day for the next coming months?

At first I thought it was a crazy idea. Not only would the work load be rather high, would I be able to come up with enough interesting things to write about? I also thought that by replacing my posts each day, I wouldn't give each post a fair chance to be read. But I disregarded my own warnings. This blog was for me - it really didn't matter if people read it or not (and for the first 6 months, basically no one did). I wanted to see if I had it in me to produce all that writing, and if I could have fun while doing it.

It turned out to be easier than I thought. I quickly learned how to plan ahead with posts and to queue them up, allowing me to write plenty of posts one day and none the next. Initially I wrote one post each day, which gave little margin for those days where there just isn't time to put 1-2 hours into a post. By planning ahead I could take the time to do longer posts, and do more research for a post if I wanted to. The first couple of months just flew by. I decided to keep it up. I had no trouble whatsoever to find things to write about or time to write it. I put my next goal at keeping it up for a whole year. When that year came I evaluated the situation again - did I think I could continue my excessive writing? By then my blog had actually managed to attract some attention, and I yet again thought about the benefits about letting a post lie around for people to have the time to read it before I posted the next one. But I still had so much time to write posts on my hands, I could at times have up to 10 posts queued at once. I set my next goal at 500 posts.

And now I am here, evaluating the situation again. Has something changed? Yes, a couple of things. First of all, summer is coming up. I am planning to both take a lot of computer-less vacation and work during this summer. Last summer I also had a short break without posting, due to things like these. I am also working more overall, giving me alot less time to write my posts.

Did I overdo it? Did I lose the fun in writing? Definitely not! Quite the opposite actually. All this writing, and all the fun I've had with it and the feedback I've gotten from you guys, has given me the confidence to start up a couple of other projects, most importantly a novel which I intend to actually finish this time around. Depending on what happens with that project, I am seriously considering becoming even more of a novel writer than I already am (ok, I'm not that much of a novel writer yet). I won't be writing less, I will only divert some of my writing attention in other areas. Not to mention I've picked up a couple of other things I'd like to put more time into, like painting (well, drawing actually).

Did I run out of ideas to write about? Believe it or not, I've found that difficult to do actually. What with all the great blogs out there constantly giving me ideas to write about, and all the fun I'm still having with WoW, I've got some 15 things I could write about right now, and new ideas constantly popping up. That was never the issue and it hasn't become now either. I have less time at my disposal however, and some of it I want to place elsewhere. That is what has happened.

It is time for this blog to become a normal blog. I think for most of you this won't change much. I am probably just one of many blogs on your reader, and you'll notice whenever a new post pops up here just as with any other blog. I strongly doubt that not having a fresh Jinxed Thoughts-posts to read each morning will ruin someones day ;) This is really just the next step in my writing experiment - can I manage to continue this blog even without the incentive of posting each day? I couldn't see why not. As it is right now I intend to post a post pretty much as every other blogger does it, once or a couple of times per week or so. It wouldn't surprise me if I still was among the most frequently updated blogs that I've seen anyway, but it won't be each day!

It will feel odd to have a day without a new post on my blog tomorrow. I've been at it now for 500 days, and I've had so much fun with it. I've actually got a couple of posts ready to be posted right now, but I will intentionally hold them for a couple of days just to get into the feeling of it. Wish me luck!