Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guild Drama Breeding Grounds

Being in a guild means meeting new people. Usually we think this is a good thing, otherwise we probably wouldn't be in a guild or even play a game like WoW in the first place. But occasionally, meeting people means getting into drama. Not all drama are bad drama. Personally I enjoy a good venting now and then, and since I suffer from the "Must have the last word"-syndrome and "Can't admit I'm wrong"-disease I've have had my fair share of word-fights. As long as they don't interfer with the rest of the guild I think they're rather enjoyable. Usually it is difficult to not have a huge argument affect the guild negatively however, so it's understandable that most people prefer to avoid them.

The point of some guilds however, isn't just to meet new people and socialize, but to gather these people in an (more or less) organized manner to tackle some of the group content in WoW, be it raiding or pvping. And sometimes these two worlds just won't come together in perfect harmony and you have to choose which one is more important - the social aspect or the game aspect. In my previous guild we struggled with this for months, trying to keep a strong social core where everyone knew everyone, whilst also trying to do some serious raiding. It didn't work out very well. Especially not when parts of that social core decided to stop raiding and we had trouble replacing them. But there are other things that can turn out to be problematic too, issues that are common in most raiding guilds. These issues usually put the question in focus, on whether the guild wants to focus on the social or the game aspect, and most guilds will have to make a decision about this sooner or later. Here are some problem "breeding grounds", as I like to call them, that seem to pop up in guilds every now and then. You'll probably recognize most of them and if not - better be prepared. Although I'm talking about guys here, all of these can obviously apply to girls as well.

The guy who lets his friend play
I'm using "letting your friend play" as a metaphore actually. Although I bet there are people who occasionally let someone else play their character in raids without telling anyone, I'm rather talking about people whos performance tend to sway wildly from awful to awesome. One day you go "this guy is a disaster", the next time he just doesn't do a thing wrong. People in officer chat go "o.O" as he owns everyones ass, and the next time he fails on simple stuff again. I haven't encountered many like this, since most people are either good or not so good all the time and not just some of the time. You notice at once if they're cut out to work in your team and for your goals or not. But sometimes you find a guy who might be a great player ordinarily, he just seems to get into bumps in the road every now and then. Sometimes there's a reason - he's had a fight with the missus, lots of work, no sleep, etc. Occasionally there just is no way to explain why the guy performs so differently. Since you really have no way of telling whether he will be up to tackle the fight you're on or not, it makes it difficult to know whether you should choose him over someone else or not. He's a potential blank, he's a potential great asset. The real problem about these guys is probably not that their performance varies (everyone has bad days), but that they can't tell when they're not up to raid. Most people would say "ah no, I'm so tired I could sleep standing" or "I've got this mad cold, I can't even hear my own heart beat because I'm so stuffed" to explain that they're not fit for raiding, but this guy would give it a shot anyway, not realizing he's hurting the entire raid by doing so.

If someone says they're ok, it's difficult to say otherwise. And it's rather troublesome to have to give someone a test-fight every raid to really know whether they seem to be at their a-game or not. The best thing to do is still to have a talk with the guy and explain the problem. That is assuming that there is an underlying issue that explains his performance. Sometimes you will just find a special snowflake who, without apparent reason, performs very differently. In that case there is nothing to do but decide whether he is worth the hassle of replacing everytime he isn't working, or just replace him permanently.

Guy is gone, gets replaced, comes back and wants his spot back
There are several reasons to why someone takes a break from WoW. Sometimes it's voluntarily in which case one could say that they get to suit themselves if they get replaced, but not always. In our guild we've recently been struggling a lot with people who've had various forms of computer issues. Whether it be bad internet or bad computers, they're constantly lagging, disconnecting or just completely unable to even log on. These guys could be great players and great people, but suddenly they are forced to take a break, for what could last several weeks until the issue has been resolved. Most of the time they don't even know how long the break will be for, since the situation and problem is out of their hands. Since the rest of the guild don't want to be put on hold while the guy sorts out his computer problems, they recruit someone who can take his place. Then the guy returns, and wants his spot in the raid back. Problem is, the new guy is a great guy and player too, and no one thinks that just having him for a couple of weeks as a stand in is fair. So who gets to be put on the bench? The old guy or the new guy?

It's tough to bench the old guy since he's been a loyal and great member of the guild, and also can't really be held responsible for having internet or computer problems - he was forced to take the break. You could try to tell the new recruit that he gets to join the guild, as long as he accepts that he'll be reserve as soon as the old guy shows up. But finding a recruit who is willing to just be a stand in for a couple of weeks until the "real guy" comes back is extremely difficult, considering how many guilds out there that are looking for competent people these days and that can offer a lot better conditions than that. You could try to solve the situation by having someone else already within the guild fill the spot, but that still means you have another spot to fill somewhere else, and won't necessarily do much of a difference. You could decide to have the entire guild go on a break while you wait for this guy - I doubt many people will think that is a good solution, unless you know exactly how much time you're dealing with and it aint too long. Maybe the best solution is to take the bull by the horn and pug the last raid spot for the weeks necessary (or fill it with some non-raider friend/guildie). You're really going to have to choose between fixing it now and have a problem later (recruiting a new guy) or patch it up as good as it gets and hope your guy returns fast (pugging, stop raiding). In any case, it's a sucky problem to deal with.

Great guys bad half has to play
So far I've never encountered a great gamer girl who insists that her sucky boyfriend has to get to join the raids, but I have had a couple of good gamer guys insist that their noob girlfriends must get to join the raid. I've known great girls with sucky boyfriends, but generally that never turns into a problem. In any case, let's leave that to another discussion. This issue can manifest itself in other ways too, like having a group of friends where one in the team really sucks while the other ones are good, but they all insist they have to play together or no one will join. I don't really mind people who want to play together. I've never had that requirement when I've played with Love (we're not even in the same guild anylonger), but I do understand it if one half doesn't want to be left out everytime, or how the gaming half could feel bad for not spending time with their partner. It doesn't really matter whether you think the idea is ok or not, it will turn out to be a problem for the guild they end up in - especially if the bad half shows up midway. It's easier to handle if they both show up on your doorstep and say "if you want one of us, you have to take both of us". The guild could just say "no, that doesn't suit us unfortunately" or "yeah, that's totally ok with us". It's a lot worse when a great guy and player in your guild suddenly gets a girlfriend and then decides that she has to be part of the raid (or she decides for him). Then you have to decide whether this guy is good enough to warrant having to carry one tenth (or less troublesome perhaps, one 25th) of the raid, or not. What could be worse, having to fit this new person into the raid might mean having to put someone else out of it. Discussing it with the player usually doesn't work, because to him it's probably not a choice - he wants to play when the girl gets to play. You could try discussing an alternative solution, like having her join some special alt runs, instead of your core runs. Problem is, he might only want to run those alt runs himself then. It all really depends on how important this person is for your regular raids, and how sucky his partner is. If those two together don't netto a total gain to the raid, you must consider replacing this person, even though that's usually a really difficult thing to do. If the gain is neutral, maybe it could be worth it to keep him happy.

Great guy turns bad
I see this with every expansion, and sometimes even within expansions. Someone who used to be a great player, just suddenly doesn't cut it anylonger. Since he's been with the guild forever, he still signs and joins each raid, but everyone knows that their performance could be, and sometimes even has to be, better. These people are often veteran guildies, and so even recognizing that there is a problem could be a difficult first step. These people have been part of the core raiding team since forever, probably even since before you joined. Removing them from the raid is like removing a carrying foundation of a building, or so it seems like anyway. I've mentioned this before, but we've had a couple of these people hanging around in my guild. They're always great people, so that is reason enough not wanting to remove them from the raid. Unfortunately, they've lost the fun in playing, and just sign out of habit. You notice at once, they don't have the patience for mistakes and they don't bring their happy face to the group. At some point you have to realize that the foundation has lost its capabilities to carry the load, and has to be replaced - for the better of everyone involved, including the player. The biggest problem about this is that the person in question almost always has to realize that this is the case himself. Having someone else question the quality of the veteran player in the guild, someone who's surely hasn't been in the guild as long as he, or contributed by even half as much, is a big no no.

Overall I've noticed that guilds are really bad at accepting change. They say they want one thing, but just as long as it doesn't mean changing this and that! I want everything to be like it was in Burning Crusade! They seem surprised at the fact that people usually work nothing like they thought and planned they would. Often they try to mediate the two worlds (social and game) until it just doesn't work anylonger, and in worst case scenario the guild crashes under the strain. I understand that you don't want to replace people you've played with the last couple of years with someone you barely know the name off. But again, one has to make the choice between the social and the game aspect, and whatever you decide for, you have to be prepared to take the necessary steps to achieve (if that really is what you want). Being ready for it and having a plan for how to handle the situation when it arises (because it will) is recommended.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Addon Review - Karni's Crap Filter

It's been a time since I last wrote something about an addon. After the great addon-death of 4.0, I removed all my addons completely, and revamped my entire UI. Because I am very lazy, I decided to go with a ready and set UI, rather than bust my ass off like I had done with my old one. I chose Tukui, and am mostly happy with it. Many of the addons that stopped working pre-Cata have been updated since however, and I am seriously contemplating whether I should go back to my old UI, at least to some part. But that is not what this post will be about. Instead I intend to talk about an addon that I've only recently started to use.

Although it might seem difficult to believe, I'm not an addon-hugger. Love likes to use an addon for just about anything in the game, which makes his char about as automated it can be without actually botting anything. He probably has an addon to wipe the ass of other addons. But I'm not really like that. I do think using addons is comfy, and in some cases even crucial to do a good job (like some sort of healing UI). That doesn't mean I want an addon for everything in the game. I can recall at least a dozen occasions throughout a typical year where I will go "oh, I hate it when it's like this" or "wouldn't it be awesome if there was an addon that did this?". That could be just about anything, but mostly based on what I am sick of at doing at the time. If I've been fishing a couple of hours I'm sure to be saying something like "wouldn't it be awesome if there was some way to keep track of all the fish you've caught?" or "I'd love it if there was some way to make it easier to hear the bobber sound" to which Love nearly always replies - "there is an addon that does that". Whining about something doesn't mean I want to fix it though, but guys don't get that. I want him to go "yeah, isn't that annoying!" and he want's to solve my problem and be the prince in shining armor.

I couldn't agree more!

So about a year ago, or actually probably more, I was leveling yet another alt. When doing some sort of troll area, killing trolls and looting Troll Sweat, one of the most annoying gray items in the game, I was complaining as usual - "wouldn't it be awesome if there was some way to just not loot all the crap that mobs drop?". And Love of course goes - "there is an addon that does that". Yes indeed, Karni's Crap Filter (Karni Crap for short) will make sure that you never have to loot another crap item again. It sounds simple and awesome, kind of like the addon I've got that automatically sells all grays in my bags, an addon I'd never ever play without ever again. But when I heard about Karni Crap I merely shrugged. I thought "nah, there aren't that many things I'd like to avoid to make it worth having an entire addon for it". That's what I usually think. "I don't think this is troublesome enough to actually go to a site and download the addon and set it up". So months passed and I kept on looting all those Troll Sweats and other crap items that exist around the world.

I'm usually a crap collector though. I'm always astonished at people who don't loot Bastard Sword worth 3g to vendor, and then complain about not affording that shiny purple on AH. The easiest way to earn money is without a doubt to simply loot the mobs that you kill. It's not awesomely much, which probably is the reason people avoid it in the first place, but it adds up. And why not loot it? Aint got enough bag space? I am known to constantly run around with only 1-2 free bag slots, but as long as you vendor when you repair, and don't keep your profession in your bags, running out of bag space doesn't happen often. But even if 99% of everything that drops is worth picking up, those 1% can really become a nuisance. I kept on looting those 1% and throwing them out of my bags manually (because I wouldn't save them in my bags for vendoring), until I finally snapped.

I am currently leveling yet another prot warrior (my fifth or so), and having to remove some sort of water from my bags after every instance is what finally got me to download Karni's Crap Filter. Water is just one example of many of things that aren't worth anything, and that yet drops in abundance. Another example is the already mentioned Troll Sweat, and something that drops everywhere in Cata - Shiny Fish Scales and Fish Oils. Imagine to never have to think about that crap again? you're probably thinking "hah, I don't loot that stuff often enough to care about this". I understand you, so did I for more than a year. And you may be right. Depending on how you play, you might actually rarely get into contant with crap dropping mobs. After having looted my umptififth stack of water however, I decided to give it a go. And I can say, I have no idea why I didn't try it sooner.

So what does Karni Crap do? Quite simply, you tell it what the value of the items you're looting have to be for it to loot them. Say you think you can't be bothered with anything worth less than 1g, simply tell Karni Crap so and you won't loot anything worth less. You can also decide whether you want Karni to count the value of a stack or of a single item towards this limit, so say if you have a stack limit of 1g, you'll loot items that are worth 20s as long as they stack in more than 4. Some items are worth looting regardless of their vendor value, like cloths and meats for instance. You can easily tick these items off in a little premade list to make sure Karni doesn't ignore them. If you happen to grind some certain item that falls outside of your rules and don't want to change your entire rule set for that item, you can simply write /notcrap[item] and Karni puts it on the safe-list. The opposite goes with /crap[item]. Karni comes with its own built in auto-loot, which means you have to turn the regular one off in order for Karni to work. A side effect of using Karni Crap is that looting goes a lot faster, since it won't even show the loot window if there is nothing but money. You can have it give you a message about the loot it doesn't pick up, if you want to make sure you're not missing out on something good. And it can be found right here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Field Report - All my stats are bad

Sometimes you should know better than to sit down and start writing. Some of those times are when you know you're going to rant. I know I will rant, but I figure - what's the point of having a blog if I can't abuse it from time to time? So here it goes.

The only Vanilla pic that is left of me!

I've played priest since early Vanilla. Although I did try out resto druid, shadow priesting and warlocking inbetween, what really stuck with me was healing as a priest. I love it, always have. I'm not sure what got me to like priest healing so much specifically. I think it's because it's always felt like a solid and thought through class. Like Blizz devs designed priests first, and then modelled all the other healers to fit that. Although I actually think that might even be true originally, the feeling has stayed with me throughout the years. While most healers have yo-yod between OP-ness and hitting rock bottom, priests have always been pretty good. We've been awesome occasionally, but we've never sucked (except perhaps briefly in early Cata). Overall I think Blizz have managed to keep their design choices for priests at a pretty high standard, and off the top of my head I can't remember ever being especially concerned about priest healing. We've always had our role.

But something has happened. I don't feel comfortable in my priest role anylonger. I still love what I do, but something just feels... off. Maybe an incident that happened the other day could best describe my feelings. Me and a couple of guildies decided to run a bear run. We did a warm up in ZG before queueing for ZA. Once we were done with ZG however, I asked if it was ok that I switched to my holydin instead. Now let me compare these two characters. We've got my main - Zinn, whom I've played for approximately 100 days, ever since Vanilla, of which the vast majority has been spent healing. My holydin has been around since BC, sure. But 80% of my 33 days played have been spent tanking. I only started healing in Cataclysm. Zinn outgears my holydin by more than 10 gear levels. And I still feel like healing ZA/ZG is a cakewalk on my holydin, compared to my priest.

I know there are differences between the classes. I know some healers have an easier time doing certain things than others. But does it have to be this much difference? I have the gear. I have the experience. I have the skill (hopefully by now). I will admit that I have done those instances more often on my paladin than my priest, but after having done one trillion billion instances, I think I've got the hang of it generally on any healing class.

I won't be unfair enough to say that priests suck just because I am seriously struggling in the ZA/ZG heroics. I will say that I think disc priests were a little too nerfed (and I'll get to more about that in a sec). When discussing this dilemma with Love, he mentioned that he had the same problem, but with the two other heal classes. He mains a druid, and often heals in raids. He also heals heroics with his resto shaman. He has little trouble keeping people alive on his shaman but has to bust his ass off with his druid. The same relationship between the characters exist there - he started healing as resto shaman in Cata, he's healed as resto druid since Vanilla. Same gear difference as with my characters. Yet again I would lean towards blaming the class rather than the player. I will put a disclaimer right here - saying something is more difficult doesn't mean it is impossible. It doesn't even have to mean it is difficult, just more difficult than the comparison. But in this case, I actually feel it is significantly more difficult.

Let's look at these healing classes in raids. Shamans and paladins struggle generally, while priests (especially holy atm) and druids rock (the meters anyway, but it depends a lot on the fight of course). I think there should be differences between classes, but something is wrong when I don't want to do something, not because I don't think I can't handle it - but because I don't think my class can. I can understand why druids and shamans struggled so long to get their own raid cooldown. Maybe it's only right that priests get into this situation, so that shamans especially can point their fingers and say "now you know what it feels like". When even my gear and skill won't make up for the drawbacks of my class - something aint right.

Unfortunately, this has spread to my raiding as well. Nerfing my shields has put me in quite a pickle. Shielding is a core part of my healing rotation. My shields affect many of my spells, provides me with mana refund and haste. There is no question about whether I have to use the shields or not. But I can't use them as much as I used to however, which means I have to resort to my other heals a lot more. That wouldn't be a problem, if it wasn't for the fact that it has made gearing a freaking nightmare. Gearing towards Shields means going for mastery. Shields and DA are completely unaffected by crit, and only slightly affected by haste. But all my other skills are completely unaffected by mastery, unless you count my critted heals DA procs. Mastery, haste and crit all affect different portions of my healing, and boosting one means nothing for the other. Even if we remove crit from the calculation it's giving me a headache.

Stacking Mastery means sacrificing haste, which means slow Heals and Greater Heals. In heroic content, I seriously feel like I am falling behind with my 2.2 casts, when both paladins and shamans can haste their skills, and even druids have some sort of haste source and loads of instants. Disc have nothing like that. Oh wait! We have the shield. Too bad it was nerfed and is far from as usable as it used to be. I don't feel like DA fills the gap, since I don't want crit - because crit is worthless for my shields and DA. See the evil circle of evil here? I need a stat to boost a skill which in itself doesn't benefit from the stat.

Stacking haste means sacrificing mastery, which means smaller shields. Considering that shields and DA still make out some 30-40% of my total healing, that is a big sacrifice to make. But it still means I'll be buffing the remaining 60% of my healing.
As you can see, the problem basically is that disc use two vastly different sources of healing, and they make out just about 50% each of my total healing done. I know you'll say to get the perfect balance, but it just feels like bad game design to have to choose stats that are only half as good as they are to everyone else. The problem isn't the choice, but that the stats are basically incompatible. No matter which stat I choose, it is pretty much worthless for half my healing. Why Blizzard, Why?! They said Cata was going to be the expansion of easy gearing and stat weighting, removed spellpower and armor penetration and whatnot - and I've never had more trouble finding a good way to gear myself.

Do I feel like just going holy would solve my problems? Well, it definitely would solve my gearing issues. Unfortunately, my raid loves me for my PS and Bubble, so I'll probably won't be able to go holy there. And honestly, I think holy have about as much trouble keeping people alive in ZA/ZG as disc do, for much the same reasons that resto druids do - hots won't do the job, and the rest of our heals are too slow (or in druids case, too weak).

For now I've decided to grab the bull by the horns, juggle my stats around and see what fits me best. We're currently fighting Nefarian 25 hc, and I feel like that's a good fight to get a general feel on stat weights, since it requires a little bit of every kind of healing style - aoe, single target, shielding and direct healing. I reforged all mastery I could find into haste (something I've done before, but I reverted back for whatever reason, I can't even rememer at the moment), giving me some 13% unbuffed armory haste (meaning, that is what my armory shows) and 16,5% unbuffed in game haste (no idea why there is such a big difference). In a raid that is approximately 20%. Yes, well above the renew cap, but I don't use renew anyway (generally). But it did get my Greater Heals into a comfort zone, without sacrificing my shields too much - they currently absorb 30k damage, which feels alright. I think I'm a haste-oholic, in which case I'm clearly playing the wrong class at the moment.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Storytime - An odd event

It's time for me to tell you a story. A story about a girl, not much unlike me. This story is based on a true story and any resemblance with live characters is totally intentional.

Alex loved to play football. She had recently switched teams to be able to get into a higher division and really liked it. Football had been seeing a rough couple of months, and teams all around her were having trouble finding enough players for the games. But her team managed to recruit a couple of good players, and they seemed to be right on track to actually win some important games. Although some of her friends had recently decided to quit the team, she decided to stick with it because she really enjoyed their play style and her team mates.

One day when she came for the regular practice, she noticed that her locker had been moved. Instead of being out with the rest of the team mates, she now got to into the trainers locker room, which was in a secluded area. In here, a couple of players who were the trainers right and left hands and called "helpers" discussed who to pick for the games and why. They also discussed practice techniques and strategies on how to tackle various teams. Alex didn't know why someone had decided that she was good enough, or knew enough, to suddenly be part of the trainer team, but she wasn't going to question it. She decided that if they had promoted her, it was probably because they thought she could handle it, and she would do her best. Also, she was assigned to handing out directions and discuss matters during games, aiming to help everyone perform at their best, which wouldn't differ much from what she thought she was already doing in her team, always trying to get a discussion going on why something didn't work and why something did, on what shoes that were the best on what surface and so on. So she continued doing what she always had done.

A couple of weeks passed when the trainer asked if Alex could come see him after the game. Alex wondered what that could be all about, but didn't have the feeling that it could be anything good. "The talk" is never a good thing. When she got into the trainer locker room she was met by the trainer and some of his helpers who were wearing important and serious faces.

"So, what's up?", Alex asked.

"Well..." the Trainer started. "There have been some complaints. About you." The helpers around him nodded gravely and looked at her.

"Umm, ok?" Alex said, unsure what more to say about it. "What kind of complaints?"

"Well you know" said the Trainer and shrugged. "People saying you've got an attitude. That you're... being mean to them".

"Well... I'm not" tried Alex.

"Yeah yeah, we all know that" said the Trainer and looked around at his helpers, who all nodded quickly. "And we've tried explaining it to them, but these people insist that you're got it in for them".

"Ok?" Alex said again, still unsure about how this would unfold.

"They actually wanted us to kick you out of the team".

Alex was silent.

"But we said that that wouldn't happen."

"What exactly is it I've done or said to offend these people?" Alex asked. "I could perhaps just say I'm sorry and explain that I never meant any harm, if I know what it is that bothered them?"

"Yeah, that would be nice, but the problem is bigger" said the Trainer and paused, as if he was unsure how to proceed. "The real problem is that it's not really what you say, it's the fact that you're the one saying it".

Alex stared at the trainer, looked at the helpers who quickly looked away, and back to the Trainer. She tried to figure out if this was a bad joke or not. But the Trainer didn't say anything more.

"Not much I can do about that, is there?" She said.

"No, unfortunately not." the Trainer admitted.

"So what should I do?"

"We have decided to remove you as a helper, first of all. You'll just be a regular player again. That way, people won't feel so threatened by you, and maybe they will like you?".

Alex wasn't sure she was hearing what she was hearing.

"Do you think I've done anything wrong?" she asked.

"Oh no, not at all. But that doesn't matter. Some people think you have. They have said that something has to be done or they will leave the team."

"But by demoting me you're basically telling them that you agree with them, and this is my punishment. Although I've only ever done my job, by trying to engage people in discussions about how the games could go smoother. I've never deliberately tried to make anyone feel bad about their performance, the opposite!"

"Yes we know that" said the Trainer calmly. "But these people are offended nonetheless, and something has to be done".

"Ok, if you think this will help. I strongly doubt that" Alex said and shrugged. "You'll only enforce their dislike with me by condoning their attitude towards me".

"But by making you a regular player they will want to be your friends" the Trainer said again. "But anyway" he continued hastily "that's not all. We'd also want you to try to not talk during our games. Try to keep whatever you say to things that aren't about the game".

"You want me to think about every little thing that comes out of my mouth, making sure I don't hurt someones feelings? What would that help? Apparently it doesn't matter what I say since anything I say hurts someones feelings." Alex said angrily.

"True, but it's a start".

"Can't you just tell me who it is that feels so threatened by me and I'll try not to talk to them?"

"Sure, it's Sandra." said the Trainer.

"Sandra?" asked Alex, and tried to remember all the times they had spoken. "No one else?"

"Well...." said the Trainer slowly. "Not specifically, but she has friends, and she threatened to quit the team and tell her friends to do so as well if we didn't do anything about you".

"I know I've got a rough way of expressing myself at times, but I've never even said anything bad to her" Alex said, forcing herself to remember every word that she's ever said to Sandra. Sandra hadn't been in the team for long, and Alex had really thought she was a great player. She had thought that she'd said so to Sandra, but apparently she had gotten the entirely wrong impression.

"Well there was this one time" piped one of the helpers.

"Yes?" asked the Trainer.

"You were discussing some shoe brand"

Alex remembered.

"Oh yeah, she said she was saddened that her favorite shoe brand was going out of sale, and I told her that they weren't. They're only out of sale in some countries, not this one, so she didn't have to worry." Alex looked puzzled. "She was offended by that?".

"Apparently" the helper shrugged. Alex was annoyed. If people are that easily offended, it didn't seem like there was much she could do.

"I'll try" Alex said shortly. "Is that all?".

"Yes, for now" the Trainer replied.

A couple of days went, and when Alex came back for the next game, she noticed that they hadn't moved her locker back to the players room yet. The Trainer approached her and said;

"I was thinking about moving the locker before the game today, and explain to the whole team that you're not a helper anylonger."

Alex looked at the Trainer, who just smiled an honest smile at her.

"You want to move my locker in front of the whole team, publicly humiliating me? In what way will that make people like me more, or be for my benefit, as you claim this to be?".

"You think it's a bad idea?" the Trainer asked, and looked sincerely confused.

"I think the whole idea is a bad idea, and making it when everyone can see it is just adding insult to injury. I truly don't see the point in that" Alex answered, puzzled that the Trainer didn't see that.

"Oh ok, well then I'll just do it when no one is here."

"Thank you" Alex said.

The game went on without much trouble, but during half-time, the Trainer waved at her to come see him again.

"What the HELL was that?!" he yelled at her. Alex just looked confused at him.

"What was what?"

"What you just said out there, completely unacceptable!"

Alex stared at him.

"You mean when I explained why Tomas and Michael fell? Because of the muddy grass?"

"Yes, I told you not to comment on the game, didn't I? People will be offended again!"

"Are you serious? In what way can my comment on the bad weather be offending to people?" Alex was getting angry. This was completely absurd.

"You know it doesn't matter what you say!" the Trainer yelled. Alex took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, I won't censor every damn word I say. If people are that sensitive, that's frankly their problem. I couldn't care less. Listen to yourself Trainer. Who is bullying who right now? Now if you excuse me". Alex ran out to the game again.

Her locker was moved. She didn't really care. It wasn't the fact that she wasn't a helper anylonger, because frankly it didn't differ much whether she was or not. It was the fact that she was allowed to be treated this way because of some feeling someone had of her. Someone who had decided it was a better solution to have the Trainer punish her instead of trying to solve it by talking to her directly. Alex decided to act as if nothing had happened. She couldn't care less for such behavior, and actually thought it was rather fascinating that the Trainer claimed this to be for her sake, for her benefit. She really thought he believed he was doing the right thing, when instead he had just told the entire team that through extortion and power you can get your way, no matter what way that was. She had no old friends in the team anylonger since they had moved to another team, so he'd probably thought it was an easy thing to have Alex sacrifice herself a little to make the other ones happy. But where to draw the line?

A couple of days later, Sandra approached Alex.

"Can I talk to you?" she asked. Alex was confused, had she said something wrong again?

"Yeah sure" she said, bracing herself.

"Well you know the other day when I was discussing positions on the field?" Sandra asked, and Alex nodded.

"Apparently Emma was offended by what I said, and now she is talking shit about me behind my back! I really didn't mean to offend anyone... what should I do?".

Alex tried to suppress a gloating smile. She actually felt sorry for Sandra. Maybe there really was something like Karma. Didn't she realize that what she just had put Alex through, had happened to herself? But she also had an opportunity to make things right, hopefully. She gave Sandra a nudge on the shoulder and said;

"Ignore it. Things like this happen now and then. She'll realize it was a misunderstanding. Most of you are new around here and we don't really know eachother well enough to do hasty assumptions about hidden meanings in what we say. We should all really just relax and have fun. Isn't that why we play this game?"

Sandra looked at her and nodded slowly.

"Yeah, I suppose you're right".

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Astralis is looking for you! Guild recruitment

Astralis, a 10 man guild of the Venture Co (EU), are currently looking for more members. I decided to interview the GM, Eldhorn aka Love.

So Love/Eldhorn, you recently left your old guild to form Astralis with a couple of friends of yours. Why is that?
I spent many years in a 10 man guild, before I tried a 25 man. It didn't take long before I felt like 25 man raiding was more about the administrative side than the actual raiding, especially for me who had an officer role in the guild. I did consider stepping down and not be an officer, but that's not really my way of playing since I always want to improve things around me if I feel it is necessary. Not only people and players performances, but I also think about how to make rules more effective and how to make the forums better, and stuff like that. I'm the one who ends up sorting the guild bank, and I was the one who implemented the new dkp-system in my old guild. I usually end up in the background, pulling the strings. But the workload in a 25 man proved to be too much for my enjoyment, and I decided to go back to 10 man raiding.

There are pros and cons of 10 man raiding compared to 25 man. What I wanted to achieve was quality raiding in a friendly environment where focus was on the game itself, and less on putting out fires and mending fences, and I think we are pretty much spot on when it comes to that. All members of Astralis takes care of their own business, learns from their mistakes and just gets along. I could leave for a weekend to visit my parents and watch a guildie play some jazz without having to worry that the guild might fall apart in my absence. What a 10 man guild does lose is the big community where you can get to know a lot of new people all the time, and also some people feel that you lose the "epicness" of a huge raid surging along. Personally I never felt like that, because I prefer it when I feel that I was an indisposable part of what made the boss go down. Without me (like if I'd die early in a fight), it will be noticeably worse off, and I want that to go for each and every member of the team. I don't feel that in a 25 man, unless I play the main tank. By allowing the administrative part to be of less importance, I, and the rest of the guild, can focus more on what really matters to us - having fun raiding.

Enough about you then, what about Astralis? What make you special?
In many ways we are just like a snowflake, we look like every other guild from far away, but we're really special close up. No, cross that out, that's lame. Did you cross it out? Good. Anyway. The basic goal and idea behind Astralis was to find a platform for people who enjoy raiding together to challenge themselves. We aim to complete all raiding content in the game while it is current, simply because we enjoy the challenge. Everyone in Astralis are people who think there is no more fun than trying to get the most out of their class. Eventhough we are proud of our achievements, we still try to do even better. Maximizing our performance is what make us tick. Winning makes our tigerblood boil! No, cross that out too.

We currently raid on tuesdays, thursdays and sundays from 19.30 to 23.30 server time. We don't have an official attendance requirement, but we do want all our raiding members (because we have a couple of socials as well) to enjoy raiding so much that they will be able to attend at least two out of three times. We don't force 100% attendance simply because we're realistic enough to realize that afk does get in the way sometimes, and that is ok. We don't want our raiders to feel stressed out or like they're letting everyone down because they have to attend someones birthday party. Raiding is supposed to be a hobby that you love - not another job. That way we hope that our raiders will always be able to bring their A-game to the raid.

The social aspect of the guild is important to us, and we play many other games together, when we're not playing WoW. For example; CSS, SC2, Shogun: Total War, Left4Dead 2 and Minecraft are games that we currently play and in some cases hold our own servers. We of course do other things than raiding together in WoW, like heroic runs and dailies. The age ranges from 18-35 ish, but what really matters is that you fit in the group - an easy going person who likes to socialize and raid.

Sounds awesome. What do you need?
Our direst need at the moment is another healer - preferrably a priest or paladin. We're currently at 8/13, with Al'akir around the corner. It goes pretty much without saying that we have a forum and a TS server. We've only got three healers at the moment, and that puts a little too much strain on them. Like mentioned, we want there to be some redundancy so that people can attend other stuff occasionally, without everything falling apart. We have been doing well so far, because we've got people who play offspecs, but still feel like we should get a proper healer to fill out our roster. Because of our small roster, we like to see applicants who have and enjoy to play an offspec. It also allows us to easier rotate raid spots if one person can fill several roles. Unfortunately we don't do alt raids, which means you pretty much have to be geared and experienced for our content already, up to a certain degree. We don't necessarily require you to have any heroic kills, but preferrably at least have done all content on normal. We do try to gear peoples alts and offspecs as much as is practical inside and outside of raids, without sacrificing our progress. Farm bosses for example, can often be used to gear up offspecs and alts. We're interested in other awesome players as well of course, but our raiding group is pretty much filled at the moment, and fitting any other role could be tricky.

If this sounds like the perfect guild for you, you can always pm me at astralis.guildlaunch.com (Eldhorn) or whisper me online (also Eldhorn).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Costly friendship - A slippery slope

The "Bomb o' the month" that Blizzard dropped on our heads this time around is without a doubt the news that they intend to implement a feature that will allow you to play with people on your RealID friends list, across server! Great idea. So what is the fuzz all about? Blizzard wants you to pay for it. But wait a minute, Blizzard want us to pay for a lot of stuff, what's the problem about this thing specifically? Yeah, let's find out shall we?

As usual, loads of people around the bloggosphere have already vented their frustration thoughts on this. A quick check on mmo-champ shows that all the last blue posts are responses to enraged players posts on this matter (although the response so far always is "don't make a new thread when there already is one"). I've found some people who think that this should be regarded pretty much as the Sparkle Pony or remote access AH. We don't mind having to pay for those things, so why be upset about this? Blizzard themselves claim that the reason for them to take this extra fee is simply because this features takes a lot of manpower to get into action, and if you want it you'll have to pay for it. As it seems, Blizzard doesn't regard this a basic in game feature, but a flavor feature to the game, much like a mount or pet. Something that won't alter the way you experience the game in any way but esthetically. Players disagree. This is my take on it.

I promised myself I wouldn't turn this into a nerdrage post, simply because I don't think that much about this. When I read about it I rather had this resigned /sigh going through me. I definitely think it's a bad idea, but I feel sorry for Blizzard for taking a decision like this when they're already struggling with their credibility. People are already accusing Blizzard for making design choices of dubious quality, and then they go and do something like this. So why do I think this is a bad idea?

I've never had any issues with the extra fun stuff that Blizzard have offered us to buy. The mounts and pets and even the remote access thingies you can buy to your fancy phone are as mentioned, esthetical. There are plenty of us who are completely uninterested in those mounts and pets, and most importantly, the game has nothing to do with gathering mounts and pets or playing the AH. Those, especially mounts and pets, are extra features of the game, something with which you can indulge yourself if you feel like it. Paying extra for server transfers and the like is much like the fee on respecs, it's partially there as an inhibitor to make sure players don't do it too often. What is the difference to this new feature? WoW is a social game. Everything in it circles around the fact that you do things with other people. How many of you would quit WoW if all of your irl and ingame friends did? I know I would. The reason I love the game is because I can play it with people I enjoy hanging out with. If the game was nothing but nameless faces or even worse, npcs, I wouldn't stick around for very long. No one would argue that no matter how they prefer playing WoW, it is originally designed to be about socializing. Therefore one could argue that Blizzard are implementing a feature that affects a core aspect of the game, but makes it exclusive to those that care to pay a little extra. If the game was about gathering pets and mounts, I'm quite certain we'd be bothered with the possibility to pay extra for a sparkle-pony when we're already paying for the game. In my opinion, that is basically what is happening right now.

I completely agree that we should pay for maintenance and development costs, the monster that WoW has become isn't a cheap thing to maintain. But we are already paying for maintenance and development costs. One could wonder what Blizzard does with those roughly 11 million times 12 Euro they get from us each month (you do the math, but it's a lot of money), if not to put them into these kinds of things? It's not really that simple of course. Blizzard set the monthly fee for the game a long time ago, and thinking about it now, it's quite astonishing that they haven't changed that sum at all during all these years. I imagine that the monthly fee was specifically designed to cover all and any costs that that player could put on Blizzard. That players usage of the game and servers costs them X, add some profit (maye a lot of profit) and voilà, you've got the monthly fee. I don't think it is impossible however, that the cost for the game has increased over the years, so that the monthly fee doesn't cover each players usage as much as it used to. Add really costly features like this one (or so Blizzard claim anyway), and their budget is cracked. Considering that Blizzard take an extra fee for server transfers and things like it, it seems like the monthly fee actually doesn't cover very much at all except server maintenance. Aren't we already paying for everything extra in the game?

People who think this is an ok idea are getting hung up on the "pay" part. That's not really the problem at all. No one has voiced a peep of concern about all the stuff we already have to pay extra fees to get. The problem is what we are paying for. They've always kept esthetical/practical (like server transfers) on one side, and game mechanics on the other side, and they should be put firmly on different sides. The reason I think this is a bad idea is because it's really taking a step down a slippery slope. So if one game mechanic is ok, what is next? Would you mind if Blizzard decided to implement features that allowed you to get shorter dungeon queues, or get to do any dungeon by choice and still have it count as random, as long as you paid a little extra for it? These are all things that don't break the game, but they do give an advantage to some players, if they pay a little extra. And then? Giving extra talent points to people who pay? Allow them to run faster? If we accept one step in this direction it could become difficult to stop if the next step comes. And giving game advantages to people who pay for it is a really dangerous thing to do. I'm not saying this would do that, but it's definitely not a step in the right direction to avoid it.

I've got nothing against micro-transactions or games that are built up using them - in fact I think they're a great way to  charge for a product and hopefully lead to a future where customers pay exactly for what they want instead of a huge sum containing everything from production cost to the CEO's new bathtub. But they are still two different ways of charging, and taking it too far will alter the concept of the game. Blizzard, and we, have to be aware of that.

What it comes down to is if we really believe that Blizzard are forced to take an extra fee to be able to implement a feature like this. If yes, then we have to ask ourselves (as some bloggers already have), what do we prefer: paying a little extra monthly fee to make sure that Blizzard can afford all of these costs, or just pay extra for them when they come, if we want them?

It's fascinating, because you can compare it to a society
. Do you prefer paying a lot of tax and having society pay for stuff, or do you prefer to have low tax, and just pay a lot for stuff yourself when you need/want it? There are pros and cons with both systems. If you have high tax, there is a chance that your hard earned money goes to stuff you're uninterested in. I wouldn't be very happy if they increased the monthly fee in order to make server transfers free of cost, for example, since I don't server transfer very often. But on the other hand, the problem with having everyone pay for their own things is that not everyone can afford it. I'm one of those people who probably wouldn't have the money to pay for many extra features in the game (I've only ever paid for two race changes over the last 5 years). I don't think it's a matter of want. It's not that I don't want the sparkle pony and therefore I don't care that it costs extra money, but want this feature, and therefore am bothered that it costs money. As I said, I don't think much about this at all, because I've actually don't have any out of server RealID friends. On the other hand, imagine what a great tool this would be if I could befriend some of you guys out there and we could do dungeons together? Or if I could finally get to play with some of my irl friends with all those off-server alts that I've got. Which, as mentioned, is what the game is all about, right? This tool won't have a major impact on the game, or my playing, but I would be lying if I said that I didn't want it and that it wouldn't be useful to me.

The problem with this, as I touched upon, is that it is opening the gates to allowing players to buy themselves advantages over other players. We're definitely not there yet, and I don't want you to believe that I think we're on the way to certain doom with this. But one has to draw the line somewhere, and Blizzard are moving that line - we don't know where it will end up. The reason you want to separate the two worlds is because no accomplishment will be worth anything, if everyone knows that you can buy yourself to it. WoW is about e-peen to a large degree, and a lot of that will disappear if you can buy yourself the fanciest gear and items. I'm not saying that has to be a bad thing, but it will definitely alter the game significantly - do we want that? At the moment, this game is based on skill, not on who has the most money to buy themselves to the top. Personally, I prefer it that way.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's wrong with you, druid? Part 3

Something is amiss in druid land. Although balance and resto druids seem to be doing ok (which isn't the same as saying they're perfectly fine), something doesn't feel right about feral druids at the moment. My relationship to druids has always been characterized by a dichotomic attitude. On one hand I love the idea of being a little bit of everything, and the reason my first main was a druid was because I wanted to be able to bring everything to a group - be the jack of all trades. On the other hand, I quickly learned that Blizzard didn't seem to be certain themselves how they wanted druids to be these jack of all trades. At first, druids did a little bit of everything, just not as good as everyone else. That turned out to be a bad idea, because having someone who was a little less good at everything, but that could fill every role turned out to be a lot less valuable than just bringing "the real deal" to the group. Back in Vanilla, balance and feral druids were hardly ever heard of, only as some for fun out of instance and raid specs. So Blizzard started designing the various trees to actually be able to stand alone, giving restos their tree form and balance their chicken form. But while they focused their efforts into making the balance trees and resto trees into real healing and dps trees, feral druids got stuck in their Pinocchio shape, and never really got turned into real classes. Although Blizzard have actually adressed a lot of the things I was whining about before, I somehow feel like bears have returned to the role they had in Vanilla - doing the same thing, only not as good. Why do I say this? Let me see if I can explain.

My frustration with bears has a long history and I'll admit that it might be completely personal and not founded in any real issues with bears. I like bear tanking the least, so that I wouldn't even put it on my top 4 list, eventhough there are only 4 tank classes. It would be 1. DK, 2. Warrior, 3. Paladin, 15. Druid. But that doesn't have to mean anything. I don't enjoy rogues either, and there isn't anything majorly wrong about them just because I don't like playing them (but I bet I'm going to hear I'm wrong about that ;)). My aversion towards bear tanking (which are based on reasons I'll get to in a moment) have given me a general distrust towards bear tanks however. In raids I just don't like having to heal a feral bear as much as I like healing the other classes. In instances that becomes even more of a problem, when paladins and dks can basically take care of themselves, and warriors ... well warriors at least are good raid tanks. Bears on the other hand just lack so much. The one thing that I felt made bears better than all the other classes was that they had "free" crit immunity throughout Wrath, something that made less difference in raids but was very welcome in lowie instances. Now, all tank classes have that. Don't get me wrong, my aversion to bears aren't in any way connected to what I may feel to the player who plays it. Love has mained feral bear many times for example.

Bears weren't always the worst of the four. Back in BC when bears had humongous hp-pools, most raids didn't want any other tank. But then they changed it so that bear tanks has about the same hp as all the tanks. The reason bears had more hp and armor than paladins and warriors (no dks back then) was to compensate for the fact that they didn't have block or parry. Instead they used their face as avoidance, taking bigger blows than their fellow tanks, but having more hp to soak it with. When they removed the extra hp, Blizzard still had to figure a way to compensate for the fact that bears still didn't have block or parry, so they introduced Savage Defense. Problem is, SD isn't as good as block and parry. One reason most holydins dislike their mastery at the moment is because if a bigger shield procs, it will replace a smaller, rather than adding to it. Blizzard tried compensating by making the shields bigger overall, but somehow that just doesn't cut it. SD takes this one step further since it must actively be applied through crits, meaning it's not passive like parry, dodge and block. Also, any shield will replace an old one, whether it be smaller or bigger. They've at least changed it so that shields will be fully soaked before going away, previously any attack, no matter how small, would remove a shield. That way, an attack of 1 damage could remove a shield worth 30k absorb. But that's a small comfort for a skill that still has a lot of issues surrounding it. Eventhough I don't want to paint the devil on the wall, as we say in sweden, there is still a difference between how much damage bear tanks take and how much damage every other class takes. The harder the boss hits, the bigger the difference. And that's not the only problem with bear tanking at the moment.

The problem about bear tanking is the fact that you have to be a bear. Warriors had long suffered under the fact that they had to use different stances to be able to access all their skills. In Vanilla, stance dancing was standard procedure for warrior tanks, having to switch between stances to be able to charge and gain access to other useful tanking tools. Warriors started pointing to paladins and asking why they didn't have to go through all that trouble. So Blizzard thought - "Hmm, maybe we shouldn't make it so troublesome for warriors to use those tanking tools" and made loads of previously out of range tools available in defensive stance. But for some reason they forgot about the bears. Bears are currently the only tank class that has to drop their tanking abilities to gain access to some utility. Innervate, Rebirth and Tranquility are currently all out of reach for the tanking bear. As comparison, Dks just got a combat res, which they can use in any stance, warriors got a raid cooldown (Rallying Cry) which they can use in any stance and protadins have a special raid cooldown that is available to them when they're tanking. Paladins can also shield fellow party members and use some (albeit mediocre) group healing if needed (LoH, Wog and Holy Radiance). Bears are now the only tank class limited solely to tanking, without being able to bring any utility to the group. This makes it feel like a waste of druid potential to use them for tanking, when they could've been healer/dpser and have free access to all those utility tools.

Sadly, the best way to use a feral druid right now is having them go hero bear. It's ironic that what bring bears down are that they excell over the other tanks in being able to quickly and efficiently swap between dpsing and decent tanking, since in a sense that is exactly what druids should be all about. But it also means that people don't want to bring players who love to just tank or dps with their druids. Here is something mentioned by Sunnier at A Sunnier Bear as an anecdote, but it exactly describes the problem;

'I spend about half my progression raids as cat, half as bear. While I think part of this is due to my guild's Divine Guardian guilt ("we really like bears, but Divine Guardian is just so overpowered that we're forced to use two paladin tanks; here, have a dps cookie"), it's unmistakeable that bears bring the best off tank dps around'

When hardcore raid guilds don't want feral druids it doesn't mean that we have to care, but it still means that there are reasons not to choose feral druids, or no reasons to choose them - and that's not how it should be. Currently, bears don't have any edge towards the other tank classes as long as they're main tanking, and as Rax of Raid Trauma asks us - why bring someone you don't need? One of our main tanks is a feral druid, and our guild will bring him any day of course. But there is still no denying that he is more useful to us as an off tank rather than the main tank, and that feral druids have problems competing with other tanks for the MT spots. Should we accept that that is the role Blizzard have designed for bears? That maybe that is the only way to play a bear druid? That maybe it shouldn't be seen as something hampering, but rather as something that sets feral druids out as special compared to other tanks?

If not, the solution to the problem is actually rather simple. Just make bears work like any other tank class, giving them access to all or some of their utility tools while still being in bear form, and using rage as resource instead. Rebirth = 50 rage, Tranquility = 70 rage, Innervate = 40 rage, just to throw a suggestion out there.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tanking Guide - Shields level 15-85 (Cataclysm Update)

This is an updated version of my old post, new shields have been added, some shields removed (that no longer exist in the game) and level requirements adjusted!

I decided to list them by level, since that's probably the easiest to follow. But if you're looking for shields that drop in a certain location just push ctrl+F and write the abbreviation e.g. WC, BFD, BRD, AH (Auction House that is) and etc. If you're looking for a certain boss drop just write the name of the boss. Remember that quest reward shields usually are obtainable at low levels although it requires you to do a higher level instance, which means that even if you can take the quest for the shield at level 20, you might have to be several levels higher to do the quest (depending on how boosted you can be).
  • Shields with mostly caster stats not included (although some of them are ok for tanking).
  • Shields from heroic Outland instances not included, since no one does them anymore.
  • Shields of green quality not included (since they're generally not very good).
  • Shields from raids not included.
  • Shields from PvP rewards not included.
  • Shields are all of blue quality unless stated otherwise.
Level requirement - name (location, mob)

15 - Gold-plated Buckler (DM, Miner Johnson (Rare))
16 - Kresh's Back (WC, Kresh), Worn Turtle Shell Shield (WC, Kresh), Commander's Crest (SFK, Commander Springvale)
17 – Darkshore Warder's Shield (Quest, The Battle for Darkshore (horde)), Shield of Azsharan Conquest (The Conquest of Azshara (alliance))
19 - Redbeard Crest (AH, BoE)
20 – Shield Against the Evil Presence (Nightmare of the Deeps (horde), Blackfathom Villainy (alliance))
24 - Thermaplugg's Central Core (GR, Mekgineer Thermaplugg)
25 - Shield of Thorsen (AH, BoE)
26 - Resplendent Guardian (AH, BoE)
29Shield of Comrades (Quest, Stripping Their Defenses (horde)), Shield of the Righteous Cause (Quest, The Only True Path (alliance)).
33 - Skullance Shield (AH, BoE)
35 - Battered Viking Shield (Uldaman, Olaf), Olaf's All Purpose Shield (Uldaman, Olaf), Aegis of the Scarlet Commander (SM Cath, Scarlet Commander Mograine)
36 - The Green Tower (AH, BoE (epic)), Shield of Maraudon (Maraudon, Princess Theradras)
40 - Aegis of Battle (Quest, Venom to Undercity (horde only)), Savage Boar's Guard (RFD, Ragglesnout (rare)), Intricately Runed Shield (Scholomance, Ras Frostwhisper), Petrified Bark Shield (Dire Maul, Tendris Warpwood)
41 - Blackskull Shield (Ah, BoE (epic))
44 - Troll Protector (AH, BoE), Barrier Shield (Dire Maul, Tribute Run)
45 - Wall of the Dead (AH, BoE (epic))
47 - Stoneshell Guard (BRD, Roccor)
48Crest of Retribution (Stratholme, Ramstein), Husk of Nerub'enkan (Strat, Nerub'enkan)
49 - Aegis of Stormwind (AH, BoE)
51 - Rock Golem Bulwark (BRD, Panzor the Invincible)
54 - Skullflame Shield (AH, BoE (epic)), Avalanchion's Stony Hide (Azshara, Avalanchion)
55 - Draconian Deflector (UBRS, General Drakkisath)
56 - Milli's Shield (Quest, Shards of the Felvine), Avalanchion's Stony Hide (AH, BoE)
57 - Intricately Runed Shield (Scholo, Ras Frostwhisper), Darrowshire Strongguard (Quest, The Lich, Ras Frostwhisper)
60 - Jagged Obsidian Shield (Crafted (epic))
62 - Petrified Lichen Guard (Rep with Sporeggar)
64 - Shield of the Void (MT, Pandemonius)
65 - Shield of the Wayward Footman (AH, BoE)
68 - Platinum Shield of the Valorous (SL, Ambassador Hellmaw)
70 - Netherwing Protector's Shield (Quest, Ally of the Netherwing), Aegis of the Sunbird (Bot, High Botanist Freywinn), Ogri'la Aegis (Rep with Ogri'la), Silvermoon Crest Shield (SL, Murmur)
72 - Bulwark of the Tormented God (Quest, Ursoc the Bear God (level 73 req for alliance))
73 - Saronite Defender (AH, Crafted)
75 - Riot Shield (VH, Xevozz)
76 - Blade-Binding Bulwark (AH, BoE)
77 - Saronite Bulwark (Crafted)
78 - Bulwark of the Warchief (rep with Horde Expedition (horde only)), Shield of the Lion-hearted (rep with Alliance Vanguard (alliance only)), Leeka's Shield (CoS, Malganis Chest), Shield of the Iron Maiden (Blackrock Caverns, Rom'ogg Bonecrusher)
83 – Bulwark of the Primordial Mound (Halls of Origination, Earthrager Ptah)
84 – Truthbreaker Shield (Quest, A Villain Unmasked (alliance)), Twilight Mirrorshield (Quest, Traitor´s Bait (horde))
85 – Elementium Earthguard (AH, Crafted), Extinct Turtle Shield (Archaeology), Shield of Four Grey Towers (JP Vendor), Blockade's Lost Shield (AH, BoE (epic))

Removed or changed shields in Cataclysm
18 - Arctic Buckler (Quest, Blackfathom Villainy) REMOVED
23 - Marbled Buckler (Quest, A vengeful fate (horde), The Crone of the Kraul (alliance)) REMOVED
27 - Heart of Agamaggan (RFK, Charlga Razorflank) CHANGED
30 - Vigilant Buckler (Quest, Malin's request (alliance only)) REMOVED
32 - Pit Fighter's Shield (Quest, Trol'kalar (horde only)) REMOVED
55 - Argent Defender (Quest, The Argent Hold) REMOVED
57 - Dreadguard's Protector (DM West, Lord Hel'Nurath) REMOVED?

If you notice anything incorrect, please tell me :)
Thanks to Wowhead.com for helping me do this list!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Traveller's Guide to A Tribute Run

One of the best things about Cataclysm (yes, the altoholic in me is speaking again), is that they decided to make some of the old Vanilla instances more accessible. Not only by lowering their level requirement so that they're actually interesting, relevant and available before you get to Outlands, they're not as hellish as they used to be, although far from cake-walks at the appropriate levels. I'm talking about Dire Maul, Stratholme and Scholomance. The ogre-part of Dire Maul is actually quite tricky, and one thing I really like about it is that they've kept the Tribute Run! The Tribute Run used to be quite troublesome, where you needed to bring special items into the instance to be able to complete it. I wanted to find out if Blizzard had simplified this as well, and turns out, they have. Everything you need to finish it is now in the instance, but that doesn't mean that they're just handing out the Tribute Run on a plate. Doing a Tribute Run is actually more work than just burning through the instance, but in the end you'll be rewarded by other blues than what normally drops.

So what is a Tribute Run anyway? Quite simple - the goal of Dire Maul - North is to become king of the Ogres. In Ogre-society, that is achieved by killing the current king. It doesn't really matter that you're not an Ogre yourself, if you kill the king you're obviously more fit to lead the Ogres than he was, or so they have decided anyway. Once you've killed the king, all the guards of the instance will come and pay you their Tribute, that is the special tribute loot that you're after. Problem is, if you kill all the guards, there won't be anyone to give you anything! Therefore, you must aim to keep those alive that are going to give you loot. As long as you're not the king however, everyone in the instance will try to kill you, so you must avoid, trick and incapacitate the guards in order to not kill them. This is how to do it!

The instance entrance, in case you'd like to get there without pugging, which you probably won't because there isn't much point in doing Dire Maul at any other level!

Once you get inside you can either choose to go left, down the slope, or right. The left way is shorter, but it will lead you to the first Guard, Mol'dar. Therefore, you want to go right.

The right way takes a little more time. But it'll be worth it in the end!

The first guard, Mol'dar, that you want to avoid.

This is where you will avoid the second guard, Fengus. His chest is in the middle, and you need his key to get through the next gates. He walks around this area, so just make sure you know where you've got him, and he's fairly easy to avoid.

Sneaking in to get the key...

Hihi, Fengus never noticed a thing!

The next guard to avoid is Slip'kik, and he is probably the trickiest. He patrols too, so just make sure he's moved away before you do anything. First of all, you should clear the group that stands by the fire. Once you've done that, you activate the frost trap (can be seen just left of Slip'kik on the picture) on the ground. You used to need an item, I think a Frost Oil, to be able to activate it, now you don't need anything. When Slip'kik unsupectingly comes back, he will step in it and voila! - a frozen ogre.

He is frozen indefinitely, just don't attack him.

Next step is to give this guy, Knot Thimblejack, some Ogre Tanning, so that he can craft you an Ogre Suit which you need to avoid the last guard. This used to be the most troublesome part of the Tribute Run, because the Ogre Suit required a lot of different materials. Now, you only need Ogre Tanning, and it is just up ahead.

There we have it! Now just run down and hand it in, for your very own Ogre Suit. Just don't use it right away, it only has one charge and lasts 10 minutes.

Aint I pretty?

The last guard to avoid is Kromcrush, and you're actually better off having him walk away than fighting him. Not only does he fear you, he also spawns adds that hit really hard. Fighting him is probably one of the tougher fights in the instance, especially if you're healer isn't ready for it. With the Ogre Suit on he turns friendly to you however, and you can go talk to him. You'll tell him a little lie which has him walk away. The course lies clear to kick the Kings butt!

Well almost anyway. There is actually one last guy you should avoid killing, but unfortunately you can't avoid getting into combat with him. That is the kings add, Cho'rush the Observer. Just make sure no one kills him and focus on King Gordok.

The king is dead, long live the king! Once you've killed Gordok you get a buff that make all the ogres in the instance friendly to you. Mizzle the Crafty will come running to hand you your tribute. Let's have a look!

Ach, if only my warrior had been here... two tank items!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Assassins Creed: Brotherhood

When Assassins Creed: Brotherhood was first announced, it was greeted with mild interest by many players. The first two games in the series, Assassins Creed and Assasins Creed 2 where competent games with some interesting features, but both suffered from being slightly too repetitive to stay interesting in the long run. It was fun to run around on rooftops, sneaking around and doing assignments, but mostly it really just was the same over and over. Although the second game managed to improve the concept somewhat, it still had the same basic problem - too much of the same thing. Even the simplest of concepts, like Tetris, change in that they become more difficult. Assassins Creed lacked much of this however. So when Love got to hear about Brotherhood, a sort of expansion to AC2, he merely shrugged his shoulders and continued playing some other game. Even if there might be new assignments, a new city to jump around in, it would really just be the same all over again, and in that case there were more interesting things to do. Until he read a game review on the game that explained some of the new features. The review stated that enough of the game felt new and fresh to be worth a play through, so Love set to it.
From Wikipedia

Brotherhood takes place in Rome while AC2 was in Venice. Although we now play in a new city, it could've just as well have been Venice, and much of the game really is the same old. Ezio jumps around the city rooftops and the storyline is one of treachery, betrayal and power in exactly the same way as in the previous games. The premise of the game taking place as a travel in genetic memories is still there of course, but really just a way to explain the boundaries of the game. Whenever there is something you can't do, it's because it's "untrue to the original memory". In that way Ubisoft have made themselves a great tool for explaining why you can't leave the city or do exactly what you want with the assignments you get. Hat off for at least trying to invent something new beside the "you wake up in a room and don't remember your name"-plot. It works and does what it should without interfering with general gameplay too much.

So, much in the game is like in AC2. You take assignments, jump around rooftops, blend with crowds, push people around and fight guards just as in the other two games. You can buy and build new features into Rome just as you could in Venice, where new buildings will earn you money and give you access to new weapons and armors, among other things. This feels more like giving the player both a way to earn more money, and have some way to spend it, and just as in AC2 this isn't what will keep you interested in playing. Yet again however, one must recognize the fact that Ubisoft are trying to make something new of a standard feature in many games, that of repairing and buying new items, by wanting to turn it into something more immersive and interesting.

The graphics and gameplay are basically exactly the same, meaning they're great. Just running around exploring is fun in itself for a long time, as anyone who enjoyed the first two games will know. There really isn't much else to say about them. If you've played the first two games you'll know exactly what Brotherhood looks and feels like.

We will get to meet Da Vinci again, who has a set of crazy inventions up his sleeve just as in the last game. They're both useful and fun, and do add something new to the old "jumping around rooftops" to keep us entertained for an extra couple of hours. His role is much as it was in AC2, meaning he's not a very important character to the plot, but rather some added flavor to the game as a whole. Da Vinci is far from the only character based of off a real person, in fact most of the important characters in the plot are based of people who once existed. Ubisoft have also implemented a data base with information about the era, giving the player a chance to educate themselves a little if they'd like to know more about the real Rome during these years.

But there are indeed some new features. Are they really good enough to warrant a playthrough, if you're bored with AC2?

The biggest change is the newly added Assassins Guild feature. Ezio can recruit his own band of assassins, send them on missions all over Europe, earning them experience with which you can improve their stats and gear. The more difficult the mission, aka the lower the succes rate, the more experience your assassins will get. As long as they're not on mission they can also be called in to help you out on your own missions, which can turn into a really powerful tool when used correctly making it a little more than just a mini-game within the game. It might not sound much, but it's just as fun as in any "collect and improve"-game, where Pokémon probably is the best example. There just is something really entertaining about taking care of your own band of Assassins, seeing how they improve and fight beside them.

They've thrown in a bunch of new weapons which are fun, but also adding to one of the biggest problems of the game series as a whole, which I've mentioned shortly . The new weapons simply are too good, making the player too powerful and the game too simple. One thing that made the previous games dull in the long run was the lack of any real challenge (remember Tetris again). Ezio is supposed to be a badass assassin of course, but there is not much fun in kicking the ass of everything you see and being practically unkillable, at least not in the long run. Since you can't restart a mission without dying, there are even situations where you will have to help the guards kill you, if for example you've failed wtih a mission and want to start over. They just can't do it by themselves. Much of the challenge in the game lies in completing the missions as close to perfect as possible, but there is no good way to restart them if you fail. If you simply restart them you start all over, clearing any checkpoints you might have made. The best way is to die, but like mentioned, that isn't always an easy task. Trial and error in a game doesn't have to be a bad thing, but it must be practical. In this game you rarely feel like you can be arsed to try to kill yourself to redo something, unless you really have to.

The game is designed to be played on both consoles and computers, but in some cases they've made too many compromises to have the game work with both. You can only assign four hotkeys for example, which in any computer game is just stupid. They've also chosen to map a lot of features to only a few set of keys, which makes sense on a gamepad, but not on a keyboard. Having three different things happen on the same key depending on where you do it is a great solution if you don't have many keys to spare, but it's a bad solution anywhere else. It tends to be a problem when your character burns down a building instead of looting a corpse, just because the key does both. Targetting can be somewhat of a problem at times as well. None of this ruins the game of course, but it's still annoying.

Another interesting design choice is that you can't save any progress yourself.
This isn't an uncommon feature in games, and doesn't have to be a bad thing. Problem in AC:Brotherhood however is that the saving process is really subtle, probably in an effort to not ruin immersion, but it also makes it difficult to know exactly what progress has been saved and which hasn't. Overall you can be pretty certain that the game saves progress after you've succeeded with a mission or bought something new to the city, for example, but you can never be completely sure. It has made Love lose progress a couple of times, and can be somewhat annoying of course.

Overall, AC:Brotherhood is a mix of the old and the new,
but mostly the old. It does retain everything about the old games, making it common ground for anyone whos played and enjoyed any of those. It does also add a couple of new features which makes the game a little fresh and interesting. The answer to the above question has to be - nah. If you're really bored with the first two games, this game won't be worth your money, but if you enjoyed AC and AC2 this game is well worth a playthrough.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I dare you to get rid of Spirit

As a healer I've always had a very special relationship to spirit. It's been with me through good and bad, to some of us it has been among the best and most important stats while others have just shrugged at it and chosen intellect instead. It made gearing for a disc/holy priest like me living hell in Wrath, since it was a great stat for holy and not so awesome for disc. To holy it used to give both spellpower and regen, something Blizzard removed with Cata (giving us pure regen instead). This is really taking a step back to how Spirit first used to work for us healers.

In Vanilla most healers focused on something called the 5-second rule. Since our main way to regain mana during a fight was done when not casting, we had to find good opportunities to pause our casting to regen mana. This meant careful planning of our heals, and was nothing like the heal-spamming that was to come in Wrath. There were exceptions of course, paladins could often heal both spammily (yes, that is a word now) and endlessly thanks to the fact that all ranks of heals (back when we still had ranks) were equally affected by spellpower. This way paladins could use rank 1 Holy Light or Flash of Light, which cost nearly no mana, but still healed loads thanks to a bunch of spellpower. Other classes, like mages, had a certain gear set for equipping only when they used Evocation, only to get as much out of it as possible (back when you could swap any gear mid combat and Evocation was based on spirit). Back then Blizzard came to the conclusion that to reward healers for not healing seemed a little counter intuitive (although they seem to have wanted to return to that somewhat in Cata). Instead they wanted us to base our choices not on when to heal, but who and how. Healing changed quite a lot with Burning Crusade and although the 5 second rule existed all the way to patch 4.0.1 when it was removed, in practice it hasn't been in use much since Vanilla.

The removal of the 5-second rule with Cata means that spirit in itself doesn't give us any mana as long as we are in combat. But Blizzard had thought of tools that would help us with our casting/combat regen already before they made this change. Back in BC, because spirit would only affect regen out of casting, Blizzard implemented two "tools" that would make mana less of a concern for healers. The first was mp5, which they also removed with Cata to return healing more to the state it was in in Vanilla (and also because they did a general streamlining of stats). The second was various talents that would allow for our spirit regen to continue while in combat. These talents can look differently, but they have the same result - more mana. Holy priests for instance have Holy Concentration, which in its current shape allows for 30% of our spirit regen (that is out of combat mana regen) to continue while we are in combat. Another example is Clearcast, which by giving the healer a free of mana cast allows for him to stay out of casting for a longer period of time, making the 5-second rule stay in effect longer. Before they removed the 5-second rule, CC worked a lot like any regen talent. Because of the removal of the 5 second rule, CC has been nerfed since it now only gives a free cast, and no extra regen (since there is no out of cast regen any longer). I am not sure if Blizzard compensated for this by making CC proc more often, but it doesn't seem to be a major concern for druids in any case.

Like mentioned, spirit had a prominent role for some healers in Wrath, providing with extra stats like spellpower, while others had more gain from Intellect. In BC Blizzard also connected spirit and intellect by making spirit regen more the more intellect you had. Intellect became more and more important since it increased our mana pools, gave more crit and then also the added regen to spirit. Skills like Replenishment and Rapture were affected by max mana, not spirit, which made intellect even more important. The only healers who decided to stick with spirit were the ones who had some extra benefit from it. In a sense Blizzard had divided the healers into the intellect-regeners and the spirit-regeners, but overall spirit was definitely going out of style.

In its current implementation, what makes spirit so interesting is that it is both one of our most important, and least important stats. In itself, it doesn't actually really do anything for our healing. It doesn't actively increase healing output or throughput. It only makes sure we can heal at all, which in a way is the most important factor to any healer. Spirit could be compared to the dps stat hit - it doesn't do anything in itself, it just passively makes sure that all the other stats (strength, agi, crit, haste) are worth something at all. If you don't hit your target, your crit isn't worth anything. Spirit works much in the same way by providing us with more mana. If you don't have mana for your heals, all the haste in the world won't do you any good. But just as dpsers make sure to only get a certain amount of hit, I would like to argue that we healers should only get a certain amount of spirit. Some healers stack spirit, but I just don't see the point. Because spirit isn't worth anything as long as you actually have mana, there is no use to it whatsoever after the point where you have enough mana to tackle an encounter. Spirit works a lot like it did for those evocating mages back in Vanilla. As soon as they were done getting their mana, they quickly removed all their spirit again. Unfortunately we don't have the option to swap gear mid combat, but we can still keep spirit down to bare minimum. We should only use it as long as it is beneficial, and go for anything else when it isn't. The key is of course to identify that limit.

Unfortunately, that is far from as easy
as just reaching some certain percentage as with hit. How much mana you need to have all the mana you'd might want during any of the current raid fights (and/or heroics) depends on a lot of different things. Not only what class and spec you happen to be, but also what the rest of your group looks like, and as mentioned your mana pool has to be able to sustain all the current content that you're interested in running. Change one of these elements and it is back to the drawing board. I do understand it if healers just decide to go for as much spirit as possible to cover all bases - on the other hand this is an endless resource of stat-tinkering if you're into that sort of thing. Back in Wrath when only a few classes had replenishment skills, you really noticed the difference in your mana pool when you didn't bring one of those classes. Nowadays we notice that druid innervates and to an even greater extent, shaman mana tide totems make a whole lot of difference. Whenever I oom on a fight where I usually don't, it's always a sure bet that we brought less or no resto shamans with us.

But it's not an impossibe task. Many of us, myself included, don't run in groups that change that much. Few raiders today can count themselves as lucky enough to have an active raider base that allows for major changes in a group setup. Changes do happen of course, and when we had one resto shaman quit and the other one go on a minor break, I noticed at once on my strained mana pool. I have gemmed and reforged with those resto shamans in mind, and removing them from my regen calculation made a big difference. Loads of spirit is also useful if you're prone to dying and being resurrected, because you've suddenly gone to 10% mana a lot faster than you had anticipated. Personally I don't believe in making too many changes to accomodate the "dying scenario". Hopefully any changes made beforehand will prevent you from ever getting into that situation. For heroics it's probably best to not count on any sort of support regen. There won't be a resto shaman there with mana tide, unless you happen to be that shaman. Don't count on the druids using their innervates on you. The chance that you'll be completely without replenishment is small, but still there.  Point is, in most cases you'll be able to estimate your personal needs for mana pretty accurately if you just put some time into it. Once you have that figure you should add some to give you a little leeway, and then convert any excess spirit into more useful stats like mastery, haste or crit, depending on what happens to be your cup of tea. There are tools that can help you with these estimations, like any combat logger, with which you can get raw numbers of your mana output, compare between fights and get a final number on what you need to tackle the fights you're currently in. Another great tool is good old experience. Once you get to the point where you've done the same fight a couple of times, you're  probably into a certain "rotation" on how you deal with the fight and should know fairly accurate how much mana you put to use. You're probably put to do the same task in each fight respectively, so even if some elements of the fight will change, you'll still have a pretty good picture of how you heal the fight. As soon as you notice that you have way more mana in the end of the fight than you should, you can start looking at converting spirit into other stats.

The challenge is to get as close to zero mana each fight, after having burned through any regen tools that you might have (Divine Plea, Innervates, Shadowfiend etc), with the pot as a saver for special occasions. This isn't to put extra strain on your fellow healers, you're not supposed to just stop healing. Quite the opposite, by converting your spirit into more useful stats, you'll hopefully be an even bigger contributor to the overall healing output. Any mana regened at the end of the fight that isn't put to use isn't wasted mana, it's wasted stats. You could've had more haste, crit or mastery for those manas! I make it sound easy of course, but it is far from. Like I said, it is possible, and if you ever find yourself without something to do, you've just got yourself a challenge. Lose those spirits!