Friday, February 29, 2008

The Fury Equation

Tobold asked for some advice on a Solo/Quest spec for a warrior that also had some utility in raids and instances. My opinion on the state of the Fury warrior is not positive, but it’s still a very enjoyable spec to play. Tanking as Fury is not for the unskilled however and it takes a good player to make up for the shortcomings. Anyway, that being said, here were the thoughts I posted over at Tobold’s blog:

When min/maxing a DPS warrior, I believe the most important factor to consider is the speed of the weapon you will be using. Several talent choices make more sense with fast weapons, and others make more sense with slow weapons. Obviously, a 2H weapon is slow and you choose accordingly. This topic of which is better (fast or slow 1H) is heavily debated amongst warriors, but I find that both are very viable and only spec and playstyle make a difference. The primary reason that slow weapons are often preferred over fast weapons is because of how damage is calculated with certain instant attack abilities. Bloodthirst however, is based on AP and not weapon damage. For DW and even Protection builds, it’s very possible to spec for fast weapons and have the build be very viable.

They key talents in fast/fast spec are Improved Heroic Strike and Unbridled Wrath. Unbridled Wrath generates more rage the more often you hit, good for fast and bad for slow. Needless to say, that if you use slow weapons, then you want to AVOID these talents as they don’t provide nearly as much benefit.

Imp HS is not optional for fast/fast, it’s required. This is because Heroic Strike is the most efficient rage dump for a fast/fast Fury warrior. By “rage dump”, I mean – when you have in excess of 42 rage, use Heroic Strike. This also assumes that you already have your buffs (Battle Shout, Rampage) and debuffs (Sunder Armor) up for maximum benefit.

Heroic Strike (and to a lesser degree Cleave) are interesting skills in that they are based on “next attack” and are not impacted by the global cooldown. However, they come with a rage penalty in that they count as yellow damage and you only gain rage on white attacks. In white attacks only, a 2.8 slow 1H weapon with the same DPS as a 1.4 fast 1H weapon will generate identical rage. However, when Heroic Strike is used – the 2.8 attack will generate no rage while the 1.4 will generate 50% of the amount it normally would have gained over the same period of time (2.8 seconds). Also, if you have the excess rage for it, you could get in two Heroic Strikes.

This is also why a Fury warrior can still make a decent OT or 5-man Tank. Again, remember that Heroic Strike generates a lot of threat and isn’t on GCD. With enough rage it’s possible to spam Revenge, Sunder Armor, Shield Block and Heroic Strike. If the weapon is fast and you have Imp HS, then your threat per second is higher. You’ll need to master sundering multiple targets to maintain multi-target aggro, but macros can help. “/cast [target=mouseover] Sunder Armor” can be used to simply throw sunders on mobs without changing your current target. If you go deep into the Fury tree, you are going to struggle going deep in the protection tree, so you’ll need something like that macro to act as your Improved Taunt. If you mark well with the charms, even PUGs can figure out that they wipe when they don’t DPS the skull.

One area that is tough for the Prot minded Fury Warrior is Toughness vs. Shield Specialization. Since you aren’t going deep into the tree, you need to make a call between these two talents. Keep in mind that Blocks are not avoidance, so these are really two different types of mitigation. One provides better mitigation on trash and the other helps with crushing blows. Strictly speaking, Toughness is superior to Shield Spec for mitigation – however, Shield Spec provides access to Improved Shield Block. Improved Shield Block is nice for two reasons: an extra block to assist with crushing blows and an extra block that can proc Revenge. Note that Improved Parry is superior to both Toughness and Shield Spec in that it directly impacts avoidance. Parry also has the benefit of reducing the weapon speed on your next attack by 40%, which is pretty nice for a Fury Warrior.

The other advantage to fast/fast is consistent and more predictable rage generation. For sustained DPS, this is more helpful than the burst rage that comes with slow weapons. Keep in mind that dual wielding comes at a the price of a hefty miss chance and that even with a lot of +hit, you will still miss quite a bit and misses hurt more when you use a slow weapon. On average however, it’s similar rage per minute.

The disadvantage to fast/fast is that your Whirlwind will do less damage since it’s based on weapon damage. Likewise, Sweeping Strikes will gain less benefit since the extra free attacks are with weapons that do less damage. Cleave/Whirlwind + Sweeping Strikes does crazy AoE damage, so if you plan on doing this a lot in solo grinding, consider a slower weapon. Another minor disadvantage is that slow weapons are superior in PvP. Namely, because in order to gain maximum benefit – you always need to be in melee range. Other players rarely stand still for you and a slow weapon often has time to recharge for its burst attack when you get back in range. This is also why 2H weapons (with greater burst damage) are far superior in PvP.

The other “must-have” abilities for any Fury warrior spec are Cruelty, Imp Execute, Dual Wield Spec, Bloodthrist, Rampage, Imp Berserker Stance, and Flurry. Obviously some of those are “duh” talents, so I’ll only comment on the two more misunderstood or debatable ones.

First—Rampage. If you don’t take Rampage, then you don’t have a good understanding for how your Fury build works. Most damage is done through white attacks that are made even faster with Flurry. The damage calculated from your white attacks is derived from weapon damage and attack power. In other words, attack power complements your increased weapon speed from Flurry. For the very same reason, Battle Shout is still superior for a non-tanking Fury warrior over Commanding Shout. Secondly, Bloodthirst is AP based – so this ability also compliments your primary attack. Agreed, it’s a pain in the ass—but addons can make it less of a pain in the ass. My favorite is Power Auras which allows you to create a very visable timer on Rampage so that you can see when it is going to expire. Avion is another addon that has this type of functionality. Very helpful for managing your shouts and rampage. They key is to reapply it before it ever expires. This is another one of those areas that having fast/fast weapons and better sustained rage generation is helpful. In PvP however, it’s hard to get up quickly unless you are taking a bunch of damage and getting some heals. You are better off spamming Execute and Heroic Strike on low-health cloth.

Improved Execute. This is not optional. Contrary to how the tooltip for Execute is written, building up 100 rage and then popping Execute is rage inefficient. You actually want to spam this ability as often as possible for max DPS. The exception would be when Bloodthirst is up and you have 40+ rage. Then you should Bloodthirst, then Execute. Because Imp Execute lowers the amount of rage needed, you can use the ability more often for less rage. Consider that you can get in 3 improved executes for the cost of 2 normal executes. The mistake made when looking at this talent is the idea that since you are simply holding back rage for execute, the lowered rage cost effectively translates to only a marginal increase in damage. That’s only true if you hold back rage for Execute. If you dump it at 10 rage, it’s the most rage-to-dps efficient ability in your arsenal.

If you want a fast/fast Fury build that can OT decently, then I would suggest something like this build with a minor focus on threat and mitigation.

If you want a fast/fast Fury build that maximizes your DPS, then I would suggest something like this build with a very heavy emphasis on the Fury talents. Fury talents tend to make other Fury talents better, max DPS for Fury typically means going 50+ points into the tree.

Edit: I didn’t mention this in the original comment, but there are also schools of thought about using varying weapon speeds for manipulating the Flurry applications so that it procs more frequently on the Mainhand (since it does more damage the offhand). My personal take is that I would rather have two fast weapons and a crit rate upwards of 30% to ensure that Flurry is up often enough that the gain from this tactic is minimal.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Kinless has an excellent blog entry regarding the lack of diversity in the different gear models for players. It’s a pretty common complaint, but perhaps I can offer a couple of possible explanations.

First, from a technical standpoint, each new gear model requires two models for each race that can wear the item type. You need two because each race has a male and female model. In nearly every case, this means that you need 20 models for each piece of new gear. The technical problem is that the addition of each new model takes up system resources (RAM, in particular) that is used for the model. By contrast, simply skinning (or recoloring) the model does not take up much in the way of system resources and one skin can likely be used for several models. To make matters worse, the really cool looking models take up the most resources due to the complexity of detail. The more detail, the bigger the memory footprint for the model.

Quite honestly, that’s also the same reason we don’t see a greater variety of creature models. I honestly expect that WoTLK will be similar to BC in that it doesn’t offer up as many new creatures as we would all like. Be prepared to fight lots of Winter Wolves, Polar Bears, Angry Snow Boars, Frost Trolls, Ice Yeti, Chillwind Ogres, and Freezing Oozes. That being said, creative use in reskinning the models can still make things very visually cool and distinct. I remember reskinning the default model in Quake II to look like Spiderman and Superman – and, by golly, it looked like Spiderman with no noticeable performance hit. Of course, using more vibrant colors can make things cooler, but too often the player looks more like a Power Ranger than a Night Elf Mohawk. I also had a really cool model replacement that turned my guy into a huge demon with wings. Unfortunately, the level of detail was about 15x that of the original model and my FPS dropped very noticeably (~10 to 15FPS).

So here is the question? Are you willing to sacrifice system performance for a better variety of player models? If you have an uber computer, I imagine you don’t care. But Blizzard has always built their games with performance for a “casual” gamers without the uber computers. The best example here is that Starcraft was released in 256 colors. At the time, all the new games were using 16-bit colors or better. They were railed at the time and several people even shouted that the graphics were already outdated at release. Well, the game did pretty well and even today has a strong fan base.

Secondly, I believe that Blizzard is reserving the new models they are producing for WoTLK. The expectation when the xpac is released is that there will be lots of new and fresh content. If everything simply looks the same, then people will be very disappointed. Consider that the next time you see a blue response in the forums on the topics with the response, “Do you want us working on new models or WoTLK?” Transalation: “I’m sorry, but we are saving new content for the next paid expansion.” Of course, the xpac is also a good time to tell people: “Please note that the recommended system requirements for playing World of Warcraft have changed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The truths about Alterac Valley

Tobold had an interesting post on his blog concerning AV and whether or not it was now actually balanced. This sparked a hot topic that has been brewing inside me for a while now because I have played both sides of AV extensively and I am constantly amazed at the myths and blatant idiocy that is perpetuated by this battleground.

First, a few quick facts about my AV experience for the purpose of establishing credibility:
  • I have four “more than Exalted” toons with the AV faction. It’s “more than” because if it wasn’t capped, I’d be Exalted several times over. In fact, I typically use AV to get Exalted in the four normal factions.

  • Those four toons span both factions: Gnome Rogue, Night Elf Warrior, Troll Warrior, Troll Rogue

  • All AV experience for the Rogues is after patch 2.3, the Troll Warrior was pre-BC and 2.0, and the NE Warrior is ~ patch 2.1

  • I have played both factions extensively in the most current 2.3 patch

  • I have won regularly with both factions during every patch. By winning regularly, I mean 50% or more of my AV games.

  • I have never played in an organized pre-made for AV. I point this out only to indicate that’s very possible to win in Battleground PUGs.

The first truth about Alterac Valley is that faction and map imbalance means nothing in the face of good communication. The most obvious proof of this is that a pre-made AV will typically school you in 9 to 11 minutes and will often result in almost no honor gain. Interestingly, it’s not even important that it be the best strategy, only a winning strategy that everyone follows. Each faction has several different strategies that will win. Granted, there is a BEST strategy, but it’s less important that it be used than it is to simply get everyone to agree to follow the same strategy. The most critical moments for establishing communication happen at the very start before the gates open. If you or someone else simply steps up with a winning plan and you (in turn) endorse it vocally in chat and help shout down the inevitable “we tried it that way last time and lost” crap that happens, you’ll increase your odds of winning by 75%.

This type of communication works because of the second truth about Alterac Valley. Twenty-five of your 40 players are sheep and run around on auto-pilot doing whatever everyone else is doing. They just look for the most mayhem and chaos and run to it. Five are AFK and guarding the cave. The other 10 are the Difference Makers. These Difference Makers are the ones who win the AV for you. Speaking from experience, you don’t need to be well-geared to be a Difference Maker in AV. You need to be well-geared to pwn face, but not to help your team win. He who contributes most is not the one at the top of the damage or killing blow chart. Many times, it’s that key moment when a badly geared Paladin held out for that extra few seconds to allow a graveyard respawn or a flag to cap.

Which brings me to the third truth about Alterac Valley: Helping the team win is simply about being in the right place at the right time. The best example of this is recapturing the towers and bunkers in the middle. Each undestroyed tower means that an extra NPC is waiting inside with your General. If you can retake the tower before it pops and the offense is well past the middle, then you have a good shot at keeping that NPC alive and making the encounter with the General more difficult for the other side. Even one NPC can make a huge impact if you can get one or two defenders in with the General to wreak havoc. If you have an addon like Capping, then it is very easy to track how much time is remaining on a tower. I find the best time to start looking to retake a tower is between one and two minutes. Often, the rush of attackers that assaulted the tower have moved on to something else and left it lightly defended. Given the current environment post 2.3, the best tactical advice I can give for helping your team win is generally either a) assaulting a tower or b) defending a tower until three to four towers of one faction are destroyed.

The point here is that the single biggest contributing factor to winning and losing in AV is not strategy or map imbalance—it’s YOU! If you choose to be a Difference Maker and work at winning by communicating and not acting like a sheep, then you will win more games than not. One thing you’ll notice about the pre-mades is that it always seems like there is 4 or more of them defending or assaulting all the towers at the same time. Does it feel like they are all in one place like sheep or does it feel like they are everywhere?

Horde vs. Alliance
To my earlier point above, I’ve played both sides extensively and have been a Difference Maker regularly winning 50% or more of my AV games regardless of factions. When I played Horde exclusively, I was convinced that AV was not just imbalanced, but incredibly imbalanced in favor of the Alliance. While I still maintain that prior to patch 2.3 this was very true, I formed a different opinion when I started playing AV as Alliance. It turned out that the edge was quite a bit less than I had believed when I was Horde. Properly played, the Horde have some equally frustrating choke points and some other nice advantages. Unfortunately, prior to 2.3, these advantages often didn’t result in a win for the Horde, they just made the game more lengthy.

Each side has two choke points. The Alliance have Stormpike Graveyard and then the entire Aid Station, Stompike Bunker, Bridge of Death corridor. The Horde have Iceblood Graveyard and the Frostwolf Towers.

Iceblood is superior to Stormpike GY. It has covering fire from two relatively nearby towers and a nice chokepoint. Unlike SP GY, the assault on IB GY can only come from one direction and that is through a tower. However, it is much easier to skip IB GY than SP GY if the defenders fight on the flag. For that reason, it’s better to fight nearer the tower where the two points are more narrow. Even prior to patch 2.3, a strong early defense at this position could often fragment the Alliance offense and give the Horde a decided advantage in the race to the General. Smart Difference Makers can easily take Stormpike Graveyard by assaulting the flag from behind. Typically, the sheep attacking from the main road (where they are easily choked) often provide a great diversion to SP defenders.

The Bridge of Death, SP bunkers and Aid Station are superior to the Frostwolf Towers. Prior to patch 2.3, this difference was the source of most of the imbalance complaints the Horde made about Alterac Valley. First, the bridge is easily defensible from the Aid Station with covering fire from the bunkers and support from the NPCs. The proximity from the Aid Station flag to the bridge chokepoint makes an Alliance defender capable of defending both the Aid Station and the choke point. The Horde, by contrast, have to leave the FW Relief Hut susceptible to getting easily taken by a Rogue or Druid while they defend the FW Towers. Any Alliance that recall back to defend the base are also conveniently placed right next to the Aid Station flag. To make matters worse, the Alliance NPCs nearby are easily aggroed and frequently end up in combat. When defended by 5-10 Alliance, this can be incredibly difficult to capture for the Horde. In any “race” to kill the General, this is a very decided advantage for the Alliance.

Frostwolf Graveyard and Stonehearth Graveyard deserve a brief mention. Basically, these are of equivalent strategic value in that they are of very little value. Both are easily taken by the other side. Arguably, Frostwold GY is a bit more valuable to Horde defenders after the Relief Hut has been taken by the Alliance now that they no longer pop up in the cave when they die. Likewise, Stormpike GY has similar value once the Aid Station has been capped. But beyond that, very little value to either of them.

Snowfall GY is the enigma. Alliance pretty much get this GY as a freebie. In a way it’s equally valuable for the Horde to WANT the Alliance to have this GY as it is for the Alliance to take it. Arguably, you could say that the Alliance DO have a third chokepoint next to Icewing Bunker, but allowing them to take Snowfall generally acts like “popping a cork” and lets the sheep pass each other. Since this turtle effect here only really happens when the Alliance don’t have control of Snowfall, I tend not to think of IW bunker as a real chokepoint of strategic value.

You’ll note from the above commentary that the towers and bunkers play a prominent role in defending the choke points. Interestingly, both Horde choke points involve towers while only one of the choke points has a bunker for the Alliance. In fact, as I point out above, that’s one major reason why Iceblood is superior to Stormpike Graveyard. The Alliance actually have two bunkers that just float out there and are easily taken by the Horde with little strategic value other than that which is inherent to a tower. The net result is that the Horde get two towers for very little effort while the Alliance are forced to expend more effort and time taking four towers.

In the old AV, the effort expended to take towers was meaningless. If 10 Alliance went back to defend the Aid Station, then towers or no towers, the Horde were going to have a rough go of getting in a position to take out the General. A stout defense even at Iceblood and the Frostwolf towers would inevitably lose ground to the Alliance based on sheer numbers alone. Faced with a long drawn out loss that netted 200 honor or a quick loss that netted 200 honor, most Horde found honor was ironically gained more quickly by simply acting like sheep and racing to the other teams General.

Part of the irony is that there is a nice “rush” strategy that properly executed results in a very quick Horde win due to the Horde starting position being closer to the middle. However, it’s not something easily explained through chat and never became common knowledge. (I’m still surprised at how many Horde go down the hill at Icewing bunker instead of up the hill through the trees past Jeztor and then on down the high road.)

Patch 2.3 changed things a bit in the Horde’s favor. And, dare I say, made the map more balanced as a result. With the introduction of reinforcements and their relationship to towers, the emphasis on holding and controlling towers is far greater than it was previously. The two near-freebie bunkers in the middle for the Horde allow the Horde to take an early edge in the reinforcement war that rewards a stout defense at Iceblood and Frostwolf. This is a fair counterbalance to the Bridge which can easily stall the Horde offense if properly defended. However, now if the Horde get stalled at the bridge, a stout defense can win the game for them anyway. Suddenly, there is an incentive again to practice defense and net more honor. The games are capped in length due to the reinforcement mechanic, so any war of the turtles is not doomed to an hour long game.

On the surface, that would seem to give the advantage to the Horde. Of course, when I play Alliance in 2.3, I still win all the time. Why? Because the Alliance STILL hold the advantage in being able to break past the defenses and kill the General. Optimal strategy for the Alliance is built on speed and ignoring objectives you don’t need right away. Skipping Iceblood altogether if it’s decently defended will force the defenders back to Frostwolf and make Iceblood (and the middle towers) easy pickings. Once you make it about a race to kill the General, the Alliance gain the advantage.

In short, the Horde and Alliance need to play different games. The Alliance are rewarded for playing offense fast and early. Whereas, the Horde are rewarded by keeping a modest part of the team (10-13 players) back on defense.

As to the differences in the Captains… Yes, Balinda is easier kill than Galv. But it’s really pretty pointless since neither of them are very difficult to kill and get taken in just about every game anyway. A group of Horde can wipe the Alliance at Galv, but only at the expense of leaving the Iceblood chokepoint lightly defended. A smart group of Difference Makers can just skip on down to the FW towers and cap the Aid Station.

I don’t know if we have “perfect” balance, but in my mind – there is a level of “acceptable” balance. The Alliance boycott is simply behavior induced by Blizzard caving to mismanaged perceptions. If you go from rarely losing a match to losing 50% of your matches, there might be balance – but you certainly don’t feel that way. Your satisfaction and reward from playing is half of what you were used to experiencing. Understandably, you might feel screwed, but it’s not really the case.

Monday, February 25, 2008

From newb to pwnage

Obviously, I play the game a lot and I am writing a blog about it, so Blizzard has clearly done far more right than wrong in putting together a game that is very fun to play. Still--there are two things that really bother me about the WoW game design.

The first is accessibility of content. Or more to the point, once the top-end content has passed it’s prime and is irrelevant to the hardcore, it SHOULD be re-tuned to make it relevant to the people who missed it the first time around. In most cases, it’s generally the more accepted path to simple skip the irrelevant content all together. I hate that I am encouraged to skip content simply because it’s a waste of time in my quest for better gear.

Which brings me to the second flaw and largest flaw in the game design. The game is entirely too focused on gear. The incremental benefit received for each gear upgrade far outweighs any incremental benefit gained from becoming a more skilled player.

This struck home to me when I leveled up my second rogue character. On my first rogue, I hit 70 and got man-handled in BGs and arenas. Over time, as I played more and more BGs and Arena and got more familiar with the class in end-game PvP, I started doing pretty well. This, of course, coincided with getting better gear by turning in my points. Eventually, I could just deal out pwnage at will and played my class very well in PvP. Then I leveled my second rogue 70 and started getting man-handled again. What the hell happened? Certainly I didn’t become a worse player or less skilled. The gear didn’t make THAT big a difference, did it?

But it did. It makes a HUGE difference. In fact, gear selection is arguably more important in WoW than talent selection. In fact, it’s to such a large extent that actual skill has very little to do with a player’s ability to compete until you near the “gear cap”. The example I provided was for PvP, but it also applies to PvE. The uber-geared Mage or Rogue who watches tv during raids will always have a higher DPS than a highly skilled, highly attentive player in entry-level epics. That’s not to say skill doesn’t make a significant difference, only that they need to be equally geared in order to make any comparison because gear is always greater than skill.

That’s a pretty serious flaw and certainly explains why people flock to certain activities and completely ignore content that doesn’t provide maximum gear benefit, even if it’s something they would more naturally enjoy. The result is that you get AFKers, arena point buyers, and the tag along types who look for guilds with certain raids on farm.

But wait, you say.. acquiring gear is needed as a readycheck for tougher instances. Wrong. The whole concept of “gearing up” is a SYMPTOM of the greater problem, not the cause. It’s very easy to keep people out of content they haven’t yet earned without enforcing a gear check. Attunements are a great example of this type of mechanic. And not just personal attunements, but Guild and Account attunements as well. So once a guild has achieved a certain landmark together, then the content opens up. Or if you achieve a landmark on one character, then all characters on that account gain the benefit of having completed that content. Circling back to my first complaint about content becoming irrelevant… Well, that’s easily fixed under my scenario by making the most important pieces part of an attunement to the next progression level.

But wait, you say.. I like being able to customize my character. Well, so do I. But what if that customization came from the ability to assign not just talent points, but attribute points. And perhaps certain attribute point levels unlocked additional skills. For example, enough points in Spirit and a Warrior can learn a gimped heal – but at the cost of not putting those points into a DPS attribute like Agility. Clearly, more talent choices (particularly lower tier choices) would allow people greater flexibility than what exists by simply getting +10 Strength on your new gloves.

That’s not to say that you couldn’t have lots of non-combat benefiting rewards for high end content so that the top players can strut around. Faster, cooler looking mounts. Awesome looking gear models (no stat bonuses, but they look damn cool). Bigger bags. Killer titles. Increases in model size to “heroic stature”.

OK. Now a reality check. This will never work in WoW as it exists today. Like trained dogs, we have all been taught to roll over for our doggy biscuit. You could never implement a sweeping change like this and have it work because of the uproar it would cause in the community. This is the type of thing you just need to chalk up as a learning experience and look to implement in a future game. World of Starcraft anyone? It could work. I mean, the last I checked, the Zerg didn’t wear clothes...

Friday, February 22, 2008

It takes one to know one.

Are you well qualified to give gear or talent advice to another class? We have all been there... It’s the typical “which is better?” discussion that happens in every group, raid or guild chat.

My guess is no, you are not well qualified. Many people aren’t even well qualified enough to give good advice on a talent spec they don’t play. But it doesn’t stop us from offering our advice, does it? If asked, most of us will provide some feedback to “help” the person make a decision. It certainly doesn’t stop us from offering our unsolicited opinion on drops. (“Ooh, that’s nice shammy gear!” -- Meanwhile the hunter in your group just died a little bit inside). And it certainly doesn’t stop people from posting nerf and overpowered threads on the forums.

I would hazard to guess that many people *think* they are well qualified because they have a high level alt of the class in question, or a great understanding of class mechanics, or play a “similar class”, or simply read forums and guides a lot, or all of the above. I would argue that while this person likely has a solid grasp of the class he wants to advise and what benefits the class, they still don’t have a great understanding of the class and offer poor mentorship, advice and opinions on gear and talent selection.

A friend of mine recently leveled a Druid up to 70 and in his 60’s moved from Balance to Feral. He knows my two main classes are Warrior and Rogue, so he sought my opinion on spec and talent selection given the similarity to Bear and Cat forms. While I certainly was helpful in this transition, it became obvious (to both of us), that while the advice was good, it wasn’t great. Primarily because there are lots of little Druid intricacies that I overlooked because I don’t play that class and spec in the end-game. In other words, my advice was better than nothing, but it didn’t provide him maximum benefit. In the end, it would have been far more helpful to simply point him out to some good Druid websites or the Elitist Jerks forums.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Living the dream...

I grew up on a PvP server. I first started playing WoW with my real life best friend, his brother, a co-worker of his, and another good friend and former roommate. Given that there were five of us, we made the perfect leveling group and for the most part stayed within 5 levels of each other all the way to 60. We had two warriors, two mages, and a priest. Clearly, we competed on drops but being good real life friends there was never any drama. We rolled Horde on a PvP server.

In the early levels, we quested and did our thing in the Barrens and Silverpine forest and later moved up into Ashenvale, our first PvP zone. Other than a couple of brief scraps, we quested and instanced in Ashenvale without encountering many Alliance players at all.

Then we went to Hillsbrad.

Ask me today why I consider myself a Serial Ganker and I will scream my battlecry, “Remember Hillsbrad!!” It didn’t help that we hit those levels right about the time AV first bust out onto the scene and the zone started generating all this level 60 traffic. We got creamed. One shot after one shot after one shot. To make matters worse, the main Horde quest chain for the area, “Battle of Hillsbrad” takes you right into a bunch of mobs that are friendly to Alliance. Even lowbies who want to get in a few shots on some Horde can engage you here with the benefit of the NPCs and easily wipe small groups.

By level 30, I absolutely HATED the Alliance with a VENGEANCE. And then I went to Stranglethorn Vale…

STV is the zone where Alliance learn to hate the Horde. In part, because the Grom’Gol is a convenient place for Horde to set their hearth or use for traveling to the any of the higher level zones south of the Wetlands. Also in part because all the lowbie Horde with their newfound hatred for Alliance just left Hillsbrad. Mix all this up and STV is part questing zone and part battlegrounds. Only, it spans 15 levels, so the level 30 players are just as likely to run into a level 45.

By the time I made it out of those zones, my blood boiled whenever I saw Alliance and by this point my charter was clear: Anytime, anywhere, regardless of the cost, the Alliance must die. Words to live by when you live on a PvP server.

About 3 months after BC came out, my group of real life friends decided to roll on a PvE server as Alliance. I hated it. Passionately. Biggest gaming mistake I ever made. Seriously. I rolled a Rogue, leveled him to 70, did some heroics and never quite fit in. I think talking about how you wanted to gank them in vent might have been a bit anti-social…

I also found the whole experience of leveling up much more boring. On a PvP server, you learn to constantly monitor your surroundings to avoid getting ganked. On a PvE server, you just kill, loot, kill, loot, kill, loot. Long story short, 6 months later, I was leveling up a Troll Rogue on my original PvP server.

Only this time I made a list using the addon VanasKoS of everyone who ganked me while I leveled. Paybacks are a bitch.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The fallacy of class balance

I read this article on Rob Pardo’s presentation on Blizzard’s approach to MMOs. Of course, any such presentation is immediately subject to critique by the masses and I’m no different.

One of the prevalent themes throughout the whole presentation is this idea of “balance.” I heartily agree that a game that is unbalanced is flawed and steps should be taken to address balance issues. In particular, class and itemization balance are critical to long-term success.

However, he also points out that: “Perception of fairness. Your game may be completely balanced on a spreadsheet, but if the players perceive it differently that doesn't matter. You need to be aware of these perceptions when you make changes -- you can't argue with a million people on your forums and player opinions are going to spread.”

And therein lies one of my biggest pet peeves. Blizzard clearly kow-tows to the most vocal objectors. It’s not important that they are in the majority, simply that they are very vocal about it. Blizzard doesn’t get the opinion of a “million people” they get the opinion of the couple of thousand that make complaining on the forums a life goal. Part of the fallacy here is that there will ALWAYS be objections about balance. As he himself points out: ”For players, change is almost always bad.”

They may not look to the forums for the SOLUTION, but they clearly look to it for guidance on PERCEPTION. The point here is that perception has nothing to do with balance and if you consistently kow-tow to perception, then you will never achieve balance.

In my day job, much of what I do is about maintaining the correct perceptions with our clients. My role in MANAGING the perceptions is to correctly set and manage expectations. If the client misinterprets something and perceives something other than as it exists, then I failed in my role of MANAGING those expectations.

Ironically, part of the solution is in the idea that ”for players, change is almost always bad.” In other words, if you were to make sweeping class balances changes less frequently, then people would simply adapt to the current environment. As they became accustomed to that environment, the need to complain would lessen.

Nearly every single patch has had something in it that addresses balance. I would rather they work on refreshing old world content to make it more relevant or added net new content (like new gear models) than continuously throw monkey wrenches into balance issues. Instead, pick a few marquee moments of the year where you will do a sweeping “class review” in order to a) keep talents/skills fresh and b) provide resolution to the ACTUAL balance issues. Clearly, the exception would be hot-fix type things that are blatantly unbalanced (even to your “spreadsheet”).

When you DO execute class balance changes, you do it infrequently and make it a big deal. Gather up input, put that input into internal tests, take the top options that make sense to you and ask for community feedback on those types of changes. Provide a couple of solutions of your choosing and explain the logic and reasoning for why they work. In other words, allow people to have that voice by opening up a dialogue with them about it. Set aside a timeline that people can follow: Taking input in May for internal discussion, class review polling in June, testing in July, release in the Fall.

In my mind, the fault here is in how Blizzard communicates to the community. They completely bungle perception and expectation over and over. I know one of the things that inflames people is that CMs will often post in meaningless threads and leave the hot topics alone. One simple way to solve that problem is to make it clear that CMs are empowered with NOTHING and are little more than moderators for the forums.

Instead of “Blue” text, they post in “Orange” text and the little Blizzard icon tagging the thread is something else. Save the “blues” and the “blizzard tags” for a handful of top level people who are empowered to actually impact the game. These are your people with some inkling of public relations and are empowered to make “promises” that will be kept in the community. If you have a really hawt issue going, have one of these types post a “these are good ideas to toss around on internal test.” These are also the people who made the decisions and can adequately defend them. So if someone starts hating an idea, then “We ran that idea around in internal test and found it wasn’t feasible because…”

Formerly Fury

I played the level 60 end game as a Fury warrior. I actually have two level 70 warriors, one of which is Arms, but my former main and best geared Warrior is the Fury warrior. In the 60 end-game, I played the role of DPS and Offtank. Back then, this was a really viable spec and role in a Raid. My proudest moments as a Warrior were when I could OT as Fury (and do it well), then turn around and rise to the top of the damage charts on a boss fight. And in addition, I was also great for farming (killing stuff) and when geared appropriately, could more than hold my own in PvP.

That’s not to say that Arms didn’t pwn more face in BGs or that Protection spec couldn’t tank better. They could and did perform their role better. It’s just that Fury was also viable as both if the player was well skilled. Today, the spec has been relegated to the soloing or leveling spec and doesn’t really have a place in PvP or in PvE raids or instancing.

I notice that a growing sentiment within the Warrior community is this feeling that if you are Prot, then you are unwanted or useless in pvp or soloing. And if you are Arms, you are worthless and unwanted in PvE. For many warriors, they don’t care. They tank and tank, have support from the guild and love to tank. Whee! Or they are out there pwn’ing your ass in arena or BGs and could care less about anything else. *Flex*

It’s that group in the middle, that want to do both, that are the most disgruntled with their warrior. These are the players that in a prior age would have simply specced Fury and been really happy about it. Now, once they hit the end-game, they must make a choice to get the most out of the content. Do I want to tank or do I want to pvp? What is the future of warriors, they ask? Well, that’s it. Choose your spec, Arms or Protection.

There are a number of contributing causes to the downfall of the Fury spec. Arguably, adding another utility class (Paladins for Horde, Shamans for Alliance) hasn’t helped much. And certainly having other classes becoming more viable at tanking (Druids and Paladins) that offer more group benefit is direct competition for offtank spots. The 2.0 rage nerf was pretty devastating too and brought Fury down several notches on the damage meters. And the nerf to Flurry is nearly unforgivable. Likewise, moving Deathwish and Imp Intercept all but killed a Fury warriors viability in pvp.

Ironically however, I can’t really argue that any of those changes didn’t better the game overall. I like grouping with both Shamans and Paladins. I like having a Druid or Paladin tank a 5 man for me. Things just seem to go a bit smoother and easier. And while Fury lost Deathwish and Imp Intercept, the pvp minded Arms folks got a huge buff and quite frankly, by this point no one was playing Fury anyway.

Now I play Rogues almost exclusively and both warriors are my forgotten step children that never get played. Of course, this has little to do with the downfall of Fury and everything to do with my personal preference for rogues. In short, I rolled a rogue alt to help level up a friend and really enjoyed it. So while I would likely never return to my old main, I still very much emphasize with the plight of the Fury warrior and warriors in general.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A bit about the blog..

This blog is mostly about World of Warcraft because that’s the game I play the most, but I’ll occasionally write about other things related to MMO in general. I’m not going to write about work, my kids, my favorite tv show or my drunken beer fest involving two Mexican hermaphadite whores in Tijuana. (For the record, I’ve never been to Tijuana and I still maintain the “proof” was photoshopped.)

Thinking of a good blog name is harder than I thought... Here are the ones I tossed out...
Good Grief(ing)
Formerly Fury
How to piss off a Rogue
Stealth Buzzed
Drive-By Gankings

A bit about Me..

I started playing WoW about six months after release. My only previous first-hand MMO experience prior to WoW was Neverwinter Nights. Not the BioWare game, but the original AOL game based on the old Pool of Radiance D&D Gold Box engine. NWN was incredibly crude even by the standards of the day, but the PvP gameplay was some of the most pure PvP ever played. Since it was turn-based and everyone had the same gear and spec, it was more like playing Chess with spells than anything.

From a very early age, I was hooked on multiplayer online games. As a teen, I used my 1200 baud modem to play games and download porn off the local BBS sites. These were things that pre-dated the mass adoption of the internet. If you had a modem, you could login to a computer remotely and visit the site, post messages, download files and play some turn-based games (like Pimp Wars). An image download could take an hour or two to download, so the games were text and your porn option was limited to one or two pictures. (The adolescent men of today’s internet have no idea how good they have it!)

I was so hooked on multi-player at an early age that if any game (good or bad) had support for a modem, I bought it. They all sucked. Pretty much without exception. The only so-so one in the bunch was Battle Chess—and c’mon—it was just chess with cool animations.

Needless to say, when NWN rolled on to the scene with an actual “community” of players, I was utterly addicted. Unfortunately, the game was also pay-per-hour as part of AOL’s subscription model. I wracked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt and it also cost me good grades in several mid-terms and finals including an F for one I missed altogether. I think this early unhealthy addiction to NWN is what helped in later years to provide me some life balance to my internet usage.

I moved from NWN to network games with my roommates. One game in particular was incredibly fun over the network: Warcraft II. We had a couple of LAN parties, but the real fun didn’t begin until my roommate and I discovered Kali. In a way, I consider the discovery of Kali as the marquee moment in my interaction with the internet. That’s when things changed from being about simple email and a bit of research for school to—something else. You see, Kali allowed someone to play an IPX LAN based game over the TCP/IP protocol the internet uses. Prior to that, all LAN games were only playable if you were in the same building. Suddenly, the 8 player Warcraft II game was born. Clans and PvP ladders were formed. And while War2 was the most popular, Duke Nukem and C&C and Doom were also very popular and fun to play. I think I can safely blame War2 for my continued bad grades in school and even the loss of a long-time girlfriend.

I played lots of games in-between, but the next “landmark” game for me was Starsiege: Tribes. Up to 64 players (32 vs 32), the maps were wide open, you could customize the UI, vehicles, player placed turrets and walls for defense. The games were also very strategic in nature. Defend the base, repair the base, capture the flag! Skiing across the map from one floating base to another floating base in heavy armor by using a concussion grenade is still one of my favorite experiences in online gaming.

It’s worth noting at this point that while I was playing Tribes and later War3, my best real life friend was running one of the top Everquest guilds. I had tried EQ in the very early days before Sony bought the game and found it incredibly boring compared to the fast paced games that I had become accustomed. I had also previously tried out Meridian 59 with the same complaint. Ironically, I had known him since we were both 4 and he had always gravitated towards RPG games while I had gravitated towards anything multi-player. One would have thought that EQ would have brought our gaming together, but it drove it apart as he became consumed with EQ like I had become consumed with NWN and War2. In fact, it wasn’t until World of Warcraft, that we both found common ground in a game again.

Anyway, the only reason that little side-bar is relevant is that I do have PLENTY of second-hand experience with EQ. I can’t count how often I have been lectured in vent about “how things were in EQ.” I could write a thesis paper on it.

Which brings us to WoW. I’ve been playing WoW since about 6 months after release when the real life buddy and EQ all-star convinced me to play with him. My first character was a Troll Warrior for which I played the level 60 endgame as a Fury offtank. When BC released, we rerolled to an Alliance server and I leveled up a Gnome rogue and a Night Elf Warrior to 70. I had intended to play the 70 as Fury and all but abandoned the character when for the Rogue. I am now back on my original Horde server and recently rerolled another Rogue (this time a Troll) which I intend to be my new main.

I have also been known to write the occasional addon, but I only ever do it for my own benefit. If there is no addon that fills the need, then I’ll write something for personal use and if I feel it’s polished enough I will release it.

In addition to Sid67 (a reference to the serial killer Sid 6.7 in virtuosity), I was known as “ITB Blaze” on NWN. On Warcraft II, I was known as Túƒƒgúÿ. And on Tribes, I was known as DMMCM Dink.