Tag Archives: Cataclysm

Impressions of 4.3

I didn’t expect much from 4.3.

I mean, look at Cataclysm’s track record:

Patch 4.1

Extremely difficult and punishing heroics.

Extremely difficult and punishing raids.

Slow gearing.

Wildly monotonous dailies next to a pvp zone.

Patch 4.2

Extremely difficult, reused, and punishing heroics.

Extremely difficult and punishing raids.

Slow gearing.

Wildly monotonous dailies.

 

With all that, who was looking forward to more of the same? Not me. I was looking forward to Transmogrification, mostly for the ability to wear t5 on my warlock again. And boy do I look awesome.

What I wasn’t expecting was Morchok. To die. On our first attempt. Dead. Huh. After taking 2 weeks to kill Magmaw and 3 weeks to kill Shannox, that was a tad bit of a shock. So our raid snagged in some extra people and went to LFR. And we cleared 4/4, raking in the loot like it was Christmas morning. Week 1 we were 3/8. Now this is more like it.

What I wasn’t expecting was Murozond. The best.fight.in.Cataclysm. Seriously. Getting to “reset” the fight every 20%? That is *awesome*. Hero for the whole fight. Cooldowns SPAMMED. DPS through the roof. People popping back up after they died!

The mechanics in the new dungeons were simple, easy to understand, and relatively clear in how to overcome. The lore is interesting. The dungeons themselves, short, sweet, and LOOTY.

What I wasn’t expecting was the Darkmoon Faire. Wow, are those mini-games fun.

What I wasn’t expecting was running the 3 new heroics on 4 toons and capping on valor on all 4 toons in one week. Considering I am pretty sure I have run those 3 way more than all of the trollroics on all my toons combined.

 

I came for the Transmog and stayed for the end game. What a shock.

On Being Legendary, Pt. 2

There are a ton of reasons why this post took so long to write.

1. Our guild stalled out on Shannox for the first 6 weeks of Firelands.

2. They gave 5 embers to a guy who then left. (Shocker, as they didn’t take my suggestions on how to pick someone to get the embers.)

3. We converted from a 25 man to a 10 man raiding group.

4. To deal with converting, we now have 2 dps teams and so dps only gets to raid half of the time. Hence, our embers are pretty evenly split between two players. (Me and another Lock.)

 

But finally I am able to write that my embers have been collected, and last night I walked into the Nexus to complete the quest Through a Glass Darkly.

Holy hand grenades, was I not prepared.

I can actually solo level 70 Nexus on my lock fairly easily, but this was a whole new level of difficult. I didn’t have too much trouble until I reached the final boss. Then I had the great joy of wiping for 3 hours trying to kill him.

This was both the greatest and worst quest ever.

Great:

1. I just killed a thing that was AMAZINGLY difficult.

Terrible:

1. That AMAZINGLY difficult was also frustrating.

(Let’s just assume from here on, the first one is a good, the second is a bad.)

2. I had to use skills I so rarely get the chance to use.

2. I had to use skills that are so rarely used… FOR A REASON.

3. I love playing affliction and dot management.

3. I could only play affliction because I had to have the fel hound out.

4. Speaking of Fel Hounds, man does that dude rock when glyphed and has mana feed.

4. Man is the Fel Hound RETARDED when it comes to staying out of the fire.

5. The Nexus was a pretty cool instance.

5. The circular platform with a flying boss makes it impossible for my pet, a good 25% of my damage, to attack said boss.

6. I understood what I needed to do, even though it was somewhat “random-ish” it wasn’t too cheap.

6. I also understood how much easier this would have been if I had been a mage.

7. I have an amazing staff!

7. That is equal item level to two other staves that are just drops off of bosses… and that didn’t cost weeks of raiding, 9k gold, or 400g worth of repair bills.

8. Now that I have the stage one staff I am the only one collecting for stage two!

8. I have to kill the same seven bosses over and over and over again for the next SEVEN WEEKS to get the next stage. Are you KIDDING ME?!?

 

The more I have thought about this, the angrier I am. This staff should at least be the iLvl of the staff of Rags. The quest or the extra boss or the money sink should have been spread out. Now I just have two lame collections that essentially are: farm Firelands for x amount of time. Really Blizz? You couldn’t try to be a little more original? It’s like they got to this part, went, okay, that’s an awesome first stage. Oh we’re out of time? Oh well just throw in two more collections and call it a day.

Regardless I suppose I should be happy I have the Branch of Nordrassil. I should be happy I have started my cinder collection. Really I am just annoyed at Blizzard for not thinking out the rest of the quest line and making it JUST as interesting as Through a Glass Darkly. I am annoyed that the second parts now have no variation other than farm Firelands.

To Nerf or Not to Nerf?

When Blizzard announced their intention to nerf t12 in preparation for t13, I immediately though, “Oh thank god.” No anger, no rants, no sadness, merely a soothing sense of relaxation and peace.

What the hell?

Peace?!? Soothing relaxation? A tension I didn’t even KNOW was there was pushing on me. The tension of progression. Snapping at my husband. Ignoring chores I needed to do. Being unhappy and frustrated with my hobby. I didn’t notice that it was there until it was suddenly gone. Why do I care if we wipe on Aly for two nights this week, we have downed her once pre-nerf so post nerf, we got it in the bag.

I think the most indicative thing of what this raiding tier had become for me was the replacement of a glyph. Seems like such a small thing right? I replaced the Glyph of Fear with the Glyph of Shadow Bolt. Such a tiny thing. But I had been looking for ways to push my dps just a bit farther… Just a bit… Enough to nerf my cc and utility to eek out 200 more dps. The thing is, I *hate* those DPS. I hate them. I love utility. And I really loved my utility when I had more of it. Why was I pushing my dps? Because my raid wasn’t progressing.

Casual doesn’t mean what it used to. It used to be that casual meant just a few hours a week. Now casual means medium levels of gear and people who barely know how to stay out of the fire. When Blizzard made raids more accessible, they had people who didn’t know how to raid, raiding and loving it. But now those same people expect to raid, and they can’t. In Cataclysm a raid can’t carry 2-5 people and be fine. Everyone needs to carry their own weight.

Instead of running with whoever you wanted to, now you have to run with people who know how to raid, and possibly hurt the feelings of those who are less good. For those who would jump in and say, “L2P NOOB!” Remember, WoW has always worked to cater to the path of least resistance. What is the path of least resistance when it comes to learning new, painful boss fights, to not keyboard turn, and how to play their class to the fullest to overcome the challenge or just saying “Bah, this is too hard. I liked Wrath better” and canceling their account? The 1 million subscriber dip points to the truth.

Some people are saying “OMG this is unprecedented!!!” Hello, I would like to introduce you to the ICC Buff. Remember the one that started at 5% and grew to 30% over the course of a few months? Instead of a slowly growing buff to the players to make the fights easier, they are just nerfing the bosses across the board.

This brings me to my point. Blizzard knows. This is a company who has built their entire business on balance and stats. They *know* how to balance. They do it more than any other company. I would bet every piece of gold I have that they have massive amounts of data flowing in on everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have huge files where they can look at every single classes’ dps on every boss in t11 and t12. We use WoWLogs, which is close, but flawed. We run sims that are best estimations. They have the real deal.

They know exactly how many players have been in Rag’s room. They know how many guilds have downed him. They know the percentages. They know what people are dying to. They know what fight people are by passing. They know everything.

People on these blogs and forums talk about the difficulty being fine, talk about how the nerf is too much, too soon, they talk about how well their casual guild is doing on heroics… Wait, what? I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but if your guild is on heroic modes, you are NOT CASUAL. My guild is casual. No attendance requirements, no spec requirements, no “stacking” to get the best buffs and we are 6/7. But even without my guild, only 6 guilds on my entire server have downed Rags. Only 6. And only 2 of them are 25 man guilds.

Wait, before you say, “Oh well your server just sucks.” I agree, it does. We are ranked 164 in the US servers. I thought, well that makes sense… OH BUT WAIT. THERE ARE 241 SERVERS. That means almost 80 servers are below us. 80 servers with HOW MANY PLAYERS? Including my old server. Including the other server I used to play on. I always thought we were the far end of the universe, apparently we aren’t! We are on the low end, but not near as bad as I thought.

Blizzard knows. They have the numbers to back up their decision. It may be different on your server or in your guild, but the WoW world at large is struggling and not seeing progression. If the end game is where the game really begins, shouldn’t more people see it?

They tried a valiant effort with Cataclysm to return to the harder style of Burning Crusade, but you can’t put spilled milk back in the jug. Players got used to raiding in Wrath. Players enjoyed raiding in Wrath. Players are leaving in droves because raiding in Cata isn’t nearly as fun. And Blizzard surely has the numbers to prove it and back it up.

LfNm for PST

Raiding is in a hard way right now. And everyone is speculating as to why. Then recommending answers. For what must be the 3rd or 4th time today I saw a blog post on “how to fix raiding” that immediately bounded off into rather large changes.

I shook my head, as this person clearly had only a passing grasp with game design. One of the big rules of game design is meeting player expectation. Players come to the game expecting something. As a designer, you have to meet their expectations. You can’t just start one way and shift 90ft to the right whenever you want. The player may not follow you.

So, as a game designer, how does one identify what is “wrong” with raiding and then how do we speculate how to fix it?

First, identify “good” raiding.

This is a bit difficult, as everyone has a different opinion of “good”. So let’s look at what we have. I will list the raids I have experience with.

Burning Crusade: Everything but Sunwell. From Kara 10 mans to Black Temple Warlock tanking on Illiadan.

Wrath: ICC, Ulduar, and Naxx. 10 and 25, for all 3.

Cataclysm: 25 for BoT, TotFW, and BWD, and 10 for Firelands.

Okay, so now that we have that, I will say that I liked ICC/Naxx/Kara best of all of those raids. Everything else aside, those are simply the ones I enjoyed most.

Step One:

What went right in the old raids?

1. Running Old Raids – Blizzard has shown they would like us to run old raids. Weekly quests, not allowing tokens to be purchased, etc etc. They want this to be our “play” night raid. Burning Crusade did this better than Wrath though, because there were no 5 mans to gear up in. Every week, raiders were back in Kara. Regardless what people say about running the old stuff, it made it easier to go back and farm that item that might have been missed, or to train new raiders while running mildly older stuff with overgeared people.

2. Achievements – Okay, so BC didn’t have achievements, but there were so many weeks I remember raiding just for the achievements. Also it is worth noting this is not a good reason for everyone. In Wrath though, it was possible, and in fact happened often where you would get an achievement without actually *trying*. Not all achievements should be like that, but having some would remind people they are there.

3. Balance of progression – In BC I remember when I realized our 25 man guild took about 2 nights to get a boss down for the first time. But once we had it down, it stayed down. In Wrath, some of the more complex bosses took multiple nights, but as always, once it went down, it stayed down. In FL it seems like having a boss down doesn’t mean we are more likely to have it on “farm” later. In fact weeks can pass between the first down and the second down.

4. Overgearing the encounter – Some might consider this “cheating” the fight, but really what it is, is playing an RPG. This is a core game design truth in RPGs. The player can put sufficient effort into one thing and do that one thing well enough, that it allows them to over power the enemy. In both BC and Wrath there was a way to generally get gear over what your guild’s current progression was. This allowed you to be more useful when running that progression. This really worked best in the Wrath 10 vs. 25 model.

5. Split gear between 10 and 25. Everyone hated it. The fact that gear was so much better in 25 vs 10 mans made 10 man guilds feel like second class citizens. Also things like the legendary was limited to 25. Making it seem like Blizzard was saying “only people who raid 25 are real raiders.” BUT this also allowed Over gearing. It also really only worked when considering that 10 and 25 were separate lockouts. All those itemization issues we have in Cataclysm would be much less painful.

6. The ability to carry – Not the idea that a raid can have 2-5 dead weights and still pull of heroic modes, but rather that a raid can have 2-5 deadweights and do most of the normal mode. In ICC it was arguable that until Sindragosa, a raid of 20 could pretty easily knock it out. In Burning Crusade it was really only Illidan, Archimonde, and Vashji that gave guilds with “not great” players trouble. (At least on my servers.) Why is this important? Because we want to raid with our friends, NOT with elitist jerks who min-max and do everything perfectly. I would rather raid with people I know irl than with people I have never met.  The ability to carry less awesome players meant we could play with who we wanted and still do the things we wanted.

Step 2:

What went wrong?

1. Not enough bosses. I know guilds who could get all of the t11 down in a single night of 4 hour raiding… then they were left with sitting about for a week. The raids were smaller, and more manageable, but overall there have been fewer bosses. At this point we have 21 bosses. At this point in Wrath we had 33 bosses, PLUS an extra tier before we hit the final raid. Now if one thinks about 10 v 25 mans, we actually have 21 bosses versus 66. That’s a THIRD of the content.

2. Holy paladins is this tier hard. No wait, not hard, FRUSTRATING. We know we wiped on Atramedes because the person hitting the gong in searing flame was a bit too slow and the tank had too much sound. One person stand too far out on Magmaw? Gonna wipe. One person miss the jump on Conclave, start running back. The fights have too many instant kill mechanics and too many if one person isn’t paying complete attention the raid will wipe. Worst of all is that if someone disconnects, you might as well just wipe it right then.

3. Itemization – Hey casters, where can I get a 346+ wand without spirit? Seems like a rather complex question. Non-casters or those who don’t use wands would assume there are probably a large number of answers. There aren’t. There is exactly TWO epic level wands for mages and warlocks. TWO. Oh and did I mention NEITHER are boss drops? One is a boe random trash drop and the other is just recently added for valor points. There are FIVE belts though, one of which is easily crafted. Three of which are boss drops. And it’s not just us, how many people do you hear griping about shoulders and bracers? Shaman apparently have the same thing with Weapons in FL. It’s just sad how many people in my guild run with Trollroic gear because they *still* haven’t seen the drop they needed. (I have never seen the Booklight, and I have been running BWD since week 3 of Cata and clearing it since April, just fyi…)

4. It’s always been harder to wrangle 25 people into a raid. But now it’s not just 25 people… It’s 25 well geared, alert, non-drunk, non-distracted, correctly specced, and damn near perfect players. After two weeks of wiping on Shannox because if we lost even 1 person we wouldn’t beat the enrage, we had lost 5 of our long term raiders. The game wasn’t fun for them anymore. It’s no wonder people are breaking down into 10 mans.

So now what?

Well some bloggers say things like “get rid of 10s and 25s, make everything 15s!” or “more content!” or “more difficulty modes” or even god help them “make epics truly epic and have loot drop less”. It’s all I can do not the nerd rage all over their blog. Cutting raids down to 15 doesn’t support the “large scale” raiding paradigm. 10s and 25s is a nice split. The reason 25s are dying isn’t that they don’t want to, it’s that they don’t have the people. People are leaving because the content is too frustrating and they have nothing to do. More difficulty modes is too complex for the style of game. In fact, the current two are more than enough, if people are willing to accept that the variation between the two needs to be greater. And anyone who says anything about LESS loot is just insane. I hit level 85 on Thursday after Cataclysm came out. I was in BWD downing bosses within two weeks. I didn’t get Cataclysmically epic until APRIL. FIVE MONTHS OF RAIDING THREE NIGHTS A WEEK… Even counting for bad rng, that is still ridiculous. And considering the number of people I know who raid ONLY for the loot, I am not surprised subs are dropping like flies.

 

Band-aids and Long Term

1. Immediately, do not pass go, do not collect $200, revert back to the previous 10 and 25 unshared lockouts. This doubles the available content. This addresses the ATROCIOUS itemization issues. This speeds gear acquisition for newer raiders.

2. Achievements that are designed to be achieved in both regular and heroic modes. It seems like all the achievements for BoT, BWD, and TotFW are all designed for “perfect” raids. Giving people goofy and absurd things to do is fun too.

3. Re-tune raids on normal difficulty to allow for “carrying”. This allows normal modes to be for “casuals” and makes them newbie/pug friendly. No instant wipes from one mistake here. But keep heroic modes on the same level as they are now. Precision, perfection, and min-maxing all required to down the boss. The heroic modes scratch the hard core itch, the normal modes cater to people who remember they are here to have fun, not be frustrated to the point of snapping their keyboard in half because one healer accidentally walked into a crystal trap.

3.5 Accept that 10 mans and 25 mans are never going to be perfectly balanced. In Wrath 25s seemed to be easier. In Cata 10s are much easier. Determine why this was (Wrath – not tuned correctly/buffs, Cata – tuned too tightly) and then determine which is the one as a design there is the desire to support. Players will take the path of least resistance. If 10 mans are easier, like now, players will break 25 mans down to 10s. If 25 mans are easier, and there is a good reason to raid them (slightly better gear) players will run them.

4. Fix the itemization. Having a flood of belts, when there are easy and readily available ones just makes it that much more painful when those are getting sharded but that boss still didn’t drop that one upgrade you need to replace a blue. Also while they are at it, they should make it where no more the 2 of the same item can be dropped off a single boss kill. Three pairs of plate tanking boots when we only have one druid tank? Yeah that’s helpful.

5. Accept that casual players make up a large majority of your player base. These people don’t want to be frustrated. They don’t want long boring grinds. They want to have fun, with their friends, and they want pretty epics. At the end of the day it’s still a game, and shouldn’t feel like a job. People already have sucky jobs, and WoW shouldn’t be treating them like a horrid boss.

These are all “small move” changes. They don’t radically change the game at it’s core, but rather are minor tweaks on current design systems. It’s making the game better within the current game. It also compromises and attempts to balance between the two factions of the game, hard and casual.

Gambling: A tax on people who can’t do math.

While in High School I participated in after school activities which led me to having to walk to the local public library every day and wait for my parents to get off work and pick me up. As then went on for 4 years, I had plenty of time to stop and read the books as the case may be. One such book explained probability and gambling. It broke down each game and explained why gambling was always a bad idea. Lotteries, casinos, poker, it was all stacked against the player. I resolved to never gamble, or if I did, only with small amounts of money that didn’t matter.

Many years later, I learned the truth of probability through WoW and it’s item drops. I understood that having a 1 in a 1000 drop rate didn’t mean I had to kill 1000 things to get it, but rather that each time I killed something I had a small chance of seeing said item. After 161 runs to get Baron’s mount, I was pretty sure I understood chance and probability.

Then with Cataclysm, a new item was introduced that peaked my interest.

The Mysterious Fortune Card. (MFC, henceforth.)

What makes them so mysterious? Once Cataclysm hit, I found out they were essentially “gambling” in WoW. They are an item made by inscribers that a player can flip over and receive an white card that sells for some value between 10 silver and 5k gold. I checked the “drop” rate on the 5k card and it seems to be around 1 in 10k. Yeah, so not worth it, I thought, and moved on.

When I leveled my scribe, I herbed, milled, and started making inks. Only to realize that Cataclysm had only added about 20 glyphs total. In fact, there only seemed to be two items worth making, Darkmoon Cards (a combine set can be turned in for a trinket, which is very very good) or these MFCs.

To explain a bit, Inscription, a profession, allows a player to take a stack of 5 of an herb and “mill” them, turning them into powder. Any mill can produce Ashen Pigment, which makes Blackfallow Ink and rarely Burning Embers, which make Inferno Ink. Generally a single mill of the high end herbs produces 2-4 Ashen Pigment, and 1-3 Burning Embers.

The Burning Embers and subsequent Inferno Ink are used to make the very valuable Darkmoon cards. Because the recipe to make them however requires 10 Inferno Inks and is random as to which of the 32 cards it drops, anyone trying to make full decks will need a huge amount of ink.

However, the Ashen Pigment and Blackfallow Ink are practically worthless. They aren’t used for anything other than trading down to lower inks to make glyphs, and even that, is a risky market at best as anyone trying to sell those glyphs will be competing with leveling scribes. So I decided what the hell, I’ll make MFCs.

I checked the auction house, to see how well these cards were selling. 15 gold EACH. Wait. What? Yep. 15g Each. Okay… So it takes 2 pigment to make one card. I get 2 pigment from a single mill generally. So that means, as long as I buy the herbs at 2g each, I can spend 10g to make 15g. I like that return. So I bought down 400g worth of herbs from the auction house. I processed them (by milling them) then spent another 600g to buy volatile lifes (which are used to make the Darkmoon Cards). 1kg spent.

I ended up with around 250 cards, plus two Darkmoon Cards. I banked the two Darkmoon Cards to make my trinkets, and listed all of the MFC. I listed them in stacks. 5 stacks of 20 cards selling for 14g. (Discount for bulk!) 5 stacks of 10 for 14.5 g. 10 stacks of 5 for 14.75g. And finally 50 stacks of singles for 15g each.

Three hours later, I logged back on to the character to find: ~3000g. HOLY FUUUU. *ca-ching* And note this is completely WITHOUT ANY PROFIT from selling the Darkmoon Cards!

So I of course dumped most of that money back into buying more herbs. Process. Make cards. Sell cards. Loot gold.

The price fluctuates, generally ranging from 12g to 15g. The stacks always sell, many to the same player. I also enjoy watching two or three sell, then about 15 minutes later, watching 3 or 4 more sell. I proceeded to do this for the next week or so, spending a great deal of time milling herbs and making cards.

Then Basil screwed me.

BLAST. Now everyone would understand MFC were a TERRIBLE investment. I mean, people understand if a slot machine has a 5% house advantage, they aren’t going to buy the cards that have a 98% house advantage! That would be idiotic. Sure enough, the market tanked instantly. Not only because people stopped buying, but also suddenly it went from me and one other player listing to 50+ listers. In addition the cost of herbs skyrocketed. Bah. My money making scheme gone. Oh well.

Several months later I was leveling my herbalist mage and got a rather huge stack of whiptail (one of the best Cataclysm herbs for milling for ink). I had learned the MFCs could be turned into food and had been using that on my warlock for a while. I figured my mage could use a darkmoon trinket, and so started sending her the whiptail to process for Inferno Inks. She processed, then made her cards. Over 200 MFCs. Man, that’s alot of cookies, I thought. I wonder how the AH prices for these are.

15g??!?

Did everyone FORGET? Do they seriously sell again? No, I thought, surely there is no way. People aren’t that dumb…

Or maybe they are, I thought less than an hour later when all my cards sold at 14g each. True the Darkmoon cards sell for half of what they used to, but then, so do the herbs.

I can generally get them between 1-2g each now. This past week I process thousands of herbs, and made over 1k cards, which I then turned around and sold for about 15k, so about 5k worth of pure profit. The best part is, I can barely keep stock up on the AH. I buy ALL the whiptail below 2g each. I process it all. I put cards up and usually they sell out before more whiptail is available. I am contracting specific farming players to farm for me. I have an alt named Bellagio! I camp the AH at work to buy more Whiptail. I got an addon that allows me to click mill and walk away.

Turns out, I am not the only one. Well, I guess I have a goal now.

Mechanics vs. Play style

As a game designer, it is generally accepted that at least 30% of my job is getting the player to do what I want. (Some would say even 90%.) Want the player to slow down and be cautious, make the area dark and play some kind of sound off to his side. If I want the player to move, I drop something nasty where his feet are. So on and so forth.

Blizzard generally does this very well. They want people questing instead of just grinding on kills. So they make it more worthwhile to do a large number of close quests instead of just killing mobs. They want the player to limit their playtime, so they add in the rest bonus to “reward” the player for switching to an alt, or not playing for a while.

Mechanics are used to alter  play style. If a player is rewarded for doing something, they are going to continue to do it. This is especially true when the rewarded play style is the path of least resistance. Players will always find the path of least resistance. Period.

So what this brings me to is raid boss design in World of Warcraft.

Blizzard seems to have forgotten that their game is about playing with your friends. And sadly, not everyone is friends with players who are awesome at WoW. In previous raid expansions there was the “dead weight” slots. These were raid slots that needed nothing more than a warm body in it. A decent raid team could “carry” several players without too much problem. This number changed based on the size and skill of the rest of the raid. It was generally accepted to be 2 slots for 10 man and 4-5 for 25 man. There were even achievements to support this “play style.”

Why was this so important?

Because it meant that even if you were friends with a really nice, but completely brain dead guy, you could still raid with him and do well. No, you wouldn’t be bleeding progression. No you wouldn’t be getting every achievement or even hard modes. But you could fight and see the raid.

But someone at Blizzard decided he was sick and tired of carrying his brain dead buddies. So the raid boss design stopped being about play style and started being about mechanics. (Either that or was just really annoyed at Sarth 3D zergs.)

Sartharion with 3 Drakes:

This fight perfectly explains the mechanics vs. play style debate I feel is very important to WoW raid boss design.

Mechanics: The players clear out the trash, then pull the main boss, with all 3 mini bosses still alive. As the fight progresses, the three mini bosses join the fight and the players have to deal with added fire, void zones, damage, etc etc.

Sarth 3D as it was dubbed was very difficult for 10 mans. It required 3 tanks, which is too much for a 10 man raid. It caused a great deal of raid damage, which required 3 healers. Now, more than half the raid is just there keeping the raid alive, meaning that without 4 amazing dps, the fight would be un-winable for most 10 man guilds. (To be fair it was done, just by a bleeding edge guilds.

Then some enterprising raiders discovered something very interesting.

Play Style: If instead of focusing down each of the mini-bosses as they joined the fight, the players could just focus Sarth and as long as they could burn him in the 90 seconds before the second mini-boss spawned, they would kill him before he became invulnerable.

So they ignored the mechanic of the fight and brute forced it. They made the game about they way they like to play. Burn hard and fast and win, or not quite hard enough and die to purple fire. Even with a decent group, this strat was not easy. My guild at the time would always wipe 4 or 5 times before pulling it off. But we could do it. And it was fun for us. It was still a challenge because pulling that much dps that quickly was not easy.

Of course, once this strat hit the internet, everyone did it this way. It was much easier, if less consistent than the normal strat. Does that make it inherently bad? I say no.

As a game designer it is my job to get the player to kill the boss. Not to jump through hoops until the boss dies. It is supposed to be fun and challenging. Sarth Zerg was still challenging, it just stripped away all the excess “fluff” of the fight and made it what it should have been. A toe to toe battle to the death between us and this huge dragon. It also made us feel like we were playing the game on our own terms. We were playing the game the way we wanted to.

Now, in Firelands the fights are tightly tuned. No more “dead weight” spots. Not only that, if even one person fails, the entire attempt fails. Brain deads need not apply.

Even more so, the fights are very very mechanics based. There is no edge for play style changes to strats. Trying to alter the strat even the smallest bit leads to an insta wipe.

The correct answer is somewhere in between the two ideas. Where people can try to do things their way or strictly stick to the intended way. It makes it feel more like a conversation between the designer and the player.

Blizzard says “Bring the Player, not the Class” but what if the player I want to bring is not awesome? What if the player I want to bring is a good friend but only a mediocre dps? Should I replace my friend with some douche bag who can pull 20k?

The big thing to be worried about when trying to force a mechanic instead of play style is that the path of least resistance might be right out of the door and never playing your game. A bad thing for any social game.

Red Leader Standing By!

About 3 weeks ago my 25 man guild finally made the decision to downgrade to 10 man raids. It hurt. This guild *just* went from 10 man to 25 in ICC. For most of Cataclysm we have managed to keep ahead of the raiders leaving and replacing them. Unfortunately, OLN suffers from the fact that we are casual.

We don’t require attendance. We don’t require specs. We don’t have DPS thresholds. We are here to have fun with all our friends, not to chase server firsts. The problem is, only about 2/3rds of our raiders are the kind of people who go and learn every bit of info on their class, min-max, and know every boss video before we ever walk in. the other 1/3rd are very nice people, but aren’t pushing the envelope, can’t be bothered to show up, and our realm sadly does not have a good pool to pull raiders from.

As all raiders are pretty aware, the days of really only needing 8 of 10 or 20 of 25 of the raiders on point are long gone. Even the smallest mistake can lead to a wipe. One person not notice and keep nuking Magmatron? Kiss the raid goodbye. Miss the jump, die in the water, and you were the interrupter on your Nef platform? Game over. Firelands is just as bad. Didn’t see that trap? Too bad, the tank is already dead. Accidentally attacked the wrong foot? Even one person can lead it astray. Regardless of how you feel about this design (I hate it, just fyi), it has had an effect. Finding 10 competent and focused raiders is much easier than finding 25.

So we took our good, consistent, and still present raiders and put their names in a list. 16 raiders. Uh oh. There are only 10 spots. Lucky for our raiders our GM and Officers had no intention of just booting 6 people. However we don’t have enough to form 2 10 mans. So the GM decided we would be rotating people around.

This first week of this was TERRIBLE. We had several people raid 5 days that week, and several people only raid 1 day. The natives were restless. I spoke in a message to my GM and was like “dude, you need a system.” His response: “I KNOW! I just don’t know HOW…” So I decided to apply my game designer brain to this problem.

Our raiders broke down to 3 tanks, 4 healers, and 9 dps. First thing I did was cut “normal” raid nights to Tuesday through Thursday. Previously these were our 25 man nights. So now they are our standard nights. Sunday and Monday, our “cleanup in 10s” nights, became “wipe learning” nights. Sunday and Monday teams are formed based on who is on, and which boss we are trying (so stacking the proper dps for those fights).

Generally the tank situation just worked out. And if all 3 did manage to show up on the same night, they would just discuss it between themselves and sit out. They handled themselves essentially, but we decided to set it up to “rotate” them around. So Tank A tanks Tuesday and Wednesday. Tank B tanks Wednesday and Thursday. Tank C tanks Thursday and Tuesday. But they can switch up as they want or need.

With healers, we were really lucky in that handle fairly well on their own as well. One of our heals even has a super tank offset, so he fills both roles. So that just worked out.

But 9 dps… That makes life tough. They were the hard part.

Joyia’s Plan:

Split the DPS into 2 teams.

Team 1: Warlock, Warrior, Kitteh, Boomy, and a recruit. (Most times it is a great shadow priest, but this spot can be filled with any ranged clothie or mail wearer.)

Team 2: Warlock, Pally, Rogue, Mage, and Hunter.

Then, have the teams switch off nights.

So Week 1: Tuesday is Team 1. Wednesday and Thursday are Team 2.

So Week 2: Tuesday is Team 2. Wednesday and Thursday are Team 1.

Seems a bit complex, but here are the reasons:

1. It stacks the dps to be most efficient in gear drops. With the exception of clothies, each ac is only represented once.

2. It stacks melee vs. ranged and aoe vs. single target. I also stacked the weaker dps with the stronger dps, and the more likely to die with the more likely to survive, so neither dps team is “better” in a sense. They are quite well balanced and hit the same numbers. The aoe vs single target damage makes gimmicks like Rageface still do-able. It balances classes with high burst with classes with slow ramp up.

3. People who run earlier in the week have a good chance of getting several easy bosses and loot. People who run later get 1 or 2 bosses, but have to wipe on progression, however this means they might get to be in the kill group.

4. Even if the week goes badly, raiders know it will only be 1 week before they see another loot drop.

5. Each dps is part of a paired set. So if one warlock is going to miss her night, the RL can just contact the other warlock and ask them to show up. Regardless, most of us are connected on RealID so any holes can be filled quickly.

6. The warlocks are the two toons working on the legendary. Since they are in different groups there is no poaching embers.

7. If you are on the team not running that night, just can just log on at raid time, and check to see if the team running needs any holes filled. If they form up, you can go do dailies, randoms, or even level alts.

 

It just worked for us. Now, 3 weeks in, we have downed 2 new bosses, in two weeks, and are making great strides on Aly. Everyone is learning all the fights. The dps teams are becoming teams and learning to work well with each other. We have even started making red team vs blue team jokes. Because there has still been a ton of overlap on tanks and heals, including alt runs on off nights, with both teams making up the alt run, we are still a community as opposed to cliques. None of the raiders have left, and most seem to like it as well. By taking Sunday and Monday off the schedule, we don’t have to worry about people showing up those nights either, but generally we have 10-11 people on for those nights, then usually someone just offers to step out. 10 man’s are a bit easier to do this with.

Now this doesn’t perfectly fit with every guild. The team balancing just fell into place for us, but with a bit of thought, and even possibly scheduling which bosses are being done on Tuesday and then on Wed/Thurs to balance the number of bosses downed. It’s a slightly odd way of doing it, that might work.

What are we supposed to use? Harsh language?!?

I was a bit distracted by Transmogrification but something else radical happened in WoW last week. Threat was essentially singled out at a bad mechanic and buffed to the point of being inconsequential. Of course, as with all things WoW, some people loved it, some people didn’t care, and some people cancelled their subscriptions immediately. *queue nerd rage*

I reposted the threat changes on my guild forums and it was met with happiness and ambivalence. No one was opposed to the change. In fact a few people responded with, well this will make randoms so much easier.

Of course, I try not to comment on things I haven’t done. The only comment I made on this was “Cata raiding, meet Wrath Tanking” because that is what it sounded like to me.

So this weekend, I decided to try out a bit of this change.

On my DK, I tanked quite a bit in Wrath. I ran a random every day on her, and used her to help guildies farm up ToC and FoS/PoS/HoR gear. I could easily go into a HHoR and tank the instance with my ICC geared buddies, who would nuke away to their heart’s content. Only occasionally did I have to use my taunt, and only occasionally did I have to use things like blood boil as a reaction. All in all, it was pretty easy. I didn’t mind doing it. There was still some skill, tabbing around, keeping my dots up, cooldowns, and the occasional army, but tanking wasn’t so difficult I was unwilling to do it.

When Cata hit and I decided to level my dk, I, of course, thought, “Oh! I’ll just queue for randoms! Insta queues, plus I am helping others get dungeon runs, it’s a win win!” I had this feeling for all of about 60 seconds and then the ugly truth raised it’s head. I was level 80, in level 80 gear. Not terrible for BRC and ToT, but not sufficient to deal with level 81 and level 82 dps who had replaced large chunks of their Wrath gear. I spent 90% of my time chasing mobs (does anyone understand what threat reduction skills are for? Does anyone understand run TO the tank NOT AWAY?) and fighting to keep threat. If I targeted a different mob, even just to taunt another mob, the first one would be ripped away. Of course, dps would die, healers would get upset and leave, and I would feel like crap. Maybe it’s my level and gear I thought. So I leveled up to 83, replaced all my Wrath gear and got down to business. Oh god, Stonecore… after about 5 or 6 runs, I was done. I sent all my dk’s gold to my main, emptied her bags, and cleared her mailbox. She was effectively going on the shelf of unused characters.

When they introduced the CTA bags, I thought, OH! I should go level her now! Surely things are better. Haha, the naivete of youth. Not only were things not better, they were arguably worse. It was a dark time for my dk. I knew how to tank, I just couldn’t actually do it. No amount of death and decay, no amount of outbreak+pestilence, no amount of runestriking and death striking. Those dps were going to pull aggro without trying and there was *nothing* in my arsenal I could do about it.

So I didn’t play her. Until this weekend. Nervous and a bit stressed, I decided not to change anything, to just go in the way I was and see if this 300 to 500 actually made a difference.

Oh did it make a difference.

The only time the dps (including one rather shockingly well geared for regular VP level 85 mage) pulled aggro was on a multi-pull and even then, as the mobs ran through my D&D they would snap over to me. I made it through VP with very few mistakes (most of which were me not remembering how to position mobs). The experience was… dare I say it… enjoyable. Imagine that, enjoying playing a game. Enjoying it enough, I queued again. I went and bought some upgrades and… queued again. At this rate, I was going to max out my jp for the week.

Of course, as with all changes, I looked at the screaming of the ragers to see what the possible “side effects” of such a change were.

“It’s going to be soooo boring to tank.”

Because pressing 1-1-1-1-2 is so exciting, amiright mages? Because staring at five green bars, waiting for them to turn yellow and then clicking on them is the height of adrenaline rush. Because doing the same dungeon for the third time that day is brand shiny new!

Okay, nothing is that bad. But then, neither is tanking without having to worry about threat. There are still cooldowns, there are still adds to pick up, there are still huge pools of bad to stay out of. Only now, the most annoying part of your job is gone. The part that not only annoys you, but also annoys the whole group. No more dps having to stand around wishing they could do their job. No more healers having to heal the sudden clothie tank. Just a meat shield doing his job, while everyone else gets to enjoy doing theirs.

“Way to dumb it down to Wrath levels Blizz…”

Why do dps have 45 minute queues? Why, even at the HEIGHT of CTA, did I still have 25 minute queues? There are 4 tanking classes: Pallys, Dks, Warriors, and Bears. That’s almost HALF of the total classes. Ever seen one of these classes wait in the dps queue? (I have.) Tanking is hard. Tanking is thankless. And tanking is generally not fun.

So there is a tank shortage. Blizzard tried the bribe. It didn’t work. So now, they had to try something else. Honestly, the difficulty needed to be nerfed. The player base simply did not have enough of the kind of people who wanted to do that job at that stress level. I don’t think it was dumbed down, but I do think that by removing one of the more annoying aspects of the equation, it made it easier to understand at do at a level good enough for randoms.

Tanking is still going to be difficult in raids. It is still going to be a challenge in heroic modes. It is not going to be a faceroll (especially since people still have their rotations). But it is easier, especially for people who don’t have the gear or experience.

This is going to solve the tank shortage problem much better than a bag with extra items. It has already brought me back into the fold of tanking on my DK.

Guild Etiquette Part 7: Updates

It’s been 2 years since I sat down and wrote down what I truly believe are the 6 most important things a GM has to deal with. However, WoW is not a static game. So these things need updating every so often!

Part 1: Newbs

I am more and more convinced that as a guild you have to recruit and invest in people you know are going to be in your guild for the long haul. Not every recruit is going to be this person. But when you identify this person, hang on to them. They *will* *be* the perfect stone that fills in the hole when you lose someone important.

Newbs are great. But remember, even if the newb is awesome, fun, fits right in, and seems like they are gonna be a permanent fixture, they might not be. Never allow your guild to get in the situation of relying too much on a single person. Are the main tank and off tank a “set”? (Friends or even a couple?) Do not, under any circumstances, allow them to be the only tanks. Train and gear other tanks. You never know when people might take a break from the game. Or worst case, decide to hold your guild hostage.

Part 2: Noobs

Still pretty up to date. Of course, I caution GMs to look for “troll” noobs. These are people who do this on purpose. Excise them, immediately.

Part 3: Guild Chat

This is still completely true. Of course there are culture exceptions. Since writing this, I have joined a rather large guild. They pretty much admitted at the beginning that their guild chat rivaled trade. There were multiple players who seem to have Tourettes of the finger. I identified these people and put them on ignore. Easy as pie.

Part 4: Consideration

Be considerate with guild items and repairs. Many guilds now have guild repairs thanks to the Cash Flow perk. Check with your guild about the thoughts on using that for things that aren’t “guild” deaths. In my guild, we have a sufficient amount of funds that the GM doesn’t care. Some guilds might not.

Check the guild website occasionally. Especially on Tuesdays. And if someone says something in gchat you are unaware of, and you ask a question, only to have them reply, I posted on the forums about it… do not pass go, do not collect $200, go to the forums and read what they posted. They are trying to help the guild, be aware and support it.

Part 5: Who gets to go?

Wow, this is so applicable now. My formerly 25 man raid team has been cut down to a 10 man. We have 16 active raiders for 10 spots. After a week of struggling and just switching people out at seemingly random, I decided to take matters into my own hands and proposed a system that divided the dps up into 2 teams. (10 of the raiders are dps.) Then scheduled the boss kills accordingly so that the difficulty was split between the two teams. This insured that each dps would get a chance to see at least one boss kill each week. And then the teams would switch off bosses each week.

Yes, it’s complex. Yes, it’s weird. But it worked. And it allowed us to stack the teams with the proper mix of melee vs. ranged, aoe vs. single target, and armor classes. The tanks (3) and healers (4) generally sort themselves out with no problem as there is usually one night someone can’t make it. It boosted our progress and helped everyone figure out when they would be raiding and when they could play other toons.

Part 6a: Epics

I am now also convinced that KSK is the *best* loot system when you can’t do small group loot council. KSK is essentially a system that randomizies a list of all the raiders in your guild. Then when an item drops, the person at the top of the list gets first dibs. (Of course sticking to people who can use that item.) So if that person takes the item, they get “suicided” to the bottom of the list. If they pass, the next person on the list gets the option. It’s glorious. Easy, simple, and does not allow for inflation.

If you miss a raid with KSK, you simply stay frozen in your spot and the people who did show up move around you.

We even implemented a system that allowed us to punish people who signed up for raids and didn’t show by knocking them down a spot on the list.

When you hit a new raiding expansion, you simply re-randomize the list. When you get a new raider, you just roll them up a random number and toss them in. At the height of loot going out, when nothing was being sharded and everyone was getting upgrades, it took me 2 raids to move from last, back up to first. Loot gets evenly distributed. Everyone knows where they are on the list.

Part 6b: Legendaries

Hello can of worms!

How to decide who gets your guild’s Legendary:

1. “Best” class. The current Legendary is a dps caster staff. First, you should chose a pure dps. Why? Because that’s all they *can* be. They will *always* be using the staff for it’s intended purpose. I love my priest and I love dpsing on her. But most of the time in a raid, I am gonna be healing. The legendary is wasted on healers.

2. Tenure. Do not give the staff to someone who has only been in your guild for <3 months. They could take embers and leave. Or even worse, get the Legendary and leave.

3. Attendance. Don’t pick a person who is known for disappearing for long periods of time. Don’t pick a person who only makes one raid a week. You want to get to a legendary as quickly as possible and try to get more than 1. Focus, and work on getting it for that person who is *always* there and ready to raid.

4. Always make sure the raid has one of the collectors in it. In my current guild we have 2 people collecting embers, because we have 2 teams of dps. No this is not the most efficient way, but it works with our system. We just have to make sure there is always one of the two people in the raid.

5. Someone willing to do the leg work. Legendaries are not easy. They take time, money, and a great deal of extra work. If the person isn’t willing to shell out their own 9k for the sands, then they shouldn’t be offered the staff.

Take these ideas and sort your possible legendary wielders, and have the list approved by officers. Then post it, so the guild knows what is going on.

Transmorgrify!

Blizzard announced stuff about new 5 mans, a new raid, and cross-realm raiding. Is anyone talking about that? No. Why? Because they also announced a thing that changes very little, and yet somehow changes *everything*.

I remember getting an armor dye drop back in DAoC. It was black, and for metal. It sold for about 100g. A veritable fortune at the time in that game. My healer wore a rather lovely mix of dark green armor, so it was worthless to me, but amazing for someone else. When I later started playing WoW, on my very first character, I got some hideous brown robe and immediately asked my friend “Oh god, where do I get dye? This thing looks like baby poop.”

“You don’t.” He said, then explained that everything in WoW was set. I was exceedingly happy a level or so later to get a green robe to replace the other. Now, I am aware that many people think this is a girl thing, but it’s not. I even know a rather masculine man (he was a football player, so huge) who refused to wear any “of the Whale” items, because that implied he was fat. But regardless, for many of the same reasons people chose certain races or sexes in the game, we wish we could chose gear.

Guild tabards are hotly debated among officers to “look good.” People will match their pets to their mounts. (My hunter was furious when they took away her pet while mounted.) Everyone who went from Vanilla, with lovely armor sets, to the rainbow barf that was leveling in Burning Crusade had some moment of thought along the lines of, “Ugh, my character looks ridiculous.” Our characters are an extension of ourselves. We wouldn’t go out into public looking like that, why would our characters?

So why did Blizzard insist on limiting the armor colors and styles? Why didn’t they have an appearance tab like LotR Online and other MMOs? Why didn’t they add armor dyes? Why didn’t they give the community what was begged for?

They claimed the reason was dedication to the art. They wanted things to look correct. No pink hello kitty Darth Vaders here. And the Silhouette theory. This is best explained by looking at just the outlines of characters. Can you tell what kind of character it is by the outline? Then the Silhouette theory is working. The idea being that you could just glance at someone and tell, are they friend or foe. Are they Horde or Alliance? Heavy or Medic? This is why the shoulders in all the armor sets are so distinctive and large. So that player can not only tell at a glance who is who, but also how well geared they are.

It was a good argument… With a few gaping holes.

1. What about Noggenfogger? It changes everyone’s silhouette! As does Deviate Delight. Arrr!

2. What about Orb of the Sin’dorei? I love my orb. I used to be a Blood Elf. But then I faction changed to play with friends. I miss being a blood elf. So I use my orb with shocking regularity. I love using it in Tol Barad. Has it ever saved my life? Not even once.

3. Rated Battlegrounds.  For those who don’t run them, every so occasionally your team will get matched up against a team of the same faction. So it just slaps a buff on you that says “Horde” or “Alliance”. That’s it.

The other comment made was that with the armor sets being static, you could tell someone’s “epicness” just by looking at them. Which was great, back in Vanilla. But ever since Wrath, and the great design shift to allowing everyone to see raids, this has created a huge problem. Yes, those shoulders DO look cool. And everyone else and their BROTHER is wearing them. It was the sparkle pony all over again. Everyone looked the same. (I think this is also the time that “town gear” also rose to wide spread popularity, where you carried a set of gear just for wearing about town.)

Apparently though, Blizzard re-thought their stance and came up with an amazing compromise. No, we still can’t dye our armor. BUT we can make it look like another piece of armor in the same armor class. And the masses rejoiced.

I have never been so glad or my hoarder mentality of tier sets. I have never been so glad I have my bank stuffed to the gills with old and interesting armor. There is literally NOTHING in my bank that isn’t soul bound. Everything else sits on my bank alt.  Joyia has all 24 slot bags, and not a single space to spare. But she also has all the warlock sets. I will have these ugly tier 11 shoulders looking like tier 5 so fast it will make Joyia’s head spin!

Ah Corruptor Raiment, I have missed you. I cannot wait to have my shoulders bedecked with skulls once more. My hunter is gonna wear this one. And I will no longer have to deal with the fact that my dps is lower because I refuse to use one of those noisy guns! I may even try to raid with her now! I have all the starter DK gear sitting in my DK’s bank. My priest will be looking all angelic in this set. I am already excited about wearing these armor pieces again. I am already thinking of running old instances to get nifty looking gear.

But that just changes me right? That doesn’t change the whole of WoW. But it does. I already have friends who are planning on re-subbing when the patch hits. They are already planning THEIR ARMOR SETS. The invites for old school raids have already started. People are already compiling lists of nifty items and where to get them. Oh and the Destiny sword I have been listing for a month that hasn’t been selling? Gone for 500g. So I listed a Brain Hacker. I couldn’t sell it for 100g 3 months ago. Today, it went, in 15 minutes, for 500g. Lovely Dresses (despite not having stats so possibly not being eligible for the transmogrification) all sold for 100g each. This feature isn’t even in yet and people are already creating ripple effects in the game.

The best part about this change? It sets a precedent. Blizzard said no and gave reasons. Then later came back and said, okay, we found a compromise. No Pandaren? No dual faction races? There could be more compromises. Breaking the armor silhouette sets them up to break the race silhouette. This could be the beginning of a whole new World of Warcraft.

Now, I have to go stare lovingly at my t5 warlock set, sighing over the thought of wearing such lovely gear again.