Saturday, September 24, 2011

15 Days Through My Interface: Day 5

So, day five brings us to titles. What's my favorite title?

I use The Argent Defender for several reasons. First, it matches a prot paladin perfectly. Second, it's the only tier thus far where we finished first on the server, even if it was a pretty mediocre tier. Third, it's extremely rare. Not server first rare, certainly not Scarab Lord rare, but it's rare enough that people ask me where I got it.

Starcaller holds a special place in my heart as well, but it doesn't work as well as Argent Defender does.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Difficulty, the Skill Gap, Blanket Nerfs, and the Exodus of Players.

About a week ago, Blizzard unleashed a one week warning that the Firelands was going to be hit with a nerf akin to the 20% nerf that rendered all T11 normal content completely trivial. This has erupted into a bit of a fireball in the blogging world. People are drawing lines on all sides. Some are saying that nothing should be nerfed, some are saying that everything should be nerfed, some are saying that heroics should be left alone but normals nerfed. It's kind of a mess.

Personally, I'm looking at the long game here. Consistency should be Blizzards watchword. For the most part since T8, Blizzard has done a good job of putting out content that has been fairly even in terms of difficulty. Difficulty at the bottom of the instance, and difficulty at the top has been fairly consistent; the major tuning factor is one of throughput. Going from Flame Leviathan in 213 gear, to Beasts of Northrend in 226 gear, to Lord Marrowgar in 245 gear, to Halfus Wyrmbreaker in 346 gear, to Shannox in 359 gear isn't a serious step up in difficulty anywhere along the line. Likewise, Yogg+0 in 239 gear, H Anub in 258 gear, HLK in 277 gear, Sinestra in 372 gear, and H Rag in 392 gear, despite more stratification than the opening bosses, doesn't include any ridiculous outliers in terms of difficulty. Content is not getting more difficulty, nor is is getting easier. They're remaining fairly constant. This is a good thing, because it gives people realistic impressions of the progression that they can expect across tiers.

In the same vein as consistency is avoiding creating major skill gaps. Encounters that exist as progression bottlenecks by being significantly more difficult than any of the encounters previous hurt the morale of a group. Going from clearing a new boss each week to be stuck on a single encounter for over a month is a recipe for destroying a raid group. This is one of the reasons why Blackwing Lair was a terribly designed instance. Going from Molten Core where the majority of the bosses were simpler than any five man boss in Cataclysm to Razorgore and Vaelestraz, who were as difficult as Ragnaros, was a huge skill gap. Further exacerbating the issue was that Razorgore and Vael weren't only the first two bosses in BWL, they were the first two encounters. There wasn't even trash you could farm. Because of this, even after the release of BWL, groups that couldn't down Rag had nowhere to go. Vaelestraz got the reputation as the game's first "Guild Breaker" boss. this is the hazard of encounters like Lady Vashj, Kael'thas, Bruttalus, Mu'ru, and Heroic Beasts of Northrend. These bosses all represented significant skill gaps, and raid groups died trying to surmount these obstacles.

Blizzard has also experimented recently with blanket nerfs. Rather than targeted adjustments to bring a specific encounters to the degree of difficulty they intend and letting groups progress at their own rate, blizzard has simply chopped the whole instance down a peg. This began with an adjustment during patch 3.0.2 to all BC raid content, which was justified in that changes to mechanics, specifically group dancing, and multiple potions, made a significant dent in a group's throughput. Perhaps they went a little overboard, but the intent was to counterbalance nerfs to all players. The first true blanket nerf came in ICC with the Strength of Wrynn buff. Starting at 5%, and eventually cranking it's way to 30%, it was built as a means to keep guilds interested in ICC during the longest year in raiding history. The next blanket nerf came when 4.2 dropped, and Blizzard emasculated T11 normal content. Now blizzard has announced it's intentions to conduct another blanket nerf, this time on all T12 content, before the next patch is even on the PTR.

These blanket nerfs give short term progression to groups. However, that progression comes at a cost to the long term health of the game. As I said earlier, consistency should be Blizzard's goal. These blanket nerfs destroy that consistency. Even worse, in destroying that consistency, they create nightmarish skill gaps in between tiers. By the time the 30% buff rolled around in ICC, any competent group could roll into ICC, and push fairly deep into heroics. When T11 rolled around, these same groups expected to make similar process in T11, only to find that without the 30% buff, they're languishing in normal mode for months. This wasn't consistent with the progress they came to expect in T10 content. This frustrated them, and the fireworks flew. Guilds across servers exploded as T11 held a cruel mirror up to their actual ability. Many of these guilds were decent groups that in previous tiers had cleared the instance on normal and pushed into the easier heroics while content was current. However, the time spent in ICC warped their expectations, and destroyed their enjoyment of the game. Because of this, the game hemorrhaged subscriptions a few few months into T11. Blizzard didn't learn from this design failure, and is planning to repeat it again with T12 content.

Inevitably, not everyone will be able to clear raid content when it's current. It takes both skill and commitment, to one degree or another. A less skilled guild that raids for 6 nights a week might progress further than a skilled group that raids, 2 nights a week. But that's because their commitment is much greater. However, the distribution of skill in this game varies heavily, and anyone who spends any sort of time running random pugs in LFD will notice that there are people at level 85 who do DPS that's low by Burning Crusade standards. It's impossible to create content that's capable of being cleared by people that bad, that remains marginally challenging to the current group of raiders. A realistic appraisal of your groups skill and commitment is vital in creating realistic expectations, and realistic expectations are vital for the long term enjoyment of the game. If it took you four months to down nefarian, you should expect a commensurate amount of time to down Rag.

Perhaps Blizzard thinks that the new "Derp" mode, as some of my guildies are taking to calling the new LFR tool scheduled for 4.3, will offset the skill gap. That guilds that made it to 7/7 normal in firelands and 1/7 heroic would be satisfied with being 7/7 derp mode and 5/7 normal. I doubt this is true. Getting inferior gear and no achievements will simply leave them feeling inferior, and still thinking that they're a group that should be raiding in heroic mode. Inconsistency will wound this game.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Through My Interface: Day 4

Today's the Greatest Accomplishment. It's more of a meta topic, than an RP topic. As always, my accomplishments in game are defined by raiding.


Downing Firefighter was the first brutal welcome to raiding moment. It became the moment that calcified my group into progression raiders, rather than people who give up after the first 200 wipes. To this day I still hear Mimiron screaming "Medic" when I see someone die on my raid frames.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The PvE TO&E

My previous post about why tanks are in such short supply got me thinking about the organization of PvE activities in World of Warcraft. I see a lot of parallels between the way people approach WoW, and my army company. The Army uses a document called a Table of Organization and Equipment to show how many men, trained in what skills, and with what equipment, are needed for a unit of any given tasking. I've used a similar document in my time as a raid leader to map out what the guild needed to field a functioning raid group. X main spec tanks, Y main spec healers, Z melee DPS, so on, and so forth. But looking at the parallels between the TO&E for PvE content, and the TO&E for an infantry company yield's some interesting results.

DPS> The Private: They are the rank and file which make up the bulk of every unit, think of them like pawns in chess, every one in a while they do something spectacular, but most of the time they're just there.

Healers> The Support Element: These are the medics, FiSTers, the Truck Drivers, and the other support elements that make it possible for the combat arms (Read DPS and Tanks) to do their jobs correctly. Their goals are defined by the combat arms' execution of the mission, rather than the mission itself. While tanks and DPS have scripted goals and tasks that need to be completed during an encounter, healers are constantly reacting to the human factor. Healing the same encounter between two different groups can be an entirely different experience. I've run BHs where the tank took less damage than anyone else in the raid, and it threw the healers for a loop.

Tanks> the NCOs: Tanks, as I mentioned earlier, are the leaders in the PvE community. They set the tactical pace of a group, and determine how to attack each pull.

The Raid Leader> The Company Commander: The raid leader is ultimately responsible for the tactical elements of the largest scale PvE to be found in the game. Far more complex than those found in 5 mans, raid content requires careful planning and execution, just as company missions require more planning than squad level operations.

The Guild Leader> The Flag Officer: The Guild Leader is responsible for the strategic goals of the guild, of which the raid team is a subset. He might be directing the goals of multiple raid leaders while wearing the GM hat.

Guild Officers> The S shops: Every unit has support officers who handle things ranging from supply issues to intelligence assets. Just as they have needs beyond the purview of their mission, each guild has needs it needs to fulfill outside the confines of the raid instance. Recruitment, flasks, repairs, financials, and loot policies are all among the issues that guilds will often designate officers to handle.

The tanks are NCOs at every level. They are the backbone of the game. In five man content, the tank fills the role of the junior NCO, the team leader or squad leader, who is responsible for both tactical planning and leadership for their unit. Likewise, the five man tank is expected to know how to best handle each pull in the instance, where's the best place to tank each boss, and how to optimize things for the DPS and healers in his group.

On the other hand, raid tanks act more like senior staff NCOs. A raid tank is the First Sergeant of WoW. They are responsible for tactical leadership; but not planning, that's the purview of the Raid leader. While it is the Raid Leader's decision where Shannox should be tanked, it's up to the tank to make sure that reality lines up with the raid leader's plan. The tank is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

The gulf between a good NCO and a bad one is enormous. A good NCO will be someone you remember for the rest of your life, but a bad NCO will get you killed. While the stakes aren't nearly so high for tanks, we should always strive for excellence. Always try to be that tanks that people remember for being the best they could ask for. Never be the tank they had to carry, or worse, the tank that caused the group to fail. When you choose to tank, you need to hold yourself to a higher standard than other roles do. Be perfect. You owe it to your group, and you owe it to yourself.

Friday, September 2, 2011

15 Days Through My Interface: Day 3

Here we are at Day 3. The topic is to find a screen shot representing who you are.


Inevitably, Dämmer is a leader. He has traded blows with a 13 Dragons, half a dozen Eredar Lords (and ladies) of the Burning Legion, four titanic watchers, a trio of liches, and 2 certified gods. He has always done so willingly, but he has never done so alone. When the call comes for Dämmer to face the latest threat to the peace of Azeroth and the Alliance, his comrades, his friends, have always been there to keep him safe. Though some have come and gone, while others have remained, Dämmer would have been reduced to a bloody stain on the floor of some far away land without them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

15 Days Through My Interface: Day 2

Ok, we're on to day 2. The subject is player housing. I'm not really a fan of trying to cram into some space to make it a character's home. There's not enough housing present in game to house all the NPCs, much less the millions of players. But the assignment is to find a home for Dämmer, so I did.

Dämmer spends his resting moments in the Cathedral of Light, studying with, and teaching, his fellow Paladins. Since returning from the war in Northrend, and witnessing Deathwing's assault on Stormwind, he's realized that the odds of him being able to live his life in peace is becoming an increasingly slim chance. So he spends his free time preparing the next generation to defend themselves, demonstrating which of the three lungs of an abomination is vital, what frequency of light is needed to disrupt an elemental's hold on the material plane, or the best angle to hold one's shield to deflect the Black Dragonflight's shadowflame breaths, and how to swing the hammer so as to render an attacking orc into a dazed target. He lives with the expectation that his teachings will one day save the lives of some of his proteges. He lives in hope that his techniques will die with him.