Thursday, 26 November 2009

Warm Turkey

Tobold writes interesting and sensible things about gaming. He makes you think a lot of the time. Here is one of his recent posts. In it he talks about how it is now ridiculously easy to level cooking in Warcraft. It seems like a frivolous topic, and there is the usual "catering to casuals" versus "streamlining annoying bits of the game" arguement in the comments.

I levelled my cooking skill at the time I levelled this character because I thought it would make it easier for me to get access to ability buffs and might give me the chance to make money. I didn't enjoy doing it particularly, although there was a mild feeling of achievement from time to time. I put in the effort because I thought it would be worthwhile to do so in order to gain an advantage over people who did not take the time to do so.

So for me, this is a nerf - any real or perceived advantage I gained has now gone. My achievement and effort was good for about a year, but is now worth less than it was before because most people will be able to do as well or better.

Still, it's only cooking.

This comment is fascinating however

I'm amazed at the direction complaints towards MMOs have taken over the last year or so. It seems all the things that made MMOs what they were are suddenly anathema to players.It seems like so many people hate most of the many small things that have always been part of an MMO.Questing, grinding, grouping, craft skills, everyone seems to be trying to find a way to make them go past more quickly... It's like saying: "I love playing football... except the part where you go outside, work as a team or have to kick a ball. That part sucks and I try to get it over with as soon as I can because it's annoying."

This is true - the levelling and exploring experience in warcraft is increasingly portrayed as a chore. Why is that? I am as bad as anyone - getting from 75 from 80 on my paladin alt was a real grind, and yet it was only the second time I'd seen the content. Some ideas:

- It is no longer a group game

Sometimes I am literally the only person in a levelling zone - particularly some of the more out of the way ones like Badlands or UmBungo Crater. Most levelling is now done alone and the most memorable and fun way to level is with a guildie or friend.

- There is no real reward

Because the levels flash past so fast none of the gear you receive has any lasting quality. I remember getting the paladin two handed weapon Verigan's Fist at level 25 many years ago, including soloing the first boss of Deadmines, and using it for 10 levels. It was a brilliant, epic experience and I was really excited to get it. I've had nothing like that in any of the expansions and when I level alts I can get through ten levels in two nights.

- It is very easy

You are hardly ever in any danger of dying in PvE these days. There are no elite mobs or quests. Something easy to obtain is not usually inherently valuable.

So what is left that we like in the game? Raiding is better than it ever was, and was brilliantly conceived and executed in Ulduar. Coliseum is disappointing as an instance, but some of the fights are well designed. Arena PvP is again supposedly very enjoyable for a certain sado-masochistic mindset. What's the link between these activities? They are essentially social activities, they require co-operation and co-ordination. They offer tangible rewards. They are difficult.

The more that Blizzard dumbs down the early part of the game, the less that people will enjoy it I think.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


I have been cold turkey from Warcraft for over a week now - not logging in at all. The main reason for this has been work - we have a big international client who are restructuring and so I'm in the middle of a pretty unpleasant series of overseas meeting. Another reason has been family - I'm taking the wife away for a couple of nights in a spa hotel this weekend and leaving my daughter with her granny. A final reason is that there isn't much in the game to draw me back at the moment - it so happens that I haven't been able to make any of the raids, and raiding is what kindles my excitement at the moment. Oddly, I have been missing raiding as dps, rather than tanking. I really enjoy fury, and I think would like to make this my main spec if I can do so without taking the raid spot of one of my dps friends.

I haven't given up the game at all - Icecrown looks fantastic and I can't wait for that - but 3.2 was such a let down as a patch.

So, in lieu of anything interesting about tanking, an anecdote from this book, which I devoured from start to finish yesterday while waiting for flights and connections.

I used to play a bit of poker (mainly live tournaments and the occasional cash game), and am just good enough to regularly beat bad players, without actually being good enough to hold my own against anyone competent. My weakness is that I love to play, and I love to gamble. I will chase my inside straight draw, or my flush draw, and usually crash on the final card. Victoria Coren's book is a fascinating human story about learning the game and finally getting a chance to win a big tournament.

Anyway - to the anecdote. A good few years ago now Mike Tyson is dating Naomi Campbell (the supermodel). They are at a celebrity cocktail party in London. They are arguing, when an elderly Oxford professor approaches them and tells Tyson to "Leave that girl alone."

Tyson, miffed, replies "Who the fuck do you think I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world!" The professor immediately replies "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our fields, and I suggest we talk about this like rational men."

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Faction champions heroic - redux

Firstly, and if you read nothing else in this post, here is an analysis of AI target selection in Faction Champs in ToC.

Secondly, we had our second kill last night on heroic mode. We got pretty much the toughest bunch of horde champions we could have - warrior / retribution paladin / shadow priest / resto shaman / resto druid / warlock, and we had to have our MT swap to his PvP hunter to get the kill, which took about 10 tries.

One big plus for us was the strategy of setting someone to keep hitting the warlock's felhound. We eventually used our hunter pet for it, and I saw a large number of the AI heals heading for the pet instead of the champion that we were attacking. As before our successful strategy (we tried several before this one worked) was to take out 2 of the 4 damage dealers before we went for the healers.

I was really pleased to get the kill, because it proves that last week was not a fluke due to an easy setup, but crikey that's a frustrating fight when you are wiping.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Tank survey

There is a survey of tanking bloggers doing the rounds. Since Gravity was kind enough to tag me in his response, herewith my answers:

What is the name, class, and spec of your primary Tank?

Everblue, Warrior, and I'm specced 15/3/53 at the moment.

What is your usual tanking environment?

Ten man, normal mode and hard mode stuff.

What is your favourite encounter to tank, and why?

The key ingredient of a favourite encounter is that it must be hard, but not sufficiently hard that I die all the time. I quite like Lord Jaraxxus in ToC10 heroic - you have important stuff to mix into your rotation (the interrupt), you have to be mobile enough to avoid infernal AoE without running into Legion Flame or gimping your dps switches to the portals etc.

In the past I enjoyed Anub'rekan (when it was hard and you had to get out of the insect swarm by intervening).

What is your least favorite encounter to tank, and why?

Malygos when you don't have a DK in the group. You have to do huge dps to keep ahead of the people who have the damage buff, you have to position the boss so that the breath doesn't hit the raid, and you have to keep moving the boss around the circle so the sparks pass over the raid before hitting the boss. It's an absolute nightmare combination and I hate it.

I don't mind mobility fights, but mobility + dps buffs to your raid = tank nightmare. There are similar issues on Hodir, but the problems aren't as extreme.

What do you think is the biggest strength of your class, and why?

Warriors have an ability for every situation. There is never a boss where a buff, debuff or tank ability is needed and warriors don't have it. Whether it is picking up adds, short cooldown interrupts, kiting, tactical use of cooldowns, the sunder debuff to increase dps etc. We are "good all round".

...and weakness?

We are "balanced" around critical block. Critical block + shield block is very very powerful indeed in current content, but it is unreliable. I therefore think that although we mitigate melee damage better than any other class, we are also potentially the squishiest tank class.

What is your favorite thing about the class you chose for your primary Tank and why?

I like the complexity of our baseline abilities that we use. I think that there is always some ability that I could use better to be better at tanking (for example at the moment I am trying to work cleave and disarm into my playstyle more). I think that some of the other classes lack the depth of the warrior.

In a 25 man raiding environment, what do you feel is the best tanking assignment for you?

My 25 man experience is limited, but I would suggest that we are the best adds tank. We are very mobile, so can move to pick up adds as they spawn, reasonably tank caster mobs who stand apart from each other or do some limited kiting. We can AoE stun (bosses are usually immune to stun but adds are usually not). We can spell reflect (ditto). Shield block makes us basically immune to physical damage for 1/4 of the time. We have two interrupts.

In a 10 man raid of course you just have to do everything.

What tanking class do you enjoy tanking with the most?

Paladins. If it's a paladin it means I may not have to keep up demo shout, and I have an array of helpful spells I can call on if the encounter requires it (eg hand of protection on the transition between Gormok and the Jormungar's in Northrend Beasts to clear my impale stack). The extra health from BoSanc is good too, as is the armour from devo aura. Consecration will always be up so incoming adds will get snagged by the pally.

...and the least?

Ummm. Hard to say. I have very little experience tanking with druids, but I suffer from a bad case of health-bar-envy, so I would have to say them.

What is your worst habit as a tank?

Mashing devastate in a panic when I am trying to move the boss around. My rotation just falls away in particularly stressful situations. Recent buffs to devastate mean that this is less of a liability.

What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while tanking?

My tank partner taunting mobs off me without agreeing beforehand. I don't mind if it's part of the plan, for example in our normal ToC heroic raids my tank partner is much better geared than me, and we agree that in certain circumstances where there are two bosses and his boss is dead he will take over my boss. Otherwise though it's just rude.

Do you feel that your class/spec is well balanced with other tanks for PvE tanking?

I don't know. The forums say not, tankspot says not, and Veneretio says not. I agree that with block as it is warrior damage is very spiky, but other than that I don't feel underpowered and I am tanking bosses that hit hard. I'm happy with my game experiences, so why complain? (Another 5k health would be nice though...)

What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a tank?

Recount, fraps, "did-the-healer-die?"

What do you think is the toughest thing for new players of your class to learn about tanking?

Managing heroic strikes while trying to run a normal rotation. It's a horrible playstyle. Please fix it Blizzard.

If someone were to evaluate your tanking ability via tools like fraps, recount, and World of Logs, what tendencies would they notice?

Hmmm. If they watched a video of me tanking on fraps they would see that I have a very large number of keybinds (I have 28 keys bound to abilities that I use regularly, not including modifiers such as shift- and alt-, and not including mouse combinations), that I mash devastate in panic from time to time (see above), and probably that I am a keyboard turner and don't strafe enough. On recount they would see that my dps is not brilliant (but improving I think), and that I am pretty good at stuff like interrupting and reflecting spells. They might also see that I use pretty much all of the warrior toolkit including stuff like retaliation and shattering throw.

They might see that I don't normally use cleave or disarm, although I am now starting to switch these in for fights where they're helpful.

They would see that I use a lot of macros.

Avoidance, Mitigation or Stamina and why?

Mitigation. I know it is better to stack stamina for large unavoidable damage, and I do socket stamina gems and currently run with two stamina trinkets. Nevertheless what I want to do is stack armour, and I look for armour whenever I can get it.

I like my character to feel "tough", which means armour, not a meatbag with tonnes of health. Is "meatbag" a word? It should be.

Do you strive primarily for balance between your tanking stats, or do you stack some much higher than others, and why?

I stack stamina and armour ahead of of avoidance. I never enchant or gem for avoidance unless I need the defence rating or I need a decent socket bonus.

What Tanking class do you feel you understand least?

Druids. Never played a druid.

Addons for tanking?

Some form of boss ability timer is utterly crucial. Get it and keep it updated. I use DeadlyBossMods. Also vital is something in your UI which shows the targetoftarget unit frame, together with that frame's debuffs. It is necessary for tank-swapping fights such as Thorim. I use Xperl unit frames for this.

Recount and Omen, obviously.

You also need to be able to see your target's cast bar, otherwise you won't be able to interrupt properly. The default UI now has this functionality, but I use Xperl.

I used to use wardrobe addons (for my blocking set, my EH set, my dps gear etc), but the wardrobe feature in the game's standard UI is very good and I now don't use any external addons for this. I have weapon swapping macros for when I am dpsing.

Other than that? I use Scrolling Combat Text so that my incoming damage and heals don't fill up the screen. I move them to one side and make them smaller.


For those of you who have not yet discovered the delights of Cranius, he's a really talented US singer who also makes warcraft movies. The movie that made his name was the iconic "Big Blue Dress", which I think is perhaps my favourite warcraft movie of all time. Among his many other videos he made a music video to the excellect "Highwayman", and a version of a Timbaland song called "Ulduar" which has been running through my head for hours now...

I strongly recommend you look his work up.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

We are the champions

We had our weekly ToC 10 heroic raid last night. My co-raid leader (a retadin) was away and we replaced him with a tank, meaning that not only was I leading the raid alone, but also I had to dps for the first time ever in a guild raid. I had only a little PUG raid experience previous to that (I'm not counting my mage raids in vanilla or shadowpriest raids in TBC - this was melee dps, and new to me).

My gear is all over the place - a mix of ilevels 200 to 232, with a blue cloak in there too - and I'm not properly gemmed or enchanted. I also run a spec with some PvP talents in for the faction champion fight. I bought an emblem of triumph ring before the raid in the hope that this would increase my dps a bit, but other than that I was very nervous.

As it turned out however, the raid was really successful.

We one-shot the Beasts, which was a brilliant start - no one got hit by the charge, and it was a really smooth kill. I was, of course, fifth (and therefore essentially last) on recount, but 3.5k dps was not too shabby. It took about ten tries to kill Jarraxus, and sad to say several of the wipes were my fault. I found it very difficult to switch targets fast enough, to manage my rage effectively, and to not stand in the fire like an idiot. One dps death usually means a wipe on Jarraxus, because you have to be so quick at taking down the portals otherwise you get overrun by adds. When we finally got him down I was so busy cheering that I didn't notice I had the legion flame debuff, and so died several seconds after the fight ended.

I was then prepared to give the champions about half an hour, just to practice but we had a really good setup and so I knew that a kill was possible. We had rogue/enh shaman/lock/mage/tree/disc priest - so no plate at all. Sure enough, five or six wipes later, we had our first kill! Some thoughts on the tactic:

- We had a prot warrior locking down the priest

- We ignored the tree to start with (excepting the odd fear and some random cc)

- We nuked down the rogue, purging the hots and using healing debuffs (I have a 50% healing debuff)

- We then killed the tree healer, then the other melee dps, then the second healer

This strategy was used because although we'd killed the tree a couple of times before, we were having real problems with the melee ganging up on people and losing people around the time of the first mob death. So even though we reduced the number of attacking mobs by 1 (by killing the tree) incoming damage was still too high to safely deal with. Once the rogue was down the amount of burst damage being put out by the mobs as a whole was a lot less, and there was less danger of losing someone before a heal could land. With good dispelling from our shaman and the two priests we could get rid of the hots cast by the tree, so aside from interrupts the amount of healing we were having to burn through getting the rogue down was not that much more than we had had to burn through on the tree.

We did not assign any CC to the mage or the lock, other than having a designated interrupter for hellfire.

We assigned some CC to the enhancement shammy, but not much. CC was a self help device - it allowed people to use it defensively if threatened.

Our strategy worked I think because the rogue is the squishiest melee mob we could have got - I think if we had had DK and warrior then we would have had more problems but nevertheless this is maybe the way to go if you get the tree healer (whose heals can be purged). Similarly, if we'd had the either the resto shammy or the holy paladin instead of the tree I wonder if we would have been able to burn down the rogue at all.