Traps, Tanks, and some other Things

November 15, 2011

Well, I’m still waiting for my copy of Skyrim to arrive, so I have some time to write about other things.

I am still having fun playing World of Tanks.  After researching all the upgrades for the KV I decided to muck around with Tank Destroyers and Self-Propelled Guns (artillery) for a while.  This was fun and educational, seeing the artillery interface made it clear why I had died easily in certain places on the map, and I gained a new appreciation for large rock outcroppings.  Actually playing artillery can be super-frustrating, you may be stone to the heavy tank scissors, but light tanks are paper to your stone.  The light tanks move too fast for you to hit, and the slow heavy tanks have too much armour for you to damage (I cheered when a shell hit a Tiger II and managed to inflict 2% damage) so you end up hoping wistfully for a medium tank to decide to park itself out in the open for the time it takes you to set up the shot.

Tank destroyers are a bit less frustrating in play.  Their low profile makes you hard to spot, so they are excellent if you have the patience to sit in an ambush position, or know where to go for a long-range sniping shot.  A Hetzer with a 10.5cm cannon satisfyingly one-shots many light/medium tanks and its the only tank where I have ever managed ‘top gun’ with seven kills out of 15 of the opposing team of players.  Without a turret though, its vulnerable to being flanked.

Still, when my dreams were filled with green targeting recticules, I decided I needed to wind back how much I was playing this little game.

Traps

The players in my tabletop game will be off doing a tomb crawling expedition soon.  So, naturally, there will be traps.  And undead monsters.  But its traps I have been thinking about.  There is one rogue in the party, who has invested heavily in trap detection and removal masteries, allowing him rerolls if he fails a spot/disarm check.  So having traps present is a payoff for how he has built his character, helps the team, and makes up for not being as good in combat as the combat focused characters.

I do wonder though, if the process of traps is too predictable.

Most of the time, in every new shift in the game environment, he announces he is looking for traps.  If he finds one, he tries to disarm it.  Trap disarmed, party moves on, rinse and repeat.  Partly I think its dull, because its action by just one player, while everyone else waits.  Without an external factor, such as pursuing guards, its not terribly exciting.  Low damage traps are also pretty much a waste of time in Dragon Age, as the party can just stop, take a breather, and regain 1d6+Constitution+Level Health Points, so with level 6 characters, traps doing less than 10 damage are just wet bus tickets.

So I thought a bit more about what traps are, and what else you might tie into their key purpose – defending a location.  As well as doing some sub-lethal damage (because, to be blunt, save or Die traps will just make my players cry) traps can also:

  1. Block movement in a particular direction.
  2. Channel movement towards a different direction.
  3. Split the party into two or more groups.
  4. Sound an alarm.  Could be silent, could be noisy, maybe the entire dungeon just starts quietly vibrating.
  5. Summon/teleport guardians to the location (Release the hounds!).
  6. Physically trap/pin/cage the intruders in that location (Sharks optional).
  7. Mark the intruders, like paint/dye/glowing goo.
  8. Attach a locator beacon to the intruders.
  9. Communicate information to the intruders (Achtung Minen!).
  10. Trigger a time delayed device (This dungeon will self-destruct in six cycles)
  11. Apply a debuff to the players (poison, disease, exhaustion, fear, etc) rather than just a few HP.

What I’ll try and do this weekend, is have some traps that require more than just one person playing with their lockpicks, the environment setting and situation should require another pair of hands or eyes I think.  Perhaps a slowly flooding dungeon, where once you choose to fall back, you know you’ll never get to the last chamber in the tomb.

Traveller World Gen

Thinking back to the random craziness of Traveller worlds, I begin to think that worlds might have fit better together if they had been designed in clusters, rather than just retro-fitted the explanations.

Terror Australis

I also mused briefly today about what an Australian themed expansion for World of Warcraft might look like:

  • A continent full of critters that are Level 100 Elite Mobs!
  • New Wombat Race!
  • Ford Falcon mount for engineers!
  • A rejigged economy where you sell minerals to the Chinese gold farmers!
  • New Class: Tasmanian Mutant!
  • Every monster has a poison attack!
  • Forests teeming with Drop Bears!
  • Legendary pavlova recipe!
  • Ozzie rules PvP, where damage can only be inflicted while jumping!

Grand Strategy Game at Buckets of Dice 2012

I emailed the pitch in for this today.  Not too far removed from earlier discussion here, but the next big chunk of design work will be in mid-February, after Canterbury Faire is finished.


October 24, 2011

I am in one of my phases where I write up some game mechanics, then delete them for being too derivative.  So while I am doing work on the “Xmas Game” I do not know if I will actually get one finished.  In the mean time, some notes on games I have been playing and games I am looking forward to playing.

Star Wars the Old Republic Beta

Not much I can say here due to the NDA. Bioware did a short beta test just for testing the Oceanic connections and I was lucky enough to get an invite.  I am not regretting my pre-order from Amazon.

Lord of the Rings Online

Over the last year I have slowly levelled up a level 30-ish Guardian character in LOTRO.  Its a free-to-play game, but I did spend some cash on a mount and opening some questing zones.  While the Lord of the Rings lore is good, its very, very grindy.  Two points stand out here: advanced combat abilities that are only learned after you have used a basic combat ability a few hundred/thousand times, and the crafting system, where you effectively have to relearn prior tiers of skill in order to master each new tier.  Tactically, the levelling game is more interesting the World of Warcraft, as failure is quite possible if you attack on elite mob or pull too many trash mobs.  I only tried an instance once, and the combination of inability to generate multi-target threat combined with rapid mob respawns turned me off trying again.  After playing the SWTOR Beta, I don’t think I’ll be spending more time in LOTRO.

Dragon Age (tabletop)

My once a fortnight tabletop campaign continues, with the players having reached Level Six.  In the last session, they ran into an interesting moral challenge and my amoral mage jumped a different way from that which I was expecting (he refused to take the Red Book of Monsters from the time-shifted Ebon Tower after a fragment of a God told the party the book could be used to summon monsters that could sunder the world).

Some quirks in the game engine are now becoming apparent.  By Level 10 a character will have at least doubled their health from Level 1, if not tripled it, as well as improving the ability to avoid being hit and to mitigate incoming damage … but their outgoing damage will only have increased by about 1d6 per round.  So against a similar group of “heroes” the chances are that a combat would take an entire game session to resolve.

The Rogue class is annoying, as in each and every combat round they have to make an opposed bluff check in order to gain an attack bonus and 1d6 damage.  Without the bonus damage the Rogue is not competitive in damage dealing.  The extra die roll each round is time consuming.

Mages are annoying, definitely glass cannons, which makes them either overpowered or vulnerable.  If an NPC mage uses a crowd control spell, they can eliminate a player character from an entire combat (which means a bored player), but in return solo enemy mages are not viable as foes – they simply cannot survive without a small horde of minions to intercept/disrupt the players.

My rough rule of thumb now, is that for an enemy to concern my players, it needs to do a minimum of 6d6 damage per combat round (after accounting for missed attacks and armour absorption), otherwise the fact that the party mages can pump out 6d6 healing per round means most combats end with the players on full health.  While I have given out the odd health/mana potion, I don’t think anyone has ever had to use one of them.

Still, the core engine still appeals to me and I am tinkering with reworking it into a SF setting – I am mucking around with ideas for Sidhe, Fomorians and Stargate style Egyptian monsters all turning Earth into a post-apocalyptic setting, with some bright ultra-tech human colonies out in space.

World of Tanks

This is an online “lobby” game, consisting of 15 minute player versus player matches in which each of the 30 players controls one World War II era tank.  Between matches you repair and research.  The tank capabilities and vulnerabilities seem faithful to history, although there are a few fantasy tanks in play which never got off the design board and onto the historical battle fields.  At the moment tanks are limited to US, Russian, and German designs, although I expect we will eventually see British and French designs as well.  The game has been sufficiently successful that we can expect to see World of Planes and World of Ships in a couple of years.

I chose to play Russian tanks, and have slowly worked my way up to my first heavy tank, the KV.  Unlike my previous tanks, its slow, really slow, and the turret is also a slow traverser.  Historically, it was a killer when it ran into German Panzer IIs and IIIs, but in WoT I am as likely to run into Tiger IIs and IS-4s, which I can’t really damage and which can one shot me in return.  Tactically, rather than moving constantly at max speed as you do with light tanks, the KV needs to work in formation with other tanks to avoid being flanked and also needs to skulk from bit of cover to bit of cover.  Out in the open its easily spotted and immobilised by artillery.

Overall, I find WoT to be a really good way to spend 30-60 minutes of spare time.  It also goes well with listening to some heavy metal music.

World of Warcraft – Firelands

My guild has lost two DPS players (rogue/hunter) but continues to raid.  We managed 6/7 boss kills before the content was nerfed, then 7/7 shortly afterwards and are now 1/7 for hard modes.  I’m not sure the content nerf was good for us.  We do not have the throughput in DPS/HPS for many of the hard mode fights, but now the normal mode fights are so trivial as to be boring.

What we tend to do now, is spend two hours wiping on hard modes on Thursday night, then clear up to 5/7.  On Monday we go back and kill the last two, and as we get better at killing Ragnaros we use our remaining time on Tier 11 hard modes.  On Sundays I lead a casual raid, but it is struggling as several of the players there simply cannot meet the DPS requirements – we need 15k DPS and they do 10k – the fights take too long and our healers run out of mana, or the time delay makes the wheels fall off and the fight becomes a train wreck.

I am happy with my Holy Paladin healing, I managed to rank sixth in class in World of Logs for healing the fat fire spider Beth’tilac in the second week of Firelands.  Considering how Paladins 1-6 were all in Tier 11 Hard Mode gear I was pretty chuffed with the accomplishment.  My Retibution Paladin DPS though … it sucks, hovering around 12k for most fights, although on a static tank and spank it can reach 18k.  Part of the reason the DPs is low is that because I do not enjoy it, I don’t practice it.  I’m not sure why I don’t enjoy it but there are two bits of the play style I struggle with: use of cooldowns and proc dependence.

It’s hard for me not to agree with Gevlon over at the Greedy Goblin, that the sheer complexity of the “Boss Dance” in fights is making raiding less fun.  This is especially the case for melee damage dealers in any fight with significant movement, as the loss of contact time on the boss reduces DPS.  It is a never-ending race, in which Blizzard alternates between buffing classes with new abilities, then upping the difficulty of new fights.  In patch 4.3 we are being promised a buff to melee DPS … but I have to say as a raid leader, I have no desire to recruit more melee DPS into the raid group because unless their player skill is exceptional.

Over at Blessing of Kings, a comparison of a Wrath era fight and a Cataclysm era was posted to illustrate this point:(http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2011/09/firelands-nerfs-and-difficulty.html)

Marrowgar:

  • One mob
  • Tanks stack on each other to split damage
  • Avoid fire
  • Dodge bonestorm
  • Kill bonespikes

Shannox:

  • Three mobs
  • Dodge traps
  • Burst one add with large spells
  • Heal one random target who takes high damage
  • Trap and kite one add until a stacking debuff wears off, failing this increases tank damage
  • Avoid aoe spear damage
  • Damage increases significantly as fight progresses

What I would prefer, is a few more fights that stretch my ability to play my class well, as opposed to how well I have memorised the exact dance steps for the special mechanics on a boss fight.  My own feedback on class design for the next expansion was “less is more”.

On the whole though, I think Blizzard made a serious mistake in Cataclysm by making two of the tier end bosses be recycled bosses from Vanilla WoW (Nefarian & Onyxia, and Ragnaros).  Yes, the fight mechanics are different … but it still felt like a failure of imagination to me by the Blizzard design team.

Upcoming Games

Games I am looking forward to include: Star Wars the Old Republic (December), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (11 November), and the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft (2012).

For information on SWTOR I recommend the http://torwars.com/ fan site.  My Sith PvE guild is now part of the Oceanic “daisychain”, a collaborative effort to ensure as many ANZAC players as possible all end up on the same starting server.

Guild Wars 2 is attempting to eliminate the holy trinity, so all characters will have heal/dps options.  Defences will include active dodging by the players, and if you “die” you actually get a different set of combat options while knocked down.  Could be a quality of life improvement, but it might be a much stronger evolution of the genre than SWTOR is shaping up to be (several press reviews describe SWTOR as WoW with lightsabres).

I preordered Skyrim after watching some gameplay videos, especially of combat versus dragons.  It looks like combat is very sandbox, many different ways to solve each tactical problem.  I enjoyed the other Elder Scrolls games, so this will fill the gap until SWTOR is released.

Mists of Pandaria will be an oriental themed expansion for WoW.  I know a few people have gone “WTF! Panda!”  but last time I looked WoW had already jumped the shark (the Goblin starter area has a quest involving sharks with laser beams mounted on them).  I’ll be happy with MOP if I can dress my virtual dolls in Samurai armour.

Probably the most significant announcement was a complete rebuild of the talent system, rather than spending points every few levels to boost power and access new abilities, many abilities will be granted with class spec, and talents will be a choice of one of three options every 15 levels.  When you hit 30, you can’t go back and choose a second Level 15 option, as each set of options will compare like with like, you are unlikely to be forced to choose between utility or survival or throughput.  I like the sound of this new system … fits with my “less is more” preference.

Wowhead already has a talent calculator preview available at: http://www.wowhead.com/mists-of-pandaria-talent-calculator


How I made 1,000,000 gold in World of Warcraft

June 27, 2011

Actually, this is more of a look back at Tier 11, but don’t worry, I will cover the gold making enterprise towards the end.

Playing a paladin healer in Cataclysm has felt like a constant race with the nerf bat.  At launch, Paladins were just too damn good, so over the course of a few weeks our healing model got changed just about every week.  In that sense it was good that I hit 85 within 2 days, and was chain running heroic 5 mans on the 3rd day, because getting some gear early made the later nerfs mcuh easier to live with.  Usually through a tier of content you watch your mana pool increasing, I had a time when it was decreasing with every patch and hotfix.  Coming in with Tier 12 is another raft of changes, which will mean that once again I will have to retune all my reflexes and change rotation priorities.

Tier 11 gear sucked: I often /inspect other Holy Paladins when idling in downtown Orgrimmar and I have not seen a single holy paladin in tier gear.  It is embarrassing when your secondary spec is fully equipped first. And what is it with placing all the healing maces on end zone bosses?

 The new zones

Mt Hyjal remains a favourite for levelling … because the underwater zone of Vashj’ir is painful.  While Vash has its moments, the 3D environment is painful to maneuver around, and its just too big.  I think they would have done better to have taken half the ideas and saved them for a future patch/expansion.  Deepholm was fine, although its frustrating with alts in that you outlevel the zone well before you actually unlock the faction vendor there.  Uldum was a disaster with pretty scenerey, the Harrison Jones joke is a bit old, the none-too-subtle nazi references were lame, and it was slow death by a thousand cut scenes.  Twilight Highlands was good the first time through, but as my alts ding 85 I run out of enthusiasm to finish the zone, and they retire to watch the fires outside the Auction House.

Content difficulty

5 mans: much, much harder than Wrath. Guild groups vastly preferable to pugging.  I have not pugged since patch 4.1 (the Call to Arms random loot satchel does not tempt me).  My gut feeling, is that even in close to full raid gear, its much harder to heal a random group of strangers than the Wrath instances were.

Most-hated new instance: Stonecore.  Even post-nerf I still hate it.

Most-liked  new instance: Deadmines.  A little long, but a lot of thought went into making the fights interesting.

Raids: pretty good for 2 nights per week in the casual scene, but only if you have a solid team. As an introductory raid, much harder than Tier 7.  It would have been pretty hard to have gone 12/12 hard modes on two nights a week.  If half of my guild’s raid group had not quit in February, resetting our progress for almost two months, I think we would have reached 4-5 hard modes.  As it is, getting all 14 raiders a full 12/12 clear in the last month still felt like a good achievement for us.

Most-hated Encounter: Lip Boss in the Nefarian fight.  If I wanted to play a platform game, I’d play a platform game.

Most-liked encounter: Atramedes, once you got the hang of the sound mechanic, it was quite a fun fight for a healer.

Epic Fail: Throne of the Four Winds, random loot is random, and unloved.  I think we sharded almost everything bar the tier drops from Al’Akir.

Levelling: trivial, and very much a solitary experience now that pvp/instancing via LFG/randoms exists and most of the non-instanced group quests were eliminated.  Even without heirloom gear’s boosted xp, its very hard to actually complete all of a zone’s quests before you outlevel the zones.  Some of the old zones had a great makeover, and the new stories were fun, but I am not really tempted to go back through them all again.

Cancelling the rift sub

I canceled over something relatively trivial.  My Level 34 character was unable to buy water to recover from damage quickly, because all the vendors in zone only sold water that worked for Level 35+ characters.  But I also quit because the game was too much like WoW, in that in order to access the end game content I would have had to have devoted 500+ hours to grinding reputations/gear.  bad enough to do that in WoW, I’m not really tempted by doing it in a second fantasy theme park game.

If this had been my first MMORPG, I probably would have continued to Level 50.  After all, when I started WoW I levelled a Holy spec paladin to Level 60 thinking I was playing a DPS class!  But five years later, I am simply not willing to continue in frustrating play, when I have more rewarding experiences available elsewhere.  No one else in my WoW guild managed to make it past Level 20-25 before the sameness of the content got to them, and they too cancelled their subscriptions.

Key Play Decisions

I was offered a position in one of the hardcore raiding guilds on my server.  I turned it down.  Carpe Jugulum is a guild on my level

No pugging.  I have stuck largely with guild raids, bar a few Baradin Hold runs for the Loot Pinata Boss.

Only gearing one character (for raids, 5 mans, reputation, achievements, etc) not 2-5 characters.

Stepping up to be Raid Leader after the mass guild quit was worth it.  I helped recruit replacements, and then led the Guild to virtual glory.  Good times.  For my next trick, making sure they can do the same without me.

A Million Gold

I started with around 300,000 gold.  I spent about 100,000 gold levelling professions after launch.  In the next six months I made 900,000 gold.  This took about two hours a day of AFK/AH time.  Sorry if you are looking for an “I Win” button, but my success came as a result of:

First, having invested the time to get five characters with fully developed professions in Mining, Herbing, Enchanting, Blacksmith, Tailoring, Alchemy, Inscription and Jewelcrafting. Thats about a thousand hour investment.

Second, identifying niche markets that were profitable.  Reading Gold Blogs was helpful, but not necessary.  The most important tool here is actually the add-on “Auctionator”, which saves time by compressing price/quantity information displays for rapid viewing, and having quick AH list/cancel functions.

Third, relentlessly pushing those markets every day.

My most profitable market was JC, where I went long and purchased all the 5 token meta-gem cuts, ignoring the rings altogether and only later buying the 3 token gem cuts.  I also spent around 10k gold on each rare BOE meta-gem pattern or enchanting formulae that turne dup on the AH.  When the mats cost me 45 gold, and the gem sold for 299g I made a lot of money – anywhere up to 10,000 per day.

My second market was enchanting scrolls.  Slow steady earnings.  A few coins from rare enchants for BOA gear, but not a big earner.  However, because I have all the patterns, I don’t bleed money here.  Disenchanting has been curiously profitable too.

My third market was BOE shields, which was a good earner due to the BOP nature of Chaos orbs.  When other smiths were selling their orbs for 100g in trade chat, I was making 1,000 gold off them on the AH.  The smith also makes looose change from enchanting rods.

The silly earner is Primal Might, which takes me about ten minutes to farm, and sells for 500 gold on my server.  Not bad for something from two expansions back.

The Tailor makes spare change from making bags and spellthread.  I don’t use the scribe much, the inscription market is broken (it has prohibitive entry costs, and its impossible to make gold without addons, a small army of alts and a willingness to cancel and relist thosands of auctions a day).  I switched the scribe’s herbing profession to JC, and I’m making a long bet that epic gems will require daily mission tokens, so I have 58 of those stockpiled.

Things I don’t do for gold:

1) spam trade chat

2) snatch vanity items, hoping to flip them, everything I sell is something I make

3) farm and sell raw materials, I leave that to the bots

4) sell anything where I am making less than a 10 gold profit per sale.

Looking Ahead to 4.2 ‘the Firelands’

I will gear a second character for heroic 5 mans, purely for the farming efficency to get the iLevel 378 BoEs.  The lower weekly VP cap creates a strong incentive to reduce playing time of main characters by about 25%, but it will be much harder for hybrid gear sets to be completed.

Will the new tier work with just seven bosses?  Most of the ones I have raided in have had 12.  A lot of things are still frustratingly unclear.  With only seven bosses is the loot table larger or just more random?  Its also not clear how some of the crafting materials are acquired, although 25 man raids will get more of them than 10 man raids.  Maybe its a signal that the bosses will all be significantly harder than in Tier 11.

T12 gear for holy paladins is an improvement, mostly.  Well, it would have been hard for it to be worse.  Kurn has a pretty good breakdown at: http://kurn.apotheosis-now.com/?cat=90

At some stage I will try healing Cataclysm 5 mans in Tier 2 gear.  I’ll post screenshots!

The new healing paradigm gets some discussion here: http://wow.joystiq.com/2011/06/26/the-light-and-how-to-swing-it-balancing-holys-heals/#continued, and some number crunching takes place here: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/2593008994.  While I’m not thrilled about the changes, I expect I’ll adjust after a week or two.

The guild goal for Tier 12, is to do some hard modes, and make sure at least one of our RDPS gets the legendary staff.  Thats going to require some work…


How I Heal with a Paladin

April 19, 2011

Paladins have a lot of situational cooldown tools, no real need to explain most of them here. What I will focus on, is my bread & butter healing rotation/priority system.

Before an encounter, I will be attempting to use holy shock to generate and maintain a three stack of holy power. During an encounter, maintaining a three stack of holy power is always a “nice to have”. I use Holy Power for two things:
(1) Word of Glory (WoG): mana free instant heal
(2) Light of Dawn (LoD): cone AoE heal that hits five (6 if glyphed) targets

(1) gets a lot of use in 5 mans, (2) gets more use in raids, because if it hits 4.5+ targets, it carries more effective healing through to the Beacon of Light (BoL) target (which is usually a tank). I tend to use the glyph that allows a mana free (but not GCD free) switch of BoL, as this is handy in tank swap fights or if *cough* a tank dies. The alternative glyph is the one that boosts mana return from Divine Plea (which I will use on long mana intensive fights). Divine Plea reduces my healing by 50%, which is why I macro’d some party/raid text to its use (telling people that my heals will suck).

I have two ways to generate Holy Power: (A) from using Holy Shock (an instant heal) or (B) casting Divine Light or Flash of Light (FoL) on my Beacon Target. Divine Light is my most mana effective spell in terms of healing per minute, but its slow. FoL is fast, but burns mana. I have talents that allow me to keep one point of holy power after using a holy power spell, and a chance of keeping a full three stack after a WoG cast. Note: in a 25 man raid a Paladin healer would almost never cast WoG, they rely exclusively on LoD which can be almost always gauranteed to hit six targets.

If I have nothing better to do when healing, and I have high mana, I will cast Holy Light, the cheap heal, partly to fish for a proc that will let me cast two Holy Shocks in a row. I do this more often in 5 mans than in raids as raid damage is usually a bit more than Holy Light can cope with.

So as a rough priority I cast:
(1) Holy Shock on cooldown
(2) Divine Light on Beacon target
(3) Holy Light

The major addition to this is Judgement, which does no healing, but returns four percent of my base mana. Judging on cooldown is crucial to mana longevity in fights.  So when mana is below 95% and I can use it, I will, unless the situation requires constant healing.  One reason why fights go wrong for me, is that if I have to do a long period of healing to keep everyone alive, and there is no space to insert a judgement, then two minutes later at the tail end of the fight I can run dry.

My major “oh crap” button is Holy Radiance, an AoE heal that is centred on me. It also boosts my run speed for four seconds. Unlike other AoE heals, it moves with me when I move. I hit this when everyone in the party has taken damage, or if tanks are low and I have to move when holy shock is still on cooldown and I have no holy power to use. HR can be boosted by using other cooldowns (wings for +20%, and divine favour for more haste ticks and +20% crit). This and LoD are my only spells that heal more than two targets at once – Paladins are still very much single target healers.

Lay on hands is not quite as awesome as it once was, as it does not heal the Beacon target. I prefer to avoid using this if possible, although some fights do require it. Its also an emergency mana restorer, and I do at times blow it on full health healers who are OOM.

The last force multiplier that I have is Divine Guardian, which boosts the next five single target heals I do. This changes my normal priority/rotation, as I just want to cast five Divine Lights in a row. Doing this plus other cooldowns can allow me to do about 600k healing in under ten seconds. Yes, Holy Paladins are filled with win.

 
Target selection is another issue. I don’t heal pets much. They get healing love when no one else is hurting. Raids are quite different from 5 mans. In raids, a large amount of damage is predictable … or at least the expected damage spikes are known in advance when everyone is good at minimising avoidable damage. Five mans are a bit more chaotic (or at least my pugs are) as there is a wider mix of experience and gear, and its pretty common to see DPS peel mobs off the tank.
 
I pick my targets looking at my raidframes (Vuhdo), and the big health bars I have in it, which I set to colour code based on how low health is.  It also displays important debuffs (diseases and magic effects) and buffs (my beacon) and puts nice red hash marks around anyone holding threat on a hostile target.  So I look at how healthy people are and I choose:

Small amount of damage to one target – use holy light in next break in rotation (where holy shock is on cooldown, and I already have a three stack of holy power)
Big amount of damage to one target – use the big WoG I have been hoarding
Small to medium damage everywhere – pop Holy Radiance as a preventative measure to keep health pools up and/or use LoD

Where a DPS takes, and continues to take big chunks of damage (because they got aggro or like shiny fire), their survival if its left up to me is dependent on how lucky I get with holy power generation … I can sometimes get a 100k of healing off in 3-5 GCDs at low mana cost. If, however, I don’t have holy power … the DPS is in trouble. Maybe I can hand of protection them, or use lay on hands, but if they are on cooldown then its a choice between:

(a) Flash of light – fast, mana burner
(b) Holy Light – slow, cheap
(c) Divine Light – slower, biggest heal

I actually tend to go for (c), because if it works, the DPS is taken out of the danger zone. If it doesn’t, I still have mana left for the other three people. I almost never go for (a) as while I might keep someone up they can burn me dry of mana in about a dozen GCDs, and I kinda feel like I should save some mana for the people paying attention to the fight mechanics. When I do use (b), its usually because my hand just twitched on the left mouse button. 

Finally, to state the obvious, if I have to choose between saving a tank and saving a DPS, I save the tank.  Sometimes this means I do not heal a low health DPS toon for a long time.  Once the tank is out of the danger zone, then I can help the DPS out.  The risk in trying to heal the dps, is that if they die before my heal lands, there is no transfer to the beacon target (the tank), so when tank health is low, I always try to switch back to direct healing the tank.


The imaginary economy

April 10, 2011

The World Bank put out a report this week, a Knowledge Map of the Virtual Economy (http://www.infodev.org/en/Publication.1056.html) in which they try to estimate the value of various virtual services, including that for online gaming.  The information in there about the real cash for fake gold market is interesting, although as it is dealing with a grey market, all the figures should be taken with a grain of salt.  The highlights that stood out to me:

  • most gold farmers make minimum wage
  • the middlemen, with english language skills and a university education, make more
  • around 20-25 percent of players buy gold
  • people buying gold spend an average of US$369 a year
  • it costs US$6-8 to for each click on a google advert for “wow gold”
  • the total market is estimated to be US$3 billion in 2009.

Currently on my World of Warcraft server, the gold farmers are offering to sell 10,000 gold for a bit over US$21.

It has been interesting watching the economy inflate in World of Warcraft over the last few months.  A key factor in this has been “the obsidium shuffle”, which has essentially given people with Jewellcrafter (JC) professions a license to mint gold.  The shuffle works because when a JC prospects a stack of ore, they get 6 low quality gems and a chance of a high quality gem.  The low quality gems sell for 9 gold each to a vendor, even though they are useless to player characters, the rare gems will sell for between 4 and 100 gold on my server.  So if you can buy a stack of ore for under 54 gold, and you have the time to right-click with your mouse 16-20 times, instant profit.  Each of the other stacks of ore have similar “floor” price points, under which you cannot lose gold on buying them.

On some servers, because of bot programmes run by “gold farmers” the price of a stack of Obsidium has dropped to around 6 gold per stack.  On my server, I can usually pick it up for 45-46 gold per stack.  So not as profitable, but still faster than doing any kind of in-game Player versus Environment content.  In an upcoming patch, the vendor value of the low quality gems is being reduced from 9 gold to 75 silver (100 silver to the gold), so the floor price will drop considerably.  I expect the Auction House (AH) price to follow it down as well.  The new equilibrium will still probably allow money to be made from the shuffle, just not in such excessive amounts.

The cat is out of the bag already though.  Large numbers of players in the game have already made large profits, and there is not a lot to actually spend it on.  Just before the Cataclysm expansion was released the in-game old cap per character was increased from 214,000 to 1,000,000.  In the five months since then I have increased my AH traders gold pile from 214,000 to 640,000 (I probably have just over 700,000 across all my characters).  It costs me about 1,000 gold a week to raid, so that is enough in-game currency to play for 12+ years without having to run another quest in game for gold rewards.  So it means my game account would be worth about US$1,500 to a hacker in the gold farming/stealing business.

There are times when I wonder, if Blizzard introduced a purchasable title of “Merchant Prince”, for say 500,000 gold, just how many characters I would see in Orgrimmar the next day with it floating above their heads.

One area where you can see the impact of the inflation is the price being paid for cutting edge “bind on equip” Epic quality gear that characters can equip for raids.  Early in Wrath of the Lich King I recall spending a few thousand gold purchasing several Epic items for a new Level 80 character.  In Cataclysm, purchasing a similar set of  items for a new Level 85 character would cost me around 30,000 gold, and if I was playing a tank character closer to 50,000g.  Its just as well for me then, that there was actually nothing I could buy off the AH for my Paladin Healer that I could not craft for myself at cost price – buying off the AH would have got it for me faster, but not cheaper.

The other area you can see this is in the service economy, where people work for tips.  During Wrath of the Lich King, the default price to acquire signatories in-game for a Guild Charter (10 signs required to register a guild) was around 10 gold.  Sometimes it went up to 15 gold.  I now see people promising 50, even 100 gold for the same service.  For crafting services, I was often paid 10g for simple things in Wrath, and 50-100g if I had a rare pattern that was not universally obtainable.  In Cataclysm, I would not bother crafting an item for someone for less than a 500 gold tip, as I can usually make at least that, and sometimes as much as 1000g simply selling the item via the AH.

Blizzard recently announced a “Call to Arms”.

In patch 4.1 we’ll be introducing Dungeon Finder: Call to Arms, a new system intended to lower queue times. Call to Arms will automatically detect which class role is currently the least represented in the queue, and offer them additional rewards for entering the Dungeon Finder queue and completing a random level-85 Heroic dungeon.

Any time the Dungeon Finder queue is longer than a few minutes for level-85 Heroics, the Call to Arms system kicks in and determines which role is the least represented. In the case of tanking being the least represented role, the “Call to Arms: Tanks” icon will display in the Dungeon Finder UI menu where class roles are selected, and will also display on the UI when the queue pops and you are selected to enter a dungeon. Regardless of your role, you’ll always be able to see which role currently has been Called to Arms, if any.

Call to Arms is meant to lower wait times by offering additional rewards for queuing as the currently least represented role. To be eligible for the additional rewards you must solo queue for a random level-85 Heroic in the role that is currently being Called to Arms, and complete the dungeon by killing the final boss. Every time you hit these requirements (there is no daily limit) you’ll receive a goodie bag that will contain some gold, a chance at a rare gem, a chance at a flask/elixir (determined by spec), a good chance of receiving a non-combat pet (including cross faction pets), and a very rare chance at receiving a mount. The pets offered come from a wide variety of sources, and include companions like the Razzashi Hatchling, Cockatiel, and Tiny Sporebat, but the mounts are those specifically only available through dungeons (not raids), like the Reins of the Raven Lord from Sethekk Halls, Swift White Hawkstrider from Magister’s Terrace, and Deathcharger’s Reins from Stratholme.

This system is meant to address the unacceptable queue times currently being experienced by those that queue for the DPS role at max level. The long queue times are, of course, caused by a very simple lack of representation in the Dungeon Finder by tanks, and to some extent healers. We don’t feel the tanking and healing roles have any inherent issues that are causing the representation disparity, except that fulfilling them carries more responsibility. Understandably, players prefer to take on that responsibility in more organized situations than what the Dungeon Finder offers, but perhaps we can bribe them a little. While this system gives tanks and healers something extra, the incentive is being provided so that we can help players in the DPS role get into more dungeons, get better gear, and continue progressing.

While the gold, gems, flasks, and elixirs are OK incentives, we knew we needed something more substantial. We had briefly considered Valor Points and epics, but decided that wouldn’t be working toward the goal of helping DPS players progress, and ultimately wouldn’t keep tanks and healers in the Dungeon Finder system for very long. We settled on pets and dungeon-found mounts as they’re cosmetic/achievement items that players tend to try to get on their own, so why not change that up and offer them a chance to get some of those elusive pets and mounts in a way that also helps other players? Even if they don’t get a pet or mount, or get one they already have, the gold and other goodies still feel rewarding enough that it won’t feel like a waste of effort.

We think it’s a pretty solid incentive to get tanks and healers queuing, give max-level players another way to collect the pets and mounts they so desire, and above all, to improve wait times for DPS players sitting in queues. In the case of lower level dungeons, it’s actually not uncommon for DPS to be the least represented role, and so if this new system works out and we’re pleased with the results, we may consider applying this same mechanic to lower level dungeons as well.

One thing that I think most of the other blogs discussing this missed, is that Blizzard is only doing in-game, what the players are already doing in-game.  Every day I see pure DPS characters advertising in the trade channels to group with a tank or healer to reduce their wait times, and where a few weeks ago 50-100 gold was being offered, now its 100-200 gold.  Once the Call to Arms feature is activated, these players are probably going to have to double their private payment to match the bribe from Blizzard.

Lesson for anyone rolling a new character in a new MMO: pick a tank or healer role as your primary role in the game, or begin to develop the patience of a saint.


LFM Again

March 6, 2011

So, Carpe Jugulum had nearly all of its new recruits bail on us.  This leaves us in a fragile position, as to sustain the raid group we need to recruit.  Thats actually pretty hard for us in World of Warcraft for a few reasons.  I saw a nice slide show on social mechanics in multiplayer games this week, which helps explain this. If you take a look at Slide 126, the rich get richer, i.e. new players connect to the most popular group.

Two obvious sources of recruits for us (1) existing players, and (2) new players. I’ll look at group one first.

The problem with existing players is that its quite expensive to switch servers or faction. Each transaction costs US$ 25. If you have a family of characters, you could spend as much as US$ 500 on swapping servers and factions to play with people. You could keep the transfer to one character, but the loss of access to the skills of the other characters makes you considerably poorer in game. Some people are also attaced to their faction, and simply cannot entertain the thought of betraying it.

Its not unreasonable to switch for a specific guild that can offer you something, but as CJ is a casual 2 night a week raiding guild, our progression is only 1/3 at the moment. That means there are many other guilds out there that can offer better virtual pixel rewards than we can, as well as direct entry into all of the challenging game content. We’ll get there, but in a couple of months, not a couple of weeks. Rerolling a character is possible, but you would be looking at 200+ hours to be raid ready.

The problem with new players is that WoW is a mature game. While there may be 12 million subscribers, its not like its getting a million new subscribers every month. One way I see this in game is that when I use the random dungeon group finder, nearly everyone in the group has heirloom items equipped – whch signals that they already have one or more level capped characters, and have the desire to twink up their alts. So there are not many new players, and naturally not many of them are New Zealanders. Compounding the kiwi shortage, is that our old server is classed as high population (to discourage new players) and is a US server, not an oceanic server. So the number of fresh New Zealand players on our server is pretty close to zero.

A structural change has also occurred with WoW. In classic WoW, even at low levels you had to group with other players in order to complete many quests. The revamped WoW no longer requires this. Levelling a character is very easy … its almost impossible to fail if you follow the readcrumb quests. Little is hidden from you, so there is no need to ask for even exploration help. The dungeon finder tool is cross-server, so you no longer form relationships with people outside your guild. You use the tool, group with some strangers, then wave goodbye knowing you’ll never see them again. At any rate, its now much harder to meet people in-game, which is not all that great for a social MMO game. It works okay for the established player base, but a new MMO would need to use different tools, like the public questing in RIFT.

So while natural recruitment is hard, it sometimes happens that people you already know might be keen. I think my wider social group falls into three main categories:
(A) Those who have never played WoW and never will
(B) Those who have played WoW and never will again
(C) Those who are playing WoW and are pretty happy with their current situation.

So I’m not really holding out great hopes there, but it might happen. I can see, however, that the long-term prospects for my Horde guild are limited. The loss of even one more member of the existing team would cause us to stop raiding. At which point the guild is likely to start fading in numbers. I think about half the guild would stop playing altogether. A few might transfer to other guilds, but again that would be a server/faction change … it would cost me about $250 dollars to do that, which is a lot just to keep playing a computer game. I floated the idea of trying RIFT, but no one else in the guild was keen. So I can see a day in the future when Azeroth will no longer fill all my waking hours.


WoW Cataclysm: the Grind

January 2, 2011

The Grind: the period after the level cap when you do the same thing over and over in order to get ready for raiding, whether its farming resources, running instances for gear, or doing daily quests for faction reputation.  So, my impressions of how the grind is going.

Healing
 
Five minute duration of Beacon of Light: every boss fight in a 5 man should be finished in less than 5 minutes (most seem to take 3-4 minutes, a far cry from durations in WotLK where we were down to sub-20 seconds for most and where I think early expansion fight durations where around 2 minutes), its when DPS die early that fight durations extend over 5 minutes.
 
Steady state attrition: minor amounts of damage (10-20k per tick), covered with Holy Light, or Holy Shock.  In a relative sense, incoming damage is often much less than Wrath, often when a tank dies it takes a minute for the boss to wipe the survivors, compared to the 10-20 seconds to do so in Wrath. So its a change from hard and fast to hard and slow damage.
 
Standing in flames: (30k per tick) can be healed, but requires cooldowns, so cannot always be done or done for long periods of time.  On a trash pull it means the healer has to waste a minute after the fight on mana regen.  On a boss fight it means the healer may go OOm before the Boss dies.
 
Tank spike: (30-50k) can be healed, but requires mana inefficient nukes (Flash of Light, or Divine Light).  This may make avoidance more useful than stamina, as a fat mana bar is just a big mana sponge.  Tank hitting zero health is usually mechanic fail, tank pulling too many mobs or pulling too soon or healer incorrect decision on type of heal to use. I seem to start Divine Light casts too often when the Tank is low health, and Flash of Light might be better because its faster.
 
Insta-gib: attacks that do > full health bar, cannot be healed (use SS or Brez), attacks that do 500,000 will not be outgeared until the next expansion (at the earliest).  There are not too many of these, but where they exist, you can’t carry someone who fails on the mechanic.
 
Soulstones are better on tank for learning new fights.  Reason: lack of mana after a healer resurrects, means the fight may be a soft enrage wipe.
 
Mana management: the more things everyone else does right, the easier it is for a Paladin to judge, which makes for less downtime between pulls.  When I have to Always-Be-Casting heals, mana regen stops.  Ability to cope with AoE heals/damage spikes depends on part on ability to maintain stacks of 2-3 holy power for as long as possible (and this is pure RNG, can be 1 stack/18 seconds or a continuous stack for the same period).
 
Brainlock: all the healthbars are orange/red – use Holy Radiance, Lay on Hands or triage (having 1-2 DPS die makes all future healing decisions much simpler for a Paladin).
 
Midline concept: if a health bar is on 50+% mid-fight, that’s okay, as health bars dip below 50% the intensity of healing output needs to be scaled up with bigger/faster heals and cooldowns.

Problem: if holy power is zero and tank health redlines, there are very few options for healing – LoH or 2-3 quick FoLs followed by WoG.
 
Game Economy
 
Far more bottlenecks than in Wrath, which will drive up the cost of raiding, as people can extract rents from sitting on the bottleneck.  Some crafting materials (Dreamcloth, Chaos Orbs) are bind on pickup, so a lot of gear is hard to acquire – you can’t just pick up the materials from the Auction House, you have to find a crafter with them who is willing to sell, and you have to take the price they want or walk away.  Mat sinks for vendor patterns (means patterns currently cost several hundred gold, not 10g, also means people do not acquire all patterns at once, which reduces ability to supply, e.g. I can only craft a few patterns my healadin can use, plus belt buckles).  Higher vendor value for mats, increases minimum price, which increases AH price, and gold lost to AH cut.  Enchants: BIS require raid only mats (not obtainable from 5 mans like in Wrath.
 
Gear Grind
 
Justice Points pile up fast, due to the 4k starting bank after less than ten heroics I am out of main spec JP gear that is a strong/BIS upgrade.  In Wrath  the Tier 7 shoulders took 60 kills to obtain, in Cataclysm the JP Shoulders only take 24 kills to obtain (but not equivalent Tier 11 equivalent, 13 iLevel difference).  So faster grinding, but dual specs means acquiring two sets of gear, and being subject to two sets of RNG for slots that do not have JP purchase options.

Its not that bad really.  If you do all the quests in the levelling zones, you should be able to enter directly into heroics.  By the time you hit exalted with all the dungeon factions, combined with Tol Barad dailies and rewards, you should be more than ready to raid.