Friday, August 29, 2008

Disenchant come WotLK?

Every now and then the time comes to clean up the bankspace of the various characters. A surprisingly enjoyable activity considering it always results in a nice chunk of cash.

And after cleaning out a whole bunch of redundant cloth, selling a large portion of the easier to replace enchanting materials and getting rid of various stacks of rep items as well as some other things I am left with one thing: Gear

Tons and tons of gear.

Even on my warlock, one of the characters that you'd think would be fine with just 1 set of gear, there are gear items with +fire damage accumulating dust in the bank. Parts of set items I am hoping to complete even though I am probably never going to wear them and a whole legion of items with spell-hit in case I ever step foot into a raid again.

I am not even going to mention my paladin. Between collecting a healing, a protection and a retribution set he could easily supply half of Thrall's personal guards with some spiffy upgrades.

But the problem really is that this gear is going to be outdated and outdated fast come wotlk.
So how useful is it to hang on to that tanking set that you know you won't be using while you're levelling through wotlk? What is the point of hanging on to those set items that are never going to do you any good?
Certainly I am not going to throw away an epic set of merciless gladiator stuff (it'll have nostalgic value) nor some of the things that simply look cool and will make a nice parade outfit but what about the rest?

What about those wayward tanking items? The infinite array of trinkets that only see the light of day every blue moon, the stacks of night elf porn magazines that have long since been replaced by far better blood elf porn?

What do I do with it? Do I disenchant it now if only to turn 10+ stacks into 2-3? Do I hope that WotLK will provide me with some cheap 30 slot bags *caughyeahrightcaugh* so I can hold on to my hard earned... junk?

Realistically I'll be needing some of it to level through to 80, or at least get me started (I wager all my epics will be outdated by the time I hit lvl 75) but isn't the rest just a redundant stack of pixels waiting to be released so Blizzard can re-use the art on Tier 7 / 8 / 9 gear and call it new?

For now I will shuffle everything around, squeeze the gear into the corner and pretend I didn't just waste 30+ slots of bankspace on useless crud but that there is actually some greater purpose in hanging on to it.

What do you think? Are you going to disenchant come WotLK and what do you expect to terminate first of all those items that you may have spent days if not weeks / months collecting?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

For the Horde! Leading a Battleground

There comes that time in every players life where they queue into the battleground and find themselves adorned with the crown of raid leadership.

Knowing this you can either drop the raid leadership position into someone else's lap like it's some form of moldy apple, ignore the position entirely assuming that people will do whatever they want anyway or make the best of what you have and try to provide either information or guidance.

There's a lot of theorizing about what battleground strategies are best in what situations and what you should do if for example IB GY gets capped and when it is ok to cap the stables in AB. There's so many forum posts, strategy guides and blog entries about this you can probably make a series of books about it that would put SunTzu's art of war to shame.

Fact of the matter is that none of this matters (at least not right from the get-go). BG's are not about strategy, are not about tactical advantages, rouses, open ground, narrow passes or method and discipline. BG's are about people and as a raid leader that is what you have to deal with.

In any given BG you can find the following general groups of people:

1. The AFKers / Botters happily sitting at various locations on the map trying to not make it too obvious that they're just sitting around doing nothing
2. The Zerglings (term borrowed from starcraft). The people that rush into battle, charging ahead and generally trying to stay with large groups of people. They are where the honor is, and where the honor is in their mind is where the crowd is.
3. The BG enthusiasts are interested in winning. Some of them will pro-actively back-cap towers, ninja mines, recall back to base or organize some form of defence around flags or bottlenecks.
4. Last but not least there are the 'scrubs'. They're introducing their low level character to the battleground, generally are somewhat aimlessly looking around at what to do and if there are quests to be done they will happily skin wolves, collect armor scraps or try to cap mines.

The first thing to understand that whatever instruction you may want to give your raid will be ignored by the AFKers and the Zerglings. The scrubs won't have a clue what you're talking about (cap IB GY wut?) and the enthusiasts will probably take your instructions as a request, consider it and if it has merit act on it.

So the key to organizing or at least making an attempt at organizing a BG is trying to get the enthusiasts on your side. Zerglings have a tendency to follow suit. If all the enthusiasts are turtling around Iceblood for example a lot of the zerg will turn around and join the defense because they are well aware that the larger crowd tends to draw the most honor.

What to say/do, what not to say/do

As a raid leader you have to have an overview of battle, if you suffer from tunnel vision when you are in combat (focussing a little too much on your personal battles) then consider finding a somewhat more quiet spot so you can take a look at the map a little bit more often.
Participating in defense is probably the easiest way to do this. Holding flags, graveyards, bunkers, home base or other key objectives gives you plenty of time to analyze the situation and still be a valuable asset to your raid.

Once you're nicely settled into your position the second most important thing is to advertise status and request status. Mods like deadly boss-mod and similar allow you to see what objectives are currently being attacked by what side. Report this status to the raid on a regular basis (but not so often that it turns into spam) it will help everybody get a grip on the current situation. Make sure that when you report things you report things grouping them either by level of importance or by side. There's no point in spamming all the current caps that are going on. Report the important ones first (you get to pick which are important). Let it settle in and then report the rest of the objectives sorted by side (either all alliance ongoing caps first or all horde ongoing caps first). Information becomes useless if it's too much at once or when people have to look at their chat for longer than a second or two to see who is doing what and where.

If the rare case occurs that someone asks for a status on a specific objective make sure you give it. It makes the person who asked feel slightly less anonymous and all the more motivated to work towards a win.

Next to providing information it is also your job to collect information.
"Is Galv down?"
"Is Balinda still alive?"
"How many allies at the blacksmith?"
"Where is the enemy flag?"

Are all valid questions.

Keep your questions short, concise and free of emotions.

"WTF? Galv is dead? How did Galv die?" Is not the right question. Galv is either dead or he's not. Don't invite your raid to debate or comment. The more people stand around typing the lower your chance of success and the more likely it is that people will start acting like complete and utter idiots.

If you have obtained a critical piece of information then use it to weave it into new instructions and repeat it once in a while.
"Galv is down, incomming IB tower. Defend IB."
That way people know that galv is down (should they have missed it during the heat of battle) and know that they can expect pressure on Iceblood.

When giving instructions remind yourself that it has to contain useful information and only useful information.
"Allies are backcapping SP GY, offense hold SP GY then take Dun baldar north"
rather than
"We're losing SP GY, WTH are you doing? take it back!"

The way you say things is crucial. You're the general, you're leading the troops. You're not their highschool councellor. If people start argueing with you ignore them. If people start calling you an idiot ignore them. If people start commenting on your gear, the fact that you only have 8k HP and don't have any epics worth anything, ignore them.

You're going to take some fire as a raid leader. Ignore all information that is not relevant to the battle and focus on the information you can use and that is worth repeating.
"OMG WTF our RL only has like 8k HP, loser go enchant your gear"
'The lumber mill was taken by the alliance'
"Haha we're being led by a noob, we're so going to fail"
"STFU and kill stuff retard"

Out of those 4 lines only one is relevant. Ignore the random insults. Highlight the facts and respond once again in a clear and concise fashion.
"LM has been taken by the alliance, how many allies at LM?"

The next step in dealing with people and information is to motivate people to say something when they're in trouble. Nothing puts a bigger dent in a well-oiled offensive than your defense slowly crumbling without informing anyone.
"Report incoming alliance by numbers"
"Call out incoming if you need help"
These are things that can be repeated once in a while. The more people give a clear indication of what is going on on their end the more control you have over a battle.

It allows you to be reactive. If allies are moving in by the bucketload on Farm (AB) then they must've left LM / GM / BS and ST undefended for the most part and you know that with a quick offensive move you can possibly cap 2 to 3 objectives while the allies are standing around at farm waiting for the cap.

The final piece of the puzzle is to commend behaviour you want, and ignore behaviour you don't want. Never call anyone out on their stupidity, they will argue their stupidity and the stupid in them will take over raid chat.
If people call incoming and then manage to mount a proper defense tell them.
"Good job defending Farm, move to BS"

A simple GJ or thanks can go a long way in providing the right atmosphere.

Even if your Raid is losing the match, stay professional, stay clear and stay focussed on the battle. "You are all retards" is not going to help anyone.
There is always something that can be done to gain that last little bit of honor, be it defending a tower or zerging an objective to squeeze out another 60 honor a person.
Find those objectives and motivate people to execute them.

Once you grasp the basics of how to deal with the people in your raid you can then and only then consider strategies.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Flipsides and other Ramblings

I don't have focus to form a coherent post so here's some completely random observations from the last few weeks of WoW.

People say you can leech your way to your epic gear even if you fail all the time but the flipside of this is that you're maybe making 200 - 300 points a week meaning you won't even see a decent epic for at least a month. At 1 epic a month (provided you don't have another gear source) it'll take you for bloody ever to get your set complete.

In arena gear > skill and matchups are ridiculously random. I ran into multiple teams that are at least 2 gear seasons ahead of us in the 1200 - 1500 bracket. Even if you focus fire and are clever about it there's just no chance in hell that you're going to win against people that outgear you by that much unless they disconnect or you have a really really solid approach to CC. Tell me what you like but nuh-uh yousa no win.

I queued up for dozens of bg's and it turned out that I was the raid leader for at least 80% of the battles which was way more than just pure chance. I get this position a lot... I doubt Blizzard appreciates my tactical skills so I am left to wonder how a RL leader is picked.

Running a shockadin spec has resulted in some interesting whispers where people show genuine interest in the spec. Controversely people that ridicule the spec do this in public channels, yells or make sure they are heard at least by 20 other people who happily chime in undoubtedly knowing nothing about shockadins in the first place.

Loot drops are really really strange sometimes. You know things are getting bad when you can extract a huge polearm, a stack of gold, some random feathers and some other random trash out of a creature no bigger than a hellfire peninsula vulture. Where do they keep all their crap?

Speaking of crap. I currently carry around at least 40 items of random junk ranging from foods, to gear to mounts and other novelty items. I'd wager a vital organ that this is more than the average woman carries in her purse. Beyond the fact that I have no idea how my frame could support that many bags and ridiculous amounts of gear I wonder if we're not getting a little too feminine when it comes to our 'purses'.

Not to mention the dozens of quests where you're sent out on a relatively simple kill x collect y quest only to find out that the drop rate for human skulls is really appaling. I am sure I saw a head on all of them... I thought zhevra had 4 hooves too... but there you go.

What in the blazes do people do with their marks that like 2 or 3 of the 4 battlegrounds but can't stand the other(s)? I have a huge stack of AV marks on most of my characters followed by a ludicrous low amount of WSG marks (if any). Of course I have nothing left to buy with AV marks either... I should be allowed to breed frostwolves into pets if I had enough of them.

Ring of blood is the quest chain to do when you need a quick 100g, no travel required easier than any instance and enough fun that it realistically should be a daily.

Much like blink a warrior's charge can turn a potentially fatal fall into a no damage landing. Target the nearest enemy, wait till your fall brings you in charge range and hit charge. I never thought of mobs as potential life savers but I suppose there's a first for everything.

Flying mounts do not keep you from being dotted up. Going afk while pvp flagged even when you are 2000 yards in the air is no protection from dot-crazed warlocks with soulstones. Beware of falling warlocks (he he).

There, that's enough ramblings to fill a blog post. Editorial duties completed :P

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wellfare epics?

My little guild has been heavily investing in PVP the last few days mostly to acquire some of those so called 'wellfare' epics.
Now from what I gather the term 'wellfare epic' has been coined by a blizzard CM in the past and has been widely adopted by most of the WoW community.

What defines these wellfare epics? In general wellfare epics are considered all epics that are obtainable by doing 'nothing'. Which in essence revolves only around Arena and BG's where there's the option to 'just' go AFK and wait for the points to roll in.

But does this not essentially mean that a flaw in the BG / Arena system that allows for these AFKers (or naked dancers when it comes to arena) to get 'free' points and as a result reduce the pvp epics to wellfare status?

If someone on wellfare were to save up their wellfare checks and for some reason buy a BMW Z3 is this then a wellfare BMW Z3? Does this furthermore mean that everyone driving a BMW Z3 is driving a wellfare car?

The whole 'wellfare epic' terminology is further put under duress by the fact that Blizzard is not happy with non-participation (especially in Arena), dancing around naked in the middle of an arena battle is considered against the terms of use. You're allowed to absolutely suck in arena, but you're not supposed to stand there and get beaten to pulp. Similar things apply to the Battlegrounds, non-participation is simply not allowed.

So what it all comes down to is that people who leech off of the arena and BG system by not-participating are not only breaking the ToS but also managed to reduce a whole system of epics to a level where people would rather spit on you than acknowledge the weeks of work you put into getting the gear.

The answer is therefore simple: Do away with the AFKers, the botters and the non-participants and your wellfare honor will no longer be wellfare?

It's not the epic's fault... it's not even the epic that's wellfare. Hell it's not even real wellfare.
These are not some Blizzard issued honor points so you can gear yourself in T4-T6 equivalent gear. These are honor points literally stolen from other people by non-participants and represent a very real problem: that of botters, cheaters and non-participants.

On a side note: I could switch servers and join a friend's BT raiding guild and have them gear me without having to do anything except just stand there and wait for the raid to finish their job (provided I want to be healer or a tank). Does this mean BT epics are all of a sudden wellfare? What happens when an instance goes on farm and people are no longer required to put in the effort and can just stand there waiting for their friends that outgear the place to do all the work? Does that mean your raiding epics are wellfare too?

The truth behind all this is that we simply cannot tell how someone got their gear. We don't know if they have been working their rear-end off in the BG's trying to make their team win and giving it their all or if they've just been standing in a cave AFK.
Controversely we don't know how you got your high level raiding epics either... we assume you put forth the effort but perhaps you were simply leeching them off of a guild that needs to gear you up or they came with your account when you bought it from ebay.

The term wellfare epics is meaningless and derogatory. There are always and will always be ways to cheat yourself into better gear. This should not reflect on your gear, it does not make your gear wellfare... it makes the cheater a cheater, the botter a botter and the leecher a leecher but it does not make the result any less epic no matter what people say about it.

At best it's a split between legit items and contraband... a true wellfare epic would come via the ingame mail system with a note from blizzard saying: here you go, enjoy. I haven't gotten any of those so far, have you?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hybridization by groupsize

After a couple of months of play even seasoned noobs like myself know the general guidelines of what to bring to a raid.

You know that the standard composition for a 5-man is 1 tank, 1 healer and 3 DPS.
You also know that this scales fairly well into 2 tanks, 2-3 healers and 5-6 DPS for 10 man raids and this scaling continues into the 25 mans with 4ish tanks 6ish healers and 15ish dps.

By now we also know that it is preferable to have min-maxed or so called pure specs for whatever the highest level of content is that you're running. This is based on the fact that min-maxing optimizes use of talents, gear and skill for specific tasks meaning that a 'pure' tank will be better equipped to tank than an off-spec tank (and I use this term with care).

This is beyond argument by now. We've seen the math. We know that someone who will dump all his talents into the protection tree will be significantly better at tanking than someone who doesn't, we know that a full holy build will outheal a shadow priest by a margin. This is not to say you can't get the job done with an off-spec; It's to say that a 'pure' class will simply outperform an off-spec in the same role.

But where does the hybrid fit in with all this then? When does the versatility of having '2' specs bring more to the table than being 100% invested in a single spec?

The answer is simply: Group Size

No group is perfect, things do go wrong so lets take a look what happens when groups start falling apart:

25 - mans

The main tank dies, the boss makes a b-line for the nearest healer and smushes him/her before the off-tank can pick things up. The group is down a healer and a tank but the remaining tanks/healers should be able to hold things together without too much trouble. The raid risks going out of mana sooner and DPS may have to pause for a while becoming useless for that period but things are very much saveable.
Having a hybrid tank or hybrid healer in this situation isn't going to add much. A little extra healing from a DPS / healer hybrid will help preserve some mana but this would cut into the damage output and prolong the battle making the net result 0.

If another tank and healer die you're most likely looking at a wipe unless you have multiple hybrid DPS / healers standing around capable of switching roles.

Be that as it may a hybrid in this scenario would add very little to the overall raid.

10 - mans

Once again a tank slips up or the healer accidentally draws aggro, both main healer and main tank go down leaving the raid with 1 active tank and 1 or 2 active healers. In this case there's a lot of pressure on the off-tank who now has to deal with both the boss and adds or just the boss and let the adds roam free.
Healers will feel the increase in strain from 1 healer going down as well as having to deal with the extra healing needed on the off-tank or worse having to heal DPS who are essentially sitting ducks to any free-roaming adds.

A hybrid DPS / tank could have a significant benefit at this point by picking up stray adds. A hybrid DPS / healer could ease the strain on the remaining healers by picking up a raid healing role.

5 - mans

A potential worst case scenario in a 5-man run is always the tank and the healer biting the dust leaving 3 dps exposed, fighting for their lives and resulting in a wipe 90% of the time.

By swapping out 2 of the 3 dps for hybrids like a DPS / Healer and and DPS / tank means that even though the group is now severely weakened it lacks none of the components of a succesful group. The hybrid tank is tasked to pick up the mobs, the hybrid healer can switch to healing from DPS and the DPS can continue to DPS turning a potential full wipe into a potentially stable situation.

1 - man

Lets not kid ourselves. We are alone most of the time when questing / doing dailies or soloing various azeroth content for a friend (i.e. boosting). If you cannot tank the mobs of kill them faster than they kill you, you lose time. Precious time you spend corpse running. If you're a pure tanking or healing class you are simply trying to outlast things and if you're a pure DPS class you better hope that enemy dies before it comes too close (a generalization but you get what I mean).
A hybrid doesn't have these problems. Both the hybrid DPS / Tank and the DPS / healer have excellent survivability solo coupled with the ability to do at least a decent amount of damage.

In General

When looking at hybrid's it's important to realize that a hybrid is not something that plays 2 specs at the same time but something that can smoothly switch from one spec into the other.
If you are a DPS / Healer your primary role for any group will be DPS, picking up healing in case of emergency. You are not there to do both. You should not feel obligated to throw heals as a DPS / healer hybrid if you're there to dps and things are going fine. You are there to pick up the slack with your 'secondary' tree if it is needed.

Your role is to keep going when others can't. If your DPS has to stop because of aggro issues your hybrid can continue to perform by throwing a few heals around or off-tanking a stray add.

Group size should be the determining factor for any raid leader or group leader that is putting together a group. In general terms the larger the group the smaller the need for a hybrid and the less utility a hybrid will bring to the table. However the smaller the group gets the more utility a hybrid will bring to the table in case of emergency... and lets face it: shit happens.

A hybrid should not strive to top the damage or healing charts. It should strive to do what is needed to keep the group up and running no matter who gets the credit for best healing performance or best damage.

Faster Leveling through boosting

I have been spending my fair share of time lately leveling various alts towards level 30 so they can get their standard land mounts and in all this the question of whether or not boosting would be a faster way to level came up repeatedly.

So I decided to make a quick post on the topic, probably forgetting 50% relevant information and 100% post structure while I write ;)

First of all lets start out with a quick description of what boosting actually is and what forms of boosting there are. Essentially boosting is nothing more than using one of your (usually higher level) friends / guildies or a complete stranger to help you through various passages in the game in order to get the related xp.

That way you can realistically do instances on your level without the risk of dying (your friendly neighbourhood lvl 70 will keep you save) or finish up group quests that you just can't seem to tackle alone.

Boosting comes in multiple flavors.

1. An instance boost where a higher level player walks your lower level character through the instances pretty much doing all the killing and reducing you to a loot-bot.
2. Quest boosting. Quite common in guilds, it involves a higher level player rapidly killing quest mobs for you so you can turn in quests faster.
3. Tag-boosting. Something I don't see very often but it involves you tagging the mob so that you get the experience and then leaving it to the higher level character to finish it of.

We'll leave the rag tag world of pvp boosting / point selling, team trading, win-trading for another post since it's really not my expertise and just focus on how to get that little character on a fast-track to 70.

In order to compare we also have to take a look at regular questing / grinding as well as questing / grinding with a friend:

Quest XP rewards have been on a steady incline. Blizzard is fairly clear in that it prefers us to quest to level rather than to straight out grind and the quest rewards reflect this quite well. You cannot make more xp grinding than you can make questing if you take on quests that are fairly straight forward (the kill x kind of quests).
Due to the increased quest rewards these days the situation is very much so that you will get the most xp by questing / grinding solo. Ideally you would strive for a situation where you do only 'kill x' quests so that you are maximizing your time spent gaining xp. Escort quests and long quest chains generally involve a lot of travel time and tend to slow things down a lot (not to mention failing an escort quest is horribly bad for your xp per hour).
Straight up grinding will never be quite as fast as a combination of questing because you don't get to turn in quests.

Ironically enough buddying up with someone actually slows down your experience gain. The more people in your party, the more the XP will be divided and the more you will have to share quest mobs. Even if you are moving twice as fast you will still have to split the experience and kill twice as many mobs as you had to before just to get the necessary quest item drops.

The more people in your party, the slower things will go.

Taking a loot at boosting, instance boosting sounds like the most interesting boosting options. However due to the mechanic of XP division between a higher level and a low level character you really only get a fraction of the XP from each kill.
This means that while instance boosting is a good way to accumulate gear and random crapola for crafting and vendor selling it really turns out to be more of profit run and really doesn't compare to straight up questing in terms of XP per hour.

Quest boosting on the other hand is a very good way to speed up your experience gain. Basically it involves grouping up with someone who can kill your level mobs in 1 or two hits, setting your loot options to free-for-all and letting the high level buddy go to town killing large amount of quest mobs.
This lowers your experience gain per kill but drastically decreases the time it takes for you to gather up the necessary quest items.
This means you get to hand quests in faster and suffer from fewer 'accidents' to boot (i.e. the occasional death and corpse run, repairs, ammo runs etc.)

Last but not least there's tag boosting. Tag boosting is interesting in that you don't actually group up with your higher level friend. You hit the target mob once or twice and then let the higher level finish it off. That way you get experience credit for the kill (due to tagging) and full looting rights.
The disadvantage is that it requires a lot of coordination. You can't have your high level go to town and mow everything down because you wouldn't get loot or xp.
Tag boosting works quite well in situations where there are few enemy mobs to be tackled (i.e. group quests) but is generally inferior to straight up questing/grinding due to the loss of speed.

So to summarize:

1. More people in your group means lower xp / loot gains
2. Boosting instances is good for gold and items and not so much experience
3. Quest boosting is a very efficient way to get xp but you will go through quests in a zone like a warm knife through butter.
4. Tag boosting can be useful in group quest situations but generally tends to require too much coordination to be efficient.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Aberrance arises!

Last weekend was one of those prideful moments that you tend to get if you play a game for long enough. I am now the proud owner of a fully operational 2-man guild called Aberrance overflowing the already huge pool of new guilds on my server.

Perhaps this is no achievment, but there's a sense of accomplishment after you spend a few hours recruiting signatures, designing a tabard and laying out the guild basics, so I wear the guild tag with pride.

I never thought I would try myself at guild leadership again after having been there and done that in a few games too many but Aberrance will provide a set of challenges that I am more than willing to take on.

Primarily this guild will start out as a small two man operation. Me and a faithfull rogue friend will take on Azeroth with the goal to either two manning or soloing most of what is considered 'old content' extending ourselves to include outland once the expansion hits.

Azeroth is full of places that I haven't explored and as my last foreys into Sunken Temple, Stratholme, Dire Maul and others have shown the challenges are significant for one or two people.

You may be able to outlevel and outgear the instances in Azeroth quite easily, but taking them on by your lonesome or with anything less than a full group can still be an amazingly challenging and fun experience.

So Aberrance is born... a vision to re-discover the old world, a vision to find all those fun little trinkets that have long been forgotten and a way for even the most real-life addicted person to come to wow and know they have something to do without having to pre-plan everything days in advance.

In due time I am hoping that Aberrance will evolve into 'the' guild for the average working (wo)man.
Catering to those that have limited wow time, are unable to pre-plan wow raids, simply cannot afford to spend 4+ hours in an instance or are tired of endlessly raiding the same places over and over again. Maybe even those that just need a mental break from the hustle and bustle of their 'real guild' activities and those that don't take the game as serious business.

Focussing on a loose schedule of random instance runs in Azeroth combined with a bit of healthy PVP and the multitude of other activities people pursue in WoW I feel Aberrance will fit nicely in that large gaping chasm of people that raid full time and those that don't / can't.

A freeform guild is born. Whether we will last the distance or even be able to recruit more people is beyond me but there is undoubtedly fun as my last run to stratholme will be happy to demonstrate:

Cannonball Runner


Blogging wise I don't expect much to change, I will highlight some of Aberrance's exploits every now and then and hopefully be of some encouragment to those always stuck with the thought whether or not they could solo X.

Friday, August 8, 2008

End-Game Hype-Game?

I've always been a bit of a powerleveler. I enjoy fighting my way to the level cap, I enjoy the process of gathering xp and gearing yourself to work towards the so called end-game where you are happily sitting at level 70 with no more levelling worries on your mind and the ability to consider a new character.

But the second I hit the level cap in most of any game I did a complete 180 turn looking back at all the content I passed up in favor of levelling faster. I then actively proceed to re-visit that content. Why?
It's hard to pin down sometimes but I suppose I like having the edge, the ability to do things alone or with a small group of buddies what was initially designed for 10 or more players. Trying things on the spot without having to pre-plan 4+ hour raids, finding things that people haven't seen in who knows how long because they are hell bent to get to the end-game.

And still the general sense of wow is that people live for the end-game. They claw their way to the level cap only to jump through flaming hoops to get to see the newest of the new (even if this new is no longer really new).
People willingly spend hours, days, weeks and months in the same instance doing it over and over again for the sake of progress... for the sake of the end-game. A chance to see sunwell maybe... a shot at that legendary item?

But my question is what makes the end-game so different from the 'not end-game' (mid-game?). Is it less of a game than the end game? Are the story lines, the art, the creativity that was put into this game less than what is now the end-game?

What is so much more appealing about Outland and Sunwell in comparison to places like Molten Core, Onyxia's lair and the dozens of others azerothian instances?

Storylines, design and overal immersion aren't any better in outland than they are in azeroth, equal maybe but certainly not better. The challenge of molten core is the same as running sunwell if you're trying it with a lot less people than it was designed for back in the day.

Nothing prevents you from taking your 10 main raid to Molten Core or somewhere other than Karazhan and yet day after day, week after week the same 10 people go into Karazhan (just using kara as an example... because everyone knows and 'loves' Kara).

So what is the difference between the end-game and the rest of the game?
What makes a sunwell raid so much more than a molten core one?

The game can be challenging on any level; So is the end-game nothing more than a clever treadmill for endless gear upgrades to experience more of the endless gear upgrades?

Is the end-game a hype-game?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Recruit a Friend

There's an interesting Recruit a Friend deal going on over at blizzard. Apparantly if you manage to recruit a friend now (or create yourself a second account and multi-box I suppose) you get the benefits of some faster levelling. The ability to hand over some of your levels to your friend, a spiffy mount and some other things.

Check out the details here:


Normally I am not one to report on these kind of deals but it is a rather good one and a nice zhevra mount is indeed rather hard to come by.

Go check it out and if you have experience with it already let me know what you think about it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The woes of itemization

With the beta news reaching an all time high and the raiding life in-game seemingly at an all time low I've been struggling a little not writing elongated rants about the WotLK beta.

Even though some of you might enjoy a good rant from time to time I decided instead to take a little look at wow itemization, how it is set up and why I think it's no good (that way I get to rant a little but also manage to avoid the beta ;) ).

As things are itemization is very specifically built for each class and specification. You can see this by comparing a lot of the standard rares and epics available. You can look at each item and literally see that item A is better for an elemental shaman, item B better for a tank etc. There's a little overlap here and there and depending on what you need you'll end up with an 'off-set' item. Overall however the choices for each class / spec are pretty much pre-designed. Greens are merely a step-up to rares and epics and rarely are a part of long-term itemization (although most people have that 1 green item they don't replace for a long time because of semi-ideal stat distribution).

It's not so much a decision what items to use but a clear path set out for you to follow of 'most suitable' items. Beyond the switch from azeroth to outland and the coming switch from outland to northrend there's very very few situations where you would willingly choose to downgrade a rare or an epic to a green because of itemization situations.
The itemization is factually so rigid that it is hard for players to make a 100% incorrect choice. If you tell a tank to look for Defense Rating and stick with plate odds are that he will make a lot of not-so-ideal choices but he/she will never make 100% incorrect choices because there are very few items that couple Defense rating with stats that are utterly useless for your class / spec (the expansion promises to compound this). Sure, you may end up with some strength on your paladin or spell damage on your warrior, but well over 75% of the stats on your randomly selected item will be useful to your task.

But these item paths are hard to design. The fact that you're stuck to having to design items specifically for tanks, dps and healers of different flavors means you create an artificial scarcity. This scarcity impacts how people play the game, and how people react to the game. Long discussions of PVE vs PVP items are the result, itemization paths have to be nailed down to the tee or one will overshadow the other meaning the weaker one will no longer be desirable and items are very very easy to compare.

All this is compounded by the fact that there are no items to fill itemization gaps unless they have been designed. Need lots of +spell hit and defense rating on an item? Good luck with that. Want to be able to get a specific resistance high enough without shooting your mitigation to hell? good luck with that.

Last but not least the current itemization doesn't leave any room for creativity. It's great to stack stamina and spell damage on your warlock, itemization works out great that way... but you can't build a defense rating set for a warlock because there's, plain and simply, not enough cloth items with that stat. You can't make a melee mage as crazy as that may seem either because of lack of itemization.

Maybe cloth isn't supposed to have defense rating or attack power, maybe it's not realistic or not an efficient way to itemize. But this decision shouldn't be made for us by the game but discovered by the players.

Think of the potential of a defense rating geared warlock, or a mage with an insane amount of agility...

To summarize; the current itemization:

1. Makes it harder to design itemization paths
2. Creates artificial scarcity
3. Increases the difficulty of closing itemization gaps
4. Supresses any gearing path that is considered 'sub-optimal' not by us but by blizzard

All in all there's no reason not to randomize stat distribution on itemization to a certain extend. If you can randomize the stats on green items you can randomize them on so called rare and epic items. By adding weight to stats based on the armor level (i.e. there's a greater chance for mitigation stats to occur on plate items) you can realistically not change the itemization you have for current gear but add a near infinite amount of 'new' itemization options.

Add to this a component based crafting system where each component for a craftable adds a certain amount of 'stat' value and you could use any number of different components to create the same item and you have the flexibility of leaving your itemization to the wolves euh players.

Epics and rares are superfluous, we live in a world where you can see the same epics over and over again on pretty much everybody and a good +healing green is far harder to come by then a pvp epic.
The colors have become meaningless beyond being an indication of the item level of the item, randomization that was previously so dominant in green items is simply no longer present in epics.

So now the designers are forced to create appropriate itemization paths for each class / spec combination and pretty much required to compound all these itemizations so that more class / spec combinations can pick from the same item pool. The players are forced to follow certain in-game paths to get the optimal items and the crafter still only have maybe one or two items to contribute that are useful.

Item levels should be an indication of the maximum amount of stats on an item and not result in a pre-defined distrubution of stats. The second you start pinning itemization down on specific items and forcing players into those itemization paths you are literally losing content by the bucketload.

Maybe a melee mage with heavy use of instant cast spells isn't crazy, maybe a defense rating warlock isn't crazy, maybe a protection paladin with lots of attack power isn't crazy... but we'll never know because current itemization doesn't allow for stats that aren't considered to belong together to be together. You can't gem to make up for base stats being incorrect on an item.

The worst part in my opinion is the fact that this kind of itemization affects how people act. Try mention the words 'melee hunter' on in-game chat. Anything not adhering to what is generally considered as the 'right' spec is ridiculed by both the players of wow and even hinted at as being wrong by blizzard CMs (I'll have to nail this one down with some form of quote).

I am not asking for a melee hunter or a defense rating warlock to be succesful in raids (although the question begs to be asked why any form of boss encounter isn't skill based but itemization based) but what I am asking for is to have the option of choosing my own path and the itemization to support those ideas right up to the range of so called end-game epics.

A game designer that starts engineering around the optimum is on the wrong path. You have to take it into account, but once you start designing for it you're literally living from expansion to expansion.