Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No statue for you!

While half the blogosphere is being puzzled by the workings of a MMORPG economy, something we covered back in januari, and myself having a somewhat uneventful time on my druid in northrend I decided to jot down my thoughts on the whole 'theorycrafting as bible' thought process that seems to be commonplace these days.

Not too long ago I got a tell from someone who vehemently disagreed with my gear/my gems/my enchants and even my spec and we got into a brief discussion about theorycrafting after which I blisfully ended up on his ignore list... (which I suppose is good because I couldn't possibly explain my gem choice atm :))

But since he didn't want to hear the whole story I'll post my thoughts here instead.

Let me start by saying theorycraft is amazing: Within a matter of hours of painstaking research, arduous math, spreadsheet design and the creation of complex graphs and bar-charts you can determine exactly what your spell rotation should be, what you should gear like to optimize any aspect of your game and even allows you to compare yourself to other players trying to follow the same route.

But theorycraft always operates under the assumption that the amount of variables are limited. Theorycrafting doesn't take into account common practical occurances that happen in-game because it would make it impossible to compare a to b.

Theorycraft willfully ignores lucky streaks, ignores (de)buffs and commonplace events like moving out of a fire (or not moving out of a wreath) because they don't 'math' well... (i.e. are gruesomely hard to integrate in any kind of spreadsheet).

However the old wizard school saying applies: 1 in a million chances happen all the time.

So then, does theorycraft tell you how much defense rating you should have? Yes! It can determine to the 5th decimal place exactly how much defense rating you should have and what stats should be used to achieve said rating.

So you go out, dig yourself up some trusty defense rating gear and off you go only to be splattered the next time a silence hits you between your holy shield cycles or you take an untimely stun/fear.

One might say "hey you can't blame theorycraft for that" and you'd probably be right. But then tell me you never got flak for your gear and then tell me that people didn't point out to you that you should be using gear line-up Z to optimize your defense rating because so sayeth the theorycraft.

Theorycraft is a tool that allows you to compare 'stuff' (spell damage, mitigation, gear choices etc.) and with this tool gear lists are built.

But these gear lists don't take into account practical occurances, mentalities and playstyles of the different people. Just because your spec or gear choice proves to be less than optimal when stuffed in a spreadsheet doesn't mean they're not the optimal choice for you.

And this is the point where theorycraft fails in near catastrophic ways... just because the spreadsheet says you must do x for maximum damage doesn't mean you should throw all caution to the wind and spec/gear precisely according to the theorycraft.

If you as a person are not comfortable with a low health pool, have issues with stuns or fears then it is indeed in your best interest to make up for your personal weaknesses by speccing and gearing accordingly.

Theorycrafting can be a good starter, a primer to see what 'would' be optimal if all things were equal. In practice most things are a lot less predictable and you will have to deal with the stray mobs, tanks and healers keeling over and a ton of other events that are simply impossible to put into a spreadsheet. Not to mention simple things like personal preference.

Theorycraft will fail when applied in practice if you don't use a modicum of common sense. People that criticise your gear know nothing about your situation and will never be able to motivate their 'commentary' if you yourself have taken into account theory as well as practice.

Leave the optimal build for the optimal world, in all other cases don't rely on theorycraft alone. The only way to talk about other people's choices is by asking questions... why this piece of gear, why that talent, why this gem... if they have the answers and they make sense, who are you to criticise their choices?

And if you are being criticised for your choices... and you just can't get through to them with proper arguments then rest assured with the thought: No one ever erected a statue in honor of a critic.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Warlocks Represent!

I have a nasty habit of making up lack of skill with reading the appropriate material so I can at least talk like I know about things even though I don't always get to bring actual skill to the table (theory is better than execution so to speak).

I did however read and play enough to be able to predict that warlock population for this pvp season would be as they call it absolutely 'terribad'.

Take a look at this table: here

And note that the once feared all powerful OP warlock is now 'the' most underrepresented class in the entire arena world (not to mention completely not present in any top 100... unless there's a top 100 of suck online somewhere). Sure sure it's only been a few days since the season started and figures will adjust a little as resilience starts scaling, but we all know how PVP works.

The (gear)lead you build in the beginning of the season will be the lead you have for the rest of the WotLK PVP seasons. The fact that there's now around 4% of the total arena population playing a warlock means that warlocks are pretty much doomed when it comes to arena PVP.
Doomed, as in destined to always be one or more gear steps behind the rest.

I am not surprised. After seeing all the massive burst damage that is generated these days and knowing full well that a warlock is still a very much dot-based class I knew things were going south.
Add to this the fact that warlocks will now have approximately the same amount of armor and only moderately more stamina as well as 0 survival tools (no meta jokes) beyond abilities that are taxed with heavy cooldowns means we can literally kiss the warlock goodbye as OP PVP class.

I am not bitter about it, I am doing decently in PVE, but it was obviously coming down the tube and the cries from people over at arena junkies could be heard for miles and miles without being adressed which is what bothers me a little.

You know things are in a sad state when even the most experienced arena players can't think of reasons why they would want to take a lock over 'any' other class to an arena match.

And that's where the problem comes in. Assuming blizzard will eventually deal with the glaringly obvious problems of the warlock the fix will most likely be too late. It takes some arena players as little as a month or two to get a significant lead in gear... even if the warlock gets fixed they will be behind so far that only the most tenacious warlock PVPers will be able to catch up.

To me the problem is easily circumvented by levelling another alt, something I always enjoy doing, but in the end going from a decent PVP class which the warlock was at some point to being a liability for your teammate(s) is going to be a bitter pill to swallow for most warlocks.

Still, there's some hope for warlocks... something like a tenacity buff of some sorts for the fact that you had enough guts to enter the arena as a warlock in the first place...

On the plus side: If you ever make it into deadly gear as a warlock you should be rightfully considered the most 'bad ass' person on your server.

So have hope warlocks... have hope and represent!

Back to alting

With my warlock having dinged 80 the day before yesterday things seem to slowly been returning to 'normal'. I had a chance to look at the next pvp season and had to note that all the interesting gear (i.e. anything that could be considered an upgrade) now requires a 1600+ arena rating which for a scrub like me will prove a challenge in itself (warlock survivability anyone?).

The irony of it all is that I now have to arena to BG (provided I want some pvp gear) which irks me tremendously. To me that says please get yourself beat up by a team that outgears you so significantly and that you will never catch up to before you enter a BG to get some honor points that will mean nothing if you don't have a decent arena rating.

I suppose there's a benefit for PVP oriented people in there somewhere that escapes me (a tiered progression path maybe).

To avoid the frustration I decided to try for an instance group, found one, arrived there only to notice that I fell in with a group of children that would spend half an hour standing in front of the dungeon argueing about what kind of gear they wanted just in case it dropped.

And then they blew off the run because they couldn't find a healer...

I turned to crafting... which lasted all about 10 minutes in which I must've burnt through at least 500 frostweave... ... I'd say it'll be a long long time before any of that gets to a level where it'll afford me with some new gear (no flying carpet for you!).

So with almost no gear progression paths outside of pugging instances ( I really don't feel like bolstering the guild with more people before the new year ) I went back to my old ways.

And so I found myself on my lowbie mage getting a few boosts from our guild's dk (caught out herbing) and did some quests in STV making a good level and a half of progress settling my magus just a few bubbles away from level 44.

All in all I am not sure what to think about level 80... it was a nice trip there and I am somewhat interested in finishing up the quests in the zones I didn't do yet but I have no clarity on what lies beyond that is interesting and worth doing.

I'll tour the instances no doubt, gain some rep through dailies but I have nothing that I can really sink my teeth in. At this point it looks like I am better off levelling some other stuff through outland and use the mats collected to improve various professions...

Maybe... and this is a truly twisted thought, I should spec my druid resto and get into the whole pugging game. I am not entirely sure I could put up with the hassle though, people are critical and unfriendly as is and that's not exactly the best place to introduce someone whose never healed anyone voluntarily except himself.

Still it's probably good to get some of the dust off of my lowbies while I think on this.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The cost of professions

My last post sparked a number of interesting responses on how people deal with their resources. Some prefer to sell it all and buy it in when they need it, others stockpile and to others again any kind of inventory management is akin to spending a day in a pug as a healer with a (bad) unholy dk tank and 3 huntards (with pets on autocast growl).

To put things in perspective I decided to take a look at how many materials you can expect to use to get from 375 (the old TBC limit) to 450 for each profession.

These are rough indications based on various guides that can be found on the internet meaning that when all is said and done these figures may be up to 5-10% off the mark depending on what recipes you're using. Still, it's a good base indication and shows what you can start collecting if you are so inclined.


7225 x Frostweave Cloth
780 x Infinite Dust
175 x Eternium Thread (vendor item (cost rep based))


List of Materials
380 x Borean Leather
310 x Heavy Borean Leather
20 x Crystalized Water
5 x Eternal Air or Eternal Water
50 x Eternal Life and 50 x Eternal Water
(or 50 x Eternal Water and 50 x Eternal Air
or 50 x Eternal Fire and 50 x Eternal Shadow)

A potential alternative shopping list looks like this:

280 x Heavy Borean Leather
80 x Crystallized Water
200 x Jormungar Scale
60 x Arctic Fur
400 x Nerubian Chitin
10 x Frozen Orb

20 x Icy Dragonscale
or 20 x Nerubian Chitin


43 x Crystallized Water
10 x Crystallized Earth
8 x Frostweave Cloth
26 x Borean Leather
13 x Eternal Shadow
25 x Skinning Knife
25 x Mining Pick
25 x Blacksmithing Hammer
284 x Cobalt Bar
479 x Saronite Bar

You can probably start at 350 with this since engineering is very much a profession where you make your own components for other items. in this specific case cobalt bolts start at 350... but you'll need them later on so you have to get them no matter what you do.


180 x Cobalt Bar
530 x Saronite Bar
20 x Eternal Water
30 x Titansteel Bar
10 x Frozen Orb


10 x Dark Jade
10 x Eternal Air
10 x Eternal Earth
20 x Eternal Fire
10 x Eternal Water
40 x Goldclover
10 x Huge Citrine
30 x Icethorn
15 x Lichbloom
10 x Pygmy Suckerfish (from fishing)
20 x Tiger Lily
45 x Imbued Vials (vendor item)


1 x Titanium Rod
1060 x Infinite Dust
40 x Lesser Cosmic Essence
15 x Crystallized Water
282 x Greater Cosmic Essence
8 x Dream Shard


75 x Ink of the Sea
75 x Resilient Parchment

not sure on these numbers to be honest


15 x Shadow Crystal
15 x Dark Jade
60 x Eternal Earth

30 x Earthsiege Diamond
30 x Skyflare Diamond

First Aid

I estimate about 250 frostweave for 375-450 but I was not able to find any exact figures laying around.

There we have it. If I look back at the old TBC figures we can definitely see that professions got a whole new tier of 'expensive' strapped to them and it remains to be seen if each profession truly is worth the extreme amount of materials required to get them up.

I hope these numbers help you out in some way shape or form, they were certainly sobering to me the first time I saw them. If anything this is definitely a statement against maintaining the same non-gathering profession on your various characters unless you are indeed rather wealthy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Managing your gold

Gold is a tricky resource and even though some of us have already gone past the point of having pretty much everything they want and gold to spare for completely useless things most of us have to deal with the reality that our gold supply is limited unless we want to spend hours on end grinding, playing the AH or doing dailies.

Rather than telling you how to get more gold I am going to give you a few tips on how to manage your gold better; in fact how to manage all your resources better.

I am not going to lie to you, most of these tips are obvious and pretty much common sense. But I have applied these simple strategies for years now in various games and I have very rarely been spotted grinding/farming resources unless I was being exceptionally greedy. In fact I'd go so far as to say that I have spent no more than 24 hours out of a years worth of playing grinding any kind of resource I needed.

On that note let me add this: Managing your gold and resources is not about getting rich, it's about not getting poor.
There's targets I have that I haven't met, that I could grind and farm for but for which I have decided to just play the game instead knowing that the goal will be met in due time because I know how to control my expenditures.

So off we go into the wondrous world of resource management and a healthy chunk of self-discipline.


I see it happening all the time. People are out levelling their alts or playing their various characters and end up with a whole bunch of stuff that they don't have an immediate use for. So they think, hey I'll just sell this on the AH, make a small profit and then weeks/months later notice that they could've used the resources on an alt or during a crafting project for a random buyer or a guildie and end up paying a significant premium because they need the resources right away.

You can see this the most during holiday seasons. If you need a whole bunch of small eggs during christmas for some eggnog you're invariably going to have to either farm for them or pick them up from the AH for extreme prices.

Now think back how many of those small eggs you found while playing your lowbie alts and how many you simply vendored or sold on the AH for next to nothing.

The cardinal rule here is: If it stacks, don't sell it
Other than inventory management there's no reason to sell stackable items unless they're absolutely useless to everyone. Those resources will come in handy the next time you're grinding up a profession or if nothing else you will be able to sell them at a significant profit if you're willing to


Sell things at the right time. There's always people out there working on their professions or picking up new ones. Your resources are valuable to them because they want them 'now' and not later. If you have resources available then you're always able to make nice deals either with the buyer directly or indirectly when there's a shortage on the AH.

There's no reason to rush-sell anything... provided that you


Inventory management is crucial. Buy all your bank slots on all your toons and equip them with the most affordable but largest bags you can find (netherweave bags in my case). If you don't have any alts yet consider filling up the remaining character slots you have with alts purely for banking purposes.
Give each character a type of resource to deal with. I keep all my tailoring mats on my warlock, all my ores on my paladin, all my herbs and alchemy on my druid, all 'general' stuff on my warrior and so on and so forth.

Stop thinking about inventory management. Make a simple system for yourself and whenever you are in town simply mail whatever you have to the corresponding alts for them to deal with later.

Picking a day to manage your inventory to take care of it all can be very helpful in dealing with large mailbox queues and will cause you to have space to spare. Having space to spare is crucial if you want to be able to just ditch your spare holy set in the bank because you won't need it on the next instance run. If you can't ditch it in the bank real quick then you're just dragging it around with you...

Which brings us to the second part of inventory management:


Yeah, I have a set of gear for this that and the other thing too, I have stacks of buff foods, fishing pole, trinkets, potions and whatnot in my inventory. And by Medivh I will drag them around everywhere!
Say what? Stop that: Take only what is necessary.
Are you really going to need 3 stacks of buff food while you're questing? or that extra set of gear?

Maybe you will, more likely than that you won't and you're wasting dozens of inventory slots on completely useless crud... crud that will force you to a) destroy stuff to pick up new stuff or b) cause you to run to town way more often than you need to.

This is gruesomely inefficient. You're losing money for every gray item you toss overboard and if you have to go to town all the time you're losing questing time by the bucketload. It may not seem that important but if you do a rough calculation on how much gold you are bleeding just by throwing away 'cheap' gray items you'd be surprised at how many gold you throw away a week.

There's a reason I quest a lot with my imp, it's because I can replace my soulshard bag temporarily for another 16+ slot bag leaving me with about 3-4 loose soul shards but 12 more bag slots to fill up before I have to go to town. And I can do this because I usually have an empty bag in my bank waiting to be swapped in for a full one.

In the end: Don't take things with you that you won't need and leave room in your bank for just dumping things off for a while.


Last but not least there's the almighty Auction House. The auction house is the number 1 cause for people being as poor as they are. People buy recipes they'll never use or only use once, buy new gear on the AH that they end up replacing only days after. The AH is as much your friend as it is your enemy.
Scan it daily with tools like auctioneer so you know the average prices of stuff but don't be tempted to buy anything.
Why are you buying it should be the first question in your mind, if you can't come up with anything better than 'I want it' then don't buy it. In fact there's very little reason to buy anything from the AH unless there's no physical way for you to get the item in the first place. Patience is key. You simply have to assume that you will get what you want in good time and as a result you can curb your spending to the absolutely necessary.

The only thing the AH can be used for is to sell high and buy low. To achieve this look specifically at the resource market your stockpiling. If you're stockpiling a lot of ore and there's a shortage sell a few stacks for a decent price bearing in mind that if it's especially valuable stuff you're better off selling it in smaller stacks. Never ever sell all your resources though, since you will need them the second you have none.

Buying low is the other end of the stick and is something you'll be able to do quite easily when there's a lot of people on at one time... i.e. the weekend. Over the weekend you can get tremendous deals on things that you can sell for significantly more during the week.

Keep an eye out on the AH at all times and scoop up deals even if you can't use them yourself.

If it's not a deal, then why are you buying it? No really... why are you?

In the end the above won't make you rich but it'll allow you greater control of what you have... it'll allow you to make the snap decision to power level a profession and already have most of the resources ready, it'll give you greater flexibility and save you gold that you didn't even know you were losing.

When it's all said and done, when the day comes that I am stupendously wealthy the above will keep me stupendously wealthy no matter what I do. All that for the price of a little self-discipline... that's not so bad now is it?

So then, what do you do to keep your resources under control?

Friday, December 12, 2008

patch 3.0.8 goodness

Don't ask what happened to numbers 3.0.4 to 3.0.7... they were eaten by the blizzard monster. Either way 3.0.8 is on the PTR and I decided to take a quick look at the patch notes and there's a few interesting things in there.

I won't bore you with going through the entire list of class changes and similar but there's a few gems in there that you will likely miss if you just skim across right to the changes specific to your class.

I'll go into the 'massive' amount of warlock changes too since after all... I am a warlock.

Generall stuff

* Racial restrictions on mounts have now been lifted. Night elves on mechanostriders? Tauren on raptors? You’re not seeing things.
Complete freedom in riding whichever mount you want should calm down some that always wanted to ride something weird but will probably cause a minor ripple with those that appreciated the racial mounts.

Tapping: All player spells which cause a creature to become aggressive to you will now also immediately cause the creature to be tapped.
Warlocks rejoice, no longer will you have to open with seering pain or wand to tap your kills... now even we can participate in the age old sport of kill stealing.

We have added over 60 new graveyards to Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms.
This one is pretty weird, I know azeroth is dead but come on, don't lay it on too thick. I suppose it'll help once I pick up my lowbies again

The run speed in spirit form has been increased by 50%. Night Elves in Wisp form will now move at 75% speed.
Definitely a change for the better. Corpse runs always take way too much time. Carebears rejoice.

Very interesting changes and from what I can see all for the better.

Now on to some warlocky goodness and honestly I scrolled by the changes quite a few time before finally deciding to search for 'warlock' in the patch notes.

Here's what it came up with:


Drain Mana: Now drains a percentage of maximum mana.
Emberstorm: Now works with Conflagrate.
Ritual of Summoning: Will now create a summoning portal object which can be re-used for multiple summons for 5 minutes.

That's it... 3 changes... only the rogues have less this time around. No increase in pvp viability, no fixes for the glaringly obvious impossible affliction spell rotation. No clean up to make demo a more viable spec beyond levelling... nothing... warlocks are fine and I need to learn to play or wait a few patches more.

Well it doesn't say that... but it's in stark contrast with what ghostcrawler has been putting on the forums which is somewhere along the lines of this:

Make sure locks do rogue / hunter / mage level dps at 80.
Make sure locks have enough survivability in PvP (since we nerfed a lot of it).
Fix some of those deep Demo talents that really aren't worth the investment.
Make shards more interesting and less of a hassle.
Get the Voidwalker (and possibly Succubus?) back out.
Look at the dps spells that cost shards.
Try and make more of the dots a consistent length, so that Affliction's rotation doesn't require such a big brain.
Get dots to either scale with crit or just crit.

Which would actually help, yes, yes it would. Either way I am dreading the PVP season. I want some pvp gear because if it still works as it did the time investment is minimal for some decent gear... but I am no fan of being first target and burnt down in the first 15 seconds of a match... or in the time of a stun in case of rogue presence.

Interesting changes overall... euh... the general ones I mean. And if you're still bored you can always read the other post I put up today... it has a similarly incoherent structure.

Just on my server?

Well I had a big long rant prepared about this that and the other thing amongst which having to pay another 1k gold just to be able to fly again and how my future self is a bit of a bastard...
But apparantly over at the pink pigtail inn there seems to be a discussion going on about all the ranting that's gripped the blogosphere lately so I decided to exchange my perfectly well-formatted rant for some random useless observations :P

On that note I really wonder if most of the servers evolve in the same way. I've always been a one server kind of guy when it comes to playing MMORPG's and even when the server I play on is down I rarely feel the urge to create another character elsewhere (I like to keep all my crud in the same box).

so in essence I have a very very limited view on what's going on elsewhere. Sure, the economy is different per server, the population is too... but does this actually mean that other servers are completely different worlds?

Here's a few things I observed on my server of which I wonder if other servers are following similar trends:

There's been a crazy invasion of bear mounts in dalaran lately. 8 out of 10 people are riding that ugly brown bear you can buy for +-700g... every now and then you see a black bear or similar but still... there's a lot of bears.
There's so many bears out there I feel compelled to ask why you would still want to spend 700g on something that literally everyone has.

I haven't seen a shaman in days, weeks even. The last time I saw any trace of a shaman was a seemingly abandoned totem and it literally took me a second or two before I figured out what that strange glowing object was. Where have all the shammies gone? Are they that bad off these days?

Despite dwindling numbers according to wow census and a very questionable pvp survivability warlocks are all over the place. Out of the few group quests in the dragonblight I needed people for there was always an extra warlock in the pug and never the same one. I am still fairly certain that warlocks won't do well the next pvp season but I am kind of pleased that there are still a decent amount of warlocks about.

The warriors I have been talking to that have dk's are often telling me that their warrior feels kind of 'meh' to play after playing a dk for a while. I am wondering how other warriors feel like but there seems to be a fair few people I talk to that now prefer their dk's over their warriors. A trend perhaps?

Mages kick ass these days. I've seen fire mages crit so often in succession that I started to wonder if my damage meter was borked. Unfortunately my own 'never will crit nanaananaaanaaa' shadowbolt tells me that my damage meter is fine. I gather they're patching up arcane too and I've always wanted to try arcane. That almost makes me want to level my mage. Is it just me or is wotlk _the_ expansion for magi?

Shattrath is a ghost town... The few people that are there are rushing to level 68 and leave the place as soon as they can. Azeroth is no better off for that matter. There's still a decent amount of people in places like ogrimmar but beyond that there's maybe one or two players in each zone at most.

People are bored already. I've overheard a couple of conversations now of people that already have bought all their new badge gear, whose rep for most of the new factions is already either at or very close to exalted and whose only remaining goal is to buy a mammoth mount with vendors and buy up all the recipes available in dalaran. Now I am not saying anything about difficulty here but euhm... it's only been a month since wrath release so if you're bored now... things are not looking good for you.

So how's life on your server? Any notable trends?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How much time did you waste?

Every now and then I hand in a quest, look at the rewards and with a certain amount of teeth-gnashing decide to replace my pretty little purple epic with one of the northrend blues or even greens.

Other times I sit on a flight looking at my reputation tab and wonder to myself if it was really worth it grinding tons of rep items just to get to that magical level of reputation that you needed to pick up this item/enchant or whatnot that has now long since been forgotten.

In short, sometimes I wonder if I didn't just plainly waste a glorious amount of time on doing things that are completely meaningless and more importantly simply weren't fun to do.

I started playing around this time last year, I knew wrath was coming and I have always known that any expansion would bring a new level of gear and other features that would completely supplant the ones from the expansion before it.

As a result I always strived to doing things for 'fun' rather than an arbitrary gear upgrade or reputation increase.

I didn't run Kara more than a handful of times, in fact I stopped quite literally the second I didn't think it was fun anymore (conveniently I fell out of grace with my guild at that time). But still, I spent hours if not days in various battlegrounds grinding up the honor and marks to get myself an upgrade.
Time I could've easily spent on well... fun stuff.

So just out of curiosity I started scribbling down a few figures in order to get a rough estimate of how much time I 'wasted' in wow... and by wasted I mean time I spent logged in doing things I didn't enjoy.

Here's what I came up with:

* I enjoyed 90% of all my instance runs.
Mostly due to the fact that I only ran instances for fun, never for loot or for reputation (yes I don't have a lot of major TBC reputations as a result).

*I enjoyed 15% of my reputation/item grinds.
Collecting various signets, armaments, marks, motes and tomes never seemed to fill me with glee, the dailies weren't horrible but could hardly be considered a blistering experience of fun. Most of my reputation/item collections were involuntary and motivated generally by gear upgrades.

* I enjoyed 65% of all BG's I ran.
I ran a lot of AV's mostly because I like the grandness of having 2 large groups of players going head to head. Controversely I quite literally hated all my WSGs that I was purely doing to get the necessary marks for upgrades. The rest was about an even split between absolutely loving it and stonefaced mark grinding.

* I enjoyed 80% of the time spent levelling alts
I like levelling... I am good at it. It gives me that zen feeling of being in utter control and having a complete overview. Levelling from 0-30 is a complete and utter pain in the rear end though and the more you do it the less fun it seems to get (try not to mention the word barrens around me)

* At level 80 for any of my characters I will retain approximately 10% of all the items I collected during the last expansion
The irony of it all is that the only items that will have survived the trip are novel trinkets, things with funny animations and various rewards from ingame festivals and events. None of the gear that contributes to my playstyle looks like it'll survive.

Then I sat around for a while, twirling the paper I had scribbled the numbers on around between my fingers.

So? What does this mean then?

I decided to scribble some more stuff down to make some sense of the figures:

I spent 60% of my time levelling alts, 15% in BGs, another 10% grinding reputation, 5% doing instances and 10% I completely wasted by throwing myself off of various landscaping features under the 'let no soulstone go to waste' policy, I might've chatted a bit too and whatnot.

So out of every 100 hours I played, 60 hours were spent levelling, 15 in bg's, 10 grinding rep/items, 5 in instances and 10 were completely shot to hell doing things to entertain myself.

... enough numbers to do something with... so I concluded the following:

out of every 100 hours I enjoyed ((60/100)*80) + ((15/100)*65) + ((10/100)*15) + ((5/100)*90) + 10 (because I always enjoy time doing completely useless crud) = 73,75 hours or approximately 74%

Other than telling you where I spend most of my time (not in instances obviously) this means I didn't really enjoy 26% of my playtime.

In retrospect I think 26% is a pretty significant chunk of time to not be enjoying yourself in a game you pay good money for to play.
And as it turns out by looking at my obscure scribblings that 26% of time was pretty much the time I invested in trying to get some decent gear upgrades (which are going to be utterly meaningless at lvl 80).

This is a sobering figure no doubt, but it once again reinforces my resolve to avoid things that I don't enjoy like reputation grinds and the unfortunate effort that is 'gear hunting'.
After all, as a solo player I have the unique luxury to ignore the high-end, end-game items that may or may not be needed for end-game raiding. And while it is easy to get swept away by the need/greed for the latest and greatest in gear upgrades sometimes we should stop and ask ourselves: 'When is enough?'

So there we have it... I wasted about 26% of my playtime on things that weren't exactly fun...

And you? how much time did you waste?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

WotLK resistance

Being primarily a solo oriented player I have always strived towards making my characters tough as nails, after all survivability is king in solo play.
Whether this means overloading my warlock with stamina at the expense of some other stats or using engineering for various spell absorption or reflection items I am always looking for the next best thing to make my characters that much tougher.

With the new expansion now quickly approaching its one month anniversary it has become clear that once again all stats are on the increase and it's time to re-evaluate what have been called 'situational stats' in the past.

One such stat is resistance. Pre-WotLK resistances were the unwanted step-children of rare raiding encounters where a decent amount of resistance was required purely to be able to survive long enough to take the boss down.

Resistances beyond that were considered mostly useless outside of certain raiding encounters and a somewhat fluctuating popularity in PVP for shadow resistance gear.

So lets take a look at what has changed for resistances. If you're not yet familiar with the mechanic take a look at the wowwiki here and see if you can get a basic grasp of the concept first.

What it comes down to is that spell resistance is measured both by level difference between you and your victim and an additional check for partial resistance of direct damage spells (fireballs, icebolts, shadowbolts and other bolty things) or in case of binary spells (frost nova or anything else that carries a debuff rather than a damage component) either fully resist the spell... or not.

The magic number for the WotLK era is: 415 vs lvl 83 which puts you at the resist cap of 75% resistance.

I am not going to bore you with a re-hash of the formula's posted on the wiki but here's a little number example to clarify the formula used:

Damage reduction percentage = (effective resistance value / caster level) * 15
Damage reduction percentage = 75%
caster level = 83

75 = (effective resistance value / 83) * 15
75/15 = (effective resistance value / 83)
(75/15) * 83 = Effective resistance value
415 = Effective Resistance Value

Of course if you're more interested in PVP at level 80 resistance options then you simply jot in caster level 80 and get 400 as your magic number vs lvl 80.

Still with me? good good, I'll dispense with the math now. What is important to understand is that resistance will always work against direct damage spells. So even if you only have 50% spell resistance you can still resist a significant amount of spell damage (an about 50% chance to resist half the damage and approximately a 20% chance to resist 75% damage) which means that while you'd ideally want to be at the resistance cap you can fudge the figures a little in favor of other stats (we still need to do some damage or have some armor mitigation etc. after all).

In favor of keeping this blog post somewhat legible I will save the research of what gear is out there for another post but here's a quick display of a notable (plate) resistance set that's available for crafting:

Icebane Treads - 86 frost resistance
Icebane Girdle - 86 frost resistance
Icebane Chestguard - 115 frost resistance

If the Icebane set is any indication then you can, with just 3 pieces of gear get 287 points of pure frost resistance which means that you're a mere 113 points away from being capped against a level 80 player.

If you're a paladin running a frost resistance aura you get an additional 130 points at level 80 putting you well over the needed resistance cap for an investment of only 3 items.

Granted the items lack other important stats but make up for this with a few sockets that allow for some customization options.

Still, even without the convenience of a paladin aura you're looking at +- 54% spell resistance for those 3 items alone which gives you an above average chance to munch 50% of incoming (frost) spell damage or outright resist 50% of all frost nova's cast against you.

During one of the next blog posts here on noobding I'll delve into the topic some more and see if we can figure out an approximate maximum of resistance per magic school that we can achieve by looking at potential gear, enchantments, gems and whatnot.

The ultimate goal is to see if resistances can now be considered a significant option for increasing your survivability in solo play and potential other situations.

I'll leave the conclusions up to you; Ultimately it is your choice whether you want to put the time and effort into building a resistance set and whether it is worth it for your particular playstyle or not.

All in all it seems that the resistance caps are now easier to hit than ever with the gear available in WotLK.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bigger numbers, bigger problems

Everything gets bigger.

This is an axiom that has held true for most games in the game industry but especially MMORPGs. Patches and expansions are rolled out in order to give the player more to do and to keep the money rolling in for those that design/create the game.

Everything getting bigger has held true even in the days of the old dungeon and dragons. I remember the days where we would flail around in small groups, slaying the occasional orc or desperately running away from the dragon's cave. I remember those days where level 15 was the ultimate goal and represented a significant portion of power for anyone involved in AD&D.

But it got bigger. In the form of extra rulebooks and other expansions and in the end the old power cap of level 15 was extended for everyone.

And with this growth of the power cap things became skewed. Combat tables and rulesets that were initially designed for level 15 and under simply didn't work anymore for players that literally outgrew the content and were well on their way to level 30.
The world initially designed for a modest power cap of level 15 was only able to cope with these new godlike players by throwing new godlike challenges in their face via supplemental rulebooks and yet more expansions.

How do you provide content for godlike players?
How do you provide content for those that have accumulated wealth far beyond what the game was initially designed for?

This is a conundrum that MMORPG designers have been fighting with for ages and thusfar the only answer they could come up with are simple reactive measures to structural problems of the game design.

If people are super rich... then we make stuff super expensive (remember the cost of black dye tubs in ultima online? or say... a wow mammoth mount)
If people are super proficient... then we raise the difficulty of their proficiencies (say hello to another tier of crafting, fishing, cooking etc.)
If people are super powerful... then we simply add creatures that are more powerful than them (I heard the lich king has between 2 and 3 million hit points, assuming we get to fight him)
If people have super gear... then we add gear that is more super (ok fine... better... ).

And once again things get bigger.

Both the designer and the player find themselves stuck in a cycle. The designer raises the power cap and this immediately raises the bar for the player who will always strive to get more wealth, more power and as a result will go out and slay the more powerful creatures that have just been added to the game via the patch.

That illidan chap? He's a pushover now... curator, prince, magtherion you name them... mere jokes that have been relegated to the realm of those that like to solo dungeons with the new gear that has been added in the latest patch.

And as things get bigger, bigger numbers start to cause significant problems. A game that was initially balanced for 60 levels will find it more and more difficult to cope with 10,20,30,40 additional levels and more stats to go along with it. A 10% bonus to stamina may have been insignificant at level 30 but is a huge boost at level 100 where the stats are much greater and percentile scaling goes through the roof.
The problem becomes exponential even with a linear increase in stats across the board and designers/developers will have to jump through flaming hoops to retain even the smallest sliver of balance.

What it comes down to is this: No game system can adequately handle players that are too far outside of it's initial design.

And that's not so far fetched... look at real life. If you apply yourself, work hard or just have natural talent that you can cultivate you may become an Einstein, a Sun tzu, a vincent van gogh but your potential is capped. You will never be a god (i.e. all-powerful) whereas most game systems will lead you from the ordinary to the heroic to true godhood in the end.

If you allow people to grow beyond the hard cap of the initial design you effectively turn a player into an unknown variable. You have no control over this player other than to satisfy his/her need for 'more' and the only way to keep the player happy at that point is to add new, more powerful, bosses and give the player the equivalent of a nuclear bomb to fight them with.

Without a hard cap on player potential you invalidate your carefully crafted gaming environment. People will stumble over themselves trying to get to the end-game ignoring whatever was between just to get to those new, hastily thrown together, bosses and instances that carry the most powerful equipment and yield the highest level of rewards.

As things get bigger, your game system starts to show cracks, glitches and weird effects like sudden problems with burst damage, 100% critical hit chances, massive resistance issues and problems that previously never seemed to be an issue.

Your players are leaving the ruleset, the boundaries of initial design... they have become too powerful, the numbers too large to control. I've seen it happen a dozen times ... games that ended up so skewed that players could do so much damage that an attack was either fully resisted and no damage taken whatsoever or the player was instantly pulverized when hit.
Now that's Epic...

I am watching the numbers increase and I can see the potential problems.

I'll give you one of many examples. Try not to nitpick it too much, it's an example after all: Resistances. With the new wotlk gear its easy for a paladin with a frost resistances aura and about 3-4 pieces of gear to become fully capped in frost resistance. With a little bit of creative gearing and some aura switching the same paladin can probably achieve full frost and full fire resistance at the same time.
Once you reach this point you'll probably have a lot of unhappy mages walking the world (I for one never heard a mage curse more than when most of their spells get resisted).

Certainly this comes at the cost of other stats, but it illustrates that bigger numbers will invariably lead to bigger problems.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The spreadsheet behaviour

Every now and again I tend to go off into a little game design tangent. This is partially related to the fact that I have been playing games since the advent of pong (wait, scratch that... it makes me look old... pacman... no... tank wars... no ah to hell with it... I'm old). The rest is occupational hazard (software development) and a inexplicable fascination with game theory.

So today we're going to go off in one of my tangents together and take a look at how the evolution of games in general led to what I like to call spreadsheet behaviour.

Looking back over the decades of games we can fairly clearly see that most games are little more than a simulation that is heavily reliant upon numbers / math. Not surprising of course considering the involvement of computers but we can also note a significant trend towards 'showing the numbers'. This means that in most modern MMORPGs you can clearly see how many hit points you have, how much mana/energy/rage, how much strength, int, stamina etc. etc. and you can literally compile a large spreadsheet of data about your character.

This more often than not leads to so called min-maxing, numbercrunching and theorycrafting where all of a sudden the power of your character isn't determined by using terrain effectively or knowing when to strike and when not to but increasingly becomes a game of allocating stats / talents in the correct way.

Sun tzu's art of war is conveniently discarded in favor of putting the right stats in the right place and the whole process of watching the numbers increase evolves into somewhat of an obsession for players.

This obsession results in a number of unwanted behaviours. Why do people steal kills? Why do people use 3rd party tools to gain advantages? Why do people exploit bugs? Sure, there are those that enjoy making other people's lives miserable but in general this behaviour is motivated by the spreadsheet and for the spreadsheet.

It is no longer the world or the lore that dictates the progression of characters but more and more it becomes a matter of watching the right numbers increase on your spreadsheet.

Unfortunately most game designers tend to play into this behaviour. Games quickly evolve in giving players more numbers and more things to 'spreadsheet' in order to keep the game interesting longer. Expansions are brought in in order to provide more ladders for players to climb, to provide more and better equipment forcing people to re-evaluate their current spreadsheet in favor of a new one.

And this is very much understandable from a game design perspective considering the alternative.

After all, what would happen if the numbers were not visible? What would the result be if repeatedly killing the same mob(s) [grinding] didn't give you any visual representation of improvement and you simply wouldn't know if the grind was doing you any good or not past the 10th orc you just whacked?

It would take away most of the spread-sheet behaviour but in return would put much greater demands on game designers that all of a sudden have to find ways to keep their world interesting without giving tangible feedback like: you've gained 1200xp

The question begs to be asked however: Is the game designer shooting himself in the foot with this spreadsheet orientation? If the only thing that matters in a game is getting the numbers right then what happens to that content that doesn't give the right numbers?

Are game designers trading the dream of an immersive world for more ladders and more spreadsheet math because they're too lazy to build actually engaging content?