Monday, 7 June 2010

I like to move it, move it

All the cool kids are playing over at WordPress. Blogger's comment system is antiquated. Not going to write a novel on the subject of moving the blog.

Please update your bookmarks and/or readers and find me at See you there!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sunday quote

What should you do when you find you have made a mistake like that? Some people never admit that they are wrong and continue to find new, and often mutually inconsistent, arguments to support their case - as Eddington did in opposing black hole theory. Others claim to have never really supported the incorrect view in the first place or, if they did, it was only to show that it was inconsistent. It seems to me much better and less confusing if you admit in print that you were wrong. A good example of this was Einstein, who called the cosmological constant, which he introduced when he was trying to make a static model of the universe, the biggest mistake of his life.

Stephen Hawking - "A Brief History of Time", the updated tenth anniversary commemorative edition

I read it and it struck home. It appears harsh at first, but when you really think about it, it's probably the easiest way to deal with being wrong. You get it out of your system and don't need to dance around it or awkwardly explain to different people over and over why you have (not) been wrong. All within the borders of sensible, of course, I'm not saying we all should make public announcements every time we make the tiniest mistake. But sometimes it's easier to make a thread in your guild's tactic forum and admit that you've been wrong, rather than having an uncertain number of people either having learned an incorrect thing from you or learning the correct and then questioning your competence.

So, yeah, Tyrannus heals when the healer is branded, not when the branded person is healed, as I, for some reason (read it somewhere, no idea where), thought all this time. Not such a hard thing to admit, really!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Musical Easter

In response, or rather in reaction, to a brief ABBA moment I shall publish the Little Rogue song I composed (*coughs*) about a month ago.

*clears throat*

When I was just a little rogue,
I asked on EJ, how shall I spec?*
Will I be Combat, will I be Mut?
Here's what they said to me.

Que Sera, Sera,
There's upside in every tree.
The future's all RNG.
Que Sera, Sera.

* The author hereby denies all responsibility for any corporal or mental damage that may result from asking questions on EJ that may be deemed inappropriate.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The tale of a Gnome Mage

No, not Coltoon. Nor Frostydude.

Once upon a time, there was a gnome mage. He grew up, experienced 5-man dungeons and obtained gear of a reasonable level. There were these raid things he had heard of, so he went on the official forums to ask his fellow inhabitants of Azeroth for advice on his further mageing and on how to transition from 5-mans to that fabled raiding. Coincidentally, we were also about to take that very step and just started active recruitment. So, we left a message in his thread (which quickly became an EJ-outpost of arcane mages beating each other in wit while reasoning over trinket cooldowns), I added him to my Friends list, greeted him when he logged on and after a bit of chatting he agreed to "join and see".

"Hmm, you only have 6 level 80 characters in the guild," he keenly observed first thing after joining. And, just to be clear, I had not lied about, not even concealed our small scale and state of development.
"Well, yes, but at least they're actually from 6 different people. And we have 2 friends who run with us," I tried to come back.
Hmm," he concluded. Abstract friends reliable guild rosters do not make, and even 6 + 2 still only gives 8, which is remarkably less than 10.

A couple of hours later he apologetically explained that he received a better offer and that although he's sorry, he will seek his luck there. You shall not hold up the travellers, as a German saying says. I politely expressed my regret about his decision, but assured him I can't blame him for it and wished him all the best.

Today, little more than a month later, we have close to 30 level 80 characters in our guild. People transferred server and faction to play with us, people resubscribed to play with us - you cannot imagine (well, maybe you can) the magnitude of pride this fills us with, more than any measurable in-game achievement. We've cleared Naxxramas and The Room of the Crusader, as well as VoA, Sarth and EoE. We have two bosses left to best in Ulduar (not counting Algalon...yet!). Our raids are some magically impossible combination of competence and amiability - even though we are still working on the structures and infrastructures around them (that punctuality issue was pretty severe and started, as always, at the head - myself. I think we're getting a firm grip on it now though). When we feel prepared and roll up in ICC, that Arthas dude should better make a life insurance. Or death insurance .. whatever it is he'd like to insure.

But on that chilly evening in late February, I felt very, very helpless and borderline desperate. Yes, of course, the very fact that he left was best proof that the gnome mage was not a fit for us. That was not the point, though. The point was that terrifying vicious circle starting up a new guild this late into an expansion (and even later into the game itself) puts you in. You can't do anything exciting unless you get the numbers - you can't get the numbers until you can offer them something exciting to do. We were lucky. We were incredibly lucky to find and be found by some incredibly nice people who then recommended us to other incredibly nice people or just contributed their incredible niceness. It's all pretty incredible. And nice.

But back when even a totally inexperienced little gnome left us for greener pastures the probabilities looked rather dire. So, what is he up to now, you may wonder? According to the Armory, he has yet to set foot into a raid and changed guilds at least yet another time. He came back into his thread once or twice saying, right, thanks everyone, now he's got a guild and is prepared and totally looking forward to raid really soon. Which made me smirk, because at that point we were already raiding, and he'd have been raiding as well had he remained with us. But he did not believe. And wanted to go the path of the least resistance. The thing about the path of least resistance is however, sadly, that it rarely leads to the place you want to be in.

What was the point of this post? I'm not sure. But I am sure how I will end it - by thanking everyone who believed and took the risk with us. It is a pleasure to be around you, it is a pleasure to log on and emerge in your company and it is a pleasure to do our best to reward you for your faith with the best you could believe in. Thank you.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Things learned yesterday

Yes, I know, zomg, two posts on one day. This should be a quickie, like the other one, though.

So, things I learned yesterday:
  • No, you will not participate in a heroic 30 minutes before raid time. No, there is nothing in particular you would have had to do in that time, but, you know how it goes, you get CoS, and then you come out of it 5 minutes before raid time. Which would be perfectly fine for a "regular" (that sounds so unintentionally demeaning) raider. But you're a raid leader now. Things are different. You need to relax and unwind before a raid, so you can be focused on the spot when the lights go on.
  • No, after the raid you will not agree to run the level 70 alts of two of your guildies through a dungeon, no matter how much you like them. Especially not if you're fully expecting to run a random heroic when your favourite druid gets home that day. It'll leave you with 5 hours straight of tanking/leading in dungeons, which is, with all due love for the game, taxing.
  • No, you are not the only tank in the guild. Relax. Heroic 5-mans do not require your attendance to be saved from the evil LFD. There are others who can (and do!) take that badge up (curiously, you ended up DPSing on that first run you impulsively joined, which was fun, but...). Run when you want to run, not when you "have to".
  • In short: learn to say "no".

Realisation strikes .. with a hammer

Ever wondered what those pretty bugs you occasionally see around the Argent Coliseum are supposed to be there for? I did! So did my favourite druid (attention - new forest! Update your pathmarks). Every time we'd be there and one of these creatures would cross the area only to disappear under one of the buildings, we'd exchange curious remarks in chat or on Vent. What are they? Why aren't they even targetable?

There I was yesterday, running The Room of the Crusader. It was going very smoothly, we got to the last boss without incidents. One of our raiders had to AFK briefly, I was done outlining the tactics (and people who know the fight better than me were done correcting my mistakes - thank you guys!), so we were all just standing around for a few minutes, mentally preparing for the fight ahead. I was gazing around the cave. My eyes stopped on one of the scarabs, non-aggressive at that point. "Hmm," I thought, "he looks remarkably like..."

And then my mind wandered back to maybe 10 minutes earlier.

The Lich King yells: The Nerubians built an empire beneath the frozen wastes of Northrend. An empire that you so foolishly built your structures upon. MY EMPIRE.

Structures. Coliseum. Passive bug here ... non-targetable bug there ... oh ... OH!

Subtle, Blizzard, very subtle. Consider my hat taken off to you.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Faction Champions is not PvP

Yesterday, our spunky little guild had a crack at Lord Jaraxxus and then at the infamous Faction Champions in the equally infamous Trial of the Crusader raid. To clarify: some (few) of us had done those fights before, some others (very few) had even been in the unfortunate situation to farm them. Of those 9 (yep, nine) who were in there yesterday, the majority (including myself) had not seen those before. But, boy, have we read about them! Well, about Faction Champions.

Respected bloggers foamed at their mouths, raid leaders everywhere ended up shouting at their members to quit whining and focus, the waves of rage rose high and strong. It was nerfed and subsequently overgeared, yet probably remains as the most hated encounter in recent WoW history. Maybe in all of WoW's history. And now lil' Rem here has finally participated in it. We even beat it, despite being only 9 people (and, boy, if on any fight that makes a particularly large difference, this is the one), after several attempts during which we polished our tactics.

After we were done, a guild mate asked me if I see now why people call it a PvP-style fight. We had a little discussion about it before, an utterly friendly discussion as I shall immediately add, where I claimed most problems people have with it stem from mislabelling it as PvP and then getting all worked up about it instead of just taking the encounter as it is and focusing on it. I shall further add that I am hereby in no way dissing said guild mate - she's lovely and competent - this is merely about perception and interpretation.

What shall I say .. yes, I do see why people call it a PvP-style fight. Because those models look just like player models and use the same skills player characters have at their disposal, that's why. It's not a PvP fight (obviously) nor a PvP-style fight at all. Sorry. Okay, okay, I'll be fair, there is one good reason why people tend to call it PvP-style: it utilizes many tactical elements usually observed in PvP (particularly Arenas). Lockdown, kiting, dispels, focus fire, defensive/reactive crowd control. They all appear in PvE as well though. So, what's really different?

Actually, really different is that the traditional PvE rules of the holy trinity are ignored. You know, tanks gather stuff up, DPS burns stuff down, healers heal tanks and DPS. The simple fact that in the Faction Champions opponents may just start chasing your healer while there's very little your tank can do about it makes people call it PvP-style. But that's not enough, by far not enough, and the reason is quite simple. This is not what constitutes the difference between PvE and PvP. And no, I am not going for the cheap out of syntactically claiming that you're not playing against other players. The come back to that is to call it "PvP-style" instead of "PvP". No, the point is that the Champions do not emulate player behaviour in its most crucial aspect - adaptation and reaction.

Remember, in the second paragraph, I wrote that we got them down "after several attempts during which we polished our tactics"? This is it, basically. Over the course of those attempts, we analysed the problem and improved our approach to solving it. At the same time, the Champions made no adjustments to counter our changing tactics. Their approach remained entirely static, modified only by RNG. We were confronted by a set of rules, and once we figured out its weakness and honed our execution, we cracked it. This is PvE, absolutely and utterly, regardless of the fact that we may have used different skills in different ways to those we are usually utilising.

You have to react and adapt in both PvE and PvP, but in the case of the former, your opposition does not react and adapt beyond defined rules and RNG influence. And this is why Faction Champions is not a PvP-style encounter.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Thought for the day: proof by authority

In the best tradition of KiaSA

If your argument loses weight when omitting the "5 years" part, it wasn't a good argument to begin with.

Monday, 8 March 2010

And it all worked out pretty well

Dear reader. You may remember this justified angsty post from September last year. After that post it actually took me almost another month to start working, and yet another month to really pull myself together - or finally panic enough - and get into the writing frenzy which was needed at that point. I made it, I handed in my thesis in time (on 28.12.) and as of last Friday I am in possession of a certificate that boldly states that I've been awarded an academical degree. Wheeee!

Huge, huge, infinite thanks to Alqua and Colt for all the moral support and motivation they provided when it was most needed. And it was needed more than you can imagine. I can't thank you enough. Also, without further elaboration on this point, really big thanks to my parents, for everything.

So, why have I not been blogging more recently? Again, I am not sorry. The limiting factor, once again, is time. I am currently shifting mine between the following things:
  • Work - the one I'm still in until the end of the month and still have more than a few tasks to finish for before I can walk off into the sunset.
  • Job search - my future, wonderful employment. It's going to be wonderful, I'm sure! Anyway, finding it and getting into it does require some additional investment. Lots, in fact.
  • Pushing Enthusiasm forward - our little and ambitious guild has blossomed over the last couple of weeks. Growth and development, however, require lots of attention, and it'll take a while before things settle into patterns and we can shift into "low maintenance mode".
  • Actually playing WoW - quite a fun thing to do. Really.
  • Researching on WoW - I like to know stuff. About my own role, and about others' roles as well. Especially since I'm kind of trying to grow into the position of a raid leader, it's really useful to know what's actually going on during those encounters. And crucial to have at least a basic understanding of all classes. Trying, trying.
  • Domestic tasks, social contacts - everything human beings tend to do in addition to the sleep/work/hobby trinity.
  • Blogging. Oh yes...

So, without any malice or disinterest on my part, blogging just ends up being the thing easiest pushed off the priority table. But I'll try, I'll do my best. As of now, I have a pretty specific topic on my mind I want to write about at length. Stay tuned!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Why you should watch the Fall of the Lich King cinematic

Well, first of all, you don't have to. It is, obviously, your choice. I'm just here to tell you that you have no reason not to. And no worries, it won't contain spoilers.

So, Rem, do you read the ends of books ahead of time, too? Well, no. But World of Warcraft is not a book. It's not even a film. It's a game. And the purpose of a game is not so much telling you a story, as letting you take part in a story. Yes, I hear you shouting that you care a lot about the game's story. Your claim may be more or less justified by how much or little you actually learned about the background and history of the game so far, but I hear you in either case. That's exactly the point. You should watch the cinematic because you care about the story, not despite. Confused? Let me explain.

Like I said, the purpose of a game is letting you take part in a story. Consequently, the point at which you will be automatically confronted with the cinematic is tied to your in-game actions. To be more precise, to your defeating the Lich King for the first time. This is an event that may never take place. Despite all the ramblings about how "easy" the game is, it's not all that easy in fact. There is no telling at this point in time if you (or me) will actually be good enough to defeat the Lich King. I'm not saying you (or me) won't, I'm only saying the information is not available yet. Unless you've already done it. In which case you've already seen the cinematic. In which case .. uh .. this whole argument is not aimed at you anyway. Right, talk about trolling oneself. Where was I.

Let's assume you are good enough (and me too, yay!), because that's the more interesting thing to assume anyway. Allow me to describe the probable course of events. Allow me to attempt to immerse you into the atmosphere of the moment. The tension of the final sequence of the hardest boss fight in the game. Someone will be shouting "10% ... 5 ... 3", someone else countering "30 seconds to enrage ... 20 ... 10 ... COME ON, GIVE HIM ALL YOU HAVE!", and then, with the last bit of mana, health, energy, rage and pure will, he will fall and Vent will erupt in cheers, cries and yells, while you'll be fist pumping and/or doing a little dance (as well as cheering, crying and yelling). There will also be some cinematic playing in the background. You think you'll care, at that moment?

Besides, it's not really like you're actually jumping in the story arc. The story is technically already told. It's a long story, which started all the way back in WC3 and is rooted in even older events. But now it is at its end. Did you do the Wrathgate questline, the Matthias Lehner questline and the ICC questline? Then you do not need to flip forward to the last page. You are on the last page. That the Lich King will be defeated is not a spoiler, it's a rule of the genre. The story is told. The rest are details. You may, of course, defer reading the last page until you personally reach a certain milestone. Keep in mind though that when you do, you'll go out to party and drink. And when you return and sit down to re-read what you half missed, you may feel it's not quite as spectacular as reaching the milestone itself was.

Of course, this is not quite true. There are still a couple of blank pages between where you are now and the last page (i.e. the cinematic). But those will remain mostly blank. This is the place where, once again "take part" comes into play. This space will be filled with your adventures, with your personal path to the goal. It is a story no one else will write. More importantly, it is a story that is going to be better than what anyone else will write. It will be more exciting and more epic, because it will be yours. If it wasn't, if, instead, a 4 minute cinematic, no matter how atmospheric and well done it is, was better than anything you experience on the way to it, then, frankly, we'd all have wasted our time.

Don't save the cinematic as "the best thing for last", because it is not the best thing. Don't see it as a climax, because it's not. The climax, the best thing will be how you and your peers will carve their way to that ultimate battle and how everyone will do their very best to prevail in it. You should watch the Fall of the Lich King cinematic, because it is merely an appetiser for the hopefully even better things that lie ahead on your path.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Wrong sport, lads and lasses

The recent Ensidiagate prompted me into posting on a subject that's been on my mind for a while now: the morality of competitiveness. Maybe I should have used that as the title of the entry, but, honestly, my titles sound preachy enough as it is. So, what is this all about, anyway? Competition.

Competition is an interesting thing. A two-edged blade. Competition means motivation, determination. It is a reason to try to be better. Competition is the antidote to complacency, and thus a catalyst of progress. Us not living in caves is a direct result of competition.

Curiously, having come so far since the time we left the caves means that competition has changed as well. In fact, outright competing with the next person is societally frowned upon, and usually manifests itself in the less productive forms of constant 1-up'ing and raging envy. Also, mobbing and other sorts of ugliness.

The medium through which we experience modern competition in what is considered a "pure" form is almost exclusively sports. It is easy to argue that sports, as such, arose from the demise of competition as it was known in former ages of mankind, as a mimicry of activities that once constituted the competition for survival (and procreation): hunt, war, elopement, gathering, perseverance. Not that war could be attributed solely to "former ages of mankind", but at least we don't want it to be an open competition anymore.

So, sports. The pitfall here is what kind of sports we grow up with, what sports get the most spotlight and gain the highest prominence. Football/soccer and basketball matches are frequently decided by coaxing the referee into a wrong decision in your favour. Fall down without having been shoved, talk trash to disturb concentration and hope for a rebuttal that may be punished as an additional bonus. Yell at the referee and argue every decision. No-no, my foot wasn't behind the line. Inconceivable.

Then there's athletics, cycling and similar disciplines, which seem to have long evolved into a race of "who can shove more stuff into their body without being caught overstepping an official rule". The phrase "usage of illegal doping" alone is amusing already, when you think about it - it means there is legal doping, so, the question isn't really "if", but only "by how much". The answer may arrive in the form of a life-ending heart attack at age 40.

Speaking of racing - Formula 1, anyone? Turned into a competition for finding the most improbable loophole in the technical regulations. Funnily, the stricter and more complicated the rules get, the more severe those loopholes are. Back when the limits were more relaxed and everyone was shooting for the sky, the differences were more, you know, tangible. Back then, A had a better engine, B had a better chassis and then we watched it unfold. Now it's all "so, turning this screw 57° to the right can be justified with the following paragraphs as not contradicting to those other paragraphs, and it also gives us half a second per lap".

Major sports these days are a cutthroat business where the limits of the "humanly possible" were reached decades ago, and now everything that gives you any sort of advantage that is not in clear and unmistakable contradiction with the rules is considered "fair game". And then you venture into regions that are in contradiction with the rules and simply hope not to get caught. You are supposed to take everything you can get, try to grab some more and then act as you deserve even more yet.

Having grown up with this image of sports and thus competition, we arrive in a place where everything can be justified by pointing out that X is going up against Y. A "competitive situation" is suddenly a sufficient reason to abandon all honour, humanity, grace and dignity. You are supposed to bite and claw, to kick and punch, to blow low and exploit, exploit, exploit. All is fair in love and competition.

I would like to introduce you to another sport - or, rather, remind you of its existence. One that is not as widely popular world wide, which doesn't get much prime time spotlight. I'm talking about Snooker, a billiard variation with an emphasis on high precision and, most importantly, strategic thinking. Is Snooker competitive? Oh, boy, yes. Look at the faces of the players. They want it. They want it badly. So, what's the difference?

The difference is that Snooker is a deeply aristocratic sport by its very nature and origin. You can't play it in school yards, you can't play it in pubs, half drunk. You have to overcome a high entry barrier to play it at all, and thus, it has traditionally been coined by the, dare I say, noble. Therefore, the standards the players are held up to are inherently higher. And I don't mean merely things as the dress code. I mean moral standards. An example.

There is a rule that forbids you to, at any point, touch a ball, any ball, with any part of your body or clothing. This is something that can be very hard to keep track of, because it basically only becomes relevant in those cases where the intended shot is a highly tricky one, so the view will be obscured, and although the referee will try his best to have a line of sight, he'll also do his best to accomplish this without distracting the player (ideally staying out of his field of view). You can't exactly drive a camera in there either. Besides, in the vast majority of cases, the fleeting contact of, say, a sleeve with a ball wouldn't do anything. So, what?

I'll tell you what. It is considered and unexceptionally accepted the duty and obligation of a player to announce an illegal contact when he becomes aware of it. Immediately. Even if nothing has moved even by a dust particle's margin. It's a matter of honour, it's a matter of morality, it's a matter of what defines you as a Snooker player and earns you respect. Just as a pointer, respect is what earns you money through the discreet ad sticker you're wearing on your breast pocket. It is not considered "okay" to run with it, just because no one noticed.

If you touch a ball, you admit it. If you are carefully swinging at the ball and your cue touches it before you execute the actual shot, you announce it. If you get a double contact (white jumps back from first contact with other ball and hits cue again before you pull it away), you say it. Even if no one noticed. Even if it costs you the frame, or the match. You don't try and figure out how much you can get away with. You don't care how much you can get away with. You care about fair and clean competition, and you are not interested in any unfair advantage.

If you get a fluke (i.e. a lucky shot with a much better outcome than initially planned), you apologise. You appreciate its results, of course, and the opponent accepts them gracefully, without any "lol ur lucky nuub" rage. Luck is part of competition, as it is of any process. But you apologise. When your opponent masters a particularly difficult situation successfully, or plans and executes a masterful shot, you congratulate. You don't cry "hax" and rant about how his haircut is overpowered, but show respect for the skills of your opponent. It's tradition. You just do it. Failure to comply with the moral standards of the game is as severe as a violation of its functional rules.

The bottom line is, competition does not have to be that dirty, grey-zone, cutthroat, no-respect-for-anyone dogfight we learned to accept it to be. You can compete, and compete on a very high level, without disregarding respect and morality. And next time you think about competition and what it allows and justifies, don't think about what ESPN is showing right now. Think about Snooker. Otherwise you're just tuning yourself to the wrong ideals.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Analogy of the day

Taken from the WoW tanking forums:

Being a gorgeous 18 year old girl allows you go out with as many guys as you want. But in the end, you're still a bitch.

Being a tank is the same thing. It does allow you to coerce people into doing things they don't want to. But in the end, you're still a bastard.

Oh, and since we're at it, here a very, very nice statement I read (and saved) a few months ago on the MMO-Champion forums:

This is my opinion. There are many like it, but this one is mine. The game does not suck completely just because I've run out of normal modes to farm gear from. The game is neither easy, nor hard, except from my own vantage created by my experience and skill that makes it so in my mind. Naxx does not suck just as Sesame Street does not suck. I won't complain about 6th graders having it easy because their algebra homework doesn't compare to the rocket surgery I perform daily at a 6 figure job. They have to start somewhere just like I did. Even though I am very smart and skilled, I am one person of a 25 man raid who killed a boss. I did not solo him with my skinning knife even though I sometimes talk like I did. Let me live to a 102 and still have a hard mode achieve out there worth getting or strike me down now if I cry about no new shiny new content with so much still left in the game to do.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Adopted unrealistic expectations

Today my favourite druid recalled a funny incident we experienced yesterday in our good-night-PuG, which took us to Drak'Tharon Keep and teamed us up with a DK, a shaman and a mage.

To recap. The mage asked if people wanted a table, to which the DK responded with "nah let's make it a quick run". How is that even a contradiction? How does free food make a run less quick? Oh yes, I see, because you don't have a draining resource, no one else has to consider theirs either. Of course. Consequently, when I stopped before the first boss and called for "regen", seeing the mage and shaman both below 40%, the arduous DK smartly remarked after the fight "just go no time to wait all over". As usual, my response was a simple /slap. After the second boss the DK dropped group, supposedly because things were not going "quick" enough. We got a replacement-hunter within seconds (of course) and finished the dungeon without any further incidents.

The story would hardly warrant retelling, especially not on two blogs, if it wasn't for some ironic details. Like, as pointed out in the linked post, the DK wearing the "Patient" title. Yeah, right. Or, more on the subject of this post, that he was, in a way, correct - the run was going less quick than expected. I noticed that. See, I'm pulling stuff, and then there's the stuff, and ... why isn't the stuff dying? We fumbled around with those stupid spiders until they called in their entire families, pets and their pets' families and families' pets for us to fumble around with. So, I had a look at Recount, fully expecting to see the impatient DK doing something in the 4k ballpark and the other two dragging along in the 1k range (his attitude was implying more something along 5-6k, but that would not have been possible, since if even one person does that sort of damage, stuff dies quicker than it was). What did I actually see, however? Go on, guess. Oh, right, you read Alquiel's post so you know already ... right.

What we had there was a mage and a hunter, both at about 2.2k, and the DK well behind in the 1.5k vicinity. As well as me comfortably leading the way at above 2.5k, because when I pull entire rooms of stuff, those Cleaves, Thunderclaps and Shockwaves pad my numbers as well, but that's beside the point. For the sake of the point, let's make a few observations here.

  1. For a heroic 5-man dungeon (excluding ToC and ICC), 1.5k DPS is, speaking in terms of feasibility, more than sufficient. This means, that if all your damage dealers perform at that level, as well as tank and healer providing their role-equivalent of 1.5k DPS, you can clear it without much trouble. You won't clear it in 15 minutes though.
  2. Doing 2.2k DPS in a heroic 5-man dungeon (again, excluding ToC and ICC) is actually good performance. It is not a particularly good performance as measured by currently available gear, but measured by the approached content, it is good nevertheless. Although again, it won't make you clear the dungeon in 15 minutes.
  3. Damaging below the tank (especially if your tank is a warrior) is not exactly a badge of honour, but one has to keep in mind, that a tank's DPS is not a universal measure, but a moving target. As Gevlon recently pointed out, an iLevel200-DPSer damaging below the iLevel245-tank isn't slacking, he's doing content appropriate for him, while the tank is doing content he vastly overgears.
  4. The Dungeon Finder matches groups with a "mentoring" principle in mind. It always attempts to place one or two people who just barely qualify for that specific dungeon into a group that could, give or take, clear it on their own. It's a good way to ensure a smooth transition from levelling into group content.
  5. If you're lucky, your group will consist of a seriously overgeared tank, a slightly overgeared healer (this is more for the benefit of the healer, since overgeared healing tends to become slightly boring), 1-2 barely geared DPS and 1-2 vastly overgeared DPS. This may enable you to blast through a dungeon in 15 minutes.
  6. Being regularly matched into groups as described above creates the somewhat skewed perception, that dungeons can always be cleared in 15 minutes, even if you are the underperforming DPS yourself. A case can be made, that the longer you linger at scrub-level, the more often you're matched with T10-DPSers who will AoE the entire dungeon faster than a mage can summon a table.
  7. Scrubs think a dungeon can be cleared in 15 minutes just by yelling "gogogo" at the tank convincingly enough. Those who actually effect the fast clear may know better.
  8. In our PuG yesterday, the vastly overgeared people were the tank and the healer, while the DPS were merely "appropriate" or "good". While this setup pretty much guarantees you a smooth and uneventful run, it also means things will take a little more time.
  9. The dicknight was so used to being carried, that he failed to realise, that the speed of a run is, among other factors, a direct function of his DPS-contribution.
  10. He further failed to realise that his DPS-contribution sucked.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Skill vs. entry barrier

Today I want to talk about tanks being the most awesome beings in the (MMO) world. And by that I mean, I want to explain why they're not.

The astute reader may be aware of the recent "meat in the room" discussion. Are tanking and healing harder than DPSing? Do they require more skill? If they do, how comes members of top-guilds settle for the "lesser" jobs? They are all highly skilled, they should all be playing "high-skill" roles! Maybe they're sacrificing themselves for the sake of the guild by playing the undesired DPS roles - which would put an interesting twist to the commonly spread perception of tank and healer "sacrifice". Or maybe the whole argument is based on a flawed assumption. The secret, you see, is in entry barriers.

First, let's talk about healers, since this is the role I am personally least familiar with, but have been observing it being executed long and close enough to come to the following realisation: healing, above all else, is about having the right mindset. A great healer is not necessarily the person who thrives at polishing rotations and perfecting execution infinitely. A great healer is, first of all, a person who is capable of immersing themselves into looking after others. This is the great challenge in the mastery of healing, the ability to transition from "I do" to "I help". The MMO worlds are full of those who do not possess that ability, the "battle healers", oh don't we know those. They may make for highly competent DPS, if you'd let them, but "forced" into the healer role they'll always have an above average rate of slip-ups, cock-ups, focus-losses and accidental deaths. Those who do possess that ability, they may never rise to the top when DPSing, but when they're healing, you feel safe, in bold letters. They got your back, no matter what. Salutes to my favourite druid as well as a certain priestess who may or may not still read this blog and may or may not be still very angry at me.

However, this is not necessarily an entry barrier. It's the path to mastery, and it's a precondition for feeling comfortable with a healing role in the long run, but not something you absolutely cannot do without. You can. As long as the encounter is not too challenging and/or there's someone to cover up for you, in one way or other, it's possible to just round up those healing buttons and roll along. You'd be surprised how far you can roll this way. Or you wouldn't, because you've probably seen it yourself.

Tanking is somewhat different. Its mental transition is far smaller. While one has to abandon the "I destroy", the point of destination is a very vicinal "I am indestructible". You're still the fighter who wrestles with the monster (to save the princess?), the change is marginal. What changes a lot is the entry barrier you need to overcome to even begin tanking. In WoW it is currently best expressed through the defense skill. If you want to tank heroics and do not bring at least 535 defense (skill, not rating) to the party, you're asking for disaster. They're doing away with it and incorporating it into talents in Cataclysm - which is a good thing. But defense is only one aspect of the barrier, and easiest to judge, because it's measurable.

The thing is that tank failures are very hard to recover from and to compensate for. Not impossible, especially with competent DPS and a dedicated healer, but hard. Case in point: a tank needs to keep mobs in front of himself, while melee DPS needs to attack mobs from behind. It's basically the same thing - positioning. By attacking from behind (or the side, if it's a dragon), the DPS removes the possibility of being parried, improving their damage output by roughly 5% at the same time as not causing additional damage on the tank through parry-haste, plus avoiding cleave attacks themselves. It's a win-win-win. But when you're only starting out in group play, those 5% are negligible, parry-haste is not as common (or feared, due to the effective removal of crushing blows) as it used to be, and beginner-level mobs and bosses won't exactly cleave you to death on the spot. You should learn it, and you should learn it soon, but you're safe starting out without and learning on the job.

The equivalent task of the tank (keeping the mobs in front) on the other hand is not at all optional. Being attacked from behind means that your parry is removed. As well as your block and your dodge, in short, your entire avoidance is stripped, save for the miss chance (inherent 5%, modified by your defense skill - depending on mob level usually 10-15% total). You are going to eat 2 to 3 times as much damage. And since you, as a beginner tank, are likely to be running with a beginner healer (look, being carried doesn't count), they won't be able to compensate. So, those 5 mobs you're about to pull, with a caster and a hunter type? Yeah, have fun dancing around trying to keep them all in front of you. Your ability to do that will make or break your group's ability to progress. Oh, and your melee DPS will hate you for it.

But is that really hard? Is it so heroic and incredibly awesome that everyone needs to be at your feet for doing it? No, not at all. It's not hard. It's basic. Your task of keeping the mobs in front of yourself isn't really that much harder than the damage dealers' task of staying behind them. But the tank has to learn to do it now, while the DPS can learn to do it later. That's all the difference. When I struggled with AoE threat, I spent several restless hours analysing my rotation and spec, pinpointed what I was doing wrong, changed a glyph, and the next time we lined up for heroics the problem was solved. If I was instead struggling with my AoE-DPS, I could have easily afforded to gradually tweak and improve over weeks.

Tanking doesn't require more skill, nor is it that much more stressful - not if you enjoy doing it! What it does require is the ability and dedication to tackle and solve problems the moment they occur. Actually, you're supposed to solve them before they occur, because, see above, tank failures are very hard to recover from. When Rem slept on picking up Herald Volazj after the insanity phases, two people got subsequently one-shotted. I screwed up, I shouldn't have let that happen. It is the tank's job not to let such things happen. It was a learning experience.

Which leads to the next important remark: yes, there is a lot more to learn when it comes to tanking. It is not just "learn the basics and you're set forever". I learn every day, every time I tank, no matter what I tank. Experience is invaluable. But you need the basics.

Last but not least, let's talk about DPS. See, any damage is a contribution. Even 100 DPS, although laughably low, does, mathematically speaking, still contribute to mobs going down. This is why there is virtually no entry barrier for damage dealers. Okay, there is: don't do outright stupid stuff! But other than that, unless there are enrage timers in play, or the realistic chance of running into mana trouble, pretty much everything you bring to the table is more than would have been on the table if you were not there.

Does this mean DPS takes no skill, since it's always useful? Oh, hell no. The flip side of the coin is that more DPS is always more useful (unless there's Mirrored Soul, or Overlord's Brand, but .. come on, work with me here!). Sky's the limit. And while it takes not so incredibly much skill to start contributing some DPS, it takes one helluva lot of skill and dedication to contribute really amazing DPS. And this means that contrary to popular (well, with some) belief, proficient DPS should be valued very, very highly. And I guarantee you that the proficient damage dealers in the top guilds mentioned at the beginning of this post are valued very, very highly. Because they had the determination to go past the "I'm doing okay" stage, transcend the "I'm doing good" phase and banged their head into the "I want to be freakin' amazing" place they're in now.

Have you noticed a common theme in all three roles? Yep. Dedication. Love what you do and do what you love. And stop worrying so much whether your job is the more important than someone else's or not.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Introducing a new tag: game design

Having mastered the "November/December Rush" and having more time on my hands now, I am once again tempted to drift where every gamer with any programming skills tends to drift: making The Best Game Ever! Now, before you roll your eyes (as you should) and walk away, let me elaborate quickly.

I am fully aware of realistic capabilities of a single person - even if said person were to work on a particular development project full time, which I (at this point) do not intend. I am also aware what it takes to create a piece of gaming-software that would be even remotely capable of holding its own compared to what else is on offer. I absolutely understand that there's no way I sit down with a drink and cookies, code to myself for a few hours a week and, look and behold, half a year later The Best Game Ever is born. Doesn't work that way. The net is full with downloads of software (not only games) where some guy had some great idea, hacked together an ugly and unhandy piece of something and threw it out there. I don't want to be that guy. I appreciate that the quality and success of a software product, particularly and especially a game, draws from many sources like graphics, artwork, ergonomics and a few dozen others. I know that I am not very knowledgeable or even flat out untalented in several of those areas. Even if I were, and had the necessary resources, it'd take me 10 years to finish everything on my own. That's an optimistic estimation.

However, there are things I am kind of, sort of, talented at. Making up and developing concepts and mechanics. And to some extent, you know, programming. Therefore, I am not intending to write a game. Instead, I will try to present and elaborate on concepts I think would make for a good, fun and involving game experience. I will also program a bunch of little parts and components representing some of the underlying mechanics of those concepts - a toolbox of sorts.

This place, this blog, is where I am going to write down thoughts and ideas, inviting you, dear readers, to join in and contribute your thoughts and ideas. The "game design" tag is meant to be a combination of "thoughts on game design" and "thoughts on designing a game". Let's be clear, I do not claim that everything presented here is an idea no one ever had before me. Most will be inspired by things I see, hear, read and experience, bits and pieces I gather together and improve (in my opinion) upon. Some of it will probably be genuinely original, but to be honest, I can't even know.

Therefore, if you like what you read here and happen to be capable of making games, well, you have two options. You can just take the ideas and put them into a game - I'll be happy enough to play it. Or, better, offer me a job helping you make that game. Obviously, same goes for contributions in comments. Inversely, by submitting ideas over the comment function you agree on them being possibly used by whoever happens to read it. Sorry for being a megalomaniac ass about it, but better safe than sorry.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Achievement nodes

Today, Gevlon is once again reasoning about node ninjaing. Well, actually he's reasoning about social norms, but he uses node ninjaing as an example. Thus I will tell you a story I wanted to tell you anyway. Makes sense, no? Okay.

Some time last week, when my favourite druid's arrival was delayed by snow (and recovery from having bested it), I used the time for some domestic tasks. Flying down to Azjol-Nerub to hand in the watcher quest, then a few relaxed rounds of ore-mining through Icecrown (yes-yes, I know, only morons farm, but I actually like doing it for a bit now and again, so, sue me!).

On my way through Dragonblight I spotted a cobalt node. Descending upon it, I noticed nearby fighting. An orc rogue, level 73, was busy with a couple of mobs. Now, I do not nurture any particularly warm feelings for the Horde, or orcs in specific, and a case can always be made, that cross-faction meanness is very much in the spirit of the setting. But we're not on a PvP server. What? Oh, no, that's not what I mean. I did not intend to say that on a PvP server it is okay to steal ore, and on a normal server it's not. No-no.

What I meant is that on a PvP server the situation could have been settled with game means. I could have attacked him with all my Prot-OP'ness (not to mention a 7 levels advantage), or simply taken the ore and then stood there in a "don't like it? come take me" pose. Or, assuming I'd be stealing from someone potentially more powerful (there's always a bigger fish), risk being retaliated through force. This is not an option on a non-PvP server. Therefore, my actions would not have been directed against the character, but the player behind it. Players, in most cases, all belong to the human race, and, despite what Gevlon thinks, deserve human treatment. Long story short, I did the usual drill, hovered next to the node on my gryph and waited for the rogue to finish. She then hastily mined the node and /thank'd me. I /salute'd back, continued on my way .. and suddenly felt good inside. I think I even smiled.

Roughly half an hour later I was in Icecrown, flying my usual path. One of the nodes in the "ghoul field" was up - and it was titanium! Now, I shall remark a couple of things. These days, I don't really mind what metal I mine up. I farm mostly because 30-60 minutes flying from node to node, listening to music, can be quite relaxing when not done too often. It does earn me some money (especially when sold as Belt Buckles), but I could be just doing dailies instead - sometimes I do. Saronite is useful for the "everyday business" stuff, titanium for the rarer occasions. I'm always happy to see the blue-ish glow of a titanium node, but not getting all hot and bothered about it.

The other thing to remark is that I particularly enjoy going after those "troubled" nodes. Not those with just one mob or so next to them, but those in seriously tricky places, for the simple reason that I could not have dreamed about fetching many of those 2-3 months ago, even in the company of my favourite druid, so it's a bit of a challenge and a comparison with my past capabilities. So, I get down to the ground and to work with those ghouls. The really nasty part are the casters, because if I charge them, I get too close to the next bunch, and my ranged silence is on a minute cooldown. This particular fight goes a little pear-shaped, it takes me a while to get into "efficient mode" and get full control of the situation. I don't know exactly how many I pulled in total, but I did more than 160k total damage in the process (first fight after Recount reset), so, it must have been something in the 12-15 household. Oh yes, and midway through it, a blood-elf paladin (it's always blood-elf paladins) flew in and grabbed the ore.

So, I mounted my trusty gryphon, ascended into the air, looked down at the pile of corpses (they .. were dead before anyway .. I know) I produced and smiled again. Gaming is all about achievements. Achievements are gaming's vehicles to fun. You rescue princesses (from another castle), you kill dragons, you're having fun in the process. Scoring a /thank from the opposing faction is an achievement. Clearing out a dozen ghouls around an ore node is an achievement. Cunningly grabbing a node someone else was after is .. an achievement as well .. in a way. I guess.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

In which we call out bullshit

Not in the mood for a lengthy rant, so I'll just add my voice to the many and point out that this guest post on World of Matticus is complete and utter bullshit, from the first to the last sentence. Shame on you, Matticus, for even allowing it to be posted on your portal. As for the author, he is either an idiot with a very limited and tunnel-visioned grasp of the game (yes, I just publicly called someone an idiot - for calling members of his team "meat in the room", "a dime a dozen" and so on. Deal with it), or cunningly sparking controversy for the sake of clicks to his own blog. For my part, I decided to never again click on a link leading to We Fly Spitfires. Sir, you are blacklisted.

Kind regards,

a tank

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

PvP is CvM

This whole Warbringer debate once again reminded me of why I simply cannot enthuse myself over the idea of PvP. In an MMORPG, player-versus-player combat inevitably spawns a casters-versus-melee conflict, and you simply cannot balance it out. There is just no way to do it, since there is no state or situation in which both are happy. When the caster is successful at kiting, the melee dies without being able to touch the opponent most of the time - if the melee manages to stick close, the caster will be interrupted, silenced, stunned, pummeled and ultimately ripped to shreds. Blizzard stated more than a year ago that melee needs to be in range and casters cannot be balanced around kiting. Fair enough, but it's not working. It can't work, because no matter what else you put in place, being at long range is a huge advantage for the caster (they can't be hit), and being in close range a huge advantage for the melee (they can, you know, actually hit). And so PvP turns into one big arms race between snares and gap closers. It's always either the melee complaining about being kited to death, or the clothies complaining about being blown up. Or both.

Truth is, the traditional classes-and-levels MMORPG is unsuited for PvP combat to begin with. Yes, this is a blanket statement. No, I'm not going to qualify it. I am going to justify it. Somewhat. The problem, you see, is in the early design process. Most MMORPGs, strangely sometimes even supposedly PvP-centric ones, such as AoC or Aion, are, at their very core, designed as PvE games. How can I tell? By looking at classes, class roles and skills. The holy trinity is a PvE concept. Whenever you see neatly separated tanks, damage dealers and healers, taunts, detaunts and threat modifiers, you know where the wind blows from. In Warhammer, tanks actually have a role in PvP. In AoC they're the guys with not enough damage output to kill anything and a ton of irrelevant survivability.

WoW? No matter how often Ghostcrawler, whom I respect a lot, says that WoW has two parts, both PvE and PvP, it is, at a design level, a game as deeply grounded in PvE as it gets. They wrote down roles, they wrote down tools, and then distributed them among classes. It is glaringly obvious, that the question never was "how would an encounter between a warlock and a paladin play out?", but always "in which specific ways would a warlock and a paladin contribute to a group's success?". Because the tools were given out to classes assuming their co-working in fighting an outside enemy, how those tools would measure up against each other did not come into focus until much later. Moreover, many of the so called utility skills are designed specifically to neutralize particular mechanics the player, or rather the group they're in, is confronted with. That mechanic may happen to be a fundamental offensive or defensive tool of another class. So, you end up with "counter-classes" and the ever popular rock-paper-scissors principle. Except, RPS is boring, because the outcome is mostly pre-determined.

But PvP isn't balanced around 1v1! Yeah, I'm sorry, but if you do not balance around 1v1, you effectively do not balance around anything. Cleverly, they iterated to claiming they don't balance around 2v2 either, weighted the respective Arena bracket down, and thus moved the problem into 3v3. Is WoW-PvP balanced around 3v3 now? Not really. It's just that at that level complexity gets so high, that you can always wave your hands in the air and say, well, there are so many variables and possibilities, the composition is just one of a plethora of factors. Which is kind of true. But drowning a problem in magnitude is not the same thing as solving it. In the end, no matter the macro-format, on the micro scale, you still have one character and another character beating up on each other, and one of them has to win. Yes, they have teammates, but if A is doing more damage to B than vice versa while at the same time taking less in return, A's teammates find themselves at an advantage.

Don't get me wrong, I am certainly not advocating the case of those who try to argue, that you should be able to grab an arbitrary assembly of classes and have an equal chance of success regardless. I do not support that notion (neither does Blizzard). Composition should matter. Synergies is what MMORPGs are all about. Which is exactly what puts them at odds with fundamentals of competitive eSports. The very idea of any sport is to create an even field, on which the competitors can, well, compete in terms of the discipline in question. However, to even out the field in an MMORPG means to turn it into an FPS where you shoot fireballs instead of lasers. And no one would want to play that, because Quake is simply better at being Quake (and Unreal Tournament at being Unreal Tournament, and Counter-Strike at being Counter-Strike, and so on). I heard there was a PvP-competition MMORPG-style game called Fury, a year or so ago, that had all "serious PvPers" excited .. for about a week, and then they all went back to their games and all the serious FPS players went back to laughing about them.

Why do we have PvP at all? Because games are played by humans, and humans love to match with each other. You have a character, I have a character, just out of curiosity, let's see how they perform against each other - sparring fight! And there, you have a duel function. It's more fun when it's large scale, so we get BGs. It's even more fun when it's rated, so we get Arenas. And people get so excited about it, that they forget it's just an afterthought in a game with a fundamental PvE mindset. As long as the developer teams get together and start their brainstorming with "okay guys, we need tanks, healers and damage dealers - ideas?", we'll have PvE games, which will then contain some sort of PvP interpretation and implementation, and everyone will be bitching for years about PvP balance issues, because no one thought about that sort of balance right from the beginning, but instead about who gets to cast fireball and who gets to cast rain of fire.

Only if the designers sit down right at the start and ask "so we have the ranged guys and the melee guys, the guys who can heal and the guys who can't, the guys who can deal a ton of damage and the guys who can take a ton of damage - how is this going to match up?", only then will the result have a chance at being a balanced PvP game (cf. Darkfall, in some respects). If that'd be still fun or popular, now that's a different question.

Monday, 4 January 2010

This guild's bank is guarded by a corehound

Just had a thought. Assume you're running a guild, and thus you control a guild bank. Whom are you going to give access to it? Obviously, people you trust. However, there is also the possibility of people you trust being hacked. Admittedly, just like Tobold, I believe that in the vast majority of cases "having been hacked" is simply a euphemism for "having done something very stupid". But it happens. Clever people can do stupid things - when they're half awake, when they're distracted and not paying full attention, or whatever. Windows does its share by still using the "hide known file extensions" default, thereby opening something that cannot be legitimately called a backdoor, but rather a user trap. You see, those very intelligent people whom you really trust as much as you trust yourself may happen to just not be geeks. Those who are not geeks may be legitimately unaware of what file extensions are and how they work in Windows. Long story short, account theft happens.

Surely, it is again a matter of trust. In addition to asking whether you can trust a person to treat guild bank access responsibly, you may have to ask whether you can trust that person to treat their own account securely. Enter the Blizzard Authenticator. While not a "slay all" weapon for security problems, it does reduce the risk of "being hacked" significantly (see Tobold's reasoning on how it's a dual-improvement). So, we can simply demand people to make use of an authenticator, if they want access to the guild bank.

How can we verify if they have an authenticator? Corehound pet. I don't know if Blizzard had this in mind when introducing the pet and the way it works, but if they had, compliments. If someone can summon a cosmetic corehound pet, it means an authenticator is linked to their account that very moment.

What if they unlink it later? We can't make them show their corehound every day, after all. Well, at the very least, that would constitute a conscious move towards compromising their own account security. Which would be stupid. We covered clever people doing stupid things, but is unlikely to be one of those. Why a person would unlink their authenticator is beyond me. So, as long as you can verify that you're dealing with sensible people, and maybe hold regular "Banker's Trust" meetings where everyone shows off their corehounds, that's one step against unexpectedly empty guild banks.

Mind you, this has just as much to do with responsibility and credibility. "Yes, the log shows I've emptied it, but I was hacked. Luckily, I got my account back before they sold off my gear and sent off all my gold, but the guild items are all mysteriously gone. Sowwy guys" - just doesn't fly. Either you did it, or you compromised your account in a grossly negligent way (as opposed to the "oops" way) by putting the corehound to sleep.

Want access to the bank? Show your pet. If you can't, you'll have to resort to asking others to retrieve stuff for you. Until they get sick of it and tell you to GTFO and get an authenticator. See, smoking's not the only thing peer pressure can lead to.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Year of the Pookie

Strictly speaking, it only starts some time mid-February. But that aside, according to the Chinese calendar, 2010 is the year of the striped grey tiger.

Happy New Year (of the Pookie) everyone!