Saturday, January 24, 2015

Melee DPS and Interrupts

I was thinking about two problems that WoW has nowadays, and it occurred to me that it may be possible to solve them both simultaneously.

The first problem is the state of melee DPS classes at endgame. Quite frankly, ranged DPS are generally superior to melee.

The reason for this is that melee characters need to stand near the boss as much as possible, whereas ranged characters can stand anywhere within 40 yards of it. This means that pretty much any mechanic which forces movement disproportionately affects the melee DPS.

Melee DPS have an inherent disadvantage. So if they are going to be balanced, they need to be stronger in other ways. And currently, this is not the case. As a result, everyone is recruiting ranged DPS.

The second problem is the use of interrupts. The playerbase's attitude toward interrupts seems to be a lot better than it has been (the proving grounds and monk training quests both require you to use interrupts), but it could still be better. In particular, I've had some extremely annoying Everbloom runs where people simply didn't interrupt the heal on the second boss.

I think that people would do much better at interrupting if it were made clear that interrupts are not just a frill, but are a core part of a DPS player's role. Accordingly, here's my idea:

     1. Remove all interrupts from tanks and ranged DPS, or significantly increase their cooldowns. Only melee DPS can regularly interrupt spells.
     2. All interrupts deal a significant amount of damage if a spell is successfully interrupted.

The nice thing about this is that it ties interrupts to the rest of the DPS role. Your job is to do damage, and interrupting helps you do damage. This makes it very clear what you should be doing. As well, it makes performance much easier to measure, since your position on the meters will be better if you interrupt a lot.

And secondly, this adds an additional dimension to the melee DPS role. Now they have a strength that ranged characters don't have, so things are more even.

As well, I think this would open some new possibilities for encounter design. Currently, Blizzard tends to shy away from mechanics that punish players for grouping, since these are always hardest on the melee. Or the mechanics are made artificially easier (like Tectus' pillars only targeting the ranged). If this weakness were made up for in other ways, then it would be easier for Blizzard to accept it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I don't really understand why gamers are so eager to maintain anonymity in their online games.

Scratch that. I understand why many people want to be anonymous. What I don't understand is why they expect a culture of anonymity not to produce negative consequences.

It seems like most people are familiar with this Penny Arcade comic. It's popular enough to have become a sort of running joke, that's sure to be mentioned whenever someone misbehaves online. Surely the observation behind it - that anonymity can cause a lot of antisocial behavior - carries some weight. But for some reason, nobody ever draws the conclusion that we should make it harder to be anonymous online.

It's amusing that this distinction between your online and real-life personas is treated as being some sacred and inviolable right, when it's really a very recent invention. Most societies throughout history haven't had anything of the sort. In the past, the people you interacted with regularly would know your name, what you looked like, and where you lived. And someone who wasn't so well-known, a stranger or a loner, would inspire distrust. Internet communities are likely the only societies in history where being anonymous is viewed as acceptable.

I'm not saying we should go back to fearing the unknown. But it seems clear that the current model isn't perfect either. And knowing the people you interact with has benefits. Having more information means more ways to connect to others, and more accountability decreases the amount of bad behavior. On the other hand, the upsides of anonymity are - what, exactly? You might want to keep employers from finding out you're a gamer, but is that really all people are concerned about?

I think it would be very interesting for a game to require users to register with real ID, and then show your real name ingame. Perhaps it could even display a photo and your location. I think game companies would see it as risky, but I also think that if it took off, the resulting community would be one of the best available.

Mission Timers

Maybe it's odd, but I quite like the mission board in Warlords. It's quite a simple minigame, but it has the same polish shared by everything Blizzard does. Plus the integration with the rest of the game makes it more rewarding.

The only thing I don't really like is the 10-hour missions. In my opinion, scheduling missions would be much cleaner if the longest missions were 7, or even 6, hours.

The thing is that for most people, the day is divided roughly into three 8-hour segments. Eight hours of work, eight of leisure time, then eight of sleep. This translates nicely into queuing missions at the beginning of each period - directly before and after work, and before bedtime.

So if a mission is longer than 8 hours, there is already a problem, in that it will not finish during one of those periods. So at the beginning of the next period, either you wait, or you don't have access to all your followers. This is annoying. Plus it tends to compound itself, as when the 10-hour mission is done your followers will be behind schedule on their next one.

However, even then the schedule is pretty easy to break. If you stay late at work, or have a commute, then you won't have time to complete a full 8-hour mission before bed. So I think it's best if some tolerance is built into the system. Otherwise you're pushed into playing at odd hours.

In general, if you're going to include real-time barriers to progression, I think it's better to make them on the lenient side. Having to adjust your schedule just to play the game is rarely a good idea.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Too Much Specialization?

One thing I've noticed about Warlords is that the behavior of a spell is now much more dependent on your choice of specialization. Of course your specialization has always affected how skills work, but in the past the differences were mainly small - a skill might do 25% more damage, or have a chance to proc something, but it wouldn't have a completely different effect. This is no longer really the case.

For example, here is the tooltip for Avenging Wrath as Retribution spec:

  • Increases all damage and healing caused by 20% for 20 sec.
Whereas for Holy it reads:

  • Imbues you with wrathful light, increasing healing done by 100% and haste, critical strike chance, and damage by 20% for 20 sec.

Really, these are two different skills which happen to share a name.

I don't think this is really good design. It's inelegant, and makes the game more difficult to learn.

I believe that players expect a given skill to have basically the same function for each spec. It would have been simple for Blizzard to have given the Holy version of Avenging Wrath a different name; the fact that they chose not to is an acknowledgement that the skill is intended to work the same way. But it does not, except in very broad terms.

So the naming scheme guides the player into transferring knowledge from one spec to another, but the game mechanics are such that this is a mistake, or at least not very helpful. I think this is the opposite of how skill names should work. 

For instance, it would be a mistake to let rogues use the skill Backstab while in front of their target. This is because in that case, the flavor (thematic content) and the mechanics of the skill would be opposed to each other. Similarly, giving very different abilities the same name opposes flavor and mechanics, which is inelegant and confusing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Butcher Update

I had the opportunity to go on another Butcher raid. I managed to pull 36.5k HPS and top the meters. Here are some things which I felt helped:
  • Used an int flask, int rune and Savage Feast, as well as a mana potion.
  • Glyphed wings and used it on cooldown. I think this glyph is very useful for LFR / PuG raids, since it seems like a lot of the extra healing goes to overheal when it's unglyphed.
  • Used Holy Shock / Prism as often as possible.
  • Healed Beacon targets the absolute minimum possible.
  • Paid attention to free Eternal Flame procs.
To be honest, I'm pretty surprised by how much difference a modest increase in skill makes, at least in terms of raw HPS.

Now to try to improve my performance on some of the more complicated fights in Highmaul. Unfortunately, it's pretty tough to find a decent pickup group that sticks together for more than a couple of bosses. I have joined a small raiding guild, so we'll see how that goes.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Battlegrounds and Raids

In some ways, WoW's battlegrounds are to the PvP game what raid dungeons are to PvE. Both are instanced content which you do in a group. And both offer a mix of core gameplay which doesn't vary much, together with specific rules which change from case to case. The main difference is that raids are the only way to progress in PvE at max level, but battlegrounds are supplemented by arenas. It is interesting to note, then, that WoW currently has eleven battlegrounds you can do at max level, but only one raid. Why is this?

WoW released with two raid instances and three battlegrounds. Since then, Blizzard has released over two dozen more raids. But most of those instances are no longer used, at least for their original purpose of providing endgame gear progression. By contrast, you can still play the original three battlegrounds and earn gear which is suitable for level 100 players.

It is interesting to note that this did not have to be the case. Blizzard could have used the battleground model for raids.

What if when BC came out, Blizzard had decided to simply add level 70 versions of the existing raids, dropping level 70 versions of their loot, and then place new raids after the existing ones in gear progression? Then by level 100 there would be 20+ raids to progress through.

But of course there are issues with this approach. For one thing, it would mean that power differences between fully geared raiders and fresh level 100s would become absurdly large.

And it is possible that most players would not like having to do so much old content. After all, much of what Blizzard has done with raiding in the last couple expansions has been done with the intent of removing the old progression model and helping players do current content. A model like this would run directly counter to that.

Another interesting idea would be to have level 100 versions of all the old raids, but to make them all roughly equivalent in difficulty. Then remove all drops, and have them reward "PvE Points" which could be exchanged for gear of the current tier. This brings the PvP reward model into PvE, and gives a good reason to do old content without making it absolutely mandatory.

Casuals in PvP

I've never done much in the PvP side of WoW. I remember doing enough battlegrounds to pick up some gear back in BC, but in general I don't enjoy PvP and tend to avoid it. The reason for this is that I'm a casual player at heart, and PvP gameplay is inherently unfriendly to casuals.

Any game tests the player's ability to overcome certain challenges. If you do so successfully, you win. If not, you lose. And in PvE games, the difficulty of the challenge to be faced is set directly by the game company.

What this means is that the developer of a PvE game can always tune the difficulty to be appropriate for casual players. Of course they may choose not to do so, or they may fail and make the game more difficult than intended, but the option is always there.

In a PvP game, by contrast, the difficulty any player faces is determined by the skill level of their opponents. Since casuals by definition spend less time playing and thinking about the game, they will tend to be weaker players than average. What this means is that PvP as a casual will tend to be a string of constant defeats.

And the game company cannot really prevent this, because they cannot simply make PvP "easier". As long as the potential for a skill disparity exists, casual players are going to be on the losing end.

Now, the usual solution to this problem is a rating system of some sort. If less skilled players are matched with others of around the same skill level, they have the potential to win more frequently. And indeed WoW makes use of this approach.

However, Blizzard has decided that PvP ratings should only apply to organized, "serious" competition - arenas and premade battlegrounds. And this is exactly the sort of content casuals will never participate in! So if casuals want to stay casual, they have two choices - lose constantly, or abandon the PvP game entirely.

Maybe the decision to make ratings only apply to organized matchmaking was a mistake. If normal battlegrounds used a simple hidden rating with no reward potential, the matchmaking experience might be better. On the other hand, anytime you make matchmaking more selective you run into issues with population size. Perhaps the current system is the best we can reasonably hope for.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Healing as a Paladin

There's a fair amount of angst on various paladin forums over the state of the Holy spec. To be brief, many players feel that the weakness of our Holy Power finishers and the strength of Beacon of Faith have made paladins into boring healers, centered around mindless spamming of single-target heals.

And there is some truth to this. However, at times like this I think of this scene from Breaking Bad:

Walt: I saw your set-up. Ridiculous. You and I will not make garbage. We will produce a chemically pure and stable product that performs as advertised. No adulterants. No baby formula. No chili powder.
Jesse: No, no, chili P is my signature!
Walt: Not anymore.

The point is that making a good product - whether the drug is meth or WoW :) - is not just a matter of including more ingredients. In many cases, your product is improved as much or more by leaving things out.

Many people who complain about paladin healing should remember this lesson. I played a priest for a long time, and I hated the gimmicky heals the class was laden with. These skills existed because players demanded skills which were new and unique, and Blizzard obliged them. But this was a mistake; the core system was already good enough. Adding complexity for its own sake did not make the game more fun.

Abilities that are never used are not fun. Abilities that are impossible to use well - that are efficient "in theory"-  are not fun. What is fun is applying skill to solve challenges. Abilities are fun only when they contribute to this goal.

To be honest, I think Blizzard should have a little more faith in the core of their game. The fact is that the basics of healing  - resource management, positioning, and cooldown usage - are already a great deal of fun. Blizzard's role as developers should be to bring that core fun to the forefront, not bury it under layers of cruft.

And in fact they have done exactly that this expansion. Making good use of cooldowns, using the right spells on the right targets, and knowing the basic movements for each encounter are all more important than they have been for a long time. All of which means that I am pretty happy with healing as a paladin.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Highmaul Progression

Well, I spent a while tonight working on various Highmaul bosses. I joined a group for Tectus first, but didn't manage to get him down. We came quite close several times, but various mistakes (Barrage targets kept running through the ranged group) kept us from finishing the job.

Usually in LFR people leave after one or two wipes, which I think is pretty silly. I doubt whatever group you go to next will do any better. In this group a fair number of people stayed through the final attempt, and I really felt like we were working together and improving on the fight. Definitely helps you understand the appeal of a raiding guild.

One thing that is helpful for the Tectus fight, and I hadn't seen mentioned in any guides, is to mark a healer and have the ranged group stack on them after each spike. In my other Tectus groups people would try to stay together, but would often end up fragmenting into two or three smaller groups, which makes the final phase a mess. Marking a leader made it much easier to maintain a single group.

Anyway, after that I went on to Brackenspore and one-shot it with a different group. In fact, I disconnected partway through the fight and came back to the boss at 25% health. Honestly that boss seems much easier than the others I've seen so far, his damage output is just very light.

Finally I joined a Butcher group and wound up getting it down on the second try. Amusingly, I wound up switching the Gushing Wound stacks, since nobody else wanted to volunteer. I did die near the end of the fight when I let the bleed debuff get to 4 stacks by accident, but at least none of my DPS died. 

I think my healing was better than last time, but still not nearly good enough. I healed the tanks a lot less (since you get 200% throughput instead of 150% that way), but I need to be much better about using Holy Prism and HS on cooldown. Additionally, I went ahead and put the sprit enchant on my weapon, which was extremely helpful. It gives 500 spirit with a ~35% uptime, which is roughly equivalent to 175 spirit. That's almost as good as an additional trinket slot!

Edit: As it happened, someone uploaded a log for the fight, so I had a look. My HPS was 22k, 80% of lead, which is an improvement - particularly given that moving cost me some HPS. My goal for next time is to get that up to 28k.


Someone made a post on Reddit (I can't find it right now) mentioning that his DK off-tank was generating more threat than him, and having to throttle DPS as a result. He wanted to know what he could do to improve his threat generation.

I wasn't really satisfied with the answers that were given. In my opinion, the correct answer would probably have been "nothing". This is because improving threat generation is most likely a tradeoff, with additional survivability as the cost.

Almost all decisions that people spend any time considering involve tradeoffs, balancing of multiple competing values. This is necessarily true, because if a possible action has no downsides then it will be obvious that it should be done. An example of this would be enchanting your gear - some weapon enchants are better than others, but none of them will make your weapon worse.

Tanks gear and spec for two things - threat generation (of which DPS is a subset), and survival. Of course you can improve both by getting better items, but I would assume the tank already had the best gear that was readily available.

This means that, assuming he didn't have any items or talents that were obviously bad, increasing one of these values would have meant a decrease in the other. And it is almost certainly not worth it to decrease a main tank's survivability by any amount in exchange for a slight boost to the DPS of a single off-tank.

I wonder if people would have reacted the same way if the question was phrased as "what part of my build is worth losing so that my OT doesn't have to throttle DPS"? The question is really equivalent, but it makes the fact that a tradeoff is involved much more clear.

PUG Requirements

If you want to start a discussion on some WoW forum, you can always complain about the most outrageous requirements you've seen a raid leader set for a pick-up group. And certainly there are a fair number of organizers who set annoyingly high requirements for joining their groups. In particular, many Heroic/Mythic groups will require that you've completed the content before joining their raid.

Many people dislike this and complain that it doesn't make sense. After all, if everyone operated this way, nobody would ever be able to complete a Heroic raid. And this is true. It is certainly true that if the purpose of organizing these groups was to help the general raiding population progress through Heroic content, this would be a very poor way of doing so.

Of course, this is not at all why these groups exist. Raid leaders don't organize raids to help you out, just like you don't join them to help out the raid leader. They organize them because they would like to clear Highmaul tonight, and as quickly and easily as possible. In that light, it makes perfect sense to set the requirements as high as you can while still filling the raid. The fact that it causes an issue for the people they deny isn't even a consideration.

And really, this is the way it should be. But it seems like a lot of people have real issues with the idea that other people are not always required to do things for your benefit.

For example, almost everyone is violently against so-called "day-one DLC" - content which could be shipped with a game, but which the publisher sells separately - even though every argument against it just boils down to "I don't want to pay more money". I agree that if I buy a game, I would prefer it to be as cheap as possible, but that doesn't mean that the game company is required to comply with my wishes.