Sunday, November 29, 2009

Going in Blind

Last week, my guild did something that we very rarely do: we went into a fight blind, without knowing the strategy ahead of time.

It wasn't really a major fight, or a planned event. We were going through Ulduar, and we got to Auriaya, someone suggested that we do the Achievement [Crazy Cat Lady]. We shrugged and went to try it, not expecting that it would be very hard.

We started with 2 tanks, each tanking 2 adds. And then we started wiping. After a few wipes, we realized that our add tanks were constantly dying at around the same time. Looking up the death meter on Recount showed that they died from a Bleed debuff that was ticking for 20k. At this point, we realized that the Bleed was a stacking debuff. So we tried using 4 tanks, each having one add. This worked a little better, but the tanks still died to the bleed, just a little later in the fight.

So we switched to tank swapping. Two tanks took 2 adds each. At 7 stacks, a clean tank taunted the adds. This strategy seemed more successful, and on the next try the tanks opted to see if they could survive up to 10 stacks, to minimize swaps. However, this made it harder to heal, as both old and new tanks were taking heavy damage. We went down to 4 stacks, and swapped as often as possible. That attempt was very clean and led to a nice kill.

I had a lot of fun that fight. I greatly enjoy working on strats and tweaking them until you get something right. This is the one aspect of Royalty guilds that I really envy. They get to go in blind and form their own strategies for most content.

The immediate question is why not seek out a guild that tries to play blind? My guild explicitly looks up strategies and videos before the raid. This seems opposite to what I like.

The trade-off though is time. If we went in blind, we'd probably be a lot further back than we are now, progression-wise. That [Crazy Cat Lady] attempt was a great deal of fun, but we spent over two hours on that fight. If we had looked it up ahead of time, we would have one- or two-shot it.

Second, you can't guarantee that no one will "cheat". If you have a raid group of 25 people--especially people who are enthusiastic about WoW--odds are someone will follow discussions about bosses. They'll surf forums, or read EJ, or watch videos. Then what do you if the "cheater" contributes to the strategy discussion? Ignoring what she says, just because of the source, seems counter-productive.

Third, it's already hard enough to find a decent Aristocracy-level guild that matches my schedule and general inclinations. Adding the "doesn't look up strategies" requirement might eliminate all possible guilds. Especially as such a guild is likely to lose better players to further advanced guilds. Very few people are willing to deliberately wipe when they could avoid failure by looking up the answers online.

Finally, we still haven't beaten all the content, even knowing the strategies ahead of time. Formulating our own strategy from scratch seems like a luxury when we still need to work on our execution.

Still, fights like this [Crazy Cat Lady] and Al'ar back in TBC, where I got to strategize rather than just follow a recipe, remain treasured moments.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dragon Age: First Impressions

In the end Rocket XL did send me a copy of Dragon Age: Origins, which I received last Thursday. I've played a little bit, but I haven't got very far, so this is more first impressions than an overall review. For reference, the farthest I've gotten is just past Lothering, before the main game opens up.

Origin Stories

I've done the City Elf , Mage, and Human Noble origin stories so far. The Mage and City Elf stories were really good. The Human Noble story was decent, but extremely predictable.

World Building

I love the world Bioware has created. They've done an outstanding job.

I love the way elven and human societies interact. It is superb. Mad props to the Bioware writer who coined the word "Alienage" to describe the city quarter where the elves live. Melding the word "alien" with the connotations of "orphanage" was a stroke of brilliance. It sums up the entire relationship in a single word.

I really like the Chantry, the prophet Andraste and the Chant of Light. It is an extremely well done medieval religion, and really adds an extra dimension to the game. There is a scene in Lothering where the Reverend Mother gives you a blessing that was just beautiful.

The relationship between the Templars, the Magi, the Tranquil and the Fade is also extremely interesting. It is to Bioware's credit that they avoided the whole "church persecuting mages" storyline. The idea that the Templars are both protectors and jailors of the mages is elegant.

Plot

I'm not very far in. So far, the plot has been decent but rather predictable. The mage story pulled the same twist twice. I'm not entirely sure if that was deliberate for emphasis or just poor plotting. In the other strands, the bad guys look like bad guys, and so betrayals do not exactly come as surprises.

Of course, this is just the early part of the game. The main plot still has a long way to go.

Graphics

First, I really like the way Dragon Age uses the game engine to render cutscenes. Having the character you made in her current armor be present in the scene makes the game much more immersive.

The graphics in this game are a bit odd. If you play with the over-the-shoulder view, the graphics are superb. On the other hand, if you zoom out to the overhead tactical view, the character graphics are pretty bad. They're blurry and smeared, instead of being crisp.

Part of the reason I'm playing on Easy is so I can stay in the over-the-shoulder view, instead of having to resort to the tactical view.

Blood

The blood spatter was a mistake. It injects a childish note into an otherwise adult game. Luckily you can turn it off.

Gameplay

Gameplay is decent. You can pause and issue orders for your entire party. Or you can set up "Tactics", which are short "Condition:Action" statements that the AI will follow. For example, Alistair is my tank, and I set up a tactic so he drinks a health potion if his health drops below 25%.

I'm playing it on Easy to minimize the amount of fiddling I have to do with my companions in battle. Oddly, my first character (elf rogue) still died a lot. I think I messed up her abilities, and ended up starting a new character (human 2H warrior). I think I underestimated how important Willpower (which controls your available stamina) is important to a melee character.

Mechanics-wise, it's a standard mana resource game. You have mana (mages) or stamina (warriors/rogues) which starts at full, and is used up as you use abilities.

The only interesting note is the fact that continuing effects have "upkeeps" which reduce the max mana/stamina you have available. For example, if I have 100 stamina, and activate a Brutal Strikes mode with an upkeep of 40 stamina, my max stamina effectively drops to 60, and won't regen higher. It's an intriguing method of keeping long-term buffs in check.

Conclusions

So far, Dragon Age: Origins is a pretty good game in the Bioware/Black Isle tradition. I am looking forward to working my way through it, and will probably end up commenting more on the game later.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Random Comment about Ret Fixes

Courtesy of Icechicken of <Forgotten Crusaders>, Korialstrasz, in a discussion about new change to Deadly poison to stop Rogues from using weapon switching mods:

Ret gets neat fixes all the time, it's just that all those fixes are nerfs so you don't think they are very creative at all.

Made me laugh, in any case.

Really disappointed to see the DI change reverted. Currently, DI is a liability on any serious content, because Bloodlust/Heroism is so important.

Edit: DI changed to "This ability now also removes Exhaustion or Sated from a target if the recipient is out of combat when the effect ends."

That's a good compromise.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Ad Infinitum Recruiting

My guild is recruiting again. We could use a few more good people. We're on the North America Lethon server, which is a medium-sized PvP server.

We raid (25-mans) 3 days a week: Wednesday, Sunday, Monday from 7-11pm Pacific Standard Time.

We have 4/5 Grand Crusader, and 5/9 Ulduar Hard Modes. We use DKP, with regular Auction-style bidding. We're reasonably competent, and expect people come prepared and use food and flasks.

Website: ai-lethon.com

Anyways, this sounds like a guild you'd be interested in, please check out our website. Or feel free to ask questions in comments to this thread.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Micro-Transactions

Blizzard has officially launched a micro-transaction shop for WoW, directly selling non-combat pets for real money. I am rather disappointed in them.

I don't really like micro-transactions. Maybe it's naive, but I prefer to have a very simple relationship with game companies. They make a good game, I give them money for that game, and they use that money to make more good games. They don't try to play tricks, to nickel-and-dime their costumers, to expend effort on "capturing consumer surplus". I'd rather they spend their time and effort on making better games.

I suppose this attitude is somewhat inconsistent with the other forms of quasi-RMT, like pets from the CCG or Collector's Editions. But incentives to purchase another product seem different, and more reasonable, in a way that directly selling the virtual item is not. And the cost for paid services like Server Transfers and Race/Faction/Gender changes always seemed like a means to decrease demand for desired meta-services, rather than acting as a money maker.

In a lot of ways, this feels like the moment where Blizzard "jumps the shark", when they go from being "Blizzard Entertainment" to just another of Activision's studios. For me, the two games of Blizzard that impressed me the most were Starcraft:Ghost and Warcraft Adventures. Two games that were never released; that were canceled because they weren't up to standards. Both those games were quite anticipated, and would have made a ton of money, probably far more than this microtransaction shop will bring in. Canceling them was a bold move, showing a willingness to prize long-term quality over short-term profit.

With this microtransaction store, Blizzard is making the opposite choice: choosing small profits over making a better game. They're still a good studio, and I don't doubt that Cataclysm, Starcraft 2, and Diablo 3 will be decent games. But I think Blizzard has lost something which made it special, and has been brought down to being "just another game company."

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Dragon Age Review

This isn't actually a review of Dragon Age. But I do have a decent Google ranking, so it would amuse me if this ranked high up in the search results.

On Sep 21, I received the following email:

I’m working alongside Electronic Arts on the release of Dragon Age: Origins across multiple platforms, including Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC. We thought you might be interested in receiving game related assets and a review copy.
...
It would be great if you could share your initial impressions of the game with your readers prior to the release date on 11/3. If you’d be interested in receiving a review copy, please send over your address and console preference.

On Nov 2, I received:
Also - I should hear back from EA later this week about whether I'm able to secure a review copy for your site. I'll keep you posted.

It looks like EA hired a firm called Rocket XL to do some publicity work for Dragon Age. This firm decided to approach a bunch of gaming bloggers and promise them review copies of the game, hoping to get some extra publicity via "new media" or whatever.

As you can see, it looks like they were unable to follow through on their promise. I wonder if they had any review copies to give out, or if they figured that by the time the game came out they would have gotten a bunch of free publicity without ever needing to actually send copies to people.

Poor form, Rocket XL. And bad judgement on your part, EA/Bioware.

And I guess a lesson for me as well. Never trust anything from PR people until they actually pony up.

Edit: For the record, I did end up receiving a copy of the game on Nov 12.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Thoughts on Avoidance

The big news in the tanking community is that Blizzard is re-introducing Sunwell Radiance for Patch 3.3. Chill of the Throne will reduce Dodge by 20% everywhere in Icecrown Citadel. I thought I'd take this opportunity to put down a few general thoughts on Avoidance.

In my view, when Avoidance hits 50%+, healing gets weird. Basically, the next attack is more likely to miss than actually connect. So it becomes very hard to predict how damage will be dealt, which is the essence of good healing. You start healing very generally, aiming at the worst case scenarios. The tank's actual health doesn't really matter anymore.

And for harder content, the damage per hit is very high to actually threaten the tank. So you end up with the scenario where the next attack is probably going to miss, but if it does hit, it will do over 50% of the tank's health.

Healing is much more fun when tank Avoidance is much lower. When you can accurately predict the pattern of damage and adjust your healing to match.

But tanks in WoW have very high Avoidance rates. That 50% magic number, where an attack connecting flips from being likely to being unlikely, occurred in Naxxramas. The very first tier of raid content.

In my opinion, WoW would benefit from a much more radical solution: don't put Avoidance on gear. Tanks would have their base 10-15% avoidance, plus another 10% or so from talents. That would give a tank-specced character about 25% avoidance, which is a pretty good number. Attacks would be likely to connect, but a miss streak here and there makes things interesting.

However, tanks would need more stats dedicated to them. They would only have Stamina, Expertise, and DPS stats. Perhaps something like bonus healing done to them, or a resilience variant, or bonus threat. I'm sure there are many possibilities.

But Avoidance has to be reigned in, and I think the optimal Avoidance value for fun gameplay is about 25%, which--after base and talents--doesn't leave any room for avoidance on gear.

Edit: Honor's Code goes hardcore and proposes eliminating tank gear altogether!