Saturday, December 12, 2009

Icecrown Citadel: Lower Spire

I got drafted into a 10-man, so I got a chance to see what all the new bosses are like.

Lord Marrowgar

Lord Marrowgar to me, somehow. The coldfire and bone spikes are fine, but I just don't like the whirlwind phase. Which is kind of odd, because I really liked Leotheras, which featured the same switching between whirlwind and normal.

Perhaps it's because Marrowgar is so large. Leotheras was much smaller, so when he whirlwinded, it felt like you could avoid him if you were clever. For Marrowgar, I just head for the hills. As well, because of his size, everyone goes out of range for healing.

That's actually one of my pet peeves about certain raid fights. I dislike fights where people go in and out of range seemingly at random.

Lady Deathwhisper

Lady Deathwhisper is an okay fight, but nothing really special, at least on 10-man. I think this will be more interesting in 25-mans, as the extra mobs will add more complexity to the fight. Actually, looking at WoWWiki, Mind Control alone will make life interesting.

Icecrown Gunship Battle

The Gunship Battle is simply awesome! Airships, cannons, repelling boarding parties, boarding the opposing ship in turn, jet packs, Muradin Bronzebeard, High Overlord Saurfang! This fight has so many different elements, and yet they all combine beautifully to form an insanely fun fight.

I particularly like the way Saurfang is used as a phase-enrage timer, with his self-stacking buff. It gives the players a chance to engage him in combat, makes it imperative to board the enemy ship, kill the targets, and get out quickly, but also retains Saurfang's essential badass-ness.

Simply a great, great fight.


(Not sure if Deathbringer's identity is considered a spoiler, but I will err on the side of caution. Note that the link to fight reveals his identity.)

Deathbringer is an interesting fight. It's a good fight, with interesting and challenging mechanics.

However, I wonder if Deathbringer will be disproportionately harder for Gentry guilds than it will be for Aristocracy and Royalty guilds.

Basically, Deathbringer stacks Blood Points whenever he deals damage. When he reaches 100 Blood Points, he puts Mark of the Champion on a random raid member, and they take damage whenever Deathbringer deals damage. So the Marks act as a soft enrage for the fight.

The thing is that some of the abilities which grant Deathbringer Blood Points are avoidable. So Gentry guilds will be hit with a double penalty. First, Gentry DPS is lower than Royalty/Aristocracy DPS, so more Marks will be handed out. Second, Gentry are more likely to make small mistakes when it comes to the avoidable Blood Points. People won't be far enough apart for Blood Boil, or they'll get hit by Blood Beasts. So not only will the Gentry get more Marks because their fight will be longer, they will accumulate those Marks at a faster rate.

I think that combination, that double penalty, might make the fight harder than expected for lower level guilds. If any of the available fights gets nerfed in Icecrown, I expect this one to be the first. And the vast majority of Aristocracy and Royalty guilds won't understand why.


So far, the first few bosses are pretty good. I loved Gunship Battle and Deathbringer, and enjoyed Lady Deathwhisper. Only Marrowgar didn't seem that fun to me.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Patch 3.3 First Impressions

Dungeon Finder

Awesome! Fast, reasonably balanced groups. A good variety of instances. I've even used it for low-level groups with alts (did Shadowfang Keep, Blackfathom Depths, Scarlet Monastery Graveyard, and Regular Old Kingdom) and everything worked pretty well.

Regular heroics are nice, but the low level dungeons are what interest me the most. I've always liked doing those dungeons with a level appropriate group, but it used to be so hard to form a group. Now hopefully, it will be much easier.

You know, in a few months there are going to be some sick skilled tanks available. Imagine levelling to max purely by running dungeons with PuGs. Those tanks who come out of that are going to be really good.

Finally, it's an interesting observation how much more fun you can make the game by taking control away from the players. There's no formal Gearscore, no Achievement-linking, no looking for a specific class, no choosing the instance ahead of time. You just get told, "Here's your instance, and here's your group. Go to it." And everything works out nicely.

A lot of times I think we make things more difficult for ourselves than they need to be.

New 5-mans

Forge of Souls is okay. Personally, I think it may have been a little extreme to take the James "Godfather of Soul" Brown homage to that level. But it's still an decent instance, if somewhat short. I'm not really sure what was happening on that last boss.

I adore Pit of Saron. I like the layout, the fact that it's not on rails like so many other instances. Ick and Krick are great, as is that giant boss. The ice tunnel is superb fun, and is possibly the best reuse of a raid mechanic ever. The final boss is pretty good too.

Actually, the ice tunnel deserves more discussion. It's the perfect combination of challenge and set-piece in a long while. The mechanics are relatively simple, but they really drive home exactly what Blizzard wants you to feel. They could have made the rockfall just do random damage, but avoiding the ice circles keeps you constantly moving, making the entire experience feel more urgent.

Halls of Reflection is pretty good. I suspect my feelings on HoR are colored by the fact that it bugged out on me the first three times I attempted it. But I finally completed it in the end. It is fairly hard for a heroic, especially the first fight. Lots of lore fun in the instance as well. The final fight has the greatest enrage timer in the history of WoW.

Other Impressions

The new map and quest guide are pretty slick.

I like the tag on gear that tells you what equipment set an item is in.

Some of the new interface options are interesting. However, there seem to be some automatic changes which you may not like. For example, auto-self-cast got turned on.

The new "@" syntax for macros is very nice. You can replace "target=" with "@". It shortens the macro, and makes it more understandable. For example, "target=mouseover" becomes "@mouseover".

I haven't gotten a chance to see the new raid instances yet. Hopefully I'll get a peek on the weekend.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Paladins and Patch 3.3

Patch 3.3 is almost upon us. Here's a look at the changes for paladins.

Divine Intervention

Divine Intervention: This ability now also removes Exhaustion or Sated from a target if the recipient is out of combat when the effect ends. In addition, the cooldown on this ability has been reduced from 20 minutes to 10 minutes. Cannot be used in Arenas.

With the decreased cooldown and removal of Exhaustion, this ability can now be used without fear. Good for wipe recovery and reducing repair bills.

Flash of Light

Flash of Light: This spell no longer causes a heal-over-time effect unless the player has the Infusion of Light talent.
Infusion of Light: This talent now causes the paladin's Flash of Light spells to heal the target for 50/100% of the Flash of Light healing amount over 12 seconds [if Sacred Shield is on the target].

Though the patch notes (so far) haven't explicitly stated it, this refers to the FoL+Sacred Shield HoT. You will still need Sacred Shield to be on the target. Pretty much nothing changes for Holy paladins, but Ret and Prot paladins lose that HoT. A PvP change more than anything.

Lay on Hands

Lay on Hands: This ability will place Forbearance on the paladin if used on his or herself. It will not place Forbearance on others.

A slight nerf to Protection paladins in PvE, and to all paladins in PvP. Blizzard is trying to cut down on the number of "extra lives" a paladin can use in a row.

Aura Mastery

Aura Mastery: This effect of this talent has been reduced in duration to 6 seconds.

A PvP nerf. The main effect this will have in PvE is that it will make timing this ability more unforgiving. Usually you use AM during a boss special attack. 10 seconds did give some margin for error, so you might hit AM a couple of seconds too soon and still cover the duration of the attack.


Repentance: This crowd control effect will no longer break early from the damage done by Righteous Vengeance.

Small boost to make Repentance more usable on a target you've already attacked.

Divine Sacrifice

Divine Guardian: This talent no longer increases the amount of damage transferred to the paladin from Divine Sacrifice. Instead it causes all raid and party members to take 10/20% reduced damage while Divine Sacrifice is active. In addition, the duration has been changed to 6 seconds, however the effect does not terminate when Divine Sacrifice is removed before its full duration.
Divine Sacrifice: Redesigned. The effect of Divine Sacrifice is now party-only and the maximum damage which can be transferred is now limited to 40% of the paladin's health multiplied by the number of party members. In addition, the bug which allowed Divine Sacrifice to sometimes persist despite reaching its maximum damage has been fixed. Divine Sacrifice will now cancel as soon as its maximum damage value is exceeded in all cases. Finally, damage which reduces the paladin's health below 20% now cancels the effect early.

Okay, DS is now party-only, so it becomes much less valuable than it used to be. However, hopefully the new design allows the paladin to survive using DS without the bubble. If that is so, you get to use DS much more frequently.

The raid damage reduction gets moved to the next tier and cut in half to -20% for 6 seconds. As with Aura Mastery, the timing becomes less forgiving. However, you will get to use it without the bubble (hopefully). A less powerful effect usable more often.

I suspect that most Holy paladins will still take DS+DG, and may even end up using it more. However, I think most Ret paladins will drop the talent, and use the points in Retribution, probably making Vindication standard.


On the whole, not a lot has changed for paladins. Minor nerfs to a couple of situational abilities, but Divine Intervention becomes usable again. Divine Sacrifice becomes weaker, but might be usable more often. It really depends on how likely a paladin using Divine Sacrifice is to gib herself. Personally, I hope that DS and the bubble become fully de-linked. The bubble can go back to being an individual emergency defense, rather than being saved for Divine Sacrifice all the time.

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Valithria Dreamwalker

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Icecrown Citadel.

Blizzard did PTR testing for Valithria Dreamwalker today. It looks like a hilariously awesome fight. Here is MMO-Champion's post discussing her.

Valithria is a friendly green dragon captured by the Scourge. She starts at 50% and must be healed to 100%. Meanwhile, waves of Scourge are attacking, and must be held off by the rest of the raid.

This sounds like quite an interesting fight, and I am greatly looking forward to it.

It will be interesting to see what classes evolve to be the chosen healers for it. The easy assumption is to say Paladins, but there is a Druid build which can pump out more single-target HPS (single-target only, Beacon doesn't work with Valithria). Even Priests and Shamans can do large amounts of single-target HPS if they put their minds to it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Torchlight Review

Torchlight is Diablo. With a dog.

Now, Diablo was a great game, so there's nothing wrong with that. And the dog is pretty crazy. He can carry loot back to town and sell it for you, making him more useful than 99% of all videogame AI henchmen.

I'm not really sure what else to say. Torchlight is fun and polished, with nice cartoon-ish graphics. There are three classes, and each class has three trees, allowing each class to be played in a different manner. For example, the Inquisitor can be ranged weapons, assassin-style melee, or traps. The trees aren't formal trees, as you don't have to put points in lower tiers to get higher talents. You just need to be the correct level and you can cherry-pick talents as you wish.

There are some nice updates, like a stash you can share between characters. Recovering from death is interesting, as you can either: pay xp/fame and respawn at point of death; pay 10% of your gold and respawn at the start of the level; or pay nothing and respawn back in town. Finally, there's a second track other than experience. Defeating named enemies earns you Fame. As your Fame level rises you get additional talent points. That is a nice addition.

Also note that Torchlight is single-player only, no multiplayer.

But it's pretty much Diablo with some tweaks. If you liked Diablo, you'll like Torchlight. If you didn't like Diablo, you probably won't like Torchlight.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sacred Shield Nerf

The latest patch notes have the following:
- Sacred Shield: The damage absorption effect from this ability now triggers only once every 30 seconds.
- Infusion of Light: This talent now also reduces the cooldown on the effect of Sacred Shield by 12/24 seconds.

This is Blizzard saying that Sacred Shield really should have been a deep Holy talent, not something available to all paladins. However, they probably don't want to mess with the structure of the trees when Cataclysm is going to change them anyways. So the change effectively makes Sacred Shield a Holy-only spell.

I think the real, underlying strain on paladin design is Touched By the Light and Sheath of Light. I confess that I really liked these talents, as they were an attempt to retain some of the fluid hybrid nature of the original paladin.

But perhaps that goal just isn't worth the problems it causes. If Touched by the Light and Sheath of Light did not exist, maybe paladin design would be stronger. Prot and Holy would still have access to heals and Sacred Shield, but they would be much weaker, only using the base values for those spells. Blizzard wouldn't have to be doing these shenanigans to keep these hybrid specs in check.

If those two talents were gone, AP and SP coefficients would also be de-linked, and could be tweaked independently of each other, so Holy could be strengthened or weakened independently. Of course, it's too much to do now for 3.3 as you'd have to tweak almost all AP coefficients.

Perhaps the best way to retain "hybridity" for paladins would be to be specific, rather than general. For example, supposed Art of War gave you an instant Holy Light instead of Flash of Light. Sounds overpowered, but without Sheath of Light a Ret paladin would have zero spellpower, so that HL would only hit for the base heal.

This way the hybrid nature can be carefully controlled, and specific instances can be changed. A general solution only seems to result in general nerfs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Difficulty and Guilds

Larisa wrote an interesting post on difficulty in WoW entitled Why I Don't Want to Hear Another "WoW is Too Easy" Statement. Her response sums up a lot of my feelings on this issue.

However, I've been thinking a bit more about this issue, and have been looking at guild rankings at Guild Progress. I've also been reading a lot of Regency novels lately, and am inspired to make an analogy which may or may not reflect reality.

In Wrath, I think PvE guilds can be categorized as follows (for raiding purposes). All numbers are approximate:

Royalty - The two hundred guilds which can clear everything, including Trial of the Grand Crusader.

The Aristocracy - The three thousand guilds which can defeat at least one boss in TotGC--or some Ulduar Keeper hard modes--and thus are working their way through hard modes.

The Gentry - The ten thousand guilds which can defeat regular Trial of the Crusader, but haven't been able to advance into the hard modes.

The Bourgeoisie - The next ten thousand guilds which are working their way through Trial of the Crusader. Also includes those guilds working on Naxxramas and Ulduar. Basically any guild that is still working on normal difficulty content.

The Proletariat - Our beloved casuals. All the other guilds which are levelling or making alts or doing 5-mans, and haven't really gotten into raiding yet.

At different points in WoW history, different sections complain about different things. In Vanilla and TBC, a lot of the complaints about raiding came from the Bourgeoisie, who were unable to break into raiding at all.

However, I think the current complaints about WoW being too easy are coming from the Gentry. They can beat regular modes fairly easily, but hard modes are completely beyond their touch. This means that they see hard modes as something for the "crazy hardcore" and not for "normal people". And the problem is compounded in that a lot of people who are active in the WoW community via blogs or forums come from the Gentry.

Whereas both Larisa and I are in guilds which are in the Aristocracy, which can beat some of the hard modes. So to us, complaining that WoW is too easy smacks of whining. The content is there to be beaten.

The real problem is that the Gentry is currently too large. Too many guilds are in that gap between hard modes and regular modes. It needs to be shrunk from both ends. The difficulty of the first two bosses in TotGC should be reduced a little bit, and the difficulty of the last two bosses in TotC should be increased a little bit. That should create a more gradual path. Ulduar is a fairly good example of this, as the jump from Yogg-Saron to the first few hard modes is not that large.1

The Gentry need something to work on, otherwise they will be unhappy. Ideally, a lot of them should be in the lower ranks of the Aristocracy or upper ranks of the Bourgeoisie. Too many guilds in that gap causes a lot of complaining.

1Actually, I think Yogg+4 could be reduced in difficulty. It seems just slightly too hard for it's placement. But it's not all that bad to have a hard end boss.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

State of the Blog

I went on vacation last week, hence the lack of posts. Before I start posting again, I'd like to take a brief moment for some introspection.

Blessing of Kings

This year my posting has been rather streaky. I'll post several days in a row, and then stop posting for a bit. I think I need to spend less time thinking about potential posts, and more time actually writing them.

I should also do more response posts to interesting articles other people have written. There have been a lot of neat posts that I've wanted to talk more about, but after thinking about it for a week, it feels like the discussion has gotten cold. I should strike while the iron is hot, or be more willing to pick up "old" topics.


I don't get a lot of spam on this blog, but for the last few months, I've been getting a comment in Japanese characters on one post. The comment comes roughly once a day, or once every other day, and always to the same post (Making an Impact). I can't read Japanese, but it looks different each time (or is rotating through a collection). Of course, since I can't understand it, I reject the comment every time. It's really weird.

New Blog?

I'm also thinking about starting a new blog for non-gaming material. Kind of honestly, the only problem is that I'm having a devil of a time coming up with a name for it.

Raider 101

Well, so far Raider 101 is a bit of a bust. Several months ago, it basically got overrun by spammers. I tried pruning it a bit, but eventually surrendered to them.

I don't know. It was a somewhat good idea, but the whole wiki aspect didn't really work out as I planned. Not only did it give the spammers an open doorway, but a wiki is only as good as the last edit. People would make edits that I would consider incorrect, or at least not suitable for basic information. For example, I had the complete 969 Prot rotation listed, but someone cut it in half and I did not notice until a few months later when a comment pointed out that the rotation was incorrect.

Or I had mages organized into four sections: Arcane, Fire, Frost, and Frostfire. Someone decided to replace Fire with the Frostfire information, and delete the FrostFire section.

I don't mind being corrected when I'm wrong, but having to revert incorrect "corrections" got old fast. And when you're dealing with many changes made by spambots, it's the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Finally, I find I don't really have a lot of motivation to keep it accurate. Self-interest is a powerful motivator, and Raider 101 really offers nothing for the people who are most qualified to add information. EJ doesn't have this problem, because it is cutting-edge, and the most qualified people who post also benefit from it.

I'm not really sure what I'll do with the site.

Other Stuff

I hate spam. If I could change one thing about humanity, I would make advertising fail to work. I think everything would work better. Alas, advertising works, and we are stuck with so much nonsense because of that fact.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Streamlining Blessings, Take 2

I hate having to use PallyPower. But handing out Blessings manually is very annoying, especially if you have two or fewer paladins in the raid.

Here is an idea to make casting Blessings easier. I hesitate to propose this, because it is a nerf to paladins, and everyone is going to complain about that. (Yes, I know my audience.) However, I would rather have a reduction in power--which can be made up somewhere else--in exchange for the smoothing out of gameplay annoyances.

Suppose all normal Blessings--not Greater Blessings--hit the entire party or raid instead of individuals. There would be no more individual blessings, just one button and you Bless the entire raid, starting from the very first rank of Blessing of Might that you get at level four.

This immediately simplifies Blessings, because you can't make complicated assignments. You hand out Might or Wisdom to the raid, not Might to some people and Wisdom to others. However, multiple paladins still hand out different blessings, just like now. You could even have the regular Blessings cost a reagent and last for 30 minutes, though you might have to do some fiddling with the lowest ranks.

This would probably make Kings the first choice of Blessing, followed by Might and then Wisdom. I'm not sure where Sanctuary would fit in.

The biggest problem with this scheme (other than the fact that Blessings become less powerful) is that Blessings become more similar to Auras. A paladin gives 1 Blessing and 1 Aura to the raid, and all raid members get the same Blessing and Aura. However, Auras are still centered on the paladin and are lost when the paladin dies, while Blessings belong to the character, and have a limited duration. Perhaps that is enough differentiation. Another minor issue is that you can no longer do drive-by buffing of random people, which is always fun.

Edit: Heh, I just remembered that I already wrote a Streamlining Blessings post a year ago, which proposed combining Blessings of Might and Wisdom in a single Blessing. Guess this is another solution.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Spell Haste: Bad for the Game?

Spell Haste is an interesting stat in theory. It reduces the cast time of your spells, and is supposed to be a double-edged sword, increasing the Damage-Per-Second of your spells, but also increasing the Cost-Per-Second. However, for a variety of reasons, I think having Spell Haste on gear has actually weakened the game in several respects.

1. Speeds up the Game

The most obvious thing spell haste has done is speed up the game. Everyone casts faster, does damage faster, and heals faster. Which leads to people taking damage faster as well. I think that WoW has gotten a little bit too fast, and could stand to be chilled out some.

2. Emphasis on Spamming Casts

You really only see the power of Spell Haste when you are spamming spells. To take advantage of a small reduction in cast time, you need to be hitting buttons immediately, in quick succession.

3. Blurs the line between Short Casts and Long Casts

With lots of spell haste, there's not much difference between spells with short cast time and spells with long cast time. This has causes short cast spells to be undervalued, and instants to be greatly more powerful.

For example, if spell haste did not exist, it's possible that interrupts could go back on the GCD, making it harder to interrupt short spells, and making Curse of Tongues more valuable, even in PvE.

4. Prone to "Magic Numbers"

If an ability rotation includes a spell with a cooldown, spell haste means that certain "magic numbers" will exist. These are values of spell haste that allow you to squeeze an extra cast off while the first spell is on cooldown.

For example, baseline you can go Holy Shock, 3x Flash of Light as a baseline. But there is a value of spell haste where you can squeeze in an extra FoL while HS is still on cooldown. And an even higher value where you can squeeze in a fifth FoL.

I don't think this level of complexity--actively changing a rotation like this--is good behavior for a stat to exhibit. It makes people overly reliant on theorycrafting and spreadsheets.

5. Messes with the Global Cooldown

The Global Cooldown is the "heartbeat" of WoW. I think that allowing spell haste to alter the GCD was a mistake. It plays havoc with the rhythm of the game, and has led to random spells having odd GCDs. In my view, the game just plays much better when there is a standard 1.5s GCD on all abilities.

I also think that too many abilities are now off the GCD, and that has also contributed to the excessive speed.


That's not to say that reducing spell cast times is entirely bad. I think that it is a quite appropriate effect for talents like Improved Fireball. Talents can also allow for a significant change in a specific spell's cast time, rather than a very small reduction in the overall cast time. Reducing cast time on specific spells is a good effect for talents or possibly glyphs, just not a good effect for a gear stat.

However, the general idea of the stat, increasing DPS while also increasing cost-per-second, is a good notion. With the integration of spellpower into Intellect in Cataclysm, perhaps spell haste could be retired as well. Replace it with "spell infusion" a stat which directly increases SP and Cost, without changing cast time. This would give two knobs to balance the stat, rather than indirectly balancing both through cast time.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Empirically Measuring Class DPS

I saw a really interesting discussion on EJ about those Top 50 DPS class leaderboards. The argument is that, because the leaderboards take the top 50 parses, the class with high variance--perhaps due to a high crit rate--in their DPS end up higher on the boards than classes with low variance.

For example, if you took two classes that did 5000 DPS, one with a 50% crit rating, and the other with a 20% crit rating. If each class did 100 fights, and you picked the Top 20 fights, the class with the 50% crit rating is going to be on the top. This is because the Top 20 fights are fights with a greater than average critical strike rate, inflating the damage done.

So if the Top 50 boards aren't a reliable way to measure Class DPS, what would be?

One idea is to look at the average DPS across *all* parses. The problem here is that as you drop lower and lower, skill and gear becomes dominant factors. At least the Top 50 parses are probably going to be equally skilled and geared, so you're only looking at the differences between classes. But maybe you can make the assumption that each class is equally likely to have under-skilled and under-geared players. Is that a good assumption? I'm not sure.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Retribution Nerf in 3.3

Edit: Whoops, I'm wrong. It's a tooltip correction. That's what I get for posting in haste.

Class Channels

There is one feature of Aion that WoW should absolutely steal: class channels.

In Aion, one of the automatic channels you join is dedicated to your class. All Clerics are in the same Cleric channel, all Templars in the Templar channel, etc. I find that these channels are invaluable.

Class channels provide a new or inexperienced player with immediate access to the wisdom of higher-level players of the same class. I've seen discussions on how to gem, advice on which path to take, and general all-around help.

I think WoW players would also greatly benefit from this. To have a place where you can ask questions, which is only populated by people of your class, would be very useful. Even the lurkers can benefit from seeing questions answered. As well, by restricting the channel to a single class, you avoid cross-class arguments and sniping.

In some ways, it's like the class forums, but more immediate. You can ask a question as soon as you have the problem, and get quick feedback.

The only concern is if there would be too many people in the channel for comfort. From my experience in Aion, I find that the class channels are mostly quiet, unless someone has a question.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jane Yolen on Fantasy

Apropos of the previous discussion on Dragon Age, I have always loved the following quote by Jane Yolen:
And for adults, the world of fantasy books returns to us the great words of power which, in order to be tamed, we have excised from our adult vocabularies. These words are the pornography of innocence, words which adults no longer use with other adults, and so we laugh at them and consign them to the nursery, fear masking as cynicism. These are the words that were forged in the earth, air, fire, and water of human existence, and the words are:

Love. Hate. Good. Evil. Courage. Honor. Truth.

— Jane Yolen, Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood

Perhaps in the process of making a work of fantasy "adult", you end up robbing it of some of its potential power.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dragon Age and Mature Games

EA Bioware sent me some press material for their upcoming RPG Dragon Age: Origins. I loved the Baldur's Gate games back in the day, and I am looking forward to seeing this new game as it is touted as a "spiritual successor" to Baldur's Gate.

Bioware also seems to be positioning this game as a "mature" game, heavy on the blood, violence and possibly sex. It will be interesting to how successful they are. I have no idea how this game will be released in Germany. The very logo is formed out of blood spatter.

I must confess that whenever a work--be it a game, book, or movie--announces that they are trying to be "adult" and "mature" by focusing on violence and sex, I get a sinking feeling. Very often these "mature" works eschew laughter, as if laughter is childish. They go all Sturm und Drang, and end up overly dreary and rather boring.

The single best part of Baldur's Gate was Minsc and his minature Giant Space Hamster Boo. I worry that in Bioware's attempt to be adult, Dragon Age will actively avoid elements like Minsc, and end up a weaker game. But perhaps the Alistair character will fill this void.

A final tip for EA Bioware's advertising team: Using Marilyn Manson to backdrop a fight scene does not demonstrate maturity. It demonstrates a teenager's lack of taste. Let's hope the game has more sense.

Is Fairness Relative or Absolute?

A guild uses basic /random to distribute loot. There are three tanks in the raid: Wendy the Warrior; Daisy the Death Knight; and Patricia the Paladin. All three tanks desire [Ciderhelm's Ring of Effective Health], and it drops in tonight's raid.

Scenario 1: Straight Roll

All three tanks roll on the ring:
Rolls (H to L)Winner
W, D, PWendy
W, P, DWendy
D, W, PDaisy
D, P, WDaisy
P, W, DPatricia
P, D, WPatricia

Each tank has a 33% chance of winning the item. I think we can all agree that this is as fair as it gets, absent any other information.

Senario 2: Passing

Wendy and Daisy are best friends. Wendy thinks that Daisy is a little undergeared, and she resolves to pass to Daisy if she can. (By passing, I mean Wendy chooses to nullify her roll if and only if Daisy is the second-highest roller.)

Potential outcomes:

Rolls (H to L)Winner
W, D, PDaisy(!!)
W, P, DWendy
D, W, PDaisy
D, P, WDaisy
P, W, DPatricia
P, D, WPatricia

Is this fair to Patricia?

My first thought is to say that it is not fair. But then I considered some more.

On the one hand, Daisy now has a 50% chance to get the item while Patricia only has a 33%. That doesn't really seem fair. But on the other hand, note that in both scenarios, Patricia has the exact same chance to win the item. Her chance to win the item doesn't change at all. It's not less likely that she will get the item.

So what is fair? Does fairness depend on only your own chances to win? Or is your position relative to others important as well?

I am not really sure anymore. If the probability of Patricia winning the item decreased, that would be absolutely unfair (under the given conditions). But if the probability doesn't change, fairness seems harder to determine.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Arthas as a Villain

Arthas needs a victory.

Ever since the Battle at Light's Hope Chapel, Arthas has lost battle after battle. The players enter Northrend, and from zone to zone, they defeat Arthas at every turn. The closest he comes to victory is at the Wrathgate, but the Forsaken interfere and he has to retreat. Even in the latest patch, he's all, "Fools, now you face Anub'arak", and then the players promptly kill Anub'arak. Again.

As a result, Arthas is coming off as a "paper tiger". He shows up, makes a speech, and retreats defeated. A good villain needs to be respected. In a normal story, the heroes can't go from victory to victory. They need to suffer setbacks. For example, The Empire Strikes Back is one long acknowledgement of this necessity.

But in an RPG, can the game really impose failure on the players? To me, a game putting you into a no-win situation seems very unfair. In some ways, this is because we already have failure in the game, but it's just a temporary state. You wipe, and you try again. Victory may be hard, but it is possible. The game forcing you to lose seems like a betrayal of this principle.

But for the good of the storyline, Arthas needs a victory to reinstate him as a real threat.

I don't think that Arthas can score a victory over the players directly without it coming across as contrived.1 The best path is probably to kill at least one major NPC in combat at the start of patch 3.3.

I think there are three candidates that would immediately restore Arthas' credentials as a villain: Jaina Proudmoore, High Overlord Saurfang, or Tirion Fordring. Of these three, Tirion is probably the best choice, as the central opponent of Arthas. As an additional effect, Arthas could shatter the Ashbringer, bringing tears to the eyes of all warriors, paladins, and death knights.

Jaina and Saurfang are also good choices because they tend to be popular with their respective factions. The downside here is that a death would have less impact on the opposing faction.

1 Though it would be hilarious if Arthas killed your little Argent Crusade squire. It would be pretty hardcore to permanently lose a pet. By WoW standards, anyways.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Observation about Other MMOs

It's a little unfair to the developers, but the best reason to play WoW instead of other MMOs is that you don't have to listen to people talking about WoW.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Champions Online: Dislikes

Now we come to the fun part of reviewing new games: ripping up all the bad parts. To be honest, the greatest part I dislike about Champions Online revolves around one issue: Gear.


In CO, there 9 gear slots:
  • 1x Offensive Primary
  • 1x Defensive Primary
  • 1x Utility Primary
  • 2x Offensive Secondary
  • 2x Defensive Secondary
  • 2x Utility Secondary

All of these slots are pretty much the same: a few stats with some defensives. Most gear has zero effect on how your character looks, and is basically a stat slot. There are a few items which modify how your weapons or powers look.

I find that having gear have an effect on how your character looks is important to me. I like getting a new helm, or a new chestplate or shield. I like that visual reinforcement. Getting a random stat stick with some arbitrary, meaningless name just doesn't appeal to me.

As well, because there are so few slots, you upgrade them at a far faster rate. It's not like getting a weapon in WoW and then getting some use out of it for a few levels while the other slots get upgraded. You barely use an item before it's trashed.

Quests and enemies drop items of the same level as they are. A level 18 quest gives a reward that requires a level 18 or higher to use. Similarly, a level 18 mob only drops gear usable by level 18s or higher. This contributes to the high gear turnover. Additionally, it means that if you start punching above your weight, doing higher level quests, your inventory fills up with gear that you can't use yet.

Finally, mobs don't drop trash, they only drop items. The cumulative effect of this is that it feels like every few minutes you find a new sword that is slightly better or slightly worse than your current sword.

I just find the gear system very annoying and a big hassle. Unlike in WoW, where getting a new piece of gear is an actual reward and something to be anticipated.


The inventory system is a pain as well. You can't open all bags at the same time, and upgrading bags is a major hassle.


Crafting is a waste of time in this game. It just doesn't organically flow. You end up with bags full of ingredients, and can make nothing useful. I've pretty much ignored crafting after experimenting with the first couple of characters. The game is much more fun when you do that.

Other Issues

Outside of those three sub-systems--which really all have the basic gear design at the heart of the problem--there aren't a lot of other problems with Champions.

Chat could be improved and made easier to use. The general performance of the game could be improved. I play with low-quality graphics to get a decent framerate. There are occasional graphics glitches, my weapons sometimes disappear in combat.

Sometimes there are issues figuring out when you can use an ability after another, often relating to ability animations. For example, I have an ability that allows me to leap backwards out of melee range, Breakaway Shot. I find this ability never seems to work the first time I press the button.


But on the whole, the Gear, Inventory, and Crafting systems are the only things I seriously dislike about Champions Online. The core character creation, powers, and basic gameplay are a lot of fun. Champions Online is definitely worth checking out, especially if you've gotten a bit tired of orcs-and-elves fantasy.

Two caveats: I haven't really tried PvP or grouping, so I have no idea how the game works in those situations.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Champions Online: Likes

  • I like the feel of combat. It's very arcade-y, very fast with multiple enemies attacking and being killed rapidly. It's not very deep, you don't have a great deal of abilities, but it plays well and is quite enjoyable.

  • Character Creation is a long of fun, and you can make widely diverse characters.

  • To go along with the last, people-watching is a great deal of fun.

  • The animations of powers are very nicely done. It feels very fluid, regardless of how odd your hero is.

  • I like the basic powers setup. There's freedom, but also structure.

  • I like the fact that it's a single-world. It's useful not to have to worry about servers, and be sure that each zone has players and isn't empty.

  • The naming system is pretty good. I was skeptical of using an "@username" suffix, but it works in practice, and it is great to be able your hero with the name you want.

  • I really like a lot of the grouping commands. When you start a group, you can make it open. You can right-click someone and there is an option to ask to join their group. This makes grouping very easy and quick. The only thing I would change is that if you ask to join someone's group, instead of getting an error if they aren't in a group, the group forms automatically.

I feel kind of bad that I can't list more likes. The base core of the game is a lot of fun. My dislikes list is probably going to be longer, but on the whole, I tend more to liking the game than disliking it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Swap Heroic Strike and Slam

One of the problems with the warrior class is that in a high-rage situation, warriors have to spam Heroic Strike in addition to their normal abilities. A lot of warriors complain that this makes their gameplay physically stressful, and Blizzard has been looking to alleviate this issue.

However, Heroic Strike is the level 1 ability, the first ability given to new warriors. Any change to it would greatly change the initial levelling experience of warriors.

I think Blizzard should swap Heroic Strike and Slam. A warrior would get Slam at level 1. Then Heroic Strike would be an ability gained at 30 or so, and could be changed into a better form of rage dump.

The other advantage would be that lowbie warriors would have a bit more rage, as they wouldn't lose the rage from the Heroic Strike auto-attack. That means they could press more buttons, and it would make low level fights a bit more fun. I have a lowbie warrior, and Heroic Striking is a little boring. You really live for new abilities, or for Overpower to light up so you don't have to just wait for Heroic Strike.

Plus, with the changes to defensive stance, and since you have Sunder and Revenge, I don't think you'll really miss the threat from Heroic Strike for low level tanking.

As a mid-to-late-game ability, Heroic Strike could be tailored as an ability specifically used in high-rage situations. For example, what if Heroic Strike cost 60-75 rage, but did a correspondingly large amount of damage and threat? Such an ability would be useless at level 1, as it would take forever to build that much rage, but it might be a very valuable late-game ability.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In-Game Problems vs Out-of-Game Problems

Note: This was originally posted as a response to Larisa at The Pink Pigtail Inn in an article about faction changes.

There is a difference between problems that should be handled "in-game" and problems that should be handled "out-of-game".

Faction/race/gender changes are out-of-game changes. They are changes made because the player outside the game is unhappy, and so we choose to turn a blind eye to the impact that the change has on roleplaying or character history.

It is a mistake to try and handle everything within the rules. Sometimes, you have to step outside the rules and the gameworld, and talk directly to the player.

You see this a lot in regular table-top roleplaying forums. The DM will say that Player A's character is being disruptive and constantly working at cross-purposes to the group. Some DMs try and force the character to work with the group using in-game mechanics such as threats or magical coercion. But the proper response is to talk to the player outside the game, tell the player that he is hurting the game and remove him from the group if necessary.

Similarly, faction change is an out-of-game problem. A player wants to play with friends who are on the other faction. So they can now switch, and everyone in-game pretends that they've been Horde all along. It is an out-of-game solution for an out-of-game problem.

This issue appears with a lot of rule systems. For example, loot systems often get more and more complex as officers try and prevent players from abusing the system. But rather than altering the rules of the loot system, it's often better to talk to the players in question, and get them to work with the system, rather than playing games with the loot rules.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Champions Online: Mechanics Overview

Base Mechanics

Champions Online has some interesting twists on the base mechanics. The basic resource is Energy, which is a cyclical resource much like Rage, Energy, and Runic Power are in WoW. A character starts with a basic auto-attack ability--that differs based on what type of hero you are--which builds energy. Other abilities pause the auto-attack and spend energy. So the basic game-play is to build energy through auto-attack and then spend it on more powerful abilities. This is a very fast cycle, as building the energy meter to full takes 5 or so seconds.

There are a couple of other twists. Energy does not start at full or empty. Rather, there is an "equilibrium point" somewhere in the middle, which marked on a character's energy meter. Energy levels return to the equilibrium point if you are not doing anything. So if you end a fight with more energy than your equilibrium, you will slowly lose energy. If you have less, you gain energy. One of the stats, Recovery, directly affects where the equilibrium is. High Recovery means you start fights with full energy, like Rogue Energy in WoW, while low Recovery acts more like Rage or Runic Power.


Champions has 8 stats: Strength, Dexterity, Ego, Endurance, Presence, Constitution, Recovery, Intelligence.

The stats are fairly straightforward in what they affect. Strength boosts melee damage, Dexterity increases your chance to crit, Constitution increases your health, etc. There are also some more unusual uses of stats. Ego increases the damage multiplier on criticals, Presence modifies your threat (direction depends on what "role" or stance you are in) and powers your heals, and Recovery modifies your equilibrium as stated above.

Now, the element that makes the game work is something called "characteristic focuses". At levels 5 and 13, you pick a stat (so two characteristic focuses in total) and most of your abilities will scale with those stats. This part is really not explained well at all in the game. I learned about it from an Elitist Jerks thread.

What the characteristic focuses allow you to do is take any power and have it work reasonably well. Now, it's best if your stats match up with your abilities. For example, a melee character should have Strength as a focus, because she would get extra damage from Strength and from the focus. However, that melee character could also take a healing power, and it would still scale with her Strength. It wouldn't be as good as a character dedicated to healing who took a focus in Presence would be, but it would be reasonable for soloing or emergencies. It's not like trying to heal in WoW melee DPS gear would be.


Any character can take any power. Powers are arranged into thematic frameworks, like Fire, Ice, Telepathy, Claws, etc. However, you can dip into any framework and mix and match as you please. Each framework is arranged into Tiers. Higher-tier powers can be taken if you have X powers from that framework, or X+Y powers from any framework. For example, you can take a higher-level Fire power if you have 5 Fire powers already, or maybe 8 powers from any framework.

Between characteristic stats and power frameworks, the game encourages you stick with one style for your hero. However, you can easily dip into other frameworks. Indeed, there are a couple points where you must dip, and sometimes it is not obvious at all to a new player that you should. I'll explain more thoroughly further down.

There are also three special types of powers: travel powers, block powers, and passive powers. At level 5, you get a travel power such as flight or super-speed. You can have the power on all the time, for a very minor increase in ability costs. The only thing I note is that Champions is a very different experience if you cannot fly.

Enemies can do a charged attack, denoted by an Adam West Batman-style "Pow" icon above their heads. When this happens, you hold shift to block the attack, or you take massive damage. You can also upgrade the basic block to more powerful blocks later on.

The game has four "stances" or roles. Guardian for soloing, Avenger for DPS, Sentinel for tanking, and Protector for support. Each stance has a slot for a passive power. Avenger wants an offensive passive, Sentinel wants a defensive passive, etc. Your character can have multiple builds prepared with different gear and power loadouts so you can switch between playstyles easily.

Finally, you also get points which you can use to improve powers. You can make powers do more damage/healing, or add additional abilities to the power. For example, add a knockback, or hit a second target etc.


Champions Online is set up for a very fast type of game with interesting twists on typical MMO mechanics. The resource cycle is very quick, and enemies tend to have lower health and come in multiples. The game is set up to encourage characters to focus on specific frameworks, but does allow them to mix and match as much as they want.

As well, having characters focus on two specific stats means the gameplay changes depending on the stats selected. For example, my angel focuses on Constitution and Recovery. This means he has a lot of health and starts fights with a lot of energy. My gunslinger on the other hand focuses on Dexterity and Ego. She doesn't have as much health and often needs to wait for a second or two after the fight starts to build up enough energy to use her good powers, but she has a high critical strike rate and her crits hit hard.

However, the game does not really convey some important information to the player. The whole notion of characteristic focuses is very vague. As well, not every framework contains passive powers. For example, there are only five or so defensive passives, so you might not have one in your initial framework.

This is actually a big problem, because in my view it is vital to take a defensive passive at level 5 or 8. The game is very harsh if you don't, because you will die all the time. You may not even know that you made a mistake, because the defensive passive wasn't even in your framework, and you might not know to look to another framework to get one.

So that's my recommendation for new characters. Take a defensive passive power and an AoE attack as early as you can (by level 8 at the most). Soloing becomes much easier if you do that, and may be excessively hard if you don't. As a personal example, I made two Psions. The first took an offensive buff and a healing power, and I promptly got rocked every time I tried to fight something. The second took a defensive power from the Force framework and an AoE attack, and is rampaging through content that the first could not survive.

I'll post more about other aspects about the game. I do like the mechanical underpinnings of Champions. It seems to allow a wide variety of playstyles to be valid without forcing you into only one style of play. However, I think the game doesn't quite communicate the rules, and thus optimal behavior, properly to new players.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Newbie Paladin Experience

These newbie paladin whelps are spoiled rotten these days. Back in my day, we had to walk uphill to Stormwind, both ways, in the snow. These kids don't know how good they've got it. They're born with a silver spoon in their mouths. I blame it on the influence of those shilly-shallying blood elves. Seriously, those pansy elves spend so much time preening in front of a mirror, they wouldn't have the muscle to lift my old [Verigan's Fist].

Take that young whipper-snapper Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats. He rolls up a paladin and goes prancing merrily along:
I was amazed to see that she out-nukes the Mage: the damaging taunt does not activate global cooldown...

Taunt? What's this damaging Taunt nonsense? Back in my day, paladins didn't need a taunt. We held aggro because we were real men who used Seal of Fury, and the DPS understood they would die if they pulled aggro. I can Exorcise immediately after starting the pull.

Pull? Bet these fancypants new paladins pull from range too. We had to learn to body-pull, and guess where we learned that? That's right, the school of hard knocks.

And Exorcism could only be used on Undead. Not fake undead, like the Forsaken, but real undead, who would scare the pants off these mincing dandies. Why, I didn't even see an Undead until Darkshire.
Drop a magic hammer as it arrives in melee, get that big first swing in, and the enemy is usually around 25% health.

Drop a magic hammer right at the start? In my day, we did things properly. First, we debuffed the mob with Judgement of the Crusader. Then we activated Seal of Righteousness (or Seal of Command if we were feeling lucky). Fifteen seconds later we were privileged to Judge again (and re-cast our Seal). These punks are lucky enough to have 10-second Judgements (8 with talents) and they still complain about being a 1 button class.

These youngsters are spoiled. Seals and Judgements scale with Attack Power? Hah, in the old days we stuck with the base damage. If it was good enough for us, it's good enough for them.
That takes less than a quarter of my mana, and the blue magic hammer gives me mana for hitting the enemy.

Getting mana back? We had to Judge Crusader just to improve our damage to moderate levels. If we wanted to Regenerate we used Seal of Wisdom, and just did white damage to the mob for a few minutes. And we liked it.

Sigh, do these cubs have any redeeming qualities?
It really is satisfying to crush your enemies with a giant hammer... My only disappointment is that her current best weapon is a big axe rather than a comically huge hammer. I like its numbers, and she gets huge crits all the time due to Retribution talents, but hammertime was both cathartic and classically Warcraft.

Well, Daisy, maybe the kids are going to be all right after all.

On a somewhat serious note, this is a major reason I don't agree with complaints about the "B Team". The modern paladin is light-years more fun than the paladin of 1.0 used to be.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Champions Online: Characters

I picked up Champions Online a couple days ago and have been trying it out since. I haven't gotten very far, but here are some first impressions. I've never played the other major Superhero game (City of Heroes/Villains) so I have no idea how this game compares to that.

The character creator is very powerful. The first character I made is Cassiel:

The inspiration for Cassiel should be fairly obvious. I took the Supernatural template and Flight travel power. It actually works very nicely. Cassiel uses his fists and chains as weapons. Oddly Cassiel looks better in-game and flying, even at the lower resolution I play at:

The second character I made is Rake. I made a Regency noble, but made her female:

Rake is a Single Blade swordswoman, with the Acrobatics travel power. She's a lot faster and seems to do more damage than Cassiel, but is a lot more fragile.

You can make a lot of different looks with the character creator. It's very powerful. There are lots of interesting characters being made. For example, I teamed up with a machine-gun-toting rat who travelled underground for one quest. Probably half the fun in the game is making new heroes.

The comic book covers are actually generated when you save a costume in the character creator. That's a very nice touch.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ask Coriel: Farming Instances at 70

Juniorkow asks:
I enjoy your blog and was wondering at level 70 could you provide a template to farm old instances ? I dont have wrath yet so just something to keep me busy.

I would suggest going Protection and using a build like this: 4/51/6.

I think that should give you a good build so you can AoE farm most older instances. Note that it isn't a proper tank build as it is missing Spiritual Attunement (no other healer) and Guarded By The Light (you get Divine Plea at level 71).

You might have mana problems. If you find you are, you might be better off with a Retribution build like: 2/5/54

You'll have to be a bit more careful, but there won't be any mana worries.

Introducing New Characters

In the comments to the previous post, Elladrion, makes an interesting point:
They have no depth, and no charisma to back up their lack of depth. Also, specifically from a horde perspective, I will never be able to get past the entire questline where hellscream is moping around being a little defeatist bitch becuase he's not as great as his father and their people are doomed. You do an entire questline helping them out and at the end of it, he gets even more despondant and whiney becuase it was you that did all the work and not him and oh what a worthless creature he is. Then with no warning wrath comes out and he's all gung-ho rip-roaring kill all alliance with no transition story in between. And Varian wrynn doesn't even have that amount of story (in game) going for him, he just shows up out of nowhere trying to start fights.

It's very true. Garrosh and Varian emerge in Wrath almost fully-formed. There is a questline with Garrosh in TBC, but he doesn't play a major part, and Varian just shows up (and takes credit for Onyxia, to boot).

This is in stark contrast to one of the other major characters in Wrath: Tirion Fordring. Unlike Garrosh and Varian, Fordring is introduced in 1.0 in Eastern Plagueline. He has one of the best and most-loved questlines in the game. It's also a very personal questline for the character, and shows the reasons he decides to reforge the Silver Hand. In a lot of ways, Wrath and the Argent Crusade are sequel to those quests.

I think those quests have a lot to do with how popular Tirion Fordring is. We got to see the character at the beginning of the story, to sympathize and empathize with him. By doing the quests, in a way we were responsible for the character, and the way events turned out. We are more invested in the Argent Crusade and Tirion's storyline.

Tirion illustrates how important doing is to a video game. Garrosh and Varian illustrate how weak merely telling is. The strength of games is that we are not passive consumers, we have to do something to advance the story. That has the potential to make us more involved with the story, and make it more important.

In the abstract, I understand Garrosh's and Varian's story. But I am far more interested in Tirion's story, and that is almost entirely due to the original questline in the Plaguelands.

Would Varian have been more successful if there had been a questline to restore him to the throne? I think so. Similarly, a questline showing Garrosh's conversion to a more aggressive stance would have helped a lot.

There are two major lessons here. First, in an MMO, doing is always better than telling. Second, major storyline characters really benefit from being introduced early and fixing the player's sympathy, before they actually undertake a major role.

There are a lot of other examples. For example, consider the player base's attitude towards High Overlord Saurfang, Chromie, or Bolvar Fordragon vs that towards someone like Rhonin. Early exposure in a more trivial setting really benefits the character when it comes time for them to take the spotlight.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Nature of War

In a game like Civilization, most of us have launched a war for the purpose of expanding our nation's territory and power, or to weaken a rival nation. In this, we are following Carl von Clausewitz's observation that "War is merely a continuation of politics." In the context of such a game game, and indeed much of human history, such a strategy of conquest was not considered wrong or immoral.

However, the modern world is moving away from Clausewitz's statement. It is moving towards a view that the only moral war, the only just war, is a defensive war. And this is causing an interesting reaction between game players and developers.

Consider the current plot lines in World of Warcraft. Blizzard wants to heat up the simmering conflict between Alliance and Horde. From a gameplay perspective, war is more interesting than peace. It gives players more things to do. To that end, Blizzard has introduced the characters of Garrosh Hellscream and Varian Wrynn, who are pushing the Horde and Alliance towards a war.

However, these two characters are not very popular with WoW players. I believe that the failure of these characters has more to do with the changing nature of war, than by their actual characteristics. If the only just war is a defensive war, then an aggressive leader is necessarily worse than a leader who is mostly peaceful (for example, Thrall).

As well, whichever faction starts the war is the aggressor, and in the wrong. And Blizzard definitely wants to avoid painting one faction as the bad guy. One of the strengths of WoW is that both the Horde and the Alliance have their good points and bad points.

Other games avoid this in a variety of ways. Often one side is clearly labelled as the bad guys, rendering morality moot. For example, in Warhammer Online, the Chaos faction are the bad guys and clear aggressors. Other games have the war between factions being more of an "eternal war", one that has no real beginning and no real end.

But how do you start a war between two good factions, when starting a war is considered wrong? This would be possible in the times when the Clausewitz dictum held, but I think is all but impossible now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tauren Paladins?

Holy Cow! (Be warned: Massive potential spoilers for the next expansion.)

To be honest, I've always thought Tauren would make good paladins. They have a certain nobility. Hopefully they become more Silver Hand-style paladins rather than Blood Knights.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Simplifying PvE Retribution

With the change to Crusader Strike in 3.2, Retribution gameplay can be simplified with a couple of macros. The optimum Retribution rotation is a priority First-Come-First-Serve (FCFS) list with:
Hammer of Wrath > Crusader Strike > Judgement of Light > Divine Storm > Consecration > Exorcism

Basically, you hit whatever ability is off cooldown and at the top of the list.

Regular Gameplay

For the first 80% of the fight--where Hammer of Wrath is not available--you can simplify the ability list using two macros:
Macro 1:Single-Target
/castsequence reset=4 Crusader Strike,Judgement of Light,Crusader Strike

Macro 2:AoE
/castsequence reset=10 Divine Storm,Consecration

Your priority list now becomes:
Macro 1:Single-target > Macro 2:AoE > Exorcism

If the first macro is on cooldown, hit the second. If both are on cooldown, and Art of War is up, hit Exorcism.

This scheme is identical to optimal FCFS, but only uses 3 buttons instead of 5, so you might find it easier to use. It also has the advantage that if you can't AoE (for example, Crowd Control is being used), you can just ignore Macro 2.

Execute Range

Once Hammer of Wrath comes into play, the above system breaks down. However, there is another sequence which comes very close to optimal FCFS play. You lose about 1 second out of every 24 seconds of DPS, which is about a 4% loss from perfect play. However, 2 buttons are a lot easier to press than 6, so you might find that you come out ahead.
Macro 3: Execute
/castsequence reset=target Hammer of Wrath,Crusader Strike,Judgement of Light,Divine Storm,Hammer of Wrath,Crusader Strike,Consecration

The priority list becomes:
Macro 3:Execute > Exorcism

As before, if Macro 3 is on cooldown and Art of War is up, pop Exorcism.

Friday, August 07, 2009

3.2 Impressions

So new patch. Here are some quick thoughts:
  • Female paladin T8 chestpieces now cover the stomach. Thank you, Blizzard! I actually really like the look now--even the helm has grown on me--and am hoping to pick up the shoulders soon.

  • Healing is weird now. Healing the tank by not healing the tank (except for a random FoL every so often to put up the HoT) feels really awkward. It's really weird when you hit someone with a 20k Holy Light, and they only had 3k damage, but the tank needed the big heal. However, I haven't had a chance to try healing in a raid yet, so I'll reserve judgement. It is a flat out buff numbers-wise though.

  • The new daily quests are pretty neat. I like the fact that they are fairly random.

  • The 5-man is pretty fun. The transition between jousting and regular combat is a bit abrupt, especially as we all have lances equipped. But other than that it is quick and fun. I particularly like the fact that if you get through a fight without deaths, you get an extra piece of loot. That's a nice touch.

  • Badge changes are also good. I like running random Heroics. Having epic gems available for the lowest rank of Badges was a nice touch.

  • Speaking of epic gems, I regemmed to all +23 Spellpower gems in order to maximize Flash of Light and Sacred Shield. However, I find that I really don't like not getting the socket bonus. I miss the green text lighting up and the gem border doing that little sparkle. It may be the optimum way to gear, but skipping socket bonuses offends my sense of order.

  • I don't like the new Crusader Strike, it's very weak. The new Hand of Reckoning is nice, though. As for the Seal change, I've pretty much switched to using Righteousness most of the time, and only using Vengeance on long boss fights.

  • I haven't tried the new raid, but I think the staggered release of bosses may be a good thing. We get new bosses every week, but can still work on Ulduar, rather than dropping it unfinished. After a while, we can start extending the Ulduar lockout timer to work on the last half of the instance.

  • The Coliseum also seems to have much higher item level loot than I was expecting. I was expecting the 25-regular to come in at ilvl 239, the same as Ulduar-hard. Instead it comes in at ilvl 245. Loot in heroic mode extends all the way up to 272, which is pretty crazy.

  • Speaking of the ilvl 272 cloaks, Blizzard made a mistake on the names. The paladin cloaks (Bolvar's, Lady Liadrin's) have spirit on them, and the mage cloaks (Jaina's, Aethar's) don't. Probably should be switched.

  • I really like being able to trade Bind-on-Pickup items in the instance. Makes it very easy to recover from a mistake when handing out loot.

  • The new Battleground is interesting. I've only played it twice so far on Horde. The current strategy seems to be grab the airport and parachute into the base. Looks like fun though.

  • There are a lot of other nice, small mechanical changes: the new quest log, mount changes, seeing the change in attributes when looking at new gear, being able to see item level, etc. It's not a big content patch, but it has a lot of small changes, fixes and experiments on new ways of doing things. It seems more like a "palate cleanser" to get us ready for Icecrown.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Crowd Control and PvP

Note: This post is from a high-level perspective of what is "fun". I fully admit that I am not an experienced PvP player, and am just going by what is fun or not for myself. I am not calling for any specific class to be nerfed and/or buffed in a vacuum.

Crowd Control--by which I mean effects that cause a player to temporarily lose control of her character--is an important part of PvP. It adds a second layer of strategy over just inflicting and healing damage. To make an analogy, Crowd Control is like executing a pin in chess. You prevent a piece from being used, without actually needing to capture it.

But Crowd Control is also very frustrating to play against. No one likes losing control of their character, even if only for a short while. So Crowd Control is in somewhat of an awkward position. It needs to exist, to add that extra level of complexity, but it also needs to be kept in check or games become miserable.

There are two situations where Crowd Control in WoW goes over the boundary, in my opinion. The first situation is being able to lock down a character for an excessively long time with multiple abilities. At this point, you are simply not being allowed to play, which is extremely frustrating.

The second situation is being killed while being affected by Crowd Control. The primary culprits here are Stuns and Fears. No one likes being stunned and then blown up. It feels very unfair, like the player is unable to even try to defend themselves.

I would offer two suggestions for WoW PvP:
  1. All abilities which cause a player to lose control of her character share diminishing returns. No more categories for different types of Crowd Control. Treat them all equally.

  2. In PvP, all abilities which cause a player to lose control of her character break on receiving damage. This includes Stuns and Fears.

The first change already somewhat exists in WoW. Most abilities are separated into categories, and abilities in each category share diminishing returns. This just removes distinctions between different types of Crowd Control.

The second change is the bigger one, and would probably require balance adjustments. If necessary, glyphs or talents like [Glyph of Polymorph] could be added to make Stuns or Fears more usable.

Crowd Control is necessary in PvP, but it can also be overused and make the game less fun. Separating out Crowd Control from dealing damage lessens the frustration in PvP, and would remove a major source of irritation between classes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Period of Repeating Content

What is the ideal period for content that is meant to be repeated?

For example, WoW has quests which you can do once per day. Raid dungeons, on the other hand, can be done once per week. Is one time interval better than the other?

Part of the issue is that rewards tend to map towards how often the content can be repeated. The shorter the period, the smaller the reward is. Dailies in WoW tend to reward about 10 gold. Rewards are balanced assuming that people will do the content as often as possible. This is because there are people who will do the content as much as humanly possible.

Instead of having a daily quest which rewards 10g, would it be better to have a weekly quest that rewarded 70g?

I think it comes back to how people play. Are people (who are working on repeatable content) more likely to log in every day for small amounts of time, or do they log in less often but for longer play sessions? My personal thought is that the second alternative is a better fit for most lifestyles. Balancing around a period of a week might be better than balancing around a day. You could even make the quests a bit more involved.

However, there are two repeatable quests which I think are good as dailies: The daily Heroic Dungeon and the daily Battleground. These quests work best when there is a large pool of potential players, and having a fresh quest each day means that it will be easier to find a group.

To sum up, repeatable solo content and fixed group content are better off on a weekly basis, as this allows players to better make use of the time they have available, without being pushed to play every day. However, repeatable ad hoc group content is best on a daily basis, to make forming groups as easy as possible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Duoing and System Requirements

Spinks has a good post on Duoing in MMOs, where she examines content in MMOs and pairs of players. I'd just like to add another thought to this discussion.

One important point about duoing that’s not often considered is that it has a large impact on system requirements.

A couple or family rarely has two top-of-the-line computers. They might have one edge computer, but the other computer will be a few years older. Then the oldest computer gets an upgrade, and the other person lags behind. Or the second computer won't be a desktop machine, but a laptop geared more towards work and websurfing.

So it’s important that your game be playable on the *second* household computer. I think that is where WoW has a marked advantage. A lot of newer MMOs are definitely playable on the first system, but won’t run on the second system in the household, and so the couple cannot play together.

Where a single-player game can target the spec of the first computer and still count on a purchase, an MMO or co-op multiplayer game really needs to target the second system in order to be considered a viable option for many players.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paladin PvP From the Other Side

I decided to do some battlegrounds with my warlock. I'd forgotten how much fun they are. The BGs also seem to be a lot more competitive these days, as I had a wide range of experiences. Short, quick charges to the end, and also prolonged defenses. Several wins and several losses.

After a few games, I'm beginning to sympathize with all the anti-paladin feeling out there. However, it's not really the damage, or the healing, or even the bubble that's annoying. All of these seem to be more or less comparable to the other classes. I'm just in the crafted tailoring gear, so I have the minimum resilience, but it doesn't seem that bad.

The real annoyance is the Hammer of Justice stun. It's a long stun, and the paladin gets free reign to beat on you while it's up.

It seems like the only comparable class that locks you down for so long is the Rogue. At least rogues have the courtesy to stealth and sneak up on you. When a rogue stunlocks, it feels like she went to some trouble to do so, so you can't really begrudge her that.

In comparison, the paladin just bulldozes ahead, runs straight at you, and stuns you. It just seems effortless for the paladin, and it doesn't seem fair that the paladin should be able to stun you for so long without taking a lot of trouble to do so.

If I were to change Paladins in PvP, I'd take a long look at Hammer of Justice, and find a way to make it more interesting. Maybe a shorter stun with a lower cooldown. Maybe an incapacitate instead of a stun. But it feels too easy as it exists now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Official Paladin Q&A

Blizzard's Paladin Q&A can be found here.


The quote that is inciting the most controversy is:
Judgment of Justice is intended to be the gap-closer for paladins.

Ghostcrawler is getting a fair bit of flack for this statement. However, I think he just used the wrong word. JoJ isn't a gap-closer, but is more of snare. However, using the word "snare", would be impolitic. In a little bit of sophistry, JoJ isn't technically a snare, which means that anti-snare mechanics like druid shapeshifting don't work. JoJ is designed to be the "glue" that allows a paladin to stick to her target once she is in range.

Personally, I don't PvP, so I'm not too sure how good JoJ is. I think it would be neat if it had an additional constraining effect. Something like "prevents teleportation" so the target can't Blink or Demonic Teleport away from the paladin. Another amusing idea I had was that JoJ could prevent the target from changing form. So if a priest was in Shadowform, JoJ would prevent him from dropping out of Shadowform.

Q&A in General

In general, nothing new or interesting came up in the Q&A, other than Ret would get an interrupt effect. I got the sense that Blizzard feels that the paladin class is finished and complete, with only minor tweaking to be done as needed. So if you're not happy with your paladin spec playstyle, it's probably time to switch classes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Champions Online and Unique Names

Gamespy has an interesting video where Bill Roper demos character creation in Champions Online, an upcoming superhero game.

It looks pretty neat, but what struck me was an almost throwaway line at the end (at about the 3:10 mark). Roper states or implies that multiple player characters can have the same name:
Just like you see in comics, sometimes there are heroes which share a name or share a concept for a name. We know that's going to happen, but the important thing is that when I put that name on the character, I'm going to get the name that I want to really put the last finishing touch on my concept.

This is a radical concept. Most games enforce that each character on a server has a unique name. Thus that character can always be identified by that name. Sometimes it's annoying when you have a good name and it's taken, especially if it's taken by a low-level character that is never played.

But at the same time, can you imagine two characters running around on the same server with the same name? There would be mistaken identities and the possibility for identity theft. How would you send mail or whispers to a character?

Basically, you'd end up with all the problems and confusions of names in the real world. Except in the real world, most people are bound by the geography they inhabit, which you can use to be reasonably sure of identity. Joe Smith who lives at 11 Haro Street and works at 21 Bond St in Toronto is different from Joe Smith who lives at 32 Cordova Street and works at 944 Younge St in Toronto.

In a virtual world with multiple people of the same name, it seems like you would have a lot more problems.

I just don't see how non-unique names would work. Maybe you'd have a "superhero name" which is not unique, but also a "secret identity" which is unique. Of course, it's possible that I'm reading too much into that one line and that Roper means something else entirely.