Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cataclysm Talent Tree Awkwardness

I figured out what was bothering me about Cataclysm tree design.

If you look at the first row of talents, Blizzard usually has 2x 3pt talents and a 2pt talent. That means that if you want to only spend 5 points in the first row to get to the second, you get the 2pt and one of the 3pts.

However, in a lot of cases, the 2pt talent is "more optional" than the 3pt talents. If you look at the current paladin trees, Ret has Eye for an Eye at 2pts, and Prot has Imp Hammer of Justice. Both of those are more PvP talents, and somewhat less attractive to other specs.

Because of this, you tend to be pushed towards taking both 3pts in the first row, leaving you with only 4 points for the second row. So you can take a 3 or 2pt talent, and then you're left with 1 or 2 points and very few options to cap out. No matter what, if you are subspeccing, you cannot take 2 3pt talents in the second row.

I think talent trees would flow a little better if the 2pt talent was "less optional" than the 3pt talents. That way, you'd grab the 2pt and choose which 3pt you liked, making the next tier easier to finish. And you'd less likely to have 1 point left dangling in a standard 31/10 build.

For example, in Retribution, I think that tree would flow better if Crusade was 2pts and Eye for an Eye was 3pts. Then PvP/Prot would take Eye for an Eye and Crusade, and Holy and Ret would take Rule of Law and Crusade, and that would give everyone 5 points for the second row of Ret or for the first row in Prot.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Holy Power

The Dev chat on Friday revealed the new paladin mechanic for Cataclysm, Holy Power:
All of the paladin specializations will make use of a new resource called Holy Power. Holy Power accumulates from using Crusader Strike, Holy Shock, and some other talents. Holy Power can be consumed to augment a variety of abilities, including:
An instant mana-free heal: Word of Glory
A buff to increase holy damage done: Inquisition
A massive physical melee attack for Retribution paladins: Templar’s Verdict
Holy Shield’s duration is now extended by Holy Power
Divine Storm’s damage is now increased by Holy Power

Templar’s Verdict: An instant weapon attack that causes a percentage of weapon damage. Consumes all applications of Holy Power to increase damage dealt:
1 Holy Power: 55% Weapon Damage
2 Holy Power: 125% Weapon Damage
3 Holy Power: 225% Weapon Damage

Word of Glory: Consumes all Holy Power to heal a friendly target for a specific amount per application of Holy Power (0 mana cost, 0 cooldown, instant cast).

It looks like the closest mechanic to this is rogue combo points. Certain of our abilities generate Holy Power, and other abilities will consume all of it, and have an effect proportional to the number of points consumed.

However, where the rogue is focused on combo points, and most GCDs are used either generating or consuming combo points, Holy Power looks to be layered over top of our regular abilities. Paladins look to generate a point of Holy Power every 4-6 seconds using our normal rotation, and use a Holy Power finisher roughly every 12-18 seconds.

I guess that this is intended to make paladin gameplay a little more dynamic, and we weave in Holy Power finishers every so often, or maybe even save them for times when we need burst.

On paper, this seems pretty good. We'll have to see how this plays out. There is always the possibility that tactics getting a 3-stack of Holy Power, then running to a new PVP target and unloading a full-power Templar's Verdict will be deemed overpowered. (And naturally, hotfixed 24 hours after Cataclysm's release.)

The other thing I like are the new paladin ability names. Word of Glory, Inquistion, Templar's Verdict, and Light of Dawn (new cone healing spell mentioned in the Dev chat) are very nice paladin names that avoid resorting to the words Holy, Judgment, Light, Righteousness, and Divine.

On the other hand, "Holy Power" is a rather bland name, and could stand to be spiced up. I suggest using a name that paladins have been waiting to see in WoW since Diablo 2: Zeal.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beta Talent Trees

There are beta talent trees up at WoWTal.

Honestly, the trees are still a great state of flux, so it's really too early to comment on them. In general, I like the paladin trees so far.

The only comment I have is that I keep making builds for many different classes and specs, and I always seem to have 1 talent point left over, and 2/3-point talents to use it in. So I have to partially fill a talent, which I've never really liked doing.

Maybe it's just a general problem with the numbers used to make the talent trees, but it seems kind of odd to be happening so often.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Talent Tree Changes

Extensive talent tree changes coming in Cataclysm.

I'm not really sure what to think of these changes. In general, I like the smaller trees. I'm just not sure about the forced specialization.

It means that there is much less potential builds out there. No 30/11, or 21/20 builds will be possible. But on the other hand, such builds tend to be rare anyways. Sometimes choice is an illusion, and in reality there are only a handful of viable builds. So the end result might be the same now and in Cataclysm, but it will just be more obvious.

As well, right now the 11 and 21 point talents tend to be a little weak, just to keep other-spec builds in check. This is especially true when leveling. Take paladin trees for example. Aura Mastery, Divine Favor, Divine Sacrifice, Blessing of Sacrifice, and Sanctified Retribution are good abilities, but they are a little boring.

Compare them to the 31 point talents of Holy Shock, Holy Shield, and Repentance. Those talents are "fun" talents, but they come so late, and you get them at a much higher level, just to prevent off-talent builds from picking them up. Wouldn't Protection leveling be much more fun if you could get Holy Shield at level 20?

The one "fun" early ability, Seal of Command, is perfect to get at level 20. Unfortunately, it's quite arguable that Seal of Command has made Protection overpowered at producing AoE threat. Because it is available so early, Protection can pick up Seal of Command, forcing a choice between leaving Protection slightly overpowered, or weakening Retribution.

The enforced specialization does away with those concerns. You could move more interesting abilities earlier in the tree, confident that you won't accidentally overpower one of the other two trees.

The current trees are a little top-heavy. Sometimes it's hard to be enthusiastic about pushing through those rather boring mid-tier talents, and then you want to get all the juicy, game-changing top-tier talents.

It probably will be easier to balance PvP as well. PvP builds often forwent the deep damage increasing talents in favor of mid-tier utility and survival talents.

So on the whole it's probably a good change that strengthens the game mechanically. I guess I mourn the illusion of a potential vast amount of builds. An mirage of possibilities. But that was just a dream, and high-end group play rudely awakens you to the fact that only a few builds are ever truly viable.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Death Penalties

Recently there has been some commentary about death penalties. There are some people who feel that the current penalties are too low.

My question is:

Why is it so important to punish failure?

I mean, you shouldn't reward failure, but I don't really see the need to punish failure either.

No one really wants to fail. And failure is often obvious. Your character is dead on the ground and you have a corpse run. You can't really miss the fact that you failed.

Do high death penalties really make players better, or do they just make players more cautious? It's arguable that one of flaws of lower tier raid guilds is that they don't fail enough. They'll wipe 5 times and then call it, or move on to something easier. While a high end guild might wipe 200+ times when learning a really hard fight. I don't think that an even greater death penalty would help these guilds, and it might actively hurt them.

What you do want to keep in check is the ability to fail with partial success, so that several failures add up to a success. The ability to zerg something needs to be carefully watched. But that can be done without harsh death penalties. Quest timers, group respawns, instances that prevent you from zoning in while a fight is in progress, requirements that you do X without dying, etc.

Of course, you do have to be careful with this. If quest progress was wiped on death, and you had a quest to kill 100 boars, it would really, really suck if you died on the 99th boar.

Of course, some people insist that punishing failure in raid groups is the appropriate way to go, like docking DKP for making mistakes. But is the punishment the key driver of improvement, or is it the fact that the mistake was specifically identified and called out, giving the player the feedback necessary to improve?

I don't think that actively punishing failure works when the player wants to succeed. So I don't think that death penalties need to be harsher, and if anything, they could stand to be easier.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

RealId and Forums

Most of us have heard of John Gabriel's Greater Internet F******d Theory (link slightly NSFW). I would wager that the majority of gamers even believe it to be true.

But it has never truly been proven, or conclusively demonstrated. So for that alone, I am looking forward to Blizzard's plan to integrate RealId with the WoW forums. Maybe it will turn out to be a good idea, maybe it will turn out to be a bad idea. But at least we'll know. There's something to be said for actual experimentation, rather than just armchair theorycrafting.

Heck, maybe the *real* problems with RealId on the forums will turn out to be completely different than anything that has been thought of.

Sometimes I think our society spends too much time worrying over potential outcomes, and not enough time actually doing things. Not to say that we shouldn't think ahead, but there is a balance, and right now I think we've swung too far to the worrying side.

I think that, on the whole, RealId integration with the forums will work out well. I think the official forums will become much more usable. Many people, both good and bad, will migrate to other forums like Tankspot, and that might pump up some of the non-official sites. But I could be wrong. Maybe there will be many negative consequences.

In some ways, this is probably a tipping point for gaming companies and the internet. If the forums calm down and Blizzard does not lose customers, every gaming company that can will follow their lead. If Blizzard does end up losing money, then we'll probably never hear these schemes again.

Though, kind of honestly, it's going to be weird seeing Greg Street post instead of Ghostcrawler.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Pods: A Raid Force Management System

Managing a raid force is a very complex task. You have to recruit enough people so that you have redundancy, that you can still raid when some members are missing. You have to have enough redundancy to cover the essential roles. Yet you also have to ensure that everyone gets enough raiding time. Sometimes a player can get left on the sidelines more than you expect, and they end up leaving the guild because they feel they aren't getting into raids enough. You have to constantly recruit and people are constantly leaving, creating new holes in the raid force that have to be filled.

Yet, for such a complex task, most guild leaders operate in an ad hoc fashion. They react to events a lot of the time and things slip through the cracks. This is my attempt at creating a system, a set of rules and heuristics, to help a guild leader manage her entire raiding force in an efficient manner.

The system is called Pods, because the central element of the system is a pod.

A pod is a group of three players who share a similar raid role. The basic pod types are:
  1. Main Tank - players who always tank
  2. Off Tank - players who switch between tanking and DPS
  3. Melee DPS - melee DPS players
  4. Ranged DPS - ranged DPS players
  5. Main Healer - players who always heal
  6. Off Healer - players who switch between healing and DPS

Each pod owns two slots in the raid. So a 10 man raid is made up of:
  • 1x Main Tank pod
  • 1x Melee DPS pod
  • 1x Ranged DPS pod
  • 1x Off Healer pod
  • 1x Main Healer pod

A 25-man raid would be:
  • 1x Main Tank pod
  • 1x Off Tank pod
  • 3x Melee DPS pod
  • 3x Ranged DPS pod
  • 1x Off Healer pod
  • 3x Main Healer pod
  • 1 free slot

Now, since each pod has three players, but two raid slots, one person in each pod sits out each night. Anna sits out first, the Betty, then Charity, then Anna's turn comes around again. Of course, the players can trade nights with each other but only within the pod. Since there are only three players in a pod, scheduling that pod becomes a much simpler problem than scheduling the entire raid force all at once.

For the Off Tank and Off Healer pods, one slot will act as the extra tank or healer on necessary fights, while the other slot will be pure DPS. (Or both slots can go tank/healer if the fight is really demanding). Which player gets which job can rotate just like sitting out.

If only one or zero people from a pod show up, then people from the other pods who are sitting out can be drafted to fill out the raid. If the problem is known in advance, as two of the three players say they can't make a specific night, that fact can be brought to the attention of the officers.

For 25s, the third slot can be given to a DPS player who alway shows up, or just reserved for any missing significant buffs.

With three people for every two slots, each raider is guaranteed a minimum of raiding 66% of the time. Some people may raid more than that, but no one will raid less. As well, each position has significant redundancy, which should ensure that you never call a raid because you don't have enough healers, but enough DPS and tanks.

In addition, the guild can use the pods to guide recruiting efforts. The pods with unfilled spots are the positions you need to recruit for. You don't need to consider the entire guild as a whole, you can just go pod by pod and recruit for each position.

Of course, there are potential issues with this system. For example, since sitting out is determined in advance, people might decide to not show up on nights when they are scheduled to sit. This can cause problems if there are unexpected absences. There would need to be some understanding that everyone in guild who can show up does.

In general, the idea is to have each pod run itself to a certain degree, without needing the officers to get involved all the time. The officers' main job is to make sure that the pod is filled with players, and to intervene in unusual situations.

But on the whole, I think that this system would reduce the effort involved in managing a raid force. It provides redundancy for all positions, while guaranteeing a minimum amount of raiding for each individual.