Thursday, April 29, 2010

10s versus 25s

Big Bear Butt asks, "Can 25 man raids really be as fun as 10’s to play in, if most people have to be bribed to take part in them?"

I don't know, BBB. But one could ask, "If 10s are really that much more fun, why do they need higher quality rewards? Surely the extra fun is more important than the lower level loot."

But both questions miss the point. Or more accurately, both questions twist the situation, conveniently ignoring many aspects of the problem.

Here's how I look at it:

1. 25s are more fun than 10s.*
2. 25s are more significantly more work than 10s for the officers.

* Not really up for debate. Just accept that I personally find 25s more fun than 10s.

So it's a question of marginal value. Does the extra fun outweigh the extra cost. In the current game, the calculation is, "Does extra fun + greater quality loot outweigh the extra cost?" The answer for a lot of people is Yes. However, there are still a lot of people who answer No and do mainly 10s. Or they don't consider 25s more fun, so the decision is solely "greater quality loot versus extra work".

In Cataclysm, the question will be, "Does extra fun + greater quantity of loot outweigh the extra cost?" I think that a far greater majority of officers will answer No. And people who are willing to lead guilds are the heart and soul of the WoW community. The rest of us will follow their lead.

As for quantity versus quality of loot, we've debated that before. For some reason, quality is far more important to PvE. Witness the fuss made over Best-in-Slot gear versus gear that is just slightly worse.

The only time quantity of loot actually matters is if gear becomes very hard to obtain. For example, the switch from tier set pieces to tokens. Blizzard is not going to cripple 10s by making the quantity of loot low enough to actually be a factor worth considering when debating between 10s and 25s. Or if they do, the howls when the only item that drops off the boss is Spell Power plate--or something else unusable--will quickly force them to reconsider.

25s may drop more loot, but 10s will drop enough loot. And at that point, I don't think the extra fun will outweigh the extra work for the officers.

On the other hand, perhaps putting all this extra work on the officers was a bad idea in the first place. I've been raiding for several years now, first in 40s and then 25s, and I've seen a lot of officers burn out. As I mentioned above, these players are usually the heart and soul of the guild and community. Perhaps sacrificing 25s is worthwhile if it keeps them playing and involved in the game at a comfortable level.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cataclysm Raiding Changes

Well, Blizzard has posted some changes to the way Cataclysm raids will be structured. Here are the high points:

* Shared lockout between 25s and 10s

A good call. Repeating the same boss multiple times a week was a bad idea.

* Normal versus Heroic toggle on a per-boss basis

This is okay. I prefer separate instances because it makes it a lot easier to structure your time, especially for a limited-time guild. On a per-boss basis, it's fairly easy to misjudge the amount of time needed to finish the instance. You either fail to kill the end boss, or have time left over which you could have used to practice a Heroic mode. Neither of these results is particularly ideal. If Heroics were a separate instance, you keep going until you clear it, or you run out of time. Very easy to schedule.

* 10s and 25s to have same difficulty level

We'll see if this works. 10s might end up being much more rigorous in class composition requirements. Every class you double up on means one entire class won't be present in the raid. At least a 25 can count on at least one of each class.

To be honest, I think raid buffs and debuffs will need to be scaled back significantly for this to work. The difference between a 10-man which can cover every buff and one which can't is huge.

* Multiple shorter dungeons

Sure, why not? Might be better for PuGGing. A good PuG might be able to clear the entire instance, while if you get trapped in a bad PuG, you only burn half your raiding opportunities.

The problem with multiple dungeons is that you can end up with what happened with Tempest Keep and Serpentshrine Cavern. People will kill 1 boss from one instance, then go to the other instance and kill a couple before heading back. Cherry-picking bosses in order of difficulty, and generally wasting time.

I think this would work best if there was a clear progression in difficulty. Instance A is harder than Instance B. No randomly-accessible Loot Reaver.

* Gating is staying

Good. I like gating. It gives you something to look forward to every couple of weeks. And the race among the top guilds is far more interesting. You don't get the situation where one guild jumps out ahead early and rides that all the way to the end.

* PvE will earn Hero/Valor Points, like PvP Honor/Conquest (Arena) Points

This is pretty good. The PvP model is much better model for vendor-sold gear, especially when the top level Points will be converted to the lower level at the start of a new Tier.

No more having to run to the Money Changer in the Dalaran sewers to get the correct type of Emblem necessary.

* 10s and 25s will drop the same loot

Saving the controversial change for last. I think that this change heralds the death knell for 25s.

The thing is that it does not matter how many people want to do 25s. What matters is how many guild or raid leaders want to do 25s. The administrative costs are disproportionately placed on a few shoulders. Even if they really like 25s, I can see more than few guild leaders cracking and saying, "Screw this, it's much less headache to just take my core and do 10s and get the same loot."

I like 25s better than 10s. 25s are much more intricate, and I like the camaraderie of hanging out in the paladin or healer channel, bemoaning the lack of proper loot dropping. The whole group within the group aspect. I will be sad to see them die. But this change does simplify things a great deal. As well, it allows Blizzard to keep loot in a much tighter band, so we hopefully will not see the rampant loot inflation of Wrath.

I don't really think the extra amount of rewards for 25s is going to make much of a difference. If 10s drop 2 pieces of loot, 25s must drop 5 pieces just to maintain parity. If 25s get a 50% premium, then they drop 7-8 pieces, which is a little ridiculous. It might work if 10s dropped 1 item and 25s dropped 4. But imagine the howls in a 10-man when your one item turns out to be holy paladin spell plate (or any item which no one can use). And since it is 10s, the odds are higher that the item will be unusable due to your raid composition. Extra gold or Valor Points is unexciting, especially if Valor Points are capped. Might as well do the 10-man and daily heroics. That's much less effort for the raid/guild leader.

I do wonder what affect this will have on guild recruitment. Guilds always have attrition, but in a 25s guild that attrition can be "smoother". Maybe you lose one person a week, but that's only ~3% of your raiding force. Meanwhile, losing one person in a 10s guild is a loss of ~8% of the force at one time. So recruiting for 10s is "spikier". Whereas you can always apply to a 25s guild and they might take a flyer on you because it's only a slight increase in the size of the raiding force. But a 10s guild doesn't really have that luxury, I think. One additional person is a much larger increase in the raiding force.

You know, this analogy between recruiting and healing is kind of interesting. Smooth, steady damage versus spiky damage. Maybe I will look into it later.

Conclusions

So that's my take on Cataclysm raiding. Overall, many good ideas and changes. The best of Wrath (except Ulduar-style heroic toggles1) is being carried forward. However, I think Cataclysm will see the slow death of the 25s raiding scene, especially among the Aristocracy and Gentry tiers.

1. I really should write a post about why Ulduar-style toggles are much better than interface toggles.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Healing Dreamwalker as Retribution

The other night I got to DPS in Icecrown Citadel. When we got to Valithria Dreamwalker, I decided to try healing her specced as Retribution but in Holy gear.

The key talent that makes this idea possible is Sheath of Light. You get a really powerful HoT ticking away on Valithria, one that lasts for 12s while you are in the dream world. The other advantage you get is that Sanctified Wrath might let you get off an extra Avenging Wrath.

The raw total was very close to the healing I do as Holy, if not slightly higher. Holy Light did 54% of my healing, while Sheath of Light did 46%.

Of course, my Ret build is not designed for this. It is a regular Retribution build with DPS glyphs. You could do something like 23/5/43 and run Glyph of Seal of Light to completely maximize Dreamwalker healing. But it's really not necessary. It's just a fun thought experiment.

The other advantage that the Holy build has is that you can cast Beacon on Valithria and add extra healing to the raid. I've found that doing this is valuable at the very end of the fight, keeping the raid from being overrun.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Star Pony

I've made my feelings on RMT and micro-transactions pretty clear. I have not bought a Star Pony, nor am I likely too. Of course, I don't begrudge anyone who did buy a Star Pony. Money spent on entertainment is pretty much all equally worthwhile or equally worthless.

One thing that's missed in all the hoopla is how few people actually purchased the Star Pony. The raw numbers have been eye-popping, of course. But when you look at it as a percentage of the player base, maybe 5% at most have purchased one.

To be honest, this is pretty much the ultimate cosmetic item. It is a flying horse made of stars which is usable everywhere, and which every character you have can use. The only cosmetic item that could possibly top it would be a Dragon made of stars.

(Note to Blizzard: I would strongly consider purchasing a Star Dragon. It would be just too over-the-top awesome to resist.)

And that 5% is 5% of a market that is already willing to shell out money on the game. Sure, some Free-To-Play evangelists will insist that without subscriptions, more people will spend money on cash shop items.

These people are wrong. In my--admittedly cynical--view, there are two types of people in this world: freeloaders and people willing to pay. Freeloaders won't pay anything if they have a choice, no matter what incentives you put in front of them. You have to force them to pay if you want to get any money out of them. The people who are willing to pay would probably pay the same amount regardless of how that payment is structured. The only real advantage is allowing them to try out the game without forcing a commitment.

So yes, Star Pony brought in a fair chunk of change. But it is dwarfed by the non-sexy, yet reliable, subscription money. Any game that looks at the Star Pony and decides to bet their future on a cash shop has been blinded, and will end up failing. If you haven't made an MMO worth subscribing to, you haven't made a good game.

(Yes, that includes you, Dungeons & Dragon Online. Five times a very small number is still a very small number.)

Off-topic Note: While Star Pony is a very nice mount, the best mounts are still the paladin charger and [Ashes of Al'ar].

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Beacon of Light and Cataclysm

Beacon of Light puts paladins in an odd place, power-wise. In my view, Beacon breaks down as follows:

No Beacon = Underpowered.
Beacon healing one tank and one non-tank = Balanced.
Beacon healing two tanks = Overpowered.

Right now, the only thing keeping Holy Paladins in check is that they are abysmal at raid healing.

Blizzard has posted that they want to do something with Beacon in Cataclysm:

Currently on live, Beacon of Light is a tool that allows paladins to target more than just the main tank. In Cataclysm if it just doubles their healing, it is going to be overpowered. We have two ways we might handle this and we’ll experiment to see which feels better. The first is that Beacon only works on some heals, such as Flash of Light or Holy Light (but not the big one). An alternative idea is that Beacon increases the mana cost of a heal cast on a beaconed target, since you’re essentially getting a double heal. Under this model, Beacon itself would cost no mana.

The thing is that--as I understand it--healing is supposed to slow down a lot. Healers won't be GCD-locked, but more constrained by mana.

But here's the problem: if you're not GCD-locked, why spend 1 GCD to heal 2 people at double the mana? Why not just heal Person A with the first GCD and person B with the second GCD? It's the same amount of mana, but it's much more flexible.

I suppose the only allowing FoL to transfer is another solution, but is it really going to be worth the mana cost of Beacon? Beacon is actually a fairly expensive spell.

Traditionally, AoE healing works not just because it is time-effective, but because it is also cost-effective. If you can get full use out of your AoE heal, it is usually more efficient than using multiple direct heals.

Basically, I'm not really sure that the current Beacon of Light makes sense in the Cataclysm healing world that Blizzard is aiming for. It's been a godsend in Wrath, don't get me wrong. If we didn't have Beacon, I'm pretty sure that Holy Paladins would not be taken to raids. But in a slower, more controlled healing world, Beacon becomes extremely niche, with a prohibitive mana cost.

It might be best for Blizzard to just rework Beacon of Light entirely. For example, the new Healing Hands spell1 would match the name "Beacon of Light" superbly. In fact, Beacon of Light is a far more appropriate name for that mechanic than the current one. In the current mechanic, the Beacon target is more of a black hole, sucking healing in from the rest of the raid. With Healing Hands, the paladin literally becomes a beacon of light, radiating heals outward.

My recommendation would be to get rid of the current Beacon mechanics, rename Healing Hands to Beacon of Light, and either make a new 51-pt talent or a new level 83 spell.

1. Healing Hands (level 83): Healing Hands is a new healing spell. The paladin radiates heals from him or herself, almost like a Healing Stream Totem. It has a short range, but a long enough duration that the paladin can cast other heals while Healing Hands remains active. 15-second cooldown. 6-second duration.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cataclysm Paladin Preview Thoughts

New Paladin Spells

Blinding Shield (level 81): Causes damage and blinds all nearby targets. This effect might end up only damaging those facing the paladin’s shield, in a manner similar to Eadric the Pure's ability Radiance in Trial of the Champion. The Holy tree will have a talent to increase the damage and critical strike chance, while the Protection tree will have a talent to make this spell instant cast. 2-second base cast time. Requires a shield.

Interesting. Looks like our variant of Shockwave. One concern, however, is that Blinds usually break on damage, and a Prot paladin usually puts out a lot of AoE damage. For example, if Consecrate was down, and the paladin hit Blinding Shield, the blind would almost immediately break from Consecrate damage.

Healing Hands (level 83): Healing Hands is a new healing spell. The paladin radiates heals from him or herself, almost like a Healing Stream Totem. It has a short range, but a long enough duration that the paladin can cast other heals while Healing Hands remains active. 15-second cooldown. 6-second duration.

Quite nice. Turns the paladin into--dare I say it--a "Beacon of Light". Makes positioning important and nudges the paladin towards melee.

Guardian of Ancient Kings (level 85): Summons a temporary guardian that looks like a winged creature of light armed with a sword. The visual is similar to that of the Resurrection spell used by the paladin in Warcraft III. The guardian has a different effect depending on the talent spec of the paladin. For Holy paladins, the guardian heals the most wounded ally in the area. For Protection paladins, the guardian absorbs some incoming damage. For Retribution paladins, it damages an enemy, similar to the death knight Gargoyle or the Nibelung staff. 3-minute cooldown. 30-second duration (this might vary depending on which guardian appears).

Very cool. I quite like the idea of summoning celestial aid. From a mechanical standpoint, this is interesting in that it is the first ability to have a different effect depending on talent spec.

Changes to Abilities and Mechanics

Crusader Strike will be a core ability for all paladins, gained at level 1. We think the paladin leveling experience is hurt by not having an instant attack. Retribution will be getting a new talent in its place that either modifies Crusader Strike or replaces it completely.

Excellent change. The paladin leveling experience does need some spicing up. Also interesting is that Prot and Holy get access to CS.

Cleanse is being rebalanced to work with the new dispel system. It will dispel defensive magic (debuffs on friendly targets), diseases, and poisons.

Pretty much the same as before, but probably with the increased cost and no longer fails to cast if there isn't something to Cleanse.

Blessing of Might will provide the benefit of Wisdom as well. If you have two paladins in your group, one will do Kings on everyone and the other will do Might on everyone. There should be much less need, and ideally no need, to provide specific buffs to specific classes.

What about the case where there's only one paladin? Tanks and Caster DPS will want Kings (Int grants Spell Power now). Physical DPS and Healers will want the new Might. That still cuts across different classes, not to mention that to buff a raid requires 10 casts. Also, how does Sanctuary fit into the new scheme? The goal should be to eliminate PallyPower, and I don't see that happening.

Holy Shock will be a core healing spell available to all paladins.

Healing-wise, sounds good. The question is if this will include the damage portion too.

New Talents and Talent Changes

We want to ease off the defensive capabilities of Retribution and Holy paladins slightly. We think the powerful paladin defenses have been one of the things holding Retribution paladins back, especially in Arenas. One change we’re considering is lowering Divine Shield’s duration by a couple of seconds. Having said that, Retribution does pretty well in Battlegrounds, and Battlegrounds will be a much bigger focus in Cataclysm since they can provide the best PvP rewards. Furthermore, the healing environment of Cataclysm is going to be different such that a paladin may not be able to fully heal themselves during the duration of Divine Shield to begin with, so this may not be a problem.

ZOMG! The end of bubble-hearth? Say it ain't so, Ghostcrawler!

I'm not a big PvP player but I don't think that dropping Divine Shield by a couple of seconds is going to do that much. It might make a difference in the very high end. But at the lower end, 10s is much like 12s, and people are going to be angry that the paladin can go immune at all.

It doesn't seem like the trade-off is worth losing bubble-hearth. Bubble-hearth doesn't have a large gameplay impact, but it has had a huge impact on the "culture" of WoW. It's referenced in a lot of movies and jokes, and it's part of being a paladin.

If anything, I might suggest something more radical. Divine Shield could become a Holy talent, an Improved Divine Protection. That would restrict Prot and Ret to Divine Protection, but keep the full immunity for Holy, and Holy could still continue the tradition of bubble-hearthing.

We feel Retribution paladins need one more mechanic which involves some risk of the player pushing the wrong button, making the rotation a bit less forgiving. In addition, we want to add to this spec more PvP utility. Right now the successes of the Retribution paladin in PvP seem to be reduced to either doing decent burst damage, or just being good at staying alive.

The last time Blizz said this, they ended up dropping the cooldown of Crusader Strike by 2s. We'll see if they come up with something more interesting this time around.

We want to increase the duration of Sacred Shield to 30 minutes and keep the limit to one target. The intention is that the paladin can use it on their main healing target. That said, we would like to improve the Holy paladin toolbox and niche so that they don’t feel quite like the obvious choice for tank healing while perceived as a weak group healer.

Sure, why not. One less thing to worry about. It'll be a little bit annoying for fights with tank swaps. However, this guarantees that Ret and Prot paladins will have their Sacred Shields up on a target. Still, might be an interesting place for talents. Holy's Sacred Shield gives a FoL HoT, so maybe Ret and Prot's could do something unique as well.

We want to add to the Holy tree a nice big heal to correspond with Greater Heal. Flash of Light remains the expensive, fast heal and Holy Light is the go-to heal that has average efficiency and throughput. Beacon of Light will be changed to work with Flash of Light. We like the ability, but want paladins to use it intelligently and not be constantly healing for twice as much.

Eh? Paladin heals operate on a different paradigm than Priest heals. FoL is cheap, efficient but weak, while HL is expensive, wasteful but powerful. If they're changing this then it will be hard to evaluate paladin healing by looking at the past. Personally, I don't think we even need an extra direct heal. Holy Light, Holy Shock, and Flash of Light are enough.

As for the Beacon change, it's probably necessary. Healing two tanks at once is excessive.

Holy paladins will use spirit as their mana regeneration stat.

Expected. Lawbringer armor gets the last laugh after all.

Protection paladins need a different rotation between single-target and multi-target tanking. Likewise, we're looking to add the necessity to use an additional cooldown in each rotation.

Well, Protection does have access to Crusader Strike now. We may see something where Hammer of the Righteous is dropped for Crusader Strike on single targets.

Holy Shield will no longer have charges. It will be designed to improve block chance while active, and will continue to provide a small amount of damage and threat.

The word "small" is a bit concerning. But we'll have to see. A longer duration might also be good, to break out of the 969.

Mastery Passive Talent Tree Bonuses

Holy
Healing
Meditation
Critical Healing Effect

Protection
Damage Reduction
Vengeance
Block Amount

Retribution
Melee Damage
Melee Critical Damage
Holy Damage

Meditation: This is the spirit-to-mana conversion that the priest, druid, and shaman healers also share.
Vengeance: This is the damage-received-to-attack-power conversion that all tanks share.
Critical Healing Effect: When the paladin gets a crit on a heal, it will heal for more.
Block Amount: We want to keep the kit of the paladin as a tank who blocks a lot. So by contrast, the warrior tank will sometimes get critical blocks, but the paladin will absorb more damage with normal blocks.
Holy Damage: Any attack that does Holy damage will have its damage increased.

I like the Mastery effects. In a world where it takes multiple casts to heal someone to full, the Critical Healing Effect will be very useful. I'm assuming it means that the crit multiplier on heals will be higher than 150%. Holy Damage is an iconic part of Ret, it's what differentiates paladins from warriors. Better blocking is good for a shield-using tank.

Clarifications

We've updated the Flash of Light reference to make it a bit more clear in the original post as follows.

Flash of Light remains a fast heal, but will be more expensive to justify the cast speed. Holy Light will be the go-to heal that has average efficiency and throughput. Beacon of Light needs to be changed so that its benefit is letting the paladin heal two targets at once, not letting the paladin get two heals for the mana cost of one. It’s intended to save GCDs and targeting time, not mana.

In addition we’re changing the paladin heal design to match that of the other healers. Holy Light is the middle heal. It’s very efficient, but not particularly fast and doesn’t have a lot of throughput. Flash of Light will be the faster heal that costs more mana. (Currently paladins sort of flip the model around by having a fast, efficient heal.) Holy paladins can talent into an additional heal that is like a giant Holy Light. It might take three of these big heals (or two crits) to get a tank from death’s door back to 100% health.

Currently on live, Beacon of Light is a tool that allows paladins to target more than just the main tank. In Cataclysm if it just doubles their healing, it is going to be overpowered. We have two ways we might handle this and we’ll experiment to see which feels better. The first is that Beacon only works on some heals, such as Flash of Light or Holy Light (but not the big one). An alternative idea is that Beacon increases the mana cost of a heal cast on a beaconed target, since you’re essentially getting a double heal. Under this model, Beacon itself would cost no mana.

Also on the live realms currently, paladins have huge mana pools and massive throughput. The trade-off is that they are excellent single target healers and much weaker in other roles. We want paladins to be slightly more interchangeable with other healers. In Cataclysm, you should be able to have a Holy priest on the tank and a Holy paladin on the raid. We’re not sure we’ll back off of the current healing roles completely, but we definitely want to add more breadth to those whose roles are currently too narrow.

Very interesting. Nothing has driven home the scope of the healing changes in Cataclysm like the idea of a "giant" Holy Light which still requires 3 casts to heal a tank to full.

Also nice to know is that they are definitely changing the paladin healing paradigm to match that of priests. Kind of honestly, I think we're just going to have to reserve judgement until Beta starts.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Proposed Eclipse Issues

From the Druid Preview:

Eclipse: We are moving Eclipse from a talent into a core mechanic of the class and making it less random. Balance druids will have a new UI element that shows a sun and a moon. Whenever they cast an Arcane spell, it will move the UI closer to the sun, and buff their Nature damage. Whenever they cast a Nature spell, it will move the UI closer to the moon, and buff their Arcane damage. The gameplay intention is to alternate Arcane and Nature spells (largely Starfire and Wrath) to maintain the balance.

Problem

Systems like this sound good at first, but they rarely work as intended. To see why, think of the proposed UI element as a state-machine, instead of a bar. You end up with a "chain" of linked states. Each state has two possible actions: an Arcane spell or a Nature spell. Casting an Arcane spell moves to the state on the right, and casting a Nature spell will move to the state on the left.


The key here is that for any given state, one of the two possible actions is better. In State 1, the best move will be an Arcane spell. In State 4, the best move will be a Nature spell. This is true no matter how you get to the state.

You will eventually end up oscillating between two states, regardless of how many possible states are in the chain. In State N, the best option is Arcane, which sends you to State N+1. In State N+1, the best option is Nature, which sends you back to State N. And then you bounce back and forth between those two states forever, regardless of how many possible states there are in the chain.


If you don't want this to be true, you need a third element--some *extra* buff or debuff--which in State N sometimes makes Arcane the best, and sometimes makes Nature the best. The state chain itself, and any bonuses or penalties inherent in the individual states, is not enough.

Of course, you can mitigate this a little. Maybe the new Nature Torrent spell jars you out of the oscillation and sends to a state much further up or down the chain. But then you'll still end up oscillating around a different point, until you get to Nature's Torrent again. I don't think this is really what Blizzard wants Balance druids to play like.

(I could be wrong, however. Maybe they do want Balance druids to go Wrath-Starfire-Wrath-Starfire-etc. The last line of the preview is inconclusive.)

Potential Solution

What I would do is relatively simple: All spells move the UI element in the same direction. At first, the bar would move towards Midnight. After Midnight, the bar would move towards Noon, then back to Midnight, and so on. During the Night, Arcane would get a bonus, with the highest bonus coming at Midnight. During the Day, Nature would get the bonus, with the highest bonus at Noon.

Of course, this makes Balance theorycraft pretty simple. Cast Wrath during the Day, and cast Starfire at Night. Maybe refresh Moonfire at Midnight and Insect Swarm at Noon. But simple might be best, if it still results in something more than a two-state oscillation, and is also easy for everyone to understand.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A DPS Cap?

I had a really weird thought. What would the game be like if there was a cap on DPS?

I was following a discussion on Glyphs. The Healers were pointing out that they liked Glyphs because they could pick and choose from them. And this is true. Holy Paladins alone can choose from Glyph of Beacon of Light, Seal of Wisdom, Seal of Light, Holy Light, and Flash of Light. But DPS, on the other hand is much more restricted. As Gurgthock of EJ wrote, "The system doesn't work too well for DPS, though, just because generally DPS is a math problem and there is a right answer."

That's when it struck me: What if there wasn't one right answer?

The right answer is whatever combination yields the single highest DPS. But let's imagine a game where DPS is capped. You simply cannot do more than X damage-per-second. Any extra damage just disappears. Any solution which produces more DPS than the cap is a correct solution.

What would such a game look like? So long as you could reach the cap, DPS would have a lot more freedom in how they played, or glyphed. There's still an incentive to do more damage, because more DPS increases the number of free Global Cooldowns you have to do other stuff. But it's not as extreme an incentive as it is now.

Heh, maybe DPS players would start using stamina gems.

In WoW, the cap could go up as gear levels increased. Or it could be restricted by Tier. I.e. In Naxx, the cap is always 3000 DPS, in Ulduar 5000 DPS, etc.

It's an interesting thought experiment. But I wonder if DPS players would really like it. Would a new weapon be more interesting if it didn't make any appreciable difference? Would we miss being able to overpower older content? Would it make life harder as a good DPS player couldn't compensate for a poorer player?

Shaman Preview Up

The Cataclysm Shaman Preview is up.

I have to say that Healing Rain is absolutely gorgeous.

Healing Rain (level 83): An area-effect heal-over-time (HoT) spell that calls down rain in a selected area, healing all players within it. There is no limit to the number of players who can potentially be affected; however, there are diminishing returns when healing a large number of targets, much like the diminishing returns associated with AoE damage spells. This should give Restoration shaman another healing tool that improves their group-healing and heal-over-time capabilities. 2-second cast time. 30-yard range. 10-second duration. 10-second cooldown.

It's something new in healing. It breaks healers out of Grid and into the game world. It has spectacular flavor, and feels like a shaman ability to the bone. It is resonant with a lot real world motifs about rain, water, healing, and even religious comfort.

I think Healing Rain is a home run by Ghostcrawler and his team. It sets a high bar for the remaining previews.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Blueprint for Endgame: Raiding Gear

In the previous post, I outlined what I think the pre-raid endgame should look like. Now, let's take a look at gear progression in raids.

General Principle

The general principle I would like the raid game to follow is "One instance for farming, one instance for progression." The key here is setting up which instances guilds in the different strata go after.

Difficulties

1. There will be four variants of each raid: 10-Normal, 10-Heroic, 25-Normal, 25-Hard. These four variants are mutually exclusive and share a lockout.

I think that it would be best if you could only attempt an instance once per week. If you are saved to the 10-Normal version, you cannot go to 25-Normal version. In Wrath there's a bit too much repetition. You end killing the same bosses multiple times a week. It was worst in Trial of the Crusader, where you may have ended up killing the same 5 bosses 4 times every week. Familiarity breeds contempt, after all.

As well, there is a lot of blurring about who is involved in which strata. Many people at Elitist Jerks believe that 10-Hard is redundant, and only 25-Normal raiders actually use that setting. I am not sure that is true, but making things exclusive will provide clarity, and will allow each variant to be tuned to the specific needs and gear level of its audience.

2. All variants are launched simultaneously.

This allows hard mode guilds to jump directly into the race. They don't get to practice on easy modes first. As well, it makes the race more linear, as they have to defeat every hard mode in order.

Gear

3. Gear will use the following pattern:

Variant:10-Normal10-Heroic25-Normal25-Heroic
Gear Tag:ValiantChallengerChallengerChampion
Tier 10224
Tier 21335
Tier 32446
Tier 43557


Each step in the pattern corresponds to however many item levels is appropriate. I think about 6 would be best. So if Tier 1 10-Normal is ilvl 300, Tier 2 10-Normal would be ilvl 306, while Tier 1 25-Normal would be ilvl 312. This is important because it means that previous tier's Heroic mode provides slightly better gear than the current Normal mode. Remember that you cannot do both Normal and Heroic modes of the same instance in a single lockout period.

So if we go back to the "one instance for Farming, and one instance for Progression" idea, what would the patterns look like for each strata of guild as a new tier of raiding is released (Tier 2 for example)?

Royalty guilds have beaten the previous Heroic mode. So they would dive right in to Tier 2-Heroic, and farm Tier 1-Heroic.

Aristocracy guilds are working on Tier 1-Heroic modes. They will quickly finish Tier 2-Normal and use that for farming, and then finish off Tier 1-Heroic. After Tier 1-Heroic is finished, then they can start working on Tier 2-Heroic.

Gentry guilds will work on Tier 2-Normal, while farming Tier 1-Normal. If they beat Tier 2-Normal early, they can start to nibble on Tier 1-Heroic.

Bourgeoisie guilds will finish up Tier 1-Normal, and then progress into Tier 2-Normal.

The key here is that the current Normal tier does not obsolete the previous Heroic tier. That, combined with the fact that you can only attempt one variant at a time, will keep guilds balanced between the two tiers. They will farm an instance from one tier, and progress in an instance on the other tier. Which tier is designated progression changes as instances are complete.

Instances should be dropped more organically. Rather than repeating the same boss multiple times a week, a guild will work on different bosses. There is always a path for progression.

4. Gear will use the same name and stats across the tier. Each piece will have a green tag designating it as Valiant, Challenger, or Champion, reflecting which item level it has.

Essentially, this extends the Heroic loot method used in ICC and TotGC to the entire spectrum. [Uber-sword] drops from the same boss in all four variants. However, the [Uber-sword] (Champion) that drops from 25-Heroic has the highest item level.

What this does is eliminate the possibility that a Best-in-Slot item might drop from a 10-man due to a unique allocation of stats. An equal or better item will always drop in 25-mans. This eliminates any reason for 25-man players to want to do extra 10-mans. As well, it reduces the amount of loot and different items models necessary in the game.

5. Class Sets will be 5-pieces, and use the same tokens as ICC. One token for 3-4 classes, and a token can buy any armor slot piece. However, you will not use Badges to buy tokens.

This makes Class sets relatively easy to get, with a minimum of fuss. 10-Normal will drop Valiant Tokens, 10-Heroic and 25-Normal will drop Challenger Tokens, and 25-Heroic will drop Champion Tokens. Trade a token in for the set piece of the correct level.

It's not quite as easy as TotC, because I kind of like complaining that Conquerer's Marks never drop. Marks in TotC seemed too mechanical, with no real surprise element or something to look forward to when it came to set pieces. At the same time, having specific marks for specific armor slots seems excessive, especially when it comes to armor slots that drop off the last boss (Yogg and shoulders, for example).

Conclusions

I'll finish up with other thoughts, including badges, in another post. But I hope you can see the general structure of the raid progression that I am proposing. I think Wrath went a little bit too far in obsoleting the previous tier when a new instance came out. I want to balance between tiers a little bit better, and get a little more of a linear progression feel back into the game. Especially with Heroic modes, it sometimes feels like you are bouncing around too much.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Blueprint for Endgame: Pre-Raid

This expansion has seen a lot experimentation in endgame. Some of it has been good, and some of it has been bad. After thinking about what I liked and disliked in Wrath, here is the first part of a plan that I would love to see in Cataclysm.

Pre-raid

1. The first Tier of raiding opens 3 months after the launch of Cataclysm.

I greatly disliked the "rush" to get to Naxxramas. Levelling, normal dungeons, and heroics, were all severely diminished by the fact that Naxx was available so early. By delaying the opening of raiding for a few months, that gives everyone time to explore all the other facets of the game at leisure. As well, normal dungeon and heroic loot won't get obsoleted so fast.

2. 5-mans only drop blue gear.

I think that dropping scarce epics was a mistake. For one thing, the one epic drop obsoletes a lot of the other blue gear that drops. For example, [Red Sword of Courage] was strictly better than all other 5-man tanking weapons. Second, it allows you to start the raid game at lower item level. Finally, I think everyone skipped past blues and into epics too fast.

3. Heroic 5-mans drop an 8-piece class set.

I miss the dungeon sets of Vanilla. Dropping an 8-piece set gives something for people to collect, a reason to run many heroics. Ideally one piece would be dropped by the end boss of each heroic instance. There would be a version for each class-role combination. The set would have 2-, 4-, and 6-piece bonuses.

As for looks, I think a good motif would be "greatest hits from Tiers 1-6". That way it's a nod to nostalgia, while reusing artwork. For example, the Ret paladin set might be "Reforged Judgement", or the Rogue set could be "Restored Bloodfang". Alternatively the set could just use the blue Cataclysm armor artwork.

4. Heroic 5-mans do not drop badges at the start.

There is no need for badges at this point in time. Later, once raiding gets underway, badges can drop.

Edit: After thinking about this a bit more, it occurs to me that Heirloom gear will still need to be purchased. Heroics could drop Valiant Badges, but the only things for sale at this point will be the Heirloom gear. I think that Badge gear fills a hole when it comes to the scarcity of raid drops, but since random heroics can be run extremely often, badge gear is not necessary for 5-mans.

5. The Daily Heroic rewards 2x Champion Badges. A maximum of 8 Champion Badges can be earned each week.

There is a weekly cap on Badges so that people do not have to log in every single day.

6. There will be a maximum of 3 epic items available from professions. No weapons. Maybe belt and bracers and a ring. Recipes for these items cost Champion Badges. As well, these recipes require an ingredient which costs Champion Badges.

Here's a little tidbit to make crafting interesting. These recipes should be highly valued, as they are pretty much the only epics in the game (other than maybe a couple epics from exalted faction reputation). I like the way Primordial Saronite has worked out, and I think it's a good model to use for professions at the start of the expansion.

7. Reputation grinds use the "Tabard" model of Wrath.

I really like this model. It's flexible and easy to understand. As well, wearing a faction's tabard really drives home the idea that you are working for that faction, or accomplishing deeds in that faction's name.

Conclusions

I think this model will give people a solid foundation to start raiding. They can take their time leveling, collect sets in dungeons, and will enter the first tier of raiding with mostly blues and maybe one or two epics. I think that the first point is key, though. If Cataclysm launches with raids, a vast amount of content is going to go to waste.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Interesting Death Knight Tank Build

Some chatter about this DK tank build caught my eye: 45/26/0

It's a build designed for 5 or 10-man content. It brings two major buffs to the raid: 10% Attack Power and 20% Melee Haste. Both are very important buffs that may not be covered. It also has the full 20% melee slow debuff. Raid buffs are very important, and sometimes it's hard to get full coverage in a smaller group. It also brings a Hysteria to further boost melee damage.

Defensively, it includes Will of the Necropolis and Vampiric Blood. It doesn't have 5% dodge, but it does have 3% additional melee miss chance. That should be good enough for lower content.

It's a two-handed weapon build. It plays like a regular Blood build, only you use Obliterate instead of Death Strike, and you have to refresh diseases more often. It probably won't do as much threat as a pure Frost or pure Blood build would do.

It's a pretty interesting hybrid Blood/Frost build. In some ways, it makes the DK an enhancement shaman replacement, as you bring the buffs an enhancement shaman usually would provide (Strength of Earth Totem, Unleashed Rage, and Windfury Totem). Of course, if your group already has an enhancement shaman, there are probably better tank builds.