Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ask Coriel: Holy Paladin Mastery?

Jeremy asks:

Maybe I am missing something but I feel like the way the game works right now, the designers intended Mastery to be a super great stat for Holy Pallies. However, as it’s been, stacking haste seems much more effective (maybe I am wrong on this). As I am sure you know, the next patch is (slightly?) increasing the effect of mastery for holy paladins. In your opinion is this going to mean we should start mastery instead of haste, or was mastery never something the game intended us to persue?

Even with the changes coming in 4.1, most theorycrafters seem to agree that the holy paladin mastery (Illuminated Healing) will not be as good as haste. Mastery rating might end up slightly better than crit rating, but will probably be more or less at the same level, and still below haste rating (and definitely below Spirit).

The problem with our mastery is two-fold. First, Protector of the Innocent, Holy Radiance, and Beacon of Light heals do not trigger it. And those three abilities comprise a significant portion of our total healing.

The second problem is that our mastery does not stack. Let's say you cast a heal on a target with a mastery shield already on it. If the new shield is larger than the remaining shield, the new shield replaces the old one. If the new shield is smaller than the old shield, the duration of the old shield is refreshed. Either way, you end up with less absorption than you would expect.

In my experience, Illuminated Healing accounts for a bit less than half of the number stated in the description. That is, if the description states that the shield is 10% of your healing, you can expect it to absorb 4-5%.

Now, I don't think Blizzard is entirely happy with our Mastery. I think they like the general idea of Illuminated Healing. To be honest, I like the general idea too. In theory, it's a nice complement to our direct healing style, providing a small buffer for the next bit of damage, and as a nod to our previous history of tank healing.

What I believe is happening is that Blizzard is trying to avoid an exploit with our Mastery. Let's say that the shields stacked. The obvious exploit is to cast a ton of heals on the tanks before the fight starts, or during lulls in the fight, and build up a giant shield. We would be spamming heals on the tank even if she was at full health, and that's not a healthy or desired play-style.

Ideally, shields would "roll" like Ignite does. The shields would stack, but 8 seconds after a shield is cast, whatever remains of that particular shield disappears. So the shield can't hang around forever, but they don't get wasted before their lifespan expires. However, there might be technical issues with this. I remember it took a long time for Ignite to roll correctly. Even recently Blizzard removed Ignite triggering on periodic spell ticks in order to keep it working properly. And Illuminated Healing is actually more complicated than Ignite, because the shield is reduced by damage in an unpredictable manner.

There are other options, including allowing the shields to stack but having a maximum shield size (maybe dependent on how much Mastery one has). But that still gets into the whole pre-healing in order to get a max shield up scenario.

Another alternative is having the shield only count on actual healing done, not over-healing. But we all remember how dicey that was when Beacon worked that way. It might work out better now, with the larger health bars, but it might not.

Or maybe have the shield stack, but lose 20% of its current value every second. Actually, this probably a bad idea, I think the math on it looks weird, and it's still vulnerable to pre-healing.

So as you can see, there's really no "nice" solution for our Mastery. Blizzard's current solution is as good--or as bad--as anything I can think of. In the end, eventually raising the value of mastery will get it to a point where we will use it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Automatically Measuring Contribution

Lately, more and more games with group activities have been trying to hand out rewards based on the individual's contribution to group's success. The latest example is rewards for defeating rifts in RIFT. The problem with all these systems is that contribution is very hard to measure automatically. It's bounded by role, by level, and by strategy. Trying to say that Joe contributed more than Randolph, and thus deserves more reward, is a very hard problem.

It's even harder once players start trying to game the system. For example, RIFT apparently used the rate at which you used abilities to determine contribution. Which sounds pretty reasonable at first. If you constantly attacking, or constantly healing, you're probably contributing a lot. But players then started spamming buffs, or spamming abilities like "Track Minerals" to get to the top of the contribution meter. Obviously, Trion will fix this, but it illustrates how hard measuring contribution is.

I wonder if the better tactic would be to change the question. Instead of How much did the player contribute?, maybe the game should just ask: Did the player contribute? Instead of trying to quantify contribution, just make the question binary. And then just more or less equally reward everyone who did contribute.

I think the binary question is much easier to answer. For a game without defense, I would just use the damage done, healing or damage taken meters. If you are above a certain threshold of the top value on at least one meter, you probably did contribute to the group's success. It would be a low threshold, like say 20%. If you did more than 20% of the top damage dealer, you'd count as a contributing dps.

That's enough to give you a shot at the rewards, in my opinion. It may not be perfectly fair, but it's "fair enough", and all the other systems seem be able to be exploited more easily.

Now defense is much harder to measure. Let's say you're defending the mine in Arathi Basin, and no enemies attack you. You're still contributing to the group's success, but you don't show up on any of the meters. Maybe one solution would have the defending point give out a buff in a certain radius, and then have a meter count the time spent with that buff. A "time defending" meter. And then use the same threshold system as for the other meters.

So to conclude, quantifying contribution automatically is hard and vulnerable to exploitation. Reducing the question to a binary "Did the player contribute?" might be easier and fair enough to satisfy the player base.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interrupts

Lots of people, including Ghostcrawler, are talking about interrupts lately. So I'll throw in my two cents. Again, I play mostly PvE, so I'm pretty much ignoring the PvP aspects.

Back in Wrath, a lot of us healers complained that healing was too unforgiving and stressful. Sometimes it felt like you'd miss a heal, and the tank would die. I think Blizzard agreed with that perspective, and changed the balance between healing and tank health for Cataclysm.

But in some respects, it seems like that "unforgiving" element of fights has moved to interrupts. A lot of fights seem to follow the pattern: going fine, going fine, missed interrupt, raid wipes. It's very frustrating for the interrupter, and it's very frustrating for the rest of the raid.

And even the cast times seem to be excessively fast. It seems like the standard interruptible boss spell cast time is 1.5 seconds. That's a really short window. I'm actually rather impressed with our interrupters to be able to hit that small window each time, especially with lag and latency and Halfus knockdowns.1

The other thing that annoys me about interrupts is that Curse of Tongues does not seem to work on most bosses. I mean, here we have a spell that's tailor-made to make interrupting easier, and it's completely useless most of the time. It feels "right" that Blizzard would expect us to use Curse of Tongues to help out the interrupters. The perfect time to use a rarely used skill. And yet, no dice.

If I was to fix anything about interrupts, it would be to make Curse of Tongues and similar debuffs usable in Normal modes, at the very least. That would bring the 1.5 second cast time up to ~2 seconds for Normal modes. I think this would make the interrupts more forgiving, and be more balanced for that level of raiding. Heroic bosses can remain immune to Curse of Tongues, upping the challenge for interrupters playing at the higher level.

1. Honestly, WTF is this? Rotating mages ice-blocking and stun-break CDs through the last knockdown so we can interrupt? Did this not strike anyone at Blizzard as slightly excessive?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trading Time for Money

Brian Green posted an interesting comparison of the online stores of Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. He also posts a look at the F2P shop of Puzzle Pirates, which he sees as close to the "ideal" cash shop. I just want to examine one element of that shop:

3. A market for exchanging microcurrency and in-game currency. To me, this is the brilliant part. Love playing the game, but don't have cash to fork out? You can go to the market and put an offer in to buy doubloons (the microcurrency) with your pieces o' eight (Po8). Have some disposable income, but not a lot of time to go farm Po8? Go to the market and put in an offer to sell doubloons for a certain amount of Po8. The players set the market so this isn't just about dumping currency into the game, and the doubloons still have to be bought from someone, so this is something more games should pick up on.

I don't think this sort of trade is a good idea. To me, it seems like the people who are "good" at the game will end up playing for free with all the perks, explicitly subsidized by those players who are not good.

Second, from the companies point of view, the people who are "hardcore" about your game are also more likely to spend money on your game. But now they're not spending money on the game, but they are spending more time in the game. It feels like you are unnecessarily cutting yourself off from your greatest source of support.

Like, if you look at WoW, this kind of setup would probably mean that all the raiders would sell gold to the lower-end people. Raiders would be the ones playing for free while the casuals subsidized them to an even greater extent. That doesn't really seem either fair or wise to me.

I think my aversion to these schemes started because I used to play Magic Online. You had to buy packs of cards to enter tournaments. But if you won the tournaments, you won packs of cards. So the good players would "go infinite" where they never actually had to pay for the game, while the losers did all the paying. It struck me as pretty distasteful, and rather disheartening.

Now admittedly, most MMOs don't have that level of competition built in. The competition is more indirect. But it still strikes me as unfair to let the strong get a free ride at the expense of the weak.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Alts and Raids

Gevlon is debating weakening his guild's "no-alt" rule in order to make it easier to create raids.

In my personal opinion, I don't think that alts really help a lot with raiding. Raiders much prefer to play their main character. The alt is invariably geared at a much lower level than the rest of the raid. Consistent raiding gears a character up, and improves their skills. If you're consistently raiding on an alt, you have question whether that's really an alt.

It also breeds a little bit of resentment among the people who don't bring their alts. Everyone has alts, but why is Jane allowed to get gear and improve her alt, while Vanessa (who doesn't need anything from the raid) has to carry her?

The only situations where I would use alts in a raid is if the fight absolutely depended on one class ability (Mind Control on Instructor Razuvious) or you're a Royalty guild raid-stacking for the cutting edge of content.

For everyone else, it's extra complexity that doesn't really add anything. Indeed I think it weakens the raid if you get into the habit of bringing in alts. The best progression comes with a stable core of characters, and bringing in alts cuts against that.

The only real solution is to recruit for the roles you are missing, including bench or reserve slots and rotating people. Perhaps try a system like Pods to guide your efforts.

Note: I do think the no-alt rule in general is excessive. After a while, you generally "finish" a character, and can only improve them through raiding. A lot of people like spending the free time on playing a new character. I'm not really sure what keeping those secondary characters out of the guild actually accomplishes. But I stand by my rule of "no alts in the primary raid."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dungeon Finder Thoughts

Sometimes I wonder if I use a different Dungeon Finder than all the other bloggers and commenters. The vast majority of my groups are quick, clean, polite, competent and successful. Now, maybe it's because I'm a super-duper awesome healer and am busy carrying my groups to victory, but I don't really think that's the case.

Another alternative is that it's the healers who are the divas and cause the majority of issues in PuGs. Since I'm a healer, I never see them when I use the Dungeon Finder, and thus have better groups. But somehow I don't think that's the case either.

I've played several games without a Dungeon Finder, and I've never found random groups in those games to be better behaved or more competent. If anything, I've found them to be worse, because everyone seems to feel free to go AFK randomly, confident that the group won't kick them because it's so hard to find a replacement.

I mean, take yesterday for example. I ran a Heroic Vortex Pinnacle and then switched to my lowbie 28 rogue and ran a Gnomergan. Both runs were successful. There were no wipes and no drama. And that took less time and effort than setting up any of instance runs I tried in Rift.

To me, that experience is not unusual. It is what I expect from Dungeon Finder groups.1 And I really do not see how anyone can prefer the alternative to this.

To be fair though, I was never very good at creating or maintaining the network of friends that might have made running dungeons pre-LFD easier. I didn't have an extensive rolodex of tanks and healers. For the few I did have, I was never really comfortable whispering someone out of the blue and asking them to tank or heal. I always felt bad about turning people who asked me to heal down. So I stuck with scanning or spamming the various chat channels, with relatively low degrees of success.2

But maybe if you were a more social person than I was, or played more often, and built that extensive rolodex of tanks and healers, I can see how losing your network would hurt. And since you would repeatedly group with people in your network, I can see how it would forge stronger bonds than the impersonal runs of the Dungeon Finder.

However, for me, the Dungeon Finder is light-years ahead of my prior experience.

So that's my take on the Dungeon Finder. I think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why it seems that so many other people have such a negative impression of it.

Why are my random groups consistently better than everyone else's? Both are purely random, as I don't often run randoms with guildies. Both use the exact same system, and pretty much the same player pool. I'm a decent player, but I'm not that good.

There is one thing I do that might make a difference. I make a point of saying "hiya" in party chat when I join the group. Often other people say "hi" back. Maybe that's enough to get everyone into a positive frame of mind, and remind everyone that we're all friendly people rather than NPCs, and that's enough to carry the group through most things. It seems like such a small thing, but it's the only thing I can think of that might be different from any other random Dungeon Finder group.

1. Well, I was a little bit surprised by Gnomergan. But that's mostly because it's Gnomergan.
2. Especially for low-level dungeons. If there's one thing I absolutely adore about the Dungeon Finder, it's the fact that doing low-level dungeons in a level-appropriate group went from impossible to relatively common.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rift: Final Thoughts

I've decided that Rift is not for me, and have cancelled and uninstalled it. Here are my reasons. Please note that Rift is still a good game, and if you are enjoying it, more power to you. It just wasn't for me.

  1. No Dungeon Finder. I don't think I can play an MMO without automatic group creation for PvE anymore. I just can't take having a half-formed group spamming the chat channels with "LF Tank" or "LF Healer", hoping that someone takes pity on you. Group PvE content (real content, not rift zergs) is my favorite part of these games, and I find it just too hard to start up. To be fair, this is not just a Rift thing. The last time I played Age of Conan, I gave up on that because it was too hard for me to form groups for the group quests and dungeons.

  2. Terrible armor design. Yeah, this is pretty shallow of me. And maybe it's my fault for rolling a female warrior instead of some other gender/class combination. But in 25 levels or so, my character has looked worse and worse with each new piece of armor. And that in turn has made me less and less interested in playing Rift.

  3. Excessive macro system. The Rift macro system is excessive. For all that various people are crowing that Rift is "no-mods", their macro system does way more than any mod. What happens in a Rift macro is that if the first spell cannot be cast, the macro attempts to cast the second spell and so far down the list. So if your class mainly uses cooldown or reactive spells, as is the case for most non-casters, you can pretty much reduce your entire class down to one or two buttons. For example, my warrior's combo-point builder macro looks like:

    cast Reactive Ability 1
    cast Reactive Ability 2
    cast range-dependant Charge
    cast cooldown Debuff
    cast cooldown Attack Ability 1
    cast cooldown Attack Ability 2
    cast default Attack Ability


    Then you just spam that one button until you get to 3 combo points, and then spam a different macro for finishers. This just seems excessive to me.

  4. Spell ranks. Spell ranks just don't work with the free-form soul design. You gain 3 levels using one spec, then switch to a different spec to tank something, and all your abilities are a few ranks behind. Or you put a new point in your second soul, gain a new ability, and have to train 5 or 6 ranks to get it up to par. Combine this with the fact that you have to ride a fair distance to get back to town to train, and it's just an all-around annoyance.

  5. Vestigial tertiary soul. There's something about that third soul that just doesn't feel right to me. It's mostly useless, but somehow manages to make builds feel less "crisp" than they should be. I can't shake the suspicion that Rift builds would be far more interesting and defined if they only had two souls.

Anyways, those are the main reasons I'm just not feeling the love for Rift. But Rift is a good, well-polished game that a lot of people are having fun with, and it is well worth playing for a month or two to see if you like it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hunter Pets

From the latest patch notes:

  • Tame Beast now tames pets to match the hunter's level, rather than 3 levels below.
  • Bloodthirsty no longer generates Happiness.
  • Carrion Feeder no longer restores Happiness.
  • The Feed Pet ability now instantly heals 50% of the pet's health. Cannot be used in combat. Requires diet-appropriate food.
  • Guard Dog no longer causes Growl to generate additional Happiness.
  • The Happiness/Pet Loyalty System has been removed. Hunters will no longer have to manage Happiness for their pets, and the previous damage bonus for pets being happy will now be baseline for all tamed pets.

I was rather dismayed when I saw these patch notes.

One of the things that Vanilla WoW did really well was emphasize the idea that a hunter pet was a separate entity from the hunter. You had to go out into the world and tame your pet from the wild, even the very first pet. The pet had it's own experience bar, and leveled separately. You had to keep your pet happy and feed it with the appropriate food. If your pet grew too unhappy, it would actually run away from you. The pet had a "loyalty" statistic that measured how attached it was to you.1 You had to train your pet with new skills that you learned by taming other beasts.

There was this whole "tamagotchi"/virtual pet aspect to hunter pets at the start of WoW that was very attractive. It was a small mini-game within the class that didn't really have anything to do with combat or raiding or pvp. In many ways, that mini-game has been bled out from the class in the name of streamlining, and I think that is a real shame. The hunter pet has, more and more, become a mere extension of the hunter, rather than something with its own personality.

Obviously, some parts of the old system, particularly training new skills, were a little excessive. The pet talent trees are much better. And your pet running away from you was harsh, because feeding your pet wasn't exactly intuitive at level 10. But I think that rather than going in the current direction with pets, Blizzard should reconsider, and go in the opposite direction and play up the virtual pet aspect more.

If it was up to me, I would keep pet happiness in the game. Indeed, I would remove pet happiness from the talent trees, so your pet wouldn't automatically stay happy. Instead there would be more emphasis on feeding your pet and using the Mend Pet glyph to keep it happy. The hunter should actively control her pet's happiness.

I would also keep the 3 level difference on taming, to emphasize the separate personalities.

I would also not have the hunter start with a pet. Instead, the level 3 hunter class quest should be to tame your first pet from the wild. Though it would still be a guardian, like it is now.

I think Blizzard needs to slow down with its streamlining of classes. Not all inconveniences need to be eliminated. Sometimes the inconvenience adds something. Having to deal with pet happiness is sometimes an inconvenience, but in the long run it makes the hunter class more interesting.

1. Infamously captured in the Loyalty Level 6 controversy. For those who weren't around at the time, Loyalty Level 6 was the highest rank of loyalty your pet could attain. It was also the name of a piece of fan art that depicted a scantily-clad female tauren hunter hugging her pet lion. The WoW community--never high-minded at the best of times--immediately jumped to the most salacious conclusion.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Clarification

I think Gevlon and Larisa may have read too much into my last post on RIFTS.

There are two different things: RIFTS the game; and rifts the mechanic. Unfortunately, they're named the same, which makes things a bit confusing.

When I said that "rifts are like popcorn", I was specifically referring to the mechanic, and not the game as a whole. You should not take that statement as an comment on the full game.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Gaming on a Mac?

Anyone out there raid on a Mac?

I think my current PC's motherboard is dying. Today I had to turn it off and on multiple times before it would "catch" and boot up. And when the motherboard goes, that's pretty much it for the machine, in my experience.

I was thinking about maybe indulging myself and getting a Macbook Pro, but I wonder if it will handle raiding okay, especially if the graphics are turned up enough to actually see the fire.

I used to have a Mac a few years ago, and WoW played decently enough back then, if I recall correctly. But then my apartment got broken into, and the Mac stolen, so I brought a relatively cheap PC to replace it.

The big disadvantage of Macs when it comes to gaming, of course, is that so few game companies actually make Mac versions of their games.

In any case, if anyone has recent experience on gaming with Macs, I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Team or Zerg?

The blogosphere seems to be falling over themselves to proclaim the greatness of rifts in RIFTS. I, on the other hand, am feeling rather ambivalent about them.

The thing about rifts, I'm finding, is that there is no substance to them. A rift appears, you zerg it down, and loot falls out of the sky. No strategy, no tactics.

Is that all we want from our games?

The simplest 5-man is more interesting and contains more team play than any of the rifts I've participated in. I know it is fashionable to mock the tank/healer/dps Trinity, but at least in a Trinity group you're working together. There's a feeling of being part of a team that is completely missing in rifts.

For all that RIFTS makes joining public groups easy, there's no sense of teamwork at all. Most rifts are just everyone attacking the boss on their own, including it being a literal graveyard zerg when people die. Indeed, people talk less in Rift groups than they do in WoW's Dungeon Finder!

If you don't act as a group, are you really in a group?

Kind of honestly, the only thing that changes if you join a Rift public group is that the healers might find it easier to heal people with the group/raid UI. But of course, for that to be useful there actually needs to be healers who heal, which is somewhat rare.

That's not to say that they're not somewhat fun. Rifts are like popcorn. They're light and tasty at first. But they're ultimately unsatisfying when compared to the hearty meal of a small team dungeon, or the rich banquet that is raiding.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

WoW Videos: Heavy in Your Arms



Saw this video the other day, and loved it. It's by Harmon Productions.

I like the song (Heavy in Your Arms, by Florence and the Machine), and the video works perfectly with it. It has an interesting storyline that is somewhat out of the norm.

As well, the cut in the church to the wedding is absurdly brilliant.