Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Skip All Bosses

OK, pop quiz: you get Gundrak from the random dungeon tool. You're cruising, the group is solid, and you get through Moorabi achievement-less again. What boss comes after Moorabi?

The correct answer is Gal'Darah, the final boss that turns into a rhino. If you said Eck (and if the people I've done Gun'drak with are any indication, you DID) you are wrong, because Eck is as of 3.3 a horrible time vampire that steals emblems away from you. Same with the optional bosses in Old Kingdom, too. Oddly enough, people seem to be pretty keen on skipping the latter's optional bosses, but whenever I say "hey, let's skip Eck" everyone shouts LOL BADGES.

Let's put people in the LFG queue into two groups: those interested in Triumph emblems, and those only interested in Frost emblems. For the latter group, skipping Eck is a no-brainer, fair and easy enough. But what if you want that Triumph emblem? You still want to skip him, because it lets you queue faster to more rapidly get the two extra emblems for clearing a dungeon. The opportunity cost of that detour is greater than its rewards, simply put. Just kill the final boss, get 3 emblems, and queue up again. Eck is just not worth the detour compared to the three emblems that lie oh-so-temptingly close.

I would make a grand blanket statement about how killing ANY optional boss is a waste of time, but bosses like Infinite Corrupter and Elder Nadox are a little different. While optional, these bosses come with no trash, making blowing through them a relative breeze, and make good sense to do, if just for the cash value of 1/15th a crusader orb.

The one exception I can see is if you only have time for one, and ONLY one dungeon. Let's say you had a 30 minute window to play WoW; then killing optional bosses is fine and good, since that time doesn't delay any future dungeon or other profitable activity. I seriously doubt many people are in this situation, both for practicality reasons (if the dungeon gets stalled you're SOL) and more psychological one (you're unlikely to have fun while you worry about the clock).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Taking Responsibility

I've said it before, the vast majority of raid bosses come down to variations on tank-and-spank fight. That's not to berate them, the variety within that model is really staggering, but most come down to DPS needs to kill boss, tank needs to stop boss from killing DPS, and healers need to keep boss from killing tanks. And the variations end up being various impediments; raid healing throws a wrench into the tank healing, movement messes with DPS, stacking dots makes tank-switching mandatory.

Some fights, on the other hand, demand that all players exhibit a dynamic situational awareness, bringing a whole new ability set into an encounter. And I'm not talking about standing in fire either; I mean fights were not acting properly to a changing environment will wipe the whole raid, above and beyond the call of duty. Here's the highlight reel from WotLK thusfar, in a spirit of celebration. Celebrating Blizzard giving us a whole new kind of noob to laugh at with these challenges.

Thaddius - Naxxramas. Thaddius was the introduction to personal responsibility for WotLK, and the best part is, it was completely transparent when somebody failed at it. Blame can often be shifted from lazy tanks, to lazy DPS, to lazy healers, but not when your logs read that "Butthole the Hallowed just hit 5 people for hella damage every second of every day until they all died". It's a rediculously simple task to check and then maybe move through a boss every 15 or so seconds, those who failed were shunned forever as at best an unconscious turret covered in wasted epics.

Yogg-Saron - Ulduar. The terror of the old god Yogg was indeed impressive, and was a very creative and rich fight; rich with opportunities to wipe the raids. Quick question, when are clouds safe to stand in? NEVER: clouds rank number 2 on the most dangerous denizens of Azeroth list, right behind floors. And if you manage to heard your cats together long enough to keep them from doing their stage adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk, phase two brings INSANITY. You'd think keeping a stack of 100 above zero would be an easy task, but sometimes someone thinks "It's OK; I got this." Every time a player said that in the brain room, Yogg got a stiffy.

Icehowl - Trial of the Crusader. OK, so check this: there's a guy, he's huge, and he wants to murder YOU (yes, YOU). So he knocks you away, shouts loudly that he will murder YOU, and then jumps back and prepares to run for 10 seconds before getting to YOU. Wowwiki says to move 20 feet to the left while moving at 2x speed, let him hit the wall, and laugh at sweet double damage. Instead, YOU decide to meet him head on, cause reading is for pussies. Icehowl makes good on his promise and kills YOU, in the easiest-to-avoid death ever, then gets a damage buff and kills all your friends and loved ones. Way. To. Go.

Lord Marrowgar - Icecrown Citadel. I was going to pick Rotface, because when someone gets the dot and doesn't stay cool as a cucumber, the little ooze runs around like an autistic kid throwing hammers, kneecapping everyone who are all oh-so-conveniently bunched up. But when someone, ANYONE stands behind the tanks on ol' Bonelord Marrowbone, they invite horrible rapeflame, which in turn threatens to cause Tank Sepperation Anxiety, a condition known to lead to wipes in up to 80% of cases. My raid leader's fury at this wanton behavior is second to none, and I love every second of it. You'd think someone hit him with DI by the way he reacts.

Festergut's spores, Rotface's ooze, and Marrowgar's threat wipes and flame positioning make ICC heavier on this kind of personal responsibility than other raids, so get used to fessing up on vent a lot. If you just can't muster an ounce of humility though, blame it on the hunter; they're all retarded DPS prima-donas anyway. You could jump on a hunter for your own mistake, and odds are he and the raid leader would take you at your word.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hybrid vs Pure DPS

OK, tell you what. I'll never waste a post on what amounts to a giant tortured analogy, if you promise to never speak of it, ever. Deal? Deal.

There's some stick in Blizzard's collective craw about how hybrid DPS must do less damage than their pure counterparts. Now, disregard the racist overtones and focus on the core issue: should the fact that I could heal/tank on one encounter, and DPS on another mean that on that other encounter, I should deal less damage? Now, I'm going forward with the assumption that IN THE ABSENCE of a good reason, all DPS specs should do roughly equivalent damage, specific fight mechanics aside. If you don't agree with that, then you want Blizzard to punish people just for picking the wrong class.

Reason 1: pure DPS is specialized. Obviously, since they can't heal or tank, a pure DPS must be compensated for in extra numbers. This is in it of itself fallacious (a good word, cause it sounds like fellatio) because you can't be in two specs at once. An elemental shaman can't suddenly switch to healing in a raid format; his talents and (less so) gear won't let him heal well enough to make it a real consideration any raid leader makes.

Reason 2: if hybrids do the same damage, there's no reason to bring a less-versatile pure class. The notion here being, if a raid leader has a choice between a shadow priest with a discipline dual-spec or affliction warlock, there's an incentive to take the priest just as a back-up if another healer is needed on some fights, or as D/C insurance. This is the single-string QQ guitar of resident pure DPS apologist Zulrohk, and it fails for two reasons. One, if it were true, than raid leaders would only at most drop the WORST DPS for the hybrid player, since what the hell do you need 11 potential healers for? Two, this problem has existed since the beginning of WoW, just replace "dual-spec" with "geared alt". Zulrohk has never been benched in favor of Zindo (rogue) just because Zindo also has a priest and warrior in the wings.

Three: hybrids provide signifigant raid buffs, whereas pures don't, so they must do less DPS to compensate for them buffing everyone's numbers. This is actually true, and would be a great reason, except that it has nothing to do with class itself. Rather than be about class, it's about what buffs you bring; a key distinction. Hypothetically, Blizz could design the game where all hybrid specs bring buffs but lower (not BC lower) numbers, compared to an equally skilled and geared pure DPS. I'm totally on-board that design philosophy, as long as the gap isn't wide enough that even a more geared/skilled hybrid player can't beat a facerolling pure in numbers.

BUT ZARAT, you'll whine, IT R TAHT WAY NOWZ. First of all, spell check. Second, no it isn't. Destro, Survival, and Arcade and Fire Mages all provide big buffs while dishing up higher theorycraft numbers than their hybrid counterparts. And DKs deal pure DPS while giving out even more buffs, further breaking Blizzard's party line from reality. If pure DPS have the choice between 110% damage or 100% damage + buffs, then that's fine, and actually a perk of playing those classes, if hybrids automatically get lumped into column B. But it's not that way, which is disappointing (especially since Blizz pretends it is). I would say Cataclysm will hopefully fix it, which is like my goddamned catchphrase now, but given the level of willful ignorance on this point, I doubt it.

On the subject of buffs, there should be another class with Bloodlust. Not drums, as it's not like an essential buff the way Fort and Kings are, but it's big enough to not get monopolized by Shamans. I nominate Warriors, they could use a big buff to the raid, and thematically they're all about flipping out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Market Forces

I don't post much about the gold economy, partly because I am pretty complacent when it comes to AHing, and have a nice ~10k nest egg that I maintain for the occasional gem-buying bonanza. It's faster than dailies, and an honest way to make a buck. Which got me thinking (eventually), how does the market of WoW translate to real-world sectors? The answer is: INSANITY.

I've gotten a few derisive comments shot at me for making my money off the AH rather than farming or grinding dailies. There's this weird pre-conception of people who use the AH as horrible goblins who refresh whole parses every 15 minutes to ruthlessly undercut and suck the blood of casuals. I suppose you could call me lazy, at worst: I take the mats others have farmed with their precious time, cut gems/enchant scrolls, and re-post them at profit to myself, all in the course of 10 minutes. Crafting is one of four ways to make money in WoW, the other three being questing, re-listing, and farming.

Starting at the bottom, the foundation of it all, is farming. Farming is like the production sector of our economy: the miners, the actual farmers, the ranchers, the people who come up with raw materials. In WoW, these are the people who leverage their gathering professions, as well as those running Strat and SM for cloth and disenchantables, gathering various meats and fishes, etc. Pretty much if a profession uses it, and you have to go outside to get it, that's a farmer.

On the backs of those farmers, are the crafters. They are the manufacturing sector: the automakers, the bricklayers, and so on. Their defining trait is taking otherwise-useless farmed goods and turning them into things many players want. Uncut gems are themselves useless, and help no one, until a JC makes them into something someone wants. Same for all the BoE craftables. This is another essential service to make the AH work, and gives players something directly useful to buy.

Re-listers are those who buy low priced goods and put them right back up on market for a higher price. These are private investors (kinda), making profit off futures and direct investment. It's important to notice that this is NOT a hurtful practice (AH fee aside, which is negligible), it merely distributes wealth over several people. For example, let's say a Cardinal Ruby goes up for 150g. Either A: I buy it, cut it, and put it up for 240g or B: someone re-lists it for 200g, I buy it anyways, and put the cut gem up for 240g. The same amount of gold has been gained no matter what, it is just more dispersed. This is a fine way (though not the only one) for low-level players to still make lots of gold. It's also probably the most difficult, as it takes a broad knowledge of what something is worth to profit greatly off it.

Questing is the service industry, and this is where things get interesting. Every gold-NPC interaction either creates money out of nothing, or destroys it forever. This is what drives the economy of WoW, and gives it the ability to expand. Very little of the wealth in WoW comes from farming raw materials; most of it is created through quest, vendor trash, and gold drops. The amount of gold the environment offers ends up determining how much gold is worth. The value of questing/hour is essentially minimum wage, and determines the wealth available to the general buying public. Note that NPC-related gold values are the only things that rise over time and added content, and in turn cause the inflation that is clearly evident. 100 gold for an epic mount was tough to muster in vanilla, yet you can make twice that in an hour helping the Argent Crusade.

I debated writing this, but it ultimately comes down to mentality. I've seen a lot of players who are normally devoted to excellence in WoW be very uninterested in this aspect of the game. Granted, the economy plays like PVE and PVP double-teamed Microsoft Excel, but it still supports your character in all other aspects, and you should think about HOW you make your gold, and how it can be more fun or at least expedient for you. And unlike the real world, you can participate in all sectors of the economy if you want, so go nuts and see what you like. And if you start making money hand over fist because you read this, send me over a Battered Hilt to say thanks (worth a shot).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

If Music Was Candy

If music was candy, classical music would be taffy, heavy metal would be licorice (it's black, duh), techno would be all the weird Japanese sweets, and WoW's soundtrack would be Smarties. Those godawful bland chalk pieces that tried to taste or seem like real candy, but it's transparent that it's the cheapest thing that's kinda sweet, so whatever. When I was a kid, I would rather get a can of soup on Halloween (and did, once) than fucking Smarties. It may sound petty, but music is a huge and subtle way to set a mood or make an otherwise mediocre place amazing. Disclaimer: not ALL the WoW music is bad, there's a few good pieces as well as a few horrible sonic abominations. I'm generalizing.

I got the idea for this post when I was in Dalaran; I was afk and suddenly heard a stirring movement from the strings. I switched to WoW, and marveled at the complex orchestral richness of a song I must have heard 1,000 times before but always somehow missed. Then I realized Pandora had just served me up Mahler's Symphony no 2; upon pausing it I heard the accustomed dross coming out of my headphones that I expected from Dalaran. This lead me to the problem of how to create an interesting and striking soundtrack for a game.

One way would be to take actual music that was made JUST to be listened to, and put that in. As opposed to the traditional method, wherein a composer is hired to make some generic John-Williams-meets-Lord-of-the-Rings movie music and throw that around and call it "epic". Take the classics: Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Schoenberg, all those old white men with intense expressions. Those guys wrote amazing music; do you think your budget music monkey can top them? No? Then go to the source!

Another way would to be consciously anachronistic and use contemporary styles of music. Blizzard has already shown it's not above doing this (see: Forge of Souls); imagine hearing some Iron Maiden on the Gunship Battle, or Ministry for Mimiron. Fuck to the yes. It's very self-conscious, and Tarantino-esque; which is not to say it's bad, just an extremely different approach. Extremely awesome.

A third way would be to take some vein of folk music (Scottish, African, Russian, whatever) and assign that as a musical motif for a raid/zone/whatever. Folk music typically doesn't use classical major/minor forms, and so it sounds striking to our modern ears; just dissonant enough to be distinct. There's a huge breadth and depth to folk music, as well as room for modern interpretation, from Stravinsky's early work to folk metal bands like TYR and Cruachan. Point being, there's a lot to work with there, largely untapped by gaming. It also feels authentically fantasy to me, since fantasy is in part based on those olden times.

As a parting note, I was going to write something about ICC, since I've finally been present for all the bosses thus far, but I couldn't really think of anything bad to say, premise for the gunship battle aside. Seriously, "We're gonna go save Bolvar", "NUH-UH WE SAVE BOLVAR", "EF U ASSHAT" and then it's on. Makes no goddamned sense at all. But the fights feel like they've taken lessons from Ulduar and ToC, and applied it to new, tighter encounters. Hoping it continues that way.