30 November 2009

Lost in (virtual) space

In a world where we are bombarded relentlessly with audio and visual stimulation from the moment we wake to the point we pass out drunk on the sofa with a half-eaten kebab in our hands, moments of clarity are rare.

I had one just now while reading a Guardian article that compared World of Warcraft to a cathedral: "it is the Chartres of the video-game world...a supreme work of art that is, on a brick-by-brick basis, the creation of hundreds of artisans and craftsmen, many of whom will be long gone by the time it comes to completion."

Plausible perhaps, if a little far-fetched. But I play a priest so religious metaphors are quite appealing.

The journalist, Sam Leith, thinks questing is like praying — a repetitive and ritualistic observance that elevates the status of the environment and pays homage to the symbol of our faith. And, as with churches, he thinks the lasting appeal of WoW lies in its social nature: "The people who stay in WoW join guilds, make friends online, go questing in groups and spend hours (with only a bit of giant-slaying) talking in the chat channels. It's as much a social networking site as a videogame. You log on and gossip in its pews."

Which got me wondering what it is about WoW that keeps me coming back? I've always thought of myself as a fundamentally antisocial person — surely I don't spend hours of my life and a considerable chunk of my income to engage in frivolous chatter?

It was in this thoughtful frame of mind that I scrolled through the comments and stumbled upon the words of one perennial dissenter: "Ah this old nonsense again...Imagine yourself in twenty or thirty years time. Are you going to say 'My God, my healthy years were well spent playing World Of Warcraft', or 'I cannot believe I wasted so many hours of my life on such a trivial diversion'."

There it is: the moment of clarity.

Silence. Then... what am I doing?

It almost came to me, the answer to life, the reason I am obsessed with this unhealthy occupation, a glimpse of a future filled with enriching activities, exercise, skinny-fit jeans. My god, he's right! It's a computer game! I could be writing a novel, running a marathon, curing cancer! If I could only...

And then, without warning, Jimmy Buffet sang to me. I don't even like Jimmy Buffet, but this one line has been going round and round my head for days. So instead of discovering the meaning of my existence, I heard a crooning country dropout confess to eating the last mango in Paris, something about Saigon, and then moaning that there's still so much to be done. (Yes, he rhymed Saigon with done.)

From one waster to another, that's it. Goodbye moment of clarity. If there ever was an answer, it's gone now, probably never to return. All that's left is a bad pun in a country music song (which I'm still humming by the way).

No wonder I spend so much time hiding in Azeroth.

24 November 2009

Random thoughts on hit

I had a shower moment this morning. The shower is where I get all my best ideas, like 'oo, I should start a blog', and 'does conditioner work on pubes?'. This time it was about hit. Because Merlot has been locked in a wrestling match with hit since Naxxramas and is growing weary of it.

Hit is, by far and away, the most valuable stat to any caster dps — but you can easily amass enough of it to guarantee every single spell will land. All hit beyond that point is worthless, which is why Merlot, and probably most other casters of at least Ulduar level, burn considerable calories fretting over how to maintain but not exceed that magic balance.

The aim is to get as much hit as possible on as few items as possible — but that's a lot easier said than done. You may be forced to equip items that are of poorer quality, or even pass on upgrades that would result in too much of a hit loss. This is what gives rise to the popular feeling that hit is deadweight, the anvil of stats, constantly holding you back from bigger and better dee pee ess. Which is a shame, because it's a real trooper right up until the cap.

I'm about 40 points over the soft cap at the moment (allowing for misery). I can swap out hit gear, but the alternatives I have access to are inferior even accounting for the hit. I could swap out gems and enchants, but at the rate of gear turnover that option gets prohibitively expensive. Or I could start to spec out of shadow focus, but there are really no alternative talents that would increase my dps by any meaningful amount. So for now, I'm stuck.

For frequent raiders with a constant stream of new item options this might not be that annoying, but for a casual raider like myself who may get to roll on only one upgrade a week, it's a pain in the arse.

But as the hot water washed over me and I got shampoo in my eye, the solution came to me. Two, in fact.

First, I thought, we could change the goalposts. It feels wrong that the gulf between heroics and your first raid should be so large, while the amount of hit you should need in an entry-level raid is the same as the amount required against the ultimate badass of the expansion. Someone once decided all heroic bosses should be two levels above, while raid bosses should be three, but these are arbitrary checkpoints.

What if the level between you and a raid boss increased every tier, but the hit requirement increased more smoothly? This would ensure that we continued to prize hit on all gear as we progressed, and not come to see it as something distasteful to avoid wherever possible.

This would also have the advantage of reining in stat inflation in tank avoidance and prevent other combat mechanics like armor penetration from getting out of hand.

If that seems distasteful to you, I had another more radical solution. What if hit didn't affect the chance to land a spell, but the damage that spell does? So all spells have a hundred per cent chance to land (before resistances), but the damage they do relative to a target's level is modified by the caster's hit rating. Hit instantly becomes a desirable stat regardless of your hit level. Maybe there's a hit cap, maybe the effectiveness of hit diminishes at high levels, who knows. But in principle, it could work, right?

I know neither of these ideas will float, but it's nice to dream. For a few minutes there, while my conditioner got to work, I stopped fuming about my hit problem and imagined a world with one less thing to worry about.

Then the water ran cold and I reverted back to my rest state of nerd rage. And now I'm back to planning some gear upgrades that won't drop me below the cap.

16 November 2009


In a recent test realm build shadow word: pain vanished from the tooltip for shadowform, removing it from the list of shadow priest dots that benefit from haste.

I didn't jump on it at the time, although with hindsight the writing was clearly on the wall for shadow word: pain. This weekend, a blue post confirmed the change and explained why:
We removed shadow word: pain from scaling with haste because we thought shadow dps was too high with all three dots hasted.

There is a bug where you can get big sw:p dots and keep them rolling at that magnitude forever since the spell gets constantly refreshed. It's a nasty bug to fix. However, that isn't why we removed sw:p from shadowform.
That last sentence is completely baffling because unless I have just developed sudden onset aphasia that's exactly why they did it. So we'll just ignore that bit. There's some other stuff about best-in-slot gear and theorycrafting, I stopped reading. The message to take home is that Blizz thought shadow was doing a little too well on the test realm and they've come up with an easy way to rein it back in.

I'm completely ok with that. If I'd wanted to be top-dog dps I'd be playing my lock right now, or my hunter, so I understand when Blizzard takes action to maintain class balance. But, as usual, I'm a bit disappointed about the way they've gone about it.

Shadow word: pain is already the weakest of all our dots. It has been riddled with bugs from the start of the expansion, outpaced in damage by devouring plague, and practically dwarfed by vampiric touch. Without haste scaling, that weakness is only going to be amplified. This for what was, in Burning Crusade, a class-defining spell and one of the most lethal dots in the game.

I know this isn't game breaking: if Blizzard gets their numbers right, whether one spell ticks for two hundred or two thousand is irrelevant at the end of the day. I'm just very sad to see such an iconic spell decline so miserably over the course of only a few months.

The designers have taken a very pragmatic approach — they needed to tone damage down and they found an easy way to do it. But it's not good game design to go around making two essentially identical spells work in different ways for convenience's sake — or to use flaws in the game that they have ignored since the expansion launched as the excuse for doing so.

Ok, so the bugs are too tough to fix: remove the refresh mechanic then, or nerf it to one of those 'extends duration by up to xx seconds' deals. Or nerf vampiric touch's spell co-efficient, which was basically doubled as a quick-fix buff to start with. There are a hundred ways you could balance shadow's dps without guaranteeing that one of the class's core spells fails to scale with gear and falls more and more into disrepair.

We'll all continue to cast shadow word: pain because it is basically free damage — and maybe that's the real point of the spell's current fortunes. But I'd gladly put up with a few more complications to see it restored to its former position of fear and respect and see it finally scaling properly with gear.

13 November 2009


Queen Lana'thel. She's a blood elf. And a queen. And a vampire. Sorry, vampyr.

Have you seen her abilities? Vampiric bite, essence of the vampyr queen, shroud of sorrow. You might as well add "immune to shadow priests", we're all going to be too busy gasping in awe and reverence.

Do you think it's possible to defect to the Scourge? Does Arthas accept living recruits?

9 November 2009

LF tank, last spot

The perennial tank shortage has struck Darkspear again. Pugging heroics is torture, even for the daily. And what fills me with dread is the thought of competing not only with my server for a suitable meat shield, but the entire battlegroup.

Because that's the worrying prospect facing us in the next patch when Blizzard introduces the new grouping tool. It sounds fantastic on paper, and wow.com has certainly spared no expense in singing its praises. Group with anyone, get transported automatically to the instance, and pick up a bunch of special rewards in the process. But look at the facts: take one server with a tank shortage, lump it with half a dozen similarly tank-deprived servers, and the problem grows exponentially. Has anyone done the maths on this?

The picture for healers — once in the same endangered boat as tanks — is very different. Not only do we see plenty of main-spec healers, but a decent proportion of main-spec dps have healing off-specs. On my resto shaman, I even find myself in the ludicrous position of going off-spec dps because of a healer surplus.

The duel spec facility saved healing, so why then are we still scrambling around for tanks? The same number of classes can tank as heal, and while I don't have the numbers on server populations, there must surely be a roughly even split between the two groups. There ought to be more tanks flying around than there are, even if most of them were off-spec.

What I think is that tanking is harder than healing or dps — not that all dps and healers faceroll, but the baseline for skill strikes me as much higher for tanking. And the entry bar for gear is a little higher too, so that potential tanks have to spend a little time collecting gear before they can throw themselves into heroics — moreso than healers and unlike dps who are good-to-go on the ding. And there's nowhere you can train yourself to tank, you've just got to bite the bullet and jump into an instance.

I don't know if tanking should be easier or the rewards greater. Or maybe, for the people who do tank, it should actually be harder: more challenging, not less. Either way, I don't think the problem is going to go away. I think when the new patch lands we'll see a momentary glut of tanks trying out the new instances and farming the next tier of badge gear. But if the underlying problems (whatever they are) aren't fixed, we'll be back in this position in a couple of months, but with an even greater surplus of frustrated dps.

6 November 2009

Tales from the test realm #14

KT: FOOLS, YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE COME HERE. NOW YOU WILL D... You there priest, what is that?

Priest: Hmm? Oh, you mean Lil KT, he's my new pet.

KT: Pet? It's a... mini... me....

Warlock: Haha, "groovy baby"!

KT: SILENCE MINION! Where did this abomination come from?

Warlock: What did he call me? He did not just call me that.

KT: Oh sorry, I thought it was the imp talking.

Warlock: Can we burn him now already?


Priest: I bought him, innit. Those Kirin Tor dudes are breedin em like puppies.

KT: ...

Warlock: Prepare to die, lich bitch...

KT: Lich bitch? — Priest, how much did you pay for that monstrosity?

Priest: Ten dollars.

Warlock: Ten what?

KT: What are these dollars of which you speak?

Priest: dollars, you know. They're like a virtual currency you buy with gold.

KT: I don't understand.

Priest: You know those shady dudes that hang around in starter towns and whisper you? You give them gold and they hand over these dollars.

KT: How much gold?

Priest: It varies. The dollars don't have an innate value, they're like a commodity, so the amount fluctuates according to the economic principles of supply and demand. It's called an exchange rate.


Priest: A grand, square up.

Warlock: Pwnd!

KT: But why trade in this virtual currency, why does not this mage just charge 1000 gold thereby rendering the undesirable peasant middleman obsolete?

Priest: Erm...

KT: Surely your Horde would prohibit such a pernicious trade for fear of undermining the global economy?

Priest: Huh?

KT: Well, if people start trading in these dollars instead of gold, the value of goods becomes increasingly unstable, devaluing the gold standard and potentially leading to hyperinflation. Hmm, that gives me an idea...

Priest: Dude, it's just a pet.

KT: Warlock, how much for my wand?

Priest: What are you doing?

Warlock: I do not need to buy your puny wand frosty, I'll rip it out of your cold, dead hands.

KT: Yes yes, but how much?

Warlock: Ten dollars?


KT: Deal. Whisper me later...

Priest: Can we fight now?

KT: I'll swap you my robe for the mini me...