15 July 2010

300 miserable posts

988 days ago I had a genius idea to start a blog. I had just finished levelling a shadow priest through Outland and had no idea what to do next; it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I called the blog Misery after a key talent in the shadow tree, but also because I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy. If you’ve had reason to pop by on occasion you probably know that.

300 posts later, and I’m still… well, you could hardly call it going strong, more limping along.

That amounts to an average of one post every three or four days, which is not exactly prolific — though I do still remember the dizzy feeling of posting twice in one day. Good times.

I average about 300 hits a day, which even in the rather specialised realm of gaming fanblogs I recognise as a modest splash in the pond. And I can’t even promise that all of those visitors find what they need; I am inherently lazy and don’t do nearly as much housekeeping as I should.

But every now and then, I catch a glimpse of the big time, thanks to the generosity of those rock-star bloggers at wow.com. The most hits I’ve ever received in one day was 2770 on 13 January 2010 for a post about shadow priest glyphs which Alex Ziebart very kindly promoted.

My most read post of all time is also about glyphs, which is a bit of a common theme on Misery. This time it’s the one about glyphs for levelling (hideously out of date). I’m sure anyone who ever hits that page bounces right back to Google in disgust. I promise to update it for Cataclysm, ok?

My top referrer is clearly Google, but I owe a good chunk of my visits to referrals from other blogs — top of the list are Blessing of Kings, wow.com, the (sadly retired) Egotistical Priest, and Penance Priest. Thank you very much guys, and thank you to all the bloggers who link to me that I have shamefully omitted here. Drop me a line if I don’t return the favour, I need a kick to update my blog roll as it is.

The most comments I’ve ever received on one post is a modest 19 for my musings about going holy. I clearly need to do more if I want the buzzing discussions of the big hitters like Matticus and BBB. Share your ideas in the comments please :)

Wrath of the Lick King has been a mixed bag for Merlot. He has seen shadow priests go from a hopelessly broken marginal support class to a dps contender, but he has had to sit out much of the end game while an upstart Tauren shaman monopolised my time. For casual players like me, this has been an incredible expansion, but it has come at a cost. I think most hybrid classes will recognise the pressure to offspec for healing or tanking, and many will understand the pitfalls of succumbing to that pressure for convenience. Once you accept that it’s easier to heal or tank than fight for a dps spot, you are lost.

So I have done more raiding this expansion than ever before, but I wasn’t melting faces. And now it’s too late to catch up. The advent of achievements and gear score have pretty much seen to that — but that’s another post.

With Cataclysm already in beta, I’ll be able to get my teeth into priestly class developments again, which is something I love. And I will soon have to make a decision about my Cataclysm strategy. Do I take the easy route and stay healing, or do I go back to shadow and bench the facehealer?

Either way, you don’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll still keep banging on about how priests need moar luv and how glyphs are broken and how I am totally going to redesign this blog like tomorrow. Yea, mañana baby.

14 July 2010

New talent trees: awfully familiar

MMO Champion is reporting that new talent tree system has been released on the Cataclysm beta realm. This is the one where you lock yourself into a single talent tree at level 10 and work your way up to the 31-point talent before unlocking supporting trees. The number of points you get to spend has been halved.

The interface screens show that, for opting to go shadow, you are rewarded with mind flay instantly, plus threat reduction and pushback protection on shadow spells. Some of the other classes have a bit more meat on their UIs (shaman for example), so I'm hoping there may be more bonuses for shadow in a later build.

I'm unable while at work to fully check MMO's talent calculators, but from the priest class page I can say the new talents look... awfully familiar. If I was confident that these were accurate and thought-out by Blizzard, I would be disappointed to say the least. In a world where talent points had been halved to allow more interesting and dynamic talents, I would not expect to have to spend two of them on improved shadow word: pain, for example, which was never much of an improvement to start with. And I am rather alarmed to see that our crit bonus looks like it's been slashed to 40 per cent.

But I'm not going to panic. I'll just assume that these are placeholder talents while the Blizzard boffins crack their heads together and come up with something inspiring. Please. Pretty please.

Edit: home now. Here's the build Leigh talks about in the comment below. Everyone seems to be in agreement that they haven't 'done' shadow yet, so I'm just gonna chill...

9 July 2010

Blizzard backs down on forums

Nethaera has posted to say that the forum developments planned by Blizzard will no longer include the use of real names.

Second good job by Blizz in two days, I'm impressed.

I'm really pleased to see that they are willing to respond so quickly and so generously on an issue that is clearly of huge important to their many customers. As Neth said: "We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters," which doesn't explain why shadow priest glyphs are so shit but then I doubt Neth's ever read my blog :P

Crisis over, now back to the game.

8 July 2010

Forget Forumgate, we haz talent newz

Yesterday, Blizzard was left bloody and mauled over its plans for using real names on the forums and the disaster was about to go nuclear. But today… who cares? We have a COMPLETE TALANT OVERHAUL to coo over. Coincidental timing? Unlikely. This is a very smart move by Blizzard to take back control of the agenda. Very smart. They might have been planning to share this in a few weeks, with some of the details fleshed out. Never write off a PR machine, they are the cockroaches of the corporate world.

This blogger is no Glamour-reading, celebrity-whoring pushover. I do not forget so easily. Real ID is a total screw up and I’ll be back to crow and gloat just as soon as it comes back to explode in Blizzard’s face. And it will.

But I am forced to reluctantly admit that the aforementioned COMPLETE TALENT OVERHAUL is far too compelling to ignore. It is no less than a single brilliant solution to all the problems the talent system has ever encountered. Or nearly.

You remember recently when we were shown the new priest trees for Cataclysm? Despite all of their ambitions for removing passive talents and making talent trees more dynamic, little had changed. Recognising this, Blizzard has come back with a fresh approach.

The number of points available to spend will be halved, relieving Blizzard of the need to pad out trees with volumes of passive bonuses. And classes will be locked into a single specialisation up to level 70, leaving Blizzard free to position talents in a more logical order, free of the worry that players of other talent specialisations will be able to nab the juicy ones for themselves. Some of the class-defining core talents will be given not through talents but as rewards for choosing the relevant specialisation, excluding them completely from the reaches of everyone else. Potentially, we’ll be able to get our mitts on these spells and abilities at more convenient times, and raiders will be less at the mercy of PVP-balancing compromises. Win-win.

The dull business of boosting a character’s power in their chose role, by increasing damage, crit, defences and the like, will be intrinsically linked to a character’s chosen specialisation.

The mastery bonuses we have read about will also change as a result of this overhaul but I expect shadow priests will retain their shadowy orbs in one form or another.

You will be unable to spec into secondary trees before spending 31 talent points in one tree, but I don’t think this will be much of a hardship for most. I only ever recall going into a support tree early on once, as a demonology warlock for suppression, and we know they are reworking hit talents anyway.

I know it must be quite un-nerving to see me in a positive, optimistic mood, but these changes really do feel instinctively… right — and I haven’t been able to say that about much for a long time. What do you think?

7 July 2010

Stand by for mobile updates

Sorry for the test post, just trying this out.

6 July 2010

I wouldn't put my name to this but...

Nethaera has just unveiled an upcoming change to the forums, and it's a belter. In the not-too-distant future, you will be forced to post under your real, full name.

This change, along with some other stuff I don't really care about (read the thread if you're interested), is designed: "to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit." In other words, it's a troll hunt:
"The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players -- however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before."
I can see how Blizzard has been backed into this decision. Unfortunately, it's a terrible one, and real-world experience tells me it is destined to failure.

Ask yourself two questions: how will this affect the behaviour of those it is targeted at, and how will it affect the rest of us?

Firstly, can this really improve the quality of discussion on the forums? Does the kind of person who posts unwanted comments care that their real name is against them? I'm sure some do — but not nearly all of them. These are already people who show an unwillingness to consider the consequences of their actions, or else lack the social skills to appreciate the impact of their words. And this is the internet, a medium which by its very nature imparts a (sometimes false) sense of anonymity — whatever they say on the forums, you can bet it's tame compared to their Facebook wall. I once moderated an internal staff forum for a FTSE 100 company. Even with their full names visible, and in front of their colleagues and managers, people were willing to write things that they would be shocked to hear spoken in person. Forums do that to some people. So even with the best will in the world, I fear this is not going to solve the problem.

It will, however, do irreparable damage to the forums by discouraging genuine users from participating in the discussion, because fear of being branded a troll is nowhere near the most important consequence of this move. The people you most want on your forums — the thoughtful, intelligent, considerate ones — are going to be discouraged because of privacy concerns. I, for one, have taken great care to avoid all possible connection between my real name and my gaming activities because I fear it will harm my chances with some career opportunities. Recruiters can, and do, Google candidates, and some would invariably disapprove of online gaming as a pastime. But more significantly, exposure on forums would give identity thieves an extremely powerful vector of attack, not just for WoW accounts, but in the broader world too. How many of you have passwords with WoW-related terms? For some, privacy concerns go much further, whether it is out of a general wish to remain anonymous, or a need to keep your name a secret from others.

I appreciate that these concerns probably don't bother all players — younger players, particularly, who don‘t need to think about jobs or data protection — so they may go on happily chatting away without fear. But it will turn many more into lurkers at best, or drive them onto other forums altogether at worst.

The only effective way to clean up a forum is to moderate it thoroughly and consistently against well-defined guidelines and to enforce a strong set of punitive measures for offenders. The Elitist Jerks forums remain such a valuable and highly-respected resource in strong part to their moderation policy. Some find it a little... heavy-handed... but it works for them. Sites are free to carve their own identity.

The trouble with this approach for Blizzard is the resource needed to moderate the vast quantity of forums they host. The cost would be unjustifiable. And, as I found out to my expense in my FTSE 100 company, official moderators run the constant risk of accusations of censorship and propaganda. What starts out as a neutral space can rapidly devolve into a war zone. That's not a position I would ever wish on Blizzard.

Instead, they could have turned to the community for moderation support, but if they considered this, they may have discounted it for all the complications that it would have entailed. How do you recruit them? How do you manage them, and ensure the effectiveness and consistency of their work? It works for fansites, sure, but a corporation would have to take a more professional approach, with all the legal and ethical ramifications that implies.

So at the end of the day, I completely understand why Blizzard felt they needed to take action, and why they eventually plumped for this plan. But I don't have much hope for its success, and I for one will be deleting my historic posts and giving the forums a wide birth when the changes go live. (The change will only apply to new forums created near the Cataclysm launch.)

It's a sad day for the community; maybe the trolls win after all.

Ad nauseum

Our raid leader described the new Wyrmrest Temple raid, Ruby Sanctum, as “Naxxramas difficulty with Icecrown heroic loot”. We all cheered and ran in. Then we spent the next two hours wiping.

The problems started in phase two. We’d consistently lose two or three dps to the cutter beams. Our dps must have the lowest IQ of all raiders because I don’t understand how you can fail to stay in the right place when the tank is rotating the boss for you. Hunters were the worst. And like true hunters, they always had an excuse ready.

At the phase three transition, someone always got smacked before the tank turned up. They only had one job, and they were constantly late for it.

And that was the point where it usually went tits up. The debuffs became a huge pain. Dps stopped watching them and didn’t move, and healers got sloppy with dispels (myself included, on shaman duty). With a good chunk of dps dead already, the remaining dps was invariably imbalanced. And again, this goes back to the their IQs, but really how hard is it to watch a big number at the top of your screen and stop casting for a bit if it goes the wrong way?

One thing of practical value I have to share from this catastrophe is that grid doesn’t seem to like the phase three debuffs. It displayed the phase one and two debuffs just fine, but then got sloppy. I didn’t even realise I wasn’t seeing them to start with. It was only after a few wipes when I and the other healers started swapping notes that we realised something was amiss. So we had to add the debuffs manually. That seemed to do the trick — not that it spurred the dps into moving any quicker when they got them.

Two hours of dying to a pink dragon is pretty demoralising. But then we disbanded and I got drafted into a 10-man heroic Saurfang attempt where I proceeded to get my ass handed to me for another two hours. We usually cocked up around the 40 per cent mark during an add phase — either a dps would die to the adds, or someone would die to a mark while we were busy trying to keep the dps alive. There’s just no coming back from a death in that fight.

I usually like fights like this: with two piece tier 10, all you have to do is riptide, faceheal x3 and keep earth shield up. It’s the bomb. But Saurfang is shaman kryptonite, especially on 10-man where you can’t even rely on a decent-sized melee group to soak up the chains. Ancestral awakening comes into its own, but it’s really no substitute for my face-shaped “I Win” chain heal button.

Four hours of dying and nothing to show for it except a huge hole in my bank balance. Sometimes, I really wonder if this game is a productive use of my time, you know?