Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Time to say goodbye.

You may remember last year, during Icecrown progress, that I spent weeks and months grinding for an achievement. Specifically, I wanted the title "Payce the Exalted". While nothing so ambitious as "the Insane", it still took months of grinding, doing dailies with more factions than my daily cap allowed, doing so many random heroics for nothing but rep that it got silly, killing some 43,000 pirates in Tanaris and the Barrens, farming heroics Ramparts and Blood Furnace for weeks. As far as pixelated content on a screen goes, it was hard work. And through a series of posts, all containing the subtle updates of "(23/40 now)" or "Wooo! 30/40!" or the like. And finally, finally, I got there.

I did it. I was Payce the Exalted. I was so immensely proud. I set out to do it, and I did it.

So when patch 4.0.6 hit the US realms earlier, and reports started flowing in over Twitter, forums and other media, that "the Exalted"-achievement now required 50 reputations to get - and that those having previously gotten it would lose it. That's right - they're stripping you of a PvE title you've honestly earned through hard work. It was even blue-posted - it's gone;

"We also considered grandfathering in those who had already earned it but think that this title can be a unique testament to the continued efforts of reputation hunters and keep the same value as we introduce more reps and push the requirements up to match."

Well, thank you, Bashiok, for considering to "grandfather in" all the hard work put in by those of us who genuinely care about these achievements. I really feel special now, you know? Not to mention valued as a user of this game - "if you wanna keep what you worked hard for and already actually earned, you're gonna have to work even harder". What is even scarier is the precedent this is setting; who's to say anything if "The Seeker" suddenly requires 5,000 quests or "Salty" suddenly requires 5,000 fish... starting, of course, at 1,001 since the achievement haven't really been tracking since you got that damned 1,000th fish? Suddenly, our achievements appear more as temporary tokens of something we're probably not done with come next expansion anyway. I'm not sure if I really like this change of direction.

So tomorrow, I'm back to Twilight Vanquisher Payce. Or Starcaller Payce. Or Loremaster Payce. Or maybe just... Payce. Because it's not like the title I really wanted and gave my all for isn't going to be available to me again for some time unless I give up my life to grind rep (again). So until such a time as I actually get my title back, here's a screenshot taken earlier this evening in the remains of Zul'Gurub, wearing my complete Soulforge armour.

Goodbye, Payce the Exalted. I shall miss you dearly.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The legacy of Wrath.

As we progress into the third month of Cataclysm content, having seen and done the heroic dungeons and new zones, not to mention the raids, we're seeing a new trend spread: The notion of people quitting, either from burnout or lack of interest, or simply because of the game's increased difficulty level.

I personally enjoy the new content immenesely. I do, however, more than understand the people who burn out - though the challenges are greater and the skill required is higher, it's still a grind involved. Not that World of Warcraft wasn't always a grind; whether it was badges of justice, resistance gear or gearscore don't matter. It was always a grind.

So why does this one seem so much harder?

The answer is, of course, because it is. The Wrath of The Lich King grind WAS signifigantly faster and easier at all tiers. I'm not buying into the whole "Wrath was too easy" argument, and I'm equally disinclined to jump on the "Cata is too hard" bandwagon. But there is a notable difference in here somewhere.

The problems with Wrath, in my opinion, were mainly two things. Tier release dates (and the gating that followed), and gear being able to negate mechanics. Secrets of Ulduar was released around six months after the expansion went live, widely recognized as on of the best raids of all time. When 3.2 hit and Trial of the Crusader went live, less then four months later, Ulduar-level gear would already allow you to negate mechanics in the encounters, such as healing through Burning Bile on the Northrend beasts, or tanking the Mistresses on top of Jaraxxus with little risk of tank death.

And another four months later, a fully gated Icecrown Citadel, where again, many mechanics could be outgeared on launch day (did you ever CC Deathwhisper's adds? did you ever move out of the Bonestorm itself, or did you just run from the blue shit on the floor?). And then we had a whole year of farming this hideously boring, uninventive but very pretty instance for gear - which even rose in value every other month from the Hellscream/Wrynn-buff.

The preconception of Wrath being too easy is down to these issues mainly; partly, the easy aquisition of gear, but mainly, the absolute value of gear. Proper gear would allow you to stand in the fire and live - and anyone could get proper gear. And as we see in Cataclysm - where the fire WILL kill you and the non CC'ed caster WILL drain both your healer's mana as well as your tank's cooldowns. Wrath set a dangerous precedent for what was needed, and what was "skippable", and that notion has far and wide been the main culprit behind cries of "Cata is too hard". Because Cataclysm isn't in any way too hard.

Yes, it's more time-consuming. Farming buff food and flasks alone is a chore now, the gear progress is considerably slower, and top end enchantes aren't readily available whenever you want. Yes, heroic dungeons are long and challenging. Yes, trash have huge health pools and require focus and the ability to interrupt. But unlike Wrath, most of this can be negated in even the most basic of gear - as long as you understand and adapt to the mechanics involved.

The same thing applies to raiding. Learn the mechanics, and a lot of these fights are actually quite easy. Clearing Magmaw and Omnitron mainly in blues isn't at all a big deal when you know what to do, and know the value of a good interrupt at the cost of a few hundred DPS. And of course - as long as you move out of the damn fire.

Just remember to flask and get the proper food buff. There's really no reason not to.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A shoutout to the Shifters.

This week, we killed Cho'Gall, taking Paradigm Shift to an overall 10/12 bosses killed and a spot as the 7th ranked guild on our server. This might not sound overly impressive, and perhaps, given the time available so far and the progress made in this tier already, it isn't.

But when he went down, we all cheered like a world first Illidan on our Mumble.

Paradigm Shift was formed some three months ago. A server was picked almost at random, three people formed a guild, and posted ads on Tankspot and MMO-Champion that they were recruiting the right kind of people. The premise was 'quality over quantity'; an aim to be a guild for highly skilled players on a tight schedule, packing a 'hardcore' approach to raiding two nights a week. What really made the recruitment ads interesting, however, was the "About you"-section:

We expect our members to be mature, highly skilled, and above all pleasant to be around - we are spending a minimum of 8 hours a week with you, and given that most of us have to work with jerks, we don't want to game with them too. We have no patience for epeening, drama incitement or other unproductive behaviour – we’re on a limited schedule, so don’t waste our time.

This kind of ad is obviously half suicidal, especially when recruiting mainly cross-server and even cross-faction and rerollers. It is also one of the best filters to ensure that applicants fit right in (granted, of course, they get past the hour-long voicechat interview) - we'd know in advance what to expect from everyone. So when Cataclysm hit live servers, we had around eight people that were considered our raid team - not even a full 10-man group. Ten day later, Magmaw laid dead (just in time for us to claim a pre-nerf kill - his trash were still tuned for 25-man groups at this point), and we took (of all things for a progression guild) two weeks off for christmas, only occasionally popping by Baradin Hold.

Since then, we've had a total of seven guild raids, for a total of 28 hours raiding time. Due to the nature of our recruitment, we've not once had a full buff setup, and are melee-heavy like there's no tomorrow. We've laughed, we've cried, we've spent a full ten hours wiping on the Ascendant Council - that third phase is horrible with four melee - but we got them in the end. And now, standing at ten bosses killed, still badly undergeared, we're starting to unleash our full potential.

So here's a shoutout to my guild: Our GM and raid leader Janari, always calm, collected and getting shit done. Maintank and auction house wizard Xcercs, holding aggro AND paying our repairs. Laníus, whose middle name IRL is Lightwell. Haiyden, whose progress above and beyond the call of duty is nothing short of spectacular. Risp, Chumana, Lunz and Denned, making fleas attractive since day 1. Keade, your Lifegrip and Levitate antics will go down in history (is your Inner Fire on you?). Kerric, I still only see male draenei, but I'm alive to see it - that's gotta count for something, right? Xiroh, Khalicha and Dagalar - you know we still love you, thanks for keeping the bench warm for the rest of us. And Gegnar. Dearly insane Gegnar. Karrling and Namiko - you may not be raiding anymore, but life is emptier without you. Thanks for coming with.

My guild. My people. My friends. I've never enjoyed the MM part of MMO this much ever before. Here's to hardmodes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Playing to win.

I like sports. Well, some sports. I like football (proper football, mind you - not armoured rugby on a stopwatch), I enjoy the National Hockey League (go Devils!), I follow Le Tour dé France religiously every summer. And obviously, like your average glutton-for-punishment-sports-fan, I take sides. I enjoy watching "my" team win, and I get discouraged by seeing "my" team getting outplayed. It's about dignity, you know?

For me, it makes no difference whether I play my druid, my priest, or a class I've never played before, if it gets the job done. This game is first and foremost about progression and competition for me. To throw your question backwards: I do not get any pleasure from playing my main in a raid - I get pleasure from being there and killing bosses. I actually specifically enjoy the concept of transcending the traditional mindset of having a single character of a specific class and spec, although the practicalities can be annoying at times.
- Xaar,

This week, several hotfixes were applied to heroic versions of certain bosses within the current tier. Among these were a change to Nefarian's Stolen Power ability, rendering it now unable to affect certain DoTs that could be held rolling throughout the fight. Several changes were made to Atramedes as well, effectively putting an end to tanking him in the doorway (which has been something of a habit in certain circles of late).

What makes these changes interesting, is that no one have actually killed Nefarian after the hotfix. The now infamous "Many druids! Handle it!"-strategy died with the "nerf" to Rip, rendering the boss now only killable through "real" damage output - which there are still, apparently, not enough of in your average top tier guild. Likewise, while the kill has been duplicated several times by several guilds post-fix, there is little doubt that Atramedes went down "too early", progression- and gear-wise, due to the possibility of negating key elements of the encounter through a flaw in the game code.

No player or guild were banned for these kills, however - unlike the infamous Ensidia incident on normal Arthas 25, these design flaws were not considered to impact encounter difficulty to such an extent that it trivialized aspects of the overall challenge. I personally disagree with this, on the Atramedes incident specifically. Negating sound values is, to me, a far more serious offence than accidentally negating the Val'Kyr drop. Why? Because the Val'Kyr drop could already be negated by a class ability (the warlock portal), while the sound values effectively plays a part in the encounters soft enrage timer. Granted, losing all your DPS and healers certainly make an effective soft enrage timer, but this is true of any encounter - not the Val'Kyr alone.

Let's for a moment head back to the world of sports, specifically the aspects of supporters, and their opinion on how things "should be". We've all seen charicature of slightly obese men wearing slightly too tight team shirts yelling "FOUL!" at the television set. Some of us read the Twitter notes, Facebook statuses and various blogs regarding the Contador/Schleck incident last year, which effectively settled the Tour over the course of 18 small seconds. And, with my target audience in mind, a fair few of you have probably read or even participated in bashing Paragon and Method the last few weeks.

Because e-sport fans are, ladies and gentlemen, the absolute worst. What hooligans settle with breaking chairs across your back, the e-sports fan will "settle" with a flame, troll or insult, often of the most degenerate kind. The word "retard" is the new "idiot", exploits are the new fouls, and guilds are the new teams. And like every losing team's supporters, e-sport fans seems to forget that guilds - like teams - play to win.

I would never bring 11 feral druids to a raid, even if I had the chance. I wouldn't stack affliction warlocks either, nor would I get all six paladins to glyph something in particular to chainstun an add. I do, however, understand why Paragon and Stars did - they play to win. Second place is, in the world of e-sports, first loser. Paragon killed Nefarian, like they did Anub'Arak, and like Ensidia did Hodir, through using existing buffs and abilities in a creative manner. It's what separates them - the performers - from us - the supporters; the ability to not only discover, but utilize game mechanics in such a manner that they ensure a win, even if they will get changed after Blizzard understands the flaw in the initial design.

It's what separates the clever tricks from the outright cheating that's the issue here. Now that Sinestra is live, and the encounter is already being tuned a matter of days after she was first available, it's more important than ever to understand the difference between cheating, clever tricks and simple skill and perfect execution.

Most of all, though - let's hope it never becomes an issue in the first place.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Heroics are too hard.

I admit it - I read internet forums. I register and process QQ and whining about the state of the game on a daily basis. I occasionally QQ and whine myself, though I like to think my own negative output is on a more constructive level than "hurp derp nerf". I'll be the first to point out that the state of retribution is shameful at the moment, I'll also be the first to admit that yes, protection paladins are a bit squishy and could use more avoidance per point of rating, and I'll be the first to agree that the recent rebalancing of holy compeltely ruined a viable and dynamic way of playing the spec. In short, I'll gladly admit that paladins overall are in a somewhat uncomfortable state at the moment.

I will, however, be the first to admit that paladins needed to be nerfed, to the ground, after ICC, and that the current rebalancing of the class is something that will even out given time. Our new mechanics are so completely fresh out of the box that we're almost at the same stage as death knights at Lich King-launch, and it took three whole patches and a complete redesign of one of the specs before they got them right. I trust paladins will get there, eventually.

This post isn't about paladins, though - it's about the current state of heroic dungeons. We are 10 days into the expansion, and for the last, 5, 6 days, there have been a steady growth of complaints, criticism and pure, whiny QQ regarding the state of the current heroics. They are, apparently, too hard. I read reports from healers that tanks are taking too much damage, I read reports from DPS complaining that they aren't doing more DPS than they did in ICC, I read reports from tanks that CC makes it impossible for them to play their rotation properly. And all I can think is, "are we playing the same game?"

Yes, the new heroics are hard. With an honorable exception of good Sir Steelbender in Blackrock Cavern, they are even deliciosly hard. Nowhere near unmanagably hard, however - in fact, some are disappointingly easy compared to the expectations of percieved hardness. I mention Steelbender mainly because he's been the only REAL cockblock I've encountered so far - his mechanics are extremely unwieldy, and takes a lot of practice and precision, and a fair bit of luck, to properly nail as a tank. But the rest?

Throne of the Tides, one of my favourite instances, is a walk in the part. The Lost City of Tol'Vir likewise. Deadmines, where reports from beta suggested wiping for hours would be "the only way" was, apart from the complete randomness of a Super Mario mini-game, no harder than Halls of Lightning back in 3.0, and I'm still half waiting for the bosses in Shadowfang Keep to become hard. The boss that has in fact given me the most trouble so far is Altairus in the Vortex Pinnacle - and that was purely due to a fairly unbalanced set of DPS that could not learn how to position themselves for the life of them (fact - they kept dying), burning out the healer's mana and my cooldowns at a steady pace. When the idea of shifting winds and moving from breath weapons got through, however, it was a oneshot.

Long story short, most of these encounters are easy. If only one of the five people in the group know what to do and take lead, it should be clean and clear all the way. CC the right mobs, open the nuke on the correct mob, interrupt casts. Don't pull aggro, don't die to shit on the floor. Wait for adds to be picked up, then nuke them, and if you still manage to get one one you... don't run AWAY from your tank. Calm it out. Focus.

I will admit I've not gotten around to do heroic Grim Batol yet. From what I hear, it's MEAN. I can safely say, however, that compared to tanking heroic Magister's Terrace, Arcatraz and Shattered Halls, so far I'm stroking kittens in this expansion. These instances are not that hard. What they are, is awesome. I'm currently decked out in blues, and it's great.

And Monday, we raid.

*giggles maniacally*

Sunday, December 12, 2010

PayceUI v.4.0.1

Interface update! Since Cataclysm drastically changed a lot of the core mechanics to the paladin class, I've spent some time tweaking and reforging my UI, and I think I've finally gotten a setup that I'm comfortable with. It has the appropriate amount of information, without cluttering and creating tunnelvision fields, and I'm growing very comfortable with it. I will obviously have to tweak a bit further when we go into heroic raids and such, to fit in further information blocks (atm, my BigWigs text warnings are between my grid and my action bars, and that won't work in a 25-man scenario), but overall I've found the design I want to continue using.

Without further ado;

(click to enlarge)

Combat text: I use MSBT for my scrolling combat log, simply because I feel this is the tidiest and most accurate option. Left side is incoming heals and damage, right side is outgoing, center below my feet are important notifications and center above my character are every buff, debuff, resource gain and status change on my character mid-combat. The three red "Spell is not ready yet" is a permanent feature on my UI... I simply can't seem to get rid of them.

Unit frames: For my core unit frames, I use Shadowed. Left side is me, tight side is my target, and the box above is my target's target. Shadowed also provides the buff- and debuff frames ate the top left of the target frame. For my own buffs and debuffs, I use Classtimer to keep track of everything important - they are the blue bars above my own unit frames and the target of target frame respectively. Grid centered between the Shadowed frames tracks my party status, such as mana, threat and health. I prefer this option over threatplates, as it's generally faster with my playstyle.

Actionbars: I use Bartender4, because it's simply the best. I also use ButtonFacade: Renaitre to add a more artistic look than the just the boring, regular squares. OmniCC tracks my cooldowns in a nice and handy way.

Corners: Left corner is Prat for chat. Beats Chatter hands down in every single aspect there is. Right corner is Recount for damage meters, Omen for threat, and TipTac for advanced target information on mouseover.

Not shown in the picture are Combuctor for bags and bank, and BigWigs for boss encounters. Apart from that, it's very much no addons to speak of - I like to keep my addon memory low, even if it means no sexy minimap and Blizzard's default aura- and buff trackers. I guess I'll survive.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Prep, prep, prep.

- 6 salads
- 2 lasagnas
- a pound of salmon sushi
- 8 spring rolls
- two litres of fresh berry smoothies
- bottled water, Diet Red Bull and various Cokes
- some kiwifruits

- 35 attack power flasks
- 80 strenght/stamina foods
- 40 hit/stamina foods
- 100 band aids
- 40 health pots
- 40 mana pots
- gear set up and reforged for levelling, not raiding

You were saying, Illidan?