Monday, July 28, 2014

Complexity and Depth Part 2: Conflation Station

A few months back I wrote up a blog post about the ideas of complexity versus depth. Complexity at its core is how many rules do you have, and depth is what is the meaningful possibility space enabled by the rules.
Keen over at Keen and Graev's Gaming Blog postulated recently that slower combat had more depth. While I agree with the premise that slower combat can have more depth, it doesn't necessarily make it true, and Keen's sub-arguments rapidly show that it's too easy to conflate complexity and depth. More complexity does not automatically ensure more depth.
Complexity of Decisions 
"Today there are very few decisions to be made. One simply walks up to a mob and executes abilities in any order. The real decision is which order to use the abilities to kill the monster fastest–everything is about actively attacking."
First of all, I agree with Balkoth that Keen is conflating lack of difficulty with lack of depth. Leveling in WoW, Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, and Wildstar all has to be sufficiently easy that the grand majority of the populace can perform it, or you lose your subscribers. In all of those games there are more difficult content where you do need to perform more difficult maneuvers to defeat the enemy.
Frost mages in WoW facing something higher level than they are will root, slow, stun, blink, and so on, using the tools at their disposal. Kiting is still used for difficult mobs all the time. Heck, just the other day I kited a bunch of mobs with my Enhancement Shaman while my friend DPS'd them down slowly, all the while avoiding damage.

I wish I had a video of me soloing Chimaeron on my Enhancement Shaman, because that was one hell of a puzzle trying to figure out what combinations of talents, abilities, timings, etc. I needed to win, but above is a video of the next fight, soloing Nefarian. While not as difficult, it still required the use of extant abilities such as Earth Elemental, Rockbiter Weapon, as well as all of my self-healing and defensive cooldowns to win.
Things like Root Rot, where you literally just root them and DoT them, still works to an effect. It's just that in most games you can't root them indefinitely. Being able to lock down a monster forever would be bad design, as there's no depth or thought there. Mind you, the depth comes from the players discovering this technique from chaining together different abilities, and that is a good thing.
But to say that using player-created techniques via a combination of abilities is dead just tells me that you're not attempting difficult content to begin with. The content is there, it's just not in your face for subscriber-maintaining reasons. You have to seek it.
One final note here: rotational complexity is an interesting beast. At higher levels of difficulty, it's basically muscle memory. The more complex classes, the better your ability to memorize chains of abilities needs to be to manage it. Once you've "solved" the intellectual challenge of "What is my rotation?", which for most games you can look up online these days, it becomes the mental/physical endurance challenge of maintaining it for the duration of a fight. A good blog post I think later will be delving into physical versus intellectual difficulties.
First of all, most games still have aggro. Final Fantasy XIV and Wildstar it plays an extremely important part of multiplayer content. Guild Wars 2 doesn't even have the Holy Trinity or anything like it, so aggro as a concept is less about one person tanking and more about, "I'm dying, I need to drop aggro." It's really only WoW that's vastly simplified the concept.
The concept of aggro also has very little to do with the speed of combat. Wildstar combat is quite frantic, and yet aggro as a concept persists and works. Final Fantasy XIV combat is very slow in comparison to WoW, GW2, Wildstar, etc. aggro as a concept works identically to Wildstar's.
"Tanking took time, monsters took time to taunt and build up a safe aggro, and players respected that or died."
Tweaking aggro to Everquest levels such as Keen mentions above is just a knob on aggro as a whole. But the question here is does aggro add depth? Aggro is certainly another set of rules; taunts, waiting to DPS/heal, not ripping threat off the tanks, threat reducing abilities all add a layer of complexity for sure.
But I argue that in the Holy Trinity model, aggro does nothing to add depth. Your choices are let the tank get aggro, or you die. That's the possibility space added from the concept of aggro. I think a better way to look at this is to look at a system that uses aggro, but doesn't have tanks, per se, like Guild Wars 2. I'd argue it has a bigger possibility space granted because anyone can "tank". So if you're running low on health, you shouldn't be tanking, someone else can tank. Or if you can pin-pong an enemy between 3 or 4 different "tanks" to keep it running rather than attacking. Kiting, if you will.
As long as the Holy Trinity model only allows for one or two tanks, and anybody else gets dead if the boss so much as looks at them, there's no decision to be made. It's a trap. It definitely requires skill and knowledge of the system to handle, so is complex, but it doesn't add depth.
Class Specialization
"This could also be called the 'characters do one thing well' category. Having certain classes in your group would actually slow down the rate at which you could kill a single mob, thus slowing combat, but might improve your abilities to survive, pull multiple mobs at once and take a tougher spawn, or recover from battle quicker and move on to the next kill...These days everyone is a DPS."
Keen's complaint here stems from a lack of coordination required. Rather than having the requirements for a fight to be distributed across multiple players and each player having a single job, each player has more tools at their disposal to perform at fights and may have multiple tasks to perform in a single fight.

Instead of having debuffers, buffers, damagers, tanks, and healers, buffing and debuffing got rolled into everyone's classes in most modern MMOs, leaving you with damagers, tanks, and healers all capable of also buffing/debuffing. The tasks all still mostly exist (just ask any Warlock who has to put up Curse of Elements in WoW, or any healer who's tossing external cooldowns on tanks), it's just that each player can do more. That's not a reduction of depth, that's just a redistribution of complexity.

Combat speed once again has nothing to do with this point; it clearly does not support Keen's hypothesis whatsoever.

Managing Resources
"Managing mana consumption was often the difference between a great player and a good one. Healers who knew which heals to use and when, Wizards who knew how many times they should nuke to add the most efficient DPS to a group (the key being “efficient”), etc. Consume your resources and combat was slower. Have to worry about them at all and combat naturally becomes much, much slower."
Consume your resources, and combat would last longer, but not necessarily be slower. Run out of mana, and you'd need to wait for it to regenerate, but the cadence at which enemies use abilities doesn't change. Mind you, where his idea is correct is if resources are designed to run out quickly, it would necessitate not using your abilities at their maximum cadence.

Basically, if you go full throttle all the time, you run out of mana/focus/etc. That idea is quite sound, and you'll note it's in effect in FFXIV, where everyone has to watch their resources carefully. The difference is that you have abilities you can use that are effectively resource-neutral, or resource-gaining, and higher damage/healing abilities that eat away at your resources, so the game becomes a choice between when to go all-out, and when to conserve (also see: Arcane Mages in WoW).

Combat speed is independent of this variable, unless the game has no resource-neutral or better abilities. Then you're forced to hit fewer buttons: the downtime between each ability becomes greater than the GCD. If the designers have made combat a frantic, fast-paced affair, clearly waiting between abilities won't really work. Human nature would be to hit buttons as fast as possible in a panic-response to fast combat.

Leisurely combat, where enemy abilities are far and few between, you have lots of time to choose actions, or interrupt other abilities, to get out of the bad, and so on, would naturally allow for the player to pick and choose their abilities more carefully, and having that extra time means you can allow for more thought for each individual action, meaning you can allow for more depth. But that being said, individual abilities would naturally need to have more impact to make those choices meaningful. The fewer choices you're making, the more impact each choice needs to have to make it worthwhile.

I think this is the closest Keen gets to actually supporting his hypothesis, but again, having to manage resources can be independent of combat speed with the one exception I laid out. Then you may as well have a turn-based game--which is okay! I love turn-based games--but in the current "real-time" model of MMOs I'd argue doesn't really work. It's another trap for the players. An unnecessary, unfun skill cap.

Auto Attack
"Remember our old friend “white damage?” I love auto attack. I remember the days when it comprised of a massive portion of overall damage done by melee characters.  The entire concept is all but completely done away with in favor of rotations and constant ability usage. Older MMOs had fewer abilities (most of the time)."
Okay, I'll be brutally honest here. When I got to this part of the blog post, my first thought was, "Wait, is he trolling us?" Because auto-attack is the opposite of complexity and depth. Having your character do damage automatically means even if you as a player do nothing isn't a decision, isn't a rule, isn't... anything.

Oh, don't get me wrong, with a game that can have latency spikes, I think auto-attack is a useful tool to allow players to continue being mildly effective while they're having a lag attack (see the Nefarian solo kill video, near the end where I spike for a good 3 seconds), but if you were to take auto-attack away entirely, the complexity of the game and the depth of the game wouldn't change, meaning it adds literally nothing to either. And it's also independent of combat speed.

La Jeu en Rose

While Keen was clearly conflating complexity and depth in a couple cases, I think what he's really arguing for games as they were in Everquest. He views that as his ideal game, and that's totally fine. I don't care for it myself, but enjoyment is subjective. However, none of the arguments he posited support his initial hypothesis that slower combat means more depth. In fact, almost none of them have anything to do with slower combat at all.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

[Wolf Among Us] Quick Time Events

I've been playing through The Wolf Among Us now that the entire thing is out, and it's been a pretty good ride so far. The artwork/rendering is gorgeous, the story is engaging, and the episodes are the right length each for me so I can feel like I can stop and come back at my leisure. I'm about halfway through Chapter 4 so far, out of a total of 5 chapters.

The one thing that I can't say I care for is the Quick Time Events. Every time something action-y happens on screen, if you do or don't press the button that shows up, the sequence plays out a little different. Like in the screenshot below, if you successfully spam the 'Q' key fast enough, you'll win the tug-of-war over the axe with the Woodsman. If you fail, well, then you don't have an axe and now you're dodging it instead.

The idea seems to be to give you a little bit of a pacing break by tossing some interaction at you, as well as let you feel like you have some direction over the story. I haven't tried just ignoring the QTE entirely to see if you can get a game over, but for the most part failures haven't seemed to really prevent me from continuing on, which honestly is probably a good thing. Like in a game of D&D, failure shouldn't necessarily mean the end, but a different branch of the story.

However, the story doesn't seem to altar very significantly with any choices, either the macro choices about where to go next--where your ordering seems to change what clues you get, but in the end you still have the same series of events, just a slightly different order--or the micro-choices you get for failing or succeeding at the QTEs.

The QTEs feel jarring. I'm dug into a good visual novel and suddenly, bam, action game, requiring quick reflexes! Often I miss the first key entirely because I'm taken off guard. While a designer might count that as a win (because Bigby was also off guard, perhaps!), for me it's just annoying. In a game like Halo, a cinematic controlling the action for me is vexing, because the norm is having character agency for action sequences, whereas the visual novel department is closer to a Choose Your Own Adventure, where you make the occasional decision and you're piecing together a story. Your character agency is quite limited in that case, so having less agency in an action sequence feels like it would be fine.

This book is literally older than I am by about 3 years. And it was amazing at the time.
I love Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I really like the visual novel-style game--though one could argue that The Wolf Among Us is closer to a television show with the ability to choose your scene order rather than having any true choices, so it still falls short in terms of agency in comparison. I think there's definitely still an opening here for something a little closer to an actual Choose Your Own Adventure, with a proper branching story in the medium to big budget game area.

One way or another, though, the QTEs felt like they were tacked on because someone thought they didn't have enough gameplay in their game, and I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to do that. I think I'd actually enjoy the game more without them.

#GameDesign, #QuickTimeEvents

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm Tired of Saving the World

Lately I've been playing a lot of Atelier Escha & Logy. It's a JRPG in a long line of Alchemy-focused RPGs. The primary mechanic of the game is that you're an alchemist, so the item system is incredibly complex. You combine items in recipes, but you can substitute ingredients to achieve different effects. For example, maybe a recipe will call for something flammable. Early in the game, you may only have paper scraps. Later on, you might have exotic oils with much more interesting properties. If you've played FFXIV, it's not dissimilar to the crafting system there; just add a few more layers of complexity.

Logy and Escha. Note the 'g' in Logy is soft, so it sounds like "Low-gee"
Of course, as an alchemist, you're doing combat as you explore for ingredients, so it's not all just item creation and talking to your party members. But the interesting thing to me about this game is that it's billed by a lot of people as a slice-of-life game. You're not out there saving the world, you're doing your job as a government official alchemist in an R&D department, which includes exploring ruins to gather ingredients, making new items, and helping townsfolk out with your alchemy.

High/Epic Fantasy, such as Tolkien, Final Fantasy, the Tales series, Mass Effect, and so on are all about country, world, or universe threatening problems. It's easy to create tension in a story using that motif, and the hero's journey is an extremely old yet effective plot outline. Don't get me wrong, I love epic fantasy, but the same tropes do get tiring once in a while.

We have lots of slice-of-life comics, such as Questionable Content, Boy Meets Boy, and Something Positive, and sitcoms are a veritable treasure trove of slice-of-life television shows, but not so many slice-of-life story-based games, despite the popularity of the genre in other mediums.

In the Atelier series, while there are moments at the end where something bad happens and you have to save your town/friends anyhow, the grand majority of the game isn't about that, and I find it frankly refreshing. Now, it does help that I really enjoy the deep alchemy system, and combat is pretty well done too, but I don't really find myself missing that driving need to save all the things.

There are slice-of-life games such as Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, and Tomodachi Life, but for those the story has been rather anemic. The Rune Factory series probably has the strongest story of the ones I've played, but it still leans heavily on the hero's journey and save the town tropes, and if you're talking Animal Crossing, there's no real story being told. It's not like you're peering into the life of a farmer, or a surgeon, or an alchemist. You're in a community simulator, where you can make a story, but it's not really cohesive; it's interesting because you have emergent story, rather than a crafted one allowing you to be in someone else's shoes for a period of time.

Princess Elodie, learning about Military Strategy
Long Live the Queen is a good example of a slice-of-life game, where you play as the Princess Elodie, who's mother just died and you have a year until you ascend the throne. Every week, you decide what courses to take, and pass or fail skill checks along the way, hoping to avoid assassination and ascend the throne. A great little game with a view of what a Princess in a contested kingdom might be like.

So give me more peeks into people's day-to-day lives. What's the day-to-day life of a Wizard like? How about a game where you're a Teacher and you need to ensure your students are on the right track? Tell me in the comments below if you know of any other good slice-of-life games, because I'm tried of saving the world right now.

#GameDesign, #SliceOfLife

Friday, July 11, 2014

GaymerX: First Impressions and Comparisons to PAX's Diversity Lounge

Friday night in San Francisco, and I'm in my hotel room writing a blog post. I think at this point in my life I'm a little bit over traveling by myself. You'll see in a moment how that realization colours my perception of GaymerX.

For those not in the know, GaymerX bills itself as "the gaming event for LGBTQ gamers and allies. All are welcome as we celebrate queer representation in gaming, meet new people, and of course, play awesome games together!" After checking out the Diversity Lounge of PAX East, I fond myself wanting a juxtaposition of a truly welcoming safe gaming space to what the Penny Arcade folks had put together.

Day 0

My convention experience started a day earlier than many others, having a VIP badge--nothing too crazy, just a more expensive badge to get into the pre-party. Communication on registration was an issue, as a reminder email told us to show up at 5 PM on Thursday, while the website said 6 PM. In actuality, registration didn't start until 7 PM. I'm unsure as to why that was, but the discrepancy ruined my plans to return to my hotel room before the party to drop off my bag and stuff.

GaymerX Badge Get!
However, logistical issues aside, the VIP party was pretty nice. Held outside in a greenhouse-like plastic tent, they had open bars for the first couple hours, good music, and a Mario Kart 8 station. Thankfully the alcohol helped me power through my own awkward to meet new folks, from a storyboard artist to marketing directors. I even ended up hanging out with Jackson Palmer, the creator of Dogecoin--a cryptocurrency not unlike Bitcoin--who was visiting the convention to perform a talk on cryptocurrency and microtransactions for tipping streamers. Such currency, so wow. Pretty cool to meet someone and be able to talk shop and programming, so to speak.

I rather wish I had brought business cards for either my blog or my game company. The networking opportunities were pretty sweet.

One of the coolest things about the VIP party, and frankly a recurring theme throughout the event, is just how diverse the crowd was. Pictures are generally verboten unless you ask first, so I don't really have any visual examples; however, when compared to PAX, there were a lot more ladies, and folks comfortable dressing the way they'd like to dress. Genderqueer folk not conforming to either primary gender stereotype; gay guys from the gym bunnies in tank tops to the neckbearded engineers (represent, yo); femme and butch lesbians; and just so many people who honestly defy labels. I realize I'm really not doing the crowd justice, to be perfectly frank. The crowd was extremely eclectic and it was fantastic.

Jackson Palmer and Josh Mohland of Dogecoin fame

Day 1

Officially Day 1 of GaymerX began on Friday, and I admit I ended up sleeping in rather than going to the opening ceremonies. I don't think I've ever gone to the opening ceremonies for PAX either, to be honest. Opening ceremonies tend to be pomp and circumstance, and I rather like my sleep.

I arrived at about 1 PM to the hotel where the convention was being hosted. I had a panel I wanted to be at an hour later, so I wandered the halls. The convention takes place across three floors of the hotel, though the middle floor was largely set aside for things like registration and rooms for organizers, so really it was on two floors.

There was a few sections to play some games the Cards Against Humanity folks liked, with each game having a clear placard talking briefly about it. There was a section for OUYA games, of which I played some duck game where you all spawn on a small level, pick up weapons and try to be the last duck standing. Frankly, the game was extremely confusing at first, but I picked up on it eventually. Wasn't really fun, though. Honestly I thought the OUYA was dead, so a whole room dedicated to games on the platform was interesting. Wasn't particularly impressed by any of them offhand, though.

There was a Pokémon Gym area that had trivia contests and battle tournaments. I didn't check it out, on my list for later, but it was neat. There also was a board game room and a card game room, but the rooms only had 3 or 4 tables each, and were much too small for the populace interested in playing games. Future conventions should probably set aside more space for those.

At the end of the floor, a small expo hall awaited. Some super cool vendors in there, including a couple comic book stores; someone who made keychains/necklaces out of recycled comics; another person selling layered shadow boxes of gaming motifs like Pokémon, Zelda, and Portal; one person who was selling a board game she had created, called Dungeon Escape, which looked neat.

There also was a table dedicated to the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to providing crisis and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth across the country. Below you'll find a picture taken where I dressed as a globe-trotting Latina jewel thief (other options included an elf hero, an Italian plumber, a speedy hedgehog, or an animal trainer) with a message for kids who are having difficulties:

You can also see about 1/3rd of the expo hall behind me.

That brings me to my next point: I had seen the grand majority of non-temporal events. Mind you, I could have interacted more with some of the game stations, but I did have extensive chats at four of the expo hall booths. But at only about 2000 participants, and only really two floors of the convention center, I question how I will fill up 3 full days with content by myself. I think I would have benefited greatly bringing a friend to this event, whereas at PAX, it's so massive I can easily fill up 3 days and be left wanting for more. Or I just need to get a LOT more outgoing than I am normally.

But on the other hand, there are a fair number of things like panels that are at specific times, and the two panels that I saw on Friday were really quite good. I'll be doing separate write-ups for those at a later time, but to whet the appetite, one was about Gaming and Intersectionality, the other about Designing Inclusive Video Games. Really, really great panels!

GaymerX and the PAX Diversity Lounge

So far I've been having fun. The atmosphere is great. So much more hopeful, open, and free than even the diversity lounge at PAX East was. While the Diversity Lounge was a decent start, seeing how happy everyone was just to be at GaymerX and be themselves was incredibly refreshing.

For some folks, this is the only venue they can really be themselves at. I don't think that people really understand the crushing loneliness that is living in the closet and having to hide who you really are for your own safety, and seeing that erased even for a couple days in a safe space such as GaymerX has been very awesome, and I think it's finally given me the perspective to articulate what bothers me about the Diversity Lounge.

The PAX Diversity Lounge is built to educate the general populace, not primarily as a safe space for minorities (despite the description). Now, it can be a safer space than the rest of the convention, but arguably, the whole of PAX should be a safe space for folks; however, I don't think it will ever be anything like what GaymerX has been able to offer folks, not until the general populace accepts people for who they are rather than expecting folks to fit into neat gender/sexuality stereotypes and roles.

I think education is incredibly important, and the Diversity Lounge provided that functionality pretty well in my opinion. But it's a lot like when you see feminists decry people for engaging them for clarification/education: sometimes you just can't. Sometimes you just need the problem to be fixed, and sometimes you're too tired/scared/angry to be the person to educate others. Sometimes, you just need a safe space where you can decompress and not have to worry about the consequences of those things. GaymerX provides that in spades, and it's wonderful.

#GaymerX, #FirstImpression

Monday, July 7, 2014

[WoW Beta] UBRS 5-Man Dungeon as Holy Paladin

This weekend I rolled up a level 100 premade on one of the PvP Warlords of Draenor Beta servers and dove into the LFD tool to take a look at both the new healing model, as well as one of the new dungeons. After getting my keybinds and mouseover macros all fixed up, LFD popped, and it put me in Upper Blackrock Spire (UBRS).

(Note: After running this, I ran with some heroic raider folks with myself as DPS, and everything died literally twice as fast. The healer also had 0 problems healing the tank who was also a bear. Apparently my LFD group was pretty awful overall, both tank and DPS, so take the following with that in mind. The notes are largely intact from the LFD run).

Note that for this run, Blizzard scaled our gear down to ilvl 600 and character level to 100. Also, spoilers in the video and in the dungeon text below, duh.


First I'm going to talk about the new healing model for a bit, and how it felt in general. From a high level, it felt very much like playing Cataclysm again, except mana regen was a bit more generous than it was in Cata. Usually people died because the damage outpaced my throughput or they did something stupid, not because I went OOM. Granted, there were a couple fights where I was OOM, or pretty close to it, but overall it felt a lot more fun.

I'll talk about it a bit more in the context of fights, but there were some fights where DPS sat at about 20% of their total health for a good 30 seconds and survived, even with outgoing AoE damage. If they were judicious about staying out of the bad, then they'd survive a lot longer. At the end of a fight, when you're on running on fumes, the DPS' ability to avoid the bad is basically the decider on when they live or die. Which frankly, I like.

Tank healing as a Holy Paladin was a bit rough, however. I was running Eternal Flame, Clemency, Divine Purpose, Holy Prism, Saved by the Light as my talent loadout. I'll consider trying Beacon of Insight on my next run, but a 30% health bubble up to once a minute can be HUGE in this new healing model.

For the most part, tank damage taken was higher than my throughput just spamming Holy Light. The bear tank's health was 320k, and my Holy Light would do about 14k in raw healing (plus another 20% bubble for mastery), so we're talking each heal filling up about 4.4% of the tank's health bar, and another 0.9% bubble.

However, with our small heal gone, Holy Light does interact with Beacon of Light to generate Holy Power, so I found my Holy Power generation to be a fair bit higher than on live. Once I had that figured out (because without my UI, the holy power meter is so far away), healing became a lot easier. In fact, it was pretty easy to get all five of us have 30 second Eternal Flames rolling, which meant the tank was getting about 3k health every 2 seconds (50% Beacon of Light transfer, 500 from each DPS, 750 from me, 1000 on the tank proper), which helped immensely. It also helped slowly fill those DPS health bars up.

But even so, tank damage was pretty harsh; my single target throughput felt really, really weak. Clemency and freely using Hand of Sacrifice (glyphed, of course) was a requirement, otherwise there'd have been a lot more tank deaths. I also chose Divine Purpose after running Holy Avenger for a while. Given how quickly we can build Holy Power, Holy Avenger didn't feel quite as powerful as it used to.

Similar to the beginning of MoP, Divine Purpose is an excellent mana saving talent, which may be why some fights I didn't run as OOM as I could have. This may change as we get more stats as the expansion progresses. Also, I feel like the Divine Purpose proc should be bumped to 10 seconds instead of 8, since the consuming spells now have a cast time, so you effectively have 1.5 seconds less to use it. The proc power aura that pops is also translucent now, which actually makes it harder for me to notice it. I'd rather it be solid again.

I did find I had to use Flash of Light quite a bit, often spamming it three or four times in a row to get the tank into safer (i.e: 50% health) territory. It's good, because on live I don't think I ever use that spell. Might mean the Glyph of Flash of Light may be more useful this expansion.

While I missed having lots of throughput cooldowns--because I rarely stack my cooldowns on live using them separately over time to handle smaller scenarios--I have to say having everything rolled up into Avenging Wrath makes me feel like a minor deity. That cooldown is about the only time I can actually fill health bars back up to full, and it happens in relatively short order. I have to say, it feels really fun pressing that button just because of how much more potent my healing becomes with it. It's like popping a Healing Tide Totem today. Health bars just bam, go up.

Overall, healing was fun. A lot more fun than it is on live. Mediocre tanks can't chain pull and expect healers to get them through it, but mana isn't so bad that you need to sit down between pulls every time. DPS are in control of their own destiny, and if they're good at staying out of the bad, can comfortably sit at 50% health for quite some time. If they're excellent, even 20% to 30% for a little while is okay. Melee still suck your mana like nobody's business though. Some design factors never change.

It rarely felt like I needed to panic, and the couple times I did, that's what Lay on Hands or Avenging Wrath is for. I don't miss my small auto-attack heal at all, and I don't miss Divine Plea, either for that matter. I do miss Hand of Salvation because the number of times someone pulled aggro...while that wasn't instant-death like it would be today, it was a huge drain on my mana.

On the other hand, the food given to use by default generates mana soooooooooooooooooooooooo slowly. It takes like a full minute to regenerate my mana pool on it. That was awful.

Upper Blackrock Spire (UBRS)

Our comp was a Holy Paladin (me), a Bear Tank, a Warlock, Death Knight, and Hunter for DPS. I have no idea what specs the DPS were. The group was gathered via the LFD tool. For Blizzard's benefit, my experience is 14/14N and some Heroic raiding attempts. The other players were not very good at either DPS, nor staying out of the bad. The tank did not seem to be using much self-healing, either.

In the initial pulls, some of the trash packs were a little close to each other. There's a distinct case early on in the linked video at like 4 minutes where a trash pack comes out of no where and aggros on me for healing too much. Not sure why, but double pulls were pretty common throughout the dungeon as a whole.

In the first trash pulls, some things, like the slow "arcane explosions" were pretty obvious to get out of, but there was some strange red circles that expanded slowly that I had no idea why they were doing what they were. When I ran as DPS, I figured out they were coming from banners. I still don't know what the banners do, but if SoO taught me anything, it's that Banners and Totems are the greatest threat to Azeroth since Deathwing and must be taken out immediately.

Oremaster Gor'asha


We went into this fight blind, with the exception of the tank, who knew most of the dungeon. Boss sits on top of a pedestal, and summons weird spike things that have an aura around them. Until after the fight completed, I had no idea what those spikes were (since the spikes didn't clear up when the boss died). Apparently they push you away from the spike itself; they're a repulsion aura.

The boss himself summoned flying sawblades on the tank (Blade of Steel, not the hockey Nintendo game). He also cast the occasional AoE called Shrapnel Nova which hit the party for a good 25% of their total health.

At about 75%, 50%, and 25% of his health, he'd activate these lightning conduits around the room and AoE the raid until people deactivated them. The raid warning made it obvious, which was good.

We one shot this encounter. The mechanics were mostly obvious, damage wasn't terribly high (and none of it was avoidable with the exception of deactivating the lightning conduits fast enough), so easily healable. I ended the fight with about 25% of my mana pool remaining.

Note the monster label says Orebender, but the quest text says Oremaster.



Heeeeee, it's Maloriak v2.0! He comes with a bunch of adds, one of which is CC'able. Two Drakonid Monstrosities, which perform a long line of fire on the ground occasionally (Eruption), and a Black Iron Emissary, who I have no idea what he did.

We wiped the first time because the DPS didn't focus the adds. There was a lot of tank damage going out because of boss plus two adds (since we CC'd the Emissary). Instead, the DPS got the boss down to 50% first, at which point he started putting green pools of crap on the ground, so having to dodge those AND dodge the Eruptions with a single instant heal (Holy Shock) made healing pretty much impossible.

Our second attempt, the DPS actually followed the age-old adage of Adds > Boss, and we downed him pretty handily. The tank damage was definitely front loaded, though with all of the green crap on the ground the AoE damage ramped considerably at the end of the fight. In fact, it was extremely unforgiving healing-wise at the end; DPS needed to move FAST or the healer would never keep up with the outgoing damage. In fact, our Warlock died, and the other four of us were about 30% each at the end.

I ended that fight again with 40% of my remaining mana.

Trash Intermission

A slight aside, the Black Iron Veterans are absolutely hilarious. Their shield slam launches you across the room. Watching our Hunter get nailed and fly waaaaay far away had me rollicking in laughter. It was hands down the most hilarious thing I had seen all dungeon. (Look at

Trash in general was tuned pretty high. Each trash pull had a serious chance of tank death, so there wasn't much downtime. Also, the fact that Beacon of Light still heals around corners was helpful on the trash pulls.

I don't know if our DPS as a whole was a bit low, if the mob health was tuned a bit high, or what, but trash pulls took forever to take down. In the next boss fight, it also showed.

Blackrock Stadium


Gauntlet fight! You have 3 waves, but it's not really obvious when one wave ends, though it is obvious when each wave begins, as you have stragglers show up over time. Adds come in from both an end of the arena, and above, making it pretty difficult for the tank to pick everything up. I ended up doing a fair bit of heal tanking.

However, coming out of the three waves and directly into the boss fight proper, I was already OOM before we started, which basically doomed our attempt to failure from the start. The drake's breath weapon is super nasty, not only doing a lot of damage, but puts a stacking debuff on the people hit that increases fire damage taken by 100% per stack. Stand in that for like 2 ticks and you're pretty well dead.

After we wiped, we got back, and thankfully we didn't need to do the entire gauntlet a second time; we could just face the drake and Commander Tharbek himself immediately.

He seemed to have a number of abilities. One was an axe he threw that caused a bleed. Another puts a circle of slime on the ground. He also hits the tank relatively hard.

He summons spinning axes like Nazgrim's Ravager, but they're on fire, making them extremely high visibility, rather than Nazgrim's Ravager which is really hard to see because it's a grey weapon on a brown background. However, they move in what seems to be gentle arcs around the room, making them really hard to track. There were cases where I thought I would be get but it arced around me, and other cases where it snuck up behind me and I just couldn't get away because it was travelling in the same arc as I was moving, which was extremely annoying. It felt like there wasn't an obvious movement pattern. They are super pretty though. They seemed to be summoned on a cadence, or at % health, not sure, but there was four of them at one point since they don't despawn, and in that tiny room pretty much impossible to avoid.

At about 25% health, like Nazgrim, he summons reinforcements, and you get a bunch of adds. (Note: apparently it's not actually health based, our DPS were just REALLY slow at taking him down. The "enrage" of adds is timer-based). We ended up burning the boss down because frankly we were all nearly dead. However, once the boss died, the adds and axes disappeared. We basically sat at 20% health each for the final 15 seconds of the boss fight, and I had about 20% of my mana remaining, noting that we didn't start this fight from the gauntlet.

Trash Intermission and Son of the Beast

The next trash is where I'd expect to get the Leeroy Jenkins achieve. There's a bunch of whelp cages, and some of the adds (Drake-keepers) will run off to release the whelps. If you slow them/stun them, you can prevent it from occurring, but if you don't, you get overwhelmed quickly. We ended up having to pull into the previous room to prevent that from occurring once we wiped to the trash once. It was pretty crazy.

There's a bonus boss off to the left called Son of the Beast. It's a core hound, and he charges people, knocks them back a fair distance, and leaves a trail of fire which does damage, and leaves a DoT. He also performs a physical (non-dispelable) fear, quite often, which was annoying. In fact, most of the trash in this area chain-fears. Otherwise the boss is quite straight-forward and healing is pretty light. Nothing really crazy.



We did not go into this fight blind, as the tank explained it, but holy cow, what the hell. His explanation still didn't quite prepare me for what occurred. While we did one shot it, it was pretty close.

First of all, you end up fighting a protodrake on a bridge, and not a very big bridge at that. The fight is two phases which repeat, then a third phase at the end

Phase 1 he's flying up against the bridge, and nails the tank pretty hard, drops pools of fire on the ground, and picks either left or right side of the bridge and performs a nasty fire breath sweep which does about 50% of your health in damage and disorients you. You need to be in the center of the bridge, or you'll never avoid it.

Phase 2 he flies away and starts bombarding the bridge with fireballs. While you can technically avoid them, it was extremely difficult to do so. I think I just ended up healing through it. A large group of whelps also shows up, which you need to hande.

After a set of P1, P2, P1, P2, you enter P3 (dunno if it's timed or health based), the protodrake lands on the bridge and starts mauling your tank with a stacking bleed DoT. You still need to handle pools of fire below you, but it's a race to basically kill him before he kills your tank.

Pretty frantic fight, healing-wise. I also noticed that pets don't seem to have AoE damage reduction anymore, or it's not enough. The Warlock and Hunter pets kept dying pretty quickly as far as I could tell, which is annoying. (Note: Confirmed. I ran as a mage later and my Water Elemental died so many times during the dungeon he may as well have not been there :( ).

Warlord Zaela

(Fights Start:

(Kill Pull:

First of all, none of us had seen her before, so we looked in the dungeon journal to see what she did. It tells you about her knockback attack, but then it tells the tank to put their back against a wall. What wall, Blizzard?

The fight is basically three phases and takes place on a relatively small arena suspended above a pit of lava. If you get knocked off, game over.

In phase 1, the tank needs to position her so that his back is to at least 60% of the arena so he can land on the platform when he gets knocked back. She also can do a whirlwind attack where she picks a random person and chases them, doing AoE damage as she moves. It's not a lot of AoE damage, mind you, so I found it easier for the tank at least to just sit there if he's the one targeted so he can make sure he's positioned correctly. It only did about 9k damage a tick on me (but I am in plate with a shield). She has an axe throw that does so little damage that I didn't even register as it happening until I watched footage after the fact.

At 50% health, she leaves the arena and summons a bunch of adds. On top of the adds, protodrakes show up on either the front, or the "right" of the arena (if you're looking out from the entrance) and perform a conal fire attack that does a fair bit of damage (20k a tick). You need to be watching for the drakes and moving ahead of time. Since it is a conal attack, you'll want to be closer to the drakes rather than further as less of the arena is hit there. It's really hard to dodge the fire well away from the drakes.

Once the adds are dead, phase 3 is just a combo of phase 1 and the protodrakes from phase 2. So don't get knocked off if you're the tank, dodge the whirlwind, and dodge the fire. Sounds simple, but it's a lot of damage going out and you can get behind quite easily if your party isn't careful.

We took about 30 minutes to kill Zaela (5 pulls, I think?), but I ended the fight with about 15% of my total mana.

Do note there is a bug where the protodrakes continue to show up and breathe fire all over the platform despite Zaela being dead.


It was a fun dungeon. Some of the trash was a bit grueling, especially between Kyrak, Blackrock Stadium, and Ragewing, but as one of my stream watchers put it, it gave it that authenticate UBRS marathon feel. Without wipes the run would've taken about 45 minutes. With wipes, about an hour and a half. Still feels a little bit long, however, but that could also be due to the health tuning/dps tuning.

Difficulty-wise with the group I had, it's on par with early Cataclysm heroic 5-mans, or a little bit easier. The mechanics aren't quite as unforgiving as say, Stonecore was, but healing this dungeon was a pretty similar experience to healing Heroic Grim Batol that first week of Cataclysm, but with more mana, which given that was the Normal 100 version of the dungeon might be tuned a bit high. I felt like an ilvl of 600 was probably a little low for the dungeon overall, and I imagine we'll have a higher ilvl when we first hit 100, but I could be wrong.

I'm loving the new healing model. It does feel like they took the lessons they learned in MoP and Cata and applied them. It'll be interesting to see how this works when it gets tweaked a bit and goes live, and how healing throughput/mana regen scales. As I said earlier, my issue was almost always throughput and other players, not mana as long as I didn't spam Holy Radiance/Flash of Light.

When I ran later as DPS with a heroic raid-capable premade group, the dungeon and mechanics were trivial. I wasn't healing, but our healer was never below 50% mana, and rarely below 80%, and the Druid tank needed very little healing in general. My Enhancement Shaman also was capable of 46k Healing Surge crits with 5 Maelstrom Weapon stacks, so that was fun to basically be able to heal myself and have the healer ignore me mostly; that may need a little tuning still. So the skill gulf between awful but still completable, and fantastic is huge. I think that's pretty par for the course in WoW in general, but it's interesting to note just how hard this dungeon feels with middling to poor players, and it's a normal dungeon. The Heroic version must be nuts. I'm actually hoping it is!

#WarlordsOfDraenor, #Beta, #Healing

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Let Loose The Moose

One of my fellow raiders noticed in Skyrim that the moose antlers are on backwards, which is silly. The whole point of the antlers is for locking with other moose when they charge. When the antlers are backwards, all of that surface area is not useful, or worse, in a prime place to add more torque to the moose’s neck.

This is a Skyrim moose:

This is a real moose:

But of course, the Skyrim community has a mod to fix the moose antlers. Seriously. A mod just to fix the antlers. Six hundred and ten people have downloaded this mod. Seriously, the power of modding communities is simultaneously insane and impressive.
This is what happens when Canadians chat after the raid.

#Moose, #Skyrim

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Day 46: The Final Day

My funemployment period is finally at an end after 46 days, and I'm off to do cool things in the indie game scene. I'll be one of three programmers on a little game known as Eon Altar, done by Flying Helmet Games. I've chatted about this game in the past, and I'm really excited to be on board as a developer. Note, if you're a UI dev or a level designer with experience in Unity, and live in the Vancouver, BC area, feel free to apply here.

We're doing a lot of iterating and prototyping, so while the large vision you see on the website and in the videos is still largely intact, especially around bringing your friends together in one place, gameplay and what not is certainly evolving.

And iteration early on is crucial. You want to fail fast and fail hard with your designs and prototypes, and iterate quickly to find what's fun and what isn't. The longer you wait, the more expensive design changes become. Expect to see blog posts about my developer experiences, and perhaps even some of what we're designing as we go along!

For my funemployment, I've been playing a bunch of games on and off: WoW; Dragon Age 2; Pokémon X; Final Fantasy X HD; Pocket Farm; Hearthstone; and the WoW Beta (you can find my Twitch.TV stream here, and look to my Twitter for when I'm streaming).

Upcoming this month, along with my new job, are a trip to the GaymerX convention in San Francisco July 11th through the 13th, as well as an online Pokémon tournament sadly in the same time period. It'll be a bit of a busy weekend!

#Personal, #EonAltar