Friday, October 29, 2010

Good, Bad, and Ugly: Halloween Edition

Some changes were announced and implemented in the Cataclysm beta, and some late week happenings in both of my pursuits of relaxation highlight an interesting week in the life. As it turns out, it fits as the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good - Although beta changes are never for sure, they at least show what direction the developers are willing to experiment or go back to. Battle resurrection (Rebirth) for druids was increased to a 30 minute cooldown without a reagent needed in Patch 4.0.1. This has been terribly annoying to those of us used to having it as an option every 1-2 attempts on a boss depending on fight length. It definitely stinks to have to wait 30 minutes if you pick an inopportune Lich King attempt to use the battle rez. Well now it looks like the cooldown is going back to 10 minutes. A welcome and good change for Ariel and all druids out there.

The Bad - And beta changes are not always nice. The only form of Chakra I have found terribly useful on Ekat is renew, which ups the HoT effects by 10% and can be extended another 3 seconds nearly indefinitely for every renew cast. While I have not played with the damage version too much, I am not impressed by the Prayer of Healing version, even for Holy. At best, it means you get one more Circle of Healing off in 30 seconds and improve your AoE heals slightly, but AoE spells are not supposed to be the huge focus in cataclysm fights. So I do not know what is meant by removing Chakra Renew, but it does not look good for Chakra.

The Ugly - Although I'm not connected in any meaningful way with either young man, a guild member of fellow blogger Aurdon committed suicide, leaving behind two kids and a wife. Meanwhile the college football world reels from the death of a Notre Dame student who was taping football practice up on a hydraulic scissor lift in high winds despite not thinking it was safe and not wanting to go up. Both of these stories rip my heart out as there's just no excuse for either death. A young man who was passionate about football and passionate about film is gone forever because someone made poor judgment and ordered him to go up on that lift in unsafe conditions. No matter how hard life gets, abandoning two little innocent children you brought into the world by taking your own life is completely senseless, no matter how hopeless you think you are. I know these words ring hollow to those actually dealing with depression and poor work environments, but there's just no reason for these deaths and the long weeks, months, years of suffering that the families will now go through. I have nothing to offer but my thoughts and prayers to both families, but remember when you are having fun raiding or watching college football this have it a lot better than a lot of folks in the world and you shouldn't lose sight of that.

Whether you are partying, staying at home, or trick or treating this weekend, I hope it is a good one.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kingslayer and Other Goodies

Sorry for the infrequent posting friends, but what can you do? Life is busy and fun! The days are ticking down towards Cataclysm, and I've managed to get a lot of stuff done in game that I was hoping for. Navarionae got his What a Long Strange Trip achievement done for the 310% speed drake (now granting Master Flying). Doubt I'll do the grind on any other alliance characters, but I've had fun running Headless Horseman the past week on all characters. On the whole, the holidays have been redesigned to be a lot better than they used to be. The RNG nature of Hallow's End and especially Love is in The Air have been pretty much removed, and there really is no excuse to not have that faster flying speed if you put the time into it. Of course with that much time, you could farm 5000 gold, but that probably would not be as fun and varied as the time you spend on holidays.

The last entry I had was the breaking news of the guild size limit. Well Patch 4.0.1 dropped and the guild interface has not broken AIE. Thankfully that gives the guild a few weeks to get the addons and workarounds going. Alea Iacta Est, Taint, and Goon Squad are working together on addon software to allow guild alliance gchat basically so that when we split into 6, 10, however many sub guilds, we still have the community of gchat. This will be slightly more difficult to manage on the wow side, but the guild leadership took it in stride like everything else and are moving forward gracefully. AIE will not die in the face of Blizzard, and that's a good thing!

A while back I had a goal list for Cataclysm. Now that we have a solid release date a few weeks away, now is a good time to check in on how we are doing. Here's the bucket list...
1. Finish It's Been A Long Strange Journey on Navarionae (FINISHED)
2. Defeat Algalon the Observer in Ulduar-10 (not attempted)
3. Defeat Yogg-Saron in Ulduar-10 (failed twice more)
4. Defeat The Lich King in Icecrown Citadel (FINISHED - see below)
5. Reach level 80 on Arielae the druid (FINISHED)
6. Reach level 75 on Biancae the paladin (level 48)
7. Reach level 70 on Clarissae the shaman (level 30)
8. Buy epic flight on the final three leveling characters and have about 10k gold left (FINISHED, although Biancae needs it. 24k gold in bank)
9. Do the Linken Nintendo homage quest chain in case it goes away (FINISHED)
10. Classic Raider (FINISHED)

So all things considered, I have really hammered on that bucket list, especially recently. Last weekend, Ariel hit 80, Navar finished Long Strange Trip, and Ekat finished 3 raids for Classic Raider as well as Kingslayer. Probably the best weekend of wow I've ever played. I realize the more I play shamans, the more I feel "meh" about it. And I don't pay and spend all this time to feel meh. I love druid healing and priest healing and adore my leveling paladin, so I'll stick with them and Navar for the time being. Thus, other than downing the Ulduar final boss and getting Biancae into Northrend, my goals have been met. I hope your bucket list is progressing well too, but it's not too late!

Speaking of Arielae, like I said, she hit 80 last weekend. I already have ground up a 264 idol and 3 pieces of tier 10, plus the rest of the slots filled with ilvl 200 healing gear from heroics. It is incredibly easy to run through heroics for quick justice points now, and druid healing at 80 is incredibly fun. They almost have as many toys as priests, although only one talent spec to choose. I don't know how it will work with mana shortages, but right now, I keep 3 stacks of Lifebloom up on the tank and ticking, maybe add a Rejuvenation, and Wild Growth when the group needs healing. Healers are very overpowered right now, and mana is unlimited so it is hard to tell how things are going to work in Cataclysm. All that said, Arielae has come a long way in the week since hitting 80 and 2-healed Trial of the Crusader today. Therefore, if I have time to get her in ICC before Cataclysm, I might try it out just to see it.

And then there's Ekaterinae. On day one of last weekend's ICC raids, both of the guild groups got 11 bosses down, leaving Sunday night for Lich King only. The top raid team got him down quickly, but I was in group 2. Three of us had never seen the fight before and 3 more did not have their Kingslayer title. We started the night with a disc priest, a holy priest (me), and a resto shaman on heals. We found that we were really struggling with getting the val'kyr down in phase 2, so we swapped to a 6 DPS and 2 priest configuration. I stayed holy for a couple attempts and then I realized...having one disco priest waste all his mana bubbling everyone to negate infest was not good while I sat around with mana...and chakra was not doing much for us, as well as Guardian Spirit being useless pretty much. So I went disco to give us the double disco priest party. And all of a sudden, the attempts got into phase 3. Our closest attempt yet had us wipe at 14% (Lich King dies at 10%, for those not in the know) to Defile, the first time all night the "stupid" on the floor wiped us. We then had a couple of wipes in phase 1, showing our disgust with the near miss. Although we had reached the end of the raid period, we knew we could do it and we knew we were close. So we tried again...and sure enough, everything went right and we earned Kingslayer! I know I'm late to this proverbial party, but I'm happy to show off my own main sporting the Kingslayer title and defeating the last boss of an expansion before the new expansion!

Congrats to all of "team two" who persevered for over four hours and got Arthas down. This is either the first or second time we've had two Lich King kills as a guild in one week, so a momentous time. Cheers again to the guild and bring on Cataclysm!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guild Achievement System Brings the Ban-Hammer on AIE

As you will recall from my earlier series of articles on how to build a successful guild, I am a member of two very large guilds on Earthen Ring - US. My first guild on Alliance side is The Illuminati, which has 396 characters as of this writing. A very big guild, to be sure. But The Illuminati is dwarfed of course by Alea Iacta Est, my horde side guild better known as the largest guild in the game across all servers. AIE has 6792 characters right now and is a fantastic community of gamers who are a great resource for leveling, professions, grouping, and anything else you want to do in the game. There has always been some problems with AIE and the guild interface, which is only designed to handle 500 characters. Nevertheless, AIE got along just fine and nicely asked Blizzard to fix the problem if they could, despite it being very low priority.

However, a blue post yesterday shattered AIE and fellow mega-guilds like Taint, Goon Squad, and others. As of patch 4.0.1, which looks like it will be next Tuesday, all guilds will have a hard cap of 600 members. You will not be able to add more characters unless you are below 600. Which means AIE, as of next week, will not add another new character ever again. No alts, no rerolls, no friends and no players that have been removed for being inactive for a few months. Not one more player, unless AIE gets below 600 members, which will not happen until the servers stop running in all likelihood. So while AIE and other mega-guilds will not have their rosters fractured or culled through at this time, they also will stagnate from here on out in the existence of Azeroth.

While I disagree with blizzard on disallowing mega guilds after 6 years of setting a precedent with them in the game, the real problem is how they've brought this change about. There was literally no warning, and AIE is thrown into absolute chaos right now as the officers deal with another big challenge. I'm sure they will step up to the task and keep the guild moving on, but that's no excuse. The stated reason is actually that Blizzard cannot or does not want to handle the additional work of tracking individual statistics for more than 600 characters when figuring out guild achievements. Reading between the lines, they don't want to make people flock to mega-guilds who will earn guild achievements faster. Or if you take a pessimistic view, this is just a lame excuse for them to do something they have wanted to do for years, which is kill the mega guild.

However, AIE is one of the most active communities of WoW players because many of them listen to The Instance and talk actively about wow to their friends, more so probably than non-listeners of the major wow podcasts. While they throw around server load like it is a major concern, they are allowing AIE and other mega guilds to continue existing while fixing the guild interface and achievement problems for everyone, mega guilds included. So they fixed the problem, but undercut our guild at the same time. And make no mistake about it, there will be some kind of backlash, whether it be at Blizzcon where 300 AIE guildies or more are planning to attend, or in public forums such as blogs and podcasts. There will be public comment on this, even if it does only affect 0.1% of guilds (a misleading number because there are a massive amount of players in those guilds compared to the many bankalt guilds and personal guilds).

The real fix to the problem is good game design, and specifically good achievement and guild perk design. Guild perks from achievements should not be major draws for people to a guild, they should just be time savers and nifty other benefits that allow you to make the game slightly easier. Think of these like heirlooms, not talents that must be had by everyone. The achievements should be designed so all serious guilds including small raiding guilds can get all the available perks within a few months of cataclysm's release. Sure, the large guilds will get these perks a bit quicker, but that will not matter as long as the perks are not must-have items. The simple solution would have been to remove all mega guilds (defined as guilds with more than 600 members) from getting any realm-first type guild achievements. This levels the playing field for those with fewer members, and stops the world from becoming a bunch of mega guilds.

In reality, Blizzard has the power to make the guild interface work, as proven by their assertion that it will now work for guilds of all sizes post-cataclysm. However, this decision is a result of plain lazy achievement design. Remember, achievements were added to the game in WOTLK to give people something else to play for, something else to enjoy. Now achievements are being used as a pitiful excuse to slam some of the best communities in Azeroth. AIE has recently transcended warcraft and is moving into other games such as Eve online, and it's all because the community is supportive and great. Taint is a wonderful community of gay, lesbian, transgender players who support each other in game and out. And all the new players who come into cataclysm as wow 2.0 will never get to experience either of these communities. Now I understand there will be sister guilds and networked chat and people will prevail with workarounds, but it will not be the same as having one guild for all your members.

So lazy design in a relatively unimportant aspect of the game (achievements) now leads to the death of growth forever in AIE and other mega guilds. I was planning to move either my shaman or my druid over to Horde side with the paladin to join AIE and have two main healers on either side of the fence in cataclysm. However, I wanted to wait for the new race/class combos to make the switch and it is easier to level on the alliance side with the sugar momma Ekat and the sugar Daddy Navar paying for everything the alts need. However, if I cannot join AIE, I will not transfer that character. So that's $25 out of Blizzard's bank account. And who knows, my limited interaction with AIE may eventually drive me away from the game. I know I'm not alone in that sentiment, and this comes at a terrible time as people come back for cataclysm after the usual doldrums breaks and they will not have that community to return to. In fact, most people server transfer or faction transfer to get into AIe with their favorite characters, but that will not happen anymore. That's money out of the bank account for Blizzard. Plus, even guilds like The Illuminati will likely start putting limits on people to 1-2 characters maximum, which stinks when you want to participate in a lively guild chat.

In fact, that brings up another possibility. Perhaps Blizzard wants to limit guild size to limit the usefulness of guild chat access in the mobile auction house application. Perhaps they do not want to enable a facebook-or-AIM like instant messaging service for the mega guilds most likely to use the service for that purpose alone. Again, this looks like they are willing to give up moderate cash gains to remove the major users from loading a service and making them design servers and systems well.

Again, I do not want to paint this like they are making AIE shatter immediately. But this is a ridiculous and unwarranted decision that has been made for all the wrong reasons, and Blizzard is simply not being honest with their consumers. That's just not right. And while we may be a small percentage of the playerbase, hopefully we are vocal enough to let Blizzard know that this action is in poor judgment, much like the idea to force forum users to use only real ID's was. Life will go on, but this blindside tactic by Blizzard is shocking to those of us affected and will not be forgotten when we are making the all-important decision on whether the good outweighs the bad in this game to keep on paying that monthly subscription.

If I'm in a particularly grumpy mood, my apologies. My favorite guild member in my alliance guild quit the guild for reasons I'm none too thrilled with. I'm certainly not going to take it out on guild leadership because they are not slighting me at this point, but my sense of community in that guild has also been seriously shaken this week. So it's a real shame, but both my guilds are currently leaving me disappointed, despite all that is good about them. Until next time, don't let bad judgment happen to you, at least not without a fight.