Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas! (and Ghostcrawler)

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope your gatherings with friends and family are going well. Our two-year old has finally got the hang of opening presents after her birthday and so it was amazing to watch her tear open things and have trouble putting any new presents down to open more. The best present...a slinky. Amen to the simple pleasures in life. It's a shame many people miss out on the pure joy that the simple things can bring, especially in this season of excess. But to avoid sounding like the sermon I heard last night, I'll move on!

Ghostcrawler Greg Street is the Lead Systems Designer for World of Warcraft, and basically has become the public face of the developers over the past couple of years. Ghostcrawler can be abrasive at times, but he has a great sense of humor and brings a dose of good perspective to the community, which typically wonders at large what in the world the developers are thinking.

In order to open another avenue of regular communication with the players, the developers have decided to start blogging on Of course, the first developer posting blog entries is Ghostcrawler. His first entry was about 4 weeks ago, and it focused directly on healers. More specifically, why healing is becoming more difficult in Cataclysm. Now that the entire playerbase is hitting 85 and trying out heroics and perhaps even starting raids, the calls for "why is this content so hard" have come out in full swing. Yet if these masses paid attention to this Ghostcrawler blog, they might have some insight on why Cataclysm is different.

In reality, Cataclysm is a return to the difficulty levels or play style of vanilla and The Burning Crusade:
As a blanket statement, healer mana wasn’t a big concern in Wrath of the Lich King. You could run out of mana sometimes, but it really didn’t affect your spell choice in the way it did prior to Lich King. We think resources should be important, though. A lot of gameplay in a wide variety of games comes down to managing a limited resource, whether it's Vespene Gas in an RTS, ammo in an FPS, or even time in a puzzle game. Managing your resources well makes you a better player.
Obviously the resource that all healers manage is mana, and there were absolutely no mana problems in Wrath of the Lich King. Ghostcrawler explains all the ways this damaged the game by taking half the possible dimensions out of decision-making for healers. When overhealing and mana resources are not a problem, why wouldn't you cast your fastest heals over and over, even if they are inefficient?

In other words, Cataclysm will bring back the concept that healing is a triage operation. You must save who you can with the right heal for the job because if you do not choose the right heal, you will eventually run out of mana and everyone will die. On occasion, this will mean you have to let someone die because they are beyond the point at which you can help them.

For example, think about the marks that Saurfang put on raid members when he reached 100 blood power in Icecrown Citadel. The marks put out a continuous stream of heavy damage on whomever received the mark. In Wrath mode, raids assigned a healer or two to do nothing but counteract the first couple of marks. While the healer would be fully occupied or nearly fully occupied keeping up with the mark damage, mana was not a problem so this was a way to circumvent the penalty for playing poorly (because marks and blood power were a result of not taking care of blood beasts, mainly). In a 25 man raid, I witnessed a raid survive five marks with only losing a couple of players. That should not happen.

So Ghostcrawler says resource management will make healers become better players. However, the tools like Saurfang's mark are there to also force other players to also play better or else they will doom their healers to failure. This is no different than the DPS and healers needing to help the tanks with threat by killing things in order and using crowd control. Everyone has more to do in instances now, but the biggest change is for healers.

But here's the thing: that's just how it should be! A good healer should be able to use all the tools and spells at their disposal like a grandmaster in chess or a conductor of a symphony. Anybody who has ever watched a really good tank manage all of their abilities understands just how challenging and how rewarding this game can be for healers. That's the game I want to play, and that's the magic I want to bring to my guilds and my raids.

Yes, the first few months of Cataclysm will be an adjustment period and will be difficult. However, the payoff for the players who enjoy healing will be so worth it, and the developers should be applauded for looking this problem right in the eye and fixing it the best way they know how.


In December, Ghostcrawler has issued three more blog entries. Two have focused primarily on threat and tanking, and thus are not terribly pertinent here. However, Ghostcrawler does acknowledge that if a tank is using area of effect threat generation abilities, healing should not pull aggro on a non-focused mob. This is not rocket science though, it is what we expect as a baseline.

The other entry explains the design philosophy behind primary and secondary stats on gear. The game is currently designed so that every progressive piece of gear is designed to give increasing stamina and increasing strength/agility/intellect depending on your type of character. Those statistics are now clearly not intermixed with the secondary stats: haste, dodge, crit, mastery, hit, expertise, and spirit. The developers currently intend these secondary stats to be another way to customize your character, as haste, crit, and mastery all have very different effects if you stack them.

Hopefully this means that there will be multiple ways to have a properly talented and geared character, making socketing gems and choosing enchants fun as opposed to brainless based on what wow-popular and Elitist Jerks say. More on this later, but character customization may have a golden age in the future post-Cataclysm because the developers are thinking about mixing the primary stats into the customization and gearing mix. That would be exciting, and would make gearing nearly as fun as healing!

On that note, have a great Christmas and a happy holiday season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The PPI Awards of 2010 - My Nominations

Happy holidays everyone! I hope the Cataclysm is continuing to be fun for you and all your friends in the game. This is the time of year when Larisa over at Pink Pigtail Inn takes a look back with her readers and the blogosphere at large as to the biggest happenings in Azeroth in 2010. Without further ado, here is the Healer Trek vote for the 2010 PPI awards.

1. Best Raid Instance - Icecrown Citadel. Since the Cataclysm first tier raids are not eligible and only Ruby Sanctum came out during calendar year 2010, the only remaining choice is ICC. However, that should not take away from one of the better designed raid instances in the game's history. ICC was a nice capstone for the scourge storylines in WOTLK, and the Lich King fight at 80 was a real challenge even at the 30% buff. Defeating Lich King may be my most memorable raid experience ever in World of Warcraft because you really felt like you earned the Kingslayer title. The first bosses were nice and easy but the difficulty ramped up appropriately all the way to Arthas.

2. Least Successful Raid Instance - Ruby Sanctum. I did throw ToC back into the mix here, but Ruby Sanctum was largely played for a week or two and then completely ignored by the playerbase. Considering ICC had been out for 8 or 9 months and nothing else was going on in the game, this instance was a complete flop. I made one attempt on Halion with my guild, but even the mini-bosses were relatively glitchy and difficult to handle. People have no patience for that, especially when the gear is a waste of time late in an expansion. The raid should have given more unique rewards, and then it might have succeeded.

3. Most Longed For Instance - Icecrown Citadel. For over a year, all we saw were short cutscenes and one large Wrathgate story movie featuring Arthas, the whole reason we were in Northrend. Especially after the flop of Trial of the Crusader, an instance with lots of challenging trash and 13 diverse bosses on varying difficulty was just what the doctor ordered. The downfall of the Lich King was certainly the thing everyone looked forward to in 2010.

4. Silliest Gold Sink - Dual Spec (at 1000 gold). One of the worst feelings in the world is paying one price for a product or service and then seeing that same product go on sale shortly thereafter with no way for you to pay less. In 2010, I spent 4000 gold on dual spec for four characters. This happened because I like to heal, but leveling in healer spec is not always a good idea. However, right after buying it on my druid and my paladin, the price dropped to 100 gold. Then again to 10 gold! For those of us who got in at the going rate of 1000 gold, it was money well spent but a gold sink compared to how it is given away today.

5. Biggest Addition to the Game - Looking For Group (LFG) Interface. The runner-up in 2009 still resonates as just as important as Dual Spec. LFG has changed the way we play, allowing instant grouping across servers and basically killing the trade chat groupings PUG'gers had to deal with previously. There's still no replacement for a good guild-based instance group, but when in doubt or during down hours, LFG allows you to play the game you want to rather than be forced to do something else.

6. Best Quest - The Twilight Cultist Pre-Cataclysm Quest Chains. In the final days before The Shattering of Azeroth, the first taste of Cataclysm arrived in some quirky quest chains around Orgrimmar and Stormwind for about a month. In addition to random elemental attacks all over the world, you got to infiltrate the Twilight Cultists and try to undermine their efforts to bring on the end of the world and destruction of the major cities. It was a compelling and different take on telling a story, and a job well done by Blizzard for a one-time event.

7. Ugliest Tabard - Kirin Tor. Maybe purple is attractive to mages and other Dalaran lovers, but it just looks awful with most serious gear. By the time you got good gear, the last thing you wanted to do was cover it up with a big ugly eye. Yet that's just what the Kirin Tor offered. Better than Wyrmrest Accord, but not by much.

8. Favorite Non-Combat Pet - Pandaren Monk. While I personally would never pay real money for an in-game pet, the cash-based offerings have not been disappointing for those who want to give their characters something a bit more special. Perhaps my minor infatuation with Kung Fu Panda colors my judgment here, but seeing that little Pandaren bust out some kung fu kicks always makes me giggle and smile. And that is precisely what a non-combat pet is for!

9. Biggest Community Controversy - Real ID snafus. I really should say the guild cap, but that only affected my guild Alea Iacta Est and a small handful of others. A much bigges issue was the release of Real ID without control over "friends of friends list" and other features, followed by the near disaster that was requiring Real ID's to be used on the official blizzard forums. Real ID is a great tool, but like Facebook, you have to enable users to maintain their privacy and Blizzard just did not consider these items well enough, especially when it came to forum posts. Blizzard employees get hate mail and harassed by forum trolls, so why would they expect the rest of the world to subject themselves willingly to that harassment? Blizzard underestimated the potential downside to Real ID, and the community outcry was just enough to save the day.

10. Most Charming Blizzard Employee - Russell Brower. Sorry if that's misspelled, but Brower is the musical director for World of Warcraft and has done a great series of interviews on The Instance podcast in 2010. Brower always seems more than happy to share as much as he can about musical direction of the game and upcoming patches or expansions. It is great to see someone so proficient and so passionate working behind the scenes to make a critical aspect of our beloved game better. If you are playing Cataclysm without the music on, you are missing something great.

11. Best Podcast - The Instance. Randy and Scott hit 200 episodes a couple months ago, which is simply astounding for a world of warcraft podcast. This is usually the first WoW podcast people run into and it remains one of the best. Special kudos go to Randy Jordan, who must write two hours worth of good discussion content for the show every week or nearly every week. Passion for the game is what makes a podcast great and these two guys managed to keep passion going during a rough summer and autumn downtime for nearly everyone else in the community of bloggers and podcasters. The oldest podcast is the best for 2010.

12. Biggest Blog Facelift - Other than Matticus, who has already won, I cannot think of a real notable facelift of any of the bloggers I follow. I am certain some out there did better than what I did with modifying the header, so I'll leave this category to those who know better. Besides, when pink is available, why pick anything else. Honorable mention goes to arkslaw for an updated banner, even though he updates about as much as me which is to say not often!

13. Most memorable blog post - The PuG and the following entries from Gevlon. Just when it looked like Gevlon had blown all out of steam with his economic take on the world of warcraft, he decided to take on a new project with a bold announcement. Following his success in taking down Ulduar in blues, he thought up a PuG guild where his anti-socialist ways and super efficiency are valued above all else. If you want to see raiding treated like a business, this is a fascinating set of entries to follow that continues to this day. In fact, this is really the entry that spawned a whole new Gevlon.

14. Most Noticed Blogger Breakthrough - Lathere and Cassandri at HoTs and DoTs. Although the sisters from Australia had more entries in six months of 2009 than they had in all of 2010, their fun style has put them on many blogrolls of others I follow. That's as good an indication as any that this blog is having a major breakthrough. And how could you not appreciate the name?

15. Most Solid Content Provider - Matt Low both at World of Matticus and wow Insider. Matt Low is probably the face of the healing wow community, and although he does get some assistance from co-writers at WOM, he still manages to produce multiple quality articles every month. Plus, his perspective on raiding and leading a raiding guild provide valuable insights to other guild officers and even the regular guild members of other guilds who wonder what goes on behind the scenes.

16. Most Hugged Blogger - Tobold. One of the most solid content providers of the past two years has gotten into some battles but keeps blogging and coming back strong because his community supports him well. There's nobody that stands out like Phaelia and BRK from a year ago, but Tobold deserves all his hugs as well!

17. Hottest Blogosphere Topic - Real ID. Not only does it count as the most controversial happening in the community at large, but Real ID set the blogging community on fire more than any Cataclysmic announcements. Whether you were for or against the changes, everybody had something to say.

18. Best Writer - John Patricelli at Big Bear Butt. I'm not a tank, this I accept. Sure I find it fun on the Death Knight from time to time, but my attempt to tank with my druid have been fail fail fail. However, Patricelli explains things so well about tanking that even I feel like I can get it (as a healer). That's a great achievement, and he's entertaining to read to boot. Definitely my favorite read of 2010.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Week of Cataclysm

As I read the blogosphere and watch many of my guildmates race their main characters to 85 within 5 days of the expansion release, I wonder if the leveling curve was too short for this expansion. Don't get me wrong, I think it's perfectly fine to lower requirements for getting through non-current levels 1-80, but this expansion seems even faster than Wrath leveling was. In my own personal experience, I received about 20% of a level for doing daily SW cooking and fishing dailies, 50% more for a first run through Blackrock Caverns with all the quests that pop up, and another 30% quickly gained in maybe an hour of questing in Hyjal.  I barely scratched the surface of Hyjal, with 20 quests out of 125+ done. Yet there I sit at 81 already. Of course Ekat is my loremaster and will come back, but she's off the Vash'jir to see the sea zone before she outlevels it...which just seems sad. Most people don't go back and see the quest content like I do, and that's so much game that Blizzard leaves on the table by enabling such quick leveling via dailies and 5-man instances.

Also, as much as I enjoy reading World of Matticus, I cannot fathom having a raiding guild where it is normal and expected for everyone to be 85 and ready to raid by the Monday following an expansion. Didn't you guys just clear ICC 7 days ago? I know I'm also jaded by the fact that here we sit on the 12th day of December and I have worked more than 8 hours 11 of those days.  So even if I wanted to geek out for hours on end, it's just not going to happen right now. Kind of sucks, but my take on the expansion is to sort of take my time and enjoy it. Who knows, I might change my mind if I feel guilty about being the last raider at 85!

The conversion to AIE sub-guilds was incredibly seamless, as a side note. The officers did an amazing job getting programming ready to both make a green wall of chat across guilds automatic and division into subguilds also simple and easy. Two quick steps and you were in! I still eagerly await the opening for alts as do many others, as my main is still stuck in a AIE alt holidng guild until they open alt applications again. Looks like my subguild at the moment has about 200 fewer characters than The Illuminati, but that number will probably equalize with alts and raid teams moving around soon. Kudos once more to AIE.

My initial take on Hyjal is that the zone clearly has a story I want to follow. You've got a forest at risk and big bad elementals all over the place, but druids from the Earthen Ring to help you out and make you powerful enough to make a difference. So far, the mobs respawn a bit quickly but perhaps that will be tuned back down once people quickly move through the content. My ICC gear more than has Ekat easily surviving encounters in these zones, but I'm close to replacing gear already with greens in the initial quests. It will not be very long at all, and I replaced my cloak and my wand already in BRC, but at least those are blue items!

My really preliminary initial take on Vash'jir is that I wish there were an easier way to transport to and from the zone at least at the beginning like the hearthstone portal trick in SW to Hyjal. The underwater zone is not bad after the first quest thanks to the permanent swim speed boost and underwater breathing you get as a reward for the first quest. In fact, the three-dimensional nature of the zone is incredibly well managed nearby the initial ship you start at. Hopefully that design continues as I explore farther into the zone. And I know there's a seahorse on the way!

I do have to commend Blizzard on improving from their past two expansions for starter zones. Hellfire is hell on the eyes for as long as you spend there and the mobs are still so closely packed that it is difficult years later. No alternatives there. In Wrath the two zones were so similarly drab and alike at points that the choices were not compelling. At least Borean Tundra had a fair amount of variety in backgrounds, but the zone felt totally disjointed and the story of both zones was totally not interesting. Now we have two zones that grab you with a story right away and thanks to Vash'jir being underwater, they are so vastly different that you can thoroughly enjoy your options. So far, so good.

Blackrock Caverns was nothing special, although the fight with the lava flow in the center is a fun mechanic (stay in as long as you dare...). A solid instance but not one I'm jumping for joy about. We'll see how the next ones pan out.

so what did you do first in Cataclysm? I haven't even touched my old world alts or the goblin/worgen starting zones. So much to do, and in my case, so little time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Whole New World

We are now just over two days away from the release date of World of Warcraft Cataclysm. Deathwing has been killing entire zones of characters and the world has been shattered. Indeed, this is a whole new world, at least except for Northrend. It is invigorating exploring zones that are nothing like what you remember. In order to explore a bit with purpose, I took Biancae around to up her mining skill to an appropriate level before heading to Outland. There are definitely things that will keep surprising me for a long time as these zones are nothing like they used to be. Of course there will be a lot of time spent in the new 80-85 zones over the next few weeks, but for now taking a swim across Thousand Needles and mining nodes well underneath the water is a highlight I won't soon forget.

I debated the issue with some friends, never got the chance to bring it up with some guild members, and finally came to the decision that it was stupid to not faction transfer a character I would gladly make my Horde main over paladin. Holy power is awesome, but for a healer nothing seems to beat Druid and Priest for varied gameplay (at least for me, although I know I will love paladin and shaman more at endgame). Plus this allows me to set up the uber-team of professions right away on both sides of the Horde-Alliance ledger and participate more fully with my AIE sub-guild and The Illuminati. I briefly thought about naming my main Ekaterin and making her a male troll, but the female troll hairstyles are too funny to pass up. So the button was pressed, Ariel went to sleep in Stormwind with bags full of bags (for Biancae and goblin bank alt to be), ore for jewelcrafting, and some northrend herbs just in case.

*She wakes up in a whole different place...the smells, the sounds, everything is unfamiliar. Her hair stands on end as she realizes she is surrounded by trolls, and as she grabs her staff to fight, she realizes that these hands are a much different shade than before. Instead of pink, the fingers are a shade of emerald green. And what are these tusks? It is at this point that Arielae realizes something life-changing has happened. At that point, a blood elf walks up and offers her a hand. She introduces herself as Biancae of Alea Iacta Est, and welcomes Arielae to the family. Perhaps things will not be so bad after all...*

So just like that, the AE Team has also undergone a dramatic change for the better. I know some of my guild mates in The Illuminati will not be happy to see me pull a level 80 out of the guild, but Ekat and Navar will be joined at endgame in a few months by Clara, and things will be about how they were before. Speaking of, I now have some guild business to take care of as Clara was kicked for inactivity a while back and Ariel will need to join Bianca after the new sub guilds are split up Sunday evening and Monday in AIE.

So what's left "for the Horde" going into cataclysm?
Main - Arielae, 80 druid, alchemy/herbalism/fishing/cooking/archaeology
Alt - Biancae, 54 paladin, jewelcrafting/mining

And "for the Alliance" in Cataclysm?

Main - Ekaterinae, 80 priest, enchanting/tailoring/fishing/cooking/archaeology
Alt - Clarissae, 31 shaman, alchemy/herbalism
Alt - Navarionae, 80 death knight, jewelcrafting/mining

So now I will hit the ground running for Garrosh and for Varian. It will be exciting to see all of the new content right away instead of waiting months or years or never seeing it at all. I look forward to building lots of guild rep with The Illuminati and the AIE subguild I get placed into. Now, I am officially ready for Cataclysm. Tick tick tick...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

GeekyLeaks - Not Nearly As Compelling as WikiLeaks

So Larisa found someone who called the leaked Blizzard document from this week a "Geeky Leak." Nice. But the internal memorandum for officers of Activision (in all likelihood) really only said three things of note. Absolutely none of them are a surprise to anyone who has followed either Blizzard or Activision for some period of time. Reviewing them in order of interest...

3. World of Warcraft will be released in Portugese - There is a budding market for video games and similar consumables in Brazil and surrounding countries, so why wouldn't a company get more of the action? If you view Activision as a company that cares about the bottom line more than anything else in the world, then this decision is a no-brainer. The game is at all time highs for subscriptions and the cash cow must grow to new markets to continue growing in the long term.

2. The next two WoW expansions are set for release in 1.5 year intervals from Cataclysm. Anybody who has followed Blizzard since the release of vanilla knows that they repeatedly say their goal is one expansion a year. While I think the quality would suffer in the face of the bottom line, the fact that the level cap only goes up 5 in Cataclysm is perhaps a sign that new expansions will be a little smaller on the whole and come in quicker intervals. One year is the goal, two years is where they are at, so of course 1.5 years is a reasonable goal if they are serious about getting this done. With Cataclysm revamping the game entirely, perhaps new continents and new revamped zones will not be necessary to enjoy the game for the next few years, which frees up development time.

1. The new MMO is slated for a late 2013 release. Again, this makes perfect sense coupled with the announcement that the next two expansions are supposed to be at 1.5 year intervals. WoW will likely be in decline no matter what Activision and Blizzard do after two more full expansions, so before the tide stems too much, better give the playerbase something better. Everything at Blizzard gets pushed back, so targeting late 2013 is really a signal that 2014 is the goal, allowing the fifth expansion to wow to have some "last hurrah" moments before a lot of the playerbase moves or splits time with the new intellectual property. WoW will not die, but it will not always pay the bills as well as it does. Activision again is all about the bottom line, so a new cash cow has to be made in a few years.

So all things told, there is absolutely nothing surprising about this leak other than it happened. As an attorney working in intellectual property every day, sometimes my livelihood depends on how good our NDA (non-disclosure agreements) are. Businesses can be gutted if patent protection is lost due to a leak, and so this violation of the Blizzard employee policies is not something I am happy to see. What if we learned something more shocking or important? Let's hope the loops close and the leaks stop.

I have the same opinion about WikiLeaks. While the people do have a right to know some things their government is doing, nobody needs to see internal e-mails and memos between friends and coworkers where people always tend to say things they never would publicly. It's the same in every work force, but when you are a representative of the United States government, your words can carry a lot of weight as far as radicals around the world are concerned. With instability in Korea reaching levels that are similar to the 1960's and China forcing its way into a top world power, these are uncomfortable times and such careless comments seeing the light of day may only pour fuel on a fire that is not necessary.

We are now t-minus 6 days until Cataclysm. Get ready, there's a real nasty dragon to slay!