Thursday, December 15, 2011

Success in Sportswriting Endeavors

I just received this in my inbox:

Dave, 
Congratulations on your acceptance into the Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Program.

You should be proud to know that your body of work has set you apart from the field. After consideration from various members of our Content Team, we’ve decided that you’re the person we want to fill our Big 10 Featured Columnist position.

That said, I’m sure you’ll still want to weigh your options before you make a commitment.

 
YES YES YES!

The sports writing hobby has gone to new heights. I know B/R has a shaky reputation in some circles, but it is a step up from independent SCS where I get very few readers. I had a good week this week as both my articles popped well over 2000 reads (last night's article on Urban Meyer shot past 2000 in 12 hours).

Now I get featured placement on the website, which will keep my read count high. The only downside is the continued requirement for two articles a week during the offseason, but with writing one on the weekend that is not so bad. Especially with editors to help me generate topics, and the whole Big Ten conference providing topics. Plus it will be easier than this season when I tried to hit three a week for B/R and one big article a week for SCS. That was murder, and will not happen again.

But for tonight, despite my broken TV and my four day old cold, I've got a little jump for joy. Boo. Yeah.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Starcraft Adventures Vol. 4 - Night and Day

The next mission I tackled in the campaign over the weekend was a mission where you defend a base camp during 4 minute nighttime periods and then go burn down zerg infected structures during the 4 minute daytime periods. I remember watching Tom play this mission when he was initially showing the game off to me, so I realize that was not too far into the game.  I actually went to Tom for advice after failing a couple of times and he said he used a critical mass of marines and medics to knock out the mission.

Rather than focusing on the specialty units, I followed this advice and it was just enough to win before Night 6, which is the night that pretty much cannot be survived with the amount of enemies invading the base camp.  This mission was perhaps the best designed one yet, as it tests the player's ability to build a fast army and micromanage it well in both defense and quick offense.  Plus, the story is gaining some momentum.  One thing I need to figure out is finding time to find the research points, as the upgrades on the zerg track are definitely worth having.

The next mission in the campaign is another multitasking mission where you must collect 8000 minerals while defending against random zerg attacks and keeping out of the lower ground lava areas every couple of minutes. Let's just say I failed miserably in my first attempt, but will go back at it again soon.  I'll blame it on the crappy instructions from the rastafarian guy explaining the mission.

Then I decided to try some one v. one against the computer for the first time.  Although I did not know many of the units available, I knew enough to be dangerous.  My first attempt was a random map against a very easy computer opponent.  I wrecked the computer easily.  Then I tried again against a hard computer and got absolutely stomped.  I'm building marines and just was building a factory when a group of siege tanks blew me to the stone age.

Although the graphs are not very helpful, looking at the build order and comparing it to mine is helpful in beginning to learn why my strategy sucks.  Despite the setback, I did take a big step up in difficulty with little knowledge of the higher level units.  The strategy of the game appears to be a lot of fun, but I am a bit disappointed medics are not available.  I'm truly enjoying the healers in the campaign, and would love to exploit them in this game like every other game.  Ahh well, if I want to PvP as a healer I can go back to World of Warcraft!

I have this burning desire to throw 7 computers on a big old map and see what happens.  Perhaps I'd still get rolled, but I'd like to think that battle would be epic.  I'll report back when I give that a try, and hopefully the mining centric lava mission will be finished.  As Jim Raynor said, lava and zerg, two of my favorite things.  Ugh.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Starcraft Adventures Vol. 3 - We Got A Convoy Coming!





I played a couple more missions in the campaign last evening, and they were quite a contrast in styles. The first mission was a race to grab an artifact from the Protoss before the Zerg overwhelmed the Protoss on the other side of the map. Once again, it took a couple of tries to work a build order that was fast and effective enough to put enough force over at the artifact to clear out the Protoss while leaving enough troops back to guard the base against rare Zerg attacks. It appeared the right mix was to pump out a lot of minerals and supply depots since there was no early pressure from the Zerg, and then pump out troops quickly with three barracks. I also locked down the base easily with barracks, so the strength of those is proving itself quickly.

There are a bunch of side missions in these campaign missions that seem impossible initially, although the way the switch turned on the third try of this mission made me see that these are possible once you figure out the tricks of the trade. I could not come up with nearly enough firepower to take down the three stone guardians at the artifact on the first two tries, as I was lucky to drop one before my army was decimated. But then on that third try, my army was so overwhelming that the final fight was a joke. Plus I was at the artifact a good 3-4 minutes before the Zerg, so I had time to spare to use some of that army for side missions.

The Protoss are an interesting contrast to the Zerg. With the Zerg, you get overwhelmed by these little packs of weaklings that surround you and do a lot of spray damage.  With the Protoss, at least in the first mission, you are taking on more powerful units called Zealots and a bunch of defensive pylon structures. You do not want to get in range of too many of these structures, as their combined firepower will tear an army up. Strategic attacking of these Protoss strategies appears to be key to success, while the Zerg is all about quick survival and burn.  So far I have no preference for which race I will take into multiplayer, but I do like the Protoss style so far.

The first mission hooked me so I stayed up late and tried another mission. This was a rescue mission where you escort convoy trucks of civilians along a road to airships on the other side of the map. The Zerg presence along the road gets stronger and stronger, but I put together a solid army for the first convoy run and never looked back. I actually let the second convoy truck get destroyed because I misclicked and did not have the army defending the truck. By the time we got to about the fourth truck, the ridiculous swarm of marines, flamethrowing units, and medics surrounding the convoy truck was overpowered and ridiculous looking. These convoy trucks had more security than the United States president.

Perhaps this is just a function of being an early mission, but from a game design standpoint, I think the Zerg should attack or disrupt the base more to make this mission a challenge. Remember, I'm playing on hard as a complete new RTS player, so I do not expect to pass any of these missions on the first try. Once I realized I did not have to leave basically any units at the base, the mission was easy as could be. Anybody who has watched that great movie Convoy or has played World of Warcraft for longer than 24 hours knows how to run an escort or convoy mission.

The options for upgrades are becoming quite varied just five missions in, so I hope these upgrade choices are not terribly important. If they are, I'm probably not doing it right. The flamethrower guys are fun, I look forward to using them with medics more as the combo seems delicious.

Alright that's enough for now. More coming on the weekend I'm sure. Perhaps I'll test a single player match against the computer 1v1 as well. Might as well introduce myself to the chess game that is real starcraft.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

StarCraft Adventures Vol. 2 - Leaving Mar Sara

The second night with the campaign brought a new mission, which was a defensive mission to hold my position until the rescue ship came in 20 minutes. The new technology was bunkers, but I quickly realized that build order was going to be a huge priority as the Zerg got more and more overwhelming towards the end of the twenty minutes.


To survive the escape from Mar Sara, you need to build up a bunch of bunkers, preferably in a defensible location adjacent the command center or adjacent two bridges. I tried to set up two bunkers at each bridge but could not get enough marines quickly to defend both posts. Of course I realized that I was starving myself of resources by not building enough supply depots, which limited the amount of SCV's I could build and keep an adequate army.

After two failures of the mission, I finally decided to go back to basics and build up a bunch of SCV's and supply depots early, while spending some minerals on making both the provided barracks be able to make two marines at once. After I got rolling in supplies, I built three barracks at the fallback position rather than at the bridges, which allowed me to keep my focus on a small area generally speaking. I actually abandoned medics in this attempt because more guys with guns and more barracks seemed like what I needed.

The Zerg are relentless, and they do not give you much time to heal. A couple of medics are fine, but not a bunch. By the end of the mission on the third try, I have capacity for 85 units and probably 50 marines, 20 of which were safely held in five bunkers. This time there was no doubt about it, the mission was easily cleared.

This mission introduced me to the swarm nature of the Zerg, and they are a lot like the flood in Halo. Bunkers are a nice defensive piece to build upon, and I'm looking forward to the next units added to the game. I also see now that I am on the Hyperion that the game branches out a bit, allows you some choice as to what mission to take next. Will I jump at the extra 10k credits to fight some protoss for the first time over artifacts, or will I begin my defense of the homeworlds against the new Zerg invasion?

One thing's for sure, if I'm failing on the easy third mission, I've got a long way to go before the Queen goes down. I also like the ability to customize your army a bit in the armory, but it is hard to tell what will be important. I improved the defense on my marine grunts for now, but some of the other improvements look very spicy.  If nothing else, I am definitely getting a flavor for this RTS business. Looking forward to some naptime playtime during the weekend!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Starcraft 2 Adventures - Vol. 1


In the words of Jim Raynor, it's about time. I jumped on the opportunity to purchase StarCraft 2 from Blizzard over the Thanksgiving weekend at half price, which is a reasonable investment into a game that is high quality by all reports. However, this will be my first true RTS, as the closest gaming experience I have had is my lifelong obsession with chess. 

However, the moving parts are much more dynamic in an RTS like Starcraft, and my friend Tom's long term love of the game compels me to give this a run. Blizzard proves their worth to me in World of Warcraft, but I am taking a break from that and blogging about other things. Now that college football season is over except for 35 bowls, I am back to my gaming pursuits and this new game will join L.A. Noire on the top of my list.  More about L.A. Noire later, but Starcraft is the new kid on the block and I plan to write about how I experience this new type of gaming. 

The tutorials were fairly easy to figure out, but the complexity of the game was immediately apparent. Tom instructed me that if I wanted to learn the ropes and be moderately prepared for multiplayer play, then I should play the campaign on Hard. This is a scary decision for someone not used to RTS let alone the original StarCraft, but I put it on Hard and played the first couple of missions. 

The first mission is all about leading Raynor and a small crew of Marines through an easy line of defenses. The second mission was far more what I expected from the game, as I built up my army and resources to take on a similarly building CPU army at a digsite. I believe that I could have done a better job of disrupting the production on the other side of the map earlier, as I really did not attack until the 20 minute mark. 

It took a couple retreats and rebuilds of the army (soldiers and medics), but eventually my advantage in resources became a victory. I love that medics are the seocnd unit introduced in the campaign, and I may have struggled a bit because I focused too much on having a bunch of healers instead of guys who actually kill things. If you read this blog, you'll immediately understand why the medic will be one of my favorite units in this game. 

It is also clear that I need to do a better job of multitasking. I need to use the minimap more as you can click between areas of the map much more quickly using that than by scrolling across the map as in Diablo II. There's no reason to waste time scrolling across the screen except perhaps at the leading edge of the battle, but even then it is slower than just moving the pointer and clicking on the new area. 

Listening to the second episode of the Creep today, I realize that I will need to have a more focused build order or plan once I move along in the game and have more options. But for now, I am simply focused on getting faster and more efficient with my army building process. The game doesn't have me hooked like WoW did, but I am wanting to play the game again and feel more connected to this style of game than Diablo. Who knows, before it's all said and done, I might be fighting my way up the ladders of multiplayer.

That's enough for now. I look forward to getting back in the game bringing more impressions as I move through more campaign missions. It's about time, indeed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Little Snooze


In the spirit of Halloween and being born again (perhaps as an undead, oh my), Ekaterinae has set herself down for a little break after downing the bosses in Zul:Gurub for the first time in the last night of my 3 year subscription. She will return, after all...you can't be in a casket forever!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Transitioning

This will come as no surprise to any regular followers, but I will be letting my WoW subscription lapse for a while on Friday. Come on by if you are on Earthen Ring tomorrow night and say hello before I leave, if you read this before then.

However, do not fret. I have it on good authority that the blog will go on, especially with all the Blizzard news out there. And I do intend to come back next year before or after the next expansion, so don't expect me to stay down for long.

As always, sportswriting season makes it hard to do other things other than work and family. I am happy to report that I am a featured columnist in training at Bleacher Report, and please hit me up with a message if you want to follow me there. My articles are always linked on twitter as well @BuckeyeFitzy

Please stay in touch and I promise to be on here from time to time. This is a goodbye to wow for now, but certainly not forever. I can't leave AIE and The Illuminati forever :-)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Whack-a-Mole (ahem, Healbot) comes to iOS

 



 So following up on the heels of other World of Warcraft themed iOS applications (mobile armory and mobile authenticator), today a new app called "Healbot" comes out. Unlike the other apps released thus far, Healbot tries to capture an actual aspect of playing the game to make a mini-game.  An argument could be made for the premium mobile auction house, but that actually affects things in Azeroth.  Healbot takes the healing part of the game and specifically healing 5-man dungeons, and makes that its own game.  
As a healer, this intrigues me. As a healer who uses Healbot as the primary healing mod, this intrigues me even more.  But can this app be somewhat realistic or will it be glorified whack-a-mole?  After all, that's how many non-healers view healing, and on some level, they are correct.  Make the green bars go up when the green bars go down.  Rinse and repeat until the boss is dead. 
Unfortunately, the app is a colorful whack-a-mole.  Instead of having a number of different options such as preemptive healing (shields) and heal-over-time spells, you get light, medium, and heavy, which are analogous to lesser heal, heal, and greater heal for a priest, or the same analogues for other healing classes.  That's it. 
As shown below, Healbot looks like the healing mod of the same name in World of Warcraft, except with a sixth bar present to show a pretend boss health bar.  Over the course of a game, the boss health bar slowly goes down much like in a 5-man dungeon, but the boss deals damage to all party members.  The game is not very intense, unless you lose a player (assuming hard mode is turned off, the hard mode making you lose automatically if any party member dies) in which case the damage per player becomes somewhat harder to handle.

On the plus side, the boss does deal damage in a realistic manner, sometimes hitting party members directly for a lot of damage, sometimes doing damage to all party members, and mostly dealing damage to the tank in heavy bursts.  The problem is that the damage is really not a problem to keep up with, even late in the boss health bar's life when most bosses put out more damage and cause the battle to be a race.
If this app is supposed to encourage people to learn how to heal, perhaps it is a reasonable introduction to an essential mod for healing.  This app might also be analogous to early healing in level 1-30 dungeons when spell lists are simplified.  However, Healbot is also just as likely to scare people away from healing because it takes the boring essential bottom line (whack-a-mole) nature of healing and makes that stand out like a sore thumb.
If this app is supposed to help a healer stay in practice when not raiding or playing, then Healbot needs to have far more difficulty levels and preferably more types of spells to make it realistic.  Healing requires a lot of situational awareness and strategic use of cooldowns and different tools, but none of that will be refreshed by playing Healbot.
If this app is supposed to be a fix for addicted WoW players who are at work or have 3 minutes to blow, then mission accomplished.  iOS games do not have to be anything spectacular to hold your attention in the casual "fill-a-void" type game universe, but Healbot is so simple that it is insulting to healers, especially in the much harder Cataclysm era.
At least the app is a free download.  So people can try it and see it, but I suspect most people will not keep it around long.  You get what you pay for in this case.
All that being said, this could be a first slow step in an interesting direction for WoW-themed game development on the mobile platforms.  Healbot could be the building blocks of a more realistic healing simulator, or a tanking simulator, or maybe even mobile WoW.  Hopefully developers build upon this framework and make Healbot or some other healing app that actually captures the essence of that portion of the game.  Until then, you can pass on this one.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What Happens When The Guild Leader Retires?

Although the more pressing concern appeared to be what needed to happen if the figurehead and guild leader Maui left AIE (because of a conflict with working for Blizzard), that has not come to pass. Furthermore, AIE has such a large and established set of officers that a transition would not be all that difficult. 

Randy is really a figurehead of the guild, the leader of something that became a monster community under his watch.  Of course it helps to have the most popular wow podcast behind you as well, but that's neither here nor there.

What did actually happen was that Jeff decided after nearly three years to step down as leader of The Illuminati. His longtime second in command Ruach had decided to take a break from the game a couple months earlier, so the likely takeover was not in place.  So what could Jeff do to maintain the livelihood of the guild he built from scratch into the biggest Alliance guild on the server?

Turn to one frond named Sophrosune, that's what! Although she was one of the two most recently made officers (in a narrow vote over me, and thank goodness they made the right choice...real life would not have made me a good officer the past few months), she captures exactly what made Jeff a fantastic guild leader: personality and drive.  It would be difficult for me to understand how any person in the guild for any length of time could not feel like they have a solid relationship with Jeff and Soph, all because they take the time to chat with their guildies and be friendly.

Of course I also am guessing that Soph was behind linking this blog to the front page of the guild website, which is very cool even though I don't write enough anymore. Perhaps that will inspire someone else to start blogging and adding to the alliance-side community, maybe starting a budding new AIE. Jeff is still with the guild as a legacy officer, but it seems like a good time for a new face for the guild.  Congratulations to my frond Soph on this momentous promotion, and best of luck in continuing the success of the Lumies!

With the effective departure of Ruach and Jeff, this may open the door for more officers to follow in Soph's footsteps.  I urge anybody interested and active in the guild to step up and give back to the guild.  This will be an exciting time to lead one of the great guilds in Azeroth.  I look forward to the next anniversary event where presumably we will welcome one or two more officers to our core.

Also congratulations to Ghomus and the other recently named new AIE officers.  The funny thing about AIE is that people usually become officers after doing so much that they are basically acting like officers without the title beforehand. Ghomus puts out quality content in the AIE Podcast every other week, and so he will be another welcome officer in that guild. 

In other words, the beat goes on...the beat goes on....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Day Twinking Went Free

In a move that should shock nobody, Blizzard has modified the trial accounts to make them last forever but have a hard cap of level 20. To avoid abuse of this program by current players, many other restrictions are also placed on the trial accounts such as a limit of 10 gold, no mail or auction house functionality, limited communication use, and no guild membership.  However, this modifies the 14 day trial into a trial that more casual players can partake in fully to see if they would like to play the game more regularly. Additionally, it also gives new players a chance to try out a bunch of different class and race combinations and not start paying for the game until they find the best combinations for them. After all, not everybody can be as lucky as me and pick a true favorite class on the first try.

The most interesting part of this move is that this could mean a significant way to enjoy the game (twinking or playing battlegrounds at level 19) is totally free to play now.  Of course most of the accepted twinking gear is hard to obtain without boatloads of money, which these accounts have no access to. Nonetheless, there have to be some happy players out there willing to make this happen somehow with the restrictions.

So what are the prospects in this bracket for those who like to heal? Perhaps it will take some time to catch on as former players not willing to pay for the game come back, but the level 19 queues should once again become a hot place to be. Although low level characters can struggle with mana management in instances and battlegrounds, this is a good challenge to have in the player-vs-player context. Effectively unlimited mana pools at that level does not teach players how to play the game well. And after all, Blizzard wants to encourage even some of these twink players to pay up for full time accounts and continue their WoW experience.  The bottom line is that this free to play bracket will mean faster queue times for healers in the brackets, whether twinking or just passing through.

After the Cataclysm era is over and a new expansion comes out, it will not surprise me if classic WoW up to level 60 goes free to play.  Blizzard is quite likely moving to the free to play model with Titan and needs to train their MMO profit-making skills using their current MMO before the company profits are reliant on micro-transactions.  Furthermore, while some players will take advantage of a free game, others will appreciate the amount of content put out there for free and will be more willing to take Blizzard up on its $15 per month system on the basis of how much free content was provided.  Of course, Titan may not be free to play, in which case this is just an attempt to shore up Warcraft's subscriber numbers.

Patch 4.2 has dropped and a new set of raid bosses is ready to be figured out.  If you have any thoughts on how healing is going in the Tier 12 raids, please send them over to the blog e-mail and I may collect these comments for next time.  Until then, happy trails in Azeroth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Call To Arms: Will This Ever Benefit Healers?

An interesting development tonight was enough to bring me out of hiding right away again!  Blizzard has finally announced an attempt to fix the ridiculously long DPS queues in heroic dungeons at maximum level.  Playing nothing but healers, I personally never have a queue of more than 12-13 minutes, but some DPS I know have reported waiting up to 45-50 minutes or worse.  And they also suffer from rage-quitting tanks that make them drop group and wait for a long time once more.  Just when it seemed like this was just the way it was going to be, Patch 4.1 will now include a new feature called Call to Arms Tanks and Healers. Here's the important part of the announcement:

In patch 4.1 we'll be introducing Dungeon Finder: Call to Arms, a new system intended to lower queue times. Call to Arms will automatically detect which class role is currently the least represented in the queue, and offer them additional rewards for entering the Dungeon Finder queue and completing a random level-85 Heroic dungeon.

Any time the Dungeon Finder queue is longer than a few minutes for level-85 Heroics, the Call to Arms system kicks in and determines which role is the least represented. In the case of tanking being the least represented role, the "Call to Arms: Tanks" icon will display in the Dungeon Finder UI menu where class roles are selected, and will also display on the UI when the queue pops and you are selected to enter a dungeon. Regardless of your role, you'll always be able to see which role currently has been Called to Arms, if any.

Call to Arms is meant to lower wait times by offering additional rewards for queuing as the currently least represented role. To be eligible for the additional rewards you must solo queue for a random level-85 Heroic in the role that is currently being Called to Arms, and complete the dungeon by killing the final boss. Every time you hit these requirements (there is no daily limit) you'll receive a goodie bag that will contain some gold, a chance at a rare gem, a chance at a flask/elixir (determined by spec), a good chance of receiving a non-combat pet (including cross faction pets), and a very rare chance at receiving a mount. The pets offered come from a wide variety of sources, and include companions like the Razzashi Hatchling, Cockatiel, and Tiny Sporebat, but the mounts are those specifically only available through dungeons (not raids), like the Reins of the Raven Lord from Sethekk Halls, Swift White Hawkstrider from Magister's Terrace, and Deathcharger's Reins from Stratholme.


Did you see that...rare mounts only available from dungeons will now rarely drop when your role is needed in the Looking For Group queues!  The gold and gems and such are nice, but the cross-faction pets and the rare dungeon mounts are the real story here.  Blizzard has found something that is not terribly easy or even possible to get, and something that DPS players will not cry too much foul on missing out on.  But the real question is, as much as Blizzard says this applies to healers and tanks, will this ever pop for healers on your realm?

In the entire lifetime of the Looking For Group system (now pushing 2 years old), I have received an instant queue 3 times.  The wait sometimes is relatively short and lasts 2-4 minutes, but there are always fewer tanks in the queue. Will that change with extra benefits offered potentially to both healers and tanks?  I highly doubt it.  The sheer fact of the matter is that playing a tank is a huge responsibility and takes a lot of skill.  Jumping into tanking at the heroics level is not a recipe for success and even these rewards may not be enough if other players are not patient and courteous with new tanks.  Not to completely sell into the internet anonymity jerk theory, but patience is a virtue lacking in LFG and that will not change, thereby running more potential tanks away.  At the same time more healer hybrids will queue up as well and will still outnumber tanks.  If there were 2 healer slots in a group to every tank, this Call to Arms may work for healers.  But on most realms, expect this to be as empty a promise for healers as it is for DPS.  Cross your fingers folks, let's hope this works for the DPS sake.

Here's a sinister thought: will this make the LFG system even worse than before because of a high influx of poor tanks and healers?  It's common knowledge in Cataclysm that success in LFG is far less certain than just putting together a group in trade chat or in your guild.  Bad tanks and healers will likely become better with practice, but the problem of low quality groups may be exacerbated by this change as an unintended side effect.  Once again, healers keep your fingers crossed.

Congratulations tank classes on your new bounty.  Perhaps someday it will be shared with the other type of group members taking on added responsibility in a dungeon run.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hiatus, or how I learned to cheat on wow

Hello everyone, and my apologies to all my followers on the lengthy delay between posting.  However, anybody who has followed this blog for a long time knows this happens from time to time as life gets busy and wow and/or wow blogging goes to the background.  There has actually been a fair bit of news and patch notes regarding big news for healers in the past month, but today I just want to say hello and let everyone know what's going on. 

Three things other than the birth of daughter number two have contributed to my lack of playing time in world of warcraft and therefore my blogging about world of warcraft.  The first thing is...well it's kind of hard to do this to you Blizzard...but I've been cheating on you.
















Yes indeed, I've finally decided to use my Playstation 3 for something other than sports games and music rhythm games!  Literally the only game I owned for PS3 in the first 2 years outside those categories was Lost Via Domus.  That game S-U-C-K-S.  I finished it, but it was terrible like many TV and movie games.  I decided to make the console more than a blu-ray player and bought a couple games of the year in Little Big Planet, which I play with Kelley, and Bioshock 2, which I play late at night after the two year old heads to bed.  First person shooters have not been my thing outside of an obsession with Goldeneye and then Halo 1 and 2, but Bioshock 2 has really captured me in the first few levels.  The story is compelling and I certainly want to save all the little girls I can find in the underwater Atlantis-esque environment.  The game is a bit dark like most modern FPS, but that does not dissuade me as I continue to shoot my way to victory.  That and the platforming in Little Big Planet have been a nice change of pace.

Furthermore, my time for raiding has been pretty much cut to nil thanks to work busyness (hooray to being an attorney at a busy law firm, but I've got excellent job security so I'll take it) and taking care of the kids when I can.  Raiding is the only way Ekaterinae can really progress, as she's grabbed one or two pieces of gear in her one-off runs of Blackwing Depths and Bastion of Twilight to go with heroic and reputation epics in all other slots.  I'm geared enough to raid when I have the time, which is exactly where I want the main character to be.  I also made it through Vashjir questing and am mostly through Deepholm, so the Cataclysm loremaster achievement will be done eventually on her.

However, if I want to quest sometimes I've been going back to the three leveling characters to make it more meaningful than just experiencing all the content Blizzard has to offer.  The shaman blitzed to nearly level 40 as a result of these urges and dual wielding is some fun.  The druid (Horde main) also dinged 83 this week and is beginning to be my main focus to get her to 85 and have two good mains at 85.  However, my time with Big Daddy inevitably cuts down on the leveling.  Furthermore, this week I got some interesting news that further dampens my wow spirit for the moment.  More on that later.












 









As many of you know from my linked blogs, I am a writer in all aspects of my life.  I am a patent attorney by day, drafting legal arguments and patent applications to win the day for our clients.  Then my favorite hobbies are sportswriting (mostly about college football) and gaming, including this blog about my number one gaming habit WoW.  Well I have been sportswriting for a little independent website called Southern College Sports for 6 years and decided to test the waters of moving forward with this hobby to something a bit more serious.  I was accepted on as a writer for Bleacher Report and received well over 3000 reads for a throw away article about March Madness.  I am terribly excited about the possibilities and the editors I am working with there are giving me a lot of positive feedback for moving into a featured columnist role there.  It's a start up the ladder of sportswriting, and so that has grabbed my attention despite college football being in the off season.

At the same time I approached B/R, I also decided to maybe change my sportswriting to a different hobby of game review writing.  I have been following Gameshark.com for over a year thanks to knowing the editor in chief personally and given my writing itch, I want to try that type of critical writing out.  So I sent in a writing sample to that editor and he also approved me to do some more work for Gameshark to see if I have what it takes to be a regular contributor there.  All of a sudden, I went from one hobby at a non-serious website to two relatively serious hobby writing gigs.  Both may not work out, but the possibilities for either is highly exciting.  If you have any interest in following me on those websites, I would appreciate any feedback you have on either subject going forward.















The last and only time I linked this photograph in this blog, I was talking about how bittersweet it was when I got knighted as a long-term quality member of The Illuminati on the same night I found out about my grandfather's cancer, which quickly finished him.  And just like that sad event, I have been hit with a double-whammy of two out of three of my close friends who brought me into wow leaving the game and letting their subscriptions lapse the first week of April, perhaps permanently.  When I was brought into the game, all 5 of us on the daily e-mail string (former Magic players, blowing time on work breaks) were in Wrath of the Lich King at the same time.  The closest of those friends leveled with me and it was a real bummer when he quickly got back out of the game.  However, the other three friends had persisted for the 2.5 years I had played the game.

Now it will be down to two of us, and the other friend left The Illuminati ages ago for his own reasons. One of the primary reasons for me to log into WoW night after night (even if I was not actively playing) was to use it as a chat channel with all four of these guys, as the one who quit wow plays Starcraft 2.  The guild friends I have made in AIE and in the Illuminati are great people and I value those friendships, but they are digital.  I know none of them outside the context of the game or guild planning, and so it is just different.  I re-upped my 6 month subscription in March so it's not like I'm ready to move on, but this troublesome development takes some of the joy and some of the reason I play this particular game away.

That being said, I understand that people come and go in this game and life moves on just like in real life.  But just like our Magic playing days, it feels like a golden era in Azeroth for me has passed.  It was a great 2.5 years, and I hope whatever our next hobby is, we can continue our close friendship among the five of us while also gaming together.

So that explains why I've been a bit more hesitant to say much around these parts, but I know I'll get this particular writing bug again and will be back in stride.  It just may take a while.  To end on a good note, I'd like to welcome Rawrcast back as hosts Stumpalina and Hafrot have obtained new jobs and are back to a steady podcasting schedule.  Their first regular episode back showed they will not miss a beat as some of the jokes and interplay between spouses who play wow is spectacular.  In a week where the Instance took their first week off since Dils and Turpster joined the crew, it was a welcome sight to see Rawrcast back in the weekly podcast rotation.  Also big props to Scott Johnson for The Morning Stream, which is getting national and international attention as a great general morning show.  Give it a listen if you have not already, and see how well you can do against the Stump a Trek Nerd questions!

Until next time, may your quivers be full of arrows and your bags be full of gold.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review Time: Cataclysm Reboots the 500 Pound Gorilla of MMORPGs

A little something different today: a game review of Cataclysm.  Back to regularly scheduled entries later this week.

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Since its launch in 2004, World of Warcraft has established the gold standard for the MMO market. However, with the first 60 levels of content becoming ancient by computer gaming and graphical standards, Blizzard decided to boldly revamp all of the old content in their third expansion: Cataclysm. But has World of Warcraft cemented continued dominance of the genre for another half decade, or has the magic been lost forever?


(As a brief editorial note, this review of Cataclysm is considering all aspects of the game live after Patch 4.0.6, the first major fix patch of the expansion. While the questing content is largely unchanged, the player-versus-player content and the dungeon content have significantly changed since launch.)


The backbone of every MMO is the questing and leveling experience, and the world of Azeroth has undergone radical changes. The visual quality of the old world has been brought up to a graphics level that is respectable for current computer games. The highlights of the graphical changes are the nearly-lifelike water effects and the cities of Stormwind and Orgrimmar, the hubs for the Alliance and Horde factions in this expansion. The old world leveling zones have also been brought up to date and made truly three-dimensional with the new ability to fly through these zones. On the whole, Cataclysm is graphically appealing enough to add more life to this old game.


The old world zones have also changed dramatically in many places with the changing storylines. For questing, every quest hub has 2-4 quests and then sends you immediately to the next hub, and then the process repeats ad nauseam. While this structure removes some of the frustration with running out of things to do and not knowing where to go next, the game feels a bit more like a moving walkway now than a place to explore. This will certainly help hasten the ridiculously long grind to endgame at level 85, but perhaps at the cost of the spirit of exploring and questing on your own. The good news is that the questing is completely different in these zones from the pre-Cataclysm versions of these zones, so even long time or returning players will find the leveling experience refreshed and new.


The truly new content for leveling from level 80 to level 85 resides in five new zones. Three of these zones stand out as dramatically different from what has been seen before in World of Warcraft. One of the first new zones is Vash’jir, a completely underwater zone that displays the improved underwater mechanics in the game. While the zone is a bit longer than it needs to be, Vash’jir is exciting because it forces players to be aware of everything in three dimensions rather than two. Although it does become easy to forget that everything is underwater at times, this zone stands out as the best Cataclysm has to offer.

The next leveling zone is Deepholm, which has an otherworldly and primal feel to it. The storyline of fixing a world pillar in another world to prevent Azeroth from falling through the maelstrom in the middle of the world map is compelling enough to follow all the way through.

The final new zone that stands out is Uldum, which includes a ton of cut scenes and Indiana Jones parody. In that regard, Uldum does feel a bit like a major motion picture, but the gaffe is on Blizzard by the end of the zone as the parody becomes overdone and tedious. In sum, the new leveling zones each tell great stories and are developed well, despite the feeling once again that characters are on a moving walkway with no real option to do things out of order.


Two new races join the mix in this expansion: Goblins for the Horde and Worgen for the Alliance. The two original races that did not have their own starting leveling zones (Trolls and Gnomes) now also have new starting zones. Although each of these starting zones was terribly overcrowded in the first three months of the expansion, Blizzard has redesigned the respawn rate to correspond to active players in these zones. Thus, a lot of the waiting for respawned enemies has been removed from the game.


Each of the new starter zones tells a compelling story, but the highlight is certainly Gilneas, the worgen starting zone. Gilneas features a Victorian style and is always shrouded in fog and mist, which fits the storyline of a spreading werewolf curse well. Although the kingdom of Gilneas has long isolated itself from the problems of the rest of the world, the quests do a superb job of telling how the worgen curse spreads and why Gilneas is now rejoined with the Alliance. The “moving walkway” phenomenon of Cataclysm questing is still ever present, but it becomes acceptable in Gilneas where the quests are primarily telling a story.


In player-versus-player (PvP) content, Cataclysm offers two new battlegrounds and one outdoor battleground area with battles every two hours called Tol Barad. Despite recent changes to the mechanics of Tol Barad, the battleground is a design disaster. To capture Tol Barad and open up a number of daily quests and a single-boss raid, an attacking faction must capture three buildings simultaneously by having more live players in the area than the defending faction. The more imbalance in number of players, the faster a building is captured. However, even with some design adjustments this cat-and-mouse game is unfulfilling because it rewards numbers instead of good PvP combat. To avoid imbalances, the battleground is instanced to only allow in the same number of players from each faction, but this makes late-night or low-population server battles boring with fewer than ten people on each side.


Furthermore, World of Warcraft is always balanced around the latest raid content, and PvP class balance is clearly on the backburner for Blizzard. Thus, radical imbalances in PvP class playability still exist in a game six years old. The other two battlegrounds Battle for Gilneas and Twin Peaks are nice looking alternatives to previous battlegrounds, but the design is nothing new to World of Warcraft or any first-person shooter since Halo. As such, the PvP content of Cataclysm is perhaps the worst that has been seen over the six year lifespan of the game.


Finally, Cataclysm offers seven new 5-man dungeons, two revised old world 5-man dungeons, and three raids having a total of 13 bosses. The best of the 5-man content appears to be an instance in UIdum called Halls of Origination. Again, the Indiana Jones theme is persistent throughout the instance, but the dungeon offers eight very different bosses and a fast pace throughout. Similar to previous “Halls of” instances in World of Warcraft, the visual scenery in Halls of Origination is stunning if time is taken to admire the surroundings.

On the other side of the spectrum, Stonecore is an instance in Deepholm that offers nothing substantial beyond what is discovered while questing in that zone. Furthermore, the boss mechanics are designed poorly and have a tendency to not work as intended. For a company that does not release many things in an unpolished state, Stonecore is a surprising departure from the norm.


The raid content in this expansion will be split into two or three raids per major content patch, as opposed to having a single epic raid instance with 12-15 bosses. This configuration allows Blizzard to tell more varied stories in the raid instances and offers players the chance to easily move onto another raid if they become stuck on a certain boss. None of the particular boss fights stand out as anything not seen before in six years of content, but the raids are well tuned and beautifully designed. For those players who live for “the endgame,” Cataclysm will not disappoint.


On the whole, Blizzard has done a nice job breathing life back into a six year old game, both graphically and in design terms. However, Blizzard missed a golden opportunity to re-invent the wheel for fantasy-based MMORPGs. World of Warcraft is still in the old fantasy mode of cast a spell and wait for that spell to come off of a cool down, rinse and repeat. As such, the core game play is no different than what was originally offered to players six years ago. For players that enjoy that design or have never experienced it, Cataclysm is probably worth a play through. But for those who have stepped out of Azeroth before, this expansion promises true change, yet delivers lipstick on a pig. Or a 500 pound gorilla, depending on your perspective.


Grade: B-

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Conflict of Interest?














As anybody who has the ability to read the banner on this blog knows, my Horde side characters are members of the largest "guild" in the game: AIE.  We have nine co-guilds with countless raid teams and countless officers and countless great people.  But who is the man behind this community, the man who is the guild leader of every one of these co-guilds?  That would be Randy Jordan a.k.a. RandyDeluxe on the Instance a.k.a. Maui.  And because the hot tub Instance picture is too good to pass up, here he is in all his real life glory:












So our fearless guild leader has left the Instance as of two episodes ago because he is taking a dream job in the video game industry, and this creates a conflict of interest with his commentary on World of Warcraft on that podcast.  This is what his family needs him to do and I applaud him for both finding a way into his dream job industry and putting family first.  Also, as an attorney in my free time away from azeroth, I know all about conflict of interest.  You just have to avoid them for the betterment of all involved.

But there was a major question looming in the air, and that was whether his role as a guild leader would also be a conflict of interest.  Randy avoided dropping the name of his new employer, but the AIE community meeting last weekend dropped more than enough hints to indicate that Irvine might be where Randy was headed.  And that would make the most sense, since he is already friends or acquaintances with many Blizzard employees and has worked with Blizzard on many issues that unexpectedly come up when you run a guild as large as AIE.  Today it appears that the news is confirmed: Randy is a Blizzard employee.

So now the interesting conundrum all AIE guild members wondered about has come to pass.  Will Randy still be able to lead the guild if it is publicly known he works for Blizzard?  His characters in game will be badgered even more than they already are with whispers, and I don't know that this is a healthy situation for Blizzard.  Thus, I can only speculate that one of our fine longterm officers will be appointed to take over in Randy's stead if this is indeed as big a conflict as it appears on paper.  This is unfortunate as Randy is always fun to be around whether in green wall chat or in instances.  And those roles might be taken away.

However, the guild will be fine, as it always is.  We will just have a different voice of reason at the top to calm all the chicken littles down when something doesn't go our way like the guild cap.  But that doesn't change the fact that this would be a transfer of leadership, something that is tough for every guild to undertake.  I can't imagine what would happen to The Illuminati if Jeff (guild leader) left the game, but thankfully we are not dealing with that issue on Alliance side.  However, with many AIE guild members fleeing to Rift, Eve, and other games and the change in the air with The Instance and the guild leadership, it's hard to avoid wondering if the golden era of AIE has passed us by.

At the end of the day, change is always hard.  My law firm is considering moving from a building that was built 75 years ago and of which we are original tenants.  Despite the long history and the sweetheart lease deal, there are so many problems with the water and the HVAC and being spread out over six floors that we have been considering other spaces to settle.  It's kind of scary moving an office the size of ours, but if we do, I'm sure it will work out for the better.  And who knows, maybe these changes to the best podcast in the community and one of the best guilds in the game will end up for the better as well.  Dare to dream!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Brief Moment of Glory Atop The World















So it just happened that my first opportunity to run a heroic since the birth of my second daughter came this past weekend and I grabbed my favorite DK tank and mage DPS couple from the Illuminati along with one other guild member for a mostly guild run.  As I pressed the queue button, I of course only had healer clicked by habit. The death knight picks tank, and the druid picks healer/tank. Oops. I asked the druid what they would prefer to do and they wanted to heal, so I swapped over to my shadow for my first heroic in DPS form.  I warned the group that this was not my normal, but I've been soloing with shadow for a couple months and am confident that I can do fine without great hit cap gear.  I'd never walk into a raid like this as shadow, but it's OK for a one-off guild run.

We ended up with Lost City and as the dungeon wore on, I realized that my DPS was roughly keeping up with or exceeding the mage in the group.  This is unusual because this mage is a very good player on his main.  I'm not pulling great DPS by any stretch of the imagination, but it is ranking a close second to a rogue and sometimes even more than the rogue.  I couldn't figure it out because I was making silly mistakes like casting Mind Spike with damage over time spells active (which clears all DoT spells), and the gear was far form hit capped.  Nevertheless, Ekaterinae to the top of the charts.  And I'm not going to lie, it felt awesome.

Looking into this a bit further, it turns out that in the top 200 players in the world, the best DPS over the weekend was shadow priest.  This is probably the first time since I started playing warcraft that a shadow priest was overpowered to the point of leading all DPS potential.  Of course, this should not come as much of a surprise as shadow priests received three major buffs in Patch 4.0.6 without any corresponding nerfs.  Mind Blast damage was increased by around 50%, which again establishes that spell as a primary nuke cast on cooldown.  Mind Sear had damage increased by 15% and could now be channeled on friendly targets, which allows a shadow priest to actually AoE nuke all enemy mobs at once instead of all mobs not targeted by Mind Sear (a long overdue change to this spell). Shadow Orbs were also buffed about 16%, which affects most of the shadow priest's primary damage spells. 

All this with no nerfs pushed shadow DPS to the top of the charts, and for once, I got to experience how broken it could be to be the top DPS class.  With my gear and experience, I had no business beating two DPS only classes, one of which being played by a better geared and more experienced player.  But of course priests are not supposed to be top of the DPS heap, so the hotfix nerf came down swiftly: a 10% reduction of the Shadow Power passive damage buff from 25% to 15%, which theorycrafters have calculated as an 8% damage loss overall.  So the next time I walk into a DPS role in a heroic, overpowered will not be the order of the day.  It was fun while it lasted, all ten days of it.

In other community news, the Instance podcast is entering a new era with Willy Gregory "Dils" from the AIE Podcast and Mark Turpin "Turpster" joining Scott Johnson.  Their first episode was a good one, and I'm happy they kept the theme song opening even though all the segment bumpers have changed.  That opening intro music is the best podcast opening music in the community.  It looks like the future remains bright for the premiere wow podcast.

It looks like there will be opportunities for me to raid this weekend both nights, so hopefully I can get in to see at least one of Bastion of Twilight or Blackwing Descent.  Both have more beatable bosses overall than Throne, so I'm happy this is our weekend off the Winds.  Anyway, I hope to report back a bit more about the content of Cataclysm and the health of discipline healing post 4.0.6 next week.  As always, leave questions or comments!  Cheers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Will Hotfix Bring Patience?












If you have been a frequent visitor of the Looking For Group LFG system, then you may be familiar with the above image. Sure, normally little dead bird is smaller on your screen, but the 30 minute debuff is something that is very hard to ignore. Now that Blizzard has taken the big revision pen to Cataclysm and fixed everything for the time being, some minor hotfixes have trickled through to further correct issues remaining with the content currently available. Although one set of hotfixes this week dealt primarily with healer balance (discussed below), the more interesting change was for the LFG system. Here's the rundown:

1. Players who are outside a dungeon for more than a few minutes are now immediately able to be kicked.
2. If queuing as a group with a tank or healer, and the tank or healer drops group (or is kicked) soon after joining, those that queued with them will also be removed from the dungeon.
3. If three or more players group queue, it will require an additional vote for them to kick anyone they did not group queue with.
4. If a group queue of 4 players kicks the one person that they did not group queue with, they will each receive a more severe penalty to their ability to initiate future kicks.
5. If someone initiates a vote kick for someone they group queued with, they will not incur a penalty to their ability to initiate future kicks.

On the whole, Blizzard is hoping these changes will reduce the annoying behaviors that currently plague the LFG system.  Although the biggest problems are encountered by DPS players that must wait 30-60 minutes per queue, healers also lose significant time on some servers re-queuing and waiting for tanks. There's nothing more annoying than what I currently call "the one wipe LFG tank."  You know, the tank that is too good to wipe more than once with you because he can immediately find another group. 

If you jump into a heroic LFG queue and are not ready to struggle a bit, you are missing the entire point of why Blizzard made this game challenging and fun. Although the challenge level is dropping significantly as players become more geared and dungeons receive their 4.0.6 fixes, heroics are still not at the facerolling point.  Healers and DPS and tanks must do their jobs and do it reasonably well to pass through the 5-man content.  And if there's one thing LFG players seem to lack...it's P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E.

So will these changes make a difference? Number two makes me worry a slight bit.  Every once in a while, my real life will have an emergency within the first five minutes of starting a LFG group with a couple of guild members.  Although in AIE I am usually with 4 other guild members, in The Illuminati that is simply not the case. So since I always heal, now I must feel even worse if real life kicks me out.  Despite this minor and rare possible annoyance for me, this will possibly cut down on the drama king/queen "one wipe LFG tanks" and "one wipe LFG healers". However, in my experience, the best tanks always queue with their guild members and having a guild member makes them way more patient. So this new rule probably will not make much of a difference.

Numbers three and four are changes that are likely overdue. Nobody seems to know for sure the exact formula for the penalty inflicted that prevents you from chain kicking group members, but it is clearly increases with that behavior.  I have only been kicked a couple of times since LFG entered the game over a year ago, but both times it was hugely annoying. The one time in Cataclysm it was when a group refused to use CC and just expected their rent a healer to be overgeared enough to heal through the damage.  That's not how Cataclysm was designed, and so they probably kicked numerous healers that night. This needs to be nipped in the bud, and hopefully this will help.

Number one does not make much sense, as I believe that the wait time for a disconnected player is only 10 minutes already.  So that change is pretty meaningless.  As is the number five.  I suppose in the scenario I laid out above I could get my guild mate to kick me out and nobody would be worse for wear.  Although here's a paradox...if I get kicked in the first five minutes of the dungeon by a guild mate, do they automatically kick themselves too? Well at least there would be no penalty, except for a requeue.  Which is probably a worse penalty than the kick initiation penalty.  Go figure.

Pro tip: you need to have way more patience if you are running into that penalty.

For the healer changes, the Patch 4.0.6 changes did not quite do the trick so one week later, restoration shamans are getting a 25% bonus to healing effects from Purification instead of 10%.  Meanwhile, discipline priests were shield spamming too much with the better Power Word Shield and so the mana cost is up nearly 40%.  Kudos to healing shamans as this extra buff should bring them back in line with the other three healing classes.  It is also comforting to know that Blizzard wants all four healing classes to be truly viable.  I also think they are making interesting changes which will keep priest heads spinning as we try to catch up with whether we should be casting PWS, Renew, or Heal to any great extent.  So far, I believe after Patch 4.0.6 Blizzard has been incredibly fair to the healing classes, if nothing else.

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Sorry for my delay, but I have good reason. A deer came into the picture and decided that my car is not going to commute me to work anymore. 














So car shopping the week before our second baby arrived, and then my recent sleep deprived state while trying to stay caught up at work.  Yeah real life.  But I hope to see some more questions from the readers and I will get back on the writing horse now that I'm in game more.  Well at least fishing with baby on board if nothing else!  Cheers!

And here's my beautiful daughters...woot!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reader Question: What Should I Play?



An entry a few days ago was linked by both Righteous Orbs and Wow Insider, so thanks to both of those sources for some new eyes. However, the more interesting thing that happened was a handful of e-mails and questions from those readers. Thanks for those, and I plan on answering some of the more interesting questions posted in comments on those websites and/or sent via e-mail. Like Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs, give me suggestions, wind em up, and watch the words roll out on this pink platform.

Today's question comes from Darkdust on the Wow Insider comment board.  Darkdust asks:

I like healing quite a bit, but I've focused primarily on priest healing (both discipline and holy). I'm uncertain whether I'd like druid or paladin healing; can anyone point me to a good comparison of how each healing class / spec "feels"? I can read up on the technical differences, of course, but that's significantly different.

 Well there is one problem with this question, and that is that it is impossible to answer without looking at the technical differences.  After all, the technical differences define how the class plays and how the class feels.  But hopefully I can get you on the right track.

So if you've played priest of both healing varieties, the healing world has completely been open to you. With two full healing talent trees and more healing spells than Blizzard knows how to make useful, you have full utility to be a raid healer, a tank healer, a hybrid healer/DPS, or a PvP content master. Nobody is a master of each of these roles, and I am certain there is some role you enjoy more than any other. The other three healing classes are set up to succeed, but perhaps more clearly in one or two of these roles rather than all four.  These are the limits we play with when there is only one healing talent tree in a class.

As a baseline, the priest class has 18 total healing spells available, of which 8 are single target heals or absorbs (Flash Heal, Power Word Shield, Heal, Holy Word Serenity, Greater Heal, Binding Heal, Desperate Prayer, Smite with Atonement talent), 1 is a heal over time spell (Renew), 7 are area of effect healing spells (Prayer of Healing, Holy Nova, Prayer of Mending, Divine Hymn, Lightwell, Circle of Healing, Power Word Barrier), and 2 defensive cooldowns (Pain Suppression, Guardian Spirit).  So the one thing that priest healers lack is a diversity of options for heal over time spells. Nonetheless, some talents provide a heal over time effect addition to some of the other priest spells, so a small added amount away from these baseline spells is there. It remains the one true non-focus of priest healers though. Absorb spells act similarly to heal over time spells though, so there is that aspect to consider as well.

Turning to the druid, this class jokingly offers you an option to play the best four classes in wow, all rolled into one character. If you are choosing a main alt character, you really cannot go wrong with a druid because all four roles (tank in bear form, ranged DPS in moonkin form, melee DPS in cat form, and healing in caster/tree form). So if you want to have a character that can always do something different including healing, then this is probably the best choice for you although paladin comes a close second. Druids have 9 total healing spells available, of which 3.5 are single target heals (Healing Touch, half of Regrowth, Nourish, Swiftmend), 2.5 are heal over time spells (Rejuvenation, half of Regrowth, Lifebloom), 2 are area of effect healing spells (Tranquility, Wild Growth), and 1 defensive cooldown (Rebirth battle resurrection).

Druids have only half the tools that priests have, but it certainly does not feel that way when you play a restoration druid.  The restoration druid typically builds up one or more heal over time spells on targets that will take damage and then all the talents and spells like Nourish and Swiftmend play off the heal over time spells. Instead of reactive, you generally stay much more proactive in healing.  Thus, if you enjoy the shield capabilities maximized by discipline priests, then this healing style will definitely appeal to you. Furthermore, druid healers are ridiculously resilient and hard to kill in PvP content, so if that is your preference than this is perhaps an even better class than priest. Druids are also well suited to raid heal because the heal over time spells can be spread around and the druid also has excellent group healing spells. Tank healing is possible but not preferable with this class compared to how other classes are built in the raiding context. However, don't let anyone stop you from being a tank healing druid if that is your dream.  But we all have limited playtime, so druid is probably the best choice for raid healers and PvP fanatics.

Next up let's consider the shaman.  Shaman has both melee and ranged DPS offspec, so there's a bit more flexibility than priest but less than paladin and druid. On the healing front, shamans have 8 total healing spells available, of which 2 are single target heals (Healing Wave, Lesser Healing Wave), 2.5 are heal over time spells (Healing Stream Totem, Riptide, Earth Shield), 2.5 are area of effect healing spells (Healing Stream Totem, Chain Heal, Healing Rain), and 1 defensive cooldown (Reincarnation self-resurrection).

The shaman brings a lot of utility to a party even with other classes getting Heroism equivalents in Cataclysm.  The shaman is more than just a buff class, but the use of various totems can really add a lot of utility even as a healer. However, for straight healing abilities, the shaman has a couple fewer options than the druid.  Plus the class plays completely differently, as the best shaman healing spells are quick one-time heals instead of the heal-over-time build up and weaving style with druids. Shamans are also generally good raid healers thanks to the multiple area of effect abilities, but they can really shine in the hybrid DPS/healer role thanks to the two strong DPS talent trees to accompany the restoration talents. If either of those roles appeals to you, then shaman will be a good style fit.  Note that playing a shaman is probably the second hardest class to get the hang of behind priest, as I've found most people to think druid healing is easier to learn than either.

Finally, there is the paladin. Paladin is probably the easiest or most forgiving class to learn in the game, and provides many options at the end of the leveling curve.  Paladins, like druids, can tank, DPS, or heal. Paladin healing was too simple in the past, but Cataclysm has brought more diversity for the healers. Paladins have 12 total healing spells available, of which 5 are single target heals (Word of Glory, Holy Light, Flash of Light, Divine Light, Holy Shock), 0.5 are heal over time spells (Holy Radiance), 0.5 are area of effect healing spells (Holy Radiance), and 6 are defensive cooldowns (Lay on Hands, Hand of Protection, Divine Protection, Divine Shield, Hand of Sacrifice, Guardian of Ancient Kings).

As over half of these abilities are defensive cooldowns, a paladin normally only has the plurality of single target healing spells to rely on. Holy Radiance adds a nice second dimension to the healing, as Paladins were really limited to tank healing before.  However, paladins are still the kings of single target focused healing, more so than any other healing class.  If you enjoy being a tank healer, this is definitely the class for you.  With Holy Shock, Paladins can be respectable hybrid DPS/healers, and of course paladins are decent at PvP content as well.  All things considered, paladin could be the choice for you if you are looking for the polar opposite playstyle from priests. Paladins are simple and straightforward, but that can be a refreshing change of pace from the hectic priest lifestyle.

So in summary, like a good lawyer, the answer to your question Darkdustis "it depends."  When you move from a priest to some other healing class, you will sacrifice the do-it-all mentality of the priest class.  However, you may become more proficient in one or two fields than being a jack of all trades, so the trade-off is certainly worth it. No matter where you end up, I wish you the best of luck.  Remember, you can always reroll!

Send more questions to the email address above, and see you next week.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Have You Broken The Obsession?


Monday I took a look at crowd control, which is building block number one to learn or relearn as a healer or anyone else wanting success in Cataclysm content.  For those of us who healed in Wrath or even before, the whole "new" concept of triage healing is perhaps more than a little different than what we are used to.  After all, full green bars are good. Full green bars is what everyone expects...that's what we need to achieve as healers because that's what we always do. Top everyone off, even the DPS standing in the fire and the tank who did not use his cooldown. No matter, back to green...

STOP!

This obsession with full green bars must be broken quickly or else you and the poor people you heal for will suffer through countless wipes. The second fastest way to run out of mana on every fight other than the lack of crowd control is overhealing. Every single point of healing that is wasted when a player is at full health is a point of healing that will not be available later in the fight. When heroics are overgeared, perhaps you can go back to obsessing over full green bars. But for the time being, group success depends on breaking this obsession spawned from Wrath and years of overhealing with no real consequence.

The problem is that overhealing and seeing green bars is like a soothing drug after all this time, a shot of nicotine or whatever other drug does the trick. It lures you back in, inciting you to waste your mana on unnecessary heals early in a fight. But you just have to accept that 50-60% or even lower is fine, as long as the players are stable and not at risk of dying based on a random boss or mob ability. Like with crowd control and marking mobs, once again knowing the fights is a great weapon so that you know exactly how much health is an appropriate baseline to keep players alive.  This may seem a bit like Russian roulette, but that's the beauty of triage!

You also need to consider potential attacks or mob crowd control that may take your heals offline for a few seconds. Assuming that the tank will go critical even with a cooldown when this happens, is the rest of the group high enough to sustain themselves in the interim?  Once again, instinct tells us to fill those bars full, but that is not correct.  The full green bar obsession, it is a temptress as always. 

Healing in Cataclysm may seem harder, but the truth is that it is only harder because it requires change. Some healers will adapt and continue to thrive in this new environment.  Others will not and pass on to other roles (tanks please) or other games entirely.  However, these ranks will be replaced by new healers who will probably find it easier because the built-in full green bar obsession is just not there.  Oh, to be one of those fresh new healers without a routine to break!  But the rest of us must grind on against the urge to fill those little green bars.

So remember, the limiting factor in many encounters is a healer's mana bar. Everything you and the other members of your party or raid do in a fight affects whether or not that mana bar will finish the fight at a comfortable 5-15% or a dead 0%.  New healers especially need to know that it is not always you that caused the wipe.  However, doing your best requires that triage healing is fully embraced.  Adios green bar obsession, hello Cataclysm healing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Crowd Control for Healers


There's one primary difference in the LFG pick up groups that work well and those that do not: the use of crowd control! Blizzard has forced the content to be even harder than it was in Wrath so that all those abilities become useful again, including crowd control. Even in the normal dungeons, the amount of damage that rolls through a tank with two mobs active instead of four is a huge difference. This can prevent you from drinking every pull, which slows the group down and may cause impatience (rightly or wrongly). I recommended taking a PUG group by the reins when you queue up and find a tank or group not starting with the right crowd control. But most healers do not know how to do this without having been a tank first, and usually in pre-Wrath days. Information is power, and you need to know what to expect if you are calling the CC shots from the back. 

The first thing to realize is that every class does indeed have some crowd control. However, some are far more useful than others because they last longer or apply to more types of enemy mobs. Hence, the crowd control abilities of hunters, mages, and rogues are highly valued and are a nice extra task for the DPS classes. Let's begin with the DPS classes, which generally have the best crowd control. 

Mage - Polymorph - This ability turns a beast, critter, or humanoid into a small animal (sheep/turtle/etc.) for 50 seconds at maximum level. Generally used with the moon mob marker in most groups, although this assumption is subject to change.

Hunter - Freezing Trap - A freezing trap can trap any mob for 20 seconds, but requires the mob to run into the trap. Thus, the hunter must generally be experienced at positioning this trap in front of a mob that will run towards a pulling tank. The freezing trap can hit any type of mob, and a Survival Hunter has two talents (Trap Mastery and Resourcefulness) that extend the duration and reduce the cooldown of the trap to enable chain trapping indefinitely. Make sure to know whether a hunter can chain trap before assuming they can.

Rogue - Sap - At maximum level, sap can affect humanoids, beasts, demons, and dragonkin. Note that sap must be done prior to combat, so the rogue must lead with this ability. Sap lasts 60 seconds at maximum level.

Warlock - Fear, Banish, and Seduction - Although warlocks have three crowd control abilities, each of them are risky in instances or severely limited. Fear is repeatable to make a mob flee in fear infinitely, but in an instance this will generally lead to accidental pulling of more groups of mobs and a wipe. Hence, fear is very limited in application. However, the Glyph of Fear allows a Warlock to make a mob cower in place rather than run around wildly, which makes this one of the best CC abilities. Banish only applies to demons and elementals, but lasts for 30 seconds. Seduction is an ability only usable with the succubus pet, and it shuts down humanoids for 15 seconds. Enslave Demon is also another option against demons, which makes the mob a pet for up to 5 minutes. Thus, Warlocks bring a nice mix of different abilities to the table.

Turning to healer classes, each class has one primary ability but most are limited in duration or the classes of mobs it can affect. However, these abilities should not be forgotten when the four pure DPS classes are not available or need supplemental crowd control.

Paladin - Repentance - This ability is only available to Retribution paladins, so healadins will not have this ability (but you knew that already if you are reading this blog). However, Repentance lasts a minute and may be repeated indefinitely, and is applicable to humanoids, undead, dragonkin, giants, and demons.  A great ability to have at hand if the Paladin is of the correct talent spec.

Shaman - Hex - Shamans of all varieties can turn mobs into frogs, much like the polymorph ability of mages. However, only humanoids and beasts may be hexed. The ability is repeatable, so the mob can be taken out of commission as long as possible. 

Druid - Hibernate - This ability may only be used on beasts and dragonkin, and lasts for 40 seconds. While hibernate may break early on mobs of equal or higher level, so the druid will need to stay diligent. This means bear tanks typically cannot count on this ability as a useful CC, so this may be better from moonkin and healing druids. 

Priest - Shackle Undead - As the name suggests, this is a repeatable ability that works only on undead mobs. This was great in Icecrown Citadel, and not so much thus far in Cataclysm. Priests also have Psychic Scream, an area of effect fear, but this is even more dangerous than a warlock fear.

Now we have the two remaining melee DPS and tank classes, neither of which have great crowd control abilities. But just in case it becomes relevant...

Death Knight - Chains of Ice - For 8 seconds, a mob's movement is impaired by 60%. The short duration of this ability makes it not all that useful unless a pack of mobs is being kited away. Death Grip could also be used to pull one mob off the tank, but incoming damage to a non-tank melee DPS death knight will usually be a more significant drain on healer mana than just leaving the mob on the tank.

Warrior - Stuns including Charge, Intercept, Piercing Howl, and Hamstring - None of these stuns lasts more than a few seconds, so these abilities are only moderately useful as damage-slowing crowd control. Better than nothing, but not by much. 

So now that you know the types of crowd control, the only other thing you need to know is how to mark mobs. This is a very simple process now. Target the mob, right click on the portrait of the mob, and select the mark from the drop-down menu. Once you determine what 1-2 CC abilities will be used on each pull, the only other important point is to ensure that each player responsible for a CC spell knows which mark applies to their mob. For example, a star could mean rogue sap or hunter trap, but just clarify it at the beginning and then it is clear what you mean with the marks. Also be sure to use skull and X on the first and second kill targets, which should be the highest threats to your group survival after the mobs removed by crowd control.  Studying the mobs of an instance will help you be a better leader and never be afraid to ask for advice from tanks and DPS who may know kill orders better from doing it before. 

Tanks are not the only class that can lead and can mark, directing the group to success through crowd control. Before a train wreck LFG pick up group puts you back in the queue, take the reins and lead the group. The tank will probably appreciate it and things will go smoother for healing as long as the CC assignees do their jobs. Until next time, use the abilities Blizzard gave you!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Heal in Cataclysm?

A great statement on healing from World of Matticus















When Cataclysm dropped a month ago, many players raced to 85 on their mains and prepared them for raiding.  As is always the case with a new expansion, players saw this as a perfect opportunity to try something new or switch main characters.  Now that raiding has begun in most guilds, it may be a little late to change a raiding character.  However, this also makes it the perfect time to try something new (perhaps a worgen or goblin) and see if you like it. Most people try out every role in the game within the first year, but many players try healing and leave it forever. With the release of Cataclysm, there are five reasons why you should roll or respec into a healer:

1. The Game Will Never Get Stale - One complaint that seemed to fill the world of warcraft in the twelve months of Icecrown Citadel was how the game was so stale and the same thing every week. Even though there are three new raids and many new instances to try out with Cataclysm, even all this new content will grow stale with time. No matter how thrilling taking down a raid boss may be, after defeating Lord Marrowgar 12 times, the only thing left to do is make bad "Bone" jokes. This happens because the boss abilities do not change. The same strategy the tanks used to manage threat and the same rotations used to maximize DPS applies every week.

By contrast, healing an encounter 12 times will offer twelve unique challenges. No matter how good a raid team becomes, there will always be an off night or a fight that gives a certain player fits, which leads to unexpected damage to deal with. This changes every single week. A common misconception is that healing is more simple than anything else because it is green bar "whack-a-mole." Healing in Cataclysm is not a spam your best spell over and over endeavor like healing in Wrath was. Now the renewed concept of triage healing has forced healers to learn how to use all the tools supplied to them. Especially for priests and druids, choosing an appropriate amount of healing to spread around in a raid or a 5-man dungeon makes all the difference between passing the content and wiping over and over.  And even as Lord Marrowgar becomes completely boring to everyone else, the fight changes every time and challenges a healer in new a different ways.

2. Healing is a Real Challenge - Perhaps all that needs to be said about healing in Cataclysm is that Ghostcrawler's first blog entry for the Blizzard community site was entitled "Why does Blizzard hate healers?" But the gauntlet has indeed been thrown and healers must rise to the new challenge. Thankfully the gear ramps up quickly in this expansion so regular dungeons and heroic dungeons that are nearly impossible at the early levels and right after hitting 85 become more and more manageable after only a small handful of instance runs. Mana will remain an issue throughout this expansion by design, but the 5-man content at least becomes manageable on mana once the other players learn to limit unnecessary incoming damage and the healer learns the art of triage instead of keeping everyone at full health all the time. That being said, healing is the hardest role currently in the game and that makes healing rewarding to those who like a challenge. As Ghostcrawler stated, god mode is only compelling for a short time. A challenging game makes you strive to be better and better.

3. Healing Provides Leadership Opportunities - Tanks have always been natural leaders of groups in Azeroth because tanks dictate how fast a group pulls new mobs and can set up success by marking groups of mobs. To succeed in Cataclysm, a leader must coordinate more than kill order. A leader must make sure cooldowns are managed, healers are keeping up and full of mana before each pull, and DPS with crowd control abilities are using them at every opportunity. Tanks are not the only players who can mark mobs! With healing becoming the glue of most groups in Cataclysm, this is a perfect opportunity to take leadership roles in raids and pick up groups! After all, the healer mana is really the factor that dictates the speed of moving through an instance now. A tank can pull with a healer at half full on mana, but that is a strategy doomed to fail more often than not. So if you are not a natural tank but want to be a leader, this respected role in the game is a perfect place to find your leadership niche.

4. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility - As I just alluded to, quality healers are highly respected and always have been. However, a poor healer is generally the first one to get blamed whether rightly or wrongly. Healing is a great challenge and provides a huge sense of reward and accomplishment for helping a group survive encounters. But with those great rewards come the high level of responsibility for doing the job well or making the entire group suffer. Gone are the days of multitasking while running heroics, at least until another tier of raid gear comes out to over-gear most heroics. Healing is high risk, high reward. For most players, that scenario is worth the effort.

5. Shorter LFG Queue Times - Leaving this for the end because as shown above, healing in pick up groups is kidn of like playing Russian Roulette with yourself right now. Most players in LFG are truly decent people and decent players, but it only takes one bad seed or one bad player who does not know how to move out of the green stuff on the floor to tear a group apart. Especially when gear is underpowered for the current content, jumping into LFG rather than running instances with fellow guild members can be a recipe for disaster. However, even though this can be a disaster, it is much better to wait 0-10 minutes to get into an instance rather than 20-45 minutes as a DPS. Even if the group ends up being full of fail, the wait for another group is not that bad. Perhaps it is just dumb luck, but LFG has placed me in a fair number of groups with a tank and 1-3 others from a single guild numerous times, and those runs are always the best because guild members are considerate in front of people they know. LFG is a tough place to play right now, but patience is much easier to have as a healer with a short queue time than as a DPS with another 45 minutes of mining or archaeology on the horizon.

This is the perfect time to roll up a new character and dive into all the renewed content from 1-60 and 80-85, and I highly recommend a class that can heal. Even if healing has not worked out in the past, this is the right time to step up to the challenge and become a healer that enjoys a different challenge every single fight but still pushes the group through to survive for another day and another raid. In the words of the television show my daughter is addicted to right now (Yo Gabba Gabba): Try It, You'll Like It!

Cheers!

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On an unrelated note, I finally broke my drive to level two main characters equally. Once again, the priest class called me with her sweet siren's call. And just like that, Ekaterinae is level 85. While she works her way to heroics, the leveling focus is again on Arielae the druid. Also, leveling professions is now also on the docket. But the competition for mining nodes in Hyjal is so fierce. Anybody having any luck mining elsewhere?