Sunday, August 31, 2008

WotLK Beta - First to 80 Achievements

Blizzard is adding a number of Achievements or titles for the first people to reach level 80. For example:

The Supreme - First player on the realm to achieve level 80.
Assassin - First rogue on the realm to achieve level 80.
Warbringer - First warrior on the realm to achieve level 80.
Archmage - First mage on the realm to achieve level 80.
Of The Ebon Blade - First death knight on the realm to achieve level 80.
Stalker - First hunter on the realm to achieve level 80.
etc.

I'm not sure that these titles are a good idea. Levelling quickly is an impressive feat, but the people who earn these titles are going to be people who take the week off work when WotLK comes out, play 24/7 hours without sleep, or share accounts and power-level up to the cap. I think this behavior is negative, and I don't think that rewarding this type of behavior is a good idea.

As well, there's the potential for a very negative outcome. Imagine if some kid hurts herself in a marathon gaming session in an attempt to get one of these titles. That would be serious negative publicity, precisely when WoW players should be celebrating the release of the expansion.

In a lot of ways, it's like the Grand Marshal fiasco of the old PvP system. That system should have measured who the best PvPers were, but instead it measured who played the most. Ideally, this system rewards those who level the fastest, but it really measures who can devote the largest percentage of the total time to WoW in the first three days.

Finally, it's a lot of titles that are being given out only once, over a time span that is under a week. To me, it seems like a poor use of title resources.

I'm not against a single person being the only person to have a specific title. But I think that such a title should be encompass a large amount of work. For example, the Scarab Lord title (given out during the Ahn'Qiraj event) is appropriately impressive. Weeks of farming bugs, multiple 40-man raids, and ringing the gong for the entire server. That was pretty impressive, and pretty much every Scarab Lord earned her title, and indeed involved her entire server.

To me, the "First to 80" people will not have accomplished anything on the level of the Scarab Lord, and I'm not sure they really meet the standard set for a unique title.

What I'd suggest is that instead of doing "First to 80" titles, and rewarding negative behavior, Blizzard rewards efficient levelling instead. Blizzard already measures how long it takes to level in-game (i.e. the /played command). So pick an aggressive levelling time target, and give a title if the character manages to hit 80 before the deadline. For example, if you went from 70 to 80 in 48 hours /played, you get the title like "Coriel the Quick".

This has several advantages. It's repeatable, so you get multiple uses out of it. It rewards the people who level efficiently, not those who can play the most. If the target is set aggressively enough, people can actually come up with strategies to achieve it. As well, people don't have to kill themselves to get this title. The title would be achievable by someone who plays a couple hours a week, so long as they are super-efficient. Of course, you'd have to figure out how rested XP would interact with this.

An extension of this idea might be to give a unique title to the person who leveled the fastest. But this person could lose their title if someone beats their record. You could do something similar with Grand Master profession titles. Rather than seeing who is the first to 450, give the title to the person who knows the most recipes. If someone else comes along and learns more recipes, the Grandmaster title should change hands. I think these unique titles would be impressive, and more worthy than unique titles for just "the first to X" achievements.

Friday, August 29, 2008

WotLK Beta - New Aspect of the Viper

New Aspect of the Viper for Hunters:

Aspect of the Viper
The hunter takes on the aspect of the viper, instantly regenerating mana equal to 100% of the damage done by any ranged attack or ability, but reduces your total damage done by 50%. Only one Aspect can be active at a time.


It's sick. My hunter can go from empty to full mana in 5s with 50% damage and 2 GCDs. I should make a Viper/Hawk castsequence macro.

In other news, both Judgement of Wisdom and Judgements of the Wise were nerfed into the ground, pretty much eliminating Retribution mana regen. Hopefully, Blizzard has something similar to the new Aspect of the Viper up their sleeves.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Buffs and Debuffs Changes

Major Blizzard post on the future of buffs and debuffs. A snippet:

For the most part, what this change means is that many buffs and debuffs which were previously allowed to stack together no longer can, and that many buffs and debuffs which only a single talent specialization could bring can now be brought by multiple different specializations.

Essentially, there are about 30 categories of group buffs and debuffs. The buff/debuff in each category can be provided by different classes, making raid construction much more flexible.

For example, Devotion Aura will now provide the same healing bonus as a Druid's Tree of Life Aura. So if you don't have a Resto druid, you can still get the same effect with a paladin. This change also extends to mana batteries, with Shadow Priests, Retribution Paladins, and Survival Hunters providing a similar mana regen buff to the raid.

I think that, on the whole, this will be a good change for the game. There are some posters at EJ however, who feel that this will lead to a new form of raid stacking. Essentially, you figure out the minimum number of characters to cover all the buffs and debuffs, and then stack the rest of the raid with the flavour-of-the-month DPS class.

This is a possibility. However, in my view, there are essentially two types of raiding guilds: guilds which have access to multiple characters of every class and spec; and guilds which don't. Maybe the first type of guild will stack, but they would have stacked anyways. But this change will make life a lot easier for the second type of guild, allowing much more leeway in recruitment and raid make-up.

There are still some issues to be resolved, including mana regen for Retribution paladins, Blessing of Wisdom, and how Judgements (especially Judgement of Wisdom) will be affected.

Edit: Also, just eyeballing the list, Blizzard might want to consider baselining Blessing of Kings. It looks like the only category with a single buff that is a talent.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

WotLK Beta - 68 Hunter Experience

Wrath has been interesting, but it is a little weird to be testing with an epic-geared character. I decided to see what it would be like with a lower level character. I had a 68 hunter, in mostly quest greens, that I transferred over and started doing questing.

So far on Beta, it's been pretty smooth. The quests are all doable for a character of that gear level, and it's very nice getting quest rewards and equipping them right away. The low level gear also looks pretty decent, even the Elemental Shaman chestpiece I accidently picked up and equipped. (I'm looking at the stats on my gear: AP, haste, crit, more AP, spellpower ... what the?)

Corissa and her pet ravager, Fluffy

My hunter is normally Beastmaster, but I tried out Survival. I love Explosive Shot. It's like a shot that hits the mob three times for significant damage each time (shares a cooldown with Arcane Shot) I have the suspicion that it's doing excessive damage, but it's awesome. First off, there's a bug with pets and Growl (or maybe Cower) and they can't hold aggro very well. So I mark the mob, Serpent Sting them, and auto-shot until they start running to me, then Explosive Shot them and let them die as they reach me. Hilarious, especially combined with the Lock and Load talent that gives me free Explosive Shots 30% of the time when I sting the mob.

The only thing is that Survival is a little mana-intensive at the moment. Part of that is that I can't use Steady Shot and gain mana back from Hunting Party as it will rip the mob off my pet and I'll end up having to melee. It's too bad, as Steady Shot has been unlinked from Auto-shot, and is now very easy to use. No more weaving or macroing. I'd love to see what sort of damage I could get from a rotation like Mark, Serpent Sting, Explosive Shot, Steady Shot x2-3, Explosive Shot, etc. Just need an actual tank.

Still, it's fun, and is pretty smooth for a character not decked out in epics. As well, levels 68-70 go by pretty fast. I hit 70 while still in the middle of the first zone.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Targeting

Introduction

Warhammer Online introduces a new system for targeting creatures and players for spells and abilities. It is interesting to compare the Warhammer Online system to World of Warcraft. WoW actually has multiple targeting systems, each serving a slightly different purpose.

World of Warcraft Basic - Primary Mode

In the default UI (no mods, no macros), there is one target frame. You choose your target, and press the ability, and the game tries to cast it on the current target. So to cast a spell on a new target generally requires 2 operations:

1. Select new target
2. Press spell button - Spell is cast on current target

This method has the advantage that it is very obvious and intuitive. It has the disadvantage that changing targets is fairly costly in terms of operations. Additionally, switching between a hostile and a friendly target will turn off your auto-attack.

World of Warcraft Basic - Secondary Mode

In the default UI, there is a secondary targeting mode. If you have a hostile target selected, and you cast a friendly spell such as a heal, the cursor will change to a glowing hand. You can then click the frame of a friendly player, and the spell will be cast on that player without changing your target.

1. Press spell button
2. Select friendly frame - Spell is cast on friend, target is not changed

The advantage here is that your current target never changes, your auto-attack does not turn off. Offensive actions don't require a target switch, and only cost 1 operation. However, this method does not seem that popular among players, and is probably not very intuitive. Additionally, even Blizzard occasionally forgets about this mode. For example, spells that can affect both allies and enemies, such as Holy Shock, will not work properly, automatically defaulting to hitting the hostile target. Another annoyance is that all your friendly spells get "greyed out" as unusable, even though you can still cast them.

Warhammer Online

Warhammer Online seems to have two targets: an offensive target and a defensive target. Selecting a friendly player changes your defensive target, and selecting a hostile changes your offensive target. If you cast a hostile spell, it hits the offensive target. A friendly spell hits the defensive target.

In terms of operations, this is slightly different depending on what you are doing. If you are mostly attacking creature or mostly healing friendlies, then it effectively costs 2 operations or so per target switch. However, when you alternate between healing and attacking, it only requires 1 operation. In the best case scenario, you only have yourself and one enemy, and you never need to switch targets. I would imagine that this targeting system promotes attacking and defending at the same time. If there's no extra cost, you might as well throw out a DoT if you have time.

As well, this system is pretty intuitive, while only being slightly more complex than WoW Basic - Primary. The idea that offensive spells are cast on your offensive target, and defensive spells are cast on your defensive target just makes sense.

World of Warcraft Advanced - Focus

In WoW, you can declare one target your "focus" with the /focus command. Right now, you generally need macros or mods to work with the focus target properly, but in WotLK the focus target is being built into the default UI.

Having a focus target allows you to cast certain spells at your focus, instead of your main target. This is especially useful for crowd control, as you can automatically renew a crowd control spell without switching targets. Essentially, casting a spell on the focus target only costs 1 operation, while other targets cost 2 operations.

The focus target is also open-ended. A DPS can juggle two hostile targets. A healer can juggle two friendly targets. However, one of the targets is fixed, as it takes a bit of effort to switch focuses.

Focus, while very powerful, is not exactly intuitive, and takes some getting used to.

World of Warcraft Advanced - Mouseover/Click-casting

In WoW, you can also macro your spells to target the frame or mob that your mouse is hovering over. This essentially reduces the cost of all your spells to 1 operation. This is primarily used by healers, as they have to switch targets often. However, DPS and tanks do occasionally have uses for mouseover targeting. In particular, warriors will use a mouseover Sunder macro to build threat on crowd-controlled mobs. (Sunder doesn't do damage to mobs, and using mouseover ensures that you don't auto-attack the sheep.)

Click-casting is where you automatically cast a spell without changing targets if you right-click a frame. You generally need a mod such as Clique. Click-casting is pretty similar to mouseover targeting in effect, but you're limited by the number of mouse buttons you have.

These techniques reduces operation cost to the minimum. However, they are fairly unintuitive, and require extra setup on the part of the player.

Conclusion

In a lot of ways, the basic WoW targeting system promotes focusing on one activity at a time. If you're healing, you switch between friendly targets and heal. If you're dealing damage, you stay on your target and burn them down.

Warhammer Online seems to promote both offensive and defense. The dual-targeting system promotes using both abilities that help your allies and hurt your enemies. This doesn't just apply to healers. Any class could get and use helpful abilities, and still be able to concentrate on the hostile mob. Additionally, it's still very user-friendly and easy to understand.

However, both Focus and mouseover targeting offer much more control, and reduces the cost in operations, to the experienced WoW player. Mouseover targeting effectively obsoletes the dual-targeting system for healing, and Focus allows you to alternate between two hostile targets. Still, these techniques are not exactly user-friendly, and generally require the player to have a fair bit of experience in the game before she can master them.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ask Coriel: Healing Paladin Questions

Aizell asks:

My current stats:

9.8k mana
84 MP5
22% holy crit
1850 Bonus heal

Have only been doing Kara for about a month up to Aran/Chess.

Questions.

In post Kara raids, are healadins MT healers? Raid healers? Either?

Main tank healers. We can raid heal in a pinch, but as we can only heal one person at a time, the other classes are better choices for raid healing.
How important is spell haste? I currently have Scarab of the Infinite Cycle with a chance of 320 spell haste for 6 secs. Noticed an imba healadin is also still using this at Sunwell. Perhaps he hasn’t found an upgrade (seems very unlikely!) or is spell haste a great way to increase your heal per second in addition to Healing bonus?

Spell Haste is very powerful, but it comes with a cost. Haste increases your heal per second, but it also increases the amount of mana you spend per second. So if you start using Haste too early, you'll find that you are running out of mana too soon. Sunwell paladins have lots of mana regen, so they can afford to use lots of Haste. You may find it a little harder at your current gear level.

So the question to ask is if are you running out of mana? If you are not, you can pack on the Haste. If you are, bank your Haste gear, and get some more regen gear for the time being.
Currently using purple & orange gems with some + healing and +intellect or + MP5. I believe you get better value for gold from these as opposed to purely +healing. How high should I get my spell crit and MP5 before I start only increasing healing bonus? Vague reading suggests 30% and 100 MP5. Or does this depend on whether you are MT healer or raid healer?

You should probably use red +healing gems for red slots (but purple is okay for now, I wouldn't change unless you have lots of gold). The purple gems are fine for blue slots.

However, the orange +heal/+int gems are a poor choice for yellow slots. Int provides a very small amount of crit and +heal. I would go with pure Spell Crit gems for yellow slots.
Would you ever take an armour piece which is not plate but has better stats? If so would you go to mail only? Or all the way to cloth? There does appear to be a number of pieces like this that have the same investment cost, say number of badges but where the non plate option has better healing stats.

In general, plate that comes from tokens or badges is optimized for paladins. So I would recommend sticking with plate for badge or vendor gear.

For drops, I would take a non-plate item if no other healers wanted it. If a nice mail healing piece dropped, I would let the shamans have first shot at it. I would take it if it was going to be sharded. Cloth and leather healing pieces tend to have Spirit, which is a useless stat for paladins. So I would usually only downgrade to mail. But if it's better than what you are currently wearing, and it's going to be sharded, pick it up.
Which craft would you recommend? Enchanting gives you 2*+20 healing on rings. Alchemy allows you to craft some amazing mana saving/+MP5 trinkets. Blacksmithing for Dawnsteel or Sunblessed armour, though you would need to have a lot of gold for these.

I would recommend Enchanting, Alchemy or Jewelcrafting. Also remember that there's a new profession, Inscription, coming in Wrath of the Lich King, and that may also be a good choice. I wouldn't really recommend Blacksmithing for a pure Holy paladin.

Friday, August 22, 2008

WotLK Beta - Vengeance Nerf, Part II

Ghostcrawler is on the paladin forums, trying to spin the Vengeance nerf as an "unsanctioned" change. Kind of honestly, the fact that it made the patch notes indicates that it was an intended change. It's also amusing to note that we never seen Blue posters on the paladin forums except as a last-ditch attempt at damage control.

Sometimes I think that no one at Blizzard plays a paladin on a regular basis. How do you miss the fact that Judgements stopped working?

In any case, I acknowledge the fact that Retribution paladins are doing too much damage in Beta at the moment. However, Blizzard's reaction to this reminds me of the Illumination nerf. We have a core talent that works pretty well. Blizzard introduces some poorly thought-out changes that--combined with the core talent--breaks the class. Rather than reverting the changes, Blizzard nerfs the core talent.

There are 4 issues with Retribution DPS at the moment:

  1. The new scaling Judgements are doing a crazy amount of damage. No one knows if this is intended, because as normal Blizzard refuses to convey their vision (if it even exists) of the Paladin class to us. It might be intended, because Judgements of the Wise needs a powerful Judgement in order to return non-trivial amounts of mana to the group.


  2. Judgement of Command does double damage on a stunned target. Combined with Point 1 above, we see 8-9K crits on people.


  3. Seals currently proc off special attacks. Previously, they would only proc off auto-attacks. Cathela at Elitist Jerks has calculated that this change has increased Seal DPS by 85%.


  4. Seal of Vengeance is broken, and is scaling too well with AP. This is an issue with brackets in the SoV equation, because apparently the Paladin designer does not understand BEDMAS.

All of these problems have solutions, none of which involve touching Vengeance:
  1. Tone down Judgement damage, and increase the mana returned by JotW by the equivalent amount.


  2. Change JoC to have 100% crit chance on a stunned target. That's pretty solid guaranteed burst, without getting into crazy territory.


  3. Change Seals back to only proc off white attacks. This also fixes a normalization concern for SoR/SoB, where slow weapons would become greatly favoured over faster ones.


  4. Fix the SoV equation so that it falls back in line with SoR.

Not exactly hard. But then again, I don't think any of the designers actually play a Paladin, so they don't understand what is important to the class and what is not.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

WotLK Beta: Vengeance Nerf

Vengeance has been the core defining talent for the Retribution tree since the beginning. It has been nerfed in the latest Beta patch. It was reduced from 15% damage to 10% damage.

In the same patch, Warriors got the following talent:

Wrecking Crew
Requires 45 points in Arms.
Your melee critical hits have a 100% chance to enrage you, increasing all damage caused by 15% for 12 seconds.

There are some *really* upset paladins on the WoW forums.


Edit: Latest joke on the forums, courtesy of Skye of Hellscream:

Q: You know why Vengeance got nerfed right?

A: Duh. Vengeance got Nerfed because the talent was too similar to Wrecking Crew and had to be changed to preserve class uniqueness. Obviously.

Thoughts on Warhammer Online

I'm not in the Warhammer Online Beta, but I've been watching the various sites post information avidly. Here are some of my thoughts:

Open Beta

You have to pre-order the game to get into the Open Beta. Seriously?

It's a weird decision, because it's a very short Open Beta, so it's more like advertising, only you're advertising to people who've already purchased the game. Seems odd to me, but whatever.

Grouping

The single most interesting thing about Warhammer appears to be their approach to grouping. Open Groups and Public Quests (see Tobold for more info) are extremely unique mechanics. I've posted before about social aversion to asking strangers to group. By eliminating that barrier, grouping might become a lot more common.

I think how loot is handled will be issue that makes or breaks Warhammer's grouping system. We all know the issues with ninjas in WoW; what's it going to be like when the ninja can join your groups without permission? If ninjas become a big concern, then all groups will be closed, and all the advantages of an open system will be lost.

The other loot issue I see is how Public Quest loot is distributed. They use a /roll system with modifiers depending on your performance. There are three concerns here.

First, performance is often very hard to quantify. Already sites like Massively are advising classes to AoE as much as possible in order to push themselves to the top of the meters. I'm sure the tanks will be overjoyed by these tactics. Essentially, it's the problems with damage meters and healing meters obsession in WoW, only people actually get rewarded by being at the top, even at the expense of the group.

Second, it seems like the rich get richer in this system. The better your gear, the more powerful you are, which means you're more likely to top the meters, and get the best reward. That means you're even more likely to top the meters in the next event. It's interesting that almost all player-driven loot systems are designed to prevent this, to spread loot more evenly.

Third, Random + Modifier still has all the disadvantages of a random system. You can be the best player in several PQs and still roll terribly. Given that many PQs will happen, it is probable that some poor sap (probably me, knowing my relationship with Lady Chance) will end up with a terrible loot streak.

Healing

Healing looks very interesting as well. There are three types of healers: pure healers, healers who get bonuses to damage spells if they cast healing spells and vice versa; and melee-healers.

I predict the that the second type of healer will end up as pure healbots. As Keen is finding out, the real barriers to mixing healing and damage are time and resource costs. In Keen's words, "If you’re not healing constantly then people will die. If people die because you were doing damage... it gets ugly."

So, the melee healer is what is really unique here. They look very unusual, as you have to hit the enemy in order to build up the necessary resources to heal people. Despite the fact that I really should know better than to roll a healer, I'm strongly considering trying a warrior-priest when Warhammer comes out.

Mechanics and Gameplay

The basic mechanic for every class seems to be something like Rogue's Energy. This is a very intriguing idea. The Toughness stat also looks like a nice twist on basic combat mechanics.

However, issues like these give me pause.

PvP

Keen has a really good video showing off an in-game siege. It looks very exciting. On the other hand, you can't help but notice that everyone is pretty much in the same position at the end of the video that they were in at the start of the video. (*Memories of 16-hour old-school AV matches rise up*)

Conclusions

Remember that I am not in the Beta, and am just commenting on the info that other people are talking about. Warhammer looks like a very neat game, with a lot of interesting ideas and takes on the MMO genre.

However, the whole "must pre-order to get into the Open Beta" thing is making me slightly nervous, especially after the whole Age of Conan debacle. In the end, I think I'll probably pick up Warhammer two to four weeks after it is released, and more information floods the Internet.

As a complete aside, I don't understand how people say that MMOs are too expensive to try out. They cost the same as normal game, and you get a free month, which is more than enough time to get in some decent hours. It's more or less the same price as buying a single-player game that you ended up not liking.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Balancing Around Fewer Healers

In a comment to the previous post, Green Armadillo asks:

Rohan, I'm curious, how do you answer the enrage timer question? I don't disagree with anything that you've said, but the Crab does have a point; it's hard to design an encounter for 5 healers that isn't easier with 7 healers, unless you put a harsh and unforgiving DPS check on it.

This is my take on encounter design and raid make-up. To start, the number of tanks a raid needs is determined by the specific encounter, and is really independent of any any other concerns. Generally, the number of tanks is fixed. You need as many tanks as there are things to tank, or how the tank rotation plays out, or Hateful Strikes work, etc. This is all very encounter-specific.

The mix of healers and DPS is determined by two competing constraints: the minimum raid DPS required; and the amount of damage done by the encounter. You need to take enough healers to heal the damage done, and you need to take enough DPS in order to meet the minimum raid DPS required.

The minimum raid DPS requirement can be determined by a lot of elements in the fight. The very basic requirement comes from the boss' health and the enrage timer. For example, you have to do 4.75 million damage to Void Reaver in 10 minutes. That's a minimum requirement of 7920 DPS from your raid. Another example would be the amount of DPS required to kill an Astral Flare on Curator before the next Astral Flare spawns. High minimum DPS requirements are what make fights challenging for DPS players, and push them to improve their skills.

The damage done by the encounter is pretty obvious, but there are a couple of wrinkles. First off, though most of the damage is done to the tanks, there's a limit to how much tank damage is actually healable. There's a point where the tank will just get gibbed before the next heal can land. So encounters start doing more and more damage to the raid, like in upper T6 and Sunwell content.

However, the number of healers and DPS is related. The easiest way to meet the minimum raid DPS requirement is to drop healers, and add extra DPS. In our Void Reaver example, with 15 DPS, individual DPS needs to average 528 DPS (over the entire fight, remember that ranged is dodging orbs). If you can get by with one less healer, and run with 16 DPS, the individual average drops to 495 DPS.

So the basic tension in encounter design is between the minimum raid DPS required and the damage done by the encounter. If the minimum DPS requirement was close to zero and the damage done was high, the optimum raid would be all healers, as you could guarantee that they would keep the raid alive and--eventually--kill the boss. Similarly, if the damage done was zero, and minimum DPS requirement was high, the optimum raid would be all DPS.

At this point, it doesn't seem like it would be hard to balance around a lower number of healers. You simply increase the minimum raid DPS required, and decrease the damage done by the encounter. But there's a second wrinkle to the number of healers required: you need enough healers to cover the "gaps" in healing when some healers need to pause healing, and to cover when a healer dies.

If there are fewer healers, a single healer death is more likely to lead to a wipe. For example, doing Karathress with only 5 healers might be hard, because you'd have 1 healer on each tank, and 1 healer on the raid. Losing any one healer will probably result in a wipe. But then again, tanks suffer much the same problem. In most encounters, losing your tank is a wipe.

The easiest way to explain covering the "gaps" in healing is to look at the Terestian Illhoof fight in Karazhan. Illhoof is a fairly hard fight to learn with only two healers, especially when a raid is still mostly in blues. If you only have two healers, and one gets Sacrificed, the remaining healer has to keep the main tank, aoe tank, and the Sacrificed healer (who is taking 1500 dps!) alive all by herself. And if the Sacrificed healer dies, it's pretty much a guaranteed wipe if the remaining healer gets Sacrificed. This gets easier once the raid gets better better gear and the DPS is able to blast the chains quickly, but when you're learning the fight, it is much easier to do Illhoof with three healers.

A lot of fights have similar mechanics, where you take extra healers to cover the case where multiple healers are incapacitated. For example, Tidewalker is probably healable with 5-6 healers. However, if 2 or more healers are Watery Graved, that's a wipe. You take extra healers to cover that probability. Leotheras is similar, as is Teron Gorefiend.

The best solution to this issue is to prevent healers from being affected by encounter elements such as these. For example, if Illhoof never Sacrificed healers, it would be very easy to balance Illhoof around 2 healers. If Tidewalker never Watery Graved healers, you could balance Tidewalker around 5 healers easily. These effects often exclude the tank (where the tank is usually considered to be the person highest on the threat meter). You could use a similar metric to identify the healers. The healers are the top 5 people on the healing meter. That's probably correct 99% of the time, especially once you get about 30s into the fight.

Of course, that means that healers never get to enjoy some of the fun mechanics in certain fights. For example, killing her Inner Demon on Leotheras is a lot of fun for a healer because it's very different from her standard gameplay. But once you identify who the healers are, it becomes possible to include them without completely randomly hosing the raid. For example, right now Tidewalker randomly selects four of {healer, DPS} to be Watery Graved. This means that anywhere from 0 to 4 healers could be Graved (though 3-4 healers being Graved is highly improbable). But if you identified the healers, Tidewalker could randomly select 1 healer and 3 DPS. Guaranteeing that only one healer is ever Graved at a time would make it much easier to balance around fewer healers.

To sum up, the basic balance between healers and DPS is governed by the minimum raid DPS required and the damage done by the encounter. These numbers should be able to be balanced around a lower number of healers. However, right now most encounter elements do not differentiate between healers and DPS. Because healers and DPS are targeted equally by many effects, more healers are required to cover the improbable cases where healers are disproportionately targeted. If healers and DPS were identified and targeted separately, then this factor would go away. Identifying healers should be fairly easy using the standard healing meters, and identifying DPS should be easy via the damage meters.

Identifying healers and DPS, and treating them differently, could also lead interesting encounter elements that challenge healers and DPS differently. For example, consider a fight where the DPS gets separated from the healers into different rooms, and each team is faced with a unique challenge. The healers might have to kill their mob quickly, while the DPS might have to kite and kill their mob without getting damaged. In addition to reducing the number of healers required, identifying healers could even lead to even more interesting and varied boss fights.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blizzard on Healers in Raids

Josh sent me a link to the following statement by Ghostcrawler (Blizzard dev) on the beta forums:

Ideally around 2 of each class should be in a raid. It can't be 2.5 because most raids require 7-8 healers and not 5. Changing this would be pretty difficult as it would mean adding stiffer enrage timers and other penalties for bringing too many healers. Shamans, paladins and druids (and maybe priests) are probably going to be closer to 3 per raid because their specs are so different and one of them can heal. The question remains of who goes home if the DK comes in? Though a just as valid question is who goes home if the moonkin comes.

First off, Ghostcrawler is probably right in that it is harder to create interesting encounters with fewer healers.

However, my problem is that it doesn't look like that many people want to heal. In my experience, healers are almost always the bottleneck in recruiting, and they burn out the fastest. Then the top tier guilds recruit healers from the lower tier guilds, and that means the lower tier guilds have even harder time picking up new healers.

At 8 healers, that means that each class uses 2 of their 3 spots on healers. 2 of 3 paladins are Holy, 2 of 3 shamans are Resto, etc. There's only one spot left for a non-healing spec. Want to be a Prot Paladin? Better hope there isn't a Ret paladin in the raid.

The basic fact is that the number of healers Blizzard wants to balance around simply does not match the number of players willing to heal. That contributes to the instability of raiding, and makes it harder for people to actually raid.

The thing is that a lot of people won't adjust to the healer requirements. If it's a choice between healing or not raiding, a lot of people will choose not raiding and end up quitting. Healing is simply "not fun" for many people, and trying to force people to do something that is not fun "for the good of the raid" will drive them out of the game.

Lack of healers causes guilds to fall off the path of raiding. If encounters were less interesting, yes, that would be a loss. But the last three years have shown the reality of healing, and Blizzard needs to balance around reality, not an unsustainable ideal.

Friday, August 15, 2008

WotLK Beta - Healing Options

One of the complaints about the downranking change is that Holy Paladins now don't have enough heals to do their job. I think this concern is overstated, as we actually have more options in Wrath.

The mainstays:


Upgraded (you should take a second look at these):

  • Judgement of Light - JoL now scales, and actually does a fair bit of healing. Additionally, Judgements of the Pure now gives a nice haste bonus for Judging.


  • Holy Shock - Blizzard is really pushing Holy Shock. The cooldown has been dropped significantly, it's decently powerful and reasonably efficient. It's falling somewhere in between FoL and HL at the moment. In addition, if HS crits, you get an instant Holy Light with Infusion of Light.

    Some posters at EJ are proposing that Blizzard intends us to melee-heal. Essential heal with Holy Shock and then sit on the instant HL while regenerating mana with Seal of Wisdom. We would do this instead of cast-cancelling Holy Light. I'm in the odd position of arguing that this is not intended, as you can't melee-heal with Holy Shock unless you mouse-over macro the Holy Shock.

    Still it's a possible option, and even without the melee component, sitting on an instant HL instead of cast-cancelling has a lot of potential.


  • Hand of Sacrifice - Adding this one for completion's sake, the fact that Sacrifice no longer removes Blessings makes it a far more useful option.

New spells:

  • Beacon of Light - An AoE heal. Not very impressive yet, but hopefully will be tuned up.


  • Sacred Shield - As this is a level 80 spell and not available in Beta, this is the big unknown in paladin healing so far. If it scales well, and if Blizzard fixes the issues with rage/mana generation and shields, this could be powerful.

We do have a lot more options for healing in the expansion than we do now. Maybe not as many as a priest or druid, but I think we should have all the tools we need.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Downranking is Dead!

Blizzard has finally killed off downranking spells in the latest WotLK Beta build. All spells now cost a percentage of base mana. (Not total mana, base mana, which is the mana you have if naked and untalented.) So all ranks of spells cost more or less the same at all levels.

I am estatic about this change. I've been posting about downranking being a problem since 2006. Costs are the single most important part of game balance, and being able to evade costs has always led to degenerate gameplay.

To me, the best thing about WotLK is that Blizzard is finally beginning to take costs, both mana/rage/energy costs and time costs, seriously. This should lead to a stronger, more balanced, and more fun game.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Of Loot Council and Legendary Bows

By now, you've probably heard the story of how the guild Vicarious of Area 52 gave the legendary bow [Thori'dal, the Stars' Fury] to a rogue (who had been in the guild since the beginning) over two hunters (who had joined a couple months ago).

Like most respondents, I think that this was a bad decision. However, it's worth looking at why this is a bad decision.

To me, the sticking point is that the guild used Loot Council to distribute loot. I have said before that there are Two Views of Loot: Loot as Reward; and Loot as Investment.

Loot Council is almost pure Loot as Investment. The general idea is that because of the random nature of loot drops, a "fair" loot distribution system will have occasionally assign loot in a sub-optimal manner. So a trusted group of individuals directs the loot to the people who get the most use out of it. Loot Council essentially opts for a deliberately unfair distribution of loot in order to maximize the power of the raid. This is pure Investment, and is as far from Loot as Reward as it is possible to get.

The trouble with Vicarious' decision is that it was a Reward decision, not an Investment decision. And it was an entirely reasonable Reward decision. Yet their entire loot structure prioritizes Investment over Reward. If there had been another instance after Sunwell, Vicarious would have never given the bow to the rogue.

That's actually an interesting problem for Investment systems. What do you do when you no longer need to invest? Do you switch to a Reward system, or keep distributing as if you were Investing for a future instance. Of course, very few guilds have this problem, so it's mostly a non-issue.

I think it is a bad idea to build a guild around one model, and suddenly switch to the other model for one or two decisions. If you are Investment, make decisions based on Investment. If you are Reward, make decisions based on Reward.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Recruit-A-Friend Program

You've probably seen the buzz on Blizzard's new Recruit-A-Friend system. If you recruit a friend, you get:

  1. An exclusive in-game zhevra mount.
  2. A free month of play-time.

While the zhevra is interesting, these incentives are pretty standard for referring someone. The really thought-provoking part is that both accounts (veteran and new player) are linked, and there are some in-game benefits:
  1. Characters on both accounts can summon each other once per hour.
  2. While adventuring with your linked friend/family member, you will each gain triple experience.
  3. For every two levels the new player earns, the new player can grant one free level-up to a lower-level character played by the veteran player

Some posters I've seen have spun this as Blizzard catering to multi-boxers, or rushing new people through old content so they can hit the level cap. While this may be true on some level, I think Blizzard is aiming for something different. I think this is their effort to solve the Paradox of Levels, as immortalized in this comic from Penny Arcade.

This is especially problematic in this situation as the veteran player is very likely to have a main high-level character. Basically, Blizzard is trying to encourage the new player and veteran to team up as much as possible and level up together. The veteran is unlikely to jump ahead, as she will probably revert to playing her main character when the new player is not online. And if the new player jumps ahead, she can boost the veteran's low level character up with the free levels.

Playing together with a friend is probably the strongest incentive that will cause a new player to stick with the game. This system encourages the veteran and new player to play together until close to the endgame, at which point the new player has caught up to the veteran's main character, and levels have ceased to matter.

I wonder if this is a potential forerunner of more formal "levelling pacts", or mechanisms which encourage groups of friends to stick together near the same level, and keep people from being left behind.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Revamping Paladins by Upgrading Abilities

In a previous post I mentioned how much I like having 3 offensive abilities with 6-10s cooldowns, like the current WotLK Retribution and Protection trees have. I've been thinking about it, and my fondness for that structure and pacing has only increased. I think it would be really nice if the baseline paladin played like that.

We are a long way from the days of 15s Judgements, but still, levelling a paladin is much less interactive than any other class. I do like how paladins have a more moderate pace than rogues and warriors, but only using Judgements until level 40 is a bit too boring.

However, one of the problems with giving the baseline paladin new abilities is that when the paladin gets new abilities in the talent trees, she gets new buttons to press during combat. This leads past the sweet spot of 3 abilities, and into more warrior/rogue button-mashing territory.

Then the solution hit me. Instead of giving the paladin entirely new abilities in the talent trees, the new abilities should be upgrades and replace the baseline abilities in the paladin's rotation.

WoW doesn't use a lot of upgraded abilities. New abilities and spells are usually additive, meaning you often use them in addition to your current abilities, as opposed to instead of your current abilities. There are some replacement abilities, however. Devastate replaces Sunder Armor, Mangle replaces Claw. And there are a few when levelling. Cleanse replaces Purify.

So what I was thinking for the paladin class is that the baseline paladin gets three active combat abilities before level 12 or so:

1. Judgement. Has a 10s cooldown and is like the WotLK version.
2. A weak Strike (Holy Strike?) with a 6s cooldown.
3. A weak Cleave/melee-AoE style ability with a 10s cooldown.

This base paladin would play very similarly to the WotLK Retribution or Protection paladins, at least in terms of buttons pushed during combat.

Then as you go down the trees, you get new abilities that replace the second two baseline abilities. These abilities are tailored to the specific talent tree. Each ability would share their cooldown with the baseline ability, ensuring that the paladin would switch to the upgraded ability without changing the pacing of the class.

For example, in Retribution, the paladin would upgrade Holy Strike to Crusader Strike at level 40. At level 50, Divine Storm replaces the baseline Cleave. In some ways, each ability performs the same function as the previous ability, only tailored to the spec.

In Protection, Holy Shield replaces the Cleave, and Hammer of the Righteous would replace the Holy Strike.

In Holy, Holy Shock would replace the Strike. It's a 6s ranged strike, with a healing component. We'd need a new ability to replace the Cleave, but it would be something that hit multiple enemies and yet had a healing or ranged component to it.

The basic idea is that all the Strikes share a cooldown, and all the Cleaves share a cooldown. This way the pacing of paladin combat is maintained, the baseline gameplay isn't so boring, but each spec gets upgrades and a unique playstyle, and ends up in more or less the same position as current design.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ask Coriel: Defeating a Warlock

Paul writes in:

During PvP, what do I do when encountering a Warlock face to face? Fight or flee. My past experiences have taught me that they whoop my ass. How can we best them?

I'm not really that good at PvP, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Warlocks are kind of paladin kryptonite. It's pretty hard to beat a good warlock, especially if they have a felhunter out. Try to kill or fear the pet first. Remember you can use Turn Evil and Exorcism on warlock pets.

Other than that, you just have to wear them down. Heal early and often, with Flash of Light to save mana. Save your divine shield for when you are loaded down with DoTs, as it will remove all of them. If the warlock doesn't have Shadow Embrace or Unstable Affliction, Cleanse off the DoTs, otherwise just heal through the damage. Get the PvP trinket so you can break a Fear. Remember that you can Cleanse Drain Life and Drain Mana.

All in all, it's a pretty hard fight, especially if the warlock is good.

Any other tips for Paul, especially from people who PvP regularly?

WotLK Beta - Seal of Vengeance trick

In Wrath, special attacks like Crusader Strike will proc Seals. If the attack hits multiple people, the Seal will proc for each person (or have a chance to proc for those Seals which aren't a guaranteed proc).

This is pretty amusing with Seal of Vengeance and Hammer of the Righteous. HotR hits 3 targets every 6 seconds. If you are running SoV, you can actually build full SoV stacks on all three targets, refreshing them every 6 seconds.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

WotLK Beta - Soloing with Holy

Holy doesn't look like a solo-friendly spec. My Holy gear is roughly one Tier higher than my Ret or Prot gear, but Holy seemed a lot slower than the other two.

Part of it is that there is a limited number of abilities to use while soloing.

Holy (2): Judgement, Holy Shock
Protection (3): Judgement, Hammer of the Righteous, Holy Shield
Retribution (3): Judgement, Crusader Strike, Diving Storm

While the 6s cooldown on Holy Shock is a lot better than the current cooldown, combat as Holy is still pretty boring. Judge, Shock, wait 6s seconds, Shock again. I suppose I could have worked in Consecration, but it seemed like a waste.

At 75, paladins get a new ability, Shield of Righteousness (slams the target for 200% of Block Value as holy damage). I suppose that can help out Holy, though it will hit for much less as Holy has no Strength or Block Value.

In my opinion, I really like the way the paladin plays when she has 3 decent offensive abilities with 6-10s cooldowns, as with the current WotLK Retribution and Protection. It's not as frantic as a rogue or warrior. It's measured, but it's not boring. You're always planning your next move, but you're not waiting for long cooldowns.

It's sort of sad that you have to wait for level 40 (Holy, Prot) or 50 (Ret) before you get your second low-cooldown offensive ability, and level 60 (Prot,Ret) before you can get your third.

Again, though, this is just soloing. I haven't tried Holy in groups yet.