Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Because adding "Eht" would have been silly

Meet Hotahinahu.

SMASH! Er...I mean...hi.

He's that Tauren Warrior I've been talking about a lot, recently. And playing a lot recently, too. This is him, not long after having dinged 30.

He also happens to be the Guild Leader of <Snogard>.

Wait, what?! Guild Leader? But what about my awesome Feralness, Saniel.

It's cool. San's still alive and kickin'. So are Daluaan and Siaaryn.

We found out that many of us in <The Dragons> had Horde alts that we played infrequently, if at all. And there were more who wanted to see things from the Horde side but just hadn't taken the plunge yet.

A large part of the reasons why are that we're a pretty social guild. It's pretty much the foundation of our guild. We have a lot of different people with a lot of different interests. But in the end, what keeps us going is that we genuinely enjoy each other's company while playing the game. Leaving that all behind to level a toon on the Horde side felt unappealing or unfun.

Once we realized how many people felt that way, though, we decided to do something about it. A bunch of us jumped over to our alts and formed <Snogard>. See, it's "Dragons" backwards. Because it's like seeing things from the other side. Get it? Yeah. Even our guild Tabard is the mirror/negative of our Alli one. Same logo, same border, colors reversed. (Epic win also goes to our uber-mage. All her Alli toons have names that start with "Ever." So, naturally, her Horde toon's name starts with..."Never.")

When figuring out who was going to lead up the charge to get this new guild together, our illustrious GL called "not it" so fast I worry that he might have strained his AMD reaching for the PTT key. I felt pity, so I volunteered.

And that's how I became the GL of a Horde guild.

Right now the plan is to reserve <Snogard> for Horde alts of members of <The Dragons>. We're not looking to make it a separately managed/independent guild. And we're definitely not looking to have it replace <The Dragons>. Even those of us with toons in <Snogard> are still spending more time on the Alli side than not.

That said, <Snogard> is seeing a decent amount of activity now (with end-of-content boredom creeping in). There's frequently at least one person over there doing stuff and last night there were about 7 of us doing different things.

I'm pretty sure that once Cata is released it's going to be almost deserted until people are looking for something different to do again. But for now it's a nice diversion and a great place to be able to play on the other side of the war and still manage to do it with the people we call friends.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Showing my age

So last night one of my guild's more...linguistically-challenged individuals must have ingested a large quantity of sugar because he was on pure overdrive. And when I say "linguistically-challenged," I mean lolspeak would probably be a step in the right direction for this kid. A big step.

Anyway, it was grating me a little more than usual, when the topic of conversation turned to addons in Cata. So I made a comment that I heard Mavis Beacon was going to release an addon that would be a required install for people that wanted to access guild rewards.

The joke sailed right over the heads of more people than not.


(At least one person got it and called me her hero. So that made me happy.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More than a boss

We've been at this Wrath thing for a while now. Some of us have been hitting the various dungeons of NR for the better part of 92 weeks now. We've memorized the layouts and the mob packs. We've learned (and, in many cases, subsequently forgotten) all of the boss strats. The loading splashes induce an instant flood of all this information to our brains.

Sometimes, in our boredom, we do silly things like run with them 5 dps. Just because we can.

But what about some of the things we've never paid attention to? For instance, I had a sudden dawning of realization during a Nexus run earlier this week.

We had just downed Ormorok and we were passing out loot when, for some reason, his full name caught my eye. Ormorok the Tree Shaper.

Digest that for a moment. Tree Shaper.

Have you looked around the area where we fight him?

Oh, look. Trees.

All the trees through that area...all glowing white, with their crystalline leaves and decorative etchings. Ormorok made those. Probably with his bare hands. And they're probably not the only trees in Northrend (or even all of Azeroth) that's he's responsible for having made.

He's not a brute. He's an artist. And his work is amazing. But he got dragged down by Malygos's insanity and now we have to waltz in there in kill him.

Kinda made me feel sad for a moment.

What other bosses that we breeze by so casually are more than a little tragic?

Keristrasza is an easy one. If you've quested out in Coldarra, you know her story. And her speech when she enrages ("Finish it! Finish it! Kill me, or I swear by the Dragonqueen you'll never see daylight again!") as she's still fighting you... She can't help herself. She knows it.

Loken is in there, I think. Yeah, he's gone mad. But so have all the other Keepers, and we manage to free them from their insanity rather than kill them. Loken's been the head Watcher for longer than we can comprehend. And we just cut him down.

I feel like putting the Maiden of Grief on this list. Not because we know much about her or because she's a significant individual. It's just that the conflict of emotion in her dying line actually kinda says a lot. "I hope you all rot! I never...wanted...this." There's so much anger in the first part and so much sadness in the second.

Skarvald and Dalronn have obviously been...erm...together for while. They're Wrath's version of Dalliah and Soccothrates (if you remember them from The Arcatraz). There's obvious animosity, but when one dies, he still comes back and hangs on long enough for them to both be dead.


Okay, maybe I'm reaching for that one. But still.

What others should be on this list. Who else do we kill that has a little more depth than the pixels on our screen?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Do I hurt my raiders?

This past Saturday night, our guild tried RS25 for the third time. The first time we went in there, we weren't able to get past Zarithrian. The second we continually had issues in the transition between phase 2 and 3, with people dieing while trying to get back out to the physical realm, or our tank dropping before adequate healing support was ready.

This time around we were able to address both those issues. Instead we constantly wiped due to horrible placement of Combustions and Consumptions. Either people weren't moving, weren't getting dispelled at the appropriate times, or both. (On more than one occasion we had bad spots almost the size of the entire fight area.)

What's worth noting here is that this is only happening in Phase 3. So what makes phase 3 different from the other two?

I can't keep up with what's going on.

As I've stated before, I'm a very vocal raid leader. I'm basically a running copy of DBM in Vent. In Phase 1 of Halion you'll hear me saying things like "Din, get out," for Consumption or "meteor incoming." Pretty easy...not a whole lot going on there.

In phase 2 it's almost the same. "Ham, get out," "cutters soon, get ready to move," "start strafing," "cutter up, move." Being that I'm usually tanking Halion in the Twilight realm, I'm also paying attention to position of the cutter beams and trying to make sure I don't move Halion from the center of the room. So there's a little more going on, but it's still not unmanageable.

Phase 3 gets impossible for me to keep up with, though. There's meteors, combustions, consumptions, cutters, and corporeality. Plus I'm still worrying about the whole tanking thing. It's a lot to keep up on and I just can't do it. And it seems, without fail, that if I miss a callout, something goes wrong. (My frustration here is compounded by the fact that we had similar problems on Rotface and his oozes the night before.)

I feel like my raiders, both the very good and the learning, have come to depend too much on hearing my directions. So much so that they often don't pay attention for themselves. They focus on healing or DPSing or whatnot and squeezing every bit of efficiency they can out of those jobs. Which is good. But not at the exclusion of awareness.

It's worth noting that I don't have to be uber-specific (usually). When I say "meteor incoming," I don't have to say where. At that point people look at the ground beneath them and move if they have to. But the point is that they should always be keeping a part of their attention there anyway.

Now you would think the solution to this is for me to just shut up and force people to be more aware. There's wisdom in this. But there's two problems.

1) While it may be the key to greater future success, there would be a backslide in the mean time. We've had issues in the past when we backslide in content...usually in the realm of no longer being able to find enough people to field teams.

2) I can't stop myself. It's just what I do. It's like nail-biting or that annoying itch on your leg you just want to scratch. Even when you tell yourself to stop and not do it, 10 minutes later you'll suddenly realize you've been doing it for the last 3 and weren't even aware. Or maybe you were. Your mind is going "Stop. Stop! STOP!" as you're doing it, and you don't stop.

I would literally have to be logged out of Vent and have my headphones put away to not call out stuff that's happening. And then I'd still be doing it...just no one would be able to hear me. And that knowledge would make me edgy.

Seriously...if I'm not watching my timers close enough and an event happens before I can warn about it (i.e. the Lich King's Defile), I feel compelled to apologize to my raiders for my lack of attentiveness.

Yes, it's probably a sign of a bigger problem, okay? :-P

But as I said, now I've got this group of raiders that pretty much depends those vocal cues to know what's happening. And when we get to encounters like Halion Phase 3, I feel like it's costing us. I may have to bite the bullet, though. Accept a little regression in content, find a way to deal with my neurosis, and wait for us to adapt.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Changing things up a bit

Now that our guild has gotten the Lich King down, the last of my pre-Cata goals has been accomplished. I've done pretty much everything on my 3 80's that I really, really wanted to before the expansion. And while I'm pretty happy to jump back onto any of them to go run some raids (any of them) at any time...if there's no group stuff going on, I'm just not that interested.

So instead I've been spending a lot of time recently over on the Horde side. I have a Tauren Warrior--Hotahinahu--that I've slowly been leveling. He just dinged 22 last night. I'm working my way through the southern Barrens quests.

I've been leveling him Arms. While I know it's not the fastest or most efficient spec, I'm not really concerned about that. This guy is all about change of pace and trying something different. And I'm wholly enamored about the idea of spending my time swinging around a giant two-handed weapon.

One of the things I've really been having a hard time with, though, is slowing down and reading the quest text. I've been Alliance for so long that I've pretty much seen everything there is there. And most of my time spent going through the quests since the initial run were either rushing to get a character to the level cap or grinding my way though Loremaster. I've become completely programmed into the "grab the quest, check the objectives, get it done" mentality.

But one of my biggest reasons for rolling a Horde is that I want to know the story. I want to finally see Azeroth through their eyes. And one of the best ways to do this is through the quest text.

I remember sometimes. But a lot of times I'll be running along and I'll suddenly realize that I've just blitzed through half a dozen quests and I have no idea why I just did the things I did. I missed out on the lore. And with Cata right around the corner, it's probably lore that I'm never going to get the opportunity to see again (since I'm probably not going to start a second Horde character prior to that).

When you've been playing a game one way for so long, it's really hard to change your mentality on the fly. And it's not like questing through the Barrens is something completely new and unique to me. I've been there. I've seen it all. I've killed 10 hyenas and collected x-finity razormane snouts and all that fun stuff. I've just never done it for the Horde.

I'm half tempted to turn on the scrolling quest text option for a while, just to force myself to slow down and take some time to really soak up all this stuff while I still can. It's what makes WoW fun for me, especially when I'm separated from most of the people I usually play with.

I also want to give a quick shout-out to one of my friends, Unshackled Fenrir, who got a piece of art posted to the Blizzard Fan Art site this week. WTG, man. :-)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Noob moment

So you know that 100 mount achievement? That one I finally got late last month when I was gifted the Chopper? The one that I spent months and months slogging through dungeons and old raids and fishing spots hoping for an elusive rare drop to complete the set? All because I refused to open up my gold bag and just buy one of the three really expensive mounts I didn't own yet?

Turns out I could have had it all the way back on April 10.

See, it was recently brought to my attention that you are actually capable of owning all 6 Netherwing Drakes. I wasn't aware of this. I thought you were only able to pick one. I thought you were able to switch which one you had for a (relatively) small sum of Gold, but it was still a 1-for-1 swap.

I don't know if I was always wrong about this, or if it changed at some point. But there's a vendor out on Netherwing Ledge that sells all 6. So last night I logged in, flew out there, and picked up the 5 that I didn't already have.

While this in no way diminishes what my guild members did for me (and it will always be one of those special moments) I feel like kind of a fool now.

Protip: Always do your research.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monthly Moderation

As the loading screen tip tells us: "Take everything in moderation (even World of Warcraft!)"

I'm going to take a moment for today's Monthly Moderation to talk about music. Or at least one specific (super)genre of music. Electronic music.

I'm going to preface this saying that I treat music like I treat everything else in my life that captures my interest. Just like I totally get wrapped up in the intricacies and lore of WoW, I'm very conscious of the intricacies of electronic music.

There's a lot of things I see scrolling through my chat window that frustrate me, leave me bewildered, or make me want to weep. But there are few things that make my skin crawl quite like someone saying "I like techno." It's a statement that only comes from the keyboards of the uninformed. And it's always, always followed with examples that represent the very worst of UK Hard House and (Epic) Eurotrance. (Don't get me wrong, there is some good stuff in each of those. But it's far, far outweighed by the bad. Kind of like Hunters.)

Seriously, though. It takes everything I have not to become a total elitist d-bag in gchat at that point. So instead, I'm going to do it on my blog.

Enter Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music. I love this thing. It did the same thing for me with electronic music that Wowwiki did for me with lore. Hours and hours of dissecting and understanding and following progressions. And learning why "I like techno" is akin to "I like eating."

I was once a noob, too. I made ignorant statements about music I love. Then I learned.

Go now. Learn.

And please, please take the tone of this post with a grain of salt (just in case I haven't included enough safety winks).

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Dragons Guild Scavenger Hunt

Being that it's the end of the content cycle, the officers of my guild are trying out a lot of different things to keep people interested and active in the game. Earlier this week we ran a scavenger hunt that was put together by our uber-Huntress.

All the participants were randomly divided up into teams by way of gift-wrapped shirts of different colors. Unfortunately we only had 5 participants, so it meant a team of 2 and a team of 3. They were then given a riddle to solve to find their first "quest giver." (We sent them along slightly different paths so that they wouldn't run over each other.)

Upon finding the quest giver, they had to complete the quest (involved finding various items) and then they would get the next riddle/clue. All in all there were 7 quest givers, the last being our GL.

Prior to the start of the hunt, a bunch of officers hopped onto (or started) alts. Any alts in the guild dropped out so that their locations wouldn't appear on the guild roster. We made our way (or were summoned) to our positions, and then we waited.

(The best was the level 6 gnome hanging out on top of the Sunken Temple. She got a lot of stares and comments.)

I ended up on my Dwarf Hunter. The clue that led to me was this:
Find me in a rainy and solemn woodland,
watching the falling of hourglass sand.
Standing in the cold wind has made me stiff,
comes from standing on one of the 2 tallest cliffs.
In Kalimdor, find me on the top of one of the twins
where I'm serving my days and repenting my sins.

Hanging out on top of the Twin Colossals, contemplating my sins.

The quest items I needed people to go collect were a Hippogryph Egg and Bean Soup.

Being the nerd and storyteller that I am, I kinda went all out with the quest. I put it into a bunch of macros so that I could just go through them one at a time to tell the story.
Oh, sorry. Ye startled me. Just...go away. Leave me alone.
Alright. Since yer here I might as well tell me story.
There's a place south o' the High Wilderness where Hippogryphs gather. Beautiful creatures, them. I was told they couldn't be tamed, but after years of tryin', I managed. Had to raise her from a hatchling to do it, mind ye. But I did it. Rawn, I named her.
Then I went and got captured by ogres. They took all me gear and almost killed me. Rawn showed up and saved me. Held them off while I ran. But she died doin' so. And now I'm up here 'cause I don't know what else to do.
/e stands up.
Wait. I know. I could start over. Do it again. Could you help me? Back where I found the egg the first time, south o' the High Wilderness. I bet there's more. See if you can find one. A new [Hippogryph Egg].
I'd do it meself, but...I'm ill equipped at the moment...
Also, this is kinda embarassing...but I haven't eaten in a while. There's a Night Elf lass on th' island to th' west. She makes the best [Bean Soup] I've ever had. Do ye think ye could bring me some?
With that, they were off to get the stuff.

I have a whole new appreciation for the people that write the quest text for WoW, incidentally. It's really, really hard to tell a good story 255 characters (max length of a macro) at a time. And also keep it all short enough that it doesn't go beyond the attention span window of the average WoW player.

At least I had the benefit of being able to do it all in macros that I could just click though. They usually have to do it whole quest at a time.

Anyway, when they got back they'd have to trade me the Bean Soup and show me in the trade window that they found an Egg. (Since those are soulbound, they couldn't actually give it to me).

When they did this, I had a few more macros set up to end the quest and then send them on their way.
Oh, ye found it all. Excellent! Thank ye!
Hmm. It looks like whatever in that egg has already bonded to ye. Maybe ye should keep it for yerself. I think I'll be okay now. Before ye go, though, I have this story I memorized, but I can't make sense of it. Maybe ye can.
/e clears his throat.
I met a man, his name was Mister Biggs. I asked him where I could find a warm place to dry and rest. He sent me to this direction, a "dry" place he said.
On my way there I almost drowned in the deep waters. But I made it, I have found a small place to rest at this Temple. The only thing missing is the warmth, and it takes forever to dry my clothes too!
Then I'd build a campfire, sit down, start eating the soup they brought me and say "mmm...soup..."

Group 1 heading away after having finished the quest.

Group 2 arrives just a few minutes later.

One of them had to reincarnate after not surviving the trip back down.

Acting gig is done. Geared back up and ready to go.

After I was done handing out my quests, I hopped over onto San and waited with Dinaer and Cheres at the finish.

Upon completion, Cheres gave each participant a Frostweave Bag and I gave them an uncut epic gem of their choice. (All 5 picked red, completely depleting my stock of those.)

Din gave each member of the winning team a Primordial Saronite.

Dinaer (Violet Proto), Cheres (Black Drake), and Saniel (Nether Drake) awarding the winning team their prizes.


It was a really good time and everyone involved--both quest givers and hunters--had a lot of fun. Several people chipped in to collect all the prizes to give out, as well as to make the shirts to divide up the teams. Cheres, especially, put in a ton of work figuring out where all the quest givers would be, the quest items they needed to ask for, and the clues that would lead to them.

This is definitely something we're going to try again in the future.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Feral Trees, Take 2

It's been a while since the initial release of the redesigned 31 point talent trees and quite a lot of work has gone into them. While they're still very likely to shift and change, I think it's worth taking another look at how they're coming together.

TL;DR version before we dive into the text wall. I'm actually pretty excited about where Cat builds are right now. I feel like I can pick up all the "essential" talents and still have a lot of room to play around based on the needs of my raid and my personal preferences. Bear, on the other hand, still needs a lot of work, I think.

Also, I'm not in the Beta (yet). I haven't been able to play around with any of this personally. Everything in this post is pure mental masturbation. You've been warned.

Alright, here we go. Cat build first.

Cat Build (Beta Build 12694)
Essentials - 25 points
These are the talents that I would say are pretty core. They're the ones that I don't intend to pass over for any reason. Most of them are direct contributions to our DPS, or indirect contributions in the forms of reduced energy usage and increased combo point gain.
Heart of the Wild - 3/3
Fury Swipes - 3/3
Primal Fury - 2/2
Feral Charge - 1/1
King of the Jungle - 3/3
Leader of the Pack - 1/1
Primal Madness - 2/2
Endless Carnage - 2/2
Rend and Tear - 3/3
Nom Nom Nom - 2/2
Berserk - 1/1
Blessing of the Grove (Resto) - 2/2
Optional Groups - 8 points
There's 8 points that you have to fit into the following optional groups. Most of the talents below are meant to provide raid utility, increase personal survivability, or just make the class a little more fun to play. The way I have the list of groups arranged is that each represents a point where you must put a certain amount of points in "optional" talents in order to progress down to the next tier of the tree. Those points can be spent in the group they're assigned to, or any group higher up the list than that one.

For instance, in group A you have 2 points to spend. Since there's no groups above that one, you have to spend those 2 points in some combination of PS and FS.

When you get down to group B you have an additional optional point you have to spend. It can be spent in IW, FA, IFC or either of the talents in Group A.

Group C's points can be spent anywhere in C, B, or A. And so on. Hopefully that makes sense.
Optional Group A - 2
  Predatory Strikes (2)
  Feral Swiftness (2)

Optional Group B - 1
  Infected Wounds (2)
  Feral Aggression (2)
  Improved Feral Charge (2)

Optional Group C - 4
  Brutal Impact (2)
  Nurturing Instinct (2)

Optional Group D - 1
  Survival Instincts (1)
Free points: 8
At this point, you have 8 total points left over to spend wherever you want. In these new trees, those 8 points can cover a lot of ground.

There's two more optional talents at this point, both in the Resto tree.
Optional Group R(esto)
  Furor (3)
  Master Shapeshifter (4, 1 + 3 from Natural Shapeshifter prereq)
Where your overall 16 optional points go is going to be completely up to your usual raid comp and your playstyle. For instance, a lot of classes bring the melee speed debuff that we provide with Infected Wounds. If someone else you regularly run with has that, you don't need it. Likewise, if your raid already has a lot of interrupts, lowering the cooldown of your Skull Bash via Brutal Impact may not be the best use of points.

The run speed increase from Feral Swiftness is very nice (and you really miss it when you're used to it and suddenly don't have it anymore), but I wouldn't call it crucial in any regards.

Survivability and healer mana conservation is shaping up to be a big deal in Cata raiding. While Nuturing Instinct isn't all that great now, it may be very nice to have in the expansion.

It's also worth noting that there's 3 talents that have extremely limited, if any, value to Cats. They're intended to be Bear-only talents. I would pass up these 3 completely:
Thick Hide
Natural Reaction
So from all this, I think Blizzard's goal of streamlining the trees and still managing to give us a lot of choice has been pretty much accomplished. Almost 40% of our talent points can be spent at our discretion. That makes me very happy.

Bear Build (Beta Build 12694)
I could run through and do the same kind of breakdown with a Bear Build as I did with Cat, but I'm not going to. It's not worth it yet. Here's why.

Predatory Strikes, Nuturing Instinct, and Nom Nom Nom do not provide any tangible benefit to raiding Bears. They are Cat talents. That's 6 points off the tree.

Then there's King of the Jungle and Primal Madness. They do provide benefit, but only when we use Enrage in combat. And as long as Enrage carries an armor reduction penalty with it (which it still does in current Beta builds) I don't plan on ever using it enough while in combat to make spending any talent points in these two abilities worth it. So that's another 5 points gone.

Now there's 33 points left in the Feral tree worth taking for Bears, and we have to spend a minimum of 31. In my theoretical build, I picked Improved Feral Charge as the one Feral talent to not get Bear points. There's some wiggle room and options there based on preference...but it's not worth going into great detail over.

And even after that, you still have 10 talent points left to spend. Let's see.

Perseverance over in the Resto tree would be nice. 3/3 there gives us 6% incoming spell damage reduction. But how to get there? Blessing of the Grove doesn't really do anything for Bears. Likewise, a raiding bear isn't going to be shifting enough to make Natural Shapeshifter worth it. Furor is okay, I guess. It has actual use, even if the benefit is marginal. Okay, so that's 3 points. Still need 2 more to get down to the next tier.

Natural Shapeshifter at least lets us get down to Master Shapeshifter, which has some benefit. Again, it's negligible, especially for the 4 total points it costs. But Blessing of the Grove literally does nothing for Bears, so it might be the best option. So 3 in NS, 3 in Pers, and 1 in MS. Done.

I don't feel I'm being given any real choices here. One total talent to shift around. It's not interesting and it's not fun. Still a lot of work needed.

Taking the armor reduction penalty out of Enrage would go a long way towards that goal. That would free up 5 more points in the Feral tree for serious consideration, opening things up a lot.

Adding some tangible benefit for Bears to Blessing of the Grove and dropping the cost of Natural Shapeshifter to 2 points might be enough to take care of the rest.

There's still a lot of Beta time left, and I'm sure Blizz is going to make plenty more changes to these trees at it progresses. The Beta level cap is still at 83 (I think), so none of the end-game style testing has even really started yet.

In another couple months, I'll revisit this again and see how things are shaping up. Hopefully by then I'm in the Beta as well and can give opinions based on more than sheer speculation. :-)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SC2 Replay Match feature in WoW?

One of the first posts I made on this blog consisted of some musings on the nature of the relationship between the information that's being sent to our game clients by Blizzard and what we see on our screen.

At the end of that post, I also made this statement:
On a similar note, I would really like a recording tool that just took all that incoming information and stored it in a data file that could be loaded and played back in a mock-client with standard camera and playback controls. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to record a raid in that way and then be able to play it back with a free-roaming camera? Rewinds, pauses, fastforwards. No more Fraps limitations. No more being constrained to the viewpoints of whoever happens to be recording. No more trying to balance getting compelling shots of the action and being able to actually...you know...do your job in the raid. This would be an amazing tool for raid leaders and machinimaists alike. I realize this would take some development resources for a feature that a relatively small portion of the playing population would actually use. But that didn't stop them with the gear manager...
Honestly, I was willing to leave it at that. A "nice-to-have" that sat at the back of my mind.

Then I found something out last week that I didn't know before: Starcraft II has this.

I don't own SC2, so I haven't been able to play with it myself. And good YouTube videos of how the feature works have been difficult to find. But I did find this one.

If you watch the vid it looks like there's some basic functionality there...pause the replay, speed it up, or slow it down. You're able to move the camera to any point on the battlefield and see what's going on with both players. Clicking on any unit or building will let you see details about it, including what instructions it's being given.

It also looks like there's some additional functionality that may exist but just isn't used in that video.

There's still some thing I haven't been able to figure out. I don't know if replays are saved locally and then uploaded somewhere, or if they're stored on the Battle.net server that's hosting the game. I've seen replays available for download from different websites for viewing, so it looks like you can save and access them locally, but they may have to be downloaded from Battle.net first. I don't know?

I don't know if all games are automatically saved for replay or if that's an option that can be turned on or off (either before the match, or at the end). It definitely appears that you have to have the game client loaded up to watch the replays, though.

So there's a lot going on there.

Now granted, SC2 has one thing going for it that WoW doesn't...definitive start and end points. Each battle is a self-contained event. And there's a finite, known number of players involved in each battle. WoW, obviously, does not break down so easily.

What's apparent here, though, is that the framework is in place. It would have to be adapted for WoW, but it could be done.

The big questions would be around how and when to record. Obviously with thousands of active players across entire continents, you wouldn't want to record constantly. There's just no reason to do that.

So what if it was restricted to Dungeons and/or Raids? Well, you probably still wouldn't want to record and save every single one. But it could be an option open to the player.

But that would leave a lot of practical uses out of the tool. If I were a machinima creator, I might want to record my character running through a bustling capital city for some reason. I should have that option. But Blizz would obviously not want to be in charge of storing that kind of data for everyone in Dalaran at any given time.

It's interesting, though, in the possibilities. I wish I had a better grasp on how it currently worked for SC2. It might give me something more to work with while brainstorming a similar feature in WoW.

Still, the simple fact remains that this little "wouldn't it be nice" idea that was floating in my head a few months ago is now a raging "please, Blizz, give us this!"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tanking Discussions Part 4 - Fear and Criticism

There's one last thing I want to talk about regarding tanks, and it's largely geared at those individuals who, in this downtime, may be leveling new characters in order to try tanking or trying a new spec on an existing character or whatever.

There's two particular comments that I tend to hear over and over from budding tanks:
  1. I'm nervous because I'm in a group with X, who plays a really good tank.
  2. I had a disastrous run and now I'm afraid to tank again.
The root of these two statements is the same: you're trying to measure up to some standard that you're unlikely to attain so quickly. A DPS toon decked out in quest greens and blues isn't going to step into ICC and blow up the DPS meters. And anyone with a shred of common sense isn't going to expect them to.

Assuming you're trying out tanking as an alt toon/spec, did you instantly understand your DPS rotations? Did you always know where to stand and how to move to get the most out of your gear?

If you're a healer, did you instantly understand how to deal with emergency situations? Has no one ever died on your watch?

I'm guessing the answer is no to all of these.

The first time I ran PoS on Siaaryn, I had another priest from my guild in the run that used to consistently push the top of the damage meters when he raided Shadow with us. It was intimidating. Here's someone who really knows Shadow and he's going to be judging me.

Except, you know, not. Because he's cool like that. But I understand the sentiment.

I constantly get called out for doing low damage in heroics, even though half my gear is still iLvl 200. I've been vote-kicked a couple times.

When I heal on Dal, I've been called out as a bad healer when people die. It's frustrating. Especially when said people were standing in the fire or pulling aggro. I rarely let the tank drop. And when that happens, it's usually because of a stun or fear or something that prevented me from healing.

I was running Enhancement in a ToC pug once and got called out after Faction Champs for having sucked. Then I linked the Interrupt and Purge meters. You know...the ones where I had more than 5 times of each as the rest of the raid combined. I was then told that those don't matter and I was stupid for wasting GCDs on them.

Hell, I still get called a bad tank on San sometimes. I don't know what kind of criteria people are using to make that assessment...

The point is, there's always asshats out there who are going to call you a bad player no matter what role you fill, how geared you are, or how well you play. It's worse when you're uncertain of your own abilities and are looking for encouragement and positive reinforcement. But you can't let them get to you. You have to let the comments roll off your back.

Take a break if you need to. Go farm for an hour, or run a heroic on a character you know you're a badass on to calm yourself down. Then get right back to it and try again.

Tanking and healing can be especially tough, because people who can be considered really good at both of those are the ones that can pull a sure wipe back together into something manageable. They can get their groups out of an emergency situation.

But you can't learn to do that until you get into those emergency situations. And until you learn, those emergency situations are going to turn into wipes. It's how it goes. That doesn't make you bad, per se. Just inexperienced.

Just keep at it. Ask for advice from the good players. Thank people for positive feedback. Take legitimate, supportive criticisms to heart and improve on them. Let the impatient and mean-spirited ones go.

You may not be an uber-tank yet. But you'll get there.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Guild Firsts

We had a couple guild firsts in the last week.

On Wednesday night we got a group of about 21 together and ransacked the Black Temple. We ran it a few times as a guild back before Wrath when the 3.0 Raid "nerf" hit, and were able to get as far as Mother Shahraz.

Looking to fight some boredom, get some achievements, and just see something most of us had never seen before, we headed back to finish business.

Chillin' with Illi D

The slightly larger and more impressive feat was finally downing the Lich King in 10-man.

Our group on Thursday made really good progress. We finally got past our 60% roadblock and were making good headway. Close to the end of the night we had a 12% wipe (which is essentially a 2% wipe). We gave it a few more tries, staying later than usual to get them in, but weren't quite able to pull it together.

The same team got back together last night. 1st attempt: 60%. 2nd attempt: 30%. 3rd attempt:

King Slayers!

It was a great attempt. It's funny how something that's so difficult for so long can just click. The kill attempt was absolutely flawless. Made it feel easy (at least from my perspective).

So of course, I was all jazzed to finally see the cinematic that I'd been holding out for all this time. Yes, I essentially knew what was going to happen, but still...now I would finally get to see it. (I know I could have used the statue in Dalaran, but I wanted to earn the right to see it before I did.)

And what happens? WoW goes to load the cinematic and...fatal error + crash. Are you serious? All this time I've been waiting to see it at the end of the climactic battle and then my WoW crashes?!

I jumped back in, waited for everyone else to finish watching, passed out loot, and then went to Dalaran to watch it from there. It just...didn't feel the same at that point.

Still, felt good to finally get that done. I think I'm going to take a week off of ICC before we start mixing things up and taking non-progression people in. Hopefully we can gear up a couple more tanks. We've been hurting lately in general, and I'm itching at a chance to go cat for a while.

The team

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Bear's Guide to RS: Halion (Twilight Realm)

So I didn't work up the motivation this weekend to finish my Tanking Discussions series. But fear not. The whole weekend wasn't an entire wash.

We failed to get our scheduled 25-man run off the ground Saturday night (only 15 logged in) so I got together a mix of our progression and non-progression raiders and headed into Ruby Sanctum.

Earlier this week I put together a new computer. Among the various things I can do now that I couldn't before is capture quality video (Fraps) while not completely destroying my frame rate. I decided to use the Halion fight as a test to see how it works.

Here are the results:

I'm thinking of doing more things like this in the future. Let me know what you all think.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tanking Discussions Part 3 - Mindset

I've spent a couple posts now talking about some specific skill areas to focus on as a new tank. (And had I planned this whole series out better, I probably would have broken that last one into two.)

Today I'm going to talk a little bit about the tanking mindset.

At its core, Tanking is not a hard job. Roughly 80% of the time, you just need to stand in one place and do your thing. Occasionally you might have to do something extra like taunt swap, kite, pick up some adds, break LoS...but mostly it's just tank.

Here's the thing about tanking, though, and the mentality you need to get into. Despite what it may seem like, tanking is not a PvE activity. When you are tanking, you are not competing against NPC mobs. You are competing against your fellow group members. It's an indirect PvP battle. Like my two attention-starved dogs (not!) who constantly compete for my affection--especially when only one of them is getting it)--you are making sure that anything attacking anybody hates you so much that it wants to attack you more than anyone else.

If you're going to tank well, you need to approach it with that mindset.

It's a hard adjustment to make, regardless of whether you're making it from a former DPS (which includes leveling) or Healer perspective. But keep that thought in the back of you mind the whole time.

The other mental hurdle you have to be prepared for is boredom.

What? Tanking is boring, you ask?

It's not. At least, it's not for me. I find tanking to be extremely fun and challenging. But there are times when it's easy to get lulled into a feeling of complacency on long fights, especially when you have a huge threat lead. You kinda go into a glassy-eyed auto-pilot wherein you're more focused on that delicious burrito you plan on having for breakfast tomorrow than you are on the actual fight.

But then something goes horribly wrong. You take an unlucky string of 3 consecutive hits while your healers are incapacitated or otherwise occupied. You don't blow any cooldowns and then you die because there just wasn't enough time to save you. Or that patch of burning ground under your feet that looks like it might have come from your mage is actually an enemy's Flamestrike. And now you're burning up. Or the Lich King dropped a Defile on you. And now you've wiped your raid.

The point is, you have to stay focused. Just because 80% of your time is spent standing in one place going through the same familiar rotations, doesn't mean that things aren't going to happen that require your immediate reactions. Stay sharp and prepared. Watch your health. Know when your healers are going to be putting a lot of effort into keeping someone alive that isn't you. Be ready with cooldowns.

Knowing the encounters is a huge part of this. If you know the kind of damage everyone else in the raid will be taking, you can plan to help your healers at those times. If you know certain events are going to cause you to have to react, you can be prepared to deal with them.

The rest is simple attentiveness.

That pretty much covers it for the things you need to do while you're actually tanking. On Monday (or over the weekend if I'm feeling particularly motivated) I'm going to wrap all this up by giving a few pointers on the actual learning curve and some of the things you can do to make it a little easier on yourself.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tanking Discussions Part 2 - Directing

Yesterday I talked about learning to react quickly in situations where you lose aggro. Today I'm going discuss some of the ways you can try to help yourself maintain aggro so that you don't lose it (as often).

Most of the time you're in a raid (unless you frequent PuGs) you're going to have a raid leader guiding you through the instance. They're going to give directions on what groups to pull, where to pull them, and kill orders for those groups. In a lot of cases (like mine) the Raid Lead is also the main Tank, and so this happens automatically and without a lot of overt instruction.

Raid Leads will often do extensive research into the various mobs you'll encounter in that raid. They'll read up on abilities and come prepared with kill orders and other such things. Barring this, they're hopefully good enough at adapting so that when they see the Ymirjar Battle-Maidens causing the tanks to bleed out faster than a BP oil well, they can adjust the kill order on the fly and make sure focus fire is used to down them quickly.

Dungeons usually don't have this kind of leadership going for them, though. And that's where you're likely to be learning to tank.

It's tough right now, because people have been used to over-gearing heroics for a long time. They're rampant AoE-fests with a few tank-and-spank bosses along the way. A lot of players have forgotten (if they ever even knew) some of the important details of dungeons.

For instance, did you that there are 3 Anub'ar Skirmishers in Azhol-Nerub? One in the pull before the Krik'thir gauntlet and 2 more in the left and center mob packs during the gauntlet? A few seconds after being pulled, the Skirmisher will Fixate on a random party member. During this time they cannot be CC'd or Taunted. It's an Enrage effect, so a Hunter or Rogue can get rid of it...but it's best to just burn that mob down first and quickly.

A lot of people don't know this. On more than one occasion I've been accused of being a bad tank who is incapable of holding aggro after a party member has died to one of these.

Moving on to Ahn'Kahet, do you know about the Ahn'kahar Spell Flingers? There's one in pretty much every trash pack in the first part of the dungeon...right up until you go down the long staircase past Elder Nadox and out of the Nerubian area. They're casters, so they won't pull to a tank unless their silenced or LoS'd. They have a rather nasty ability called Shadow Blast. It's very capable of one-shotting anyone not at full health. And if a tank (especially one that's still gearing up) eats one of these while it's getting beat on by several other mobs, a healer is going to be very hard-pressed to keep them up, if it's possible at all. They should be killed first in every pack, and kept interrupted until they're dead.

A lot of people don't know this. On more than one occasion I've been accused of being a bad tank after one of these has cause a wipe because I was obviously crit and I shouldn't be tanking heroics if I'm not defense capped. This statement, of course, has no less than 3 things wrong with it.

And while we're speaking of Ahn'Kahet, there's the the Twilight Worshippers down in the depths of the dungeon that cast Flamestrike. The damage on this spell is pretty lethal even to a well-geared group if people don't move out of it. And yet I've watched many tanks stand right in one with all the melee as the healer frantically tries (and fails) to keep them all alive. Or healers stand in it and not understand why they died when nothing was attacking them.

I could go on and on. List examples from every instance currently in the game. But you get the idea.

If you're a tank, especially a beginner tank, it's important that you know these things. Or that you find them out. For multiple reasons. Let's say people in your group aren't aware that the Skirmishers in AN need to be killed first. As a dungeon tank, a certain amount of de facto leadership falls on your shoulders. You can (often) help guide your DPS to do the things you want them to do. (More on this shortly.)

On the flip side, let's assume most of your group does know the Skirmishers have to die first and you don't. Your DPS is going to open on them while you get busy building main threat on one of the Watchers. Your DPS is going to pull aggro (pre-Fixate), and they're going to blame you when they die.

No pressure, right? Right.

So you need to do what you can to make sure everyone's on the same page. In the second scenario, this is easy. Educate yourself. Bam. Done.

(For what it's worth, I didn't research the NR dungeons before I started running them with my guild. We went in blind and figured things as we went. But it worked because it was early in the content cycle, everyone was learning, and we wanted to do it that way. It meant that we all had to pay attention to what was killing us. It was a lot more fun than looking things up on Wowhead ahead of time.)

The first scenario, though, is a little different. And this is one of those areas that can make good tanks stand out above the rest. A good tank well communicate with the rest of the group in several ways, essentially "directing" them into the actions he wants them to take.

The first way to do this is by attacking the targets you want your DPS to attack. Most DPS will attack the tank's target when they're not just AoEing everything. So if something in a group needs to die first, target it with your pull and spend at least the first 5 or so seconds of the fight attacking it. And if you don't get a good threat lead, stay on it to stay ahead. As soon as it dies, switch targets. Your DPS will likely be itching to pick up your next target so they can keep their numbers high on the meters.

The next is to use marks to denote high-priority targets. Most DPS will respect your marks and focus those targets down. There's several addons you can use for marking, as well as the default UI and keybinds that you can setup in your options. Don't go crazy and mark kill orders for every mob in every pack. It's unnecessary, especially this late in the content cycle. But if you know something has to die first, put a skull on it before you pull. If there's a second high-priority target, mark it with an X. More than that is overkill.

Third--and I know this one can be tough, especially in randoms--talk to your group. Actually use the chat window. Seriously.

You don't have to go into in depth conversations. You're not debating Chaucer or Ardol. Quick things like, "Focus Skull," or "Keep the Spell Flinger interrupted," are sufficient. Before you engage a boss say, "Pulling," and then wait two seconds to make sure your healer doesn't ask you to wait.

If you're still trying to get your feet wet as a tank, say so at the beginning of the instance. There's a right way to do this, by the way. Don't be apologetic, but don't over assert yourself, either. You want to communicate that your group shouldn't be expecting the same thing out of you as an experienced, ICC geared tank, but you don't want to come of as timid or uncertain.
  1. "I'm new to tanking and my gear is bad, so please don't get mad if I suck, okay?" = Too timid. You're begging any jerks in the group to jump on you and instantly blame you for anything that goes wrong.
  2. "DPS don't AoE. Attack my target only. And ffs wait 5 seconds for me to get good threat before opening up." = Too commanding. You're coming off as a jerk here and no one is going to respect your orders this way.
  3. "Just a head's up, I'm still gearing this toon and learning to tank. I'll do my best, but try to watch your threat." = Good. Most anyone that's not a total asshat will respect this.
Of course, none of this is guaranteed to work. DPS will still AoE everything. They'll single-target attack any target they want. Whatever. You can guide. You can direct. But you can't control. Don't get discouraged if your group doesn't pick up on or willfully chooses to ignore your little hints. Just do the best you can, use it as an opportunity to practice your skills from yesterday's discussion, and hope for a more cooperative group next time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tanking Discussions Part 1 - Aggro

Today's Breakfast Topic over on WoW.com talks about the anxiety a new tank might feel. It's a topic I've been meaning to talk about for a while and this seems like a good time to do it.

There's two facets to this discussion. One is what it does and doesn't mean to be a good tank. The other is how to handle inevitable criticisms of your tanking skills.

If I don't break my thoughts on this down to a few posts it's going to end up as a huge text wall that I don't get posted until Thursday. So I'm going to try and keep up with this for the rest of the week and get through it all.

To start off with today's point, what is tanking? When you think of a tank's duties (especially if you are not a tank) what do you think of?

The first thing you probably said is "hold aggro." And, technically, you'd be right. Holding aggro is what a tank does. But here's the thing...on the list of thing that make a good tank, holding aggro is actually one of the lowest things on the list.


First and foremost it's because tanks now have so many tools to out-threat equally geared DPS (not even including Misdirects or ToTs) that any half-experienced tank running with competent DPS can hold aggro. It really is the easiest part of our job.

That touches directly into another reason it's so low on the list: because one of the highest items on the list of what makes a good DPSer is not pulling aggro. As a tank, 90% of the time you lose aggro, it's not your fault. It is your problem, but it's not your fault.

And that leads to the first marks of distinction of a good tank: regaining control. I don't care if you're a first time tank or a Heroic ICC vet. You're going to lose control of mobs at some point. It's the nature of the game. If I could Swipe a group of mobs once and be guaranteed control for the entire fight, it'd be boring as hell.

I know I just got done saying that holding aggro is the easiest part of our job, and that's still true. But (to borrow an analogy from table-top gaming) you're still going to roll a 1 sometimes. You won't always have competent/attentive DPS to help you do your job right. You have to compensate. You need to set yourself up to be able to quickly recognize when baddies are about to or already have gotten away from you. There are many ways for you to do this.

BBB advocates TidyPlates with the ThreatPlates addition. This gives an insane amount of detail on your threat on every mob, and can be configured to change colors at key percentages. The sole reason I don't use this addon is because I don't like all the plates cluttering my screen. But I'm kinda neurotic about screen layout and symmetry. If you don't have this problem, Threat Plates can work very well for you.

I personally use my unit frames addon, ShadowedUF, to track aggro. It doesn't show me when I'm losing threat, but I have it configured to color the health bars of anyone who has aggro red. I can see at a moment's notice when one of the DPS pulls aggro. Then it's a matter of finding the mob and getting it back. Displaying Target-of-Target information is invaluable for this.

There's always Omen. It's generally only good for the mob you currently have targeted, but most of the time that's enough. If you have enough lead on your main target tab through the rest and see if there's any where you need a boost.

And if you despise addons the default UI still helps some, by flashing when you're losing threat on a mob and when it changes targets. Harder to be accurate, but it still exists.

Regardless of what method you choose, make sure it works for you. Then practice being able to quickly recognize the signs of losing or lost mobs. If you're losing threat, target that mob and attack it directly to try and maintain control. If you've lost it, taunt it back before it kills someone.

Of course, there's only one way to practice this. And until you're good at it, it's going to result in chaos and death. Don't get discouraged! You didn't get good at healing or face-roll your way to the top of the DPS charts right from the start and you're not going to get this right the first time, either.

Even after you're good at it, you're not going to be able to manage every situation every time. So don't expect to. Sometimes someone else in the group is going to die. When it happens, still try to get loose mobs back, get through the fight, and then res. It's why that button exists.

It's worth noting that among the inexperienced tanks I run with, this is the point where they all struggle the most. I've watched mobs peel off and run amok unchecked for long stretches of time. Usually far longer than it should take to get one back.

I know it's tough when you're also trying to learn a tanking rotation. You're focusing on your abilities and cooldowns much more intently than you would otherwise. But learning to regain control of lost mobs should be getting an equal amount of your focus. Especially because, in those initial learning stages, you're going to be losing that control much more frequently.