Thursday, 29 January 2009

Quick 'n dirty

Work has been somewhat hectic the last few days and I am trying to fit everything in my schedule. I wanted to post about a few things here - after all as a new blogger I need to pick up pace :p - but things often get out of hand. Still, I had the time to follow my guilds schedule and the Sarth3D tries. Those went fairly well but we still need a few tweaks to nail that. In order not to loose the kill last Tuesday, after a fair amount of tries we decided to do the 2D flavour for a first time. Get the kill and have some challenge we thought. Still, after one failed try we pulled it through fairly easily. And that left a bitter taste. 3D is the challenge and we will be visiting again this week.

On a personal level I still need to catch up with some reputations and achievements. I have been fortunate enough to complete the 25-man content, complete my tier7 holy set and now shifting focus on the odd retry, in hope that the dual specs will crop soonish. Almost all my peripheral items (weapons, trinkets, shields etc) are of a good level (200-213 if I am not mistaken the numbers) and I'd rather allow other people in the guild get what they need. Still, I am going to be there if numbers allow because after all raiding is a relaxation for me (imagine that!)

Nonetheless, my achievements still lack (currently about 4.2K points) and there are things I still need. I became exalted with Kaluak and Sons for the fishing-pole and the shoulders enchants respectively, raised my rep with Kirin and Wyrmcrest for the head enchants and got the hog schematics. Now that the 1st tier of personal targets is complete, it is time to move to the next one. That includes:

  • Become exalted with Kirin, Wyrmcrest and Ebon
  • Start the Oracle dailies
  • Complete some leftover achievements both for PvP (still got to kill 1-2 hordes in Silvermoon :p) and PvE (loads of instances to do there as well as complete Elder of the Dungeons)
  • Try to save up some money in hope I will craft my own Lancey Davidson hog

The latter seems to be rather tricky with my playing schedule as most of my profits the last few weeks went to consumables/repairs for the Sarth3D tries. Still I managed to have some profit overall. A long way to go there, as I am not much of a trader and stand in awe on how adept some people are in such things.

All is well for my warrior of light, but like the real me, there is always something more to gain...


P.S. I installed the Powered by Wowhead code but unfortuantely can not test it now as I am behind a company firewall. Will get to that tonight from home.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Tactical approach and initial tries efficiency

One of the aspects of raiding in WoW I always found intriguing was formulating tactics around the encounters. Granted, I was never one of the first to see content so I always had to read something before I step into an instance. Nonetheless, while I was GM and during my brief raid leading I always felt that with the proper methodology and by fragmenting the fight things start to fall into place. Even now as a mere raider I try to consult my peers, or give any ideas, so that the initial tries of a boss are as useful as possible. That of course requires patience from all raiders and the understanding that it ιs for the greater good (quote from Hot Fuzz, all together repeat... ` the greater good').

Nonetheless, the approach to this has certain essential aspects:

  • Raiders must be willing to try and wipe for as long as it is needed to streamline the tries.
  • Raiders must have read at least two tactical approaches from the usual sources. The more differences between them, the greater the insight.
  • Positioning is the 1st and foremost aspect that needs to be addressed, bearing in mind MTs, OTs, healing vectors, ΑΟΕ-areas, CC, phase transitions and most importantly raider paths.
  • Timing is the second important aspect. When, what and for how long.
  • Persistence. Try, correct, tweak, try again. DO NOT change something if it works. Build on your tries.

Of course, once again the above require experience. Experience comes with time (and some basic understanding of course). To reference recent posts and discussions on the casual vs. hardcore debate, experience players can be from both categories. I feel what ultimately makes the difference is ones experience the `culture' and 'ethics' of raiding. Understanding why you can't cut it and accepting it is the important thing here. Claiming you are 'imba/pro/pwnzorz' or other ‘leet’ names is of no use! Therefore the more experienced the raiders (and the less selfish (, the better the information obtained.

You might be tempted of course to argue that reading a tactic from the usual references is enough. Possibly. But according to my little experience almost all encounters need to be `customised' to guilds strengths. Some healers are particularly good, some tanks more resilient, some dpsers more efficient, some players more tactically adept etc. Playing to your strengths is often what makes a raiding guild truly efficient, than merely effective.

To conclude, we more or less followed the above approach during our second proper visit on Sarth3D. Raiders have been patient, we worked well as a team on reading the encounter, the raid leader yelled with his usual tone and the result was that its only a matter of time till we control the encounter to the point of nailing it.

Raiding requires experience but equally important a mind set to pulling it through, a positive approach. I believe that after all it ιs not how often you raid, but how efficient (not effective!) your raids are.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Doctorate in Healing: a primer for healing research

Healing metering methods seems to be an aspect of the game that is widely debated. Advocates claim that current healing meters are a reliable method to represent the healing output of a player/team whereas adversaries claim they do not depict important information and often people end up healing for the sake of their meter bar, without using their heads.

Let me tell you one thing. I am a researcher. I worked my butt till I get a PhD in augmented reality and wearable computing. What I found out during my years of research is that any method of measuring, formulating and investigating can have pros and cons. In research there is never black and white. There are opinions, claims, data, evaluations and degrees of truth. Why would a game as complex as World of Warcraft be any different?

Measuring output in an encounter, whether its healing or dps is highly situational and dependant on various aspects. Group composition, available buffs, tactical assignments, exclusivity among abilities (e.g. only one paladin can JoL), encounter mechanics, player individual skill (whatever that is :p), situational and context awareness, means of communication, technical issues (lag etc.) and of course the methods of measuring some of the above.

Analysing the above is usually done with observation and measurement, i.e. qualitative and quantitative methods.

Observation is simply looking around who does what, when and how. Our raid leaders do a formidable job of that - they are often a bit scary on how well they see things. Players, in addition, need to look around and `decipher' the imagery and the sound, monitor their co-raiders etc. The quality of this observation, in the wow context, is dependant on ones experience.

Measurement is done with some sort of metering or reporting add-on. Bearing in mind these are pieces of software, continuously updated to be more accurate, report things better, cover more variables etc we should be aware of their deficiencies before we use them as evidence for further insight. Subsequently we need to understand what those meters mean, more often than not coupled with our observations and our `design' variables (assignments, group compositions, buffs etc)

Only then we will be able to appreciate the amount of information available to us and reach some conclusions on what works and what is broken. But still, we must always keep in our mindset that what we are doing might not be perfectly correct.

Like in research, knowing what you do and why you do it is more than half the battle. Likewise, in something as trivial as analysing Warcraft data, knowing what they mean in the grand scale of things is equally important.

That is in my opinion what makes this game so interesting. Appart from the feeling of immersion that is... :p

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Buggy Patches and patchy baggies

So, the patch is here. And the result from the reports I have seen seems more like patch-werk than a blood elf bombshell. Yes, that ugly. I have not yet encountered any of the mentioned bugs and I WAS able to create a DK on other realms. Not sure also if these reports come from the US realms and the EU ones seem ok (although I highly doubt that).

So lets see what we ended up with:

  • Some players can not create DKs on other realms. Unfortunately, this was one of the major positive aspects of this patch.
  • Wintergrasp BG causes all sorts of problems and had to be shut down. If I am not mistaken Wintergrasp was a flagship aspect of Wotlk which is as good as a tank in greens facing Patchwerk.
  • Lag seems to be here once again, making our life 'interesting'. Too many in the same place it seems, if you get my drift.
  • Various class related problems like warlock summons etc.

And here is my question. Why the hell Blizzard allowed this patch to go live at this state. It is not like the issues were not known. It seems though they are more acute now. If the problems are related to the population that has access at any given time to such features, then they ought to draw more people in the PTRs by means of other incentives (not free epics, more like playtime-gifts).

Blizzard is renowned for their attention in detail. For their nice ideas of how to make a game look involving, immersive. For the good quality of their worlds. Such issues like the ones we face in the recent patch disrupt the feeling of immersion[1]. I feel they need to address certain aspects to maintain the good quality of this game:

  • Sort out their method of communication with the public and disregard flames/pleas/demands of the nature "omg, givf patch nao!!!one!!!" or whatever symbols the leet language uses) and focus on allowing patches get public when they are ready. Better late than broken.
  • Exploit their PTR mechanics and draw more people there - by means of constrained playtime-rewards - in order to have more realistic data in terms of stress-testing etc.

Now, to be honest its easy to sit on your char and nag to Blizzard for not doing this right. Being a developer myself I know there are often unforeseen variables that may affect a product. I therefore mention the above while giving Blizzard the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, their reaction on such issues will be appropriate.

[1] The feeling of immersion, whether physical or psychological in nature, allows the sense of belief that the user as left the real world and is now “present” in the virtual environment (Sadowski & Stanney, 2002). Witmer & Singer (1998) define immersion a psychological state characterized by the perception of being or feeling «enveloped by», «included in» or «in interaction with» an environment offering a continuity of various stimulatory experiences. Slater and Wilbur (1997) define immersion as being the extent to which a computerized system is capable of offering to the user the illusion of reality at once being: inclusive, vast, surrounding and vivid.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Sarth3D and assorted challenges

We started yesterday our first tries on Sarth3D. The server is very laggy since wotlk, possibly more than others as there are many guilds raiding everything but Malygos, as we are a fairly capable PvE realm. Yet we managed to do Naxx, Archavon and Malygos is one raid day and a half. In fact it could have been much faster if it was not for the lag. We now shifted focus on Sarth3D , looking for some real challenges.

Half a raid day was well used in seeing the fight. What I call the 'aquiantance with a boss'. The fight just needs to be decyphered. Although it seems overwhelming at start, in my opinion there is no fight in wow that does not have a trick. Position, damage, tanking, movement all in a nice chalenging mix.

We got one more raid day till reset and I hope we will make the most of it. Its time to read fora, watch videos and think the fight through. I am confindent that we can streamline the encounter and be successfull on what seems to be the ultimate raiding challenge (along with Immortal Naxx).

Whether it is worth it? Well - and that goes in conjunction with some of my previous thoughts - most guildies, including me, raid for the challenge. Overcoming a boss after a lot of effort gives a rise that can't be compared to anything else in game. I am a fool for these tricky raids, where the raid leader throws microphones here and there, silly gnomes scream in terror and people cheer when that carcass drops.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Weekend blogging

I am spending some time learning a few trick on blogging, trying to sort out some quirks of my set-up and looking around for a good template. Possibly will end up writing one of my own.

Weekend is close, time for some dailies and some money-making while my GF is enjoying her sleep :-p. Hopefully will have some time to make this blog shine a bit :)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Can I have a Legendary Ferrari?

(Continued from a Blessing of Kings comment)


Can I email Aston Martin then to make a cheap, super-fast, super-luxury, super-desirable (almost legendary) car with a couple of grand (in euros please) because I got a life and have no time to earn (farm?) the hundreds of grand needed?

In the debate of casual vs. hardcore, easy content vs. challenging content etc. …

I admit I can not have a clear opinion. Of course if I could get my hands on a Ferrari I would. Still, if all could get their hands on one it would loose its value as an exotic, luxury car. Whether we like it or not the ease of acquiring some items is what makes them more desirable or more valuable.

In current Wow the Ferraris are some mounts, derived from certain difficult achievements, unlike in the past where rare mounts were an occurrence of luck. Or to be precise Ferraris were some legendaries, or some Tiers. Now, if you kill this boss with a set of (difficult nonetheless) conditions you get a Ferrari (albeit with no technical advancements to other cars, just the novelty from looks). If you can't, you can settle with some slightly less cool mounts. Which themselves are better than the Yugo's you can purchase from Vendors.

Blizzard (or 'Disney' as Rohan and Tobold mention ;-p) changed its approach towards what we call casual players (I call them mainstream, ‘casual’ players often do not know how to get to Northrend...or even that Northrend exists) and allowed them deeper in the content. Unlike in the past if you are a mainstream player you can easily see:

* The story and the lore (could not to a great extent in the past)
* The encounters (at least in 10-mans, possibly 25-mans with much less effort than in the past)
* Wear Tier-7 or look-alike gear with formidable stats
* Gather reputation rewards easily
* Experience the 'bulk content' of the game

As a hardcore player you do all of the above but can differentiate to some extent with:

Completing difficult achievements or achievement-groups with some novelty rewards

Possibly get some of the rare-est end-game gear

I feel Blizzard has managed to get the structure of the reward hierarchy fairly right. Still it needs some tweaking to make it compelling to a larger (read: mainstream, not casual nor hardcore) player base. And we must also bear in mind we are at the beginning for this expansion cycle with one of the most important raids being a recycled version of a past one (which was mostly left inexperienced). I think Blizz ought to keep us in our toes with:

* Gradually increasing Instance difficulty - Blizz presumably tried to bring more players to the raiding world with Wotlk and gave them the opportunity to learn some basics. Now possibly they can hook more people into raiding.
* Introduce more than one instance levels per content patch. Ulduar, plus something else for example. People are becoming better and better into raiding and along with blizzard streamlining the raiding process people go over the content faster.
* Introduce more achievement-like rewards (achievements now work kind of like legendary quests)
* Introduce legendary item(s) to differentiate the elite from the mainstream
* Possibly introduce gear/reputation checks within reason.

As I said, I feel Blizzard managed to introduce a fairly good structure to the game for the rewards hierarchy. Now they need to enrich it, mainly to keep the mainstream players satisfied and offer some reasonable challenges. After all, they want to keep us hooked in the game – and that can not be done if we cruise through everything in a couple of months time.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

What a guild offers

Following some of the blogs around I stumbled upon the Greedy Goblin discussing what a guild has to offer. One of the most important points made is that the true essence of the guild lies is a `filtering' process - eliminating those that can not cope with a set standard of performance and keeping those that can.

Overall, guilds in my opinion should first clearly set a schedule and the depth of content they are aiming for. Whether you want to raid 1, 3, 5 or whatever days - it needs to be stated as an overall guild policy. Subsequently, you need to aim towards a certain instance (if PvE oriented) level. The guild I am currently in has a clearly defined approach to this, from which we never deviated. 3 raids per week. Perfect for those with real life commitments but who still want to devote some time in the game. The second part of the aforementioned `policy' is that we aim as high as possible. In tBC we went up to mid-sunwell and in Wotlk we recently cleared all content, all the way to 25 man Malygos (which nonetheless is somewhat comparably easier than in the past). 10 mans are `filler' raids. This was achieved with a set of simple things.

  • Fairly clearly defined guild structure
  • Compliance to our 3-day raiding schedule
  • Stable guild and raid leadership
  • High level of player base performance
  • Focus on the content and the achievements and not the loot etc.
  • Clearly defined DKP based rules

Greedy Goblin mentions the latter as a point of friction. In our guild things are simple. The rules are rules and you can bid for what you need as main spec and off-spec. What eliminates friction is common sense and the nature of the players. When the aforementioned social filtering works, the people involved are not frantic about loot and maintain an open mind about it. If the guild performs at the end of the day you will eventually get your hands on anything you might need. Maturity goes a long way...

So, at the end of the day a guild offers an encapsulation for the player. Social and game-related rules are there to keep things going. That along with the players reasoning and understanding that no system is perfect but given certain thinking it is what will get you far. I have found this the hard way when I was GM and now I am accepting things as they are - simply because it is the guild’s rule. It is the leaderships job to maintain these social attitudes and standards in order to ensure that the guild `works as intended'.

And to add an extreme example to the above...

One of the guild officers had an in-game aspiration of becoming a Scarab Lord, having done the quest line for his own gratification he was missing the last bits. During the Xmas holiday he informed the guild that he would transfer in a `virgin' realm to finish up the quest line and eventually return back. I must admit I found his cunning thinking and determination quite pleasing. But above all I was pleased that everyone in the guild backed him up and not a single soul commented negatively - something which I would expect from other non-maturely thinking guilds. In fact - as he maintained the channels of communication with us - he mentioned that others doing the same transfer-thing as him were not welcomed back to their guilds. Am I the only one thinking it is cool to have a Scarab Lord in the guild? :p

Wow is above all a social game, a shared virtual environment. When you become friends with someone, when you develop a sense of camaraderie and you contribute to the community it is hard for someone to be against you. Yes, the guild does filter morons out. But it also gives a sense of belonging. At the end of the day I feel that each player’s obligation to a guild, apart from the attendance - which as Greedy Goblin points out ought to be clearly stated - is to maintain the culture of the guild, abide to it and if possible contribute to it.

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