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4.2 looks Hot!

16 May

Let’s talk Firelands!

My time lately has been divided between raid leadership on the live realms and playtime on the PTR.  While the personal progression goals of our raid team are first in my mind, new content after so long a patch of nothing huge being added is more than welcome.

The Molten Front

New daily quests rarely get my going in a serious way, but the molten front doesn’t feel as grind-y as leveling fishing a day at a time.  The druids of Hyjal call upon the player to collect Marks of the World Tree by completing quests to repair the land and fightback the forces from the Firelands.

Some misconceptions: doing these quests isn’t a requirement to raid the Firelands.  Also, although the area makes huge use of various types of phasing, the quests can largely still be completed in a group (and some of them are a lot easier this way).  Finally, you do have to complete all the quests in Hyjal up to banishing Ragnaros to start these new quests, so go do that now!

As one moves from Hyjal into the Molten Front new daily quests are unlocked.  No one is completing 25 dailies and wishing they had a higher cap every day, but every day a new random group of quests becomes available.  For those not drawn in by fun new content along, there are also item level 365+ epics purchasable from vendors in the Molten Front.

The Firelands Raid

At this point in the testing cycle I’ve only had an opportunity to play against Beth’tilac (giant fire spider) and Lord Rhyolith.  Both fights felt creative, fun, and relatively straightforward for the first few bosses of a new instance.

And if you hate the colour orange, now is a bad time to be playing the game.

The raid feels large, additionally so because of the time spent mounted moving between encounter areas.  Comparisons to Ulduar are apt, and with a dps caster legendary here I expect we will be farming the Firelands for some time to come.  I hope to see some challenging trash packs, although somewhere between the heavy trash of Bastion of Twilight and the virtual trash-less-ness of Blackwing Descent.

The State of the Game

Many players are paying a lot of attention to the numbers Blizzard released during the Q2 press call stating Warcraft subscription numbers had dropped to pre-Cata levels.  These numbers come from 4.0.6 right before the 4.1 re-introduction of the Zuls.  According to the same press conference, they also expained this decline as reflective of how quickly players consumed content.

This means that blizzard’s statement of “X% of players haven’t completed the hard modes yet” might not be the guiding philosophy anymore.  I expect either easier hardmodes where players complete them before getting burnt out on the content (unlikely), more challenging regular modes with fresh ideas (seems to be the case in Firelands so far).  Its possible that blizzard will also react to this by pushing the next content patch soon after Firelands (much like they did for Ulduar’s follower).  I really hope the reactionaries don’t get their way and do this.

Despite the burnout, World of Warcraft is making more money than ever.  That fact talks, so I expect content patches will continue at the quality level we’ve come to expect.  Don’t be surprised if Firelands has harder regular modes than either BoT or BWD.

I’ll get back to you on that after I finish these dailies.

How to Build a Drama-free Guild

6 Sep

I was discussing at our weekly officer meeting the other night how happy some of our new recruits are in the guild. One of the major factors for a lot of them is the lack of drama. Our officers concluded that the guild has been almost completely drama free for most of the summer, and almost all of the expansion. How do we manage that? Well, it isn’t magic. The guild has been raiding for almost four and a half years, so we’ve learnt the right way to handle a number of situations.

Use a Fair and Upfront System for Loot Distribution

We use a system called EP / GP with aggressive decay and a fairly low threshold. If you’re not familiar with the system, I’d recommend checking it out. Our new members are quickly given the option of obtaining loot, but usually end up getting major upgrades and do not deny longstanding players the few upgrades they still need. EP/GP rewards attendance, and when we had challenges working on the LK we increased the EP awarded every 15 minutes. Attendance increases followed naturally.

In a big guild with some slight fluctuation in regular roster, this system works perfectly for us. I does not work nearly as well for some guilds, so the solution is to chose a loot system that aids in furthering the goals of the guild. Our goals are progression, so giving the best items to the highest attending players is important, as is a reasonable distribution of these upgrades. Beyond this, moral is a big deal. With EP/GP a night of progression where you win no items feels like an accomplishment.

Being completely upfront about a loot system is critical to avoiding drama. Selecting the right one for your guild is perhaps even more important. Loot matters to a player, and it should. It is both a measure of accomplishment, and a tool toward maximizing your character’s potential. Do not overlook something so important to so many of your team members.

Clear Direction from Officers

Drama is created when folks assume the worst. That’s human nature, and its hard to fault people for their fears. If a guild member needs to be kicks, explain why. If you’re taking X raider over Y, give folks the reason (and ideally, a reason that can be worked upon by the at-fault member).

“Okay, we have 28 attending raiders, so we’re going to need a few players to be on standby tonight. We’re taking Bill over Ted, because he has a viable off-healing set for The Excellent Adventure fight.”

“Srubbalicious recently got hacked and asked the Officer Team to remove him from the guild until its all sorted out. Just an FYI—we still like him.” /gkick

The name of the game is transparency. A good officer team makes changes for the good of the guild. If you make this obvious by being clear in your actions, you’ll garner respect, if not always consensus.

Guild Culture and Age Restriction

This has been a hot topic over the history of our guild. I originally disagreed with it, and slowly came to agree with the policy. We do not accept raiders to core raid positions who are under the age of 18. Let me explain.

The I am involved in has a mix of adult and middle aged players. As a 24-year-old, I’m one of the younger players (although many are close to my age). We behave a certain way in vent, guild chat is relatively uncensored, and raid attendance is an expectation.

Historically, younger players do not have enough control over their own lives to meet a tight raid shift. There are players in this age grouping that can, but they’re not the rule. Be it a mother insisting homework be done, a videocard needing replaced that is unaffordable, or the countless social obligations of high-school, folk under 18 are in a different life situation to those of us with control over our own lives.

Queue objections. I’m aware that some adults don’t have a lot of control over their lives. I know some kids do amazing dps and have 200% raid attendance. I am not (despite what it seems) advocating that the solution to drama is pruning yourselves of the kiddies (although it sure helps). I am saying, take a read of your guild.

Know what your guild members are all about. What sort of absence is “completely understandable.” One of our priest recently had emergency surgery, and everyone in the guild encouraged and thought nothing of her taking a few days (although she raided that week, on pain meds. Fucking hardcore). On the other hand, suddenly not showing up for weeks ’cause you got your first girlfriend makes everyone /sigh.

I don’t promise or even begin to suggest I know everything about coordinating and keeping happy a large group of people. I do know what has worked well for us in the past, and I’m beginning to explore the “why” of that success. Join me later in the week for a discussing of cultivating forums use, and the pitfalls associated with such a medium.

Patch Day Ponderings

24 Aug

Image by SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations via Flickr

Raiding

… is a team sport.  And having a full team in our guild now, rocking steady with a fleshed out core, feel great.  When getting nostalgic about old content we tend to block out the bad and recall only the good.  Our roster for this stage of ICC work will be something I remember going into Cata.  I like our people, and they know what they’re doing.

Arena

At least one of the best players I’ve arena-ed with is having a baby soon.  While that’s fantastic (babies are cool and his relationship with his wife is likely to improve) I will miss being about to play regularly with him.  I haven’t met many of my significant personal arena goals, but I feel like I will–some day.  I’ve learned a ton!

Property Ownership

Isn’t always fun.  My roommate flooded our kitchen and it leaked into the drywall of the folks downstairs.  Only two pieces of insulation and some ceiling fell victim to this week’s biblical disaster, but fixing any damage costs money.  /sigh

That is all for today.  This week I hope to have time to meet my WoW goals, blog on a few interesting topics, and go see a concert in Vancouver (Vampire Weekend.  Yay!)

Holy Bologna: What the Devs are telling us

21 Aug

The newest beta build has hit and I wanted to take a few moments to discuss how the priest Holy spec is shaping up. Like all good priests, I stay as current as possible in all three trees. While my love is shadow, I boast at least proficiency at both Holy and Discipline. Before I get into the meat of the changes, this makes me happy:

Darkness now increases Spell haste by 1/2/3% instead of increasing Shadow damage by 2/4/6%

I know what you’re thinking. “But Calsong, isn’t a boost to haste for three talents points just an indirect damage increase, and therefor still a boring and passive talent?” Not so, good readers. Couple this with the trends of late WotLK and the new haste aura associated with shadowform, and we become slippery agents of darkness, favoring reckless destruction over carefully placed killing blows.

It carves out a niche without overly complicating the rotation, which is a good thing.

Now let’s talk Holy.

The biggest news on the block is the new “specialization ability”: Holy Word: Chastise. I have three immediate reactions to this ability. First, its supported in the lore for a “holy word” framework. Priests are billed as the quintessential lore-keepers of both horde and alliance, filling a key role of arbitration and oral tradition. If the nature of “shadow words” is calling upon the dark secrets of this lore to weaken resolve and test faith, and the nature of “power words” is to draw forth the strength from within someone, then our new “holy word” is about the daunting, effervescent power of the Light.

What’s the point? Doesn’t Holy do fine already?

Holy Word: Chastise *New* – Chastise the target for 563.9 to 632.71 Holy damage, and Immobilizing them for 2 sec. 15% of base mana, 30 yd range, Instant cast, 45 sec cooldown

That looks to me like the instant cast, “oh shit” button that every Holy priest needs while leveling. It also appears to be another effort to get Holy priests involved in PvP, at least in the new rated battlegrounds. Interesting!

“Alas, alack,” say the QQers (this is a dramatic reinterpretation. They actually said “QQ”) “we want holy’s signature ability to be an awesome healing spell.” Blizzard thought of this, folks:

Revelations (Tier 5) *New* – While in a Chakra state, your Holy Word: Chastise ability will transform into a different ability depending on which state you are in. Holy Word: Serenity (Heal) – Instantly heals the target for 3161.85 to 3730.47, and increases the critical effect chance of your healing spells on the target by 25% for until cancelled. 45 sec cooldown. Holy Word: Aspire (Renew) – Instantly heals the target for 2363.56 and another 4471.99 over until cancelled. 15 sec cooldown. Holy Word: Sanctuary (Prayer of Healing) – Blesses the ground with Divine light, healing all within it for 298.75 to 355.32 every 2 for 15 sec. Only one Sanctuary can be active at any one time.

That talent is a mouthful, but here’s the punchline: Holy Word is going to be the long CD powerful healing effect you need it to be, in the situation you need it.

Current WotLK has holy priests being the “jack of all trades, master of none” healer. If we’re short a druid, I assign a renew speced holy priest to pick up the slack. The power of a Prayer of Healing build can rival the chain healing of a shaman, and I’ve even seen Holy priests use Flash healing to push the HPS of a paladin.

Chakra promises to only magnify this. That’s a good thing. For those of you who only read beta changes on my blog (who are you?) Chakra has been in the beta for a while. The latest version is a pop-able cooldown:

Chakra – When activated, your next Heal, Renew, Prayer of Healing or Smite spell will put you into a corresponding Chakra state. Lasts for 30 sec.

Heal – Increases the critical effect chance of your Heal spell by 10%, and your Heal refreshes the duration of your Renew on the target.

Renew – Increases the healing done by your Renew spell by 10%, and reduces the global cooldown of your Renew spell by .5 sec.

Prayer of Healing – Increases the healing done by your area of effect spells by 10% and reduces the cooldown of your Circle of Healing by 2 sec.

Smite – Increases your total damage done by Shadow and Holy spells by 15%

Holy seems geared up for long talent descriptions this time around. The ability basically says “you want to be awesome at using renew? Fine, here’s a reduced global cooldown and more HPS to help you out.” To increase the uptime on Chakra, Holy also has:

State of Mind – Your successful Heal, Renew, Prayer of Healing or Smite spell casts increase the duration of your corresponding Chakra state by 4 sec.

This means that, with a little forethought, a priest can stay in a Chakra state for as long as is needed. With mana being a bigger issue in Cataclysm, this won’t be forever.

So Holy is shaping up to be an interesting jack-of-all-trades. My questions (and they really can’t be answered without testing raid content) are: will the healing of holy be tuned for Chakra? Will one Chakra state be obviously and consistently better? Will Holy ever truly be PvP viable?

When are they giving us the promised racial changes?

Patch Day Ponderings

17 Aug

Starcraft 2

I’ve been playing with some WoW friends and some real friends.  Our GM created a vent channel, and its seeing some action.  Custom maps are a blast, and I’m slowly developing the skills to be half decent at this game.

My friend over at Pugnacious Priest already talked about Nexus Wars, and I’ve been loving it.  I’ve also been playing Income Wars and Battlecraft, although the map for Battlecraft appears to have wandered away.

Arenas

The biggest challenge of 5v5s seems to be scheduling.  We can put together an amazing team and still get in only a few hours a week.  You can’t hit 2200 with a few hours a week.  That’s the bottom line.

Is it just me, or are serious PvPers more flaky than raiders?  The certainly tend to put more emphasis on individual skill over team efforts.

Raiding

Yes, we’re still doing it.  We threw a 10 player group together last night that got a few hard modes done with some people who had never seen them.  I forget that our guild is much farther progressed than most of the server.  We’re an establish and strong core of talented players, even if there are a few guilds who have more boss kills than us.  Its easy to evaluate a guild based exclusively on boss kill progression, but I feel like that leaves something out.

Those are my un-constructed thoughts for patch day.  I intent to (and have partially written) three new posts for later this week.  My work schedule will dictate the pace at which they get posted.

Are You Afraid of Shadow in Cataclysm?

3 Aug

Blue Post:

Mind Flay — This is a technical explanation, but basically we had to rebuild it for Lich King to get it to benefit from haste correctly. Now that we have tech to let all periodics scale correctly with haste, we can change Mind Flay back to the way it used to work. The “latency” issues you experience today should be gone. You can just mash the Mind Flay button and the periodic won’t clip.

Mind Blast — With some increases scaling and the Shadow mastery, Mind Blast should always be your highest damage button (other than SW:Death).

SW: Pain — Pain and Suffering refreshes SW:Pain with your current haste, crit etc. values. All damage-over-time refresh mechanics and talents should do this now. You shouldn’t have to recast a dot to benefit from a temporary buff or proc or whatever.

Spec options — We have some plans to make early Disc more attractive to Shadow. There are probably fewer of us than you imagine, and we just can’t work on every class at once.

I’ll admit it, I have concerns about the Cataclysm progress regarding shadow priest play.  Saying that is a little bit like asking an unfinished portraiture why your illustration doesn’t have a chin yet.  The answer: we’re getting to it.

What I posted above is great.  Fixes to long term bugs in the class is as exciting for shadys as blink working correctly would be for mages.  Honestly, though, those are not my major concerns.  Maybe they should have been, but they aren’t.

Two things warrant mention.  First, I love how a shadow priest plays.  I enjoy complex DoT management, I like having tons of small periodic effects whittling my enemies down.  If I wanted to blast giant balls of flame, I’d play a mage.  If I wanted a pet and a lot more fragility, I’d play a warlock (more often).

Second, the damage tree for priests is full of relatively lackluster talents.  Part of this is because of the above: we already have a fair amount going on.  Reducing cooldowns to give us access to spells more often is great.  Cool shadow apparitions that create a neat visual, correct some mobility deficiencies, and don’t force us to completely re-learn the class—perfect!

Now this is a QQ post, so not I’m going to QQ a little.  Stay with me, because underneath my complaints there is a legitimate issue.

Tier 1

Darkness –  In the current beta build this talent increases shadow damage by 6% for 3 talent points.  It also occupies that “low in the tree” spots that make it ideal for other specs to dip in for.  I would love to see this removed completely, or perhaps replaced by a talent like Twisted Faith that gives us Hit from Spirit.  At least that talent is useful for a pvp spec or a leveling healer.  If in the new talent system every point is special, or most are, I hate spending 3 in darkness.

Not past the first tier yet, we hit Improved Shadow Word: Pain.  An exciting change to the mechanic of our signature DoT?  Nope, just another passive increase to damage.  This time its only 2 talent points for 6% damage.  Goodie!  Honestly, this talent would be more exciting as a proc of some kind, perhaps a 50% chance to do 12% more damage.  Even a bonus to crit damage is more exciting than the current talent.  As with darkness, there are no reasons for other specs to even think about this talent.

Spirit Tap has been clearly relegated to the domain of leveling talent.  Honestly, while I’ll miss procing and indirect increase to spellpower, this isn’t really a bad thing.

Tier 2

Improved Mind Blast is a shining example of perfect talent design.  It gives a core ability more use, and it adds a mechanic unique to the spec.  With shadow priest mortal strikes being normalized, this effect will be as strong as a hunter, rogue, or warrior.  For three talent points, this feels right on budget.

I kind of wish shadow had some of our PvP functionality tied into other PvE abilities, so Improved Silence makes me a little sad.  The ability is what it always has been, a few critical seconds shaved off one of our best PvP abilities.  Fine enough, I guess, but this would be an ideal talent to add “and increases your shadow damage by x%.”

Another success story is Veiled Shadows.  This talent reduces the cooldown (and increases our use of) two unique abilities that feel connected by flavor.  Talents like this make us feel more “shadowy” without adding undue complication.

Tier 3

Signature and still great, Shadowform has changed a little.  It still gives us more damage and a little more survivability, so I still love it.  Don’t fix what isn’t broken, eh?

The sister talent, Improved Shadowform, also works well.  It gives us a little utility and a solid raid buff that’s worth taking even for soloing.  My only complaint is how many abilities begin with “improved.”

Not to be outdone, Improved Devouring Plague looks like a passive damage increase on the surface, but it’s actually a well crafted talent.  Adding an up-front damage component to the spell changes the way we use it, and in this respect makes it a bigger part of the shadow toolbox.  Good talents don’t have to hit you on the head with a hammer, but they should feel special.

Tier 4

Deeper into the tree, we see talents like Vampiric Embrace which got a beautiful redesign in WotLK and now functions as a personal buff. I love what this talent does for personal and raid survivability, but could we change it to cause no threat and automatically be up in shadowform?  Rebuffing after a death in a BG shouldn’t take me twice as long as the preparation phase.

Shadow Power is weird.  Do much larger crits change the feeling of a dps class?  I think they do.  +100% for 2 talent points (read, four levels and two “exciting moments”)?  Yes, that feel right.

Significantly re-designed for Cata, Mind Melt currently looks interesting.  Buffing the damage of Shadow Word: Death during an execute phase and reducing the cast time of Mind Blast with Mind Spike creates some interesting rotational changes.  As talents go, altering the interaction of important class abilities seems idealy suited to this level of character customization.

Still needing improved fear to gain the one point for Silence leaves us exactly where we were before—one PvP shadow spec, and one for PvE.  Nevertheless, I am glad to still have the option of this powerful form of CC.

Tier 5

Iconic to the priest, Vampiric Touch hasn’t changed.  If they change replenishment in a significant way, it will effect the entire raid and the many classes now offering this buff.  Gaining abilities from talents is exciting.

With Shadow Orbs being our new mastery bonus, I’m a little surprised they added Empowered Shadow Orbs.  In the defense of this talent, they could have named it “improved shadow orbs.”  The talent increases the odds of gaining an orb.  I don’t understand why they didn’t make this baseline, as designers will have to balance around the talented priest’s mastery bonus scaling.  When the mastery concept was first introduced, the suggestion was we might have talents to let us do things with the orbs.  Apparently this is the end result.  Shadow Orbs are hard to get excited about, when I’m just a semi-translucent shaman.

In stark contract, Shadow Apparition is exciting and visually unique as a talent.  The damage is not game breaking, and it asks you to adjust your playstule in some situations, but most of the time the bonus is passive and the talent is still fun.

Tier 6

Psychic Horror is another talented CC ability that spriests do not seem to have room for in a PvE build.  Oh well.

Converting spirit to hit and adding damage to our rotation, Twisted Faith isn’t bad.  The spell hit aspect gives us a slight advantage when going from holy/disc to a shadow offspec, but our best items are still going to not have spirit on them.  This talent works a passive bonus into an active play style change, so it very much works.  My only issue is I wish it were in tier 1.

As I expressed before, I enjoy the way our class plays.  That’s part of the reason I’m glad Pain and Suffering is reasonably unchanged.  As talents go, this one feels important and does change how we’re doing our damage.  It also makes Shadow Word: Death slightly less risky.  Have I mentioned I really want to see Shadow Word: Death make a comeback?

Tier 7

Dispersion comes under fire from folks who don’t use it often enough.  This talented ability deserves its own article, so I won’t get in too deep, but I have no issues with it remaining completely unchanged.

In summary, our talents feel significantly pruned down, but still remarkable bloated.  Perhaps this is the price we pay for having two healing trees.  Nevertheless, I’m hoping Blizzard takes another crack at our talented customization.

SC2 vs WoW: The Endless Battle of Player Interest

28 Jul

Let me start by getting a few things off my chest:

SC2 is awesome

Raiding short some key players is a frustrating experience

I haven’t slept even my usually small amount of time

SC2 is awesome

The experience of the campaign is another example of Blizzard’s extremely talented storytellers letting loose and delivering a deep and immersive gaming experience. A lot of our guild members are as excited by this game as I am.

Some folks aren’t. I held back my excitement for long enough to raid last night and do a post-raid-debrief with a few new recruits. Other guild members I’ve talked to either don’t like RTS games or are busy enough with WoW.

I respect that, so I’ve tried to keep the chatter in check. It’s good to reflect that not everyone is always going to be wildly enthusiastic about the same things.

Our new recruits all show varying levels of promise. We can hand out experience and gear very easily (which all three of them are lacking in slightly), but attendance and enthusiasm are hard to teach. My hope is that a little competitive spirit in our raid group will strengthen attendance.

Blogging has been slow for me. Last night I made the choice to board the Hyperion rather than polish of an spriest guide I’ve been working on. I promise to work on it this week. No promises yet on when it gets posted.