Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shadow And The Constraint Model Of DPS

The more time I spend working on DPS (first my hunter and now my shadow priest spec), the more I realize that DPS is built around a constraint model, far more so than healing is. Constraints, of course, are limitations on the system you're working with, either organically arising from the nature of the system or (as is always the case in games) artificially arising from the rules applied by the designers of the system.

Healing has some pretty simple constraints: cooldowns (global cooldowns and the cooldowns on abilities) and mana (and holy power, in the case of holy paladins). There are helpful mechanics that you can make use of, but those are more tools to help you survive within the above mentioned constraints. Without those constraints, healing would be a simple matter of casting your "best" (combination of power and speed) spell over and over (and that has happened at times in the history of WoW when designers didn't make the constraints compelling enough).

DPS would seem to be somewhat similar, but while cooldowns still exist as constraints (especially global cooldowns), the main power source (like mana) often doesn't. Healing decision-making revolves around selecting the right targets and dealing with the above mentioned constraints of cooldowns and mana. DPS decision-making revolves around a more precise prioritizing of abilities based on the constraints each ability places on every other.

That was probably as clear a winter's night in Seattle (Seattle is perpetually overcast and misting/raining during all seasons except a couple of months in summer, but especially winter) so let me explain what I mean by using the shadow spec as an example.

What Are The "Core" Abilities Anyway?

Here are the abilities that will make up the vast majority of shadow DPS:

For clarity, I'm only talking about single-target damage on boss-like creatures, not low-health adds. So Mind Spike will only be relevant if you take the talent From Darkness, Comes Light (FDCL). I've chosen that talent, so Mind Spike will be a part of the analysis. A similar exercise can be done with the abilities you gain from the other two talents on the tier (and the level 90 talents will add further constraints, though not particularly complicated ones it appears).

Mousing over those abilities, you can see some basic constraints, like mana costs and cooldowns. Those aren't the particularly interesting ones (mana is virtually impossible to run out of, in fact I can't drop below 95% mana or so--my healer heart weeps at the injustice), so let's get to the meat of the matter.

Constraints? You Mean, Just Cast The Best Ability Off Cooldown, Right?

That's the usual take on DPS and it'll work to some extent. This is the type of thing you'll usually see about the current shadow rotation, for example:

Shadow Word: Death > Mind Blast > Devouring Plague (with three shadow orbs) > From Darkness, Comes Light Mind Spike > Shadowfiend > Vampiric Touch = Shadow Word: Pain > Mind Flay

Basically, this means, use whichever of Mind Blast, Shadow Word: Death, three shadow orb Devouring Plague, instant Mind Spike or Shadowfiend is available, with that order of priority if multiple options are available. If none of them are and either Vampiric Touch or Shadow Word: Pain are near expiration, refresh them. If neither of the previous two sentences applies, use Mind Flay.

Doing this in a machine-like fashion won't yield terrible results, you'll do reasonable DPS...but it won't be optimal. To optimize, you need to juggle in your mind all the constraints I'm about to discuss in order to make the best choice on a moment-by-moment basis. 

Let's get to it! (I'm going to omit mana costs and cooldowns, because we've already noted them. Also, remember that I'm discussing single-target damage on boss types of monsters, so I'll also ignore the duration of the damage-over-time [DoT] spells as a constraint.)

Mind Blast
Benefits: The second hardest hitting shadow spell, provides a shadow orb
Constraint(s): None, right? Actually, the constraint is that you can only have three shadow orbs at a time

Shadow Word: Death
Benefits: The hardest hitting shadow spell, provides a shadow orb
Constraint(s): See above. Also, technically a constraint is that it can only be used when your target is below 20% health (unless glyphed) but we'll ignore that by lumping it into "cooldowns" since this constraint is irrelevant to what I'm describing

Devouring Plague
Benefits: A hard-hitting DoT spell, fantastic damage per casting time invested (DPCT)
Constraint(s): Requires three shadow orbs (technically, you can use any number of orbs, but you only want to use it with three)

FDCL Mind Spike
Benefits: Hits about as hard as Mind Blast (though it doesn't provide a shadow orb)
Constraint(s): You can only have two charges saved up, further procs will be wasted

Benefits: Better DPCT than the spells listed below
Constraints: None beyond the long cooldown

Vampiric Touch
Benefits: Better DPCT than Mind Flay
Constraint(s): Cast time (this has greater relevance for a DoT than a conventional spell, I'll explain later)

Shadow Word: Pain
Benefits: Better DPCT than Mind Flay
Constraint(s): None, practically

Mind Flay
Benefits: Better than a hole in the head (more correctly: much better than standing idle)
Constraint(s): None, practically

(I ignored mana returns as a benefit for a couple of abilities because, as I said, mana is close to irrelevant. You can price that benefit in for fights which contain as a gimmick taking away all your mana, ala Yor'sahj the Unsleeping.)

So these notes lead us to a logic that's a bit more complicated than the basic priority system laid out above.

Putting It Together In Practice

First some logical consequences...

There's little question you want to cast Mind Blast the moment it is off cooldown...unless you have three shadow orbs.
Which means that a Devouring Plague with three shadow orbs is the top priority...except that the only time pressure on Devouring Plague is the next Mind Blast. As long as you cast it before your next Mind Blast is available, there's no DPS loss.
Which can be handy if Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch is about to expire or you have two charges of FDCL Mind Spike.
That leads me to FDCL Mind Spike. It sits higher in the priority list than the DoTs...but since you can save two charges at a time, one charge of FDCL Mind Spike isn't a pressing priority. It's better to refresh a DoT that's near expiry before burning a charge of FDCL Mind Spike if you only have one charge.
But if you have two charges of FDCL Mind Spike, then you want to burn a charge of that off pronto, probably even above casting that three orb Devouring Plague.
Shadow Word: Death pretty much follows the same rules as Mind Blast when the target is low enough in health that Shadow Word: Death is available.
Shadowfiend should be used any time it's off cooldown and, since it has no constraints, could be used ahead of Devouring Plague or FDCL Mind Spike with one charge, but could also be pushed behind refreshing Vampiric Touch or Shadow Word: Pain.

This leads to some complicated decisions at times. Let's take an example:

Shadow Word: Pain is 2.5 second from expiring
Vampiric Touch is 2 seconds from expiring
You just completed a cast of Mind Blast, giving you a third shadow orb
A charge of FDCL Mind Spike just proc'd

The usual priority chart would have you cast Devouring Plague, then Mind Spike, then refresh the two DoTs. However, if you hold the Devouring Plague and Mind Spike in abeyance and first refresh Vampiric Touch and then the Shadow Word: Pain, then cast the Devouring Plague and then the Mind Spike, you'll see better DPS, since you have no opportunity cost for withholding the Plague and Spike for a few seconds, whereas the opportunity cost of holding back on the Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch is letting them expire (costing you DPS and procs from talents like From Darkness, Comes Light and Divine Insight which is further DPS).

This, however, creates a few more caveats...

The reason I mentioned using Devouring Plague before Mind Spike in the above example is because I did take the Divine Insight talent, which means that Mind Blast is always at risk of having its cooldown reset. Which means I actually do want to get Devouring Plague cast off as quickly as possible, so that if I suddenly have an unexpected Mind Blast to cast, I don't have to push it back to avoid wasting the shadow orb it would generate (and pushing Mind Blast back is a DPS loss). Which is a further constraint on Devouring Plague, if you use that talent. However, if you don't use that talent, then you'd actually want to cast the instant Mind Spike first...because your next Mind Blast will be coming at a predictable time (and you should be able to plan to get Devouring Plague cast before Mind Blast comes off cooldown) whereas you might get two quick procs of FDCL while you're casting Devouring Plague (and then waiting out the global cooldown it initiates) which would cause one to be lost if you already have a charge of FDCL (you can't hold three charges at a time).

Getting back to my earlier mention that cast time is a constraint when it comes to a DoT, if you had Vampiric Touch and Shadow Word: Pain close to dropping off (say ~2 seconds away) and both about equally close to dropping off, then you'd want to cast Vampiric Touch first. A cast time spell followed by an instant will lead to both spells being cast more quickly than the instant followed by the cast time spell, because the latter puts a GCD between the casts. Of course, in the case of the former, the GCD will still happen after both spells, so the total time used is identical...but since the lower priority of the DoTs means you'll generally be following it up with something non-mission critical (Mind Flay, oftentimes), you're better off pushing that follow-up spell back rather than adding extra time to the DoT refreshing if there's a risk that one of the DoTs could drop off your target altogether.

In Summation

This is a pretty long wall of text and may or may not seem like a lot to bear in mind, but it all starts to feel pretty natural and instinctive once you've practiced on a dummy enough and put those constraints into practice. 

The real point is that while basic priority systems give you a general idea of what matters more and what matters less, you need to look at the constraints of all your abilities, as illustrated above, to understand how to fit your abilities together in real time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

From Light...Comes Darkness?

I've done the unthinkable. I've crossed over from the Light to the shadow. From the light side of the force to the dark side of the force. A shadow has passed over my soul.

Oh, not entirely. I did drop my holy spec for a shadow spec, but I retain my trusty, true-blue discipline spec. You can have that when you pry it from cold, dead, pixelated hands.

That said, this does signify a bit of a twist in the road for me. I've dabbled in DPS, but generally on other classes and mostly in Wrath. In Cataclysm, I pretty much lost the way with DPS and healed all the things with all the things. I have one of each healer type at max level and that's pretty much all I did. Until recently, that is.

Starting a couple of months ago, I began getting back into my hunter, mostly neglected since Wrath except to level her up to 85. I realized that the reason I was pretty mediocre each time I took a half-hearted stab at DPS this expansion was due to never setting up a proper UI specifically for DPS. Even more so than healing, in my opinion, you need a really good informational set up about your abilities. The old maxim that DPS is a science, tanking is a skill and healing is an art really holds true to me. You obviously need a good informational set up to heal, but it's a different set of information, in my opinion. Healing has a large "feel" component, DPS is all about sharp precision. That's overly simplified (healing requires its own set of precision, DPS needs a feel for certain things) but I think it conveys the general idea.

Anyway, starting with my hunter, I began figuring out how to build a really good DPS UI for me. A UI that created an informational flow that made hitting the right ability at the right time feel natural. I had some good results on my hunter and I think hunter is a blast. If I could weld a discipline priest spec to a survival hunter spec on the same character, I would.

I can't, though, and I do want a proper DPS spec on my main character, which will continue to be my priest, Shanthi, into Mists of Pandaria. The biggest motivator was to be versatile, for the sake of my teammates. Having been the healer with two healing specs (discipline and holy), I was obviously never going to be doing anything but heal. For most of tier 13, we had three healers, which was fine until we hit heroic modes and dropped to two healers for various encounters. At that point, we usually needed one of our healers to go DPS and guess who it wasn't going to be? I felt bad that someone else always had to shift, never me.

So that was the primary motivation. Wanting to be useful as more than a healer. I often run five-mans with friends and one of those friends is a main spec healer also. Since you very rarely two heal five-man dungeons, she always had to switch to accommodate me. I needed more versatility.

However, as I've spent more and more time, since patch 5.0 dropped, working on my shadow UI and rotation, I've found it to be a lot of fun. I've been asking to go DPS as much as possible in raids to get practice keeping my DPS as high as possible while handling mechanics...it's a lot of fun handling a different role. Also, it's a lot of fun melting the faces of monsters.*

*Additionally, shadow has far cooler minor glyphs than discipline or holy. So there's that.

So now I feel very comfortable about heading into Mists of Pandaria as a discipline/shadow priest. I'll offer my raid more options in terms of composition and it really won't be any kind of sacrifice for me...it'll be fun whether I'm healing or DPSing.

This was going to be the introduction to a post in which I talk about my observations of the best way to play shadow (hey, we're all new to 5.0 class mechanics and I've been spending a lot of time reading and thinking about shadow DPS, even if I'm not a long-time shadow priest)...but this "introduction" got a little longer than I expected, so I think I'll just leave it as a stand-alone post about what I've been up to and follow it up in a few days about my thoughts on shadow priest DPS.

I believe that this blog will still mostly focus on healing (with a bias toward priest healing) but there will probably be some posts about DPS (with a bias toward priest DPS) now and again.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chakra: The Worst Clever Idea Blizzard Ever Had

Frequent readers probably realize that I play a priest as my main character. Most of my priesting life has been as discipline, but I've been playing a fair amount of holy since patch 4.3 dropped (I also flirted with it off and on in Wrath, but that experience isn't going to be relevant to this post) and the most iconic element of holy priest play (for the priest herself, anyway) is Chakra. This is the device around which the entire spec is supposed to, and does, turn.

Let's start with the good: Chakra was a great idea, conceptually. The idea of being able to fluidly shift from one "healing stance" to another, as needs and circumstances dictate, is a great idea and definitely was unique to the World of Warcraft healing game. It was to be the shining concept that, as Ghostcrawler put it, made people want to spec holy.

And, if it worked, it probably would have been successful in that goal. 

However, the concept is fundamentally and fatally flawed in a game built around balance and a "bring the player, not the class" design principle. It's a device that puts designers in a catch-22, where the solution to one problem creates another problem and the solution to that problem creates the original problem.

The reason for this is that there exist, broadly, only two ways to balance a device like Chakra, which allows priests to choose between two* mutually exclusive stances: one that empowers raid, or area of effect (AoE) healing and one that empower single-target healing. These stances are Sanctuary and Serenity, respectively

*Forget Chastise stance, it's irrelevant in group PvE content

Option 1: You balance the priest such that when she is in Sanctuary Chakra, she is just as good at AoE healing as the other four (soon to be five) healing specs and when she is in Serenity Chakra, she is just as good at single-target healing as the other four/five healing specs. However, to make choosing a stance meaningful, the priest must be worse at the type of healing she is not in Chakra for, which creates the problem. In order to be just as good as any other healing spec at one type of healing, she must necessarily be worse than all the other healing specs at the other type of healing (it's not possible, nor even feasible even if it were possible, to shift Chakra states prior to each healing spell and it is not uncommon to need to sometimes cast some single-target healing spells while mostly AoE healing and vice versa). If the holy priest has 100% / 75% effectiveness (for the two types of healing) compared to the 100% / 100% effectiveness of all the other specs, the holy priest is clearly underpowered. She is significantly less flexible, for no added benefit over the other healing specs, who can do everything with no penalty.


Option 2: Let's solve that by giving holy priests a benefit. Let's make them stronger than every other healing spec in the type of healing they are in Chakra for, to balance out being weaker in the type of healing they are not in Chakra for. To put it simplistically (just to illustrate the concept, not be mathematically rigorous right here), if the holy priest is at 125% / 75% (for the two types of healing) effectiveness compared to the 100% / 100% effectiveness of all the other healing specs, that's balanced...mathematically. However, now the flexibility problem swings in the other direction. The holy priest is far too versatile. Any competitive raiding team will feel pressured to bring nothing but holy priests for their healing team, because a holy priest can always be the best at whatever the team needs at any given time.

You can craft a contrived, complicated system of healing involving Chakra that requires an immense skill cap, whereby an amazing holy priest can use Chakra to always be the best performer at the cost of having to work much harder than every other healing class. But, leaving aside whether that would even be fun, healers who are willing to work as hard will feel burned that they can't produce the same results with other classes.

Ultimately, this is very akin (though not identical) to the druid "bearcat" problem that Blizzard finally plans to resolve in Mists of Pandaria by splitting bear druids and cat druids into separate specs. Blizzard realized that it was a fundamentally impossible problem to solve when the two were differentiated only by a form change: either they had to gut one form, or they had to allow feral druids to be overpowered in terms of potential utility. While the specifics aren't identical, it similarly illustrates that you cannot allow a significant change in powers from something that can be switched in combat. It's impossible to find an acceptable state, where the class-spec that can shift its powers mid-combat is neither significantly underpowered nor significantly overpowered. It's not a matter of tuning numbers...the solutions lead to problems who's solutions lead back to the original problem.

To re-iterate, I think Chakra was a great idea, a very cool concept. If you could shift your healing powers while remaining in balance with everyone else, it would have absolutely been the shining reason to play holy. As it stands, it merely feels punitive...and the solution to that would be to punish every other healing class-spec in the game for not being a holy priest.

Sadly, it's time for a new device, a new centerpiece, for holy priests.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Discipline Priests--How Do They Work?

The old line (well, an old line [well, a line I used] ) in Wrath was that discipline priests don't heal, they shield. After all, holy paladins were better at tank healing. Restoration druids and holy priests were better at raid healing. Restoration shamans could swing between both and pop bloodlust. The only reason to have a discipline priest, if you had your pick of healer compositions, was for the mitigation they brought via absorbs. Mitigation is powerful...you can't heal someone back up after a lethal hit, but you can mitigate a hit down to non-lethality.

Time for the line to change? Discipline priests don't shield, they DPS. I mean, yes, the revolution got underway in Cataclysm, what with Evangelism, Archangel and Atonement. This suite of spells allowed discipline priests to strategically DPS via Smite and Holy Fire to do a little bit of healing and build up stacks that could be traded in for a healing buff at need.

However, the other signature healer-DPS ability was given to restoration shamans: Telluric Currents. This was a much simpler mechanic...no messy stacks to ensure don't fall off, no cooldown to time, no hoping that someone useful was in range of the smart heal. You cast a lightning bolt, you get some more mana (if you hit with the bolt). No muss, no fuss. Mana is fungible after all...you can trade it in for anything your heart desires. Another Greater Healing Wave, another Chain Heal, another Healing Rain...hey, big spender, dig this blender.

But, hey, funny thing happened on the way to the next expansion: discipline priests got Telluric Currents too. Well, it has a different, more World of Warcraft priestly name: Power Word: Telluric Currents. No, wait, that's not right. Power Word: Solace. It'll probably also be balanced separately.

However, conceptually, it's pretty much the same. Cast a DPS spell, get back some mana. With mana expected to be as heavily restricted for healers as soda in New York (too much mana consumption, after all, has adverse effects to your health) in the early going of Mists of Pandaria, this could be a pretty important ability for priests (I should note that any sort of priest could take this ability, but since it better fits my narrative, I'm going to stick with discipline priests). It is actually in the same tier of talents as other mana sustainability talents (it replaced Archangel, which will now be baseline for discipline priests) like Surge of Light and Mindbender, but this is the ability in which higher skillcap can result in higher reward.

Mindbender is just an improved Shadowfiend. It's a fire-and-forget several times an encounter. Surge of Light, as always, is a proc that is largely out of your control. Power Word: Telluric Currents is an active ability who's only limit is your imagination (and the hard coded limits). The better able you are at weaving non-healing spells into your healing rhythm, the more mana you will have to play with in fueling your aforementioned healing rhythm.

So, from a discipline priest perspective, you're looking at using Holy Fire, Smite and Penance (Smite will likely drop out in any serious healing situation) on monsters to build Evangelism stacks and do some Atonement healing along the way, and Power Word: Telluric Currents on monsters to get back a little mana when you can (i.e. when you're not too busy DPSing the monster with other spells).

The skilled discipline priests will weave in the occasional shield while DPSing.

If that seems negative, it's not my intent. I'm being heavily tongue-in-cheek. Blizzard has generally said that this kind of playstyle is viewed as optional. Of course, Evangelism, Atonement and Archangel now being baseline to discipline suggests that maybe it isn't. One resolution we could draw is that Blizzard's view is that you can successfully disc without using these things, but if you want to be truly optimal (i.e. higher skillcap), you'll weave all these in. On the other hand, maybe they're balancing it such that it truly is optional (whether you're wandering around old content or pushing the edge of progression) and they just didn't want to waste more talent and glyph slots, so they stuffed most of these abilities into the discipline baseline arsenal (Atonement, at one point in the beta, was a glyph and Archangel, until this latest build, was a talent).

Further, I don't dislike the whole "DPS for rewards and prizes while healing" idea. It does open up another alley for healers who want to change their style of game in a meaningful way. I now consider Evangelism/Archangel/Atonement to be part of my baseline discipline spec and I do use them (plus I'm amused by healing heroic dungeons purely by holy firing and smiting). I quite like the Telluric Currents dynamic on my shaman. Now I can put them together, like chocolate and peanut butter. Or maybe like bananas, peanut butter and bacon. I'm really not sure how it will actually play, because man...that's a lot of DPS spells to juggle. I still do cast healing spells when healing, you know. Well, not healing spells...shielding spells. Never mind.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

World of Diablo? Diablocraft? By Any Name, The Perfect Game

So, I've been playing Diablo IIV. You may know someone else who is also playing the game. I would say it's popular, but only insofar as the ubiquitous crack-cocaine is popular. It's a niche market, but the fanboys and fangirls swear by it.

I've never played a Diablo-brand game before this. That might seem surprising, but in actuality, I'm not much of a gamer at all. I'm fond of saying that I went from Nintendo as a kid to World of Warcraft as an adult. That isn't strictly true...I loved the original Prince of Persia and I played a MUD (multi-user dungeon, text version of World of Warcraft) or two or three in between. But it is true in spirit...I just haven't spent much time on video games between my original fixation on them as a child and my latest fixation on World of Warcraft.

So the Diablo games simply passed me by in my non-video-game-playing existence. I'm still not much of a gamer outside of World of Warcraft, but now I'm dabbling in Diablo IIV because I got it free as part of the annual pass thing that Blizzard offered for World of Warcraft. 

So How Are you Enjoying It? 

Actually, I find it enthralling. I've been playing two characters so far...a monk in co-op mode with a friend of mine and, as a solo exploit, a wizardess (it's a word, I insist, and I refuse to use the word "wizard," which evokes the image of an old man with a long beard...I'm not playing Deckard Cain, he of the quavering voice).

The first thing I should mention is that game is beautiful. Drop-dead gorgeous. Stunning to the max. It makes just exploring a joy, because it's fun to see all the wonders of the world. Killing monsters is simple and zen...left click, left click, right click, maybe use 1-2-3-4 once in a while, maybe quaff a health potion once in a while. I'm not the first to think of this comparison (as I've discovered) but it's like a Roguelike game with stunning graphics and a gripping story. Those Roguelike games were ASCII art adventures that put the emphasis on exploration, killing monsters and loot, in partially or fully randomized dungeon maps. Hello, Diablo! Diablo's story is quite enjoyable, though. And the better graphics are important...I never really understood the point to "exploring" one room of text symbols after another (but some people really get into those games). Exploring a game with the lovely visuals of Diablo IIV, however, is great fun.

Also, it's extremely satisfying to wade into an army of demons and undead and unleash Hell (so to speak). The premise of these Diablo games seems to be that you play a hero...from the start. You're not a peasant working your way up toward hero status (you don't start off by killing chickens and bats, ala World of Warcraft). You start off by holding off hordes of undead and your tasks pretty much stay in that vein: be a one-person army, single-handedly destroying all evil in the world. Unless you do co-op, in which case you're two to four one-person armies. The spell effects are great...never has slaughter been so visually appealing. I am not a violent person, but I can't help being uplifted by getting a commendation for killing sixty to seventy monsters in a spray of magic and blood.

But World Of Warcraft Is Cool, Too, Right? 

Yes, yes it is. Boss fights are fun in Diablo IIV, but possess several orders of magnitude less complexity than the mechanics that raid bosses bring to the table in World of Warcraft. For good reason, as Diablo IIV is meant to be a "pick up and play for however many minutes or hours you have" type of game, while raiding in World of Warcraft is meant to be a "clear your night, this is serious business" type of endeavor.

I love the focus and effort and teamwork required for raiding. I like spending hours refining strategy and trying to play better to down a raid boss in World of Warcraft. I like it better than hack-and-slashing through Diablo IIVX (though I enjoy that too, see above). 

I've often felt that there are two things I enjoy in World of Warcraft: creating a character and raiding; everything in between is just busywork. That might be a little extreme (sometimes I enjoy a moment or two of the in-between part, especially the first time I leveled up a character), but it does get at the spirit of my feelings for the game. It's fun to start a new character, with new abilities and a new character image in your head (my priest has such a different personality from my hunter or my mage, you just wouldn't believe!). Then you stare at its back for several thousand quests (or endless trash packs, if you go the level-through-dungeons route) before getting to the big payoff.

So, Two Different Things For Two Different Purposes, Then 

Yes, that certainly makes sense and works. However, I can't help but think that the perfect game would blend the two types of fun. My view is that the leveling process and pre-raid gearing-up process in World of Warcraft is just grinding. Grinding quests, grinding mobs, grinding dungeons. Doing lots and lots of often very repetitive tasks. Grinding isn't fun.

Except when it is. After all, Diablo IIVX is nothing but grinding when you come right down to it. You hit one scenario or dungeon after another, slaughter your way through and collect your loots. There's obviously some strategy in building your character via the skills and runes you can mix and match, but the meat of the game is the grind. The glorious grind.

And it is glorious. In every way that World of Warcraft's grinds are tedious (to me), Diablo IIVX's grinds are great fun. Gripping, even. You're not running around a 20 yard square area killing a specific type of quest boar, hoping that you'll find nine of them that possess working hearts. You're exploring fairly large swatches of dangerous territory, all lushly and interestingly detailed. And you never know when you'll run into elites or named monsters, which are always more fun than the rare, named gnoll in World of Warcraft that maybe you'll happen to kill by accident while killing all the other gnolls in his 20 yard vicinity.

I purposely explore more than I need to in Diablo's world. It's not at all a unique strategy (I started doing it because a couple of people mentioned it as a tip) but I try to unfog the entire map before I move to the next step. This means purposely running around and killing a lot more than I would otherwise need to. I would never even consider doing this when questing in World of Warcraft. In World of Warcraft, I want to get the quest done as quickly as possible...and I know I'm not alone, because I can see how many people are annoyed when quest mobs take forever to drop enough unicorn horns to complete the criterion. 

Shotgun Weddings Are So Romantic 

So put Diablo IIVX and World of Warcraft in a room and force them to breed. For science. It's ethical when it's for science.

I'm not literally saying that Blizzard should merge these two games. They're both established and separate. Shoehorning the one into the other would probably not work. However, I can dream of a game that combined the best elements of both.

You'd level up in a style of play like, such as, for instance, Diablo IIVX. Leveling is a grind and Diablo makes grinding fun. Check and check.

Then you reach level cap and you run some fancier scenarios, still in the Diablo IIVX style, but maybe requiring co-op play. Whatever, needing co-op play isn't an important detail to me. You run those for your pre-raid gear. 

Then you raid, all World of Warcraft style. And start Diabloing up an alt.

It doesn't have to be so cut-and-dried separate. Maybe you can also run dungeons, World of Warcraft style, while leveling up. As a break from the Diabloesque hacking and slashing, and to learn the fundaments of group play so that you're not confused when you begin raiding. Maybe the co-op play of the Diabloesque leveling process can include more "holy trinity" elements than Diablo IIVX has.

It's all negotiable. I'm just envisioning a game that largely allows the fun of Diablo grinding to replace the tedium of World of Warcraft grinding while not losing the excellent (in my opinion) World of Warcraft end game. 

Conclusion, In Which I Realize I'm Not The Only Person On Earth

You may have noticed that my enthusing over what makes each game fun and/or tedious is a bit opinion-based. Not everyone would agree with me that World of Warcraft questing is boring and repetitive. Not everyone would like to replace the run-one-hundred-heroics-to-be-raid-ready process. Not everyone likes Diablo IIVXXXXL's playstyle. Not everyone wants to raid.

So, obviously, I'm creating a game for myself. The perfect game for me. I'm sure there's at least a small band of people who value things in each game as I do, so it would be a perfect game for me and those people. How large that group of people is, I don't know. Maybe one day, though, we'll get this game. And, hopefully, the people who like completely different things will get the game they like.

And maybe it'll be the same uber-game that all of humanity plays when they're not eating cleverly-concealed human remains. Did I just blow your mind?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Taking Credit Where Credit Is Due

Just a quick post here, but back in March (do we even remember those heady, innocent days? Ah, we were all so young!) I penned this post: Priests Desperately Need Minors

That, of course, was my cheeky way of noting that we priests needed a bunch of cool cosmetic minor glyphs and pronto...we were falling behind in the stylistic arms race on the Mists of Pandaria beta.

Included in that list of suggestions was this little nugget:

Glyph of Vengeance

Spirit of Redemption is now a Spirit of Vengeance...instead of using the model of a graveyard angel for when you turn into a Spirit of Redemption, you gain the model of a val'kyr.

Fast forward to May (otherwise known as present day) and lo and behold, what is this new glyph? For those too lazy to mouse over the link, let me reproduce the text here:

Glyph of the Val'kyr

While Spirit of Redemption is active, you now appear as a Val'kyr.

Why, it's my glyph idea, with a less evocative name!

For those priests out there, main or alt, reading this: you're welcome. (In Mists, Spirit of Redemption is a baseline ability for holy priests, so every holy priest will have it.)

Did I just write an entire post for the express purpose of self-congratulation? I think I did!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dungeons Are Hard

Well, for some people. Like me. Other people breeze through them, but they represent a serious investment for me and, worst of all, the difficulty can never be nerfed (at least for as long as they are current content).

I don't mean performing my role in the dungeon. That was difficult at the start of the expansion when, as a healer, mana was tight and damage was reasonably high. However, now I overgear pretty much everything. And, really, even if I consider lower level dungeons on lower level alts, dungeons I don't necessarily overgear, I really never have much trouble playing my character. Dungeons aren't hard for me in that respect.

It's the social aspect that makes it hard, that makes it an investment that I have to weigh every time I queue. I'm not at all bad with people, in my daily life, in my personal life--even in my World of Warcraft life, with guildies and in-game friends. I wouldn't call myself socially awkward or anti-social. I get along with people, by and large.

However, in all those respects, the people are accountable to you in some respect. Even if it's as thin as the knowledge that the interaction is taking place with your real-life person, that's an accountability that puts quite a few limits on socially unacceptable behavior. In that setting, I'm fine with people. 

That, of course, is an overly-complicated way to introduce a pretty commonly-expressed sentiment that people given anonymity will (as a population) act quite a bit worse with respect to social mores.

Let me, though, start at a more general level before getting back to that.

Faking It

Even in "real life," I've become a pretty introverted person. In elementary school and junior high, I was a pretty introverted kid. I was the kid who took a book to school and spent recess sitting alone reading the book, because that's what I wanted to do. In high school, I was much more extroverted and friendly and that extended into college years. However, since then, it's been a slow descent back to introversion. Currently, my natural inclination is to keep to myself and avoid contact.

However, I avoid doing that at times. You can become a hermit, but it's not advisable. Some amount of socialization is healthy and you don't want to end up cut off from everyone. You don't want to be a dark presence in the company of friends, because then you'll be shunned.

So I force myself out of the automatic introversion and chat with people in an outwardly social manner. In fact, I'm so good at forcing myself to do this that people sometimes mistake me for outgoing. But I'm faking it!

This begs the question (and people have put the question to me directly), "What's the difference? How social one is is defined by how one interacts, so how can one plausibly define two identical results differently; one as real and one as fake?"

It's a good question, but I believe I have a good answer. 

The "bad answer" (by which I mean, the one with no explanatory value) is that it feels different. I know what it's like to want to interact and do it naturally and I know what it's like to do what I do today and they don't feel the same.

The better answer, from an explanatory standpoint, is the energy cost. Doing it naturally is effortless, because you enjoy doing it and it's the instinctive action. Faking it, however, requires the mental and emotional exercise of forcing one's self out of one's comfort zone and therefore carries a much greater toll and costs more energy (while generating no combo points).

I can experience this dichotomy even now. I am actually quite naturally social with people I'm very comfortable with. With those people, it's natural and I can interact with them easily for a great deal of time. It costs little, so it takes a long time to become mentally/emotionally exhausted. However, with strangers or casual acquaintances, it's forced and that costs a lot more energy per minute. Doing this exhausts me (again, on a mental/emotional axis) much more quickly.

I'm good at faking it, but my endurance isn't great in this mode. I can seem very social and chatty, but my clock is counting down rapidly.

Was This About World Of Warcraft Or Something?

I was just getting back to that, actually! I "recently" (end of November or so) switched guilds. I was joining the guild of a long-time friend, and several other friends were joining at the same time, but that still meant most people in the guild were new to me. I was leaving a guild of people I had known long enough to be quite comfortable with (including a good friend there, too).

For the first few months, I was faking it. On guild line, in vent, in raid chat...I didn't want to maintain a sullen silence, because no one likes sullen silence, right? I wanted to know the people I'd be spending so much time with per week, but I wanted them to know me, too. I consider myself reasonably interesting and occasionally funny, so I wanted people to know that. So I chatted on all those lines and made my little jokes and banter. It was tiring, though. Not tiresome, but tiring. The raiding was the easy part, the pretending-to-be-what-I-could-eventually-be-once-I-came-to-know-them-better was the part that taxed me. (Also taxing? Reading that hyphenated abomination I just created in the previous sentence.)

It's easier now, as I know them all better and they probably know me somewhat better. I no longer feel like the newcomer with no defined personality. Mission accomplished, but it came with effort.

So, this gets me back to where I started: dungeons are hard. A behavior of mine that I didn't really understand until I began to think about it in these terms now comes clear. Generally when I queue for dungeons, I queue for several in a row. Sometimes, a bunch in a row. There are times when I just want to run some dungeons, for the experience to level up or for gear.

What often ends up happening is that I run the dungeon, it goes well with no conflict and someone re-queues the group once it's finished. I'll watch one person after another re-queue as I hesitate, trying to decide if I will. And then, after saying something cheerful like "Good group, thanks!" I'll drop party and manually re-queue.

That, at face value, simply doesn't make sense, in my opinion. As I noted above, this happens when the run was smooth (so everyone was generally competent at their job) and there wasn't any conflict. I still want to run more dungeons. Why, then, would I turn down an instant queue with a perfectly reasonable group (the kind of group I'll hope to get in my next queue)?

The answer, now I realize, is simply that the social pressure got tiring. Even though I'll still be dealing with strangers in the next run, it'll be a new set of strangers. I can start over...I don't have to keep "being a person" with the same set of people. It sounds pretty strange and I'm probably explaining it with language poorly, but the longer the time spent with a group of people I don't know, where at any moment I may be called upon to interact, the more the toll. Re-queuing feels like a chance to recharge. Even as a healer (I'm usually a healer), my queues are generally not completely instant...more in the 1-5 minute range. That proves to be a nice mental/emotional recharge period. Plus, I get a new group of people. That does help ratchet down how much energy it feels like I've spent, since I'm not trying to extend the time of being nice or interesting or whatever with a group of people, I'm starting it from scratch.

Hopefully, the above paragraph made sense. It makes sense to me, because I know what I mean. Reading it over, I can see how it might not make sense to someone not already familiar with what I mean.

When you add in the knowledge that anyone in the party could be a griefer or that the first adversity (or any random event, really, from your point of view) could turn one or more people into raging jerks, that adds to the cost. The energy isn't only spent when I say something or when someone else says something. Some of the cost is just the presence of other people and that cost goes up when you have no reasonable expectation of what those people will say or do.

That is what makes dungeons hard and an investment. Each queue, I have to decide how much energy I have left for faking it. Depending on what else I've done during the day, I have more or less desire to spend that energy. Running a dungeon with friends substantially reduces the energy cost (indeed, reduces it to about 0, if I'm running with 3-4 other friends). Raiding with friends and guildmembers is about 0 in energy cost.

Running a dungeon with a PUG is costly, though. And until I can solo it, that cost can't be reduced by much of anything Blizzard does.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Instant Crit Versus Long Tail Mastery

The orthodoxy for holy priests is that, other than spirit, mastery is the best secondary stat to gear for. Haste is also solid (many suggest stacking at least to 12.5% raid-buffed for the first healing-over-time breakpoint--where Renew and Divine Hymn attain an extra tick per cast) and critical strike is shunned. Shunned!

I'm not going to discuss haste in this post, because haste is a bit of a different animal...it's essentially always good for reducing GCDs or cast times and becomes even better if you're approaching a haste breakpoint, but it comes at a cost--to realize most of the throughput gains, you have to fit in more casts, which means more mana burned. Haste is pure throughput at the cost of mana sustainability. (Extra healing-over-time ticks are an exception, but holy priests aren't nearly as HoT-centric as, say, restoration druids.)

What I want to discuss is mastery and critical strike...the two stats that provide throughput at no sustainability cost (i.e. free healing).

What's also interesting about this question is that I'm comparing the two stats that most holy priests would say have a wide gap between them and a clear "right answer" for which is better: mastery. And yet, I'm going to argue the reverse, that critical strike is the correct option for holy priests in most cases.

Front-Loading And Back-Loading

In a vacuum, holy's mastery mechanic--Echo of Light--actually performs quite well. Due to the lack of talents that leverage critical strike (unlike discipline, which has the Divine Aegis mechanic), mastery tends to perform better than critical strike when theory-crafted.

The problem arises when you dig into how Echo of Light works. If you cast a single spell, Echo is rather straight-forward...the target of the healing spell receives a HoT that heals for a certain percentage of the original heal over six seconds.

This gets complicated as you cast more and more spells. If you already have an Echo of Light HoT ticking on a player and heal that player again, more Echo of Light has to be added to the player. Thankfully, the new Echo doesn't clip or overwrite the old Echo, the way the Prayer of Healing glyph HoT does...that would neuter the mechanic terribly. How Blizzard made this work is interesting: it adds up the healing remaining on the old Echo (some of it has already ticked away), combines it with the healing that the new Echo would provide and creates a brand new six second HoT with all of that healing. It's clean and elegant...none of the Echo healing is lost, you just have a bigger and stronger HoT.

The problem, however, is that this serves to increasingly back-load the healing that Echo of Light is providing...that is, it pushes more and more of the healing to the future. With each heal of yours that lands, you're building a stronger and stronger HoT. Chain-casting to get through a rough patch of raid healing with leave you with a super-charged HoT on anyone who received a number of your heals.

What's wrong with that? The problem with that is that the more back-loaded your healing becomes, the more likely it is that it'll get pushed to overhealing by the healing-over-time from other healers or the completions of casts in progress. Now you might fairly point out that if it weren't back-loaded, then you'd be pushing other healers' healing into overhealing and, assuming we don't care about meters performance (and we shouldn't), what's the difference?

That response would be right on point if we assumed that the same casts would be made in either case. However, healers adjust their spell choice based on the state of life bars. If all that Echo of Light healing were delivered right up front, instantly, the other healers would see the effect of it before they made choices to drop another Healing Rain or cast a Holy Radiance or begin another Prayer of Healing cast.

In other words, if the effects of your Echo changed life bars quickly, it might save your fellow healers some casts, thereby saving them some mana to be used at another time. Less total overhealing, rather than overhealing redistributed. Instead, since your Echo's real effect is still to come, they cast all those spells, largely topping everyone off and then your Echo roars in to overheal all those people.

Now, what if we had a similar mechanic, whereby each of our heals added extra healing...but that healing was reflected instantly in life bars, thereby allowing your fellow healers to adjust their casting decisions accordingly? Wouldn't that be nice?

It would, and that mechanic is called critical strike. Now, you may have heard some scurrilous rumors about critical strike, that it's unreliable and RNG...but those fears are largely overblown. And while I shan't rehash my entire post on that subject, I will re-affirm that critical strike is quite a different animal for a holy priest, especially a holy priest who is raid healing.

A raid healing holy priest is going to make heavy use of three spells primarily: Prayer of Healing, Circle of Healing and Holy Word: Sanctuary. She may or may not also make heavy use of Renew. (This is not to say such a priest would not use other spells, but those spells would do the majority of the heavy lifting.)

The common thread between all of those spells is lots of "hits" per cast. Prayer of Healing hits five targets per cast. Circle of Healing hits five targets per cast (six if glyphed). Renew ticks four times, or five times if you're at the quite attainable haste breakpoint of 12.5%. Holy Word: Sanctuary is variable, since it depends on how many people are standing in it, but assuming you choose to use it when a lot of people can be inside it, it hits a lot of people and it ticks nine times (base, without the four-piece tier 13 bonus).

When you have that many hits per cast, you're going to get a lot of critical strikes. Unlike single-target healers, where you're likely to get nothing on any individual cast, with these sorts of spells, you're quite likely to get at least one critical strike per cast, if not more. This, in effect, acts as a similar effect to mastery (I'm not speaking mathematically, here, but rather conceptually); each of your casts in effect gets some extra healing. Not RNG healing, mind you, but a pretty predictable return since each cast has enough chances for "mini-crits" that you are very close to guaranteed to get some.

The difference, of course, is that this return will be front-loaded. It happens as soon as you make the cast, or as soon as the tick happens (in the case of Renew or Holy Word: Sanctuary). You see the healing immediately and so do your fellow healers. It won't be overhealing for you (assuming you cast when there was damage to be healed) and it hopefully won't lead to overhealing for your other healers if they see and adjust.

Now, can Echo of Light still do yeoman's work? Absolutely...in fights where your healing team is really struggling to stay abreast of damage the entire fight, and therefore everyone is not eventually topped off, then your Echo of Light will be able to tick fully and mastery does have a better conversion rate from rating to throughput gain. In cases where you are never really topping off your raid, mastery is a stronger stat.

However, fights like that are very rare unless you're trying fights that you don't really have the throughput for. In most fights, you either have periods of strenuous healing that eventually end, allowing you to get the raid topped back off for the next such period, or else you're casting continuously in order to keep the raid largely topped off to be prepared for large damage spikes. In neither scenario is back-loaded healing a big asset, really. Obviously, it's not all wasted...some of those Echo of Light ticks occur while you're casting the next spell, which presumably is still before everyone is topped off to full health. However, the larger and larger ticks keep getting pushed further into the future by each successive cast.

You won't do poorly with a lot of mastery, but you may find that you squeeze more useful healing out of critical strike.

Could this problem with mastery be remedied? I think a fairly simple "fix" would be to make Echo of Light operate the way Wild Growth does on each target it hits: front-load the healing so that the HoT starts off strong and then weakens over its duration and, otherwise, let Echos of Light combine the way that they already do. I believe that that would help balance out the continuous pushing back of stronger HoTs. You'd still be creating stronger HoTs with each successive cast, but it would deliver a big percentage of its payload quickly...which, again, has the virtue of being reflected quickly in the life bars, allowing your healing team to adjust their casting around it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Priests Desperately Need Minors

That title should bring in a lot of Google search traffic, I think. That's a quick lesson to all you kids out there who want to be pro bloggers: you can't cheat SEO (search engine optimization) algorithms, so make a title that's actually honest about your subject matter.

This post, of course, is about the criminal need for more minor glyphs for currently frustrated priests.

Blizzard unveiled a fantastic (in my view) system for glyphs: remove the obvious "increase one's powers" glyphs (if they're so obvious, they should just be baked into the spells and balanced appropriately) and just have (major) glyphs that allow you to tailor your playstyle to preference and (minor) glyphs that are largely only for customizing one's visual style.

If Blizzard does a good job, major glyphs will largely be balanced against one another, so none are "clear winners"...you select the ones that make playing your class more fun for you. That said, I'm not going to discuss major glyphs in this post. I may re-visit them in a future post. This post is about cosmetic/stylish minor glyphs that could be fun for priests.

A bunch of druid minor glyphs were revealed during the Mists of Pandaria press tour blizzard of information (pun fully intended). I can only assume that since those were the minor glyphs displayed during a "first look" that those are intended to be the baseline of what to expect for every class. Blizzard would never resort to the cheap movie trailer tactic of only showing the best bits to lure you in, right? I would think that the cheap escort tactic of hinting at but not yet showing the best bits would serve them better.

So, in that spirit, I'm going to assume priests are going to get an avalanche of amazingly cool minor glyphs and suggest some that I'd like to see.

Glyph of the Shadow Raven

Getting to the obvious one first (but I'd be remiss in skipping past the one that many priests have wanted ever since shadow orbs were added to the game), this glyph would either turn the shadow orbs graphic in shadow ravens, or else just passively surround priests who are in Shadowform with shadowy ravens. In either case, the precedent here are the shadow priests from New Hearthglen, in Dragonblight. They have a few shadowy ravens circling them (all the time, as I recall). It's a nice bit of style.

Glyph of the Angel

This one would be for any priest who took the Archangel talent (perhaps including shadow priests, but perhaps only for healing priests). This glyph would passively provide the current archangel graphic (small, glowing wings) at all times, and when the ability was actually activated, they'd unfurl into a slightly more obvious graphic (perhaps Tyrael-like wings?).

Glyph of Holyform

With this glyph, priests in a Chakra state get the graphic that is currently given to priests who have activated Chakra but haven't yet cast a spell that puts them into a Chakra state (a lovely wreathing in golden flames). Why must such a lovely graphic be mostly never seen (though it bears mentioning that a similar graphic is used for Power Infusion)?

Glyph of Natural/Liquid/Lunar Penance

This would be three different glyphs, each of which re-colors Penance. The "natural" version gives Penance a green, leafy look (Blizzard does a nice job with putting a "falling leaves" look into spell graphics). The "liquid" version would give Penance a blue and watery look. And the "lunar" version would give Penance an otherworldly white glow. (This one is a little dodgy, since golden light is a bit of a priest staple and the "natural" and "liquid" versions would look druidic and shamanistic, respectively...it might not foster a cohesive look for the class.)

Glyph of Vengeance

Your Spirit of Redemption is now a Spirit of Vengeance...instead of using the model of a graveyard angel for when you turn into a Spirit of Redemption, you gain the model of a val'kyr. Actually, will holy priests even have that ability in Mists of Pandaria? I've almost never taken the talent, so I've really not even paid attention.

Glyph of Poignant Death

When you perish, you emit of flash of golden (or shadowy, if you are in Shadowform) light. The world just got a little dimmer (or brighter, if you were in Shadowform) for the loss of a priest. So sad.

As you may be able to tell, I don't play shadow very much, so I'm rather healing priest focused with these glyphs. I think, though, that glyphs like these (including more selection for the shadowed in the priesthood) would allow for some fun flash to be added to the priesting game.

If you have ideas (hopefully, even better ones than these, though I am very enamored of Glyph of the Angel!), please share them in the comments!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fixin' Things

So in the wake of another winding-down expansion (Cataclysm, in case you forgot), I've decided to propose some solutions for things that are either considered broken by many people (archaeology, for example) or things that are considered broken by me (transmogrification, for example). I may even fix things that aren't broken, but could stand to be improved. Hey, if I'm waving this wand, I should wave it as much as I can.


This is something I really want to make fantastic, because it almost feels like a great time-waster, but not quite. And I think solid time-wasters are important for those times when you want to be on World of Warcraft (where some of your friends are) and doing something vaguely productive with your character. Blizzard definitely seems to agree, as their next expansion (Activity Stations of Pandaria, in case you had forgotten) seems to be chock full of attempts at giving us things to do that don't take hardcore time investment.

Still, archaeology is almost good, so here's my attempt to make it good.

I think that instead of adding a handful of starter epics, as they did with the introduction of the profession, they should add an enormous number of transmogrification pieces, with varying drop rates. Many different pieces ranging across the spectrum of cloth, leather, mail and plate, and all the various weapon types (or at least the most-used types...considering there are rarely best-in-slot fist weapons, it may be forgivable not to put in a lot of fist weapon transmogrification pieces). Cloaks, too, of course.

Now here's a key: all of these pieces should be account-bound. Forcing you to grind up the profession on every character and then making the vast majority of the drops useless (a cloth piece when you're excavating on your rogue, a plate piece when you're excavating on your hunter) would be vexing. Allow players to excavate on the character of their choice and still feel pleased about drops that their other characters can use. None of this stuff should be stat-filled power gear, so game balance in being able to fire stuff all around your account shouldn't be a relevant issue.

Many of these pieces should be quite rare, others not so rare. Conceptually, I'd say that if a player was likely to find one of these items a week when doing archaeology a fair amount (but not an incredible amount), then there's a pretty good sense of reward in excavating whenever you have some free time. You can do it by yourself, so you don't need to wait on the whims of friends or guild members (as you would for transmog runs through many instances) and it feeds into one form of character progression: the wardrobe you have available to put your own special stamp on your character.

Now, you may ask, "But where are all of these transmogrification pieces going to come from? Artist time isn't infinite and they're working on a lot of things!" I'm glad I had you ask that. One source of these piece, of course, could be recolored versions of existing items. Maybe a green or silver or multi-colored version of those feathery druid tier shoulders that my friend Khizzara loves so much. Or a replica of the Starshard Edge (full disclosure: I've been desperate to get my hands on that dagger, so this example might be a little self-serving).

Another source, if recolors and replicas leave you a little cold, is clothing that currently only NPCs wear. For example the gown that Azshara wears in the Well of Eternity dungeon. Or the gauzy dress that Tyrande wears in the...Well of Eternity dungeon (they really knocked themselves out for wardrobing their dungeon dwellers in 4.3). There are quite a few objets d'art that are worn throughout the game by NPCs. Why not assume some of them ended up buried for us to find?

In addition, yes, create some new stuff. These solutions weren't meant to be effort-free, but rather things Blizzard could do (at some cost to themselves) to upgrade game systems (in my view) without it being excessive in terms of resources spent. Combine some amount of new art, with some recolors/replicas, with some NPC-only pieces and you can create a pretty large number of options without having to design an inordinate amount of new stuff.

Plus, of course, you can toss in the requisite number of mounts and pets, which I assume they plan to do anyway. This would just be to supplement those.


Okay, I don't truly think this is broken. I'm enjoying it. It's just not quite as magnificent, as conducive to self-expression, as I believe it could be.

Here's my list of fixes in a handy bullet-list format:

  • This one's a two-parter and one part Blizzard has already said they're looking into. Allow players, when transmogrifying a weapon, to choose to carry over the enchantment glow on the source weapon in addition to the weapon art. In addition, allow the enchantment glow display on one's weapon to be toggled on and off, like the display of one's helm and cloak. The second, of course, is something Blizzard has already said they're interested in doing. The first, though, I think is a fairly obvious feature to implement. There are a number of enchantment glows in the game to select from and it offers players one more customization venue. And if they think their weapon looks best with no glow, well, that's what the toggle is for.
  • Classify weapons by family and allow transmogrification within family. For example, here is a set of families: one-handed weapons (mace, dagger, fist weapon, sword, wand*), two-handed weapons (two-handed sword, two-handed mace, two-handed axe), pole-arms (pole-arm, staff), ranged (bow, crossbow, gun). You can't transmogrify a dagger to look like a staff or a two-handed axe to look like a fist weapon, but weapons of the same general class can be transmogrified into each other, so that if you have a two-handed mace, but really love the look of two-handed swords, you can still use that for your look. Blizzard already allows this with ranged weapons, so I think there's little to no conceptual leap to extend it.
  • This one is not technically a mechanical issue of transmogrification, but I think it is quite related to the new world order of customizing one's appearance. Allow the display of one's shoulder piece to be toggled on or off, much like the current toggles for helm and cloak. I'd say that shoulder pieces are even more likely to be disruptive to one's desired look than cloaks. In the past, the argument against allowing this was the prestige-identifier theory--that players identified the power level of other players by the distinctive look that their shoulders, chestpiece and leggings created. However, with transmogrification, that's all out the window anyway...you can no longer have any idea of another player's gear level from the look of their gear if they choose to customize their look. So you might as well allow shoulders to be hidden, since a player intent on changing their image will likely be using the look of shoulders quite out of step with their actual ilevel.
  • Allow white (common) items to be used as sources for transmogrification. It seems like a very arbitrary limitation and, perhaps surprisingly, there are quite a few very nice or very unique looking models hidden away in the statless items.
*In Mists of Pandaria, wands will be main hand weapons


I really should have written this post four months ago or so, like I had planned, rather than being lazy, because the fix for the glyph system that I would have presented is virtually identical to what Blizzard appears to be planning for Mists of Pandaria (minor glyphs being an extensive collection of fun and cosmetic choices, major glyphs allowing customization of one's play style and the "power" glyphs--the ones that just flatly power up your spells--removed and just baked into the spells and talents).

I would sue Blizzard but I've learned from past experience that the legal system is not sympathetic to claims of "thought robbery" while one is sleeping.

Still, I guess that's one game system Fixed(tm). I'm going to take credit for it and wait for my other fixes to be put into action. It's only a matter of time.

To be continued...someday...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Developing A Healing Strategy

It's process time again! We do so love our organized processes. Perhaps you've always wondered how a healer should approach a new encounter and put together a coherent framework of action (doesn't that sound professional, like some business world/World of Warcraft hybrid?). Perhaps not. Actually, probably not. I'm going to tell you how, though.

Healing, in my view, can be distilled to this: matching patterns of incoming damage with patterns of healing. In dungeons, things can be a little random (what with tanks of varying skill, DPS of varying desire to pull extra packs, etc) but in raid encounters, things tend to settle into fairly understandable and predictable patterns.

Consistent tank damage is one pattern of incoming damage. Spiky, inconsistent tank damage is another. Consistent damage to the raid (like a persistent damage aura) is yet another. Bursts of single-target damage to random raid members is even still another. I could go on like this for days, but you get the idea. Damage has a shape, a profile...it affects life bars in different ways.

Those differing profiles or patterns are what make healing dynamic. If damage only had one profile (say, evenly distributed damage across everyone in the raid), it would strip the dynamicism from healing the encounter. Ultraxion is a lot like that and it's not exactly the most thrilling fight to heal (though sometimes it's fun to have a fight where your job is simply to pump out the biggest sustained numbers you can).

So you could enter a raid encounter with little preparation, beyond knowing what you need to avoid standing in, and see how the life bars change and cast an appropriate spell. Even for reactive healing specs, though, that's not a good idea, as you'll always be a step behind. The "step behind" is not that you're casting the spell after the damage happens...other than discipline priests, that's how healing specs work. Where you'll be a step behind is needing to recognize the incoming damage profile and choose the correct spell to counteract it before you can cast. That's a significant delay that adds up over the course of the encounter, leading to less useful healing than you'd otherwise be capable of.

Study The Game Film Between Games

Read about the encounter...the mechanics you'll be seeing, the damage they do and the recommended strategy. Now, the recommended strategy may not be what your raid team does, but it's valuable just to get a general understanding of what types of tasks your DPS and tanks will be carrying out and what they'll be subjected to.

Watch a video, too, if you can. Patterns can often make more sense when you see them play out.

Based on this research, start to build a plan for what spells you're going to want to use and when. When you're going to need to go all out, guns blazing, and when you'll have some respite to perhaps pop mana cooldowns or generally recover a little (or, at least, ease off your most expensive spells). Especially as you do heroic encounters, you'll pretty much need to be casting something at all times...taking time to decide what it is you need to cast will slow you down. You want to have a sense for what you're going to be casting when ahead of time.

The Scientific Method

Healers are nothing if not scientists. So you have your hypothesis about what patterns of casting will see your group through, but hypotheses need to be tested. Every attempt on an encounter is a nice controlled experiment in the lab. Start off by sticking to the plan you crafted beforehand.

Things are going to fall apart the first time, if it's a difficult encounter. That's part of the fun--data collection! So keep a sense for when things seemed to fall apart (generally it'll be memorable as the point in time when you throw your mouse through the drywall) and, after you've thrown your mouse, try to stay clinical. What happened? What went wrong? Did everyone else stick to the plan? If they did and the damage still got out of hand, then perhaps you didn't have the right spells planned for that part or maybe you miscalculated what the damage profile would even look like. Sometimes, the intersection of several mechanics can be hard to predict, a priori, in terms of how they will combine to hurt the raid.

But that's cool, you're still in good shape. Repair up and adjust your strategy a bit. Ask yourself a few questions: Did I seem to be healing the wrong people at times? Did I use spells that were too weak when bigger spells were needed? How much will patching up that drywall cost anyway? Subtly, but crucially, could you have used different spells at earlier times in the fight that might have helped the situation when things fell apart?

That last one, I feel, is easy to overlook. Generally, and understandably, people gloss over the points in the fight that seemed stable as "fine" and examine only the points in the fight where the deaths began to pile up.

Obviously, the failure point probably has most of the important post-mortem information. Failed raid encounters often boil down to certain critical junctures and once you have those sorted, you have the fight down.

However, as the ripples of anger and fear in Alberta can eventually culminate in a stock collapse in London* so too can decisions early in the fight lead to consequences later in the fight.

*Theoretically. It's probably never actually happened.

As an example from my experience as a discipline priest, perhaps you could have cast a bunch of shields while things still felt stable in preparation for the period of time that even casting all your fast, expensive spells was not sufficient. Perhaps if you had focused on keeping the tank higher in health at a different point, she wouldn't have used a defensive cooldown and she'd have had that cooldown available at a more critical juncture. Perhaps if you had matched the right spells to the situation earlier in the fight, you'd have more mana to blow at a big and important healing moment.

Figure out not only what went wrong at the time when things went wrong, but also what decisions earlier in the decision tree might have averted the crisis. Each encounter is a bunch of new data...use it to refine your hypothesis.

Insert Cooldown Here

I think it's important to first figure out your general plan of action, which is why I haven't mentioned cooldowns to this point. Sometimes it'll be obvious just reading about the encounter when cooldowns will be important and sometimes the raid leader will assign your cooldowns to certain places in the fight. That's fine.

But it's not always clear when cooldowns should be used. Not every fight has an "unusually massive blast of damage now" moment and each raid group does an encounter slightly differently (or a lot differently). In those cases, you'll have to figure out when a cooldown will do the most good by seeing where your raid team has the most trouble and mentally marking those times as the points at which to insert your cooldowns into the fight.

But remember: when in doubt, use the cooldown at the earliest moment that it'll be useful. Cooldowns are powerful abilities that Blizzard doesn't want you to be able to use too often. The less you use your powerful abilities, the longer the cooldown time you are adding to it. After seeing the fight enough times, you may gladly trade using it less for clutch usage to get you through moments you couldn't survive otherwise.

Talk To Other People (Your Fellow Healers Are People, Too)

"Talk to them" is not necessarily literal. I'm also including reading the thoughts of other people on the internet, even if you don't interact back. So many people are doing all of these same encounters that you'll see a lot of opinions. As per Minstrel's Law of Everything: 90-95% of everything (stand-up comedy, music, opinion) is crap. Especially when it comes to the Internet. But that other 5-10% can be pure gold.* If you spend time reading over what other people say, you may come away with one or two solid ideas you didn't think of to make the encounter easier.

*My blog: 90-95% crap, 5-10% gold. This is intentional; I encourage you to figure out what is what, it builds character.

Your healers are particularly worth studying as specimens, as they get to experience the same situations as you, unlike healers in other raid groups. See what they're thinking, what they're feeling, what cultural backgrounds are prejudicing their healing.* It's not impossible that a little communication can cause a revelation that will change how you address a pattern of incoming damage.

*"I'd expect you to feel entitled to our feral druid's Innervate. Everything's just come so easy for you ever since daddy got you a job as a vice president, hasn't it, Spoiled Bobby?"

The Main Point

The main point here is that your job as a healer is to identify the shape of incoming damage over time and use the right spells to match that pattern. You should have an approximate idea of what that pattern will look like in your head going in, so that you have a testable plan. Being approximate, however, means that there will be certain crucial inaccuracies, so you'll use the wipes to analyze and refine both the picture of the damage over time that you had going in and your plan to address it.

Have one part of your mind dedicated to being an impartial observer that doesn't care if you win or lose, it just wants to know what happened. Leave the fiery passions to the DPS...your job is to stay analytical at all times. The more you observe and understand, the stronger the refinements to your plan.

The most important piece of gear for you as a healer is your brain. (Seriously, guys, I just came up with that. I'm always coming up with stuff like that off the top of my head at parties.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Critical Error

There's a lot of misunderstanding about the value of critical strike around the healing community that I see. It isn't that critical strike deserves to be the stat that you stack or even prioritize, but it gets an unreasonably bad rap for all the wrong reasons...just like you or I did as a teenager. We can't do anything about our teenage years (unless you're still in them), but we can ease the social awkwardness of poor critical strike.

Too Random At Any Speed

This is, by far, the most common reason/argument that I see healers use in advising other healers to avoid critical strike. The syllogism goes:

  1. Critical strike is RNG
  2. RNG is bad
  3. Therefore, critical strike is bad

For those unaware of the term "RNG," it stands for "random number generator" and it's used as a proxy for anything in the game system that has an element of chance to it.

Obviously, the conclusion in (3) is correct if we accept the premises of (1) and (2). So let's take a look at each of these premises and see if they hold up to focused scrutiny. I'm going to examine them in reverse order.

RNG is bad

A very common belief is that healers depend on reliability. DPS can exist in the chaotic maelstrom that is RNG, but no player tasked with keeping the raid alive can afford the luxury of rolling dice.

Is that true, though? I was talking about this with a friend of mine who tanks (Schriko of Ebon Plaguebringer) and he provided the perfect comparison point: tank avoidance stats. Tanks are no less tasked with keeping the raid alive (they are, in many ways, the choke point of the raid's jug of health...lose that stopper--the tank dies--and the rest of the raid's health is going to come pouring out soon after) and should presumably also be concerned with "reliability" over all else, if reliability was the be-all and end-all for those who's failures mean the raid dies.

However, no tanking guide suggests ignoring dodge and parry, the two "RNG" avoidance stats for tanks. Acquiring a fairly significant amount of each is an important thing for tanks to do (well, not parry so much for bear tanks, for obvious reasons!), even long before they can reach full combat table coverage.

The reason is that raid encounters are fairly long combat encounters. A tank will be exposed to a huge number of boss or add swings over the course of the encounter. The larger the sample size (that is, the number of opportunities to dodge or parry) the lower the volatility of the randomness. That is to say, if you have a 20% chance to dodge and only one chance to dodge, you're looking at an 80% chance to get exactly zero benefit from that dodge chance. However, if you have a million chances to dodge, you have so many chances to dodge that you'll almost certainly see right around 20% of those million chances dodged which means you reduced your damage over those million swings by a fifth, or 20% (assuming, for this very basic example, that all the swings were equal in damage done).

The same holds true for healers or DPS. The more spells you cast, the more chances for any type of RNG (critical strike, weapon or trinket procs, etc) to stabilize around its numerical value and play out like a static value (as the 20% dodge plays out like a 20% damage decrease over a long combat).

Critical strike is RNG

At its base, critical strike is clearly RNG...the value denotes the chance for a heal (or damage, but I'm mostly focusing on healers here) of double the value.

That said, there are some things that you should keep in mind when considering critical strike as a healer.

The first thing is that some healing class-specs have a much, much greater number of opportunities to generate critical strikes. For example, let's look at holy priests. The majority of their healing comes from Prayer of Healing, Circle of Healing and (if the raid can spend a fairly large amount of time stacked up) Holy Word: Sanctuary.

Prayer of Healing can hit five players at a time. Circle of Healing can hit six, glyphed. Holy Word: Sanctuary can hit as many people as stand in it, so up to twenty five people in a raid setting.

That means that on each Prayer of Healing cast, you have five chances to critically heal, six chances with Circle of Healing and an indeterminate but high number of chances with Holy Word: Sanctuary (assuming you're making smart decisions about when to use it).

This stands starkly in contrast to a healer (or DPS) who casts lots of single-target spells. Those players can still generally count on critical strike largely smoothing out over an entire combat, but are more volatile from cast to cast. A holy priest really isn't, because their model is to cast, in essence, a ton of small heals...which greatly expands their sample size even on a per-cast basis. For a holy priest, it's not all-or-nothing even on a per-cast basis.

Returning to the tank avoidance stat analogy for a moment, if there were a type of tank that had the ability to break each boss swing into seven smaller pieces of damage, each of which could be independently dodged or parried, then dodge or parry would be even less volatile for the tank. That's the tanking equivalent of healers who cast a lot of area of effect (AoE) heals (even if such a tank doesn't currently exist...but maybe it should!).

This, of course, is not limited to holy priests. Restoration druids also have a lower volatility per cast, due in part to their AoE heal (Wild Growth) but also due to the fact that the ticks of nearly all heals-over-time (HoTs) can critically strike. HoTs, like AoE heals, also subscribe to the model of smaller but more numerous heals, which substantially reduces the volatility per cast.

Restoration shamans, with Chain Heal and Healing Rain, fall into this boat if they're primarily raid healing. Holy paladins have been pushed into this boat by the redesign of Holy Radiance (and its resultant synergy with Light of Dawn).

To be perfectly honest, discipline priests can end up here, too, if they find themselves spamming Prayer of Healing as raid healers, which is a fairly common style for discipline priests.

Critical Conclusion

Let me clarify what I'm saying here. I am not remotely saying that critical strike is the best stat for each of these class-specs. What I am saying is that critical strike is not a poor choice due to its "unreliable RNG aspect." Critical strike tends to stabilize over raid encounters that aren't extremely short and spec or playstyle can even stabilize critical strike on a per-cast basis.

Looking at critical strike as an unreliable stat that makes healing raid encounters as chancy as rolling dice is simply the wrong way to approach analyzing our secondary stats and gearing.

There are, certainly, other factors to consider* in critical strike but unreliability is really not one of them.

The idea of this post is not to make a full review of critical strike as a stat, but rather to strenuously object to one of the most common philosophical arguments put forth within the healing community about critical strike.

*Factors To Consider Not Expanded On In This Post
  • The cost, in rating, to get a percentage of the various secondary stat
  • The talents that are affected by critical strike
  • The spells you use that are affected by critical strike
  • The effect on mana that the various secondary stats exert
  • The value other secondary stats have to your spell usage (opportunity cost of critical strike)