Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4.1 Incoming

Everyone seems to think 4.1 is arriving today. Perhaps it already has. There are a lot of things I'm looking forward to:
  • New 5-mans. Personally, I love 5-man content. It's easy to arrange groups and you can beat a whole dungeon in 30-60 minutes. Also, the fact that it's trolls again is fine by me. I enjoyed the zombies and constructs of Wrath, but the Old World ogres, trolls, and dragons make a nice change of pace.
  • A week's of dailies at once. Yay! Random dungeons have become a bit of a chore on my main character. Being able to do 2-3 at once makes it much better. I'm hoping that many groups will do chains of dungeons, meaning that you only have to wait in the queue for the first dungeon. Curiously, if chaining does become popular, it should mean that initial queue times for healers and dps will be increased.
  • Call to Arms. I'll be playing a tank alt more often because of this, and if the incentives work to pull in more tanks, my main will be able to queue even faster.
  • Resto druids get an extraordinary buff via tranquility. It's down to a three-minute cooldown, and it has pushback protection. I still don't understand all the whining about this.
  • I can drop Living Seed. It's not a bad talent, but it's not as good as some of the others I've dropped.
  • Maelstrom crystals will be available for justice points. I won't be buying them, but it means the cost should now be reasonable.
  • Players can buy honor for justice and vice versa. This means it will be a good long while before I run out of things to spend justice points on again. I hated blowing thousands of justice points on trade goods just to have something to do with them.

All in all it's an exciting patch. What are you looking forward to?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Call to Arms will work

I've come around. Jinxed Thoughts describes a scenario that will play out over and over once Call to Arms is in place:
There are a couple of features that I am looking forward to a little extra in this patch, for example I intend to start burning through instances like there was no tomorrow (aliens attacking?) with my dk, maybe even my warrior, due to the new Call to Arms. I like tanking - I just need a little more incentive to stand the douchy pugs. Maybe this will be enough, we'll see

I previously pointed out that players already have a tremendous incentive to enter dungeons as a tank, so if they are going in as dps nonetheless then no reasonable cash bonus is going to change it. However, I overlooked that there's another source of tanks than people who would otherwise have queued as dps. Alts!

Warcraft is an alt-friendly game, and many people create alts once they have their main character maxed out, for some definition of "max". When people decide what to do with their time, they choose between things like daily quests, taking an alt into a dungeon, playing the auction house, working on achievements, and so on. Call to Arms will tip the scales of that decision toward running dungeons as a tank, and the scales there are already pretty balanced.

I predict we will see a lot more tanks in the dungeon finder. We'll also see a lot fewer people doing dailies, participating in battlegrounds, and all the other things people would otherwise spend their time on. That's really all fine with me. I find dungeons the best part of WoW. It's not a very good PVP game, but it's a wicked cool multi-player PVE game, and nowhere do you see more multi-player PVE goodness than in dungeons and raids.

Bouridon on managing mana

Bouridon has a great post up on choosing spells and abilities so as to use mana efficiently. It's well worth a read.

One thing that I'd quibble with is that I haven't see the value of passive regen going away when you get full epic gear.
None of the following will really matter if you don’t have an adequate amount of spirit for passive combat mana regeneration. While you may have to stack some spirit at lower gear levels (346ish iLvl), once you start getting some purple pixels this will become less important as your gear will provide more than enough.

What is happening with the Straw Hat Pirates is that as we get more gear, I don't have regen issues on the on-farm bosses, but we immediately go to work on more difficult bosses where there's a lot of healing. On progression bosses, I still find mana to be a significant concern.

I frequently run into druids who think of regen as something to get enough of and then you stop. This point of view is only helpful if you have a set number of raid bosses you will ever attempt and then stop. For the most part, I don't think it's very helpful to optimize for on-farm bosses. In theory, you can optimize for repeatability, but once you start out-gearing an encounter it's going to be pretty repeatable no matter what you do.

Given the small percentage of guilds that have Sinestra down, there are precious few of us who are likely to hit the end of progression before the next raiding tier comes out.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Getting more tanks into the Dungeon Finder

Blizzard just announced that they are adding Call to Arms as a way to entice more tanks into the dungeon finder.
To be eligible for the additional rewards you must solo queue for a random level-85 Heroic in the role that is currently being Called to Arms, and complete the dungeon by killing the final boss. Every time you hit these requirements (there is no daily limit) you'll receive a goodie bag that will contain some gold, a chance at a rare gem, a chance at a flask/elixir (determined by spec), a good chance of receiving a non-combat pet (including cross faction pets), and a very rare chance at receiving a mount.

By the way, I disagree with the premise that the current queue times for dps are crazy. They are long, but they aren't crazy long. So long as you have something else to do (quest, gather, dailies, ...), the queue times are just right to give you a pleasant alternation between two kinds of activity.

Nonetheless, shorter queues would be better. What can be done?

I suspect Call to Arms won't make much of a difference. Already, tanks can queue instantly, so they have a very strong enticement to queue as a tank instead of as a healer or dps. The additional benefit of getting gold out of it is swamped by the benefits they already have.

A better angle, though one much more difficult to implement, is to make it less onerous to tank. This can be hard to do, because tanking is much more demanding than the other roles.

One possible solution would be to lower the gear requirements for tanking in heroics. Make the mobs hit less hard, so that characters can queue for heroics with less fear of wiping the group. As the game is balanced right now, tanks that meet the minimum ilvl requirement are fairly squishy. Some might say this is making the game too easy on tanks, but if we are seeing tanks not sign up or heroics, the game must already be fairly hard for them. A nice thing about this solution is that it only affects heroics. As far as I know there is no shortage of tanks for raids.

Another possibility would be to make tanking rotations even simpler, or at least, make a simpler rotation be sufficient. I find that when tanking with a new class, there's a tanking equivalent to grid lock where you get so focused on your threat rotation that you lose track of where all the mobs are. If tanks had a couple of fewer buttons to worry about, then they'd find it easier to focus on all the other things tanks do. This strategy, granted, can easily backfire. Many complained in Wrath that tanking many fights was terribly boring, and that's why Cataclysm tanks have so much more to do.

A third possibility, and not something they can implement immediately, is to reduce the ratio of tanks that are needed for a group. Why not have 8-man dungeons with one tank and one healer?

Overall, it's a tricky problem. As usual, it's gratifying to see that Blizzard is thinking about these game design problems instead of just raking in their dough. I don't think Call to Arms will solve the tanking shortage in Dungeon Finder, but it's a simple thing that is easy to try.

UPDATE: Jar on Rank 4 Healing Touch takes up the same question.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Would we want bosses that only drop useful loot?

I've been enjoying reading Ghostcrawler's "dev watercooler" posts about Warcraft's game design. His latest entry is on how specific to make gear.
One suggestion that pops up fairly often, both internally and externally, is to make gear more tailored for each and every talent spec.[...] The problem with that approach is that boss loot tables get really long.[...] There is a reason that Argaloth and his ilk feel like slot machines -- because they can drop so many items, the chance of them dropping the piece you want is pretty low.

With the exception of intellect plate, I'm pretty happy with how gear works right now. There's a primary stat--intellect, strength, or agility--that is so good you would never take gear without the right one. The secondary stats, excepting hit, are always good to a varying degree, but some are better than others. All gear ends up being interesting to a few different specs, so even in a 10-man raid, any particular drop will usually be interesting to someone in the raid. They can at least use it as an off-spec.

As an aside, I love paladins, but I don't like intellect plate. Even aside from the fact that only one spec wants it, plate just doesn't seem like an intelligent sort of gear. Plate is not smart. Plate is about raw, brute force. Ghostcrawler suggests but rejects turning normal melee stats into healing stats for holy paladins. It's a good thing to try. Occasionally someone mentions a potential healing design where you'd wail on a boss to heal your own group. If that is ever tried, holy paladins would be a good spec to try it on. Imagine smite healing, only with a mace.

But I digress. Several of the commenters suggested making loot drops be definitely useful to the raid, rather than just probably. The idea is that when a boss dies, and the game calculates what it will drop, the only choices are drops that look useful to the current members of the raid. If there aren't any mail wearers, then no mail would drop. If there are ten paladins in the raid, then only plate will drop.

That approach doesn't sound as fun to me. While I'm glad there are tokens in the game, so that I can make some progress on gear even if the drops are unlucky, I overall prefer getting gear from drops. If all gear was automatically useful, it would be like tokens all the time. It would take a little bit of the thrill of a game that is already pretty laid back.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Patch notes for 4.1.11

Somehow I missed them. The April Fool's patch notes have buffs to all classes that play on stereotypes of those classes.

For druids, it's the shape changing. For example, "Druids no longer talk to Innkeepers to set their Hearthstone. They are instead now required to talk to Stable Masters." Also, there's a dig on druid gathering, which is highly annoying to every other class in the game. "Druids now perform an area-of-effect knockback when harvesting herbs, looting, or skinning (does not remove Flight Form)."

Enjoy, if you missed it like I did!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Crabby the dungeon helper

Crabby the dungeon helper is awesome. The best part are the screenshots. One of them has a picture of a hero standing next to a dungeon portal, and the dialogs goes like this:
Crabby: It looks like you're getting ready to enter a dungeon. Would you like help?

Option 1: Get help
Option 2: I've got this one, thanks!

Personally, I'd like a dungeon assistant more like the skull from Planescape: Torment. An assistant that helps you... but that you're always suspicious about.