Category Archives: Game mechanics

A brief thought on that thing they found

Maybe you heard.  Them busy datamining gnomes done went and found something interesting.

If what they found is to be believed, in 5.4 or at some point in the not too distant future, you will be able to buy a potion that will double your XP from killing mobs and doing quests.

Two things come to mind.

  1. If it costs a significant portion of your subscription fee (or more!) then it is not a microtransaction. Just stop calling $25 companions and mounts a "microtransaction", for Light’s sake. You just look like you have no idea what you’re talking about ((No, not going there.)).
  2. Blizzard still has issues coming to grips with the problem.

That second thing needs a bit of explaining.

The entire goal of things like this supposed elixir are to bypass the leveling game.  Other devices like the Scroll of Resurrection and so forth do this as well – by increasing your XP gain rate, they shorten the amount of time you spend leveling.  They’ve also beefed up the XP gain rate for the content of entire expansions in order to achieve the same thing.  Entire zones have been revamped to make it easier to level through them, more efficiently.

So what’s wrong with this is that there are plenty of people that like the leveling game.  There is the original game and four expansions’ worth of content that can’t all be experienced organically by one character.  Things like these potions don’t really impact it, but any time Blizz does something to marginalize an entire zone, it DOES impact people that enjoy the older / earlier zones.

But as long as Blizzard fails to acknowledge and act on the ultimate problem, they’ll keep doing this.  It’s wasteful and annoying.

What they need to do is just sell pre-made level 90 characters.

Things like this elixir have that in mind, they just don’t go far enough.

What they’ll tell you is that they want to make things easier on people that want to bring a new class to raiding.  Fair enough.  So just short circuit the whole leveling game and give them a 90.  Charge 25 bucks and the leetsauce raiders will just lap it up.

So, no, I don’t have a problem with you if you want to ignore 95% of the game content on your frantic climb to 90.  I’d just prefer they spend fewer resources getting you there.

Leave the old zones alone. Stop selling elixirs.  Stop treating the leveling game like it’s such a chore, and just give people what they want.  You’ll be happier, I’ll be happier, and we’ll all have somebody new to lump in with "e-bayers".

Poor Execution versus Bad Idea

In the recent developer Q&A we find this exchange:

Fojar: Following the fall of Garrosh, will the Alliance be turning its attention to reclaiming its lost territory in the Northern Eastern Kingdoms? I speak primarily of Lordaeron, Gilneas, and Stromgarde.

Fargo: This is something we struggle with, because after Cataclysm we seriously question the time-investment of re-doing old zones. Presumably, from a lore standpoint, the Horde is going to have to back down from areas on the edge of conquest (particularly Ashenvale.) But we don’t want to re-do that zone – it’s an important Horde level-up area. And even if we DID re-do it, we’d still have to have quests – it couldn’t just be night elves /dancing. On a related note, would you guys be willing to sacrifice a new zone in the next expansion for us to re-do Gilneas? As an Alliance only zone? What gameplay would we get out of it?

So it’s an open question for us, how we show the impact of the war without re-doing zones that we just re-did for Cataclysm.

and

Kamrian Green: A fear many Alliance players have is that everything that the Horde has done to the faction up until this point will be laid on Garrosh and all will be forgiven. Can we safely assume that this will not be the case? To the Alliance, the Horde has a lot to answer for without Hellscream.

Fargo: I address this somewhat in an above answer ((The one I just quoted, in fact.))- how SHOULD we depict Alliance justice without deleting a bunch of old zone content? Also, we still need to make sure a Horde EXISTS after Garrosh falls, because, you know, they’re half our players. But certainly going forward into the next expansion we can carry forward the themes of Horde trying to rebuild itself from an absolutely terrible war and the Alliance – a unified victorious juggernaut – taking the initiative in the challenges that lie ahead.

Orgrimmar is going to be a bloodbath.

There seems to be the perception ((A perception I share.)) that the zone revamps of Cataclysm were, by and large, a failure. There are many reasons given, but by and large, the finger usually points to execution – it was in general done poorly. 

One example would be the added real estate that remained, by and large, dead.  Go to EPL and have a look at the highlands in between the northwestern and southwestern halves of the zone. Lake, devoid of life. Hills, devoid of life.

There are other examples to draw upon, of course. How questing was "on rails". How you ran out of XP headroom before you ran out of quests. How the lore was treated disrepectfully in some cases. The retcons. And so forth.

But there were some good points, too.  The whole Wrathion storyline issues forth from one of those revamped zones. Oversized zones ((I’m looking at you, Barrens.)) were cut into manageable sizes. Things moved forward as time passed (WPL, to some extent).

In general, if you ask someone how they feel about revamped, updated, or modernized zones, as a thing, they’ll be positive.  But if you ask them how they feel about how Blizz executed the revamped zones, the response will be overall negative.

Now, let’s look at the above quotes again.  Fargo gives the impression that, yeah, they want to modernize zones, but, because they didn’t work out, they don’t feel that putting resources into it is a worthwhile thing.

The thing is, I think that the response to the bad execution is being taken as a response to the whole idea of zone revamps, and I have to disagree with that perception.  I think that if they had done a better job of it, the response would be far, far more positive, and Blizz would probably see this as a thing worth pursuing.

Right now, moving the lore on Old Azeroth forward seems to be held up by their unwillingness to try to revamp a zone again. Look at the comments above; yeah, would be nice of Alliance took back Gilneas, but that would require a zone revamp.  Yeah, Alliance justice would be interesting to depict, but we’d have to revamp a bunch of old content.  Yeah, Alliance would probably assert itself in Ashenvale again, but that would require a zone revamp. 

Eventually it stops sounding convincing. Eventually it sounds like a bunch of weak excuses.

The lore should move forward. If that means revamping old zones, you do it, or things start to fall apart.  Eventually you’re not going to be able to staple all the old lore to new expansions’ lore without some change.


On a lighter note:

Guest: Turalyon and Alleria are still absent after all these years. Did they find a portal to a tropical island planet and are sitting on the beach drinking cocktails with the little umbrellas in them right now or something?

Fargo: I LIKE that answer! But I suspect they opted to do something heroic instead. We’ll come back to them when the time is right.

Keep in mind where it is that we lost track of these two, and we see some foreshadowing that points towards Outland once again. Goody!

A trend I’m not thrilled about

The planned new training recipes for Blacksmithing in patch 5.2 make me sad.

Lemme splain.

In a nutshell, these new recipes can be used to get you from skill level 1 to 500 by using Ghost Iron – I’m going to assume that in the next expansion, it will be the ore of the new lands, perpetually from 5.2 on out.

The good news of this is that you don’t have to go farming for copper, tin, iron, and so forth to get you through the lower levels.

But here’s the thing; can I see a show of hands of anyone that felt that farming or buying copper ore was any more difficult than farming or buying ghost iron?  It’s not difficult. It’s not a problem.  The greatest challenge it poses is for you to figure out what zone has what ores, which is just the sort of brain-dead activity that separates us from lower primates.

In short, this solves a problem that doesn’t exist.

It is strangely similar to how Blizzard solved “the leveling problem”.  Instead of making it interesting, they made it trivial.

And GhostCrawler has the nerve to be surprised that his playerbase “optimizes for efficiency.”

The simplified leveling model solved a problem that didn’t exist. The new blacksmithing scheme does as well.  And both are a monumental waste of time.

If they decide to trivialize the leveling or blacksmithing experience so that it’s just stupid simple to do, why not do something a lot less complicated?  Just let people buy level 85 characters for fifty bucks (and kill the illicit market for said toons).  Just let people pay a huge sum of gold for BS skill level 500 and stop clogging our zones with farmers.

They have a moral and philosophical objection to this sort of thing, but because of those peccadillos, they’ve wasted countless man-hours on something that nobody wants, instead of, oh, I don’t know, new content maybe?. Maybe finish up dance studio? Maybe get those updated models out there?

No, what they’ve decided to do is to give us ways to skip parts of the game without actually and factually doing the deed.

And that, my friends, is disappoint.

Monkeys will do anything for bananas – until the bananas go bad.

Over the last few weeks or so there has been a lot of debate, most of it hostile and disrespectful, over, of all things, dailies. I really hate it when people use terms like “Skinner box” to short-cut the discussion, in the seeming belief that using labels to obscure meaning somehow gives them an advantage.

In a way, it does, in that it discourages participation from people that are not steeped in the science of psychology – or the shorthand pop psych that passes for it in gaming circles.  Of course, this opens them up to an attack of bona fides, in which the adversary gets to pick which version of “Operant conditioning chamber” that will be used in the conversation. At which point it all breaks down into a bitter fight over selection of sources, a third-hand knife fight over which source is the most correct ((Or, more likely, which one is least correct!)), and at the end nothing is resolved or even discussed, which makes the owners (if that term can really be used)  of the debate quite happy, since all they probably have anyway are bitter complaints, and if we resolve those then nobody’s happy!

So as not to be one of the guilty, here’s my summary: a “Skinner box” is basically an apparatus in which a creature is placed. It presents them with stimuli, and things to do, and a reward system.  One example would be a box in which a rat is placed, with a pellet dispenser, a lever, a light, and a bell. When the light flashes, and the rat hits the lever, it gets a pellet. When the bell sounds, and it hits the lever, it gets no pellet. The rat is eventually trained to press the lever whenever the lights goes off, period.  If you want to make it festive, apply a punishment when the bell sounds, but it’s not actually a requirement to use negative reinforcement in such a system.

My favorite story about Skinner devices is this, and it illustrates the concept admirably.

Six monkeys were placed in a with a bunch of bananas. Whenever one of the monkeys touched the bananas, though, the rest of the monkeys would get sprayed with a fire hose.

Eventually, the monkeys learned to keep each other away from the bananas. 

One monkey was replaced with a new one. It naturally tried to get a banana, and it naturally got the hell beat out of it by the other monkeys.

One by one, the monkeys were replaced, until none of the original monkeys remained.

At that point, the fire hose was removed.  It wasn’t needed. The monkeys would beat the hell out of any monkey that tried to get a banana.

At that point, the monkeys were replaced, one by one, again, until the second generation was completely replaced.

The monkey senses bullsh!tThe six monkeys that remained would not let any monkey have a banana.  There was no fire hose. There was no punishment. None of them had ever been hosed, not even once.

I imagine if you could talk to the monkeys, and ask them “why won’t you let anyone have a banana?”, they’d probably look around and go “Well, that’s how we’ve always done things around here.”

The contentious debate is all about whether we’re monkeys, really.  I’m voting monkey.

=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=

A couple of days ago, I was pleased to let this sit where it was. All *I* had, after all, was complaints about the people making all the noise! And it’s really silly to complain about something that makes one feel oh so better about themselves, so silence seemed best.

Then GhostCrawler had to go and tweet this:

Not thinking efficiency here I would not have predicted that players would become so focused on efficiency. Not fun or improving themselves. Efficiency.

I caught myself laughing, because that’s exactly what Grimm’s been doing. Gear planning is simply that – planning one’s way through a series of events in the most efficient manner possible.  A caveat is that he’s full aware of the irony of plotting one’s most direct route through a game, which is meant to be fun.  But, it is ironic nevertheless.

Ghostcrawler’s tweet really brings it together, though.  Remember as the expansion was coming together that a lot of noise was made about “fun”. We’re bringing you “fun dailies”.  We are giving you “fun things to do”. That sort of talk.

But the design team failed to understand the stats they had from past expansions point towards the raiding monkeys making a beeline for two things: gear and tokens for more gear.

You had one job. One. Job. Ask around, see if you can find someone that did the Firelands dailies out of a sense of enjoyment.  It should be easy. Those people will have lots of unused tokens. Because the rest of us monkeys stopped as soon as we had just enough to get that last bit of gear.  This has been true for every dailies hub since the Shattered Sun Offensive. Ghostcrawler’s comment in this context makes no sense

The problem with dailies in MoP is that they may have been designed for “fun” by a subset of the population, but they’re being drowned out by the raiding monkeys that feel obligated to run the dailies like a rat in a box, hitting the lever every time the light goes on.  The whole game is filled with this sort of thing. Crafting cooldowns, the gardening minigame, and so forth.  A lot of monkeys have good reason to see this as some sort of elaborate “skinner box” in which we’re just waiting for the right stimulus to get our daily pellet.

Many have tried to paint this in a sinister light. Making the monkeys play a game for a reward!  Why, it would be scandalous, if true!

Now, I love a good conspiracy theory ((Not really. Think they’re awful and stupid.)). But I subscribe to the notion of “never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity and laziness.”  And I think that applies here.  Not necessarily the stupidity part ((Well, upper management … hi.)), but the “laziness” part has, indirectly, some bearing.

Genius I realize that’s a loaded word, “laziness.”  It implies that Blizz aren’t busting their humps to keep us monkeys happy.  And we should know by now that that’s just not true. They work very hard, and very long, and very much.

But there is such a thing as “lazy game design” and that’s where I see dailies coming in.

Dailies serve no purpose but to fill a void, that void being the one in between content patches. The monkeys that rush to the top run out of things to do, log in to the forums, and grunt about how bored they are.  After that happens a few dozen hundred hojillion times, Blizz gets the idea that the monkeys are bored, and figure that just about anything will shut them up.

The novel aspect of this in BC caught the loudest of monkeys by surprise, but by Shattered Sun Offensive time, they had wised up and were complaining that Blizz was throwing dailies at them to substitute for real content.

For once, the monkeys are probably right.

Take the Firelands hub as an example.

If you consider three weeks per faction, the Dailies route can buy you a couple of months, maybe a whole quarter, in which the monkeys are clicking away on the same old content.  Maybe you throw in an RNG to make it a little more varied, but otherwise that’s about it.  Basically it amounts to designing enough quests so that your players get around a dozen a day out of a pool of, say, twenty-five.  If you multiply that by a month, you get twenty-five quests taking the place of close to 500 “new” quests, which is what it would take to see the same number of new quests per day for a month.

I’m oversimplifying, of course, but even in this simplified scenario, the math of dailies – from the developer’s resource perspective – are clear.  All the time and personnel resources that would be needed for 500 new quests can be put into something else, and the project lead goes to bed thinking he’s pulled something off.

Just for Alas As any player will tell you, doing the same thing for thirty days is not, however, anywhere close to as enjoyable as actual new content.  But the Dailies Lie is one that Blizz has learned to tell itself, and believe, officially, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much you think otherwise, they’re going to keep on saying things like “fun” and “dailies” in the same breath, and equating that to new content.

MoP was supposed to be different. There would be, literally, “hundreds” of dailies to do – all you had to do was choose WHICH ones to do!  What they did not say was that it was actually:

  • 12 Tillers dailies
  • 12 Anglers dailies
  • 12 August Celestials dailies
  • 12 Klaxxi dailies
  • 12 Shadow-pan dailies
  • 12 Golden Lotus dailies
  • 12 Cloud Serpent dailies
  • 12 Lorewalker dailies
  • 12 5.1 dailies
  • etc

When I look at it this way, this hardly seems to be different from Cataclysm, only with different names for the factions, but the same deal nonetheless.

To be fair, there are a few differences.

  • Tabards don’t earn you faction points any more.
  • Upon hitting revered, you can buy a token to accelerate reputation for yourself and all your alts, for that faction.
  • Some JP and VP gear is tied to faction rep now. ((Which is largely viewed as a negative by nine out of ten sentients.))
  • Tokens are earned that get you a bonus roll in raids.

I think the Firelands quests finally revealed that the monkeys were wising up and daring someone to break out a firehose. We went as far as we needed to get what we wanted, and then we stopped playing, in droves, until the next patch.  Blizz may claim that this is expected behavior, but they are bound to feel pressure from nervous CEOs and questions from The Board. 

So they changed up the game a little, to try to reel us in and level out the valleys in the population charts.

The big hook here is the bonus roll, once you’ve spent all your VP and JP on gear and upgrades.  The bonus roll come from Lesser Charms of Good Fortune, which you can only get from running dailies, often.  If you’re not a raider, though, they’re less compelling. And I maintain that the raiding population is but a small segment of the population.  I think that once the non-raiders ((I refuse to call them “casuals” any more since that offends some people, and it’s not my intent to do so. It’s not that I mind offending people, but I want it to be intended when that happens.)) top off their tanks, so to speak, we’ll see a drop-off again.

It's peanut butter jelly time! The classic “Skinner” scenario is very effective, but you have to choose the rewards wisely, or the monkey will just stop going for the banana. I don’t think dailies will really keep driving logins once the rewards peter out.  They have a limited shelf life. Once we out-gear those rewards, we won’t even care about bonus rolls.

The real question is whether or not they can stretch things out long enough for the next patch, and the next, and so forth, to keep us occupied until a new reward can be brought out. 

At which point, break out your firehoses – I’m going in.

90% Worthless

While it is certainly not universal, a significant portion of the WoW player base has or has had alts, or are maybe contemplating one or more alts. I’m sure you understand we’re from the alt camp here at Casa de Grimmtooth, But I’m not going to judge someone just because having alts isn’t their cuppa tea. 

Having an alt usually means having an alt that is lower level than your main, an alt that needs to come up through the ranks, either at a headlong pace (to get to max level) or at a slightly slower rate (just for the sake of the alt). In short, you’re going to go through some older content.

Even after The Shattering, going through old content can be pretty depressing.  90% of it feels cast-off, forgotten, unwanted and unloved. I’m sure there’s an RPer or lore nerd or three out there that will make an extra effort to enjoy each old zone to its fullest, but that’s the point – unless you go out of your way, you end up losing yourself in a whirlwind of under-tuned quests, buggy hubs, and quest chains that cut short because you outleveled them.

It’s hard to gauge the old world, since the endgame zones are more or less universally changed up. But Outland, Northrend, and the Cataclysmic lands all show the same symptoms.  In BC, used to be you were in Netherstorm or Shadowmoon Valley before you popped 70 – now you’re lucky to hit Nagrand. In Northrend, you’ll likely hit 80 somewhere in Dragonblight. You’ll likely not see the Highlands, either, so forget the dwarven awesomeness. You’re off to Pandaria!

Blizz has turned the knobs for XP gained and XP rewarded almost all the way up so that those that wish to level in a hurry, can.  That seems like some sort of distortion to everybody else, a punishment for playing below endgame levels. Every quest that goes gray before you can complete it, every NPC that bugs out because it was never fixed in Cata (where the bug was introduced), every involved quest chain that you just give up on because, really, you don’t need that amount of annoyance for XP you can get, oh, ANYWHERE.  All of this sours the experience of anyone that had hopes of enjoying the lower levels of the game.

Blizzard has listened to the wrong people. They have heard the churning, puling cries of the forum posters and wrongfully considered them to be the valid opinion of everyone. Unfortunately they’ve listened to a group of people with a distorted view of the game in which the forums are the primary feature of the game and the game client is a method of fueling forum posts.  I applaud Blizzard’s intent, but the execution was flawed because they figured that intelligent, reasonable people would come TO the forums if people like Ghostcrawler showed up to answer questions. Maybe they did. but they were driven away by the instant onslaught of the WoW equivalent to 4chan.

Accelerated XP is one of several bad ideas to come from that channel. Another is CRZ.  These are to solve problems that didn’t exist. The problem was that there are people that just want a different character, all ready to go at max level or reasonably close, for raiding or PvP or whatever, without having to muck about with the leveling process.  Blizzard’s response, based on feedback from the forums, was CRZ, heirlooms, accelerated XP earnings, increased XP rewards, and account-bound mounts and pets. 

As a result, thousands of man-hours have been wasted on features that appease very few and annoy everyone else.

The EASIEST solution would be to make it possible to buy max-level toons for a price, equip ‘em with heirlooms, and leave everything else alone. Drop the XP gains, decrease the XP awards, shut down CRZ.  Maybe make mounts and pets soulbound again, not account bound (though I sense much pushback on that).  Make it possible to complete all of the quests from newbie zone to endgame zone within that race’s progression path. 

Unfortunately, I doubt this will ever happen.  I mentioned bugs, as an example.  While leveling in Dustwallow, for example, I encountered several pretty severe bugs that were there when Cata came out. They’ve never been fixed. I’ve seen bugs mentioned in forums, asking when they’d be fixed, and the answer, “No idea, we’re busy with awesome new stuff.”  Well, that’s software engineers for ya.  They hate fixing bugs, and they love the shiny. Remember that next time a software developers tells you that his profession is a “craft” as well.  A real artisan potter would never let go even a flower pot in the condition that Dustwallow Marsh is.  That’s the difference between a craftsman and a factory worker.

I digress.

Unfortunately, due to the noise level in the forums, the fact that that is the only way that Blizz really communicates with users, and the pressure to churn out new product, I suspect that the leveling experience will continue to be wretched and useless. It’ll get you from level 1 to 85 quickly enough, but you’ll hate every step of it because not only have you done it all before, but it seemed more interesting and challenging at the time.  Now, it’s a joke.

I have over a dozen alts. Until Cata came along, I truly enjoyed leveling them. Last week, in Dustwallow, I was disgusted.  Setting up rotations? Why bother, really?  There’s no reason to be good at anything at the lower levels, now.  They are, as the title says, mostly worthless. And that’s my entire case for buyable max-level toons. The lower levels come across more as punishment than entertainment.

That, more than anything else, I miss at the lower levels.  I miss many things, but the actual sense of doing something meaningful and challenging, that’s gone. And I miss it.

On the Planning of Gear, and What Grimmtooth Saw

As Eff the Ineffable completes its second Feng clear and contemplates the mystery that is Gara’jal and the Spirit World, I am also engaged in that lovely activity known, to be nice, as the Gear Plan.

Now, there is a bit of loosey-goosey-ness to what, exactly, is meant by those two words, but I choose to give it this general meaning (with lots of wiggle room): generally speaking, figuring what gear I need, and where to find it, for purposes of raiding.  If you’re ambitious, part II of that is: what gear, and where to get it, to be fully decked in BiS, preparatory to being ready for Heroics or the next tier.

There are many tools for this. Ask Mr. Robot, for example, will produce lists of gear for you, suggest gems and enchants, and even take all that into account for the next piece. It’s also sometimes not entirely realistic, models and sims being what they are.  WoWHead, for another, has a tool that will help you find upgrades.

What neither does very well is give you a big-picture way of understanding, which is where the Gear Plan comes in.  As you research each piece, map out where you can find upgrades for it, and so forth, you can organize those findings in some coherent way.

My methods aren’t as accountable as those big sites are ((Though one might suggest that neither is all that open, either.)), but the numbers I have found were derived from them, as well as others.  When all is said and done, some things pop right out at you.

I see a trend

The above image is a chart derived from the stat weights of the gear that provides an improvement to my current gear ((To be fair, I got a couple of pieces from LFR last night and haven’t factored them in yet. Still, this serves as a good example.)), as equipped. Basically it’s a map of how much improvement I can get from various sources. Everything from Golden Lotus and below can be considered solo content, things that can be done without much assist from anyone else.

Obviously, LFR has a LOT going for it. But you have to get to iLevel 460 first, so the two tiers below it are of interest.

The interesting thing is, Scenarios play a big part in the gearing progression, far bigger than you might think.  There is generally one, maybe two, sets that come out of the little bag you get from running scenarios (and some faction quests). These sets generally have at least one variation that is best-in-slot for blue gear, and, in some cases, better than some epic gear (and 3-4 lesser variations).

Now, for myself, Scenarios play a bigger part than Heroics in the gearing equation. Jasra’s almost-finished gear plan ((A bit of controversy here: the weight of Crit over Mastery affects the final numbers. Depending on how you weight them, either Mastery rules over Crit (for shields), or Crit rules over Mastery (for strong heals). AMR leans towards the latter, but I think eventually they’re going to have to split the two into two sub-specializations, if that makes any sense.)) shows a different picture:

Jasra's Gear Stats

In her case, Heroics have more upgrades than they do for me, so they are a bigger immediate payoff than Scenarios. 

What you’re seeing here is a profile of two characters at different points on the gearing curve. In Jas’ case, she’s geared poorly enough that there are many upgrades in Heroics.  As she gets more upgrades, I expect Heroics and Scenarios to change in weight, as she outlevels Heroics. In the same vein, Klaxxi rep will become less influential as I acquire more pieces from them.

I have yet to look into the 5.1 rewards and see if they bring anything new to the party.

I have yet to do gear plans for anyone else, but I would be very surprised if they strayed far from the profile I’m seeing on Jasra’s gear plan, so pretty much the best advice anyone can get here is: do Scenarios as soon as you can, as many times as you’re allowed to get gear, until you can do LFR.  This is your best bet for the best gear.

Dailies are

Upon hitting level 90, there are a few choices open to one with regards to how to pass the time, day to day, in between raids. 

Unbelievably, it’s easy to hit max level while still having two and a half zones left unexplored.  So there’s that.  Finish up those zones, tidy up a bit and get the explorer cheev, finish the quests and get the loremaster cheev.

Or, there are many achievements, collections, battle pet activities, and other bits of miscellany to attend to.

Or, there’s dailies.

Not a real picture of Niel deGrasse TysonIn Vanilla, Blizz played with the idea of recurring quests such as that goblin in Feralas ((Don’t bother looking, he’s gone.)) and the Winterspring grind ((Not the same one you see these days, kids.)). Most of those could be repeated as many times a day as you wanted. BC brought about the actual idea of Dailies, capital D, but it wasn’t until patch 2.4 (Sunwell) that we saw dailies presented pretty much as we’d see them until MoP was released.

While there were a few must-haves out of that series of dailies (Woodchucker, anyone ((And what the heck, guys, why was it still a flinging chicken when MoP came out?))?), in most cases it was vanity stuff ((the Argent Tournament had the Titans’ own pet and mount collection.)), or marginally better than you could get if you never ever set foot in a Heroic dungeon.

MoP has changed all of that, to the point that dailies are necessary.  A lot of your JP and VP gear is tied into dailies, and if you want to perform at your best, you best figure out where your biggest bang is and start grinding it ((In my case, "Kranking Klaxxi.")).

In order to move things along, you pretty much have to max out your rep every day – for those that are only focused on one main, that probably means multiple rep grinds.

The dailies, and their hubs, are pretty familiar to the experienced WoW-head, but the sheer number of them is pretty daunting. Where to start and how do? That’s been a topic of concern for myself and Jasra for a while, since we’re pretty much at the pointy end of the stick.

till lifeBefore having a good idea of my gear plan, I started out on Halfhill reasoning that everybody loves feasts. I found quickly that getting all the dailies done was pretty hopeless, if I wanted to even log in on another toon, so I scaled back a bit to Yoon’s daily vegetable and currying favor with Jogu.  Jogu’s great. Jogu loves carrots. I have carrots. Every now and then he’d ask for wine. I love wine, too.  BUT.  Aside from a garden full of songbells, this vector doesn’t really add up for a hunter.  After careful consideration, I finished up Kun’lai and got krakking on the Klaxxi. ((C wut I did thar)).

This experience has served Jasra well, as she’s skipping all but the minimal Tiller stuff right now, and focusing instead on Golden Lotus, for the tailoring recipes, for starters.  I’m afraid everything I’ve heard about those dailies is true.  For a squishy like her, it’s horrible, and they seem to bring out the worst in people.   I’ve seen few really horrible people on the Klaxxi circuit, but the GL dailies seem to encourage the absolute worst ((I’m looking at you, barrel-gankers.)).  There will be much rejoicing when those are done.

portnoyAll that aside, I’m not going to join the ranks of those that are complaining the most bitterly about being "forced" to do dailies. There is no point to it.  With very few exceptions, all the JP and VP gear is outmatched by raid drops, and those exceptions don’t really stand out as any worse than we’ve experienced in the past.

The worse that happens if you don’t do dailies is that you either appear closer to the bottom of the charts until you get geared up the hard way, or your team picks someone over you, someone that didn’t mind the grind enough to stop them from doing them.  Boo hoo, it IS a bit of a competition in that case.

What about the hardcore player?  Couple of thoughts, here.  (a) Hardcore players are going to do it, if it gets an edge.  Period. Hardcore players that cop out over dailies, get replaced. Period.  And, (b) Hardcore players complain about everything, so who cares?

I haven’t even seen the whole continent yet, so I have very little reason to complain, anyway, and 5.1 is on the horizon so I’m probably months away from being left with the option of "dailies, or nothing at all" ((For the record, I have, like, dozens of other games that I don’t play because of WoW, so is this really a bad thing?  I think not.)).

elephantThere is an elephant in the room.  Those that hate dailies the most hate them for a very specific reason. Dailies are perceived by them as an attempt to stretch out current content in an artificial manner.   They feel that time spent working up dailies would be better spent on new content.  I personally agree in spirit that new content is better than dailies.  I disagree with their assessment of how much effort is required to implement new content over dailies ((We’ll start with artwork. Minimal new artwork is required for dailies. Lots of new artwork is required for new content (that’s kinda what new content is, by the way.). So right there, new content starts out at a disadvantage. And it never really recovers.)). And I think Blizz has done the math, as well, which is why we get dailies in the first place.  They have limited art asset generation capacity, and choose to focus it on the next content patch rather than marginally expand the current patch level.

There is a small, but vocal, contingent that will complain bitterly on the forums and claim to speak for all of us.  The same applies to bloggers; we certainly don’t have a corner on the concept of analysis. Our reality is no better than the average forum rat’s, even if we manage to come across as less unhinged than the average forum troll ((Usually, but not always.)). We lose sight of the notion that there are few if any reasons for Blizzard to be doing the terrible things they’re accused of.

Blizz has access to one thing that we do not – the raw data showing actual playing habits of all 10M or so users over time. They’re not idiots. If they saw that a majority of players were engaging in xxx playstyle, they’d do what they could to pander to them and make their gaming experience even more enjoyable. And if they see a high correlation between the number of people that set foot in a raid with those that ran ZZZ dailies, then they’ll probably do something, there, too. The problem with statistical analysis in this case is that it takes time to accumulate data ((And I sincerely hope beta data is not included in this.)), find the patterns, define the problem, and then – finally – define a solution, plan its implementation, do eet, and prepare for the next wave of complaints ((Srs, I’m not  a cynic.)).

For myself, I am unwilling to marginalize my performance so I’ll run the dailies to get the stuff to make it less painful for my RL. For Jas, we simply must get her geared up, the dailies are the best way to do it outside of Heroics, and off we go.   It’s the cost of doing business. The rest of the game makes up for it.

Oppa Disco Style

I recently stated that Disco was an acceptable leveling build, and I stick by that, but one term in the equation that may need tweaking is "acceptable".  Disco leveling is kind of like running a marathon wrapped in bubble wrap.  You’ll get there, and you won’t take any damage, but you’ll be covered in sweat and it’ll be next week before you’re done.  If that’s acceptable then you’re in for a lot of single-spec goodness in your life.

Unfortunately, I fear this is holding up the guild’s ability to consistently field a team for Heroics, so I switched to Shadow to level up faster.  It, too, is acceptable for a hybrid class’ aspirations ((I hasten to point out, this is with me geared for Disco goodness.  I know properly geared Shadow priests do a lot more damage.)), but if you were a fire mage or BM hunter you might feel a bit … hobbled. Never mind that. It’s moved me along a lot faster than I had been moving otherwise.

The funny thing is that some fights are a lot easier if I switch to Disco mode. Shadow isn’t big on mitigation, and mini-bosses often are immune to rooting, fearing, or both. So a build that hits like a truck and heals itself one HP for ever two DP it deals is ideal, albeit slow.  That’s fine. The only caveat is the spec switch often takes too long to pounce a rare.  Guess I’ll have to be patient.

But let’s talk Disco

For healing, I’m really starting to get a handle on the mechanics of the smite-mode healing approach, and kinda falling in love with it.  The biggest problem is mana. In WotLK, I could spam like a Nigerian banker and rarely see the bottom of the mana jar.  In MoP, that’s no longer the case, and our mana regen tools have been curtailed as well, so we are driven in a certain direction, and it’s not shield spamming.

There are a few core mechanics at work here.

Direct healing

Direct healing spells, such as Greater Heal and Flash Heal and Renew and Penance all provide us with effective means to top off our target’s hit points, but they offer nothing in the way of regeneration tools on their own.  A couple of talents DO link one to another, such as From Darkness Comes Light – this one gives you freebie Flash heals, and I do like this one a LOT for its situational utility.  The caveat is that you lose Mindbender and its improved mana regen.  So, if you’re having mana management issues, the latter may well help more.  You will probably need to try both to gain a sense of where you stand.

Mitigation

In the past, this was our bread and butter. Even in Cata, with the smite-heal mode available, many of us went with the mitigation-heavy rotation, which amounted to a lot of Prayer of Mending and Power Word: Shield spamming.  Mana wasn’t a problem, so why the hell not, right?

In MoP, mana’s an issue, so this approach has gone away. Now, PW:S is largely situational, and PoM is more of a supplement than a mainstay. Spirit Shell is a new, welcome addition to the fold, especially if you couple it with Prayer of Healing, but boy oh boy does it eat the manas.  Once again, if you spam mitigation all day, you’re going to be OOM well before the final blow.

Indirect Healing

The infamous "smite heal".  This was a largely optional novelty in Cata, though many disco priests made it their mainstay quite effectively.

Here’s the thing. A lot of people will view smite-healing as still a novelty, a vain effort to give priests something to do in the gaps ((We already have that, it’s called Hymn of Hope.)), even though they’d never crack the top half of the DPS charts.

But, people, that’s not even the point of this mechanic.

Once you crack open the hood, you’ll find a very sophisticated yet straightforward engine driving not the build per se, but, I argue, the very soul of the Disco healing machine.

First, what is smite-healing? 

This mechanic forms the backbone of an indirect group healing approach. The three core spells to this mechanic all provide a 100% return on the damage generated. In other words, if I damage an enemy for 1000 points, I will generate 1000 points of healing – unless the healee is myself, in which case it’s 50% return. But still.  That’s the other thing. The healee in question will be the lowest-health friendly within 15 yards of the damage target ((In 5.1, this increases to 40 yards!)). This is done via a specialization called Atonement. Holy Fire ((Allow me to point out its DoT component which, yes, generates an HoT.)), Smite, and Penance generate what is effectively an AoE heal.

Now the hard part.

In the past, Archangel would generate mana when you used it to consume your Evangelism stacks, but now it only increases healing ((I’m uncertain if that boosts smite-heals as well. Anyone?)). So, if you pop your wings, better get another stack started up to help with the mana mitigation.

But here’s the neat part.

Regardless of your Evangelism stacks and Archangel usage, that indirect healing component of Atonement is still there!  So you don’t have to be as fussy with those two spells as you might have in the past.

At the (what is now) final tier, we have three very powerful and very Disco-ish talents: Cascade, Divine Star, and Halo. All of these have AoE-ish effects as well, and all do damage and healing. All have a cooldown of 40 seconds or less, so you’ll be using them a lot.  At the moment I am prone towards Cascade simply because it is less fussy about positioning.  We’ve got enough worries.

Strategy and Tactics

fittychangedthegameWe have an immense toolbox to work with, and even though you might feel you know how to use it based on experience, I assure you that Blizz done changed da game on us.

As with everybody else in the world, we have no rotation to fiddle with, but we do have a priority queue of sorts, especially given the 20-second cooldown of Evangelism.  This then is my juggling act.

  • If I have five stacks of Evangelism and time to generate a stack afterward, pop Wings.
  • PW: Shield on my main target, usually the main tank (or OT if they swapped).
  • Keep Prayer of Mending up on all the times. If it is glyphed then the first person that gets healed by it gets extra healing (but you get one less hop); this may or may not be desirable, but given its cooldown it’s often worth it if you’re on the MT.
  • For low to moderate healing on someone: Holy Fire, Smite ((I highly recommend glyphing this for 20% more healing.)), or Penance on the baddie (e.g. target of my target), depending on what’s off of cooldown. Smite has no cooldown so it’s always available.  Otherwise I use one of the other two since they generate more healing ((You may question using Penance here. But the beauty is that this approach doesn’t fixate on a single target, rather whoever needs it, and I consider that a great gift from the Makers.)).
  • Direct healing spells as needed on appropriate targets.  If you can get a Borrowed Time proc in prior to Greater Heal, so much the better. For heavy group damage, popping Borrowed Time via PW: Shield then Spirit Shell + Prayer of Healing goes a long way towards saving much bacon. I rarely get those three strung together right, however.  I’m not the most dexterous of healers. 🙂

On a lot of fights, I have found myself hardly even reaching for the traditional healing tools other than PoM and PW:S – everything else gets smitey-healed.

Toys you don’t get anymore

Here’s the big caveat.

You hardly get any mana regeneration tools. Wings lost that utility, and Rapture’s proc is rather situational, so that effectively leaves you with your shadow pet and Hymn used strategically.

What this means to you is this:

  1. You can’t fling shields like a fool any more.  You have to keep them where they’re needed.
  2. Consequently, your group has responsibility to stay out of harm’s way.  Prima donna DPSes that expect The Shield to get them by will do less DPS by virtue of being on the floor, counting tiles, and complaining that the healer sucks.
  3. You can’t spam damage spells, either. You must reserve them for when someone needs the heals, or the Evangelism timer is about to blow.

In other words, you must heal with intelligence and moderation.  I don’t think this is a problem for most healers, but it might take getting used to if you are, like me, more familiar with the ez mode Disco build of WotLK.

A toy you can have

The hardest part of Atonement healing is the switching between targets to heal and targets to smite.  Fortunately, Blizzard has provided us with the facility of macros to help get the job done.  A few clever keybinds and you’re off.  However, a couple of addons help a lot, as well.

  • Grid or VuhDo will put your groups’ unit frames wherever you need them.  The default unit frames will allow this as well, just not as elegantly or with as many additional features.
  • Clique makes the binding of mouse and keystrokes to abilities, spells, and other effects a lot easier. You an do this with the default interface as well, but Clique just makes it a lot easier.

The macro I use for smitey-heals looks like this.

#showtooltip Smite 
/castsequence [@mouseovertarget] reset=10 Holy Fire, Penance, Smite, Smite, Smite

The first line just changes the tooltip icon, I chose Smite because reasons.

The second line overcomes cooldown and timer issues in a few ways.

  • /castsequence dictates that the spells will be cast in the sequence that they are given, so you don’t waste time with spells that are still in cooldown.
  • reset=10 resets this sequence after ten seconds. Why?  Because that is the cooldown of Holy Fire, which gives us the best bang for the buck.  Since Penance has the same cooldown, this means that if you only hit one ever five seconds, you’ll never hit Smite, which is by far our weakest component. 

However, thanks to the sequence, we don’t have to fixate on timers, thus freeing us up on what to do with our spells instead.

[@mouseovertarget] directs the damage to the target of the unit that you have the mouse pointer hovering over.  So if you’re hovering over your tank in Grid, his target will be selected and damaged. Hover over a DPSer, and that player’s target will be smote instead.

Put this into a macro or into Clique, assign it to a key or mouse button, and you’re ready to go!

Final thoughts

I am no Matticus or Derveka; truth told, I’m not even level 90. This is based solely on careful observations taken during instance healing, test dummy runs, and a lot of questing. It works for me, up to this point, but I may be kicking Disco to the curb at any given moment if I find it doesn’t work for me. Thus far, I’m seeing nothing to say it won’t.

Don’t look at me that way

I can’t help it.

I literally cannot focus on anything else while one of these are around.

Can you see it?

minimap 1

No? Look closer.

minimap 2

Yeah.

There’s a quest nearby.

And I can’t just go about my business until I find it and get the quest.

So what is it?

stupid pumpkin

Oh.

Stupid pumpkins.  NOT INTERESTED.

But …

I CAN’T GO ON WITHOUT GETTING RID OF THAT EXCLAMATION POINT!

/sigh.

/click.

stupid candy

Stupid candy.

What

DON’T JUDGE ME!

You do what you have to do to get the job done.

Harmful story elements

Gonna go meta for a few, please bear with.

Trigger Warning: references to rape and rape culture beyond the cut.

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