[WoW] The mastery curve, holidays, and it came from the PUG

wow_hallowsend

Hallow’s End is my favourite of the WoW holiday events. This isn’t just because the Headless Horseman talks in rhyme like a pantomine villain, but because it’s the only event which feels more meaningful in the game world than in real life.

In real life, Halloween in the UK is a  hodge podge which is currently drawing hugely on American customs. It is kind of taking off, but I think we have a much softer spot for the home grown Guy Fawkes Day with its fireworks, anti government themes and politically incorrect  history. It may not be the world’s greatest festival but it’s all ours, dammit.  In game, Hallow’s End is the holiday on which the Forsaken celebrate their freedom from the Scourge. (A fairly brilliant concept from Blizzard which keeps the spooky feel but fits nicely with the lore.) So as my main is Forsaken, it is quite meaningful to me. This screenshot shows the daily ceremony in the Undercity where Sylvanas walks out and gives a speech/ pep talk in front of the Wicker Man. You can see that there are a few other players standing around, even though I don’t think you get any buffs from watching the event. They just wanted to come and see.

As players, we are probably all used to seeing thinly veiled lore-based excuses for having Xmas events. Players like them. But I much prefer the approach that imagines what type of holidays the in game races might have, what events might they celebrate? LOTRO does a good job with these, tying their holidays to the seasons and harvests. Anyone else have favourite events with game-specific lore that just really works for you?

Yesterday you were the noob, today you are the master

In any MMO, you can imagine a kind of learning curve where you begin as an inexperienced player and end up achieving the sort  of mastery where random strangers ask you for tips about your gear/ playing style in PUGs. OK, in my dreams maybe, but every player takes a journey from feeling new and awkward and unconfident to feeling comfortable with the content, confident, and capable in their role. This includes collecting gear, exploring the zones and instances, learning the fights and learning the class.

In particular if you want to take part in group content at max level, there is a trial by fire where you start queuing for PUGs as a nervous, barely geared level 90. Then as you get more experience and better gear, you don’t feel so nervous any more. Your tanking/healing/dps is fine and you know it.

That learning curve seems to get shorter with each expansion, but I suspect that is partly my being generally familiar with the game. It is, however, one of my absolute most favourite parts of WoW. That sense that every dungeon run is exciting because you can still make daft mistakes, help your group narrowly avoid a wipe, or just barely heal a fight and keep everyone alive. And more than that, the sense that you are still learning something with every run, still hoping for that cool drop, still engaged with the content.

I know not everyone likes excitement or that skin of the teeth feeling, but I do enjoy the learning curve. I feel that with Spinks I’m pretty much at the end of it now, she’s geared for the next LFR when it turns up, is generally top dps in instances, and I have most of the gear I really wanted.  When I run heroics now, I feel far more laid back about it. DPS warriors hinge on the very basic fun of hitting stuff with big weapons and putting up big numbers and that never really pales.

The main alt this expansion is a priest and I’ve ended up taking her down the Holy (healing) path. This was initially because queue times were so short, but I also really enjoy it as a spec. It feels like a spec with a lot of depth, and though I can heal competently, I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface which is pretty cool.

Undergeared healers can be challenging to play because they tend to run out of mana very fast. I think the priest has particular issues with this, but since I don’t plan on raiding with her, I am reflecting that this actually makes the instance learning curve rather more fun for me. Or rather, it’s more fun because sometimes I have really struggled with healing an encounter, which makes it so much more rewarding when I can go back later to the same instance with better gear/more experience/better group and see that I’ve improved. I will almost be sad to be over geared on her.

But there are still Challenge modes ahead. I look forwards to more exciting razor edge victories/failures.

It came from the PUG

A couple of positive examples this week, both from instances where I was healing.

I had struggled to heal Shado-Pan Heroic, there are encounters where the group can end up taking a lot of damage without much warning. But I am getting better with practice, and also noticing how much of a difference it makes when players can keep out of the avoidable damage. This is something Blizzard are really pushing with the MoP heroics, and I think healers are in a good place to notice it. I realised I was getting more confident as a healer when after one of the boss fights in Shado-Pan, one of the dps who had died during the fight said “pay attention healer.”  And my kneejerk response was to say “no, you pay attention and keep out of the bad stuff.” And no one in the group complained, I like to think this was because I was right.

Another, similar, healing moment was in Jade Temple Heroic. One of the (dead) dps said to me “where were the heals” and I said “you need to keep yourself out of the bad stuff”. There was a pause, and he said “yeah sorry.” THIS NEVER HAPPENS (i.e. people apologising), BUT IT HAPPENED IN MY GROUP!! Cognitive dissonance follows.

I imagine that once I am overgeared I’ll be better able to heal people who stand in the fire, but I quite like the playing style where it’s just not possible to do that and  healing decisions have to be made based on keeping enough people alive to beat the boss, which means triage on people who just take too much damage.

[GW2] The epic and the mundane

purpledragon

The one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater flying overhead! And us looting the chest after the fight.

Yay! Arb and I fought a dragon in GW2! It was big and purple! There was loot!

Let me describe a typical dragon fight in Guild Wars 2 – bear in mind that the dragons are the big bads of the setting.

  • Arb and I go to a zone, there is lots of running around like 4 year olds on a sugar rush as we both get distracted easily by hearts, vistas, gathering nodes, events, and just about anything else.
  • Someone in zone chat comments: anyone seen the dragon recently?
  • Someone else answers: it’s due in about 10 minutes.
  • I say to Arb: Just like a bus timetable.
  • She says: Probably 3 come at once.
  • We get distracted by the prospect of a dragon in 10 minutes and head to the other side of the zone to find the appropriate dynamic event (probably involving getting lost, splitting up, one of us dying from falling off a cliff, and more gathering.)
  • We get there, yay! The event is starting, yay! Lots of other players turn up, yay!
  • The dragon arrives, keeping a better timetable than local buses. There may be some mechanics and strategy but we’re too busy saying “ooo! It’s big” to really focus on them. The dragons are pretty big and impressive.
  • LEEKS! Arb spots a veg node.
  • We hare off in the middle of a dragon fight to pick the leeks.
  • We get back in time to see the dragon die and get some loot, which probably isn’t very exciting but you might get a nice rune.

It is very  typical of the GW2 experience that you might run off to pick vegetables in the middle of a boss fight. Even though you know perfectly well the veg will still be there afterwards, because all material nodes are shared.

On this basis, I am naming GW2 as being neither a Themepark nor a Sandbox but a Playground MMO. Free Realms might be another example of a Playground MMO. In the playground, there will be lots of different activities on offer. They will probably be a bit disorganised. There might be a small sandbox. You can do whatever you want, although staff will stop you annoying the other children. Some activities will happen at set times (eg. storytime). I don’t find the game childish, but there is something very childlike about playing GW2.

Maybe it’s the focus on play and playfulness in the open world. It feels difficult to take the game seriously. Why else would you run off in the middle of killing a dragon to go and pick veg?

[WoW] Things the dungeon journal doesn’t tell you

wow_dungeonjournal

There are different ways for players to learn boss fights.

  1. Trial and error. Go in blind, figure out what you can, and if you fail then figure out why you failed and try something different next time.
  2. As above, but with addons that give additional hints (eg. Change targets now! Move out of the fire now!)
  3. Talking to other players. Get someone to tell you what you have to do.
  4. Read about it offline or watch a video tutorial.

Blizzard have tried to incorporate #4 into the game with the in game dungeon journal. This lists out the abilities (and phases) of the dungeon and raid bosses.

Shame it doesn’t mention that the middle of the floor disappears in the last phase of the Elegon fight, so if you don’t run to the outside, you will die. You might think this was key information. I assume this is intentional to make sure that players need to figure out the strategy – but if it is meant to replace looking things up offline, it doesn’t work.

Do you find the dungeon journal useful?

EQ Next to be “the largest sandbox MMO ever designed”

In 2010, SOE announced that they were working on a follow up to EQ2, code-named EQ Next. There was some muted excitement from Everquest fans, but after that we didn’t hear much about the project. Yesterday, John Smedley announced at SOE Live that they’d trashed their original design and now plan to bring EQ Next to market as a sandbox style MMO game.

I had been wondering whether Blizzard would end up taking this route with Titan (or going for a FPS MMO), as the trends simply aren’t towards large subscription MMOs and ‘more of the same’ isn’t going to cut it.

As it happens, with Planetside 2, SOE along with CCP’s Dust are both shaping up as good options for FPS MMO fans. And with this EQ Next announcement, suddenly a lot of old school MMO players will again be very very focused on what SOE is doing. I think this was a momentous announcement for them, it’s the day they became relevant again. And now Blizzard is on the back foot. Check out the link, there were quite a lot of announcements and statements about how they see the industry.

[WoW] It came from the PUG, and how the love of bling unites communities

wow_mahjong

This is just a picture of Spinks standing around in a pub, but the detail on the interior furnishings in MoP is lovely. I think this is a Mah Jong set?

And so, with another WoW expansion, there is another rush of players into heroic PUGs so as to gear up their new level 90 characters. The instances on the whole are shortish and emphasise the boss fights, with minimal trash mobs between bosses. (Honorable exception: Shado-Pan Monastery, which does seem to have a fair amount of ‘trash’.) It does make for a different and more ‘theme park’ style of instance. But I am finding them quite fun and enjoying where Blizzard experiment with different types of mechanics, such as in the Siege of Niuzao, or the one where dps get fired out of a cannon. I am however now rather tired of Stormstout Brewery which I have been dutifully running once per day and still never seen the dps trinket drop from the last boss.

I haven’t tried any challenge modes yet, I hear they’re pretty tough and look forwards to getting round to it at some point.

I was also hoping by now to have some good anecdotes to share on “It came from the PUG.” Actually people have mostly been pleasant (or at least quiet) and reasonably well behaved, and willing to briefly explain boss fights if other players don’t know them. But there are a couple I’d pick out.

One was an instance of Stormstout where the first thing the Death Knight tank said to me when I zoned in at the start was “Are you going to roll on the dps trinket off last boss?” I said, “Yes,” and he left. This was in the morning, about 30 mins before the daily instance lock reset.

Since I’ve never actually seen it drop, I have no idea if tanks are able to roll need on the trinket. I’d guess that they can, because I could roll need on tanking gear if I wanted, and did get into an argument on one run where I rolled need on a one handed sword without tank stats because I thought it would be handy if I wanted to switch to dual wielding 1 handers.

So this is a player who would rather sit out altogether than take a 50% chance of winning an item if it dropped (which of course it didn’t Winking smile ), with the knowledge he could try again in 30 mins anyway. A lot of people apparently cannot handle the idea of a shared roll. I refuse to feel guilty about turning up to an instance with the intent of rolling for an item which is best in slot for me. I don’t personally feel strongly about people rolling need for off spec items, although the longer I go trying to get this trinket, the more pissy I am likely to be it does drop and I don’t win. I do wish there was a roll priority for ‘off-spec need’ which would take priority if and only if no one with main spec priority rolled need. i.e..  from top to bottom priority –> main spec need, off spec need, greed/disenchant, pass. Because I’d rather see an item go to someone who will use for offspec than sold to a vendor.

A more heartening PUG story was in a Shado-Pan PUG, where the group had wiped a couple of times on the last boss. One of the dps was going ballistic on a hapless warlock who hadn’t been focussing on the adds, and by going ballistic I mean serious anger management issues. The tank was a very placid player who told him/her to settle down and shut up, explained the fight patiently to the warlock and made sure they understood, and then we aced the fight. It’s not a very exciting anecdote, I admit, except to say that there are plenty of decent, mature players out there and it’s probably a good sign if your tank picks “the Patient” as his/her title of choice.

Bling bling, emergent behaviour

wow_bling

The Blingtron 4000 is an item that an engineer can make, which doles out free gifts to everyone who clicks on it. It is quite expensive to make, requiring 4 Spirits of Harmony, Living Steel, Trillium, Blue quality gems, etc. So why would any crafter spend all those materials on something whose only purpose is to give free stuff to other random players? The only answer must be because it’s fun. But when you’ve spent that much effort making an item, you want people to notice, and to get some use out of it.

I noticed when one of my guildies set off a Blingtron, she announced in general chat where it was and most of the players in the zone turned up for their free gifts. (OK, a couple of them also got on their largest mounts and sat on top of the Blingtron to annoy everyone else, but they got reported.) The screenshot above was actually taken from an alt on a different server and faction. You can see again that he’s  put it in an accessible location and is announcing to everyone in range (this was in Stormwind) that they can come and get some freebies.

I find that kind of cool as emergent behaviour. It does bring players together, the engineer hopefully gets some social status and people might remember their name with good associations, and it’s quite fun to turn up and get a free random present from someone you might not even know.

[WoW] Blacksmithing for fun and profit

So you want to be a blacksmith? Congratulations, it might not be the best trade for making lots of gold, and it could be easier to kit out through drops than from gear you make yourself, but it’s a solid tradeskill. The perks (extra sockets for gloves and bracers) are as good as anything in the game, and it’s much less work than Inscription or Jewelcrafting.

And if you are trade minded, you can keep yourself in pocket money handily by selling Blacksmithed goods. I am going to run through the various items that sell best for me, but first a word about the neat design of Pandaria tradeskills.

The economy of Ghost Iron

If you are a miner, you will know by now that it is barely possible to go two steps in Pandaria without tripping over a Ghost Iron node. Ghost Iron, the base material for Pandarian blacksmithing, is plentiful. The economy around tradeskills at the moment is based on high demand AND high supply. So even though the iron is abundant, demand always just about outstrips it. As the base material for multiple different tradeskills and transmutes, players have a wide variety of options of what to do with their Ghost Iron. I’ll run through some of the options. Bear in mind that which of these is optimal is going to depend on your goals and the market on your server.

  1. Sell it. Because Ghost Iron is in high demand, you can sell it in either ore or bar form on the auction house.
  2. Get a Jewelcrafter to turn it into gems. JCs nuke ghost iron and receive pandarian gems. These can then be cut or used to make jewelry.
  3. Get a Blacksmith to turn it into gear to sell. People will buy level 85 gear for characters going to Pandaria, or PvP gear for their level 90s. There are also recipes on various vendors for blue level 90 tanking gear, and for blue weapons.
  4. Get an Engineer to turn it into gear to sell. Engineers can make trinkets and various other devices that might fetch a decent price on the market.
  5. Get a JC/BS/Engineer to make a blue item, and then get an enchanter to disenchant it for shards. Occasionally there is a recipe for a blue item that is cheap in terms of materials.
  6. Get an Alchemist to transmute it into Trillium and/or Living Steel. Living Steel is used to make some epic recipes at the moment, and is also used for Pandarian belt buckles.  An Alchemist can turn 6 stacks of Ghost Iron ore into one bar of Living Steel. Depending on your server’s market, it may  be cheaper to sell the iron and buy Living Steel from the AH.

I find this a fun piece of design because all of those options may be viable, and which is the best can change quite frequently. It is also quite fascinating because at least two of these options (Alchemy and Jewelcrafting) remove Ghost Iron from the game in large amounts compared to the amount of materials they produce. So if you are buying up Ghost Iron to turn into Living Steel, relax in the knowledge that the Jewelcrafters probably all hate you.

Me and Blacksmithing

The key recipes to pick up are the blue PvP ones, and the belt buckle. All of those things will sell steadily all through an expansion. Invest the Spirits of Harmony to pick all of them up. In Cataclysm, Blizzard automatically updated the stats on the PvP recipes with each new season and we have no reason to think they won’t do the same here, so it’s very worthwhile.

At the moment, I’m finding I make more gold out of turning my Ghost Iron into PvP gear and selling it than I could from transmuting into Trillium/ Living Steel.  But it is the beginning of the PvP season, and lots of people are also reaching the level cap and using PvP gear to help them reach the iLvL for heroics, so demand is particularly high. The blue PvE (tanking and healing) gear is more expensive to make, as it requires Trillium, but doesn’t seem to have as much demand so may not be worth the effort.

Another key recipe for the future will be the PvP plate bracers, which requires 5 bars of Ghost Iron to produce a blue pair of bracers that will disenchant into a shard if you are lucky. This is likely to be one of the cheapest ways to produce enchanting materials at the moment.

The epic recipes currently need 8 Spirit of Harmony each, which limits how often they can be made. I also suspect that by the time I can make any for anyone except myself, they will effectively have been outpaced by raid finder gear. They may well still fetch decent amounts, but whether it’s really the best thing to do with Living Steel I don’t know.

Belt buckles will sell for decent prices, from my initial experiments, so are likely a better bet. (Decent meaning you could buy the raw materials from the AH, turn it into Living Steel, turn that into a belt buckle, and pretty much double your investment.) I have had some success in selling Weapon Chains also, although if you have any Pyrium left in the bank, those Weapon Chains can still be attached to level 90 weapons so this is a good time to offload it.

Night capping and region locked servers

Imagine the scene: You are asleep in bed when your alarm goes off. Blinking, you eye the clock blearily. It’s 3am. You jump out of bed, grab a tea/coffee, and head for the computer. When you log on and get voice chat going, you hear equally sleepy voices (and the one dude who sounds ultra awake at 3am, maybe he doesn’t need sleep) but they’re excited. Your raid gathers together at the agreed spot, maybe other guilds in your alliance are trickling in as well. Everyone is excited, because there’s still a pyjama party cool about being part of an alarm clock raid. You’re proud that your guild has managed to field two whole groups of crazy alarm clock raiders to the raid and hope the organisers take note. When you head out into the PvP area, it’s still dark outside. You make a clean sweep through undefended keeps/forts/waypoints and end up colouring the map whatever colour your alliance prefers.

It was cool, kind of exciting despite the lack of opposition, and you can’t wait to see how the other factions respond when they log in to see you’ve taken all the capture points.

So: Cool tactic? Standard tactic? Exploit?

There have been enough complaints in GW2 about ‘night time’ raids in WvW for the developers to start a new thread just to say that they see it as a valid tactic, one that is inevitable when people from different time zones play together, and players should learn to live with it. Which means not complaining that its easier for guilds in some time zones to capture WvW points because of lack of defence. Instead maybe try to lure some guilds in those time zones to play on your server instead, or just try not to stress over it. I haven’t really seen any complaints about this from EU servers yet, it seems to mostly be propelled from the US side and driven by the perception that the majority of Aussie guilds ended up on one server, which now had the advantage of the night time population.

But mostly it makes me wonder why they split the servers regionally in the first place. Because it would be easier for players to even up the time zones for guilds on their server if half the ‘night time’ guilds weren’t on different servers by design.