[It came from the PUG]: No one knows the way back from the graveyard!

So the instance in question last week was Blood Furnace – I’ve been finally levelling my bank alt. (Hurrah!) Things were going well, the tank was getting more and more confident with every pull. We killed a boss and kept going. Then the tank got a bit over-confident, pulled too many groups at a time … and we wiped. The tank said, “Haha, oops sorry” … and then left.

But why? It was a decent group, we could have gone back in, pulled that room more smartly and cleared the instance. There was no rage quit.

My guess is that it is because the run back to Blood Furnace from the nearest graveyard is not only a long one, but most people don’t even know the way anyway. And once everyone realises that most people don’t know the way, they can mentally add up the extra delay in their heads and do the maths themselves. Even with more mellow groups in the past, I have had to offer to show people the way back from the graveyard. So if you wipe in one of those instances, you potentially have a long and tedious wait, especially if one of the other guys fails to mention that they don’t know the way.

I don’t have major issues myself with running back. At least you get to see a bit of the world and know where the instance is supposed to actually be compared to everywhere else. But the game very clearly failed in this case at making sure that players will know the graveyard run before they enter an instance for the first time (ie. when you might expect to wipe.) Other instances are even worse – the run back to Blackrock Depths is notoriously long, even if you do know the way.

I do blame the group for being wimps and not even discussing the problem. It might be that everyone actually did know the way back. But I miss the LOTRO solution which is that when you release from an instance, you reappear just by the entrance.

It came from the PUG: The Infinite Healer

One of the things I have noticed lately in high level PUGs is the effect of having a big variation in gearing between group members. It is very common these days to have three or more characters in a 5 man group with well over 5k gear score (that means they’re using a fair amount of raid gear).

Not a bad thing, you’d think. Better geared groups get through the instance faster.

But if I’m playing a lesser geared alt and I am thrown in with really well geared dps, there’s a chance that mobs will die before I’ve had to chance to use my full rotation. On my new Death Knight, if the overgeared chap is a ranged class and is especially keen, the mob might be pulled over to the other side of the room and almost dead before I even get a touch on it. So I am in two minds, I guess faster instances is good, but actually I want to play my new alt and get some practice. And having seriously overgeared dps in the group means that the mobs just die too fast for me to do that. I would probably have more fun in a group which had a much closer gear score variance.

Or the other side is when you have a really high geared healer thrown into the mix with lesser geared/ experienced tanks or dps. “Pull faster,” says the healer with infinite spellpower and mana regen on their gear, “You can pull as fast as you like with me here.” Well, no. Actually the main limiting factor on fast one can complete an instance is not usually the healing.

Sure, it’s possible that the infinite healer could keep a tank alive as she pulled the entire instance in a single land-speed record breaking rush … but someone still has to actually kill the mobs. Plus some pulls can’t be rushed anyway.

In fact, I have come to the conclusion that having an overgeared healer in your PUG is a waste of otherwise useful gear score. They get bored, and it doesn’t actually help anyone else make shorter work of the instance (if that was your goal). Even my resto druid, sporting a few emblem items and generally teetering just below ICC entry levels, can snooze through a 5 man with just a few sleepy HoTs and nourish spells to keep things going. I can’t imagine how bored a player would be with 1k more gear score than that. I guess that’s a bonus if you want an easy life as a reward for all the hard work in raids.

This is really a design issue with the holy trinity (tank/ heal/ dps) and that if there is limited damage being taken then the healer part of the trinity doesn’t have much to do. I personally think that if Cataclysm does encourage healers to throw some dps into the mix it will be a step forwards, although I know a lot of healers won’t share my opinions.

So my proposal this week is this: how about the notion of an average group gearscore? When you zone into a PUG, the game could tweak everyone’s gear appropriately to make sure that any differences were evened out. Maybe things would be more fun if the average gear level was even a function of the instance and not of the individuals. That way the challenge level would be more stable.

I know this will never happen. People like their individual rewards too much. But gear scaling in Wrath has made the 5 man game very strange indeed.

It came from the PUG: Sorry, missed the invite

invitedeclined

Anyone who has spent much time running level 80 instances in WoW with the dungeon finder will be familiar with this scenario.

  1. You join the dungeon finder.
  2. You wait for an amount of time based on your role (tank/heal/dps) and how many other people are queueing.
  3. The dungeon finder finds you a group (hurrah!!) and as soon as everyone in the group clicks ok to indicate that they are still interested, you’ll all be ported to your instance.
  4. But if one person either selects no or (more commonly) the finder times out because one person didn’t notice it and doesn’t click at all.
  5. return to 1.

So far, so good. The reason a lot of dps fail to click anything on the dungeon finder is that it just takes longer to find them an instance. Mostly this is fine, people can find something to do in the game to keep them occupied while they wait. But if you are all out of things to do, the temptation is to alt-tab out and catch up with twitter, go get a drink, browse forums, and so on. And when that happens, it’s quite likely that people just miss the dungeon finder when it comes up. (Although it is guaranteed to time out a millisecond before you tab back into WoW to check on it.)

It is however quite annoying for the rest of the group who were ready to go and now have to wait another minute or so (depending on who declined and how long they need to wait for a replacement.)

There’s no ideal answer to this one. If you don’t have anything much to do in WoW then staring at the screen for 20 minutes isn’t much fun as an option. As long as the holy trinity is required for instances, dps will also always have to queue longer than tanks and healers.

I do think it would help if there were more ways to spread the notification though. Maybe addons to control where it appears on the screen so that you could more easily bring up a browser window and still spot the notification. I did find one that plays a PING tone when the finder comes up.

Another way would be more minigames or even a browser within the game client. It’s dreadful for immersion, but at least means you can see the dungeon finder while playing bejewelled or flaming some noobs on your bboard of choice. Or maybe more immersively, how about some kind of instance or activity where players can only go while they are in the queue. ie. something to do while you are waiting.

What do you do when you are waiting for the dungeon finder?

It came from the PUG: No really, I’m new here! This is my first character!

When was the last time you met a genuinely new player in a PUG? Are you sure?

Old time WoW players (myself included) do tend to assume that  the people we run into while levelling are alts. The majority probably are. But for all that, there are also plenty of players who are trying the game for the first time or finally decided to come back and try to level a character before Cataclysm.

I was in a PUG this week with Arb in Utgarde Keep, for example. We all were level 69-71, and the instance can be a struggle at that level, especially if people are still mostly in Outland greens. I know Arb has really connected with her new shaman. It’s also the highest level alt she’s ever had in Warcraft. But I was surprised when one of the other players in the group also said that he’d never seen that instance before and was new to the game.

Two newbies in one group! Maybe they aren’t such a rare breed as we often assume. The rest of the group was very decent. They reassured the newbies that they were doing fine. No one stormed off because they had to explain strategies or because someone’s spec or dps wasn’t perfect. But I wonder if a player who was actually new to online gaming and not WoW would have realised that people were being nice to them. They might have just seen the jokey insults and taken it literally.

smacktalk

This is an example. The more experienced player, who is the dungeon guide, was telling the nervous newbie DK that he was doing fine (in his own inimitable way). And you can see here that the new player is joking about it too.

But as I said above, I wonder if a more touchy or nervous player might have taken things the wrong way, if they even understood what the guy was saying, just because they aren’t used to how gamers communicate.

Have you played with any newbies recently?

It came from the PUG: Even my noob alt knows how to do THAT!

My tales of woe from PUGs this week concern players who clearly have lots of gear and raid experience, yet somehow fail on the most basic of tasks in instances. How exactly does that happen?

I personally notice the tanking mistakes first, partly because my main is a tank and partly because everyone notices the tanking mistakes first. Here are a couple I saw recently, while instancing with my new death knight (yes, this is the second death knight for anyone who is counting, I decided I liked them so much I wanted one on my home server.)

1. KITE. HIM. UP. THE. STAIRS.

I probably don’t even need to explain which boss this is to anyone who has seen the level 80 instances.

I pulled Violet Hold Heroic out of the hat, and it was one of the first heroics I ran on my new Death Knight. “Great,” I thought, “This is a fairly easy one and the trash mobs should make it easy for me to look as though I’m doing half decent damage and not get booted.” (I was nervous of being thrown out of heroics for being in all blues at the time.) And to cap it all, the tank had the Kingslayer title which means he’s been in a raid that killed Arthas in some mode or other.

But nope. We wiped on the ethereal mini-boss because even with all that gear and experience, somehow he figured that the usual tactic of kiting the boss around and away from the damage sources didn’t apply to him. Watching a group wipe in Violet Hold is quite nostalgic, since it doesn’t happen often these days.

I’m going to be generous and assume that maybe he’s so used to instancing with uber-geared players that he didn’t realise that normal proles can’t nuke it down in 10s — or however fast you’d need to do it to avoid the wipe.

But I was embarrassed on behalf of all tanks to hear him yell at the healer afterwards. Fortunately he then left, we got someone competent and finished the instance.

2. Well done, that made you look so pro. Oh wait, no it didn’t.

You don’t have to run many level 80 instances to realise that well geared players who have been  instancing for months have thought of lots of tricks and short-cuts to speed things up. A well geared tank can sometimes run through a corridor and pull several groups at once, for example. It’s impressive to watch when it is done well, although can leave you breathlessly running along behind.

But there are some groups of trash mobs which are problematic to pull all at once. You’d almost think that Blizzard was trying to discourage that sort of behaviour – nah, surely not?

For example, the three groups of trash mobs just before the second boss in Trial of the Champion each include a priest. That priest is a caster and as well as smiting and producing evil lightwells (a talent that I am gutted to not see on the leaked Cataclysm files), can also mind control a member of your group. Consequently, she’s always killed first, crowd-controlled, or has someone sitting on her to interrupt.

Except when an uber-geared tank decides to show off by pulling all three groups at once. And now you have three of them to deal with.  This is  something I have done before on Spinks but only when messing around with friends. And it was fun to deal with the chaos and all, but it didn’t strike me as a way to speed things up in a PUG. The actual faster way is to pull one group, kill the priest, charge into the second group, and repeat ad infinitum. (Or just mark the priest so that the dps kill it while you’re pulling the next group.)

And yet again, after doing this resulted in a wipe, the tank yelled at the healer.

I wouldn’t complain in any of these cases if it was a guy who was learning the strategies for the first time. Trying something new and failing is how you learn. But when it is players who know the instances perfectly well and either forgot how to tackle them or can’t even be bothered to try, it’s a different matter.

It’s tempting to wonder how players will adapt to Cataclysm instances, which apparently will require more planning, crowd control, and less random AE. But actually I think they’ll mostly adapt and manage fine. It’s just that overgeared players have gotten used to a situation where it didn’t really matter if you played well or not. But still, I get back-seat driver syndrome when I see people tanking badly when I know they should know better.

It came from the PUG: PUGs say the funniest things!

Something Arb and I noticed this week is that people seem to get chattier in Outland. Maybe there’s something in the water, but we’ve encountered a few people in level 70-80 instances who just wanted to hear the sound of their own virtual voice.

There was the guy who told the story about how his dad (some relative, I think it was his father) found a bear on his front lawn that had escaped from the zoo. Or the guy who ended up in several PUGs with us and quickly became our pet gnome (sorry gnome players, we all think of you as pets.) And the other guy who insisted on telling us his life story and particularly the great dramatic romance of his life. He was an emo kid, and she was a goth! Drama!

Arbitrary remarked snarkily, “So it’s like Romeo and Juliet, then?” (She likes to push the bounds of how sarcastic it is possible to be in chat without actually getting reported.) And proving his emo credentials, the rogue answered promptly, “No, it’s not like that because her parents like me,” proving that he actually knew the story of R&J and winning us both over instantly.

Now, if these guys had been dreadful players, it would not have been amusing. It would just have been another day of random PUGs. But they were both actually quite decent players, they just liked to run off at the mouth (keyboard?). Maybe they were lonely. Or just chatty. It’s probably very unfair of me to judge the same behaviour (random chatter) differently depending on whether the player is good or not.

Chatty groups do feel more friendly to me, but I don’t normally go out of my way to make conversation. Maybe it’s because I have enough friends in game that I don’t feel the need. I’m sure when all MMOs are new, groups are more expressive because a lot of people are looking to try to make connections. So it could be that these guys are either new players, or new to their servers, and using a similar stratagem to make friends. Or maybe they just spew stream of consciousness wherever they are anyway.

Do you like it when people spam chat in your instances, or is it just annoying? And has anyone else noticed that Outland instances become chatroom city?

It came from the PUG: Don’t worry, dwarves are cool!

One of the interesting things that can happen when you use the random dungeon finder in WoW is that you get sent into a half completed instance. This always feels to me like being the investigator in the denoument of an old fashioned detective story. You know that five people must have originally zoned in, but one of them met with a mysterious accident …

“Thank you all for joining me here today. As you know, I have been studying the mystery of what happened to missing person X. They were here in this instance … and all of you are the suspects. Nobody else came in, nobody else went out.”

So you zone in, and if you are tanking, you are no doubt thinking, “I wonder what you bastards did to your last tank?” This is because of tank empathy, a mythical construct which only exists when dealing with non-tanks. (If another tank was actually in the instance, you’d be too busy trying to pull threat from them to waste time sharing war stories and sympathy.)

Maybe the group will enlighten you. ie. “lol, last tank was a nub,” or “Yay! A new tank! last guy was afk 10 mins,” or just “gogogo!!!”

I did have a great welcome though when I zoned into Hellfire Ramparts on my new alliance (dwarf) Death Knight, said Hi, and the entire group practically fell at my feet proclaiming things like, “It’s a human being!” Someone else said, “She’s a dwarf, she’s bound to be nice!”

From this I gathered:

  1. Their last tank had been really nasty and then left
  2. Everyone likes dwarves? when did this happen?

See, I remember playing Alliance during Vanilla WoW and if you ever ran into someone who was really rude or a dreadful griefer, odds were that they were a dwarf rogue or hunter. I don’t know why this was, but they really had a very bad reputation on the server. Dwarf priests were also notoriously spoiled and brattish, due to being the only purveyors of fear ward.  Some time between then and now, evidently dwarves have gotten over that difficult adolescent roguish phase and grown up into respectable (and respected) tanks and healers.

Still, I am intrigued. Do you trust dwarves more than other races? Any other in-game race related biases? Are some races more likely to be picked by griefers (undead rogues are another notorious griefing setup)? Or are some race/class combinations more likely to be decent players?

It came from the PUG: Only on the internet ….

Other than the obligatory heroic with Spinks to test out Revenge, all of my PUGs this week have been lower level ones on the various alts.

I have theories as to why lower level instances feel more relaxed than level 80 heroics, and it is mostly because people simply don’t care as much. Even if your low level instance is a wash, the chances are you still got some xp so it wasn’t a total waste. Also, low level instances are generally tuned so that it won’t matter if half the group are complete idiots. (This may be true in higher level instances too, but seems more obvious earlier on.)

When you genuinely don’t care too much about the outcome of an instance, LFD becomes the WoW equivalent of chatroulette. It offers a 15 min slice of WoW life, which may include some amusing characters, and at the end of it you move on.

Sorry, I only speak Darnassian

So, in the spirit of chatroulette, I present the non-bilingual night elf.

This was in a run of Razorfen Downs (renamed Razorfen Bore by me, for obvious reasons), and one of the guys in the group never spoke on the party channel. He only spoke via say, and only in Darnassian. I don’t know if he was a new player who hadn’t figured the chat system out yet and had accidentally set his chat language to one that only night elves would understand, or whether it was just some random roleplayer.

In any case, I was the only non-night elf in the group. I did ask him a couple of times to set his language to common and tried to explain how to do that, but to no effect. I feel I have an understanding now of how non english speakers find the game.

Incidentally, the group managed the instance just fine.

Who healed MY tank?

I have noticed that low level healers sometimes get very fussy if another hybrid casts a heal whilst in the instance, as if it was impugning their ability. I can understand this, but at low levels, everyone is feeling out their capabilities.

Sometimes this does lead to truly epic arguments along the lines of, ‘I’m healing here, and I have the union card to prove it! Quit healing, you blackleg, or I’m walking out!”

The funniest instance of this I saw last week involved a healer throwing a blue hairy fit and demanding to know which of the group had dared to heal the tank. Someone suggested that maybe the tank had used a healing potion (he was busy tanking at the time, so possibly too busy to chat) which sparked off another sniffy fit of ‘Well, THAT wasn’t necessary.’

Then the fight finished and the tank settled the argument. “I just levelled.” (In WoW, when you go up a level, your health and mana bar instantly refill.) Everyone had been so busy arguing about who had cast the illicit heal that no one had noticed…

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It is amazing how much difference it makes to how you view another player if they say sorry when they make a mistake. If nothing else, it shows that they know it was a mistake and will try not to do it again.  For example, Arb and I are now in ‘that stage’ where the random finder keeps sending us to Blackrock Depths. She’s been healing, and doing a great job.

So when we got a group where the tank messed up a pull and pulled an entire room full of dwarves and we wiped, surely everyone realised that it was his fault and  not the healers? Not that tank. Cue five minutes of him bitching about how a good healer would have handled that pull and completely ignoring everyone else who was informing him that actually it was his own damn fault, not hers. He didn’t once accept that it was a bad pull.

But the beauty of instance roulette is that you just hop out when you are bored and hit the button again. Our next run was with a super group who cleaned out the whole place, including the emperor. And the tank apologised when she made a mistake. And so did everyone else whenever they made a mistake.

I think it adds a charmingly random element to dungeon excursions. What’s the oddest experience you have had with the random dungeon finder?

It came from the PUG: CALL ME PALALORD!

Today’s instalment of random pick up group experiences is dedicated to lower level dungeon groups. Lower level groups bring a whole new level of insanity to the usual mix, because it’s pretty much expected that people are still learning to play their class and role. In some cases, it seems that people are still learning how to actually interact with other human beings online as well.

But what I am mostly finding is that however bad the group actually is – and I’ve had some real howlers – I don’t see the same level of frothing ragequit, random quits for no reason, or personal attacks that a bad (or even a good) group in a level 80 heroic can generate. I assume this is because even fanatical players realise that low level instances aren’t all that important in the great scheme of things, plus at least you still get xp for the stuff you kill.

Now I will never understand why getting your frost badges in heroics in 15 minutes instead of 10 will reduce some people to incoherent rants about slow, useless tanks. Surely they must realise it isn’t that much of a deal? Or in fact any much of a deal. But apparently these things are deeply important to some players.

Disagreements in a lower level instance are more like having an argument with a bunch of people who have been smoking pot. They’re arguing, but no one can  be bothered to get really worked up about it all.

Thanks for mad group!

The place is Gnomeregan. I sigh internally as I zone in on my warlock, because I’d forgotten that I was in the level range for that instance. I don’t hate the place, although it has a well deserved reputation as the hardest low level instance if you do it at the right level. But I remember it as being long, rambling, wipetastic, and something of a maze.

The group says Hi to each other. We’re all towards the lower level of the instance range. But that needn’t be a problem if we all play carefully and take things easy. And what’s the chance of that in a PUG?

I was surprised to see two people tanking, until I realised that the paladin was the healer and just grabbed some extra mobs when he was bored. Or because he could.

I was surprised to see two people pulling, until I realised that the hunter had a different idea of pacing from the tank.

I was surprised when a boss dropped a sword with a melee proc and the hunter explained to everyone that if it had been anything other than a sword, he would have taken it. And then the tank countered with ‘no, it’s a tanking sword,’

And then there was the point where the tank finally got annoyed with the hunter (this had been working itself up to a critical mass over the course of the instance) and sat down, sulking, and suggesting that the hunter should tank if he was so keen to pull. So the hunter did tank the next couple of pulls. And then instead of leaving, the tank seemed to get over it and took over again.

And most of all I was surprised when I was relating this on guild channel and someone (reasonably) asked whether the group had broken up, and I answered, “Uh no, actually we’re just looking at the last boss now.”

The tank summed it up after the group had successfully killed Mechatorque and everyone got their achievements and goody bags. He said, “Thanks for mad group all, see you round,” and left.

I was laughing. I think what struck me about this group is that they were all over the place and breaking all the rules, but not actually playing so badly that we couldn’t get through the instance. And even though people were arguing, no one seemed genuinely upset.

CALL ME PALALORD!

The second group was less successful in terms of actually completing an instance, but massively more entertaining. Arb and I zoned into Zul’Farrak to be greeted in party chat with, “Call me palalord!’”

A couple of pulls into the instance, someone pointed out politely that a palalord might be able to hold aggro. But that didn’t stop the tank from piling on in. He just said, “Call me palalord, pls!” (It wasn’t his name.)

Arb was more concerned that the other shaman (who was called something like Dpslol or Loldps) had better hair than her, but did a bang up job of healing through the awesomeness that was the palalord’s creative pulling.

Group chat was getting increasingly incoherent, not because people were angry but because they were just … incoherent. Palalord died on a couple of pulls. I turned on growl and I think the warlock had a similar idea because the pets picked up on the tanking well enough to avoid a wipe.

Somehow, we made our way through a few bosses. I wish I had written down some of the randomness that made its way into group chat because I was laughing too hard to care about whether we cleared the instance or not.

We didn’t get through to the last boss, but again, the group was remarkably good spirited. No one was actually horrible to the palalord, even though he was pretty bad. I’m suspecting a kid behind the keyboard. Still, kid or not, and bad player or not, he and the rest of the group were more mature about laughing it all off than a lot of the players I have been teamed with in heroics.

Run low level instances in the dungeon finder. Even when they are bad, it’s a great way to put things into perspective.

It came from the PUG: Move it, slackers!

As part of the tank sampling project, I’ve spent a bit of time on levelling a paladin alt. I ran a couple of Scarlet Monastery instances, courtesy of the random group finder, while retribution specced. Now, low level retribution is fairly hands off. You put up some buffs, judge from time to time, and throw in the occasional Exorcism and stun if you are feeling frisky.

But what struck me about these two runs was that I was playing pretty much similarly in both but had two very different reactions. In the first, the paladin healer berated me continuously for slacking and said she could have pulled more dps in her healing gear. In the second, the whole group was practically worshipping at my feet because of my insane damage.

oppally(Paladin with Bladestorm!)

So what changed? Well, this one is pretty obvious. As part of the first run, I got a really nice weapon upgrade. In fact, if you believe that the purpose of a retribution paladin is to annoy tanks, it may be the best weapon in the entire game, because it randomly procs a bladestorm, as per the screenshot.

Which begs the question: Why did the player in the first group accuse me of slacking? Answer: Because there are some things you just can’t tell from a damage meter.

But still, it’s quite insulting to be accused of slacking when you weren’t. Maybe I was slacking because I didn’t get an heirloom weapon for my alt? But if I had, I never would have gotten to the awesomeness that is the Ravager.

What if you were slacking?

Another slacker moment was had while running my daily for frost badges on my warlock alt. In this case, it was another paladin making the accusations (not sure if they’re more likely to be uppity or if I’ve just been unlucky with paladins this week).

So imagine that the tank is using some dps gear and pulling about 4k dps, and then starts accusing the damage dealers in the group of slacking because she’s top of the damage meter. But all the dps in the group were over 3k, even my alt who forgot to train up chaos bolt past level 1.

Well Ms Uppity Palatank, some of us are mere Saronite Slaves and if you expect us to turn up with full raid consumables and a progression mindset on your random 5 man heroic, then you are doomed to a life filled with disappointment.

Or rather, I might be a slacker but I’ll pull my socks up when it comes to raiding with my mates tomorrow, you however will always be a twat.