Saturday, February 21, 2009

WoWholism: What is it?

A thread recently came up on my guild's forum regarding the wonders of life outside of WoW. One of our members recently opted to take an extended hiatus from the game, and is clearly having a great time with his experiences. Some of his comments did prick some nerves within the guild's community, though: just because we play this game doesn't preclude our ability to lead real lives, does it?

The issue manifests itself in countless ways. The worst-case scenario that jumps to mind was a report from Taegu, South Korea on August 31, 2005. The report speaks of a man who died after playing Wow for 50 consecutive hours in a 24-hour internet bar. At the end of the session, he reportedly fell from his chair and was never to rise again. I haven't heard another report of this nature, but I think that one report is enough.

Similar binge cases can drastic, if non-lethal consequences. More than one student here has deferred his graduation or lost his graduate funding on account of unchecked gaming. The quality must invariably hold across the country, and thus the rumors and whispers of "World of Warcrack," "WoWholsim," and "WoWaholics" persist. Blizzard undoubtedly takes some flak for this creation, but even more likely is the stigma that can land on those of us who play with some sense of moderation.

On Blizzard's side: the geniuses there have created a truly amazing game. I'm sure they never expected their game to have quite the scope that it does now. Yet scope it has, and they've done a great deal to tailor the game to help players moderate their playing. The shift from repeatable quests to daily-repeatable quests, the imposition of weekly Raid resets, and daily Heroic Dungeon resets all help to limit the amount of straight progression a character can make in a day. It can be frustrating when you really want to farm up that one upgrade, but the trade-off is a somewhat subtle, yet invaluable benefit: this game isn't about binging, and should never be forced for an excessive duration. "Be sure to take everything in moderation, even World of Warcraft!" says one of the loading tips - they do have player time commitments in mind when they design new content.

Now, on the players: It's easy to get wrapped up in the game sometimes. Especially with the release of WotLK, there were droves of players suddenly clogging the login queues. I know that I spent more time than was strictly healthy getting myself ramped up into the new system. But even then, I managed to keep my studies intact. The game may occupy most of my free time, but my busy time is still there, active and engaging.

But moderation is really all on our shoulders. The game can quite easily absorb many hours more than we would like. But I guess that's my point: WoW is a game to me. I don't mean a mindgame, or some trivial game to be played in a flash window. WoW is a game, in the truest sense of the word: there are goals, there are strategies, and the perfect solution to many of the game's challenges have yet to be found. There's also a heavy element of teamwork involved in all endgame progression - I'd be out of a tank job if I worked alone all the time. So it's a co-operative game, not unlike a sport. More and more, I'm finding myself treating it as such.

Allow me a for-instance. During a week, I plan to participate in three nights of raiding. They line up roughly with when a sports team might have its three games that week. In between, I might slam a couple of heroics for some bonus emblems; These fill in as practices and skirmishes that a sports team would undoubtedly have each week. Whenever I'm running around completing dailies or filling out my cooking repertoire, I simply consider it my individual practice time for that sport.

And now you scoff, saying that playing a computer game can't possibly have the same benefits as a real, athletic sport. Perhaps not, but my gaming practices shouldn't be underestimated: I don't do the bare minimum. Ever. Progressing my sprite is a way in which I can progress my mind, too: performing on-the-fly mental math to do my own recounts, with factors for decursing and movement incorporated; watching, judging, and reacting to the state of at least half-a-dozen properties of a dynamic screen at all times; Writing and theorycrafting the mechanics of my class in order to optimize my performance under different, strenuous circumstances. There's a lot to this game, even if it doesn't require much physical strength or stamina.

So my mind's all set, and my body's going to mush? Of course not. As I said, WoW only fills in for my free time. I exercise regularly, be it in my Martial Arts classes, my Fencing classes, or in the weight room. I cook most all of my own meals, so I know that I'm treating my body right. There's many hours in the day - I see no reason to be limited to only WoW or real-life experiences. With four nights out of the week free, I can hang out with my friends and head out to catch a movie pretty freely. Unlike cake, Wow is not a lie: I work with a group of similarly-minded players who are human beings, living their lives, and working together on accomplishing goals as a team. Unlike cake, I can have the game and... well, eat my real-life food too: being a gamer does not exclude me from having real-world relationships, despite the present lack of any intimate ones.

My confidence in a lot of this tends to shake over time. It's not always easy to manage the time in and out-of-game. Especially with the pressure from friends in the game, it's harder to partition time cleanly, and subsequently very easy to slip into too long of gaming sessions. But then a friend of mine came by to visit today. I was in the middle of a raid, but almost instantly put the game on hold to check in with her. We chatted for a while as the raid finished up the current encounter, and she asked what game I was playing. I didn't even think to hesitate; I had no guilt in stating that I was playing WoW. She responded with a laugh, saying her boyfriend plays it, too; "a lot," she smirks. Apparently, she hears a lot about the game without ever having played.

Since the raid finished just after that encounter, we got back to covering the work she needed help with. That moment's still stuck in my head. Maybe it's the engineering mentality that gives her such a moderate view, but she's totally cool with her friends being gamers, even of the infamous "World of Warcrack." And I have to say, I like that quality - the game really shouldn't be a stigma. It's certainly not a traditional sport, but I feel that it comes under the same category: an activity ideally performed with a team, involving coordination, communication, and commitment from all players. As a tank, that need for synergy is especially resonant; Anything exciting in the game for me needs a full team.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure this coming Saturday night has a proper line-up of real-world excitement.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Raid Responsiveness

One of the biggest factors in WoW is responsiveness. No matter how much you plan and prepare for pulls or boss encounters, there's always some level of uncertainty influencing the game. Latency spikes aside, there's always the chance of an unlucky string of attacks, or of an additional pull that you couldn't see joining in the fray, or of a glitched frost block.

One example: I've run through the Culling of Stratholme many, many times, but I'll always remember the run in which Mal'Ganis improperly reset, subsequently becoming an unkillable beast that locked in endless combat with Arthas. My party watched the two combatants duke it out at 1 Health each for about 10 minutes, and then shrugged and walked out - we didn't really need the spare emblem, anyways.

On a more practical note, I always stress the importance of raid awareness to my groups on runs. This goes for simple things, like not standing in the charred earth, or getting out of void zones. It should also hold for more complex behaviors: if adds spawn and attack you, move to a tank to have it picked up; when fighting a boss with AoEs, ranged DPS should use a rangefinder to make sure that they're minimizing their exposure to that damage. In general, I see pretty good responses to these things.

Raid responsiveness, meanwhile, is where I'll be turning my attention. This is particularly applicable to tanks, and I know that I've practiced responsiveness heavily. Any option slots that can improve my mobility have been put to use for just this purpose - I'm not concerned with my survivability or threat generation in current content, but I can always improve on snapping to my healers to pull back a rogue add in an encounter.

But what, then, is the difference between awareness and responsiveness? Part of it lies in the activity of the verbs: To be aware of something is good, but to respond correctly to that which you've noticed is even better. More importantly, I'm thinking of responsiveness as applying to things which the raid leader may forget to mention, or which may not be scripted into the encounter.

For example: If you jump in to Noth without making a note of the imperative decurse requirement, how likely are the mages to notice curses landing on party members, and how will they respond? Or, if you engage Heigan as a Fury-Specced warrior and watch the MT and OT go down to latency during the dance, do you have your shield ready to swap-in so you can pick up tanking? Or, if you're in P3 of Malygos and you happen to slip away from the pack, do you know how to build a self-healing cover into your DPS rotation until you can find your way back to the team (or pop your speed booster to get back to them faster, without letting your Engulf in Flames stack drop)?

These "good habits" and natural responses do not come naturally to most players. Even raid-seasoned DPS will likely ignore the need to remove debuffs from allies in favor of shoving their own Recount meter just a little higher. For old content, this is probably a fine thing - your healers are likely looking for something to heal, anyways - but that should be the exception to the rule, rather than treating progression as the exception to all other runs.

I guess a lot of this boils down to a shift in priorities. Simply dealing damage or building threat on the main target is not always the top priorities of raid players; knowing when to switch - and how to switch efficiently - will make your runs smoother, even if they happen to take a little longer than you'd imagine. Chances are you'll actually save time, because saving the life of a 1.5k DPS player is far more valuable than ignoring him to get another 50 DPS on your meter on a boss encounter.

Whose responsibility is it, then, to be responsive? Do the Tanks and Healers alone cover these needs, while the DPS should just run their rotations? If that's the case, do we actively expect better players to take up the roles of Tanks and Healers? How do we then scale the requisites for taking on such classes? "If you want to tank or heal, prove that you can; if you want to DPS, welcome aboard"? In the end, is responsiveness really that taxing of a practice to employ in any class's playbook?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

T7 Content Dilemma

I guess the main issue on my mind these days is finding a proper motivation for taking on challenges in the content of WoW. Or, more accurately, finding a motivation which I can use to convince my guildmates to take on the challenges of WoW. From the combination of "casual raiding" causing poor scheduling structure and of the challenge/reward skew in current content, even Eye of Eternity runs are rare. Why struggle through the painful and costly wipes of Malygos or OS+1, when we can farm the regular OS and Archavon for nearly the same rewards?

Now, why do I desire challenges? More than simply wanting the challenge for my own tanking practice, but because I have a lingering hope that WotLK raiding will follow BC raiding: early content is easily farmed, while high-end content requires in-depth, dedicated practice and experience. For a player and a guild that had so little experience with this kind of challenge, I want to make the most of the challenges available in our current content, so the transition coming up isn't so drastic and frustrating. With all of the T7 content cleared, and with a relative inability to field a T7.5 team, my focus thus falls on finding a way to practice for T8; farming T7 isn't exactly exciting.

I really want to be involved in these harder encounters, and I have the personal motivation for attempting them. I had very little experience with BC raiding, as I hit 70 after 2.4 released. My biggest achievement before 3.0.2 released was clearing the entirety of Zul'Aman - the Dragonhawk boss was the single hardest hurtle that Comitatus has ever overcome. We spent weeks training at least two 10-man teams worth of players to avoid firebombs and dps down the dragonhawk adds at just the right pace. Clearing the rest of that raid took only another week, once we had nailed down the Dragonhawk; our celebrations were over beating the Dragonhawk, rather than Zul'jin. By fun coincidence, that first kill gave our Guild Leader the healing shield to fill out her Holy set - I thought it was fitting.

With the arrival of WotLK, raiding has really taken a nerf. I can attribute this to two main game changes: the weakening of healing effects and the translation of content to casual levels. First, the healing effects: with the removal of downranking, Holy Priest tank healing is thoroughly unpleasant; Guardian Spirit is a nice tank save, but is nothing compared to the power of GH1 chain-casting. The effects are far less dramatic on the other healing classes, but Resto Shaman certainly had something to gain from downranking as well. At the same time, mana regeneration for healing classes has changed, likewise being less powerful than it was in BC. With all of these healer weakenings, the new content in WoW must necessarily call for less healing from the healers.

At the same time, there's been a constant call for weakening of raid difficulty from many more casual raiding guilds. To see the end-game content in BC, you needed to practice a great deal to learn the encounters. All of the content after ZA also required a 25-man raiding team, which many casual guilds (mine included) cannot bring to bear on a regular basis. One of the best possible changes in WotLK has been the release of all raids in both 10- and 25-man versions. However, the content so far released has been a joke compared to the difficulty of even ZA's Dragonhawk Boss. No fight in Naxx10 took my guild more than 12 attempts to learn (Sapphiron was the hardest, simply because we hadn't built many Frost Resist sets by then). OS and Arch are so easy that they're pugged regularly.

I find that the only challenges now come from the Achievements that Blizzard has incorporated. When the content becomes trivial for a guild to clear, the only thing left to do is to aim for achievements. But achievements aren't easy, and they offer no reward aside from having them. I don't rightly know that anyone cares about what achievements you have, unless it gives you an awesome title. Many achievements also take non-ideal party make-ups, which may require swap-outs of guild members already in the run. I find the achievements to be poor motivator for taking on higher challenges. Even in OS, adding a drake adds a single piece of gear. The challenge of the encounter goes up considerably, and after a few wipes, casual members just get frustrated and decide to kill that drake and be done. People will also turn down Malygos in favor of slamming Arch; 2 Emblems is 2 Emblems, regardless of who you kill for them.

I assert that a reward is only as valuable as the challenge that must be overcome to acquire it - While Naxx10 turns out a lot of pretty gear, the only piece I have that gives me any real pride is my car door (the pieces from Heroics are also pretty great, as those encounters will always carry some challenge, simply because of the personnel limit). Malygos took three nights of continuous work, totalling roughly 8 hours of gametime. This is nothing compared to mastering the Dragonhawk, but it is at least something.

So, how much gold are players willing to pay for a few extra epeen points and a little pride, but no additional loot? Is the experience worth it, or should we just suffer through T8 when it hits, giving an abrupt challenge? Or will T8 be just as soft as T7? Remember that, with us all at 80 already, more soft content could be cleared in a couple of weeks. What happens to the raiding experience, then, when there's no challenge for top-end, "harder" raiders?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Original Post Date: 1/21/2009

So, now that I've gone through and written up a formal discussion on many generic tanking topics, I wanted to have a separate venue in which I could bring up other, more subtle aspects of the tanking environment at large in the World of Warcraft. These posts will, in general, be far less formal than the Compendium, so I won't be spending time getting the formatting to be all pretty. They should also be shorter, in theory, but I do have a tendency to go on tangents.

That said, these essays will attempt to cover some of my more obscure, yet note-worthy tanking experiences. They are meant to be an open forum of sorts, as well, and I encourage all tanking classes to weigh in (All of these posts, while coming from a Warrior Tank, are not specific to Warriors). The topics will vary pretty wildly over time, too, I imagine; hopefully there will be something useful hidden within these pages, or at least entertaining.

Now, for this first piece: I wanted to open these essays with a talk about some of the trickier boss encounters in WotLK, and solutions I've found for countering them. Rycharde has successfully tanked every encounter in the game for 5-man and 10-man content, so I believe I've seen the best and worst of the tanking environment. Also, while many encounters may be difficult in general, or difficult on your healers or DPS, I'm presently concerned only with the tanking-complex encounters.

Anub'Arak - Azjol-Nerub: This guy was a real challenge to get through in starting gear. I haven't had much trouble with him since my first two or three days clearing this instance, but those first days taught me a lot about how to handle him. His pounds are lethal to your melee DPS, and you can't afford to lose them here: get them clear every time. The little adds will need a brave caster to be handled optimally, or your healer will be spell-locked. Be sure to keep the boss roughly centered, so everyone can clear his pounds, and move up to the gate for each adds phase. The poison damage is substantial, so make sure that you and your DPS hot-swap to the venom spiders when they show, even if other things are still alive. You'll need to burn them quickly, and do everything you can to interrupt their poison volleys - the single-shots are less dire. You also need to remain mobile at all times: perform small side-steps to keep on your toes, as it were: those spikes will take a huge chunk out of even your health, so avoid it as best you can. The first two bosses of this instance are far easier, by comparison: don't be surprised if this one gives you some trouble. Useful party members: Shaman and Druid, both of which bring strong poison removal to the party.

Prince Taldaram - Ahn'Kahet: The Old Kingdom: A highly melee-unfriendly fight. His fire damage is substantial, so an aura or totem will certainly help to mitigate some of that damage. You and your melee DPS need to evade the orbs as best you can, however, so there is a substantial movement requisite: be ready to strafe out and jump-guard so you don't expose your back to the boss or move too slowly out. Every boss within this instance has some obnoxious trick to make your life miserable, but this is the one most dependant upon your leadership and positioning of the party: space them correctly, make sure they know where and how to run, and keep them updated as you kite the boss around the room. For me, the easiest strategy is to always bring the boss to the center, leave my ranged by the stairs, and run to the casters when the orbs appear. As soon as I reach the casters, I double back to reset the positioning. When the boss vanishes, I try to call everyone inwards as best I can, but if this fails, we just adjust the corner that the ranged use to somewhere else in the room.

Mage-Lord Urom - The Oculus: With enough frost resistance, this fight is cake. The frostbomb damage does next-to-nothing damage against 300 Frost Resistance, which you can get quite readily with the craftable gear. If you have this available, just tank the boss where he stands. Have your party stand behind a pillar, spread out as best they can to mitigate time bomb damage, and endure the frost bombs. I make my melee DPS sit this fight out if they don't have the FR gear for it: the slower fight is at least far safer. Now, if you don't yet have your FR gear set together, this fight becomes a substantial challenge. You need to be strafing for nearly the entire fight at the reduced speed, and your party needs to stay three steps ahead of you to stay out of the frost damage altogether. After seeing the hellish wipes this can lead to with any melee DPS (they all too often get stuck behind the tank and die from excessive frost damage), I think that tanking through the frost damage may be advisable even without frost resistance gear: the alternative is risky with anyone who hasn't performed the run multiple times before. For the arcane explosions, you would do well to get clear of the frost field, especially if you aren't wearing FR gear. The explosion hits for roughly 12000 damage, which may be healable, but clearing off the 30 stacks of frost goo is the real necessity here; get to clear ground first, get behind a pillar second.

Xevozz - The Violet Hold: Another mobility-key fight, the key to clearing this fight without stress is to establish your kite path with everyone in the raid. I always shove the entire raid up onto the left-side staircase at the beginning of the fight - LoS your ranged and healers to get them up if they won't listen - the kiting is imperative for everyone in this fight. The boss will summon in arcane orbs shortly into the fight, and if they reach the boss, he gains a substantial damage boost - he will easily two-shot most tanks while under this effect. Thus, you need to kite him away from the orbs. Watch the orbs approach, and as soon as the closer orb reaches the very bottom of the staircase, kite up and around the ring, moving left-to-right if you're looking into the room from the entrance. You'll need to move quickly, and always keep an eye on where the orbs are. They will likely slide up the gravelly path leading to Zuramat, but you should have plenty of clear path yet to go - all the way to the right-side staircase. The orbs will summon you after a while; when this happens, book it back to the starting point. The boss will come running for you, so keep him out of the orbs, or stay out of melee range until you see the buff wear off of him. Resetting the kite path is key here, as the orbs detonate shortly after the summon, and the boss will recast them at the same places. Running from right-to-left should also be a viable kite path, but I've too often seen a team get caught between the orbs, since the kiter doesn't outrun the orb that slithers up the gravel path; left-to-right kiting makes clearing the gravel path occur much earlier in the overall path, which should be a help.

There's more to come here, perhaps in a second post. Also, be sure to post up any other encounters you've found cute tricks for, or encounters that you haven't had any luck clearing successfully - I'll share what I can about the solutions I used.