The Perennial Restarts

25 November 2010 § Leave a comment

As I opened up my WoW today, I was greeted with the usual message of:

“We will be performing rolling restarts for all realms beginning at 05:00AM PST…”

Nothing unusual about that, although admittedly it is slightly bothersome for an Oceanian guild like us because it cuts into our raiding time. However, the funny part is that the news had no date, so it was not clear what day the restarts were happening. Was it referring to today’s restarts (which had already happened)? Or tomorrow’s? Or is it just there to tell us that realms would be restarted every day from now on until further notice?


4.0.3a Inscription

24 November 2010 § 1 Comment

Really quickly – you probably all know Glyph of Mage Armor is on the trainer. However, I’m here to tell you I also learned Vanish from Northrend research, Long Word from the books and Treant from the Minor research. Here’s hoping they put all the glyphs in the game, finally.

EDIT: No more glyphs from Northrend research – minor also gave me Glyph of Armors

EDIT2: And no more glyphs from minor research – so I guess 2 minors, 1 Northrend and 1 Book of Glyph Mastery is the total.

PS: Also, Orgrimmar rocks so hard… I’ll put up with Garrosh attitude, in exchange of his skills as decorator!

Maybe this time…

23 November 2010 § 1 Comment

From the official patch notes for 4.0.3a:

  • Mysterious Egg now takes only 3 days to turn into a Cracked Egg and has a slightly greater chance of awarding the Reins of the Green Proto-Drake.

So, after 2 years of trying, maybe I can finally hope to get one…

EDIT: Got it on my second egg post-Shattering! Finally!

Wrath no more

23 November 2010 § 3 Comments

The Shattering is happening as we speak, so it is time to say goodbye to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. It may also be time to look back and reflect on different aspects of this expansion – both good and bad.

The levelling experience

I think Blizzard did a good job about the levelling experience. Most of the zones looked gorgeous, with some good stories and some decent foreshadowing of instances/events to come. I liked meeting King Ymiron in Howling Fjord, before facing him in Utgarde Pinnacle, and I wish this kind of foreshadowing was used more often. I really loved the Taunka storyline on Horde, as well as the Matthew Lehner story in Icecrown. If anything, I wish there was a tigher interaction between the storylines used in questing and the dungeons/raid instances of the expansion: why didn’t we do more with the whole story about the Lich King getting rid of his heart?

In a similar vein, let’s not have an Obsidian Sanctum debacle again: that instance had no story link with ANYTHING else in the game, it was just sort of there. I had to have a friend dig out the story behind the instance online, because there is literally nothing in the game to let us know what is it supposed to represent. In a similar vein, I was a bit disappointed with the whole Nexus War story: it features through a good part of Borean Tundra and Dragonblight, but then fizzles out completely in the later zones, and the fact that Malygos was a first-tier boss meant that we “solved it” way too early. Ulduar, awesome as it was, could have used some tighter link to the Scourge: I understand Yogg Saron has been helping with Arthas corruption, but in many ways that actually cheapens the Lich King story, which is more dramatic precisely because it is a story of a Prince choosing to do all those horrible things as a way to save his land. This is a minor gripe though, as Ulduar did have a good storyline throughout Storm Peaks, and I probably could just handle it being just a synchronicity issue, with a new menace emerging while we prepare to deal with Arthas.

We all know that Blizzard lamented that Illidan was a bit of an invisible enemy in Burning Crusade, as non-raiders hardly ever met him. With Arthas, I think they swung the pendulum the other way a bit too much, turning him too much into a 007 villain, never missing an opportunity to explain his plans in details only to let the heroes go so that they could eventually come back and get him. I hope with Deathwing they find a happier middle ground, maybe having major lore figures intercede and save adventurers, porting them to safety and similar, instead of having the boss just walk off the scene of the confrontation.

The gearing-up experience

The combination of badge gear, LFG tool, and higher-level 5-man dungeons meant that gearing was much easier and pleasurable than in either BC or Vanilla. I remember running alts through Karazhan right until the very end of the expansion, while thankfully we were spared running Naxx in the same way. The simplification of the badge system was probably needed, and sounds appropriate. I am a bit scared about what will happen with the LFG tool if instances and heroics are going to require more coordination: in many ways, I think LFG works well because you need no interaction with your group members. Let’s just say that I’ll try my damnedest to level and learn the dungeons with friends, rather than with the anonymous people who are likely to start a blame war (and a group quit) at the first wipe.

I really really like the idea of having some 5-man dungeons being designed for more geared playes, and I hope that they keep that design. One thing though: please do not have once again loot tables as long as the ICC 5-man ones, or at least try to make drop itemisation a bit more even. There were some slots that just required one boss, and one boss only, unless you had access to raid loot (not the case for many alts): caster shield, tank shield and caster offhand are all cases in point here. And please, keep in mind we have TWO trinket slots, so we need to have two decent trinkets per spec.

All in all, Wrath actually managed to reduce the gear gap considerably: right now, I think most 80 characters are in 245/251 gear, while most raiders would be in 264/277, a gap of only 1-2 tiers, which is completely acceptable.

The raiding experience

In raiding, the record is a bit mixed. There is no question to me that the high point of the raiding in this expansion was Ulduar. Bosses were fun, they progressed nicely from the easier Siege ones, to the Keepers, to Vezax and Yogg, and finally Algalon. There were also a nice number of side bosses which you could skip while progressing, and just do on off-nights or as filler. The fight were well thought out, with some nice mechanics, and they were very very different from each other and from what we had seen before. The art was absolutely fantastic, and thus the atmosphere was great.

I want to mention especially the in-game triggers of hard modes, which were, in my mind, the best possible way to have heroics. In-game triggers sometimes were actually a check, because if you could not manage to trigger the hard mode, you were just not geared enough to handle it (XT, Thorim); sometimes they were fun (“What happens if I push this red but… oh…”); and sometimes were just more traditional ways (Yogg, Freya). Blizzard has stated that they did not like the fact that it basically required players to look on outside sites how to actually trigger them, but that’s easily solved: for example, NPCs at the start of the instance could have dialogue options about how to trigger the different hard modes. It certainly made a lot more game sense than toggling an interface button (which is convenient, but a bit of a last resort measure in my mind).

I think there is also no doubt that the low point was Trial of the Crusader. The biggest problem there was the multiplication of instances, so that 10 and 25-man raiders ended up facing Icehowl 4 times a week, which is a surefire recipe for burnout. The fights were not too bad (I personally enjoyed the val’kyrs, Anub’Arak and Faction Champs), and the absence of trash was definitely a plus. The single room though was a definite bummer, as well as the really punishing hard mode of no-wipes (oh the frustration when one of our raiders would die to Faction Champs…). The whole tier of raiding was a bit lackluster, imo: I kinda understand Tirion’s idea of selecting the best fighters to get into ICC, as you want to avoid giving a Lich any more fodder to resurrect, but surely in that case you would want to mix Alliance and Horde (which Tirion doesn’t even try to do), and the selection could be a bit more serious than jousting. It really feels like the developers got enamored with the vehicle mechanic a bit too much, and maybe had a longing for Arthurian stories – but they just felt completely out of place here.

Naxx was not bad, but way too easy and just rehashed to be really enjoyable. Malygos was actually an interesting fight, but proved that players really take a long time to figure out a new mechanic. Controlling the drakes was not hard, but try teaching that to all the people in your 25-man… Sarth was ok, and I liked the 3D version (especially when you could not zerg it, and had to control it), except for its total lack of anchoring to the rest of the world.

Icecrown Citadel was enjoyable, probably just second to Ulduar in terms of awesomeness. I had some issues with stories (if Saurfang and Tirion and Muradin interact at the beginning, why do we suddenly need to race each other to get to the Lich King? Feels a bit contrived to me), and a strong desire for a more gradual progression of the hard modes: the jump between Sindragosa/Putricide to Lich King is a bit too much, it would be nice to have a more gradual progression. I am definitely in favour of a REALLY HARD final boss to the expansion, though, so no complaints there.

All in all, though, this has probably been the most enjoyable of the expansions so far, so I hope Blizzard can keep it up. Who knows, two years from now I may be writing the wrap up to the Cataclysm expansion…


19 November 2010 § 6 Comments

This post is probably going to be a “Dear Abby” style one, because something… unsettling happened to me and I need to write about it.

Some people may remember the incident Miss Medicina described in a post last February: to summarise it quickly, she was sending a whisper to a raid leader about a certain raid member being “borderline retarded”, and by mistake she sent the whisper to said raid member. MM’s post was (I thought) a very sweet reminder that even someone who is fundamentally good can say hurtful things without really meaning to.

Well, today I was the recipient of a whisper describing myself as “prickly” and “quick to criticise”. The whisper was clearly not intended for me, and came from someone whom I had, until that very moment, considered a good (WoW) friend. I am very aware of the difference between online friendship and RL ones, and while I know that one can turn into another, I also know that online friendships have this deceptive depth to them that can trick you into considering them much stronger than they really are – but that didn’t change the fact that, having raided and partied and shared stories and wipes with someone for the past year or so, I was very hurt to suddenly find out the image she had of me. To make matters worse, he went on to state that it’s because he could never understand what I thought of him, and I kept turning hot and cold with him, and so he did not know how to take anything I said (I had just whispered him about a remark he had made during the raid, which I had found sligthly offensive, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so I thought a whisper to let him know would solve it). And yes, I am changing pronouns to indicate the person in question, to make it harder to identify him or her.

I did not have the coolness of MM’s “victim”. I just replied something along the lines of “nice mistell”, and when she kept explaining I tried to keep my replies to a minimum. I was, quite frankly, still reeling. I still don’t know what I will do.

I can do nothing, and just accept that he thinks I am this way. Honestly, that adds a whole new layer of tension which I am sure I want to carry over (because yes, this person is in my 10-man raid, and no, this was not the tension I had sort of alluded to in my last post, though the conclusion to that post about interpersonal relationships being more important than strategies reads kinda ironic now). Although the actual words in the message look fairly tame, now that I write about them, I am not sure I am ready to forget the blow they delivered to me when I first read them.

I can just quit the raid, but is that really going to solve the issue? I am still in the same guild (in fact, I have just become guild leader of that guild…) and she is still an important and active person of the same small guild. And quitting WoW over this seems… a bit overblown, to say the least. (And restarting on another server or faction is not exactly something I can look forward to – my roots into Feathermoon Horde are too deep). I am sure that the raid would survive (well, I *do* think I have an important social function in smoothing things over, but I don’t think that is invaluable or irreplaceable in any way).

I guess the only real, mature option is to talk to him about it all, and try to solve the issue. Frankly, I doubt I will ever get to trust her as much as I did until today – by nature, I tend to be a fairly trusting soul, I think, but once I feel that trust is betrayed I find it really hard to continue. I am hoping we can get to a level where we can work together, though, because it would suck majorly if this ruined Feathermoon for me.

For now? God it hurts.

Our Finest Hour, Our Darkest Hour

15 November 2010 § 3 Comments

So, Heroic Lich King is dead – and it’s about time. We have been working on this encounter since May. In the meantime, we had to change one of our tanks multiple times, recruit a new dps, deal with holidays and business trips and frustration, and just as we got close to killing him, 4.0.1 dropped and changed just about everything. I have a strategy post that is almost ready – but that can wait: I am not sure how many people are still actually working on progression encounters, given we’re 3 raid lockouts away from Cataclysm (and Thanksgiving is bound to mess up raiding for most people). What I want to do today is to reflect on the frustrating 6 months, and see if I can take out some lessons which instead are going to still be useful in Cataclysm – about fighting on progression encounters, raiding with 10-man, strategising. Both Beru and Kae have used the death of LK heroic as an occasion to reflect on raiding more in general, and given I admire both ladies enormously for their blogging efforts, it is no surprise I am trying to do the same. Some of the stuff I’ll say will be a repeat of what they said, but I think enough of it is different to warrant a separate post.

The Finest Hour

So, let’s start with the good thing. HE’S DEAD! After plaguing our dreams and nightmares for all this time, the Lich King is dead: the reason we came to Northrend, the threat to the whole of Azeroth is no more. Outside of the lore excitement, the fight is so hard and so finely tuned that it is really a tribute to the skill of the group of people I raid with that we managed to get it down. The fact he’s the end boss of the whole expansion just adds a cherry to the cake: Tsark has now managed to complete the raid content of two expansions at level, although our completion of Burning Crusade is fully the merit of the big Sunwell nerf of Sep 08. In many ways, this time it is more satisfying, because I dare anyone to say that 4.0.1 made LK easier: while it did increase the dps of some classes and made some mechanics a lot easier to handle, other classes (and especially paladin healers and tanks, and in some ways Disc priests and Enh Shamans) got nerfed, which made OTHER mechanics a lot harder to deal with. The fact that we had to relearn the fight after 4.0.1 and for two weeks we could hardly get out of P1 says a lot to me about this.

The fight is definitely a testament to our skills as raiders – and I’m sorry if this sounds as gloating, but I am in honest awe of everyone in my raid group. It really felt that hard, and we all should be proud of what we accomplished. Jarbel, Wormwart, Shukir, Killetheth, Geeza, Tildie, Jahag, Strongbox, Lyshai and Loshanas – thank you for showing me how hard people can push their respective classes. Kill, if you’re reading this – our first thought when we killed Arthas was about you, and we swear we will get you the achievement before Dec 7, as soon as you’re back from your trip: we all know that we could not have done this without you, and are sorry you could not have been there. A special shoutout to Geeza, who agreed to come as a replacement, learned the fight (exceedingly fast) on his hunter, then was asked to switch to his even worse geared druid because we tried out three-healing it, only in the end to switch again to his hunter. The crossbow and the staff are your just reward for being an absolute champ about it all, Geeza J

The second, probably even more important factor that contributed to our kill was our perseverance. I mean, seriously? Six months of wiping on one encounter, and the last 3 weeks of extending and doing nothing but Lich King, and we still ALL showed up as much as real life allowed us. Many, MANY guilds and groups would have imploded, but we somehow kept plodding along. I am sure I was not the only one who sometimes dreaded raid time, and yet we managed to keep grumbling to a minimum, at least during raid time – that basically meant it all remained manageable, instead of exploding into whinefests of frustration (which, sometimes, could well have been justified). There is a famous aphorism that innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – well, I think the same applies to raiding: 1% skill, 99% perspiration and just keeping at it.

Finally, I’d like to think that we’ve been helped by the way we encourage raiders to admit their mistakes, but then do not dwell on that, and move towards a more general “how can we make sure this does not happen again?”. I know that personally I get angrier when people try to find stupid excuses rather than admit to stupid mistakes – probably because I actually lead the “fail” charts, and we all know I am the slowest learner when it comes to those mechanics. Sometimes we probably slipped, but mostly, we managed to keep discussion on a constructive level, and this is something I always worked hard to build in the group, so I’m glad to see it working.

The Darkest Hour

Counterbalancing these three very positive traits of our raids, I think there’s two aspects that we need to become a lot better at.

The first one is flexibility. We had two big jumps up in our performance: the first one when we switched from three healers to two (and finally could consistently kill valkyrs in P2), and then this week, as we switched from soaking the Vile Spirits to killing them (and thus managed to survive P3 long enough to kill Arthas). Both times, the changes happened after weeks of butting our heads against the brick wall of our limits. We simply tried to work harder, instead of working smarter – and this is where our perseverance came back to bite us, because instead of looking for ways to get around the obstacles we just tried harder. Some of our raiders did suggest alternative strategies, but after a cursory consideration they were not adopted and fell by the wayside. This points to a difficult balance that we need to achieve: on one hand, we need to be able to say that no, a strategy really doesn’t sound promising; on the other, we need to be able to take a step back more and think out of the box. I probably am one of the people shooting down ideas as they are proposed – I think because I’m far too conscious of my limits I tend to think that if we fail in an attempt is simply because I have not tried hard enough (and by extension, the few times it’s clear it’s not my fault, because the raid has run into a hiccup that will not be present the following attempt). So, to improve this, here’s what I suggest:

  • Use the forums more. Changing strategies, and evaluating the merits of different strategies, is something I personally find very difficult to do in the heat of the moment. Offline, when I’m not frustrated because I just jumped into the latest Shadoxtrap, I can give alternative strategies a fairer examination. I know people work differently, and I know some of our members have hardly visited the forums, but I think it may help me think about strategies, so I may just post long monologues ;-P
  • Try not to dismiss ideas out of hand: it may sound weird now, but you never know when things will change enough that an idea you dismissed before becomes relevant. Case in point: we had briefly considered killing Vile Spirits when we were doing normal LK, but realised it was not working particularly well – fast forward to 6 months later, when, with patch 4.0.1, it is possible to do that on Heroic with one less ranged dps
  • If you suggest an idea, and it’s shot down, please insist a bit – maybe not during the same raid, but certainly once the raid is over, in whispers or in conversations. I admit my inability to think about strategies during raid time: I just am too inflexible for that. But I think I can be pretty open minded if people approach me outside of raids.

The second one is an issue of atmosphere. We have done relatively well, considering we have not had toxic members or serious disagreements in a very long time, but I know there is some tension simmering below the surface, and though I am trying to bring it in the open to resolve it, and change the behaviours which seem to be causing this tension, it is just not happening. So, I would like to ask all of our raiders to do two things:

  • Go easy on the sarcasm: we have an environment that is fairly open to criticism, but there are ways to criticise each other’s choices of talents/gems/gear/rotation without implying that the other person is an idiot or doesn’t know the class. Most of the times, these implications are not meant to be there, and just slip because of an attempt to be sarcastic and cutting: if you realise that something you said may be misinterpreted that way, just joke about it (“YES I DID MEAN THAT YOU ARE AN IDIOT ;-P” works wonders)
  • On the flip side of that, please let’s all give each other the benefit of the doubt: if we look for excuses to think the others don’t like us, it’s not going to take long to find them, regardless of whether they are meant or not. So, always take whatever is written in the best possible way, and if anything try to clear the air after a raid.

I know this second issue will look strange, and I don’t want to blow it out of proportion: so far, the tension is still kept at a manageable level. I just want to make sure we don’t let this blow into any full scale drama before we have a chance to fight Deathwing ;-P

Broader lessons

This started as a generic post about raid dynamics, and turned out to be a far more specific discussion of my own raid’s situation than I expected. I still think it may be valuable for other raids: too often we post screenshots where everyone is happy, and spend a lot of time thinking about strategies, but I’ll contend that the biggest killer of raids are not the game mechanics, but the interpersonal dynamics of the raid members. I think our raid can be considered pretty successful, and we certainly have a better rapport amongst ourselves than a lot of raids I’ve seen – but this is not, unfortunately, something that stays that way. Like any friendship, you need to keep working at it, which is exactly what I’m trying to do here J

We win

12 November 2010 § 3 Comments

It’s taken us way, WAY too long, but finally, here we are. I’m going to reflect a bit more on this, and post something soon with my reflections and thoughts (most of which should not surprise my fellow raiders, given we had about an hour to talk about these same thoughts after the kill).


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