Sex, talk and videogames

11 January 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s now more than a month since 3.3 is released, so I guess it’s time for me to talk a bit about the Dungeon Finder. To start, kudos to Blizzard for turning what was always an awkward system that they tinkered with several times (LFG channel, meeting stones/innkeepers, global LFG channel, LFG tool) into a fantastic addition to the game. Even more interestingly, they took two pieces of infrastructure that they put in place for other reasons (the cross-realm queueing for BGs and the cross-realm instances to solve the “additional instances cannot be launched” issue) and combined them in a new way (with a new algorythm to match roles and gear etc) – nice example of emergent strategy and tinkering.

So then, the LFG tool. I want to make two comments that partly echo what others have said – and then add my own perspective to a third issue. First is that I’m surprised at how well things are working out. Sure, you have the occasional douchebags: from the people who are asleep at the wheel and pulling 1k dps (sorry, was doing that at 70, you MUST do better at 80 – no gear excuse), to the assholes that like to blame the others (especially prevalent in Halls of Reflection – but the Douche award goes to this guy), to the idiots who leave group if it’s Oculus, to the tanks who leave group if it’s not the exact instance they want (clearly they prefer waiting 15 mins for the debuff to clear – and I agree tanks are the new prima donnas). But I also met some great people, from the rogue who tanked Skadi from 60% to 0% when the tank and the other 2 dps failed to move out of whirlwind (sorry, only so many miracles I can do) to the guys that are thankful if I try to explain the bosses in the new instances if they say they are seeing them for the first time.

Second, many people have compared this to casual sex. Now, I don’t know what kind of casual sex you guys have had, and maybe I’ve been lucky but… no, just no comparison. Casual sex still beats LFG tool, sorry. I guess I’m not enough of a WoW junkie (or maybe I’m too much of a dirty slut IRL? One of the two…). For once, you actually talk MORE during casual sex than the average Dungeon Finder PUG. There’s this “code of silence” that really drives me nuts: not as if people cannot spare 2 mins to say “hello” and a couple of other one-liners. In fact, this silence is, as I hope to show, one of the biggest problems of the Dungeon Finder tool.

The biggest snag in the Dungeon Finder system (and so we get to the REAL topic of today’s post) is that there’s five people in that instance. They don’t know each other. Chances are, they haven’t played with each other before. In a best case scenario, they all want the same thing (2 Emblems of Frost in the shortest time), and have the gear that makes this goal attainable. The worst thing to do, however, is to assume precisely that- because no matter what we think, people are different and there’s different options for each instance. Some people may want to kill all possible bosses to get as many Emblems of Triumph as possible: Gundrak, Old Kingdom and Halls of Stone allow you to skip bosses, so it’s important to know where people stand on this issue if you have one of these three instances (I think theoretically you can skip the Commander boss in Nexus, but he’s in the way if you take the shortest route through the bosses anyway). Some people don’t have the gear to keep up with a whirlwind-pace run: not a big problem if it’s a dps (it will just take a smidge of times longer), a bit more of a problem if it’s a healer or (worse) the tank. Some people may actually have other priorities in the instance, too: witness this conversation I had with my druid:

DF Tank: druid, u lagging? y u not w/ us?
Me: I’m skinning
DF Tank: wtf? i’m chain pulling

Me: and I’m skinning….

Aside from the surrealist character of the conversation, the point I was making is, I think, a valid one: my druid still values the leathers, and dungeons are a good source (my only source, since I don’t much quest with him anymore, and I’m not gonna grind mobs to get leather). If the tank wants to pull without a healer, that’s his problem (as long as I’m not taking 15-mins tea breaks between pulls, obviously).

Differences in pace preferences can lead to cans of worms all over the place. The tank may pull ahead of the healer and die – or viceversa, the dps (or the healer!) may get impatient and “help” tanks pull. This doesn’t go down well with our plate queens. Before Linedan and the other tanks start cursing my name and blacklisting me, let me qualify that. I think tanks are control freaks: they want every little thing under control, so that mobs die in a certain order, they are all attacking them, and nothing bad happens. DPS, for the most part, are chaos kids: they jump into groups of mobs and start AoEing everything, and you can almost hear them over the game shouting: “Wheeeeeee!” as they spam their AoE moves. (I’ll refrain from saying what healers are: as far as I’m concerned they are Saints purging the sins of the world with nary a recognition – and this is the version I’ll be sticking with, even if it’s irrelevant for today’s post). The problem is: to chain pull an instance (or, worse, a raid) and keep perfect control, you need an inordinate amount of skill. The other problem: total control is boring if you’re outgearing an instance, as a dps or a healer.

I’ve been in both situations (yay alts!): the reason for this post in fact was reading the post by Linedan and then, the following day, tanking an HoL run with a stellar team of dps from my guild, and a PUG resto druid in ToTC25 gear. Everyone was really trying their best to make my job easier: the druid was innervating me, the tank, every two minutes; all the dps was handling the easier mobs (the casters, basically) without me; we completed it in just above 15 mins; and it was still a run I thoroughly hated. Tanking doesn’t come natural to me, and having to do it at twice the speed I’d be choosing on my own was too much stress for a game. I like being pushed outside my comfort zone: that’s the main reason I play an enhancement shaman and a paladin tank, neither of which role is a natural for me. But that’s exactly the problem: baseline, normal speed tanking is pushing me already. Doing it at breakneck speed is turning “pushing outside comfort zone and improving my game” into “pure stress”.

The solution is pretty simple: communicate. If you, as a tank, want to try to go fast, say so at the beginning. If, as a healer, you outgear Heroics so much you hardly need to drink, make it clear to the tank. If, on the other hand, you want to go a bit more slowly, let everyone know. If you want to skip bosses and just get to the end one, ask if everyone is ok with it.  I really think these 2 mins of communication would make everyone’s life a lot easier, at the very least by aligning everyone’s expectation. Who knows? Maybe we’ll manage to make people realise that they 1 min they lose by stating out their preferences for that run would really help everyone (themselves included) avoid any undue stress. Or at least once they do have some casual sex, they’ll know that they’ll still need to talk to their partner, or just turn it into bad sex.

A new alt!

10 November 2009 § Leave a comment

So I guess I should put a pink ribbon on my blog – a new alt is born! A series of factors came together in her creation:

  1. I’ve never had a hunter – or rather, my top hunter is a lvl 30-something dorf (what the hell was I thinking?)
  2. I’ve had the itch to try out the revamped instances – you know, the ones where the end mobs is not 11 levels higher than the starting one (hello Uldaman), and when named mobs drop blues, not white items (hello RFC)
  3. I’ve been curious about starting a character on a new server – I love Feathermoon to death, and it will probably be my home for a very long time still. But it’s nice sometimes how things work on a different server.
  4. A friend of mine told me he was considering transferring severs, because he was unhappy with they way his guild was going these days (and I’ll leave it at that, because I’m not sure he wants his plans to be known, so he shall remain anonymous). So he had transferred a lvl 80 alt to Gurubashi – and while it’s nice to start afresh, it’s also nice to have a lvl 80 person as a last-minute support (from a gold loan to an instance run)

I alternated between Troll and Blood Elf hunter – mostly because the starting zones for Blood Elves are about 1000x better than Durotar-Barrens. In the end, I decided I could withstand Barrens – and it would be a good occasion to relive them before Wrath. So a couple of gaming sessions, my Troll Huntress is now lvl 19, and has run Ragefire Chasm.

Gurubashi is a lot more active than Feathermoon – but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. The fact that Trade is monopolised by people LFG or LFM is a bit of a drag – and chat scrolls up at amazing speeds, because everyone seems to feel the need to repeat their request four times at least (and in caps, ça va sans dir!). The economy is completely screwed: I’m glad I decided to go the safe route, and get two gathering professions. Peacebloom is going for 1.5g a stack, Silverleaf is at 2g and Light Leather is around 2-2.5g. The plus side is that at lvl 20 I managed to already make a fair bit of money – about 20g, which means I could buy bags (10-slots, still), the first glyph… Just to give you an idea of the state of the economy: 6-slot bags (available from vendors for 45s) were sold for 2-3g.

At lvl 14 I started looking for a group for Ragefire Chasm, and this was kinda fun. Not many people in the LFG tool (what a surprise!) and mostly DPS, so I did a /who 13-16 and whispered all possible tanks. Given that at that level we have about 3-4 talent points in total, I would have though anyone would be interested in coming. Boy was I surprised! Aside from the usual “not interested” (fair enough), and no replies from about 50% of the people, I also got

  • “I don’t have a shield” – now this really boggles me: I’m the anal person who levelled his druid as feral but with a resto set in my bags, always. But geez – is it really too hard keeping ONE shield in your bags??
  • 2 lvl 30s inviting me to a group and then asking me for silvers for a run through – whatever gave you the impression I was interested in that??
  • I did get a “shut up noob, you’re covering my LFG requests” – I kinda doubts the people interested in the daily Heroics are the same interested in RFC….

All in all, I’m enjoying the experience – it’s certainly nice to see a character progress through levels that quick, and to learn the dynamics of a new class is always fun. Now, I just need some of my friends to join me on Gurubashi Horde!

Recount fear

23 October 2009 § 2 Comments

Me: “Actually, no, you didn’t die to untanked whelps, you died because you got cleaved by Onyxia”

PUGPriest: “That’s not true, I got eaten by whelps – people, let’s not get punted into the pits”

Me: *links Recount death metre, showing PUGPriest getting cleaved*

Me: “Let’s also try to stand away from the front of Ony, please – chaining cleave is really a bad idea”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One attempt later:

PUGPriest: “I was eaten by whelps again – tanks need to control them better”

Me: “Hmmm no, sorry – you were hit by Ony’s flame breath. She was in an awkward position, but we need to make sure only the tank is in front of her”

PUGPriest: “No, I tell you, it was the whelps”

Me: *links Recount death metre, showing the one shot due to a 25k Flame Breath*

PUGPriest: “Look, Tsark, I don’t care what that mod says – I know what happened!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I don’t care who you are – whether you are my best friend or a PUG I meet for the first time. I also don’t care how you die: however stupidly you do, I probably have died in a similar way in my past, and quite likely I have died in even more stupid ways. What really bugs me is when you

  1. blame other people, when you are not blameless yourself;
  2. try to argue that Recount is wrong.

In fact, this post is really about the second issue. I don’t think I am a metre fiend. I have never kicked someone out of a Vault group because their dps is too low (and I have left Vault groups that did that on at least two occasions, precisely because I don’t think it’s the right thing to do). I also hate it when people link metres after a boss fight (malus points if they are doing it during a loot roll moment, because that forces everyone to scroll around to see who won the roll). However, I still think Recount is an essential tool to figure out what happened.

During a raid fight, we’re all going to be busy doing lots of things: healing, tanking, dps’ing, moving out of fires, etc. It is highly unlikely that we will have perfect awareness of all that happens, and that goes double if we’re getting one-shotted by an unexpected source. If it’s slow damage (e.g. the fire debuff from Gormok the Impaler), we will notice; if a mob beats on us slowly (e.g. one or two untanked whelps during Onyxia) we will notice; if we are having a lot of whelps flying around, and at the same time Onyxia fire breathes and immediately after fears, then it’s unlikely that we can know for certain what happened. That’s where Recount helps: it tells us exactly what went on. Most importantly, we can check it after the fight, when things are a lot calmer, and we can think back about what happened and how we can improve. Note that what I just said applies even more to combat log analysis sites (e.g. World of Logs, which is the one I use currently), but that requires people to be even more “offline” (i.e. not busy in actual combat) than a simple Recount link does.

Once you see a Recount link, the absolute worst thing you can do is to say “the mod is wrong”. Newsflash: computers don’t lie. Sure, they suffer from GIGO, but that’s a different story. Also, Recount is pretty solid for recording combat logs – and while it’s possible that you died because several things hit you at once, they will all show up on the combat log. Recount is not perfect: sometimes, it will just record your death and little before it, for reasons that are unknown to me. But I’ve never experienced Recount doing a false positive, i.e. recording something that didn’t happen.

Now, of course, there’s different ways to use the information Recount provides. Pointing fingers and assigning blame is never nice – and often counter-productive. Clearly, seeing how people die can easily lead to just that – so as a raid leader I normally try to avoid doing that, unless the raider in question is insisting that they didn’t die from such-and-such, while Recount shows they did. However, if you’re called out and a recount link proves you wrong – the best thing you can do is say “Ooops” and move on. Really, dwelling on it is just going to make the matter much, MUCH worse for everyone – yourself included.

I’m in a healing state of mind

20 October 2009 § Leave a comment

There’s two players in my raid – let’s call them Juggoo and Mahag (because clearly I don’t want people to recognise them, right?). They play, respectively, a Balance Druid and an Elemental Shaman. They are also fantastic players: not only topping dps metres, but playing their character to the full extent of their specs – even going so far as throwing the occasional offheal if one of our healers is down and the health level of the raid requires it. Here’s the puzzling bit: they suck at full-time healing. I don’t think they would mind me saying that, because I’ve often told them to their face. So this made me think – is there such a thing as a hybrid mentality? And is it different from a healing one (or a dps one)? And why would someone make an excellent offhealer and a pretty bad main healer?

(If that opening paragraph made you think of a Sex and the City episode, then we’re like-minded. If I start talking about my sex life, please stop me…)

World of Matticus recently featured a guest post about healer mentality, suggesting that the healer role requires some aptitude, a desire to avoid the spotlight, and a need to feel important. I’m not sure I fulfil these criteria: I tend to like the spotlight, and (as my blog name testifies) I’m actually not sure I am very good at healing – although I know that I’m much better at healing than I am at dps or tanking. I will however agree that healing does make you feel wanted, and no matter how little recognition we get from metres or forum posts, most healers I know like to smile benevolently on the top dps when they brag, knowing full well who stood in the fire and got healed through. However, if I were to test those three criteria against my two hybrid raidmates, I wouldn’t get very far.

Let’s leave aside the aptitude bit – that’s what we’re trying to explain, in some way: why two otherwise great players are not so good at healing. I will however say that one of the two actually does have a healing alt, and he’s pretty good on it too – so clearly (at least for one of them) there is some aptitude. Both of them like the spotlight – but I think that really applies to most everyone in my 10-man raid, and the format allows most people the chance to talk on vent, or be in the spotlight. They certainly should welcome the need to feel important and key to the raid survival and success – in fact, they probably claim more merit than they deserve for many of our achievements, if I were to be totally honest. So we’re left with a healer (myself) which satisfies one criterion, and two hybrids which satisfy one and two criteria respectively but actually perform worse. No disrespect meant to Professor Beej, then, but I think the matter is more complicated than that.

So what is going on? Allow me to throw some ideas around:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. Let’s face it, most of us are not natural born players, who can take up one spec at a given time and be the best at it the next minute. Oh sure, we all know someone who actually is like that, and I envy them – but I think it’s safe to say, they are not the rule, they are the exception. My hybrid targets hardly ever play their healing specs on their main characters, so of course they don’t have the automatic reflexes someone who plays a healer full time might have. Honestly, I know I heal a lot better on my priest than on my druid or paladin, even when considering the gear difference. The fact is, I played a priest for 4 years, and so I know many tricks, and I also set up my UI in a much better way than when I started out.
  2. Facerolling specs. Some healing specs are just inherently easier to master than others. I’m sure I will get some hate for this, but I firmly believe that resto shamans really need to work twice as hard as anyone else to get results – and paladins and (especially) druids are probably on the other side of the spectrum. Priests, imho, are somewhere in the middle: I think it’s a spec that allows you to keep a group up with minimal effort, but then requires some real skill to master. So, asking a shaman who has never done it to switch to healing is probably going to go worse than asking a druid.
  3. Can’t touch me. We all know about healer tunnel vision: players who get so focused on the green bars of their raid members, they fail to notice the big giant fire that spawned at their feet. Well, I think there’s a flip side to that. If you pay too much attention to what’s going on around you, you will have less attention to devote to the green bars. Sadly, DPS requires you to pay attention to your environment, your procs and your target health – and so I think some DPS may actually fail to look hard at the bars to see what needs to be done.
  4. And it gets worse. The previous points mean that a dps who switches to healing will probably not do so well the first time – and this may create a strong negative reinforcement. This is the one point of Professor Beej’s post where I can recognise my own path: I basically kept playing my priest because people kept telling me I was a good healer. If someone is good at DPS, and knows it, then tries out healing, and realises that he’s not as good, he may not be very encouraged to continue the experiment. This means she will get no more practice, and thus fail to improve – and you can see where this is going.

Well, so let’s say you’re in a raid, and suddenly you need to ask one of your dps to switch to healing. Let’s even say that they have been diligent little raiders, and have a healing spec and gear ready to go. How can you try to avoid disaster?

  1. Start them up on easy fights. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to have some spec switching for easy fights, so that people get used to a spec they may need to play in an emergency. This is something I always wanted to do in my raid group, but haven’t managed to yet
  2. Assign them to the easier task for the fight. Throwing someone into the fight with no healing assignment is only going to increase the number of things that can go wrong. If you can focus the hybrid’s dps attention on a few variables, and reassuring her that the other healing tasks will be covered by other people in the raid, will simplify her job, and improve the chances of success.
  3. After the raid, encourage people to check out detailed logs: even if you don’t normally record logs (because it’s content on farm, or because you just don’t), it’s worth recording these fights, precisely because you’re trying to get the most learning out of a smaller number of experiences (Jim March calls this intensive learning, an essential characteristic of learning from infrequent events).
  4. Make sure to debrief them after the raid – you’d be surprised at what they found hard, and sometimes you’ll be even able to pass a trick or two.

In the end, if everything else fail, do like me, and recruit three more people who are comfortable playing both healing and dps roles. I know – easy way out… but sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do, and this way everyone is happy 😀

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the raid, today…

14 September 2009 § Leave a comment

Or – The joys of raid leading.

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t think of myself as a raid leader anymore. In fact, one of the reason I stopped even doing 25-man raiding is precisely because I have this weird personality where I hate seeing bad leadership, and at the same time I get tired doing it myself. Leaving aside any comments about my sanity or congruity, when we formed our 10-man I made it clear to everyone (I think) that I wasn’t the raid leader, that I wanted all of us to take equal responsibility in (and equal commitment to) the raid’s success.

In general, this has worked very well. In fact, I’ve completely abdicated any responsibility about raid strategy to the main tank, and we had a fantastic mage dps (who sadly left us recently) who was great at calling out various things during the fights – from Mimiron frost bombs to Hodir’s freezes to Vezax’ crashes… This is great, because it means during a fight I’m free to focus on healing and moving out of the void zone du jour (something I seriously still need to work on, as my raid-mates can attest).

However, I still think of myself as raid leader for most of the stuff that happens before and after the raid. Finding replacements, organizing consumables, selling BoEs – that’s stuff I do with pleasure, and I think I am actually fairly good at it. I have been playing on Feathermoon Horde since March 2005, and on average I have a fairly good, friendly personality, so I tend to have an extensive social network on the server. I’m also obsessive compulsive about some things, so I organise and reorganise guild banks trying to make them more user-friendly, I collect trade goods, I max all my trade skills and then hunt for rare recipes all over the place. You get the picture: a regular Monica personality.

Problem is, our raid has recently been experiencing a lot of turnover. Since May, we lost:

  1. A ret paladin, who was our replenishment (server transfer to be with his brother)
  2. A tank (/ragequit because he felt we were not listening to him enough)
  3. A healer/dps (couldn’t handle the pressure)
  4. A mage, the one mentioned above (time constraints/loot complaints/pressure complaints)
  5. The tank we had found to replace our original one (Hello Ezma – but we knew she was only available throughout the summer, and she may be back)
  6. A Dps warrior (went on holiday, never came back…)
  7. The healer/dps we brought in to replace the one from # 3 (school duties)
  8. A healer (got banned for botting – don’t get me started on this one)
  9. A survival hunter, who was the replacement replenishment for #1 (personality clashes with the whole raid)

That’s 9 people in less than 4 months – or more than a person every 2 raid lockouts. Also, that doesn’t include people going on holiday (myself included) and not being able to come for a raid or two because of RL commitments – which still requires that we find someone in the pool of people online at 2am.  The other raid members help out, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I still find most of the replacements. Now, let me add a couple of things about the raid, to make things harder:

  1. We raid at 2am server (we’re on a PST server, but we started out as mostly Oceania based players, so that was the best time – we now mostly have graveyard shift US players)
  2. We like doing hard modes: we’re currently working on Algalon and Anub’Arak Heroic. That means we cannot really take people with Naxx gear, so every time we replace someone, we spend a week or two throwing gear at the new guy/gal to get him/her in a position to actually contribute to the fights.
  3. We tend to be a very critical raid: because we like doing hard modes, we always try to improve, and we dissect our performance every time to know what went wrong. Although we do this with the best intentions in mind, I realise that this attitude sometimes comes across as finger-pointing. This means that, for someone who is not thick-skinned, our raid may turn into a fairly high-pressure environment – which, once again, may not be what people look for in a game.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. I put word out I was looking for a healer/dps, and I had three people apply – and they at least pass the “time zone” test. They still need to survive through a whole raid without bursting in tears, but it’s a start. I’m actually very hopeful about one of them, as he knows us relatively well, so on one hand he knows how we play, and on the other we know that he can perform satisfactorily. If we get two out of the three on-board, we’re back to having a full 10-man roster, which will be a relief. This time I may not stop there, though, and actually go ahead and build some redundancy into the system, so that the next time someone leaves, we don’t have to scramble for people. So, if you like to raid at 2am PST, have an 80 character, and want to see some hard modes, feel free to contact me – with faction and server transfers, you never know where the next recruit may come from!

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