Monthly Archives: November 2011

Arena Season 10 Ending November 29th

Stop buying PvP gear NOW.

Start stockpiling your Honor and Justice points for characters you want to PvP with in Season 11.

Blizzard announced that the current Arena Season will be ending Soon™, and Soon™ means possibly as early as November 15th, next Tuesday November 29th. Nethaera writes:

Arena and Rated Battleground Season 10 is scheduled to end as early as November 15. At that point we will determine who is eligible for the end-of-season rewards, a process that should take approximately one week. It’s very important for players who feel that they may be eligible for Arena titles and/or the Vicious Gladiator’s Twilight Drake to refrain from transferring their characters to another realm or faction until after Season 10 ends. During the break between seasons, all Rated Battleground and Arena matches will be unavailable.

At the end of the season, Conquest Points will be converted to Honor Points, possibly exceeding the 4,000 point Honor cap. All Season 10 items will cost Honor Points (equivalent to their previous Conquest Point cost) when the season ends, with the exception of any items with rating requirements attached. These items will no longer be available for purchase.

Please be aware that higher ilvl PvP items will be introduced and available for Honor points with patch 4.3.

The next Arena and Rated Battleground season will begin for level-85 players approximately one week after the end of Season 10 and will coincide with the awarding of Season 10 titles and mounts. At that time, any Honor accrued above the 4,000-point cap will be converted into gold at a rate of 35 silver per point. In addition, Season 11 rewards will be made available for purchase with Conquest Points awarded during the new season. Matchmaking Ratings will carry over when Season 11 begins, but all Team and Personal Ratings will be wiped.

This is very much in line with what I discussed in Preparing for Patch 4.3 / Arena Season 11, which is a very good thing. It’s a good thing because Blizzard is making sure to communicate the process in advance, detailing caveats about gear level increases, point conversions, and rating changes.

Again, my advice for preparing for Season 11 is pretty straightforward:

  • Stockpile Honor and Justice Points to their cap. This will give you the maximum amount of Honor possible to carry forward into Season 11: 70006667 points.
  • Prepare for 1-2 enchanting and gemming rounds. Get your PvP enchants, Resilience gems, leg armor, and engineering tinkers in place now before prices spike. Tonight, if you can.
  • Don’t buy any PvP gear during the interseason week. Complete your Conquest set if you like for mogging, but expect to replace it once Season 11 starts.

I would plan on taking the interseason week to work on capping your Honor and Justice points, and then either take some time off before the holidays or go play with some alts. It’s a good time to audition a new PvP main, try out new partners, or practice in the BGs.

Now taking bets on if Season 10 will end on 11/15 or 11/22. :) Glad no one took me up on a bet! End date is officially the 29th.

21 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Item Level Squishing in PvP

Ghostcrawler recently wrote an interesting blog post about the problem of item level inflation over the course of expansions. It’s a post that hit close to my heart, not only due tothe copious graphs, but also because it addresses some fairly significant problems in PvP – problems which, frankly, don’t exist in PvE.

Item levels have risen over the course of Warcraft’s development to convey a sense of increased power and character growth. Because the stats on the gear rose, damage rose – but so did the health pools of the monsters for that expansion. And, due to the diminishing effects of combat statistics, characters didn’t get any more effective as they leveled up, but instead became less effective as they entered a new expansion until they returned to their previous peak. This creates a strange illusion of getting more powerful in relation to older content, while actually becoming less effective in several key areas.

When you level from one expansion to another, each statistic becomes less effective in order to yield the same result. For example, when you level from 70 to 74, the same gear becomes about 25% less effective for certain key stats like Haste and Resilience. Even when you don’t move between expansions this is true – a level 10 character with 90% Haste will have 22% Haste at level 14 in the same gear – but between expansions it’s especially dramatic.

Expansions are the big culprit with power expansion in Warcraft, as each new expansion comes out with bigger stats, bigger damage and health pool numbers, and an increasingly huge disparity between the new and the old.

This chart from Ghostcrawler’s post helps show the stat inflation. It’s a good way to focus the discussion on the impending stat inflation which lies ahead in Mists of Pandaria if they don’t make any changes. If we carry forward his projections, the next line on the chart is going to go straight up and hit item level 600 in 5 short levels.

Put it another way – we could be looking at tanks with 500k… 750k… 1 million health… by the end of the next expansion. In PvP, we’re probably looking at around 400k to 500k health pools, and damage to match.

Let that sink in.

Ghostcrawler walks through two proposed solutions to this inflation:

  • Mega Damage: keep the scale the same, but represent the numbers with (effectively) scientific notation.
  • The Great Item Level Squish: adjust the game so item levels are flatter, except at the very end of the current expansion.

Both of these have some interesting pros and cons.

Mega Damage doesn’t change the underlying structure of the game, but rather presents it differently to players. Much like boss health is now represented by millions, the UI would be adjusted to present big numbers in a smarter fashion. This is relatively easier to implement, which means more developer resources spent on making new content (which is a good thing.) But it also fails to address the past and present issues introduced by item inflation, as well as ignoring the future computational issues when we’re dealing with really huge numbers for the smallest actions.

The Great Item Level Squish is a more involved solution; by reducing the item levels of gear through the leveling process, the entire game can then be retuned so that there’s a flat, streamlined progression through the game up until max level, when endgame gear inflates a bit, like so:

The Squish is a much more involved solution than Mega Damage, and the implications of it for PvP are really interesting. Really interesting.

Let’s take a look.

EXPANSION-FUELED POWER INFLATION AND LEVELING PVP

There are two serious challenges facing leveling PvP today brought about by expansion power inflation.I’m not just talking about low-level PvP, which has its own issues, but the entire curve of leveling PvP, going through from one bracket to another, starting at 10 and ending at 85.

  • First, the power inflation between expansions creates zones where it’s possible to gain the benefits of the next expansion without being in it – all the enchantments, profession perks, consumables, and early expac leveling gear can be gotten at levels lower than their target balance, which serves to destabilize the brackets leading up to an expansion.
  • Second, when a steep power inflation curve is compressed into a single bracket, it indicates a substantial gear disparity between the high and low ends of that bracket. The 80-84 bracket is a good example of this, with dramatically higher health pools at 84. We can presume, if nothing is changed, that the 85-89 bracket will suffer from a similar problem when Mists is released.

The first point has several elements to consider – gear, professions, enchants, consumables – but there are some common threads between each element.

It’s a fundamental axiom in twinking that the earlier you can get an item, the more overpowering it will be as you use it. This seems so obvious you might think it doesn’t bear repeating, but in the context of the Great Item Level Squish it deserves to be looked at critically.

Let’s look at a common example, a level 19 character who tries to get gear intended for a level 30 character.

  • Because the gear is intended for a higher level character, it has higher stats and therefore grants more of a benefit to the level 19 character than gear intended for that level. It’s simply a better sword, helm, belt, whatever it is, than what toons should get at that level. Let’s call this gear statistic improvement.
  • Because the combat rating system diminishes over time, lower level characters get more benefit from the same stats than higher level characters. This is counterintuitive, but the level 19 toon is more effective with the level 30 gear than a comparable level 30 character.

These two points are going to hold no matter where you are in an expansion or between expansions – the earlier you get good gear, the better it will be.

But the steeper the curve of the graph, the greater the inequality. The greater the difference between your level’s average item level and the higher level items you can acquire, the greater the advantage you can gain over your fellow players. And the places of the steepest curves and greatest inequality?

That’s right. In between expansions.

Each expansion introduces leveling gear a little before the endgame of the previous expansion, so at level 58 you can start wearing Outland gear, 68 Northrend gear, 78 Cataclysm gear. (I assume Pandaren gear will be available at 84, when it arrives.) This means that, in the x5-x9 brackets, the top of the bracket has two kinds of gear to choose from – the old and the new – and the new gear scale is usually significantly better than the old one, leaving characters at the bottom of the bracket at a significant disadvantage.

This isn’t really news; if you’ve played the 75-79 bracket lately, you’ve seen the devastating effects Cataclysm green gear has on bracket balance.

Let’s turn this idea around and put it another way: the shallower the slope of the graph, the less impact gear has upon your performance in PvP. Gear from 5-10 levels ahead will be a little bit better than what your average opponent will have, but not as much as it is now. Conversely, gear from 5-10 levels behind won’t be as much of a hinderance as it is now.

If gear becomes more equal in PvP, then class abilities, player skill, and teamwork rise in importance.

While this means twinks become less overpowering, it also means that leveling PvP becomes a bit less of a gear game, and a bit more of a battleground game, and I am very much in favor of that.

THE THORNY PROBLEM OF ENCHANTMENTS, PROFESSIONS, AND CONSUMABLES

While lowering the item levels of gear would help make leveling PvP a fairer, smoother experience, the real benefit comes when we apply the Squish to the real unbalancing elements of PvP – enchantments, profession perks, and consumables.

The above chart shows a rough availability of enchantments and profession perks by level, superimposed over Ghostcrawler’s item level chart. When you really start looking at when things become available, a surprising pattern emerges:

  • Vanilla enchants are available at level 1, but are geared for level 60.
  • Vanilla profession items are available starting at level 10 to grant items designed for level 30 or so.
  • Vanilla first aid can be learned at level 10 to use items geared for level 60.
  • BC enchants become usable in the late 20s and early 30s, but are intended for level 70.
  • BC profession perks are available at level 35, and fully realized at level 50, but balanced for level 70.
  • Wrath enchants are available around level 55, but are geared for level 80.
  • Wrath gems are available around 62-63, but are geared for level 80.
  • Wrath profession perks are available starting at 50 and fully realized by 65, scaled for level 80.
  • Cataclysm enchants and gems are available at level 78, but geared for 85.
  • Cataclysm profession perks are available starting at 65, fully realized by 75, and scaled for 85.

This mess is how twinking works – find the imbalance in the system and ride it for all it’s worth. It’s why you see Tazik’s Shockers and Synapse Springs in level 65 battlegrounds, why Green Tinted Goggles were so good in 10-19s, why Crusader and +25 Agility and +22 Intellect enchants are so overpowered at level 10-14.

The key to the problem lies in a steep item level curve.

Enchants, gems, and professions allow you to gain abilities and bonuses balanced for substantially higher levels – usually the endgame of the respective expansion. The flatter the item level curve, the less impact these abilities have on lower levels. The problem isn’t making them available at early levels – it’s a lot of fun pursuing these little advantages – but rather just how big some of the advantages are. Cataclysm-level damage in the middle of Burning Crusade? Enchants suitable for Molten Core and AQ-40 in level 10 Warsong Gulch? Mongoose at level 29?

This is only a problem if the item level curve is steep. If you bring down the level of each expansion’s endgame, and stop the power inflation between expansions, then abilities, enhancements and consumables geared for those parts of the game become less disruptive when brought down to lower levels. They still remain perks for smart leveling, but not overwhelming PvP advantages.

If you flatten the curve, these all become less disruptive to lower level PvP, and leveling PvP becomes more fair.

THE ENDGAME

The Great Item Level Squish doesn’t affect the endgame that much in terms of gameplay, though it has profound psychological effects. Going from 150k health to 15k would feel… weird. Disruptive. Like something had been taken away, even though the gameplay remains the same. Having Shadow Bolt crit for 20k one expansion and 1200 the next is tough to swallow if you like the big numbers.

I’m a number chaser too: I like big crits and I cannot lie. (You other brothers can’t deny.) I enjoy setting a target DPS for a character and eventually getting it. I like hitting a target health pool on a twink. And I like those numbers to be BIG!

But I look at the Squish and go… this solves so many problems in leveling PvP, I’m pretty sure I could get over that quickly. After a few weeks, the new scale of things would seem natural. Instead of going up in Mists, I went down, but that’s okay, because everything else went down too. I’m still superpowered compared to most of Azeroth – just with smaller numbers.

I don’t like the Mega Damage concept. I’ve played with similar concepts before in RPGs, and they just don’t work well. Having two different damage systems complicates things and solves nothing – except for the psychological need to have numbers that make sense, while still remaining “big.”

If Blizzard is going to spend time working on solving this problem – and I really, really hope they do – I hope they go with the more comprehensive Great Item Level Squish and flatten the gear curve.

Squish that curve as flat as you can, and the leveling PvP brackets will thank you.

14 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Five Things I Learned From 2-Manning Magister’s Terrace At Level 70

I got my blood elf disc Priest to level 70 and locked her, because, you know, that’s what I do these days. But I did it also because @druidis4fite’s baby warrior is also locked at level 70, and we thought duoing BC instances would be a lot of fun.

And it is a HELL of a lot of fun.

We tried Magister’s Terrace last night, figuring that if it proved to be too hard, we’d figure it out pretty quickly, and we could work on SSO rep while giving it a go.

It took us a while, but hey, we cleared it, and learned a lot in doing it.

So here’s an actual serious 5 Things from me this morning.

1. Healing 5-mans through LFD teaches you to use, maybe, 4-5 spells total. I’ve never really had to blow a lot of cooldowns in a 5-man. All those spells you didn’t touch in Ramps or Mana Tombs? Duoing MgT will make you wish you had them keybound closer to your rest position. I spent an hour afterwards just moving things around and discovering spells I didn’t know I should have used.

2. You’re going to have to DPS while healing, and Smitespec isn’t enough. I like Atonement healing in 5mans (but not in PvP), it gives me something to do while waiting for the bubble to wear off. When the shit hits the fan in some of those pulls, you’re going to have to provide a lot of DPS while healing. The more DPS you put out, the less healing you have to do.

3. There are times that having 2 players instead of 5 actually makes pulls easier – Priestess Delrissa, while totally chaotic, was easier to heal because I only had 2 people to focus on – me and Norm. Norm only had to worry about me pulling aggro, not anyone else. While it was chaotic – OMG THE TANK IS A SHEEP – OMG THE HEALER IS CHARMED. (I’m glad that I had my PvP trinket equipped.) The problem is that you have to be on the ball, and REALLY focus on your partner. I needed to be faster on the dispels, and should have used Fear when Norm got sheeped.

4. There are times that having 2 people makes fights a lot tougher. Kael is pretty easy if your DPS is high enough – just burn him and the phoenix down, keep away from the orbs – but with 2 people, it’s a tough fight. I need to get more into a DPS/Heal rhythm while avoiding orbs, keep dots rolling on Kael, keep Holy Fire off CD, keep smitin’, keep smitin’.

5. Popping glowing wings while flying during the Gravity Inversion phase is AWESOME. Best use of wings, EVER.

If you haven’t tried doing something like this with friends while leveling… DO IT. You will learn more about your class than you ever expected. I’m glad Narci locked her XP so we could do this – seeing Burning Crusade at level, even years late, is a lot more satifsying than just blowing through it on the way to 80/85/90.

Normal MgT was wild.

Now that we have our keys, I can’t wait to try Heroic. :)

3 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Field Notes

On Having Fun and that Damn Moving Cheese

Ashwalker_-_untwinking_at_70

Who Moved My Cheese? is a book that most folks in business run into eventually; it’s kind of like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus in that once you’ve heard the title you’ve pretty much got the gist of the book, which makes it perfect for business people (like me, sadly.)

The idea behind the book is that you’re a mouse, you work hard in your maze for cheese, only to discover that the cheese has been moved when you get to where it should be. How do you handle it? How do you learn to accept that your cheese has moved, that the goal you’ve been working for just isn’t worth it anymore? How do you embrace change instead of fearing it?

Today I unlocked Ashwalker’s XP and will level her up for a while, probably to 85. I’m going to run some Cata dungeons with Cynwulf as Frost DPS to get used to the style, and then unlock him, too.

Unlocking is kinda scary; it’s saying, yes, you’ve gotten really good at this level, but it’s time to move on and start sucking again. It’s saying that all that effort to make a character great … didn’t make them fun.

It’s saying, someone moved my cheese, and I can either stay and be an unhappy, cheeseless mouse, or I can go do something else.

I discovered something about the 70 bracket: it sucks for Warriors. The only times I have fun are when I’m the FC and tanking Drek, which is different than when I was leveling, when I enjoyed all sorts of different PvP situations. I don’t enjoy the other BGs on Ash anymore – a marked contrast to Cynli, my Druid, where I literally don’t care which BG I’m healing, just let me heal EVERYTHING. Not so with Ash.

It’s a similar situation to the one I’ve found with Cynderblock; I don’t really enjoy DPS PvP, but damn if I don’t enjoy being a good FC. Block, however, has so much invested in her, stuff that can’t be replaced, that leveling her would be silly – instead, I’ve learned to embrace her limitations and become the best flag carrier I can be. And it shows on other toons!

There’s really nothing sacred about tanking Drek at level 70. If I can be a good FC on a resto druid, I’ll probably remain a good FC on a prot warrior. I have other toons at level 70 now; a druid and a priest, one Ally, one Horde. I won’t miss out on the bracket if I move her.

But its not just about the Warrior. It’s also about the Warlock.

Cynwise_-_hallows_end_-_magic_broom

In the last few weeks, I’ve realized how much I prefer playing with friends. Having people that I know in BGs makes boring BGs fun. Even characters I don’t like playing all that much become fun with other people around. There are a few characters where I find them fun no matter what – my Druid, surprisngly, I could queue for BGs all day long and not worry about it – and there are a few characters where even the presence of a lot of friends doesn’t make them truly enjoyable.

My warlock is sadly in the latter camp. I enjoy hanging out with folks, but I’m just … struggling. It’s painful.

It feels like there are two different components to knowing where your cheese has gone off to – social and playstyle – and they both have to work to making your time on a toon enjoyable. If you like the activities you do on a toon, you can probably play even if your social circle is neutral (pugs, for example.) Having a negative balance in either circle can pretty much sink your interest in the character.

Characters compete against each other for your attention and cheese. When you have a main, you have one character who so clearly outclasses the others in both social enjoyment and playstyle enjoyment that they’re who you spend your time on, and with that toon you chase a lot of cheese. It can be a beautiful thing.

But when you no longer enjoy the playstyle, eventually the social ties aren’t enough to keep you playing it. So you look for something new. You look for more cheese.

Unlocking Ashwalker is a step towards embracing change. I enjoyed the heck out of leveling her – questing, dungeons, PvP, all of it – but I don’t enjoy having her be locked into only one subset of that. I’m in a guild I enjoy being part of, but I don’t actually do anything with other people in the guild – they’re either leveling or 85.

This is auditioning a new main. I’ve finally come to terms with this – I’m now auditioning a new main. I harbor dreams of getting back on Cynwise, rediscovering the spark, and writing a post called “On Waking Up From a Bad Dream,” where we’ll all laugh about how silly I’ve been and then I’ll show you this awesome PvP video I made and you’ll go AW YEAH, CYNWISE IS BACK.

But that cheese is a dream.

I don’t know if it will be Ashwalker, to be honest. I’m having fun on my DK again, so I’m going to try running Cata regular dungeons (he’s locked at 84) and get some experience with him in that environment. I’ll dip my toes back in 80-84 PvP, too. I have to resolve his Doomsday Messenger issues – can’t play Arenas without losing that buff, which is one of those activities I actually enjoy doing at 85 – but that can wait. I still have a lot of twinks to keep me entertained, depending who is on.

But that cheese has moved, and I’m not finding it at level 70 on a warrior.

Time to embrace change.

8 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Field Notes