Category Archives: Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual

Start Here, at Cataclysm’s End

One of the great flaws of the weblog format is how older information, no matter how good it is, fades away under the deluge of new posts. As Mists of Pandaria launches next week, I thought it appropriate to take a look back over Cataclysm before everything gets buried.

This post has a secondary motive. I am going to take a bit of a vacation from Cynwise and recharge my mental batteries, so this blog will be on hiatus until 2013. Since this weblog is pretty big – I write a lot, okay – I thought putting a map for new visitors up at the very top of the front page was the best way for me to leave the store unattended for a while.

So let’s start here, at Cataclysm’s end.

THE ESSENTIALS

In 2012, I wrote a book called The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm. It didn’t start out as a book, but rather as a series of posts analyzing why warlock populations were falling. An unpopular class was growing less so: why?

The core thesis of Decline is that warlock populations declined because of Inelegant Complexity without Reward; that multiple factors lead to players either abandoning the class or the game entirely. This thesis was debated in comments, in forums, in emails, and even in Blizzard development team meetings. It was, and remains, a contested theory, but it’s one that I absolutely stand by. Decline framed the discussion around the future of warlocks at a critical time in their development in Mists, and I think the class dev team did a great job with fixing the problems of Cataclysm.

I would love to share more of the stories behind this, like getting emailed by Xelnath while at my kid’s soccer game and going, okay, this is only the second strangest email I’ve gotten from my blog, or arguing with my editor Narci over whether a tangent was worth exploring (it almost always is.) I’d love to debate more about if Demonology should be a tanking spec (yes) and the challenges that have to be overcome to make that happen (itemization, player resistance, tank balance, active vs. passive mitigation strategies) – but alas, there is no more time. Mists is here, time to move on.

I’ll have to share those stories over tacos or something at Blizzcon next year.

If Decline was the most important post I wrote in the past year, I think my best post was something totally different – On Snow Crash, Virtual Avatars, and Warcraft’s Social Network Appeal, which I wrote back in January. The “Snow Crash Post” (and its followup) was born out of a frenzied realization where I could see how Twitter and Facebook had irrevocably changed the MMO landscape, and that doing stuff with your friends is the whole thing now.

Ghostcrawler said “playing with your friends is the sleeper hit of Mists of Pandaria,” and I completely agree. So many changes have been made to Warcraft to enable this simple thing that I can’t help but add two more predictions to the Snow Crash list: cross-faction grouping will become a thing, and Blizzard will license the Battle.net API infrastructure.

We’ll see if I’m right.

This weblog started off as Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual and (mostly) focused on casual battlegrounds and Player versus Player (PvP) content. It was an area which I have really enjoyed writing about, but there are three contributions I’m most proud of:

Topological Battleground Maps – inspired by the London Tube map, I depicted the logical flow of the various battlegrounds instead of the terrain in maps. (Developed here, refined here and here, seen all over.) In many ways, this map style was essential to my future writing on battlegrounds – I needed a better way to explain what I was talking about than just marking up maps.

Resurrection Vectors – BGs are won and lost by controlling graveyards, but the why and how is hard to explain if you don’t have a way to describe the way troops move when their killed. Starting with Arathi Basin and Alterac Valley, my posts on Graveyard Control and Rez Vectors looked at a lot of the battleground maps before I stopped. If you want to know why you don’t take the South Graveyard in Strand or why graveyard camping works, you should read these posts.

Relentlessly Positive Attitude – More than maps and theory, what I hope my writing about PvP accomplished was to inspire people to do better. To try those things they thought they couldn’t do, to find fun in things that they thought were too hard. That’s why I kept writing for so long – I really enjoyed teaching people how to play, and I hope I inspired them to have fun. You’ll see this attitude in posts like my guide to The School of Hard Knocks (wow, is that old!) or How To Win Tol Barad – where I had to take my own advice, knuckle down and figure out how to win that damn thing. But you’ll also find it in my passionate defenses of Healers Have To Die, talking about disposable heroes and iterative twinks, and even the ever popular PvP gear guides.

PvP can be fun. Just don’t give up. You can do this. Keep on trying.

There are other PvP posts which I think are worth noting – The 20 v. 24 War looked at the impact of Stater Edition twinks on the 20-24 bracket, The Battle for Gilneas is a straightforward guide to the best battleground of Cataclysm are both standouts – but I think it’s also important to remember the things which didn’t go well in PvP, like the rating exploits which caused so many problems in S9-S11, the increasingly hard PvP reputation grind, the repeated attempts to make Rated Battlegrounds popular, or the S9-S10 gear transition fiasco.

Actually, that last post about the S9-S10 PvP gear transition is a good one to stop and reflect on for a bit.

THE PIGGIE AWARDS AND THE FIELD NOTES EXPERIMENT

While writing Decline, I repeatedly said that I didn’t quit playing my warlock because of the increased complexity without reward, but that is very much the reason I didn’t go back to her for over a year. The reason I quit playing her was twofold:

You could look Cataclysm as an arc in my weblog: starting with Blizzard Killed My Dog (I still love that title), to a nadir at On Priorities, Elephants, and Desire, and then up to the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm. This has been a story of someone losing his way and finding it again.

The way back was through an experiment I started right after the one-two punch of the elephant post/S9 transition, Cynwise’s Field Notes, an experimental weblog where I stopped writing about warlocks and PvP and instead wrote about … whatever the hell I wanted.

It was liberating. Instead of the long, researched, carefully considered posts that went up on the Battlefield Manual, I adopted what were to become my Five Rules for Cynwise’s Field Notes, where I stopped obsessing over every little detail and just hit publish. Post after post came out, some not very good, others that I think were quite groundbreaking or prescient for the time.

I was really honored to receive several nominations for the 2011 Piggies on MMO Melting Pot. I was even more blown away by not only receiving several honorable mentions, but also winning the 2011 Most Memorable Blog Post award for my CFN post, On the ForsakenThat post not only led to On Blogging Heroes (in response to the Piggie award), it inspired several entries in the Blizzard Global Writing contest, including one of the 2011 Finalists, Daughter of Lordaeron. This, in turn, led to me picking the thread back up again in On Silverpine Forest, which lands me right in the middle of the Forsaken storyline and embracing the cause of the Dark Queen.

Will there be an On Hillsbrad Foothills? I hope so! Baby Cynwise is still waiting… though she’s like level 29 from leveling gathering professions. >.>

During this time the PvP Columnist position at WoW Insider opened up. I declined with several regrets, as I think the staff there is great and it would have been a great experience. But in retrospect it was the right decision, not only for me, but for WI. (Oliva Grace is fantastic in the role, much better than I would have been, and has become a great contributor to their site. I wish her, and the entire WI staff, well heading into Mists.)

There are a lot of standouts from the CFN days; take a look through the CFN tag on this site, or visit the original site on Posterous if it’s still available. (I moved the posts back to this site because I had, frankly, too many sites. This decision seemed really wise when Posterous’s future came in doubt after the company was acquired by Twitter.) Some of them, like On Digital Detritus and the Merit Badge post, are still really applicable as we head into Mists.

I’m not going to lie, I kinda miss that website now.

TAKING A BREAK

I don’t really know what will be involved in this break. There are no hard and fast rules in life, just guiding principles like “don’t give up” and “put first things first.” I have been Cynwise online for almost 4 years now. We’re comfortable friends, she and I, even though I’m a middle-aged married father of two and she’s an ambitious warlock from Northshire in a video game. I, the person behind Cyn, who’s the player and author behind Cynwise, need a bit of a break from all those layers. I might set aside my Twitter for a bit as Mists gets going, I might not, who knows? I sure don’t.

Thank you very much for reading Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual, Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual, Cynwise’s Field Notes, Green Tinted Goggles, Punt This, Go Mog Yourself, The Adventures of Sparkbinder Cynix in the Worldbreaker’s Shadow, The Warlock Is For Burning, and the continued insanity which is @wowcynwise’s Twitter feed. (Dear LORD that is a lot of weblogs, did I really do all of that?) I really appreciate it, and hope that you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read.

My BattleTag is Cynwise#1158. I’m still planning on playing, but will be quieter on the internet – so please, keep in touch.

Be good to each other, and enjoy the pandas.

19 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

On The Sublime Joy of Destruction Warlockery

Holy crap, I’m on fire! Abelard, I’m on fire!

Oh, wait. I’m a Warlock. A Destruction Warlock.

Setting things on fire is what I do.

(Previously. Previously.)

9 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

Queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the Same Time

Unexpected – but welcome – addition in 5.0.4 is that you can now queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the same time.

DPS players, rejoice!

UPDATE: Oh, hey! You can queue for everything ALL AT ONCE!

 

Aw yeah. I’m going to sit around Dalaran and WAIT in several lines AT ONCE.

3 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Macro: Clear Your Keybinds

Following up on my advice to trash all your keybinds, I found the following macro on Twitter from @pontelon:

/run for i = 1,120 do PickupAction(i) ClearCursor() end

This will remove everything from your bars in one fell swoop. (Be sure to get your secondary specs, too!)

Thanks, Pon! Great macro!

 

Comments Off

Filed under Cyn's Guides To Almost Anything, Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

On Worse is Better

I’ve mentioned before that JWZ was one of my blogging heroes; but one of the most dramatic influences he had on me was introducing me to Richard Gabriel’s essay, The Rise of “Worse is Better”. Even though it’s about Lisp and Scheme versus Unix and C++, it’s an excellent, thought-provoking read which looks at why certain computer languages work and thrive, and why others fail. You should read it.

How many of you still use Scheme after college? I know I haven’t touched it or MATLAB since COMP 101, but I’ve sure used Python, Java, and C/C++ in my career as a professional programmer. Is Scheme still useful? Yes. It is widespread? Not outside of academia.

The core idea of the Worse-is-Better philosophy is that simple implementations which achieve most of the desired functionality are superior to complex implementations which achieve the whole thing. UNIX is really a collection of small programs which do certain things adequately, assembled and refined over the years until it’s a rock-solid operating system. But it’s not the stability which makes it so ubiquitous – it’s how it can run on almost anything. Microsoft figured this out with the NT to XP transition, and the success of XP – and relative failure of Vista – should be object lessons

Warcraft, in many ways, is an adherent to the Worse-Is-Better philosophy. The cartoonish graphics and relatively low pixel counts have allowed Warcraft to spread, like a virus, on computers which would not normally be considered gaming machines. The graphics degrade well because the style is simple and doesn’t require high resolution to convey the desired image. More processing power adds better effects but isn’t a requirement to play.

Simplicity is good for adoption. At any time, half of the computers out there are below the median, and if you are spending marketing dollars to get people to try your game you don’t want their machine to be an impediment. Games that don’t support certain operating systems or have high graphics requirements automatically start off at a disadvantage because they limit their customer base. This is a tradeoff from a development standpoint – you can’t port your game to every operating system, you can’t support everything, but you have to support enough to be profitable. I probably would have tried SW:TOR if it had a Mac client, but it didn’t, and I didn’t feel like buying a Windows 7 license and running Boot Camp to try it out. Bioware made a conscious decision to not support Macs to keep their development costs low, which eliminated me as a potential customer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff! It happens all the time. You have to focus your efforts to ship a product.

But that development decision had implications down the road.

Yesterday’s WoW patch (5.0.4) brought with it the new graphical requirements for Mists of Pandaria. It was a bit of a surprise to me, since my laptop – which had run the Beta fine – was suddenly unable to run Warcraft. I wrote about how it affects me personally on tumblr, but I don’t want to dwell on it. It’s done, I can’t use the laptop, my playtime is reduced until I upgrade it (which isn’t happening soon). Other people have it worse than I do – their only computer can’t play their favorite game, and I feel really bad for them.

I think it’s more interesting to consider the bind Warcraft’s longevity has put Blizzard’s developers into. Every year that WoW continues is another year where technology gets better. If we follow Moore’s Law, computers today are 16 times more powerful than when WoW launched, and the game competition being developed now can take advantage of that increase. Warcraft is competing against games that can count on a computer having an order of magnitude more resources than when it was first designed.

In many ways, that’s Warcraft’s strength, because it’s a social game, and mass adoption is key to continued success. I’ve said before that Warcraft is really a video game bolted on top of a social network. But that strength is also a weakness as the game ages, because WoW competes in the market with those other games. It has to adapt, which means that events like yesterday happen. Customers log in and discover that they’re suddenly unable to play because their computer is no longer good enough. All the marketing costs to acquire that customer, all the support and development costs to keep that customer, are lost if they choose not to upgrade their computer.

Consider that cost for a minute. Blizzard incurs a cost to acquire a customer (marketing dollars, core game development, retail packaging and distribution) and an operational cost (customer support, continued development, server hosting and operational upgrades, corporate expenses). The customer has an initial startup cost (buying the game) and an operational cost (subscription fees). This is all pretty straightforward in the short term.

In the long term, however, both sides incur costs to support the game. Blizzard has to spend development resources to maintain old operating system versions, old hardware models. Customers have to invest in hardware to be able to continue playing the game. (The initial investment in buying a computer which can play the game is often overlooked, because it’s the very first part of market selection – “does this person have a computer?” – and is a fundamental assumption.) Increasing the minimum requirement for the game brings this specific assumption into question – does the player still have a computer which can play the game – and also increases the cost for the player. Instead of $15 a month, now the player needs to look at it and say, should I spend $1-2k on a new computer so I can continue to play WoW?

If we assume a 36 month lifetime of a given computer upgrade, it’s $27.78-$55.56 additional a month for the customer. So at a minimum, purchasing a $1k computer to continue playing Warcraft is effectively the same as spending $45 a month on on sub.

Warcraft (or any software package which forces one) gets an unfair part of the blame in this decision to upgrade. There are usually other reasons to upgrade a computer which factor in to the decision (faster CPUs, more hard drive space, more memory) – but psychologically, the triggering event is the one which we focus upon. If I want to play Warcraft on a laptop, I need to get a new laptop. That’s the decision some people are faced with today. They aren’t saying, my web browsing is kinda slow or running a lot of applications (they probably are). They’re looking at Blizzard and Warcraft and going, is this worth an additional $30-60 a month? Do I have the cash to do this? Oh god Christmas is coming up and I was going to get Mists and now I can’t play Warcraft holy fuck what am I going to do I wanted PANDAS.

But computers are sixteen times more powerful than they were when Warcraft launched. That’s amazing!

This is a really interesting aspect of the game industry, and the MMO industry, which I don’t think gets enough attention. How do you have a subscription model where, over the long term, your customers will churn due to equipment requirements? What happens when your product is still going strong almost a decade later? How do you get the broadest adoption?

Worse-is-better is the answer.

Warcraft has taken a lot of heat for its cartoonish graphics, its low-polygon models, its antiquated engine. But that art style, that engine, has had good survival characteristics in the marketplace. I think other game developers and game enthusiasts alike should take note of it – long term success requires broad adoption over a variety of platforms. Your product needs to be easy to port, easy to adapt. Making a hugely complex jewel of a game which can only run on 5% of the computers out there is not going to be as profitable as making a Facebook game.

There’s a somewhat unique balancing act here that Blizzard has to walk. They are tied to old technology that has good survival characteristics, yet have to compete against new tech that can be shinier, faster, fancier. Much like UNIX, I don’t think that a competitor who follows Blizzard’s model is going to usurp them. MMO game clients which overly rely upon the customer’s hardware will keep running into adoption problems. Thin clients with broad platform support are much more of a threat than a traditional MMO because they can be adopted quickly. Put most of the graphical processing up in the cloud and watch the same game get ported to consoles, PCs, smart TVs, smartphones, microwaves, in-car entertainment centers – who knows where they will end up next?

I know I don’t. Not really, not yet.

But I do know that the game industry needs to start thinking more about the lessons Common Lisp taught more than 30 years ago, because asking your customers to purchase new hardware to continue your revenue stream is a tough sell.

22 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Warlocks, Trash Your Keybinds

You’ll get all sorts of advice before having your first kid. Most of it will be bad. “Get plenty of sleep now!” sounds great, but it’s really bad advice – it makes you freak out about the impending sleep deprivation while not actually helping you cope with the reality of the first year or so of raising an infant. Getting 8 hours of sleep during the second trimester does you no good when your 8 month old is still waking up every three hours and oh god could I haven’t had a complete REM cycle in forever. It’s even worse advice if you’re the one who is pregnant, because getting a good night’s sleep during the final month or so is basically impossible due to the very large, very active kicking being in your belly.

“Assemble the crib in the nursery” is a bit better, because it points out something you might not realize if you’ve assembled furniture but not cribs before – they’re too wide to fit through doors, but not so wide that you’ll immediately realize it. So if you assemble the crib out in your living room (where there’s more room) and try to get it through the door, you’re bound for frustration. But you can also probably figure this out yourself.

The best advice I got before having my first kid, and I’m now giving to you, is to start lifting light weights as soon as possible. Get some light dumbbells, curl gallons of milk or six packs of diet coke, do some pushups – whatever you can to start getting your arms ready for carrying 8-10 lbs of baby around all the time. I wasn’t prepared for that, and even with the advice (which I didn’t follow enough) I found myself still struggling with how much more physical I was going to have to be. Kids are gradually increasing weights, so you catch up – but I could have used even more of a boost.

So, I’m going to pass on something that I learned in the beta which you might not have considered. You can take it, or not, but if I had to go through the experience of picking up my Warlock all over again this is what I’d do.

Trash your keybinds.

Take everything off your bars. EVERYTHING. Take every ability off your action bars and start with a blank slate. Look over the spec you’d like to try, open up the spell book and read over the new abilities. Go to a training dummy and start, slowly, bringing stuff back onto the bars.

My initial experience in the beta was awful. It was terrible. I told Xelnath that after the first hour of trying to make sense of the changes, I nearly quit in frustration. This was before the Core Abilities tab, or the What’s Changed Tab – I was trying to set everything up like I was used to having them and it just didn’t work. Warlocks have changed too much to bridge between the patches. Your macros are probably useless. (Stop trying to cast Fel Armor, you don’t need to do that anymore!)

Start over from scratch.

My second day in the beta, I threw everything out. My intricate bindings were gone. I switched, for the first time in years, to a WASD setup, and started adding things back onto my bars. I remapped to different buttons. I looked at the spellbook and threw out what I thought I knew about playing a Warlock. It wasn’t easy. But instead of being totally frustrated with the strangeness of it all, of cursing that it doesn’t work this way and why doesn’t my buff macro work it was, oh, I have a suite of defensive CDs now, I should group them over here, and Fel Flame can always go here, and …

I was amazed at how much better this went, how much easier it was to adapt to the changes of the class. Forget that, I was amazed at how much room I had on my action bars now! By giving up mouse driving and going WASD (and eventually ESDF), by admitting that my previous strategy of having 120 potential binds wasn’t needed, I got rid of my expectations that I knew the class and got back to learning it anew.

The class is different now. Even Affliction – the spec which is the most similar – is really quite different. Don’t assume you know what you’re doing – you don’t. Not yet. That’s what this next month is for.

Start over. Nuke your whole UI if you have to, but start by jettisoning your keybinds.

Your keybinds carry expectations with them.

Today is a day to reset and start over.

30 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Revisiting Gnomebliteration

I was in Uldum tonight questing for some transmog gear when I came to everyone’s favorite mass-murder excused by a machine, Gnomebliteration. As the gear I wanted for my warrior was a reward from said quest of doom, I set aside my in-character brain for a bit and rolled a flaming ball of death over the doomed expedition.

I killed a thousand gnomes for some red plate gloves. And I liked it.

My opinion of the quest hasn’t changed since the last time I wrote about it. I still think its morally repugnant, out of character for a lot of characters, and a hell of a lot of fun.

But at the end of Cataclysm I’m left wondering, why wasn’t this made into a daily quest?

This is a serious question. You’ve got a quest which is popular and provides a fun little mini-game. It’s in a zone which only has two daily quests for reputation, both of which have different mechanics than normal play and the body count of an ’80s action movie, so killing cursed gnomes fits in with the theme of Uldum. The quest got a lot of positive feedback on the forums and on wowhead. Players asked to do a quest again – that’s pretty high praise!

So why didn’t it happen?

Normally, when I write a post like this I have some kind of action that I’d like to argue for, some option or alternative to pursue. Here, I don’t. There are less than two months before Mists; thinking this should get changed now would be naive folly. It’s done. Gnomebliteration is never going to be a daily quest. That’s okay! It’s time to move on.

And I don’t think we, as players, will ever know why it didn’t happen. Development priorities are subject to a lot of different pressures, and I don’t subscribe to any A/B team conspiracy theories. Did this idea even get raised to the developers? Did it get serious attention? We’re there other priorities that kept it pushed down on a feature request list, or was it shot down for technical reasons? Was it deemed more important to keep it a unique part of leveling, one shot and you’re done on that toon?

Or did someone just not like the suggestion?

I have no idea.

What I do know is that, while rolling around a giant flaming ball of death on a quest I should have morally objected to for any good-aligned character, I had more fun than I’d had in the entire zone. Possibly the only real fun I’ve had in Uldum, once I get over how gorgeous the place is. Wheeeee! roll down the steps, pick up more gnomes! It’s not a complicated mini-game, it’s a visceral one.

And to me, this quest seems to symbolize the problems of Cataclysm. Many things were done right, but the things which were truly fun seemed to be shunted aside, fleeting moments. Opportunities to create more fun weren’t capitalized upon. Instead of Gnomebliteration as a daily, we got Tol Barad and the Molten Front. There were a lot of almost-rights, of things which were just a bit off, of things which didn’t quite flow enough to be fun.

Would we have gotten bored of crushing cursed gnomes? Maybe.

But we never got the chance.

I’ve come to accept that I don’t think Cataclysm was a very good expansion. Yes, there were plenty of quality of life improvements which made the game more enjoyable to play – vast UI improvements, transmogging, revamped old content, flight almost everywhere – but many missed opportunities for making the game fun. It was so close to being good, in so many places, but the execution was off. There was a lot of good work, and the game of Warcraft itself is still enjoyable, but I just haven’t found Cataclysm content compelling. I haven’t found it fun.

I don’t really have much else to say about Cataclysm; I had fun, I had frustrations, I’m glad it’s done.

And I’m left wondering why Gnomebliteration never became a daily quest.

23 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual