Tag Archives: Essays

Sabotaging the Enemy: the Ethics of Gear

Sabotage: Level 10 PvP is my first PvP video, and I confess that I had a blast making it. I really enjoy the simplicity of low level PvP, especially on classes I don’t know all that well, and hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.

But while making it, I found myself thinking about how I’d brought a gun to a knife fight.

Malone: You wanna know how you do it? Here’s how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?

Ness: I have sworn to capture this man with all legal powers at my disposal and I will do so.

Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward.

The Untouchables, 1987

Cynchronic has 107 spellpower and a mana pool that will never run out. Darkblade Cyn has 295 attack power and 48% crit. This is how I level lowbies, sadly – geared with a combination of enchanted heirlooms and hand me downs, leveled professions, and every twink consumable in my guild bank. They’re not twinks, but they’re close to it.

Whenever I level through the lower brackets, I’m always struck by how impressed people are by heirlooms in /bg chat. Either it’s because the opponents have them (which is bad) or someone on the team has them (which is good). And inspecting most players in the 10-14 brackets shows why – while some are clad in heirlooms, some in grey or all-white gear, but most are in quest gear with a few decent greens. Heirlooms are substantially better than quest rewards at this point, and they’ll definitely give you an edge at level 10.

But enchants are like heirlooms on steroids. I try not to get baited into this argument in /bg, but sometimes I can’t keep my mouth shut – the right enchants are worth more than heirlooms.

  • Darkblade Cyn gets +15 Agility from gear (heirlooms and some greens) and +60 Agility from enchants. That’s 4x more impact.
  • Cynchronic gets +22 Intellect from gear (with Shadow Goggles), and +7 Intellect/+30 Spellpower from enchants, or 1.68x more impact. Potentially, she could have +61 Spellpower from enchants, or 2.7x more impact.

I don’t know what it says about me but looking at both of these characters, I’m positive I could squeeze out a bit more power with better enchants and gear (Healing Power on the gloves instead of Minor Haste, Intellect on the DHC instead of Spellpower on the GSJ, Agility on bracers instead of Stamina, etc.). But they’re the gear I had lying around, and there are tradeoffs I made for PvP (Stamina has value, for instance.)

So, in any given 10-14 WSG, you could have this huge disparity of gear. My rogue could have +75 more Agility than the rogue next to her.

My own perfectionist standards aside, I was a twink in a leveling bracket.

I brought a gun to a knife fight. They would send one of mine to the hospital, I would send their entire team to the morgue – and then capture their flag.

Well, I wouldn’t really cap it – I’d drop it and /afk out, because I didn’t want the XP gain.

So… is this wrong?

ON TWINKS, MUNCHKINS, AND MIN/MAXERS

There are two great truths to /bg chat in the leveling battlegrounds.

  • Everyone hates lowbie scrubs.
  • Everyone hates overpowered twinks.

Before the great PVP bracket realignment, the most common complaint people would level against their own teammates is that their level was too low. Showing up as a level 52 in Alterac Valley (formerly 51-60) meant that OMG you were solely responsible for the team’s loss. By this way of thinking, the entire battleground became a question of how many x8s and x9s you had vs the other team. (This particular behavior has lessened a lot now that brackets are only 5 levels deep, but you still see it show up with gear complaints instead of level complaints.)

Blaming others for joining the team before they were a high enough level creates an interesting juxtaposition when compared with how people treated twinks, back in the days when the battlegrounds weren’t split. I won’t sugar-coat it – twinks ruined low-level PvP for many casual players, both by being unstoppable to their opponents and being abusive to their teammates. The new system is much better.

But… doesn’t it strike you as strange to put these two attitudes together? Don’t be better than I am, but don’t be worse than I am?

It’s like some strange video game version of Harrison Bergeron. I’m sitting here, thoroughly enjoying myself dancing across a battleground with the cameras rolling, and suddenly someone bursts in and shoots me with a shotgun.

Big Bear Butt recently had a great post on the difference between MMORPGs and old school RPGs that relates very directly to my experience shooting Sabotage: Level 10 PvP. Grabbing an embedded quote from that post:

“Munchkin” is a term used to describe certain types of gamers, namely those who make use of every avenue and loophole in the game rules to maximise the stats, abilities, and power level of their character, making the character into an awesome overpowered killing machine capable of gathering more loot and experience and becoming ever more powerful, even if it means occasionally pulling a fast one or ignoring certain other rules that might provide limitations. Oh, and roleplaying an actual character concept is secondary to making the character ever buffer and the acquisition of more loot and more powerful weapons, if it’s considered at all.

One of the premises that BBB puts forth is that while traditional RPGs (tabletop, LARP, what have you) look down upon this min/max style of play, MMORPGs, by their very nature as computer games, embrace and encourage it.

As a veteran of traditional RPGs, I happen to agree with much of what BBB says; computer games encourage you to min/max because there are fixed, immutable rules about how your characters interact with their environment. You can’t look at a boss fight and go, you know, we need about 100,000 marbles – or ball bearings, small and round is all we need – to defeat this guy, let’s go to Ironforge and see if they have some. You can’t alter the flow of a quest, or argue that something should happen simply because it’s a better story – you are limited, restricted, and balanced.

I once said, in reference to making a RPG for the Star Trek universe, that you have to be able to accommodate characters as wildly diverse as Data and Troi and still make it fun for both players. In a traditional RPG this is possible, since both characters are interesting to play and have stories to tell. But in a computer game, you have to define abilities – and then balance them toward common goals. WoW does a good job of keeping the classes different and distinct while balancing them in two key areas, even if it’s sometimes at the expense of believability. To paraphrase BBB: do you really believe someone who pokes something with sticks is as powerful as a wizard who can bend and reshape reality?

The way in which the two cultures (traditional RPGs and MMORPGs) approach munchkinism and min/maxing is instructive. The attitudes are products of the game environments, and each environment rewards totally different behaviors.

Let’s leave behind lowbie PvP for a bit. This isn’t really about lowbie PvP, anyways. Let’s consider Iwillhurtyou, a mighty warrior who has reached the pinnacle of his profession. He changes race and faction as necessary to play with friends and gain the best racial abilities. He is level 85, completed all of the necessary quests to receive the mightiest enchants, and changes professions as necessary to gain the best bonuses. When he receives a legendary item, he keeps it until something better comes along.

  • In a PvE setting, you’d call him a good raider.
  • In a PvP setting, you’d call him a good gladiator.
  • In a traditional RPG, you’d throw him out of your group until he got a decent name. Then you’d throw him out again for not sticking to a single character concept.

In some aspects, these two viewpoints couldn’t be further apart. Chasing down every last advantage can be seen as laudable or as abhorrent, depending on your point of view.

But min/maxing, munchkinism, isn’t really good or bad per se. It all depends on context.

THERE’S NO EXCUSE FOR RUDE BEHAVIOR

Within the structure of a video game, it’s good to be powerful. Yet there’s a counter argument to that, something along the lines of: you can be too powerful in PvP. It’s not fair to your opponents to go in that overpowered. I’m certain that I was a nightmare for the opposing team.

But… so what?

I mean, I showed up and was better geared than the opposition. Much better geared. It wasn’t about skill – I pressed a few buttons and people died. Because I was better geared, I had to press fewer buttons, that’s all.

I brought a gun to a knife fight and people died. Bad people, people with red over their heads, died. I did the job I was supposed to do in the battleground superbly well.

Does that make the other team bad players? They didn’t bother to gear up to my standards. Does that make the other 9 people on my team bad players? They didn’t bother to gear up, either. Nothing I did is not readily available to someone with an endgame character and some gold. Find a friendly enchanter, level some professions before you queue, and BAM – you are ready to be awesome.

Let’s extrapolate this out to the endgame again. I showed up, raid and arena ready, to a pug. The person who showed up in quest whites and greens to WSG, showed up in ilvl 318s and maybe a few 333s to the endgame pug. They’re not bad at what what we’re trying to do – they’re trying, at least – but they’re just undergeared.

Why should it matter to me?

I’m going to echo another one of BBB’s sentiments – it’s not my place to start criticizing your gear, or your performance. That’s not my role in a pug; we’re effectively strangers who have just met. All I ask is that you try to win.

Just because I happen to have better pixels than you doesn’t give me the right to be rude to you. Nor does it give you the right to be rude to me. We’re people trying to have fun in a game. I don’t know anything about you, nor you about me.

  • So what if someone is at the bottom of the bracket? Maybe this is their first time in. Maybe they’re taking a break from questing. Maybe they like PvP. Shocking, I know!
  • So what if someone doesn’t know what to do? You think battlegrounds come with instruction manuals?
  • So what if someone’s gear isn’t up to your standards, (which are totally arbitrary by the way)? That’s your problem. Deal with it. Someone’s probably looking at you and thinking the same thing.
  • So what if someone outgeared you before and was rude to you? That was someone different. Get over it.

Does having everyone be exceptionally skilled and geared increase your chances of winning? You betcha. But that’s what rated BGs are for, now. That’s what your friends and guildmates are for. You absolutely should strive to be your best, and to inspire others to be the best they can be, too.

But that’s where you have to stop.

Wanting to win doesn’t excuse you for being rude to another person. It just doesn’t. Fun comes before winning. This is, all things considered, still a video game. And you are – hopefully – playing this game for fun.

Just like the 9 other strangers you just met.

PVP IS NOT FAIR

The only place where PvP is even remotely fair is at the highest levels of endgame play, where top-notch players go and get the absolute best gear available to them. Everyone is in relatively the same gear levels, the same gear sets, the same enchants. Differences between classes become highlighted at that level, in part because everyone has worked hard to get the best gear.

For the rest of the time, PvP is a street fight.

Regular battlegrounds, no matter what level, will have a wide variety of gear and enchantment levels represented within them. Even most Arena matches will have this disparity too. Sometimes, you’re just simply outgeared. It happens. Work on your gear, but get over it.

Not everyone you play with  is going to be at your gear level in this game. Sometimes, they will be far under you – sometimes, far over you. In PvP, if you’re substantially outgeared by your opponent, you’re probably going to die. In PvE, if you’re substantially outgeared by your teammate, you’re getting carried through content. It happens.

No matter which way the gear imbalance lies, remember that we’re all here to have fun. Gear doesn’t convey a position of moral superiority; it just makes tasks easier.

Be good to each other out there. Have fun. Go roll a level 10 twink today and enjoy some pwnage.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

The Raid Dropping Exploit of Tol Barad

I heard about a putative exploit in Tol Barad earlier this week, one that would potentially allow you to break the 1:1 ratio of the zone and let you stack players on your side to overwhelm the opposition.

The theory behind it is:

  1. People enter Tol Barad via the queuing system which should try to slot for an equal number of players of both factions. If one side has fewer people than the other, then people on the more populated faction will not be allowed in until the levels are equal again.
  2. Once in Tol Barad, players are automatically placed into 40-man raid groups.
  3. If you drop the raid group, the queuing system thinks that the raid groups are not equal, taking a person from your side’s queue and porting them into the zone without triggering a corresponding add from the other faction.
  4. If enough players on your side do this, you will stack the zone in your favor.

Step 3 is where the exploit supposedly lies. It’s possible that the zone works this way – that raid groups are used to calculate the current population, and therefore could be fooled by removing players from the raid.

That’s the theory. If it’s happening, then this is game-changing – it’s no longer about which side can win this broken battleground, it’s about which side can get more people in through this exploit.

But is it really happening?

STAND BACK, I’M GOING TO TRY SCIENCE

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how the victory condition of the battleground coupled with a broken capture mechanic all combine to make Tol Barad very hard to win (say that three times fast), but perhaps it’s possible that there is an exploit in progress. Perhaps the Alliance on Durotan did use it to win Tol Barad last weekend. Perhaps the Horde does use it on a regular basis to keep control.

At some point, you have to stop speculating and start experimenting. So let’s test it out.

If the exploit works, then you should be able to observe several behaviors during the battle.

  1. Players should be asking for invites into the raid. This would be due to their dropping the raid that they were originally invited into in an attempt to stack their side.
  2. The number of players in raids should be fewer than the number of players in the zone for any given side. This is also due to the attempted exploit.
  3. The number of players in the zone for one faction should exceed the number of players on the other faction over the course of the battle. This would be the result of the exploit working.

The first is easy to observe by zoning in to the battle and watching general chat. The second is a little more challenging to measure, as you only have visibility into your own raid, but you should be able to measure this through watching the first raid fill up and a combination of /who and counting the people in the /1 General chat channel.

The final criteria, however, requires cross-faction cooperation. Trying to take an accurate tally of people in a crowd is hard enough, but virtual people, engaged in a battle, where they don’t have collision detection, and might be sporting pets, demons, totems, or companions? Nearly impossible to do by observation.

But it’s not impossible if you use /who and the general chat channels on each side. At least, that’s the hope.

But how could I measure the Horde numbers without transferring or leveling an alt?

Unfortunately, lab coats don't come with Resilience.

THE EXPERIMENT

Enter Ermoonia and Rosasharn of <Tech Savvy At Risk Youth> to help with data collection. Ermoonia is a reader of this weblog and killed me the other day in Tol Barad – an action, by the way, which I highly encourage, getting killed by readers honestly makes my day – who also happened to transfer over to Durotan’s Horde side a short time ago. I proposed my experiment to her, and she agreed to help out in this unnatural cross-faction analysis of Tol Barad. (“For SCIENCE!” was our rallying call.)

About two minutes before the battle, I logged in to their Vent server, where I was treated to the most entertaining Tol Barad I think I’ve ever gotten to run. I’ll get to why it was so entertaining in a bit, but here’s what we observed.

  • Alliance players were both leaving the raid without leaving the zone, and then asking a few minutes later to be re-invited back into the raid. Horde players, conversely, were not asking for raid invites.
  • The /who tool proved to be highly unreliable. It seems to max out at 49 results, and also includes people in the Tol Barad Peninsula zone, confusing the count further.
  • We changed over to counting people in General – Tol Barad chat as an alternate benchmark, which seemed to be more accurate.
  • The Alliance started out with 24 players and maxed out somewhere around 46.
  • The Horde started out with around 30 players and maxed out somewhere around 47. Horde generally had 1-2 more players in the zone than Alliance, but the numbers were sometimes equal.
  • At no time, at counts below 40, did the count of people in the General – Tol Barad exceed the raid browser count, on either side.
  • The count between sides would sometimes vary by a few people, usually when Alliance players would leave. Rosasharn mentioned that there was usually a lot of Horde players queuing for Tol Barad, and that not getting in was a sadly common occurrence.
  • The Alliance lost badly. Again.

The implications of these observations are interesting.

  1. It appears that Alliance players (attacking force) were trying to use the exploit, while the Horde players (defense) were not.
  2. Getting accurate counts is much more difficult than it seems. I thought that /who would be the easiest way to provide a running count, but since it counted both Tol Barad zones (combat and non combat) the total it provides is worthless, and the cap on display made it even more worthless.
  3. The faction which was supposedly committing the exploit (Alliance) never outnumbered the faction which was not (Horde), as measured by General – Tol Barad chat.

My conclusion after watching the battle for a while was that if this exploit exists, it doesn’t work very well.

In talking to Ermoonia and Rosasharn, I realized there was an additional factor we couldn’t ignore in all this – the queue size for each faction.

  • The Horde of Durotan regularly queue for Tol Barad and do not get in. As the usual defenders and victors, they have a pool of players for the battle larger than Tol Barad will hold, guaranteeing that any slot that opens up will be filled. The rewards of the battle and access to the raid are such that players look at is as a good investment of their time to queue.
  • The Alliance of Durotan, as the losers, do not regularly queue for Tol Barad. Even though Alliance dominates the server (1.6:1, last time I checked), the player base doesn’t feel that queueing is worth their time, so Tol Barad is filled according to the Alliance queue.
  • It is possible that the Alliance exploit worked, but failed to make any measurable impact due to the lack of people in queue. If someone drops raid and the system can’t replace them, it’s possible that the exploit is working – just not having any effect.

Despite this, I’m don’t think that exploit was working, however. At the earliest stages of the battle – when both sides were around 30-35 players – not once did the Alliance outnumber the Horde. Not once. Even when I saw several people begging for raid invites all at once, the Alliance remained outnumbered or almost evenly matched.

I know that this isn’t conclusive proof. There are several problems with the methodology I can’t deny:

  1. If the faction with the stronger queue was exploiting, then you would see it work in action better than the weaker queue. We observed the weaker queue exploiting, not the stronger.
  2. The measuring methods are not to be trusted. You can only count the raid you are in. /who does not work. General chat may be accurate, but counting manually in a battle is fraught with the potential for error.
  3. The exploit could remove people from the count of General chat as well as the raid browser, rendering them invisible to detection.

But even with these exceptions, this experiment left me concluding that the exploit does not work.

And that’s a good thing.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DEFEAT, QQ, AND EXPLOITS

How you react to failure is at least as important as how you react to success.

It’s not easy to admit failure. It’s not easy to admit that you just weren’t good enough in a contest, to accept defeat gracefully. The whole idea of good sportsmanship – y’all remember that one, right? – is to counter the very natural feelings of anger, despair, and frustration you feel when you lose a competition. It’s okay to feel depressed, angry, apathetic, or even relieved when you lose. Culturally, we mask all of those emotions with small rituals designed to keep the competition civil – the handshake after a match, the concession speech by a political candidate, the salute after a surrender – but civility is for the playing ground, not the locker room. Emotions are emotions, after all, and denying them just makes them stronger – and uglier.

Warcraft PvP lacks the post-game handshake. There’s nothing to humanize your opponents, to force you to look them in the eye and say, good job, you outplayed me today. So whatever emotions you feel at losing are yours to deal with, and yours alone.

You can look back on your defeat and say, I was not good enough today, but I will get better. There is always another fight.

You can look back on your defeat and say, the contest wasn’t fair, it wasn’t my fault. It had nothing to do with my skill or ability, or my opponent’s skill – it was a no-win situation. Move on.

Or you can look back at your defeat and say, they cheated. The dirty, stinking bastards cheated.

This is the white elephant in the room when discussing any type of exploit in a group PvP environment. Is the exploit really happening, or is it fulfilling the desires of those who have lost to explain their defeat? Software bug or rationalization? Did your opponent cheat to win, or were you just not good enough? Sometimes it’s easy to see a bug in action, but often, it’s not.

The psychological problem is compounded by a very real fact: we are playing a computer program with known bugs. Stuff doesn’t work right all the time. (Heck, sometimes, it barely works at all!) And unlike a real-life sporting event, where you can assume things like, oh, the laws of physics apply, and if there are 11 people on the field then it means there are 11 people on the field – in computer games weird shit can and does happen.

When I wrote How DID They Win That Wintergrasp?, I was acutely aware that there were legitimate bugs affecting Wintergrasp. Driving vehicles through the walls was bad enough, but worse was that that bug lent legitimacy to the idea that the weaker faction could glitch out the system into an instant-siege scenario. Even after the weighting structures of the zone were confirmed by blue posts, players still complained about the other side cheating to get a mass of siege engines at the start of the game.

Well, there are legitimate bugs that have affected Tol Barad. It was possible to gain massive amounts of honor without ever participating in the battle by walking across the bridge at a certain time. I’m sure we’ll find more bugs as time goes on.

And now we have this rumored exploit.

The presence of one bug lends credence to the idea that there may be others. The bugs of Cataclysm gnaw at our psyches, making us doubt if the world is really working as intended or not. Maybe the other side is cheating. Maybe we should cheat to win, too, because they’re obviously doing it.

This rationalization is the path to the dark side of ourselves. Tread carefully.

THE MANY FAILURES OF TOL BARAD

Rosasharn: Are you guys just mindlessly zerging IC?

Cynwise: Uh, hang on. *checks map* Yes, yes we are.

Rosasharn: *pauses* Er. Why?

Cynwise: *scrolls back through general chat* No one’s running the show. We’re completely leaderless right now.

Cynwise: *pauses* It’s working out well for us, isn’t it?

Ermoonia: *laughs*

The Alliance on Durotan-US has gotten its ass kicked in Tol Barad pretty much since it opened. Excepting the Win-Trading Week, we’ve held it for about a day, maybe two, since Cataclysm launched. I’ve been in well-led offenses that can’t crack the 2/3 barrier, and been in total clusters of fun that barely manage to cap 1/3.

So, yeah. I lose Tol Barad every single time I play it. Haven’t won it yet.

I’m pretty firmly convinced that the design of the battleground is the biggest problem Blizzard should address, and that the Horde on Durotan don’t need to do anything but show up and execute a simple defense strategy to hold Tol Barad against the Alliance. The incentives are all there for the Horde to show up – plenty of honor, access to the dailies – and winning has created a culture of success, where they expect to win, they know how to win, they’ll field enough people to win, and if they lose they’ll make it a priority to take it back.

The Alliance, on the other hand, has accepted defeat in Tol Barad.

Rosascharn: How are you guys getting to exalted? That must be a painful grind.

Ermoonia: I’ve wondered the same thing.

Cynwise: *thinks for a minute* I don’t think I know anyone who’s exalted yet. Most people assume it will happen, eventually, but they’re not pushing to get it done.

The mentality of defeat is hard to admit, but honesty compels me to admit it – I don’t see taking Tol Barad as being worth my effort. Will I get all the rewards from there that I want? Sure, with time and some patience. It’s not worth my time and energy to bang up against a really tough battle for some extra gold and a little more progress towards a goal I don’t care all that much about. The gold from the dailies is worthless as a motivator; I make more farming in 10 minutes than those quests reward. The trinket? I’m focused on PvP right now, it’s not the trinket I want. The raid? Hmm. Not raiding right now, and PuGs have always been iffy. The mounts and pets? I’ll get there eventually.

The problem is when individual apathy becomes cultural. The Horde care about holding Tol Barad – they are used to doing it, they have a lot of people interested in the rewards, they have more spirit and enthusiasm for the place than the Alliance. The Alliance doesn’t seem to care. We’re resigned to not having it, so even when we do take it, there’s no cultural impetus to keep it. It’s not a habit Alliance players have formed. Rousing people to keep control of the zone is more work than actually taking it – when we get it, I get texts and twitters from guildmates telling me to get my ass into TB so we can hold it, but it rarely works.

And then there is the problem, clearly demonstrated in watching the Alliance play, that most of the time, we’re not even trying anymore.

Cynwise: Warden’s just fell, so you’re going to Slag next, right?

Rosascharn: Er…

*awkward silence*

Cynwise: *laughs* It’s the logical place to go, you’re going Slag. It doesn’t matter, we’re all still zerging Ironclad.

Of the Tol Barad battles I’ve witnessed, some have been good attempts with strong leadership, but many have been rudderless zergs, with AFKers leeching honor while other players raced randomly over the map, each according to their individual whim.

The Horde comes in, they know their plan, they execute it. IC is falling, go WV. WV is falling, go Slag. Slag is falling, go IC. They know that if they execute that plan, they win.

The Alliance doesn’t know how to win, and when it has a plan, it doesn’t execute it properly. The strong leadership isn’t there, because most players have quit Tol Barad out of frustration.

The most sobering finding of my experiment was discovering that Horde on Durotan don’t need to cheat to win. The Alliance simply isn’t playing well enough, and doesn’t care enough as a server faction to hold it for any length of time.

Player frustration is one thing; at least they’re trying to participate in the game. Player apathy is another matter entirely, and far more dangerous to a game developer. I think this was the problem Blizzard was really trying to fix when they increased the Honor Point gain for offensive wins in Tol Barad – they wanted to interrupt this culture of losing before it began.

But here it is. That people have come up with this exploit, real or imagined, is a symptom of that culture.

Players want to play a fair game. They want to think there is a good chance of their winning if their skill and ability is good enough. It doesn’t matter if you look at a game and go, wow, the odds are really in the house’s favor on this one, people can and will convince themselves that they have a good shot of winning. That delusion is normal human psychology at work. We adapt our model of reality to fit our desires, not to fit reality.

If we don’t win a fair game, then the other side must have cheated.

Yet, we delude ourselves – this game was never fair to begin with.

Do not mistake me: I consider this exploit to be a cheat on the level of the Arathi Basin Fast Start exploit. It is deliberately trying to circumvent the rules of the game to achieve victory, and – if I thought it was really happening – I’d agree that this is a bad, bad thing.

But Tol Barad’s problems are deeper and more fundamental than just the rumor of an exploit. The incentives for participating but losing are too low. The rewards are geared wrongly. The capture mechanic, combined with the victory condition, is broken. Something needs to be changed to make it feel more fair. It doesn’t need to be more fair, just give the impression that it’s that way.

CONFRONTING YOUR OWN BIAS

I’m grateful that <Tech Savvy At Risk Youth> let me crash their vent server for this experiment. It was a nice reminder that we’re all playing the same game, no matter what faction we might be representing at the time. It was funny trying to get together for a post-battle screenshot – I kept getting killed by other Horde players, they nearly ran into the Alliance guards – but it offered a sense of completeness to the evening, that post-game handshake that this game lacks.

But I was also struck by how personal an experience these world PvP zones are, how difficult it is to really form an unbiased opinion of them. So much depends on your server dynamics; intra-faction, inter-faction, if guilds are working together to take the zone for the raid boss or not, PvP experience on each side. I am a player in these games, just like you, and I’m acutely uncomfortable crying too loud about how hard Tol Barad is, precisely because my side happens to lose a lot. I worry about that white elephant in the room named QQ a lot whenever I complain publicly.

Seeing your team’s efforts through your opponent’s eyes is a wonderful thing. We sucked as a team during this particular battle. There’s no way to sugar coat it – our side had absolutely no business winning. We lacked the coordination, strategy, and ability to execute.

And we were trying to cheat to win.

Instead working harder, communicating better, and outplaying our opponent – people on my team were trying to cheat the god damn system to win.

That makes me feel pretty damn awful, truth be told.

It’s pretty disappointing to have to face that your teammates are willing to cheat. I don’t want to cheat to win. I want to beat people on fair, even terms. Yes, I advocate using the absolute best gear you can afford when going into a battleground and training your skills to absurd heights for your level. Yes, I advocate using terrain to your advantage.

But I can not condone breaking the rules of the game.

It’s even worse to think that this isn’t unique to Durotan, but is becoming more widespread as the rumor of it spreads. Players are desperate to win, and they will convince themselves that this works. Maybe it does, and I didn’t test it correctly. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s been hotfixed, and it did work before, but not since I tested it. I personally don’t think it ever worked, but it’s not really the point anymore.

We have a PvP encounter which is tuned to be hard for the attacking side. With the introduction of rated Battlegrounds, perhaps Blizzard was expecting more coordinated groups to be fighting in Tol Barad. Ultimately, that’s the kind of discipline and communication you need to win as an attacker! Trying to take the zone in a PuG is the real nightmare.

Perhaps that’s the right analogy to cleave to: just as raids are tuned towards challenging even great raid guilds right now, Tol Barad is oriented towards the rated Battleground groups, where discipline and communication are the norm, and PuGs will, by necessity, suffer.

Or perhaps, that’s how I see it – because I’m losing all the time.

THE TRAGEDY OF TOL BARAD

I looked at Tol Barad when Cataclysm launched, when I was putting together my PvP gear list, and I dismissed it. I was polite about it, but let’s face it – I dismissed it as a source of PvP gear or points.

The Week of Win Trading did nothing to change my mind: the gear is not worth getting for PvP. Period. In an area where Resilience is king, none of those items are good enough to waste your time grinding.

This leaves you a PvP zone with PvE rewards, which baffles me as to how it’s supposed to motivate the right people to come in to make it a good battle. The motivation is for raiders to go and try to get the shiny trinkets and gear; but the raiders are not necessarily the ones who are running rated BGs now. Perhaps that’s it; this is a test of coordination for a raid group, to show them how running a rated battleground would work, to show players that yes, you can do this if you work together. It’s the carrot to get people into battlegrounds.

But it’s frustrating enough that people want to believe the other side cheats, which is not normally the case in normal battlegrounds. (There, people blame their own team for sucking.)

You want to know why you lose a given battleground? 99% of the time, it’s because you were outplayed. Maybe your opponents were better geared. Maybe they stuck to their strategy. Maybe they had a better class composition during the individual engagements. Maybe they used vent or /bg chat. Maybe they were just better players than you were. Whatever it was, you got outplayed. Get over it.

Most of the time, when you lose in PvP, you get over it. You learn what you can from the loss and move on. So you got outplayed in a video game! Big fucking deal. Boo fucking hoo. Get over it.

This started off as a discussion about a simple question – is the raid dropping exploit of Tol Barad real? – but in trying to answer that question, it’s become a discussion of personal motivation and bias, of the desire to win at all costs, of what makes something QQ versus raising legitimate problems with a battleground. The exploit itself is not as important as the fact that people believe it works, that they want it to work.

I think the real tragedy of Tol Barad is not that it’s unbalanced, not that it’s too hard to assault, not that Blizzard turned it into a loot pinata for a week and screwed over the idea of fairness.

No, the real tragedy of Tol Barad is that it’s giving people the wrong idea about what PvP should be like. Winning is not about skill in PvP, or of choosing the right battle at the right time and winning it – no, in Tol Barad, PvP is about working together to cram as many people as possible into a node, and then play musical chairs until someone falls out of a chair.

No wonder people want to cheat.

I find Tol Barad hugely frustrating. I don’t want to write about it too much, because I see that my biases are affecting my judgement on it. There are problems there; lots of problems. But I’m also left wondering: why should I, as a player, even care about the problems anymore?

I wish I had an answer to that.

 

Update 1/27/2011: Blue post confirms this exploit doesn’t work. Hooray for science!

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Tol Barad and the Ghosts of Wintergrasp

Wintergrasp was one of the great success stories of Wrath – a PvP zone with epic battles between hundreds of opposing players. Hundreds. The Battle for Wintergrasp unified factions on servers like no event before or since. The call would go out in Dalaran that the battle was starting. “Please start a new raid, this one is full!” people would cry out in the prep rooms, and if you were smart, you used addons to create those raids. Every two and a half hours servers would come together to beat the crap out of each other on the frozen fields of Wintergrasp.

And it was glorious.

This is not to say Wintergrasp was not without its problems in the beginning – do you remember driving siege engines through the walls? – but it was an immediate success on a scale that Blizzard was not prepared to handle. Wintergrasp caused Northrend servers to crawl during good battles, and crash during the really big ones. The lag during larger battles never really went away, even when WG went to an instanced battleground.

Wintergrasp was an immediate success, and somewhat unexpectedly, it stayed successful for the entirety of Wrath of the Lich King. Tenacity and the self-righting mechanics allowed outnumbered factions to compete. The map is interesting and requires players to make choices about what to attack and what to defend. The southern towers required attackers to make choices about how much strength to commit to offense versus defending the towers, while giving the defenders a reason to leave the safety of the Keep. The Keep itself is large enough to prevent a concentrated buildup of defensive forces, requiring defenders to make positioning choices.

But most important of all, Wintergrasp gave players an incentive to participate.

There’s a fundamental difference between PvE and PvP encounters: motivation. A PvE encounter has to offer a reward for the players to make them want to do it. Justice Points, badges, gear, achievements – whatever it is – all these things are offered as incentives for players to engage in, and defeat, the PvE encounter. In PvP, however, you have to motivate both sides to play, winners and losers alike.

Think of it as having to pay raid bosses to show up to be loot pinatas. You can’t have PvP without the other players, and they have to have a reason to show up.

Wintergrasp did this extremely well. Not only did it reward victory extremely well – a zone-wide XP buff, Stone Keepers Shards for heirlooms, and tokens that let you get great gear – it rewarded failure, too. People wanted to win, but even if they lost, they still got both honor and tokens. Victory was rewarded well, but failure wasn’t a complete waste of time.

This brings us to Tol Barad, Cataclysm’s PvP centerpiece.

TOL BARAD

Tol Barad is, ultimately, a simple battleground. It’s smaller than Wintergrasp, with somewhat simpler objectives. Looking at it topologically:

The goal is simple. The attackers (who use the green graveyards) need to take and hold the three outer nodes (Warden’s Vigil, Slagworks, and Ironclad Garrison), while the defenders (who use the purple one in the center) need to prevent this. The 3 towers (Spires) can be destroyed to add time to the clock, but they’re not really important.

To capture one of the outer nodes, you need to have more players in that area. You don’t have to be winning, you just have to have more players around it. The more players you have, the faster the bar swings to your side.

Sounds simple, right?

There’s only one problem: Tol Barad is broken. Gevlon warned folks 10 days ago to stay away until it’s fixed. Mat McCurley over at WoW Insider has an excellent analysis of the six problems affecting Tol Barad, as well as solutions to fixing each one of them. Both of these posts are worth your time to read, especially Mat’s WI post.

Look at that map again. The defensive strategy is simple – send all of your forces along a purple line to the node where the attackers are weakest. The attackers, in turn, will have to keep circling around on the green lines, trying to outnumber the defenders at any one point. But the defenders will always be able to get to a new node first. The attackers have the tactical advantage at the node due to the nearby graveyard, but the defenders have the strategic advantage for the battle.

“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios,” a famous starship captain once said, and I don’t either. Attackers can win Tol Barad, in theory. It’s just really, really, really hard. It involves subterfuge, deceit, spying, and being as underhanded as you can manage, but you can do it.

But even though it’s possible, it’s just not worth it.

THE GHOSTS OF WINTERGRASP

I remember looking over the gear I could get from Tol Barad and wondering where all the PvP equipment was. I mean, for a place that you have to fight tooth and nail for, why would I want to even bother? Some daily quests? The incentives are all wrong. I would rather spend my time in battlegrounds grinding out Honor and Conquest points than fighting for Tol Barad.

I should not be ambivalent that the opposite faction controls Tol Barad all the time on my server. But I am. What is in it for me that I can’t get elsewhere?

Wintergrasp hit the rewards perfectly. Not only did you get access to a raid boss for winning, but you got heirlooms for the PvE crowd and good offset pieces for the PvPers. And the losers had a reason to participate – even if you lost, you edged closer to that gear, and eventually you’d win and be able to buy it.

Tol Barad, frankly, doesn’t offer me enough to make it worth the effort.

I was having a good night in the battlegrounds earlier this week, so on a lark, I queued up for Wintergrasp again, and joined into a 5v5 running battle across the entire zone. Wintergrasp doesn’t really work as a 5v5 Arena, but I saw a few familiar faces in there (mostly on the other side) and enjoyed securing workshops, building catapults (hey, it’s all we could afford), and trying to survive long enough to get some damage done on the walls. It was fun, but not very good. Small WGs favor the defenders, heavily.

But I knew that if we put enough people in, on both sides, it would have been a fair fight. You may not be able to do as much with only 5-10 people per side in Wintergrasp, but you certainly could take the keep with a little bit of work.

Not so for Tol Barad. The strategic problems are such that if you have 1 person, or 80, the results will be the same.

I love the idea of Tol Barad. I want to see it flourish, to thrive, to be the reason I log in at specific times each day. I want it to put Wintergrasp to shame, because Wintergrasp’s time is gone.

But for now, Tol Barad is just a pale ghost of Wintergrasp.

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The Isle of Conquest is REALLY Broken

First off, did you know you could repair cannons in the Isle of Conquest now? I think this is new. I don’t know if this is something only Engineers can do, but it’s kinda cool to be able to revive cannons.

Repairing cannons is about the only good thing I can say about the Isle of Conquest right now. It’s broken in so many ways that puts every other time I’ve said it’s broken to shame. This isn’t about having the terrain favor one side or another.  Oh, I long for those days now!

No, instead we have:

  • Trying to get to the Airship from the Hangar kills you instantly, sending you 8 miles off the coast of the Isle to drown in deep water.
  • Huge pink blocks of doom that appear when the Alliance breaches the gates of the Horde Keep.

Think I’m kidding about the Big Pink Blocks of Doom?  Vikt (from Of the Horde) sent me this great screenshot:

… which kinda demonstrates the futility of Alliance breaking down the gate.

Let’s look at what these bugs do to each side’s strategy.  For Alliance:

  • Avoid the Hangar, it’s a death trap.  So no parachuting into the keep.
  • The Workshops are mostly useless to you on Offense, since the siege can’t break through the pink blocks once the gates are down.
  • Take the Docks, ignore the Glaives, and use Catapults to get inside the keep.

For the Horde:

  • Avoid the Hangar.
  • Take the Workshops, since the Alliance aren’t going to contest it anyways (as it’s useless to them).
  • Let the Alliance take the Docks, then station a defensive force to kill the Catapults just around the bend in the road, where they’ll be strung out and poorly defended.
  • Used the vehicles from the Workshop to take the keep and win.

As a Horde player, you absolutely want to be queuing for Isle of Conquest right now.  You are going to win. Seriously, you are going to win. The odds are stacked so high right now in the Horde’s favor, you’d be dumb not to queue for this one and rack up some wins.

As an Alliance player, you’re going to get IoC in your random queue more often than you like precisely because the Horde are queuing for it. And that means you’re going to lose. (Sorry about that, I’m just keeping it real, yo.) The best way to try to win is to send a small force to the Docks, with a larger force to contest the Workshops. I have yet to see this work, but it seems like the only viable strategy is to disrupt the Horde assault.

The important thing to keep, if Isle of Conquest comes up as your random BG, is your sense of humor. This battleground has BIG PINK BLOCKS that completely negate whatever skill advantages your side might have (or lack). This BG is broken.

Don’t sweat it. Laugh, and move on.

P.S. The scoreboards are broken, too:

Although, I suppose it’s possible that those two REALLY know how to heal…

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The Case Against Heirlooms

I love Heirloom gear. I love having complete sets ready to go for pretty much any low level character I choose to roll. I spent much of Wrath obsessed with collecting them.  I have, at last count, 29 heirloom items. That’s twenty-nine pieces of Bind to Account gear, all dedicated to making me an awesome leveler.

And yet… I’m not an awesome leveler.  I’m just not.  I’m great at rolling alts, and pretty good at making them as powerful as I can at any given level, but I’m just not a great leveler.  I play with some great levelers, people who can take a toon to level 40 in two days, with full professions, and completely enjoy the experience along the way.

That’s not me.  Each level is a struggle, and there’s this constant sense of guilt that I should be doing it faster, better, are we there yet? that makes me wonder why I roll so many alts in the first place. Having all the Heirlooms in the game wouldn’t make me better at leveling.

And yet: I enjoy questing. One of my biggest personal lessons with the Level 19 Ambassador Project was how much I enjoyed discovering the stories behind the game, of seeing the reasons why places are the way they are. I enjoy collecting gear, of sifting through quest rewards for the best, the prettiest, the coolest-looking, the oddest. I love having torches and lanterns and pretty dresses. I can even enjoy leveling, when I forget that there’s a goal I’m trying to reach.

I laid out the case for Heirlooms in an earlier post, but it’s relevant to summarize it here.  Heirloom gear serves two purposes; to give experienced players a shorter path through content they’ve experienced before, and to allow for gear to be shared between characters on a server.  Heirlooms are good gear, sometimes great gear, sometimes the best gear you can get.  You can enchant them once and never have to enchant that slot again.  You can get stats that are otherwise rare or unavailable before level 60 (Hit, Haste, Resilience.)

But when Cataclysm comes, I think I’m going to level a lot of my alts without Heirlooms, or only with a few selected ones.  I’ve already started using my Heirlooms less and less, and am finding it a more enjoyable experience overall.

This is, frankly, odd for me to admit, since in terms of efficiency (and regular readers know how I feel about efficiency), Heirloom gear cannot be beaten.  (Even speed enchants on your boots can’t quite compare to Heirlooms for increasing your experience gain.) Going without the chest and shoulders means you are leveling 20% more.  That’s crazy.

And yet…

THIS ISN’T OLD CONTENT

The old world is not going to be old anymore.  The experience from 1-60 has been redesigned, the stories are different.  Leveled through Darkshore, Westfall, and the Barrens dozens of times before?  Well, you’ve never leveled through these zones.  They’re different now.  You can’t be bored with these quests yet, you’ve never done them!

Doing all of the tier 1-2 zones on a single character made me realize how different each zone could feel, how some zones appeal to you and others don’t.  Taking time to experience each zone and the stories within it is a good, enjoyable part of the game! Remember your first character, stumbling around without much of a clue, discovering new places, being awed by the immensity of this game?

Don’t rob yourself of that innocence too soon.  Take your time.  Stop and smell the roses.

(Okay, Outland and Northrend are still old content.  Get every XP boost you can to level through those quickly.)

THIS ISN’T THE FASTEST WAY TO GET A NEW RACE TO 85

If you are really in a hurry, Heirlooms will not get your new goblin or worgen to 85 by December 8th. No, if you want to play one of the new races in the endgame as soon as possible, your best strategy is to take an existing level 80 character to 85 and change their race.  There realm first racial achievements have been removed, so there’s even less incentive to try to do this, but if you’re dead set on playing the endgame with one of the new races?

Get your level 80 character ready to switch.

THIS ISN’T THE WAY TO BE OVERPOWERED

I’ve been rolling a lot of alts lately, and I’ve heard people talking in battlegrounds about how overpowered someone is because they have Heirlooms.  I think this is probably filtering into the Dungeon Finder, too – “lol no heirlooms.”

This is stupid.  It’s not stupid because it’s childish (though it’s that, too).  It’s not even stupid because it ignores player skill (which is also stupid.)  It’s stupid because it ignores math, and ignores a simple fact:  for the first 30 levels or so, your enchants are better than your gear.

I rolled a Hunter recently, why, I wasn’t quite sure, but I did and I’m enjoying it.  I tossed a Lovely Purple Dress on her and a set of enchanted white gear I got from the starting area vendors, and then proceeded to destroy the starting area. I tossed Heirlooms on her at level 10, keeping the same enchants, and have proceeded to destroy every instance and battleground I’ve been in.

Why?

+7 Agility to the boots.  +9 Stamina to the bracers.  +15 Agility to the gloves.  +15 Agility to the main hand weapon.  +100 Health to the chest.  +2 damage on the bow.  +16 Armor to the legs.

For a Hunter, that translates to 74 Ranged Attack Power and an additional 190 health, just from enchants.

A full kit of Heirlooms provides (at level 19): +5 Agility from the shoulders, +7 Agility from the chest, +3 Agility from the MH, +18 Stamina, +6 Haste, +6 Resilience, and a PvP trinket.  That’s 30 Ranged Attack Power and about 4% Haste, 180 health.  All good stats, and worth having for maximum pwnage, but it takes a while for gear to catch up to the wonderful enchantments you can place on level 1 items.

Think about that again.  A properly enchanted set of white gear gives you better bonuses than Heirlooms for the first 20 levels.

Heirlooms are a good way to ensure that several of your slots are filled with good, enchanted, blue-quality gear.  They mean you can enchant a slot once and never worry about it again, which I greatly appreciate given how much I love the Crusader enchant. But it’s not just the weapon damage that is important there: it’s always having an enchanted weapon. You save money, you don’t skimp on your Heirloom enchants like you might on something you’re going to replace in a few levels.

THEY OBSCURE YOUR VIEW OF THE GAME

A related pet peeve is that it also surprises me how often I hear players refer to Heirlooms as best-in slot items.  They’re not, or not always.  At any given level, for a specific class, they might be the best you can get – but more often than not, there’s something else you can get.  If you have Heirlooms and are leveling quickly, you’d probably never notice this.

What I’ve noticed while using Heirlooms is that I start ignoring whole swaths of gear, and stop making choices around them.  That’s okay – it’s one of the advantages of Heirlooms – but it’s also a disadvantage.  There are some really great items in the game that you’ll never acquire, never even notice, if you level in full heirlooms.

I obsess a bit on my twink blog about the best weapon for a given spec or situation.  And yet, I often use the Venerable Mass of McGowan for my MH weapon.  It’s a great tanking weapon because of the Agility, though there are some swords that outclass it for sheer DPS.  So I switch, depending on what situation I’m in.  (The 2H Heirlooms are all outdone by several different quest rewards and I don’t even have them on ‘block anymore.)

But Cyn, you’ll rightly say, why should I spend the time researching that when the Heirlooms are good enough, and when I’m going to outlevel that reward in a dungeon run or two anyways?

Because it’s a part of the game that you’re missing.  If you wear your Tattered Dreadmist set all the way from 1-80, not only do you miss out on any sense of progression in your appearance, you lose out on how bad and awkward the outfits were in Outland (and how drab everyone is in Northrend.)  Your gloves, helm, and boots change, but you basically look the same from 1-80.

If your goal is getting to 80, then maybe that doesn’t matter.  There’s no right or wrong here, just a matter of preference.  Looking like a clown in Outland isn’t something to seek out, exactly – but it’s part of the game, and a fun part of the game.  Replacing my purple tunic was a big step – though it was nice seeing my legs again!

THEY GET IN THE WAY OF LEARNING YOUR NEW CLASS

It’s one thing to say that Heirlooms let you skip over seeing a part of the game (gear).  The more I’ve leveled with them, the more I think that they can hinder becoming a real expert in your class.

Hear me out.

It’s fairly straightforward to pick out a good set of Heirlooms for a given class.  You might not get the best ones for your chosen spec, but you should be able to do pretty good overall.

But what if you want to tank instead of DPS?  There’s no gear that’s specific to tanking, and even though the instances 1-80 aren’t that demanding anymore, you’re not getting exposed to the idea that you should gear differently for tanking than for DPS – until you hit the endgame.  I ditched my DK’s Heirloom chest when he hit 70 and went with the crafted tank blues instead.

The difference was noticeable.  Having dedicated tank gear in all slots made a big improvement back in the days of Defense, but even at lower gear levels I believe it’s important to start learning the ins and outs of why gear works the way it does while leveling, not at the endgame.

It’s not just the roles of the holy trinity that need to be learned through the leveling process – the distinctions between gearing different specs are lost in the heirloom shuffle.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got a Rogue I’m leveling Combat.  I’ve probably mentioned that I’m also not very good with her; I don’t really understand what I’m doing aside from Sinister Strike > Slice and Dice > SS x5 > Eviscerate, with occasional Blade Flurries to spread the damage around.  I’m basically doing what smarter Rogue players than I have told me what to do, and running LFD so that I can level her up.

The reason I’m leveling a Rogue is that I want to level her Enchanting and Inscription.  Heirlooms work great for this purpose; they let me grasp the basics of the class, keep the same gear throughout the process, and every once in a while drop into LFD for some dungeon runs.

But at the end of all of this, after I hit level 80, will I be a good Rogue player?  No. Absolutely not.  I grab random gear with Agility, Hit and Stamina off the AH or from dungeons, but basically I’m powering through on Heirlooms.

Conversely, I plan on leveling my warlocks in Cataclysm with minimal Heirlooms, precisely so I can see what it’s like.  I want to experience the new gear.  I want to see what it’s like in the field, how it looks, how it works.  I want to sit there actually thinking about a quest reward before turning in the quest.

There’s a counter-argument to be made to this – namely, that you don’t need to be an expert in how a class levels to be an expert in it at the endgame, or to be a really good endgame player.  I absolutely agree with this.  If leveling is not your goal, but the endgame is, then you probably don’t need to know the intricacies of how a class levels up.

But there are skills you learn while leveling that are important (kiting, trapping, jump shots, CC, pulling, healing on the move) that you need at level 80/85.  Don’t dismiss them out of hand if your goal is the endgame.

NEITHER WAY IS WRONG

I know me.  I’m going to waffle back and forth between using Heirlooms, not using Heirlooms.  I love them too much to abandon them entirely.  Some toons are going to be totally tricked out, and that means they get the purple dress and skull shoulders and staff.  Others are going to be left to fend for themselves.

That’s okay.

Leveling, it seems to me, is as much about the journey as it is the destination.  Sometimes we just want to take the highway and get there as fast as we can.  Sometimes we want to take back roads.  One might be faster, but that doesn’t make it better.

And that is the crux of my case against Heirlooms.

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The Broken Battlegrounds of 4.0.1

So I logged in last night with the intent to get my PvP spec squared away, get my new Wrathful gear gemmed and enchanted, and spend some time in the battlegrounds to get a good, solid impression of how 4.0.1 has changed them.

It was, frankly, an awful experience.

Most nights when I have a bad night in the BGs, it’s because I’m losing, a lot, and my fellow teammates are being nasty about it.  I don’t mind clueless, I do mind vicious.

No, it was awful because of the bugs.  Glitches, freezes, disconnects, all conspired to make trying to fight in a battleground an exercise in frustration.

The worst part, in asking around, I know that this is not universal.  It’s there, people are having problems — but not everyone.

I’ve debated posting this.  I’d much rather have an analysis for you of what’s happening in the BGs right now, which, I’m told, is horribly imbalanced, with Resilience stacking making certain classes unkillable, with clothies running roughshod over melee… but all I have are bugs.

Here are the bugs I’ve seen.

THE FLAG BOSS / MAGE TABLE / CLICKING IS DANGEROUS

There’s a bug with one line tooltips where your client locks up/disconnects when you mouse over anything that turns your cursor into a cogwheel – like, say, the flags in Arathi Basin, mage tables, warlock portals, the Headless Horseman’s altar – anything you need to click that has a 1-line tooltip can cause it.

For this one, there’s a fix: CogFix, an addon that eliminates the tooltip.  It works okay in most situations – I stopped crashing at the flag, at least – but there were still some other situations that still did it, like the fantastically bugged EoE.

RANDOM DISCONNECT AND DESERTER DEBUFF

I love this one.  For no rhyme or reason, the client locks up, crashes or disconnects, and when you log back in you have the Deserter debuff.  This one happened to me a lot last night, and unlike previous patches, there seems to be no way to get back in without picking up the Deserter debuff.  I’ve DCed before and gotten back in to the same battle within 30 seconds; now, the debuff prevents that.

I don’t really care about the Deserter debuff.  It’s annoying, but if this is just a case of the debuff being tuned more strictly, I can live with it.

But I DCed from 8 out of 10 battlegrounds last night.  It didn’t matter how much activity was on the screen, or system load, or anything like that – I’d be running along, then BAM, client crashes, I start fumbling for my authenticator.

Deserter.  Ugh.

This instability has made any sustained BG play basically impossible for me. After a while, the sane response is to go do something else.

SCOREBOARD ERRORS

I’ve seen two different kinds of scoreboard errors so far.  The first is that people who leave the BG are still listed on the scoreboard, causing it to be useless as a roster.  When you see that you’re facing 44 people in Alterac Valley, something is definitely wrong.

The second bug is that not everyone shows up on the scoreboard, and if you’re not on the scoreboard, you apparently don’t get any honor for winning or losing.  Which, kinda sucks.

HONOR POINT REWARDS

I did the Grizzly Hills and Wintergrasp PvP quests for a few honor points, but figured I’d work towards my next Wrathful piece in the battlegrounds.  The quests aren’t bugged, they appear to give you the amount they say they will.  The BGs don’t, though.  I had two losses, which I completed all the way through, and failed to get either the amount of honor listed on the scoreboard or the daily quest minimum.

If I can force myself back into the BGs, I’ll try to track this more concretely.  It was only when I opened up my currency tab and saw 72 honor points for the entire night that I realized what was happening.

CLASS IMBALANCE

See, this is what I wanted this post to be about – how are things going in the battlegrounds?  Which classes seem to be doing well, which are struggling?

I don’t really have a lot of firsthand knowledge, though.  Demo seems strong, though I’m having trouble playing it.  Destro is definitely strong.  Affliction seems to be fine, actually.  Casters seem to be doing quite well in general.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some crash-free playtime in soon to give a better update than that.

BEFORE YOU ASK

2008 Macbook 4,1, 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM, Intel GMZ X3100 video card, 144MB VRAM, fresh installation of Warcraft.

HERE’S WHERE YOU SAVE THE DAY, OR AT LEAST THIS POST

So I was writing up this bug report known as a post when it occurs to me: I might not have any clue what’s going on in the BGs right now because they’ve gone all Crashy McCrasherson on me, but my smart readers surely must!  YOU have been in the battlegrounds of 4.0.1 and seen the effects of Resilience, of class changes, of the new water textures!  YOU have got the knowledge we all seek!

Let me know your impressions in the comments.  If I can’t BG directly, I’ll do it vicariously through you.

Here’s to hoping 4.0.3 is more stable!

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Blizzard Killed My Dog


Shaggy always did have a sweet tooth.

I was looking forward to Patch 4.0.1.  There’s something exciting about having things change; new things to learn, new ways to do things, new stories to tell.  Sure, there was apprehension, because changes that you don’t know about can be scary, but in general I think change is necessary.  It forces you to adapt.

My enthusiasm even kept me going through problems with the patch download, the first time I’ve ever had problems there.  Even though the servers have been up for about 12 hours, I still haven’t gotten to log in because my installer can’t handle baby murloc noises.  Maybe they’re too cute?  I don’t know for sure, but I’m reinstalling from scratch to see if maybe a fresh installation will do it.

But my enthusiasm vanished when I heard that warlock minions had been renamed in 4.0.1.  Last night it was temporary; today it is permanent.  When you summon your demons, you may have one of them keep the same name, but the rest… are all new.

Helola HATED that I put her in this shot. Heh. I called her Penguin-Girl for weeks!

Warlocks don’t get to choose their demon’s names.  We find out their names as part of the summoning rituals, of enslaving them to our will.  And while they’re our slaves, servants, and minions, they are also our constant companions.  They adventure with us, they fight for us, they die for us, they come back for us; we didn’t choose them, they didn’t choose us, but together, we’re a team.

Cynwise’s demons are part of her, part of her character.  Her relationship with each one of them is complicated and unique.  Part of the story that I’ve spun as I’ve played this crazy game has been around those demons; lesser characters, but characters in their own rights.  They make each warlock unique; no matter how you try to replicate them, the demons distinguish us from each other.

The names may not be unique, but they make the warlock unique.

But now, without warning, that part of my character is gone.  The sinister, sexy Helola who graced the pages of Arren’s site, the one who provides the dark reflection of Cynwise’s personality? Gone. Thoglos, the voidwalker who always stands on my questgivers, the one who shields ‘wise when she hurls herself into melee?  Gone.  Chojub, her imp with a sense of humor who randomly pulls bosses? See ya.  Skelzeras, the grumpy Felguard who was really quite a pushover?  Thanks for the help in ICC, buddy.

And Shaagrym, dear Shaggy, Cynwise’s felpuppy, the rage magnet, the reason Affliction is so feared in battlegrounds… my companion in so many of these fights that you’ve read about on this site. Shaggy is gone, too.

From the blue post:

We apologise for any inconvenience these name changes might cause and thank you for your patience and understanding.

Patience? Understanding?

You killed my dog and replaced him with a lookalike, and you want my understanding?

I’m a Wrathbaby; started playing in November 2008.  In two years, I’ve grown really attached to my demons.  I can only imagine what it’s like for warlocks who started playing in 2004.

This is changing my character, without my consent.  In RP terms it would be godmodding. Even though I don’t RP with others, I do experience the story of Warcraft through the view of my character; and now a fundamental part of that character is gone.

Chojub LOVES Chaos Bolts!

I shouldn’t be this angry.  I shouldn’t let myself get so upset over something that I do for fun, for something that I do to amuse myself in my idle time.

But I am.

I’ve been an IT professional for 15 years with experience in large enterprises. Professionally, I understand that there are likely technical reasons behind this, and that the mistake, once made, is irrecoverable.  The names were probably not permanently stored, but randomly assigned and it’s that random assignment that was lost.  There were significant changes to the way in which demons were handled, and summoned… I get that.

Yet, as a player, I can’t get past that my dog is dead.  I might have a new dog, just as good as my old one.

But I don’t want a new dog.  I want my old one.

See, Shaggy wasn’t just a mobile DoT with special abilities I could keybind.  From a development perspective I can see treating him as such, but from that perspective, my warlock is just a mob that accepts player instructions with a defined set of abilities that can be executed in specific sequences with specific results.  This perspective, while absolutely factual and correct, ignores the elements of imagination that make us want to participate in this game.

I could play a little floating box that casts a damage over time spell that inflicts 40-80 points of Shadow Damage every 3 seconds for 18 seconds.  Or, I could play Cynwise the warlock, the ambitious girl from Northshire who was jealous of her sisters and forged her own dark path to power.  And who mastered a series of increasingly powerful demons, bending them to her will.

Which one is more interesting to you?

The first time I met Skelzeras, he helped me kill Ony-60. Thanks, you big lug!

Each and every warlock has a story to tell about their demons.  Cynwise didn’t meet Skelzeras, the Felguard, until she needed to spec Demonology to take on Onyxia at level 60.  Now, a year later, I’ve been raiding ICC as Demonology for 9 months and depend on the big lug to do major damage and provide the buffs our raid needs.  He is the one who pulls Lady Deathwhisper, who charges ahead of the tank on Marrowgar, who is the sign to every tank in the raid that Cyn is pulling, get ready to fight to hold threat.

Skelzeras is impressed by the decor, not the boss. Don't let his expression fool you.

For someone who I didn’t expect to like very much, Skezel has grown on me.  He and I have seen a lot of things together I’d never thought I’d see in the game.

Thoglos is my Voidwalker, first my leveling companion, later my best friend against rogues and other melee classes.  Thog has tanked entire instances for me, rounding up all the mobs for me to then Shadowfury and Hellfire down. He shares every Voidwalker’s tendency to stand on quest givers, but he was always apologetic.

Thog, COME DOWN FROM THERE! I can't take you ANYWHERE!

He just never moved unless I told him to.

CHOJUB LOVES FIRE! YES, MISTRESS!

Chojub is my imp.  He pulls bosses and then pretends he had nothing to do with it.

You know no one in the guild believes you, Chojub?  You do know that, right?

Oh, whatever.  He doesn’t care if they know or not, he’ll keep on causing trouble no matter what.

"Mistress, surely I can find you a date somewhere else?"

Helola was the most evil of all of Cynwise’s demons.  Malicious, ruthless, manipulative, always willing to do whatever was necessary, Helola is the dark side of Cynwise, always tempting her to do what is effective versus what is right.

She’s also really good at Seduce-nuking people to death.  Damn, she was good at that.

Shaggy likes the Underbelly. He's got a bed there and everything.

This is my dog, Shaggy.

There are many felhunters like him, but this one is mine.

Remember when we pulled Deathspeaker’s Camp together, Shaggy?  Good times.

Chojub likes to practice his skateboarding when I'm not looking.

I know that there are probably technical reasons why it’s impossible to go back, why when I log in I’ll be faced with at least 4 strange new demons.  With Cataclysm on the horizon there may be no resources available for this kind of a bug fix, and even the simple fix – giving warlocks the ability to rename their demons – might be too much to handle with a major deadline approaching.

I don’t care. My practical, professional side can go shove it.  I don’t care.

Blizzard killed my warlock’s dog.  And her blueberry, and her sexy whip-cracker, and her big guy with the axe, and the little dude who throws fire.  If I’m lucky, I get to keep one of them, but the rest are all gone.

There was a story there, a story I was looking forward to continuing to tell, of seeing the new lands of Cataclysm.  My demons were a part of that story… or they were, until now.

Warlocks are the single least played class in Warcraft.  They’re tough to master, hated by opponents in PvP, hated by tanks and healers in PvE.  They are complex, confusing, squishy.  Players who not only play them, but love playing them, are a minority.

And Blizzard just killed our dogs.

I don’t know if I’m going to play Cynwise at this point.  I feel that strongly about this, that I just don’t know.  I may as well race and faction change her, since she’s not the character I was playing this weekend.  In game, and in the pages of this weblog, I tried to create a strong female character who represents a way of looking at battlegrounds – and her demons are part of that.

It’s odd for me to write that.  Cynwise is my main, and I really had no intentions of changing that.  But Cynwise without Chojub, Shaagrym, Helola, Thoglos, and even that big lug Skelzeras?

She’s just as strange to me as these replacements are now.

Damnit.

I can’t believe they killed my dog.

—-

UPDATE: Blizzard is at least looking into this now.  Blue post:

The Warlock naming issues is still under investigation but thus far it appears that the change was not intended but an after effect.

Under investigation, at this time, is if the name change can be reversed. Though that may not be possible, we await more information.

Let’s hope it can be reversed.
—-
BIG HUGE UPDATE: Blizzard found our minions!  From Bornakk, who I could hug right now:
Since the release of 4.0.1, more than a few warlocks have noticed that their pets are in fact no longer their familiar demonic servants, and instead appear to be new entities with different names. We’ve been able to pinpoint the cause of the issue, which should be resolved by tomorrow for any warlocks that log in for the first time from then on. We’ve also been able to determine that we will be able to restore any renamed warlock pets to their original pre-4.0.1 names during next week’s scheduled maintenance.
For those of you who like your new pet names, we’re working on a feature for a future patch that will allow you to refresh your summons and essentially generate a random pet name without having to level a new warlock.
I’ve left the original post as-is, because it’s basically a love letter to my demon minions and is worth keeping.  I <3 you guys!
—-

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Friends and Foes

I enjoyed my time in the leveling Battleground brackets with Cynwise.  I call them leveling brackets now, but back then they were just the non-endgame brackets, the place where people would go to let off steam and grind some Marks of Honor.  Since you didn’t gain any experience points in them, your characters could stay in a bracket indefinitely just by sticking around a major city and not going anywhere.

Your character may not have gained experience, but you, the player, certainly would.  You’d meet the same characters over and over again, both on your team and on the other side.  Having a smaller, more stable PvP population meant that you would get to know your fellow players.  Not well, mind you.  But you’d chat about how the other BGs were playing, get a sense for people’s strengths and weaknesses, and even find enemies you’d enjoy facing – even if it’s because you wanted to settle a score.  When people would level out of a bracket (always in Alterac Valley) there would be congrats and farewells.

There was one troll rogue in particular – Waternoose from Stormrage, though I can’t find him in the armory to be sure of the spelling – that bedeviled me throughout the 69 bracket.  He would make it a point to come and gank me at least once every battle, and I would make it a point to Fear him around whenever the opportunity presented itself.  It was a lot of fun zoning in and going, oh crap, it’s Waternoose.  Other clothies had similar opinions of him.

Once you get to the endgame the population swells, and it’s harder to get to know people.  It’s also harder to form a sense of community in the leveling brackets, as players move through the levels so quickly that you have maybe a few days to get to know fellow battleground enthusiasts, if that.  From what I’ve seen the twink brackets are the place with the strongest sense of community and player recognition – several times in the past few days I’ve gotten detailed precis of opponent’s behaviors in /bg chat.  (Like, spooky awareness of player behavior – “he’s losing, he’s going to /afk… the he goes.”)

I bring up these old war stories because they highlight a problem in battlegrounds and, to a lesser extent, the Dungeon Finder tool. Communities are built through repeated personal contact.  The changes to battlegrounds in Wrath have increased convenience (and therefore appeal) but lessened the sense of community.  If battlegrounds go cross-battlegroup in Cataclysm, thereby massively expanding the pool of available servers each BG pulls from, it could all go out the window.

But it doesn’t have to.

THE PROBLEM OF SERVERS

The biggest problem is crossing servers; there’s no way to talk to people that you’ve just worked with in a battleground or dungeon run unless you use RealID.  You can’t add them to your /friend list, because the list doesn’t work that way.

I read an interview with Ghostcrawler where he pointed out this was one of the biggest challenges of Warcraft – you meet someone at a social gathering, discover you both play WoW, and then discover you play on different servers.  Bummer.  You can’t play together.

RealID is a step towards solving this, a bit.  You could exchange IDs and at least talk to each other, if not actually play together.  But you couldn’t raid together, or queue up for a BG together.

Earlier this week I was talking smack to @morkuma on Twitter, and since we’re in the same battlegroup but play different factions, we decided we were going to try to face each other in a BG.   We tried for almost two hours to get into the same battleground but couldn’t.  Even something like Alterac Valley, with long queue times, was impossible to coordinate.  It was really frustrating to want to face someone in friendly competition but to be completely unable to make it happen.

The worst part was realizing I could /ignore Morkuma and the system would prevent me from ever grouping with him, but I couldn’t /friend him to get a matchup.

/FRIEND, /FOE, AND /IGNORE

What we need is a better way to manage who we group with in the randomizer.  Both the Dungeon Finder and the BG Finder work in fairly similar ways: you can join by yourself, or as part of a party, or as a complete party.  You have control over who you don’t want to group with cross server through the /ignore command, and control over who you group with on your server with your party.

What we need is an inverted /ignore command for your friends … and your enemies.  Here’s how I see it working.

  • Expand your /friends list to include cross-server friends.  There doesn’t need to be any RealID-like functionality added here – you don’t need visibility to see if they’re on.  This is just to set up a list for use in the queues later.
  • Create a /foe command to ‘friend’ characters from the other faction.  Again, this is just building a list.
  • Add a “Friends and Foes” checkbox to your queue. When checked, this would check your /friends and /foes and see if any of them are in queue, too.  If they are, you’re treated as tagalong to their invite and the system attempts to put you into the same battleground.  If not, you get a small delay added to your queue to allow your friends to queue up too – and then you’re placed as normal, with a warning that no F&F are available in this instance.

You can think of this as giving you priority to certain random which contain /friends and /foes, without guaranteeing a spot in them.

The idea here is to try to group you with your Friends and Foes before inserting you into a normal queue.  This isn’t as easy as it sounds; the queue will need to take into account that the target may be in normal mode, and should queue as quickly as possible, while you are in F&F mode, where you’d prefer to wait to queue with a friend (up to a point).  There’s also the question of delay: do you look just at the people queued for battlegrounds right now, or poll them periodically for 2 minutes to see if someone joins?

Perhaps one solution is that if you have mutual /friends (or mutual /foes) then you’re treated as a single unit within the queue, and placed only in battlegrounds that have space available on both sides. If it’s one-sided, however, then the placement delay kicks in.

I look at this as a nontrivial problem that appears trivial to outside communities.  There are a lot of complicated use-cases that the queuing system needs to account for, and the inner workings of their logic may make this well-nigh impossible to do.

But it would increase the fun of the game.  Playing with friends on the Internet is what this game is about; removing the server restriction would be worth it.

STALKERS AND GRIEFERS

As I was mulling the /foe idea over in my head, eventually I settled on one main problem – griefers.  I enjoyed my fights with Waternoose, but he won an awful lot of them.  What if he’d chosen me as his /foe, but then kept singling me out for camping?  And what if this behavior carries on beyond the battlegrounds and dungeons of Azeroth?  This isn’t like following someone on Twitter; you can actively ruin someone’s fun by griefing them.

The best solution I came up with is to have /ignore work cross faction, and /ignore trump everything else. As soon as I realize someone is deliberately trying to ruin my gameplay, click ignore and I never see them again.   Done.

(Making /ignore account-wide would be awesome, by the way.)

Ultimately, the possibility of abuse is the biggest concern I have with Friends and Foes queuing.  It could lend itself to some bad behavior in the battlegrounds as well as the dungeons.  Imagine trying to queue as a tank but getting healers all from the same guild on a different server, all who refuse to heal you?  All because you vote kicked one of their guildies?

Bad times.

REAL ID TO THE RESCUE?

Perhaps this is where RealID comes into play again.  The whole idea behind RealID is to allow you to connect to real-world friends, to have control over who friends you – and who doesn’t.

There’s something to be said for adding an additional layer of personal contact to the random queues. If I know someone outside of the game – met them at a party on Ghostcrawler’s yacht, got challenged to a duel on Twitter, etc – then I presumably have a way to exchange information to set up RealID outside of the game with that person.  Easy enough to do, and easy enough to set up.

But what about the people you casually meet in the BGs and LFDs of this world?  The ones where you’d like to PvP or run a heroic with them again, but don’t really want them to know all about you?  There’s a gap here that the systems don’t really fit.  Either you’re close, or you’re completely isolated.  Where’s the middle ground?

The battleground communities that existed when I was leveling Cynwise still exist.  They’re out there. You’ll strike up a conversation in the flag room during preparation, or maybe tell a joke while guarding a flag in Arathi Basin, or find some really inspiring leaders in the Isle of Conquest.  It’s just hard to find them, and harder to keep them going when you do find them.  Removing battlegroups will make it even harder, as the sheer number of people will make it increasingly likely you will never see any of those people you spent 20 epic minutes with ever again.

And that’s sad.  It’s not fun.

This isn’t a simple problem for Blizzard to solve.  I know it’s not.  While I, personally, would like the ability to create an ad hoc community of my own to PvP within, there are some serious, viable concerns with how it could be implemented.  There’s the rub.

(Though, seriously, Blizzard: consider account-wide /ignore lists as a start.  Please?)

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Embracing Constraints

There’s never enough. Time, people, money, focus, whatever it is – there’s never enough of it to go around.

If I had enough time, I am sure that I’d be Arena Battlemaster Loremaster Cynwise, the Light of Dawn, goldcapped several times over. More time would mean more opportunities to do those things necessary to reach the pinnacle of every aspect of the game.

But I don’t have unlimited time, and neither do you. We all have limits.

And limits are wonderful thing, because limits create focus.

When you can’t have everything, you have to choose those things that matter the most to you and discard the rest. If I want to do X, I can’t spend that time doing Y; so which one is more important to me?

Without constraints, you don’t have to make choices. Yet our choices make us who we are.

Work with what you have. Don’t reject your constraints: embrace them.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT

A little while ago I realized that time was running out on the World of Warcraft as I knew it. I mean, I’d known intellectually that major changes were coming, but I was pretty content to pass the time doing what I enjoyed. I’d pvp some nights, raid others, play the auction house others. (Okay, who am I kidding, I played the AH every chance I could.)

I was content.

But then the Beta came along, and more of my friends and acquaintances started playing in it. And the pre-expansion blues hit, when folks went back to school, the markets stabilized, but folks were on less, maybe leveling alts, maybe doing… things?

And then came the Fall of Zalzane/Operation: Gnomeregan, and now the 4.0.1 PTR, and something became very, very clear.

I had two, maybe three months tops, to do everything I want to do in Azeroth before it all goes away. No more delays, no more tomorrows. I’d get maybe a day or so warning – a week if I was lucky – before Cataclysm hit the live servers.

Here it is, the biggest constraint of all: the world you’re playing in is doomed. It’s like we’re players in a Greek tragedy, and the Chorus is telling us that our fate is coming to meet us.

On top of having to find time to play amidst real life, of finding people who are interested in doing the things you’re interested in too, comes an unalterable deadline: Soon this will all be gone.

It’s not the time to panic. Now is the time to get to work.

KNOW YOUR MOTIVES

In my first version of my Cataclysm Bucket list, I had a lot of goals that seemed big at the time. Go fishing in zones that are getting changed! Run old classic dungeons! Level a bunch of alts!  Ony Ony Ony!

You know what? I went to Azshara to fish, and the fishing there sucks. The beaches are hard to get to, there are grumpy turtles and Naga everywhere, and the pretty places are just acres of unfulfilled promise; scenery, like Crystalsong Forest, only more disappointing.

And Onyxia was fun to duo at 60, but she’s now a loot pinata at T10 gear.

In the year since I’d written that list, my priorities had changed. I couldn’t force myself to level alts that I knew I’d abandon; travelling to places I’d already been didn’t interest me at all. So what was I left with?

I wanted to experience the Horde from their perspective, before it all changes.

And I wanted to kill the Lich King.

Two different goals, but all doable in the time left to me.  The biggest problem would be motivation. I like doing content once, but going over the same thing bores me. It’s why I PvP so much: every battle is different, even if the maps are the same.

THE OTHER SIDE

I tried, and failed, to level alts on the Horde side of my server.  The best leveling area in the game, Eversong/Ghostlands, saw me get stuck before I finished any of the cool questlines, and I never went back to any of the other starting areas.  The highest I got was a level 17 mage, who I leveled the last few levels in Warsong Gulch, which kinda missed the point of it all.

This changed when I faction changed my level 19 warrior twink, Cynderblock, to pursue some best in slot gear.  I’m over there, grinding away some quests for a cool shield, when I realize — I could just go do all the starting areas. No pressure to level up a throwaway alt, no need to start out weak and gear up with the same crappy quest gear — just quest for the cool rewards and see what there is to see.

Then I thought… wait a minute, I could get all the reputation gains from the Horde quests, and then faction change back to Alliance and do the same… maybe I could get Ambassador?  Ambassador at level 19?  Is that even possible?

That crazy thought was exactly the motivation I needed.  I found out that I really did want to see all of the Horde areas, but I didn’t want to do it and never look back.  I wanted it to matter.  I needed to put constraints on my leveling to make it crazy, absurd, audacious.

Try for Ambassador at level 19?  Exalted with all 5 factions, without a mount?  SIGN ME UP.

Back at an old job we were asked to set BHAGs: big, hairy, audacious goals. These were goals to not just stretch yourself, but push yourself to do things you’d never rationally consider.

A BHAG was what I needed, a BHAG that embraced constraints.  Plenty of folks can, and do, level through the starting zones in a very short period of time.  I don’t enjoy leveling enough to do that to myself once, let alone five times.  But doing something on a character that you are going to keep, where you don’t know if you can succeed, and where there are some specific limits?

Yes.  By setting limits creativity flourishes.  And that’s what happened to me with the Level 19 Ambassador project.

Cynderblock has completed nearly 400 quests in every single Horde zone from 1-30.  Every quest that was available to a level 19 character and awarded reputation with one of the 5 main factions is complete.  The only exceptions were two of the rare beast quests in the Barrens (couldn’t find them) and the repeatable Chen’s Empty Keg quest in Ratchet.  I looked at that and said, let’s try this without that, and if we need it later we can come back for it.

I’ve started the faction change process again, this time to bring Cynderblock back to the Alliance as a Human — hopefully Diplomacy’s bonus will be enough to get her over the finish line.  If not, there are some daily quests during the Harvest Festival to try.  And if not.. we might be brewing beer in the Barrens.  Or we’ll wait for Cataclysm and do all the *new* quests.

All I needed to do was find the right constraints to get this one done.

THE COMING MONTHS

I still have a bit of work ahead of me on Cynderblock; I have to go visit all the Alliance starting areas, doing all the quests I’d skipped over the first time.  There are areas I know I skipped entirely (Loch Modan, Darkshore, Ashenvale) that are changing in Cataclysm, so I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

And there’s also the little matter of the Lich King.

I never expected to raid; when I first started playing, raiding seemed to be completely out of the question. I didn’t even run dungeons while leveling!

So I’m pretty happy that I found a guild who would take my PvP-educated self through heroics, and then 10-mans, and finally 25-mans.  It’s helped me grow immensely as a player, but there’s one thing missing.

After weeks and weeks and weeks in Icecrown… I still haven’t killed the Lich King.  Our guild has, but I haven’t.

I want Arthas down before Cataclysm.

And I will get him.

NARROW YOUR FOCUS

I’ve heard a variety of dates around Cataclysm’s release date: early to mid-November, late November, early December.  I don’t think anyone knows yet.

But I can look at the calendar and say, I have 6 weeks before the earliest feasible date, 2 months tops.  What are the most important things for me to get done?

Two titles: Ambassador and Kingslayer.  Everything else is a bonus.

Embrace the deadline.  Narrow your focus and make sure you get the things done you really want to get done.

Cataclysm will come soon enough.

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The Walls of Wintergrasp and Terrain Exploits

I hate to sound like all I’m thinking about these days are exploits, but I was recently shown a conversation between a player and a GM which confirmed a prediction I made back in February: that Blizzard applies the same reasoning to the walls of Wintergrasp as they do to the Stables of Arathi Basin. The conversation is between a player and a GM over attacking people near the mount vendors from the walls, something that happens all the time.

Blizzards stance, as stated in both blue posts and GM conversations, is consistent. From the blue post:

Players accessing any area of Arathi Basin in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves is considered a reportable exploit.

From the GM, Gallordrynn:

(I)f you can attack someone from a vantage point and they have no way possible to reach you or attack back then it is clearly terrain exploitation.

(GMs) will all agree that attacking someone from a vantage point in which they cannot escape, defend themself, or reach their attacker is considered terrain exploitation and is a bannable offense.

This now seems like a clear, well-articulated policy within Blizzard. It’s no longer just a blue post, it’s part of the GM’s handbook. There is a policy that says certain activities within PvP are considered bannable offenses. The language is clear and repeated several times. (“Vantage point.”)

But what, specifically, are these activities? How do they differ from normal PvP? Even with a clear policy and message, I’m as confused as the player in the screenshot as to what Blizzard considers an exploit and what they don’t. The message may be clear, but the application of it is certainly not. How can doing PvP get me banned?

In other contexts I can agree with what Blizzard is doing with this policy. There are times and places where you can exploit the terrain to your advantage, and doing so is grossly unfair to other players. That kind of thing should be stopped.

I don’t think Blizzard has fully considered the implications of this rule in Wintergrasp. In applying it to Wintergrasp Keep they’ve classified many PvP activities as bannable offenses. Not just world PvP ganking from the tops of walls, either — normal participation in the defense of the Keep, during a battle, is now a bannable offense.

There’s a time and place for every rule. Wintergrasp is not the place for this one.

WHAT IS A TERRAIN EXPLOIT?

Based on the rulings we’ve seen so far, I think we can make a working definition of what Blizzard considers to be a terrain exploit.

To exploit the terrain in PvP, you must cause damage from a position where your opponent:

  1. Can’t escape,
  2. Can’t defend themselves, and
  3. Can’t reach you.

There are therefore two vital components to a terrain exploit: damage and position. Each of those is problematic when talking about the fairness of an exploit, but damage is at least easier to identify.

My twink has been trying to get the Arena Grand Master trinket from the Gurubashi Arena in STV lately, and I’ve gotten to watch some wicked healing exploits first hand. Basically, a group of fighters will come into the arena with their healers lining the ring around the floor and mop up. The healers are untouchable by everyone – I play on a PvE realm, and they’re not flagged for FFA combat – and the only way to take out their DPS is to get them out of range of some of the healers and burn through the healers.

Given that several of those DPS were in full Wrathful PvP gear, killing them took a lot of coordination and focus. And then they’d show up again a few seconds later. :-(

According to Blizzard’s own statements, this is not an exploit. They’re not doing any damage, just healing their friends from an unassailable position. Even though that healing is directly affecting the outcome of PvP combat, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, it’s not an exploit.

It’s clever use of the rules of the STV Arena, that’s what it is. Work that one around in your head a bit.

The great thing about the STV Arena is that things are so clear cut in a PvA environment. Either you are flagged for PvA, or you are not. If you are flagged for PvA (down on the Arena floor), everyone can attack you. If you are in the stands, you are not flagged, and therefore untouchable (unless flagged for PvP.) The game very clearly draws a line between who is accessible and who is not.

But what about those areas where the lines are not so clearly drawn?

THE UNTOUCHABLES

There

We now have two examples of what Blizzard considers to be exploits: the roof of the Arathi Basin Stables and attacking people near the vendors from the walls of Wintergrasp Keep. What do these two situations share in common?

  1. Both take place in PvP zones between PvP-flagged players. There is no PvE in the area.
  2. Both involve a difference of elevation to separate the two players. They are on different surfaces with the exploiter having the high ground. (Thus, preventing the victim from being able to jump down to the other player.)
  3. There is no clear path between the two players. Pets can’t go from one to the other, warriors can’t charge, etc..
  4. Ranged attacks, and only ranged attacks, are possible between the two players.
  5. The exploiter has a line of sight defense readily available to them due to their position. They can attack and move back out of LoS quickly. While attacking both parties have LoS on each other; but the exploiter can break LoS with a few steps.
  6. There are clear escape paths available to the victims. They can quickly run out of range of the attacker, who must abandon their unassailable position to follow.

The situations aren’t identical, however.

  1. The Wintergrasp vendors are only available when the battle is not in progress, so this is not during a timed battleground. Arathi Basin has a PvP objective and a clock running.
  2. Because there is no battle, you can bring in unlimited reinforcements into the Wintergrasp zone. Arathi Basin is limited to 15 on 15, and you can’t summon your friends.
  3. Flying is permitted in Wintergrasp when there is no active battle, but never in Arathi Basin. This means that the exploiter is accessible to anyone with a flying mount who is either currently mounted or not currently in combat. In Arathi Basin, the Stables roof is accessible to anyone who knows how to jump.
  4. There are other Wintergrasp vendors who sell most, but not all, of the items in that location. There is only one flag at the Stables, and only one roof.
  5. There is a clear escape path in both cases, but in Arathi Basin the objective you’re abandoning is mandatory, not optional. You have to fight for the right to shop at the Wintergrasp Mall; fighting through the checkout line shouldn’t surprise anyone.

How do all of these compare against the stated policy (no escape, no way to defend themselves, or can’t reach the attacker)?

In both situations players can escape their attackers. The GM makes a big deal about the inability of the non-mounted victim to escape, but most sensible people in Wintergrasp just run out into the courtyard, get out of combat, and mount up. The position of the attacker doesn’t prevent the victim from escaping. If you choose not to run away and stand and fight, that’s your choice, but if you take off when you get hit you’ll likely get away. So it’s not really escape.

Classes with ranged attacks can defend themselves, but melee cannot, if by defense we really mean counterattack. There are no LoS bugs in AB or WG that prevent players in these positions from trading ranged attacks; the only limiting factor is range, and that would be true regardless of the presence of the wall or roof. If one side has range extension talents and the other does not, well, that’s an imbalance no matter where they are. The person with longer range will usually win, which is why most PvP talent builds take the range extension talents. It may be difficult to return fire if the attacker make smart use of LoS, but that’s true of anyone using LoS intelligently. Using LoS around a pillar or doorway achieves the same effect, where you create very small windows where you can cast instant spells on your target and then hide. If your opponent is spamming instants back at you, you’ll get hit, too. (LoS doesn’t defend against smartly placed AoE, though.)

Melee classes, however, are at a disadvantage in these situations. They can’t do much to the attacker except try to get up to their position by either climbing up to the roof themselves or by getting out of combat, mounting up, and flying to the top of the wall. This makes it harder for melee to effectively counterattack, though not impossible.

Obviously, nothing the attacker does from their high vantage point prevents the other player from using their defensive abilities. Real defensive abilities (Shadow Ward, Ice Block, bubbles of all shapes and sizes, etc.) function just like as if the attacker were on the ground shooting at them.

So the salient feature out of all of this is that the player does not have a clean path to their attacker. If they are a ranged class they can return fire, but there’s nothing a melee class can do once they’re in combat in that situation. Pets cannot travel from one player to the other (though pet ranged attacks still work), Warriors cannot Charge up a wall.

Pathing appears to be the common factor in determining if a position is an exploit position or not. A Warrior can’t directly attack someone on the balcony in the WSG flag room, but a pet can find its way to that person and savage them. The same warrior could run along that same path and reach the balcony (or roof, for that matter.) The different in elevation doesn’t matter, the fact that the warrior has no real counterattacks is irrelevant – if a dumb pet can get to that attacker, then the smart melee can, too.

We then have a definition to work with: terrain exploits are when you attack from a place where no clear path exists between you and your target, best tested by pet pathing.

But there’s a problem with this definition. A big problem.

THE PLATFORM PROBLEM

Wintergrasp Walls - THESE ARE THE OK PLATFORMS GUYS

Defensive Platforms in Wintergrasp

The above picture highlights the defensive platforms along the eastern side of Wintergrasp Keep. Each section of wall has three components: two walls, a central pillar, and a gun platform accessible from inside the keep. The guns only appear during a battle, and the platforms are often used during the battle as positions where defenders can attack the offense from relative safety. Melee players on the offense can’t get to them, and ranged offense have to establish LoS to attack defenders. Smart defenders duck back off the platform and heal between sniping folks on the ground.

The lower platforms around the tower are similar, though they don’t have guns. Guns do appear on the upper tower platforms, and if you have extended range talents you can stand up there and cast on the ground. On the lower platforms you’re fairly exposed to the enemy, but you can step behind the smaller walls or back up and break LoS to heal safely.

Pets cannot reach these platforms. Warriors cannot Charge up to them. The offense cannot reach them without breaking down a wall, unless you’re a Rogue with Shadowstep, but Shadowstep breaks pretty much every rule in the game.

Yet, these platforms are obviously intended as part of the defensive fortifications of the keep. This isn’t a situation like the walls, which you couldn’t get onto before flying was introduced in Wintergrasp. This isn’t like the roof of the Stables, where you have to be a proficient jumper to get up there. There are ramps with two stairs up to those gun emplacements. The lower tower platforms have walls that are lower and higher to give you defensive options. These platforms are important parts of the defense of the keep.

But the defensive platforms allow you to attack from a place where no clear path exists between you and your opponent.

It doesn’t matter if the Battle for Wintergrasp is in progress or not, honestly. If I’m on the platform, and you’re on the ground, you can’t get to me if I attack you. The situation is exactly the same as someone taking pot shots from the wall at players at the WG vendor… except there’s no shopping going on.

So is attacking from the defensive platforms an exploit? If I want to follow what Blizzard has set forth, yes, it is. But I’m encouraged to use them in the battle! To put them in usability terms, the platforms afford this use. They suggest that you are up high and can shoot at people, so you shoot at people from them!

The only difference between the defensive platforms and tops of the walls – aside from protecting the WG shopping experience – is that you could argue that the developers intended the platforms to be used that way, but not the tops of the walls. I heard this objection a lot when discussing Arathi Basin, and I think it’s particularly troublesome. Especially here.

THE PROBLEM WITH DEVELOPER’S INTENT

Wintergrasp Walls - The Developer's Intent

Okay, so where is it okay to stand?

Where is it okay to stand and fight? That’s really what this discussion comes down to, isn’t it? As players who want to follow the rules, but also want to win, where is it okay to stand in Wintergrasp? Knowing that you can get a ban from attacking from easily accessible locations makes me very uncomfortable. This entire post is trying to determine some logical rules telling me where I should and shouldn’t stand.

I had several great commenters disagree with me on the Stables roof exploit, saying that players aren’t stupid and they know what the intent of the developers are in a given situation, and that circumventing that intent is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. There is a lot of validity to this argument. I’ve fallen through the walls of Stormwind, which is obviously not the developer’s intent (though it’s ultimately harmless.) People who exit the starting area in Arathi Basin to cap flags before the start of a match are obviously circumventing not only the developer’s intent, but the rules of the battleground. (It’s the preparation period, for crying out loud!)

But what happens when it’s not so clear cut? What about when getting to a spot is trivially easy and part of the game? I’m no longer talking about a set of jumps onto a roof, I’m talking about landing your flying mount on a platform.

Let’s look at the walls of Wintergrasp in the picture above. I’ve marked off three types of areas, all which fit the criteria of attacking players from an unreachable position. Green areas are those which afford you to stand and launch ranged attacks at your opponents – either there are ramps leading up there, or stairs, or doors, or guns – something suggests that this would be a good spot to defend the walls from. Yellow areas are questionable areas. They’re accessible on foot while the battle is raging, but the affordance is less obvious. You have to climb over a defensive wall and drop down to get onto this wall. There are similar spots in Isle of Conquest, by the way, but they’re much easier to get to – just drop down off the tower and land on the keep wall. Red areas are only accessible via flying mount or parachuting in from Icecrown, and are probably considered off-limits during the battle.

Wintergrasp is especially problematic because there were two distinct phases in its existence: pre- and post- flight. When it launched it was like an old-Azeroth zone, with the only flight possible via taxi birds across it. If you took your flying mount over WG you would get dismounted. So all of those areas marked in red were completely inaccessible until patch 3.2, when flight was enabled in the zone – but only when the battle was not in progress. So you could argue that flight was never in the developer’s original intentions, since the zone, as released, was a ground-only zone, and that the red zones were never intended to be landed upon.

But if you look at the history of Wintergrasp’s development, they fully intended to have not only flight, but aerial combat within the battle! It was on the box but never made it into the game! That’s why the upper reaches of Wintergrasp are so developed; it wasn’t just a sense of completion, but also because the developer’s intention was to have flying PvP.

If you didn’t know the history of Wintergrasp’s development, you would still be presented with features like this room, atop one of the towers in the southern courtyard:

 

Huh. I wonder what

If you haven’t been in this room, which I believe was rumored to be one of the spawn points for the defenders, you should take a look. It’s a great example of Titan interior decorating.

As a player, what should you infer about flight in this zone? There’s a lot of exploring you can do above ground on the structures, a lot of interesting details coupled with flat areas for PvP. Folks often have running battles atop the walls. There’s nothing in here to say flight isn’t allowed, or that standing on the walls is a bad thing to do. This is a World PvP zone, where even on PvE servers people explore the terrain, make use of cover, and ambush folks mercilessly.

So why is it okay to engage other players where there is no clear path between you and them in some spots and others? What makes the platforms okay but the tops of walls not?

Here’s my biggest objection with saying that players should know the developer’s intention and use their judgement to know what is right and wrong. Sometimes, the developer’s intention clear. But when it is not, it is unfair to blame the players for misunderstanding unwritten rules. Players may get mixed signals because design goals changed mid-stream, or just because of bad design – but whatever the reason, it is clear that the No Clear Path policy in Wintergrasp directly contradicts elements of the battle itself, and saying that it’s okay in some cases because the developers intended it there is tacitly admitting that the rule is arbitrary.

Holding people to an arbitrary standard is unfair. Banning them for doing something you’ve actively encouraged is inexcusable.

THERE IS A REASON BEHIND EVERY SIGN AND RULE

Every time you see a bad sign, say on a refrigerator at the office or on the notice board at school, or run into a stupid, arbitrary rule or law, you can be assured that something prompted that sign or rule. Someone did something stupid that prompted someone else to make a rule that says you shouldn’t drink whiskey from someone else’s hat, or to put up that sign reminding folks not to eat other people’s lunches.

I think that’s the case here, with the No Clear Path rule. There are legitimate exploits that prompted Blizzard to put this rule in place, just not in Wintergrasp.

  • In Goldshire, it’s possible to jump up on top of both the Inn and the Smithy, allowing players to gank lowbies with impunity. Getting to these places involves some complex jumping and there’s no clear path.
  • On the Isle of Quel’Danas, attackers could get out of reach of the guards so that they could attack other players, but any retaliation would cause the guards to attack their victim instead. (I think Silithus worked like this, too.)

I’m sure there are other examples that led to this rule. In situations like Goldshire, you can see why Blizzard might step in and take action; it’s not fun, it ruins new player’s enjoyment of the game before they have really committed to it, etc.. It’s not a bad rule, per se.

It’s just that Azeroth has changed. World PvP battlegrounds like Wintergrasp are relatively new. The game changes, and rules have to adapt to those changes.

Look at the above picture of the WG heirloom vendors. The entire area is a PvP zone, a place where players try to gain every advantage when attacking other players. This place is where the most distracted players will be, as they consider how they’re going to spend their Stone Keeper’s Shards and Wintergrasp Marks of Honor. This is a target rich environment for ganking.

But if you play a ranged DPS class, don’t stand on the wall to attack, even though that’s the most advantageous spot for you to attack from, because you’ll get banned. No, the proper tactic now is to put your healer friend up on the wall and you fly down into the thick of things, which totally plays to your strengths as a ranged DPS. Don’t worry, the healer will keep you alive!

Wintergrasp is a world PvP zone with no new players. Anyone who gets here has been playing for a while and has a character who is within spitting distance of max level. Nearly everyone here can be assumed to have flying mounts, and it’s a good bet that the zone is filled with all 80s. If there’s any place in the world where World PvP can take place on equal terms, this is the place.

And yet, Blizzard is trying to apply a rule designed for other places and times here, which reveals the flaws of that rule.

ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WORLD PVP

Are you sure it

Here I am, atop the structure in the antechamber of VoA. The only way to get up here is to wait for a battle that destroys at least the top part of the chamber gates, fly in at full speed near the top, then pull up sharply. If you time it right, you’ll land right on this ring, which allows you to gank people below with minimal risk. You can be targeted pretty easily, and it’s easy to get flanked so there’s no LoS defenses, but you can cause a lot of havoc from up here.

I’m pretty sure that I shouldn’t attack people from up here. There are very specific conditions that have to be present to access this ring (gates must be open), and if you log out at the end of one battle and log in again after another one, you can be up there with no way for other players to reach you. So while the gates are down, this ring is like the walls of Wintergrasp Keep, albeit a little trickier to reach. But when they’re closed, you’re honestly inaccessible. It’s not fair to hit people from up there.

But this is world PvP. Just because you win Wintergrasp doesn’t mean you can walk in and out of it unmolested. I have heard of servers where one faction loses Wintergrasp only to successfully deny the other side access to VoA through PvP domination of the entrance. That’s pretty cool, actually; just because you lose a battle doesn’t mean you have to lose the war.

I confess, I was really disappointed when I saw the screenshot that started this post. I had hoped that Blizzard was not going to apply the same conditions to Wintergrasp that they’d imposed on Arathi Basin, that they’d recognize that part of the mechanics of the battle is making yourself unassailable on defense.

But they didn’t.

FIXING IT

I admit, I’d rather see this rule just go away than try to salvage it. But since it does serve a purpose in other contexts, perhaps Blizzard could make some changes to take Wintergrasp into consideration.

  • Don’t design new battlegrounds to use terrain exploits as part of their mechanics. Wintergrasp is now old content, but having the same behavior be okay in one place and time, and bannable in another, is confusing and demoralizing to players. Don’t give the defense this advantage in the new battlegrounds.
  • Don’t enforce terrain exploitation bans in battlegrounds which do have it as part of their mechanics. Save time and money by ignoring tickets of people attacking on the walls so you can focus on other, more serious problems with your staff, like hackers using programs to automatically gather resources.
  • Consider giving players more abilities to reach attackers in unusual locations. Rocket packs would be a good place to start. As used in the Gunship Battle, rocket packs give players the ability to move to unusual places while in combat. If this kind of item were made available for general use, this kind of exploit would be nearly impossible because players could always reach their attackers. Plus, rocket bears!
  • Treat healing and damage the same way. Exceptions like that make no sense and lead to further exploits, like in the Gurubashi Arena.

Rewriting the policy would be another obvious step, but to be honest I don’t know how you could do it to be effective in the places you need it (Goldshire) and not where you don’t (Wintergrasp, BGs).

TL;DR

Blizzard considers attacking other players from a vantage point where your opponent cannot easily reach you terrain exploitation, which is a bannable offense. This rule was applied in Arathi Basin to players accessing the Stables roof, and is now being applied to players attacking other players near the Wintergrasp vendors from the top of the wall.

This rule should not apply to players in Wintergrasp for several reasons.

  1. Mounted players can immediately escape. Unmounted players can run back out of range of their wall-bound attacker, get out of combat, and mount a flying mount. If a player is on a flying mount, the attacker is not inaccessible.
  2. Wintergrasp Keep has many vantage points where opponents cannot reach defending players that are integral parts of the Battle for Wintergrasp. The gun platforms on the walls and towers, as well as the platforms surrounding the towers, give defenders the same advantage as being on top of a wall.
  3. Taking advantage of these terrain exploits is encouraged by the design of the Keep, as well as the tactical necessities of the battle.
  4. The introduction of flight back into Wintergrasp only adds to the number of vantage points where players can exploit the terrain. It does not change that terrain exploitation, as defined by this rule, is both possible and encouraged by the design of the battleground.
  5. If there are differences between the vantage points that make some permissible but others not, they are not obvious to players, nor are they reflected in the rules as currently understood.

While it is almost certainly impossible to change Wintergrasp so that the rule can be fairly applied at this point, I hope that Blizzard will stop enforcing it in Wintergrasp and design their future battlegrounds to not encourage behavior that can get players unwittingly banned.

I love Wintergrasp. It pains me to have to choose between playing it with all my creativity and cunning and risking a ban, or playing it safe while my opponents do not.

But banning people for playing the way the game teaches them to play is not fair.

 

 

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