Tag Archives: Essays

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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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

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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Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

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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