Monthly Archives: September 2011

Five Quality of Life Improvements I’d Like to See in WoW

There was a question on the class feedback threads – what quality of life improvements would you like to see? – that I quite liked. My only complaint is that it was class-specific, not general.

So, here’s my non-warlock list.

1. Bring back the city portals. In an effort to get everyone out to see the world, removing the city portals concentrated everyone in SW and Org. No, not concentrated – isolated. Most toons don’t leave the city. (Corollary: give mages a wider variety of ports.)

2. Allow people to change their RealID names. Learn from Facebook and Google+; people want the features of RealID without divulging personal info. This is still an issue, even if the forums don’t require it.

3. Clickable fishing poles. This is a small thing, but it screws up new players all the time. Most items are click-to-use, but not poles, and not ranged/thrown, for that matter. Having to find the ability is jarring.

4. Publish your Macro API and keep it up to date. Include basic tutorials in-game for making /startattack macros to streamline early play. Stop breaking my focus macros! :)

5. Cross-server heirlooms. Seriously, I could fill a list with this one entry. The inability to send heirlooms around really dampens playing on different servers with friends. If this is too big of a problem to solve, consider controllable XP buffs instead – you “unlock” certain tiers of XP gain that can be toggled on and off for a fee, just like the Experience Eliminators. Divorce the XP boost from the gear.

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Grinding Calories: Standing Desks, Treadmills, and WoW

I’ve mentioned a few times that I mine while walking on a treadmill. I grind out ore and volatiles (my DK is a Engineer/Miner, thank you, Electrostatic Condenser) in Warcraft while also grinding out serotonin and calories IRL. It takes a little bit of work to set up, but once you get your workspace arranged properly it’s easy to turn farming into an authentically healthy activity.

I’m not really big on spending a lot of time gathering in WoW, even though there have been times during Cataclysm that it’s been really profitable (especially early on, when raw mats were so expensive.) I enjoy gathering professions while leveling, but that’s because I gather while I’m doing something else – leveling – and not just going out and spending hours chasing yellow nodes.

(Coincidentally, I really start to struggle with keeping my professions up when I start hitting PvP and LFD for leveling in the mid 50s. I don’t really quest through Outland or Northrend.)

I’m also not really a big fan of just walking on a treadmill. At the very least, I need some music to keep me going. I really prefer going outside for a walk, but I have the treadmill because there are lots of times when I just can’t get out for a walk – too hot, too sunny, need to be near the computer for work, etc. – so I figured I’d try setting up my treadmill so I could use my computer, and see how it all worked.

Other WoW players before me figured out a long time ago that these two activities can go well together. So, I thought, hey, let’s give it a try.

Let’s take a look at my setup.

STAND IN THE PLACE WHERE YOU ARE (NOW FACE LEFT)

Before we talk about the treadmill, let me talk about my desk first. I work at a standing desk. A few months ago, I switched from sitting on an exercise ball to a standing desk. There are numerous health benefits to standing instead of sitting all day long, and as someone who is susceptible to both back problems and cardiovascular disease I decided to give it a try.

I love standing while I work. My back is better, I’m more alert throughout the day, and I move around a lot more. My biggest challenge has been learning to wear shoes again – I worked barefoot for many years before this – and that’s not been that bad. (I may still get an anti-fatigue mat, because even though I’m through those brutal first few days of standing, there are still days where I get tired of it.)

I’m not trying to convince people of the merits of a standing desk here, though, but rather to point out that because my monitor is at eye level already. Getting the monitor up to your eye level is the biggest problem you’ll have with playing WoW on a treadmill. Before I had the standing desk, I mounted a smaller monitor on the wall with a VESA swing-arm mount and put the laptop on the floor. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. (You could put a small compact-footprint computer on the wall and use that with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or run a long monitor cable to your existing computer with a KVM switch – lots of options here.

The desk is essentially a buildup resting on top of my normal desk. It’s made out of 4×1 pine boards that my son and father-in-law put together in his workshop. I work on the black MacBook, which is connected to both the large monitor and various virtual machines (including one below, in the desk). The monitor hutch serves to both put the monitor at eye level and clean up cable clutter around the laptop. The large open panels down below are for electronic device storage; I have a Time Capsule under there, and will probably be moving more hard drives down there once I get my act together.

The key here was to experiment with the heights of the various components before setting in on a design. My first iteration of this desk was done with bankers boxes, shelves, and a laptop box for the monitor. The bankers boxes were cheap and surprisingly sturdy, but I could have used plastic milk crates or book boxes stuffed with newsprint to hold the shelf up. I added and subtracted until I got a feel for what was a decent height, then I measured where an ergonomic placement of the keyboard should be.

For me, it was 12.5″ above the desk surface while standing. I’m 6′ tall with long arms; your mileage will no doubt vary.

The design is really simple – two boards across, one board high, a support in the middle, a backing piece with cable cutouts – but getting the monitor up is the most important thing for this exercise.

Now, let’s talk about the treadmill.

RUNNING TO STAND STILL

Above, you can see what the setup looks like with the treadmill deployed. I use a manual treadmill (something like this one) that is powered by walking – no electricity. That’s both good – because it’s much, much cheaper than an electric one – and bad, because it’s a bit noisier, and I end up stacking reams of paper underneath the bottom to change the angle to make it easy to maintain a slow walk. (Yes, as I print out documents I have to walk harder while mining.)  I got mine for about $175, and I don’t have any major complaints yet.

The treadmill raises you up several inches off the ground, so if your monitor was at eye level while standing, it’ll be slightly below eye level when you get up on the ramp to walk. My trick was to put my monitor slightly higher than eye level while standing to help correct my slouchy posture, which works out well with the treadmill. If you’re mounting it on the wall you’ll want to measure from the treadmill height, not from the floor. (And wear your shoes, too!)

I bolted a platform desk onto the handle bars of the treadmill. This is a piece of MDF with some U-brackets holding it steady on the bars by going around the foam and steel pipe. These brackets are normally used in plumbing, but they had the angle I wanted, so, whatever. I then covered the MDF with black webbed kitchen shelf liner to provide a solid grip for my keyboard and mousepad.

This entire contraption can then be moved in place to where I normally stand in front of the computer, providing a higher platform over the normal desk area, where my laptop sits. This is necessary because the normal desk is too low, since I’m now standing 5″ higher!

This kind of setup can work no matter if you’ve standing or sitting – as long as you can get some kind of platform bolted on to the treadmill, you can put your keyboard and mouse on it.

And once you have your keyboard and mouse on it, you can play WoW while walking.

FINAL ADJUSTMENTS

So here’s the thing. When I first put the platform on the treadmill, I didn’t realize how low it would be. The handlebars are generally made for you to grab with your arms down somewhat, while typing you want your forearms to be almost perpendicular to the ground. So when I put my laptop or keyboard on it, it’s really awkward to use while standing still, let alone while moving.

So I, uh, improvised to get them a little higher.

(I’ll settle on a height I like eventually. For now, LotR and a tissue box will have to serve.)

Walking while controlling a character in WoW is challenging. I don’t think I should do any activity involving other players while doing it – grinding honor in BGs is right out. You have to make adjustments to your actions to accommodate the balance issues you’re going to have. Your reactions will be slowed a bit, and it takes you very much out of the walking zone. So I personally stick to mining or herbing while doing it.

I exercise not to lose weight, but for mood control. I have found that it’s one of the few things that can reliably improve my outlook, settle my nerves, relieve stress, and help keep me positive. While this setup has taken a bit of time and effort to put together, I’m glad that I can now go take a walk without ever leaving my desk. Walking regularly is important to me.

And I have a lot of Engineers to level, so mining is pretty important to me in WoW, too. :)

Enjoy the walk!

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On My Continuing Struggles with Druid Healing

Cynli_-_scoreboard

So if there’s one thing I’ve learned about WoW bloggers, it’s that healers are an extremely passionate bunch. Make one observation on Twitter – especially if you’re having trouble with a class – and you will be SWARMED with helpful advice. You will literally get piled on by helpful druids, priests, paladins, and shamans. HERE LET US HELP YOU KEEP PEOPLE ALIVE.

And then suddenly you’re at the bottom of a pile of healers, all of whom are trying to hug you and let you know that it’s okay, you CAN do this.

This is, uh, somewhat different from the PvP community, where… how can I put this politely?

“Welcome to PvP! You’re probably going to hate everything you see in /bg chat for the next 6 months and spend more time at the spirit healer than you ever imagined. Enjoy!”

So I mentioned today that I wanted to try something different on my level 70 Druid, Cynli. She’s resto and healing battlegrounds right now. Healing them badly. I mean, I have finally overcome the problems of my UI – mouseover macros and raid frames are working for me – and I think I got the idea behind the spells – I know what Swiftmend does now, even if I don’t use it enough – but I’m still just kinda floundering along.

I’m also getting my Disc priest Cynedra up to level 70 (66 now), and I’m not floundering on her. I might not be using her to her full advantage – I basically bubble, renew, flash heal, and occasionally PoM the party – but I’m 50 times more competent on her than my druid.

It hit me last night that I wasn’t having fun healing on my druid, that I was just not getting it, and that perhaps I should try something else. And being a druid, I have a lot of options!

But by mentioning it on twitter, and opening up the new spec to public opinion (holy crap I know a lot of Boomkins), the Resto Druid community quickly banded together and SMOTHERED me in a leafy wave of enthusiasm.

Seriously. Do you guys have a Tree Signal or something? I think you do. I think there’s like some kind of alarm system that goes off in the druid healing community when someone even thinks they’re having trouble.

The Boomkin and Bears were right out of the gate, but the trees moved right behind, going WAIT WAIT WAIT WE CAN FIX THIS, YOU ARE BEING SILLY CYN.

Warlocks? We warlocks are like, oh look, another warlock rerolled mage today. I hate myself and will stick with this class because mages are too happy and OP, I like pain.

I feel like part of the problem is that I’ve gotten pretty good with Disc, and the Resto playstyle feels really … different. If I don’t have a bubble on someone in PvP, I can get it up and immediately stop the damage. BAM THIS FAR NO FURTHER. They get a Renew (if I’m moving) or a Flash Heal (if I’m not) and maybe a Binding Heal (if I’m injured too.) Then I move on to the next one.

On my Druid, I’m like, crap, they’re taking damage, Rejuvenate!

And then they die.

So I think I’m doing it wrong.

I’m really touched by the response of the druid community – y’all obviously have some kind of strange communication mechanisms that are far beyond the ken of this simple lock – and the enthusiasm Druids have for healing is contagious.

And very much appreciated by this struggling druid healer. So, thank you.

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The 20 v. 24 War

When the battleground brackets were split in two – from x0-x9 to x0-x4 and x5-x9 – several other changes were made which were to have a dramatic impact that wasn’t apparent at the time.

  • Characters who had reached the maximum level of their account type (trial accounts to 20, vanilla accounts to 60, BC accounts to 70, Wrath accounts to 80) were now placed in the XP-off brackets, aka the twink brackets.
  • Brackets were standardized so the highest level of an account type (60, 70, 80) were no longer the highest level within the bracket for some battlegrounds.

These changes were made, in part, to remove expansion twinks from the leveling XP brackets. A known problem with level 60 AV would be “Molten Core guilds” – guilds of characters on accounts which never upgraded to Burning Crusade, who raided the old instances for the best gear possible, and who would show up and DESTROY the opposition in the 51-60 Alterac Valley bracket.

(Oh god. Those guys were so good, you have no idea unless you saw them in action. It was hopeless fighting them with a pug. Even my twinked Death Knight got steamrolled.)

Placing expansion twinks in the XP-off bracket (which, logically, is where they belonged in the first place) would have probably not caused much of an uproar without the reorganization of the brackets. PvPing at the top of the bracket almost always guarantees that characters will be as powerful as they can possibly become. The only exception to this was the 10-19 bracket, where level 10s gain a huge benefit to their stats due to favorable combat statistic scaling. Everywhere else, the 9-level gap was just too much.

Expansion twinks found themselves flipped from the top of most of the brackets to the bottom, suddenly faced with level 64 or 74 or 84 opponents. Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds were still open to them, but battlegrounds suddenly presented a very new challenge. No longer was it level 70s beating up on each other, everyone equal – now players had to figure out if it was better to stay where they were and enjoy beneficial scaling, or level 4 levels and get additional gear, talents, abilities, and health.

Surprisingly, most twinks stayed put. You lose a huge amount of effectiveness by leveling from one expansion pack to another, and the gear generally doesn’t catch up until you reach the endgame of the next expansion. The gear available at 64 and 74 isn’t that much better than the best epics of vanilla and BC. In a lot of cases, it’s still not beating the best epics. So there’s a compelling argument to stay an expansion twink, and the x4 twinks never really unbalanced the brackets. They adapted to their new situation.

Then Blizzard lifted the time restrictions on trial accounts, and the F2P deluge began.

CASUS BELLI

In Patch 4.2, Blizzard revised trial accounts to become Starter Edition accounts, allowing people to play up to level 20 for free. No longer restricted to 10 days, players could now take their time and gather the best gear possible, work on professions within the strict SE account limits (no primary profession over 100), and participate in PvP.

Level 20 Starter Edition twinks were born.

Due to the changes introduced above, trial account twinks were placed into the nascent 20-24 bracket, a quiet bracket that was populated by Cataclysm toons who liked the feel of lowbie PvP but who lacked many of the grandfathered BiS gear that dominated the 19s and 29s. The 24s weren’t wildly popular, but it wasn’t completely desolate.

That all changed with the F2P movement picked up steam. The population swelled with level 20 twinks, games became more regular, and a new culture came into the bracket, sweeping out the old.

But unlike the other, higher level expansion twink brackets, the 20-24 bracket has several key differences.

  • Combat ratings are more potent at low levels. Small differences in gear and enchants are magnified because each point matters more.
  • There is no expansion-induced power inflation at level 21. It’s not at the end of an expansion. While stats get less effective as you level through the 20s, there is no sharp decline like you see at level 10, 60, 70, or 80, so a level 24 character retains more effectiveness from level 20 than a level 74, or god forbid a level 84. Levels 83-84 are just brutal.
  • Starter edition accounts are substantially limited when compared to paid accounts. There are few enchants available for them to use. They can’t use the Auction House or mail, so BoE gear is practically impossible to get. Professions are limited. Guild heirlooms, like the head and shoulder slot items, are unobtainable. (Regular heirlooms are available, they just take time to get.) Faction changes are impossible, and quest rewards are distributed unequally between factions, preventing characters from getting the best gear. All of these restrictions add up to a sizable disadvantage in PvP.
  • Not every person in the XP-off battleground is a twink. These are Starter Editions, after all, and many of them are actually people trying the game for the first time. Shocking, I know! But unlike other XP-off battlegrounds, the players here didn’t select to be in the elite bracket – they just wanted to PvP. So there’s a wide variety of gear and player experience.

So here you have a sizable population of players joining a fledgling bracket at a disadvantage. They create their own community, they have their own sense of shared triumph over difficult odds – and having worked a bit myself on a trial edition twink, it’s hard work – but it’s fragile. F2P accounts want to play against other F2P accounts. They want to have that work be rewarded with a fair PvP experience.

But this is where the 24s come in.

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP (OF THE BRACKET)

How big of an advantage does a level 24 twink have in this bracket?

It’s one thing to run some simulations, to build out some test profiles on Wowhead and make educated guesses, but it’s another thing to see how it plays in the field. If you were to look at my level 19 Warrior twink, you might think she’s a real badass in the field. She’s not. No matter how good I make her, she’s still going to suffer in any DPS role because she can’t maintain time on target in the bracket.

Experience in the field matters more than numbers, so I rolled a hunter, leveled her up to 24 and twinked her out, and queued up to see how it played out.

Dear God.

I felt bad for what I was doing to the other team. I actually felt remorse for dominating the battlefield, which … I don’t think that’s ever happened. I’m not built that way.

Solo assault the Blacksmith with three defenders? No sweat. Kite one, pet on the healer, run away, use line of sight with the building to block fire, disengage down the hill, shoot through the hill… done. Base is mine, let’s find another one to cap.

Solo grab the flag, kill my way through midfield, destroy their offense playing cat and mouse in our base, get the winning cap? Exciting stuff. You start to feel like a big damn hero, gun firing rapidly as you strafe away from the pack of attackers, cutting them down one at a time.

I was a hawk among doves. I could get pulled down by a mob, or by the ever-present threat of a twink rogue ambush, but I would be sure to take a few of them with me, every single time.

Exciting? Yes. But – and I’m not joking here – it’s so easy to be good at level 24. I’ve never played a hunter before in PvP and I’m suddenly this titan of the battleground, FC and super-DPS all in one. I know they’re good at low levels, but not this good.

Properly played, level 24 twinks have a serious advantage to level 20s in the bracket. It’s not like the 70s, where 74s are common enough sights but rarely OP. (The OP distinction goes to level 70 mages.) It’s not like the 80s, where 84s are limited to a few select classes who benefit from insane stat inflation on Cata gear, above and beyond what is possible with level 80 Wrathful. No, there is a substantial, significant advantage being at the top of this bracket.

This could very quickly devolve into battles being decided by which side can field more 24 twinks, not about the contributions of the level 20 masses. After playing just a few games at 24, I can see that this is a very real concern.

The game is coded a certain way: level 24 twinks will hold every advantage in this bracket, should they choose to pursue them. The law of the game is silent in this time of war; there is nothing to prevent paid 24 accounts from stomping out the F2P PvP community.

BELLUM VICENI

One of the first interactions with the F2P viewpoint came on my first game after faction changing from Alliance to Horde. I went Worgen to get the Top Hat, but I rolled Alliance first because they have better Agility quest rewards, and I wanted to make sure I had them. I didn’t want to stay Alliance though – the queue times are too long (more Ally F2P than Horde) and I had friends on the Horde side of that server.

This tauren Sunwalker sized me up. “Looks like we have a traitor in our midst,” he bellowed. “Aluwyn’s Legguards? Ashen Gloves? Discyngage here is an Ally!”

I shrugged my shapely elven shoulders. “I wanted the top hat,” I said nonchalantly, fingering my rifle, crafted many years ago in Ironforge.

The tauren leaned in close as the timer counted out the final seconds. “I don’t heal Ally,” he hissed. “And no one else here will, either.”

Okay, I muttered to myself, loading my rifle.

Looks like we’re doing this the hard way.

The F2P community is openly hostile to level 24 twinks. The general opinion of 24s is that they are bad players looking to beat up on the weak, avoiding a fair fight to test their skills and learn from other players. There are shame lists on twinkinfo’s F2P forums, lists of 24s who are to be ridiculed on sight and avoided. There’s praise heaped on paid accounts who adhere to the F2P rules, letting fair matches continue  but allowing the F2P community to group up and circumvent some of Blizzard’s tighter restrictions.

Social pressure is the strongest weapon the 20s have, and they are using it in spades. If you’re 24, you’re bad. That’s a constant message that I hear in forum posts and in-game. 24s don’t want fair fights, they’re bad players who couldn’t manage to win any other way, who get their rocks off by beating up the weak. I hear that too.

I don’t blame them one bit for using this tactic. There’s a very real danger here of them losing the bracket they helped create. The more attention F2P PvP gets, the more people will look at it and go… hey, those F2P accounts are pretty weak, they look like … prey. And if enough 24s show up, not just bad players but good ones, experienced twinks, in sufficient numbers, then their games will die. They’ll either have to upgrade their accounts and roll 24s, or find something else to do.

The 20-24 bracket, as it exists today, is very much the result of Blizzard removing the 10-day limit off trial accounts. I think both sides realize and admit that. Starter edition toons are the reason it’s so popular now, and there’s real truth behind the statement that if it weren’t for F2P, few people would be interested in this bracket. The bracket was developing in a different way before the F2P accounts swarmed it, and while you could argue that they’re now the interlopers, F2P is here to stay in 20-24.

This particular fact is brought up usually to support Starter Editions getting their own, separate bracket, away from the 24s, because the disparity between the two sides is so very great. The 20s are waging a social campaign of shaming 24s, because the game itself is stacked against them.

THE MORALITY OF WAR

The 20-24 War is a battle of two opposing viewpoints of PvP combat.

  • PvP should be a fair contest. The true test of a player’s skill is in a fair fight; by making the playing field as even as possible, player skill and ability becomes paramount.
  • PvP should be unfair; victory goes to those who pursue every advantage over their opponents. If you put in the effort to increase your character’s abilities (through gear, professions, etc.), you should perform better than those who do not. Player skill is important, but that includes their skill in creating their character.

These two viewpoints are in opposition, but are not mutually exclusive. Warcraft PvP is inherently unfair; players enter battlegrounds at all levels with different gear, different enchants. This is how the game is coded, how it is designed, and the players have to adapt to it. But there’s still a desire for fairness, especially at the endgame, of having gear be roughly equal, classes be roughly equal, of performance being roughly equal, of player skill being the determining factor.

Twinks and full-time endgame PvPers both chase the best gear and enchants possible, not just for fairness, but so that they can perform as well as they can versus their opponents. If they come up against a lesser-geared opponent, they’ll beat them and move on. If they come up against someone with better gear, they do their best, but realize that they have to gear up and do better next time.

The ethics of gear are complicated. Is it fair to enter a battleground knowing that you’ve geared enough to make combat trivially easy in your favor? Is that your sin, or is it your opponent’s fault for not going to the same lengths you did? If someone queues up for PvP in broken gray gear, and you’re in enchanted heirlooms, are you morally obligated to hold your fire? Or do you kill them and move on? It’s not fair, to be sure – I don’t think anyone disputes that.

But is it wrong?

What if someone chooses to enter combat at a disadvantage? Do their opponents need to abstain from combat with them, or deliberately cripple themselves?

This is not just semantics for the 20-24 bracket. The core problem is one of perspective, and while the unfairness of 24 vs. 20 combat isn’t in dispute, the morality of it is.

Does the F2P movement have a right to exist? Are the 24s in it wrong for even being there?

That’s what this comes down to.

GRATIS VERSUS LIBRE: FREE AS IN BEER, NOT FREE AS IN SPEECH

The 20-24 bracket is unique in all the PvP brackets because of the presence of Starter Edition accounts. Unlike the other expansion twink brackets (70-74, 80-84), the choice between 20 and 24 is not one where there are advantages to both the low and high ends of the bracket that should be considered. Level 70 and 80 characters receive significantly better return on combat statistics, including Resilience, Haste, and Crit. But 74 and 84 have access to better gear, talents, and abilities. There are real choices here. A level 70 or 80 character has chosen one over the other.

And, most importantly, everyone in those brackets are paying customers.

I’ve been treating the level 20 community as equivalent to other expansion twinks up to this point, but that’s ignoring the very real difference between 20s and 24s: the 20s are there because they don’t – for a variety of reasons – want to pay World of Warcraft’s monthly subscription fee. Because of this, the 20-24 bracket is one of the only places where money provides a real advantage to gameplay in WoW. Fifteen dollars a month buys you the ability to pwn the bracket.

It gets you a lot more than that, of course, but it also gets you this advantage.

This debate is really about establishing a norm around the value of money and subscription services. Warcraft has been a subscription-based game for the entirety of its existence, which strongly implies that Starter Edition accounts are guests within the game; to be welcomed, but not to be considered the norm. If that’s the case, then the 20-24 bracket should be treated like any other PvP bracket – get yourself up to the top, gear up, and go to town. Players who choose to come into the battleground with trial accounts are just like any other undergeared, underleveled toon who enters a PvP bracket; a weakness to be exploited on the other team.

But, through sheer numbers, the F2P community makes up the majority of this specific bracket, so the social norm is different. The normal value of a subscription is inverted by the majority. Instead of “it’s your $15 a month, play what you want to play,” it’s now “this game is free, you’re playing $15/month to dominate it.” The normal ability level is the F2P level, not the paid level.

You can’t ignore the money on this one. You just can’t.

Should a player who pays nothing still have a good experience in WoW? I think most of us, with an eye towards the health of the game as a whole, would say – yes, if it convinces them to purchase the game. That’s a reasonable standpoint both from a commercial and personal point of view – the purpose of Starter Editions is to make money for Blizzard.

A smaller subset of people would say, yes, they should have a good experience no matter if they buy it or not. Often this opinion is based on self-interest – it’s nice to participate in WoW on a limited basis without incurring any costs – but sometimes it’s based on the idea that WoW should cultivate a good reputation within the F2P game community, that it’s something you can pick up every so often without paying for it.

And other folks would say: it doesn’t matter if they have a good time or not. They’re not paying customers.

Does the F2P 20 bracket have a right to exist? Do players who pay nothing have the right to dictate the norms and values of a bracket over those who do?

Does paying money confer rights? Should not paying money be seen as somehow morally superior?

The problem with saying the money doesn’t matter is that you’re then left with a case of people choosing disadvantage over advantage, and 20-24 isn’t as simple as that. F2P players want to have a game where they’re playing a fairly matched game, but the game isn’t set up to be fair.

The social pressure exerted by the F2P community is to ridicule the 24s, to accuse them of bullying and of being bad players, is entirely to maintain this fragile sense of fairness within the bracket. There’s an absolute need to demonize the opposition here, to make people look askance at even thinking of rolling 24s, because if too many paying customers do it, they can’t have their fun.

I think if you look at the situation closely, you’ll start to see that this is really an appeal to emotion, to the inherent moral superiority of the F2P twink – they have to overcome serious challenges to reach their maximum potential.

But all twinks have to overcome limits like F2P twinks.

ON TWINKING AND BULLYING

Are level 24 twinks bullying other players?

It’s a fair question to ask. Would someone have rolled a level 24 twink if it wasn’t for the purpose of playing PvP in a known lopsided bracket? Maybe. Probably not, but maybe. I think before the Starter Edition deluge, the 24 bracket was a nice compromise between 19 and 29 with a gear reset.

But now… ?

It’s very interesting playing 24 – for a while. It’s a challenge taking on multiple opponents at once, of figuring out how to make the most of your abilities to win, to be the decisive player on the battlefield.

But it’s very much like playing in the old 10-19 bracket, where twinks and levelers mingled freely. You have a few 24s, a bunch of 20 twinks, and a bunch of 20s who are not twinks by any means. Three tiers of players there – this isn’t a twink bracket, it’s effectively a leveling bracket that awards no XP.

Three tiers of toons, and two of them are twinks. Not one, two.

While writing The Challenge of Fixing Low Level PvP, I realized that the old-school twinks left the lowbie brackets, but new ones moved in in the form of geared levelers. Just because it’s a leveling bracket doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a strata of twinks, of min-maxed toons, in it.

The 20-24 bracket is unique in that it’s a locked bracket which should be given over entirely to the twinks, but isn’t. It has new players, really new, trying out the game mixed throughout. The legitimate Starter Edition accounts – those of new players trying out WoW to see if they’re going to buy it – are competing against both paid 24 twinks and F2P 20 twinks. F2P twinks with really good gear – BiS dungeon gear, BoAs, fishing hats, the best enchants they can get – are going to outclass those new players, by quite a bit. You only have to see players running around with 500-600 health at level 20 to realize that this is not a pure twink bracket.

If, in defense of the F2P movement, you have to be very careful if you’re going to accuse the level 24 twinks of bullying because they outgear the opposition. Are they rolling just because there are weaker players in the bracket? Almost certainly.

But that’s true of the F2P twinks, too.

PEACE TREATY

There isn’t really a level 24 twink culture anymore; it’s been subsumed into the F2P community, which is actively combating it for their own survival. I think the dynamic of the bracket is really interesting, and that my past few weeks of getting to know it have been enlightening.

My personal feeling is that the F2P PvP community that has sprung up deserves to survive. It represents people embracing serious constraints to create characters who are fun to play. It represents a nice option for veteran players who are just looking for a break from the game. If spinning it into its own bracket does that, great. If not, it will survive or perish on its own merits.

I think that’s an important point to make: a bracket, a community, needs to survive on its own merits. If it’s fun, it will draw people to it and resist attacks. If it’s not fun, people will drift away. It shouldn’t need developer assistance to do it.

But I also think that there’s a real conflict here between the F2P community and the normal PvP community, and that you have to stop and think about the arguments being presented that one takes precedence over the other. Things aren’t as simple as they seem. Don’t buy into the propaganda.

No matter which side of the war you end up on.

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On Warlock Need to Know Setups (PvE)

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It’s been a while since I posted a doodle from my actual notebook. Working on a Need to Know post, I’m struck by how many things you could be tracking in PvE, versus what you really should. (I would trim these lists by a lot in actual practice.)

There are other components, like Demon Soul CD tracking, where I think you’re better off just letting it sit on a consistent spot on your bars and getting OmniCC to track it. Yet some CDs (Chaos Bolt, Conflag) should be tracked.

I’m also missing Backdraft from the Destro side. Just realized that. I’m in favor of Jagoex’s strategy, which is to only cast Incinerate when Backdraft is up, otherwise hard cast Soul Fire. Incinerate is too slow. It’s a proc with actions and decisions attached to it, which is different from Eradication, which … well, you keep on keepin’ on when it procs.

Follow up question for Cyn – if both Molten Core and Decimation are up, which takes priority? My Wrath logic says Decimation, but the talents were changed since I played Demo. I think it’s actually Molten Core > Decimation now.

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Using Healers Have To Die to Protect Friendly Healers

(This post is a continuation of Healers Have To Die and the PvP Addon Arms Race, my defense of the controversial PvP addon Healers Have To Die (HHTD). You may want to revisit my arguments in that post before reading.)

Despite my best efforts to get healers to take the initiative, I don’t see many yells for assistance in the battlegrounds. And leveling two healers through PvP right now, I understand why – when I’m getting focus fired, I have about 1 second to switch over and start spamming heals onto myself before I’m dead. The last thing I want to do is to bang the Help Me! macro, which is kinda out of the way, when I really want to cast Nature’s Swiftness or Power Word: Shield to buy myself time.

It’s okay. I should probably macro yells for help into my panic button; I’m still amazed at how effective SaySapped is at telling other players what’s going on. But I keep forgetting to do this because I have a much better personal solution: Healers Have to Die.

Healers Have to Die is the single best addon I have used to protect friendly healers in a battleground, bar none. I am not kidding here. It may be a valuable tool for DPS in PvP to help identify enemy healers, but where I’m discovering it really shines is by identifying friendly healers, marking them, and – most important of all – notifying you when they are under attack.

I wished for another addon called Healers Have To Live. I got it in Healers Have To Die.

HOW HHTD PROTECTS HEALERS

Take a look at the screen at the top of this post. This is my level 70 warrior twink, Ashwalker, fighting at Iceblood Graveyard in Alterac Valley. The camera is zoomed way out so I can see everything around me, but I can’t see details like what kind of clothes people are wearing or even really casting without UI assistance.

You’ll hopefully notice the large blue cross in the screen. This is a friendly healer that HHTD has detected. HHTD looks for specific spells that are usually only cast by healing specs, so it doesn’t get fooled by a Feral Druid casting Rejuvenation – it picks up the real healers.

When a healer shows up in a scrum, I know it now. Enemy healers, friendly healers – they’re all visually represented in a way which makes me know who to protect at all costs – no guesswork.

But that’s just the first part of HHTD’s defense.

When HHTD detects that a friendly healer is getting attacked, it lets you know in BIG HUGE LETTERS across your screen. It tells you which healer is getting attacked, and by whom.

Oh yeah, it spits out warnings in your chat window, too, in case you aren’t looking at the top of your screen.

And it does all this by default.

If there is one addon I absolutely want my BG team to be running, it’s HHTD. Not only for finding opposing healers – I want it for that – but also because it increases everyone’s situational awareness to come to the defense of friendly healers.

How would you not want that?

POP QUIZ: WHERE’S WALDO?

Let’s try a little test. Click on the picture above to view it at a bigger size, look at it for 2 seconds – be honest here – and then close it and come back to reading. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

All done? Good. Pop quiz time, then. Without looking, which healer was being attacked, the top one or the bottom one?

I’ll wager that a good number of you actually will get this right, and pick the healer near the bottom of the screen. But it’s not easy; Beamz’s nameplate is obscured, while Ranting’s is not.

Now, let’s be really honest here – how many of you would have known that Beamz was getting attacked at all, had it not been for the HHTD warning?

I know I wouldn’t have. Unless I saw a mob right on his face, I’d assume that he was fine and dandy, surrounded by people who could take care of him.

To be honest, if I didn’t have HHTD, I wouldn’t have known he was even there, let alone that he needed help. There are 12 friendly players and 3 friendly pets on the screen. HHTD makes my own healers stand out.

HOW TO MAKE HHTD WORK FOR DPS

One of the biggest challenges in getting people to use HHTD to its full potential is that DPS generally don’t run with friendly nameplates on, therefore they’ll never see that a healer is in trouble.

I use Tidy Plates, combined with Threat Plates for PvE, to help manage my friendly nameplates.

Tidy Plates allows you to automate the display of your nameplates based on your combat state, so you don’t have to walk around Stormwind or Orgrimmar with huge crowds of glowing nameplates blocking your view. By selecting the “Show during Combat, Hide when Combat ends” option, friendly plates smoothy come up in combat, and disappear when I leave. It’s really slick.

The second part of my setup is HHTD itself:

Here is the HHTD basic configuration tab. The configuration is relatively straightforward, but you’ll want to make sure that:

  • Protect friendly healers is On. Seriously, why would you have this off?
  • Set friendly healer’s role is On. If you’re the BG leader and you spot a healer who didn’t mark themselves as such, this sets it for you.
  • Announcer and Name Plate Hooker are both On.

These are the default settings. I can’t emphasize that enough, you don’t have to do anything but install HHTD to get it to start working to protect healers.

Healers are your friends. It doesn’t matter if they have a funny name, or are from a different server – all healers are your friends. Don’t abandon them to the rogues.

Get HHTD so your friends can live.

CLARIFICATIONS AND FINAL WORDS

I see a lot of assumptions made in the forums when HHTD comes up, usually made by people who haven’t really looked into the addon, let alone tried it to see how it works. But even when you try it out, you might have some misconceptions about how it works.

  • HHTD only modifies name plates; it doesn’t set raid markers or share information with other players. HHTD’s crosses are only visible to those people running the addon. It’s not like AVR, which shared information with other clients to modify the game world. It’s not setting BG-wide markings on your healers. It is hooking into nameplates and modifying them if someone casts a specific type of spell, NOT communicating that info across clients.
  • HHTD doesn’t target other players or cast any spells. Whenever I see an argument saying that HHTD does this, I wonder what addon they tried out, because that addon sounds much better than the one I’m using.
  • HHTD is pretty tough to fool. This is one I’m guilty of believing wasn’t true – thinking that I could get a cross over my head as a Feral Druid casting some healing spells. It’s wrong. The lua code looks for spells that only healing-spec healers use, or a certain amount of healing from the base spells. It’s actually easier to fool people than it is the addon, just because if you have a big mana pool and are standing in the back casting sparkly healing spells, folks probably aren’t going to check to make sure that it’s Resto, not Elemental.
  • HHTD detects friendly healers. Now you know just how good of a job it does.

I wrote my original defense of HHTD still struggling with the Healers Have to Live concept. At the time, I thought its absence was a weakness in the addon, but it really was a deficiency in my understanding of it. In the subsequent months, I’ve come to explore and appreciate how much better I can be as a PvPer by understanding where my own healers are, no matter how crazy things are getting.

Healers Have to Die is an excellent PvP addon, and I fully recommend it. Not only will it help you find enemy healers, it will help you defend your own teammates better.

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On Staying Away From 85

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I was reading the forums the other night after filling out my warlock survey when I came across a few threads about locking XP in the 80-84 bracket. It’s a small PvP bracket right now, with most people staying at 80 for the beneficial stat scaling on the gear that exists (much like the 70 bracket.) Some class combos, though, apparently fare quite well at 84 – Frost DKs in particular.

Hey, I thought, I have a level 84 Frost DK. I should lock XP and check out the bracket.

And then I suddenly felt much better about Cynwulf’s future.

Locking XP at 84 seems a little crazy – you’re almost there! – but I’ve been dreading getting to 85 with him. He’s currently my gathering toon, the one I play when I’m on my treadmill so I can fly around and mine ore, and he’s slowly crept his way from 80 to 84 on mining XP alone. And I suppose, once he hit 85, I would probably be okay with outfitting him with some cheap Bloodthirsty gear and continuing to use him to mine. It’s a boring existence, but at least it has a purpose.

But there’s a very different world that opens up at 85, a world that requires a commitment to get good and stay good. There are dailies and reputation grinds and PvP and dungeons and heroics and raiding and gear and gear and more gear.

And I don’t want that for him.

Leveling to the endgame makes me feel like the character is never complete. There will always be something else to get, something else to do. That’s okay – that’s part of what WoW is about. That’s why I have an endgame character to experience it, and when I’m playing her, I always have something to do. Always.

But there’s a darker side to that, which took me twinking Cynderblock at 19 to realize: I will always be running to catch up with the endgame. The price of seeing cool things and playing at the endgame is the fundamental knowledge that the gear I have now will not be good enough in 3 months. That the dailies I do today will be replaced with different dailies later on. That there will be always be a compulsion to keep up with the Joneses.

Some people are able to manage this really well psychologically. They get endgame characters to a certain point and go, good enough. I can do that in PvE well enough, I suppose, but in PvP I’m constantly going, gear is an issue. Gear is an issue. Gear is an issue – until it finally isn’t. Then there are a few weeks or months where I have the best PvP gear available and play to my heart’s content – until the new tier/season comes, and it starts all over again.

I don’t like putting work into something only to have it lose value, and lose value rapidly. So there’s an issue with gear.

But there’s more to it than just a gear grind. That’s a big part of it, but not all of it.

I’ve written before about how I’m trying to think of my characters as projects, with specific purposes behind each. It’s helped make me happier in game, of reducing the alt guilt and feeling that I should do something with any given alt. I rolled a hunter to see the 20-24 twink bracket; when I feel like playing her, I do, but as I get mostly BiS gear, I don’t feel any great compulsion to play her. There’s no guilt associated with not logging in, no sense of falling behind. I make peace with characters when they hit a point where they’re good at what I want them to do. PvP, PvE, leveling – if they’re good at doing what I want them to do, then I can settle down and enjoy playing them.

It’s funny – if I’m leveling well – decent gear, comfortable with abilities, confident with the class – then I find I actually enjoy the process. I like seeing the world. I like experiencing the quests. The pvp imbalances don’t bother me.

But when I’m lost within a class, then I don’t enjoy logging in to them.

I locked XP on my druid at 70 to help fix this problem – stop the leveling, I want to get off for a little while and rediscover the joy in playing a toon. I’m working on her PvP gear, slowly, but my big thing is just trying to relearn healing wiht her. Locking XP helped me suspend any future changes to abiities, but also helped me suspend any expectations with her. It calmed me down about what I should be doing; not leveling, but just figuring out what spells to use, maybe a few macros to help out, work on cleaning up her UI when the fancy strikes. I’m doing the same thing on my priest, only I haven’t locked her XP yet – but I plan to.

And this is, surprisingly, working on these characters. I log in, I putter about and make some progress, and then I can leave them for days, weeks, or months. I don’t feel guilty about leaving them be, of falling behind. If I want to let them level up further, I can – my druid might go to 79 or 80, for instance – but I don’t really want to go any further. Stats start to drop off at 81 and go downhill to 85, making it especially unattractive for a healer.

So I don’t really think that locking Cynwulf at 84 is all that crazy – at least not anymore. It’s an opportunity to get him some more playtime in PvE and PvP without introducing the additional stress of the endgame. It avoids the dramatic drop off in abilities that happens at 85, a drop off which is only compensated for by gear.

Will I miss out on all the Cataclysm endgame stuff?

Yes. Absolutely.

But I don’t think I’m missing out on much, to be honest.

I’ll have more fun, and less guilt, this way.

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The Lure Master Tackle Box

I love the Lure Master Tackle Box on my twinks. It’s practically the perfect twink bag.

The tackle box is a 36 slot bag which holds fishing supplies: lures, hats, fish, poles, and – you guessed it – Rumsey Rum Black Label, the drink of twinks everywhere.

Considering how much of this drink you’ll use on your twinks, you should think about picking up this box. It often is easier to buy off the AH than it is to have it made, because players leveling Engineering will sometimes mass-produce this for skillups.

You can benefit from their haste to dump leveling mats, and profit with a LOT of storage space. Or, you can get 20 Elementium Bars, 4 Handfuls of Obsidium Bolts, and a 475 Engineer, and you’re all set.

Considering how important Fishing is to low level twinks, the Lure Master Tackle Box is an easy upgrade that dramatically improves quality of life on your twink.

Get it if you can!

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Warlock (and other) Class Feedback

Blizzard has opened up threads on their forums asking for player feedback on how specific classes are playing.

We’re looking for feedback on your class as we work on changes and adjustments for a future game update. While we may be making some specific class changes in 4.3, what we’re looking for in this thread is overall feeling on the class as a whole for more long term changes in the future.

Here’s the Warlock Feedback thread. Each class has their own sticky thread right now.

Here’s my response. If you agree with it, I’d appreciate if you’d hit the Like button. If you just like the instant cast flying demon form idea for warlocks – and who doesn’t? – be sure to mention it in your own response.

I think it’s important that if you have an opinion on a class, any class, you take a few minutes to put down your thoughts. It’s rare that a company openly solicits feedback like this, and while it’s being presented in a format which makes me think it’s effectively going to be treated like a survey, it’s a survey which is going to be read.

If you’re playing a few hours a night, it’s worth taking 5 minutes to let Blizzard know how you feel about the class you’re playing.

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On Revisiting the 19 Bracket & Clutch Plays

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I’ve been playing Cynderblock again, in PvP. I gave up on trying to be a decent DPS and instead have focused entirely upon being the FC; this has worked out pretty well. I have been squeezing in a game or two a night with her, which is a fair chunk of my evening in WoW.

I don’t know how this happened, to be honest. I went in… to fish? To clean out her bank? I think it was to clean out her bank. And … I kinda signed up for a WSG game out of habit, and when it popped, I tried it and had a lot of fun. Different fun than with Ashwalker, but my skills as a FC have improved a lot in the last year or so. I still die sometimes to stupid things – usually getting caught out in midfield, or trying to be a damn hero – but not as often as I do as DPS, because my job is to be absurdly hard to kill.

The 19 bracket is different now. It’s strange to see the influence of the F2P movement, but it’s there. Health pools are a little lower. Damage is lower. People aren’t using as many absurd things. It’s no longer a unified strata of ubertwinks; different gear and skill levels are evident.

I think one reason I’m enjoying ‘block again is that I’m being asked to make clutch plays as the FC, and I’m making them. Damn, it’s fun when everything comes down to you making the right move at the right time.

Tonight I queued up and found I had a partial premade from <Five For Fishing> on my team – 5 in a group on Skype. That’s a good sign, especially since one was a hearler. On the other side was mostly members of <Cereal Killers>, which got a little confusing since so many of them were “Mini-” names. It was a good game – not a blowout by any stretch of the imagination. We went up 1-0, they returned the favor and brought it up to 1-1 with about 10 minutes to go. That’s not a lot of time for the return cap, but I was able to get back to our base with about 5 minutes left. Unfortunately, they grabbed ours, and we needed a cap to win.

The priest and I had clicked, so we sent everyone but us two to to corner the EFC, who was going ramp. We then proceeded to play cat and mouse with 4 of the Horde through the keep – up, down, up to the roof again – for a few frantic minutes when I got a whisper from the healer:

Get ready to cap – EFC cornered by zerk hut.

I looked down at the FR floor – the Horde was moving towards the flag. They knew the EFC was going down. Fuuuuuck, they have voice comms too. Works both ways. If they got the flag and get away, they could go GY and avoid our entire team. We would lose, there wasn’t enough time to get them. My priest friend had already jumped down into the middle of them. I took off from the safety of the roof, running for the edge.

EFC has dropped the Alliance Flag!

Priest: Psychic Scream!

Hunter and Rouge are affected. Warlock is not.

Someone has returned the Alliance Flag!

Warlock is still moving. Crap. Warlock is still moving.

Jump Cyn jump jump jump

Warlock is almost to the flag.

jump jump jump fuuuuck

Flag respawns.

5 5 5 5 5 5 5 

In the span of a GCD, Cynderblock Charged from midair into the Warlock, leapt over her stunned body, and landed on top of the respawned flag.

Cynderblock has captured the Horde Flag!

Your reputation with Silverwing Sentinels has increased by 45.

I look up from the fracas in the FR at the display: 2-1 Alliance, 3 minutes to go.

We’ve won.

We’d gone from losing to winning with a clutch Charge.

Holy crap, cynder. GG.

Yeah. I could get used to this.

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