Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dreamwalkers—concept, continued: The Origin of the Crystals

I have already shared that the crystals came from a meteor that was on a collision course with Earth, and you know that no one seems to know what blew the meteor out of the sky in the first place. This part of the story is likely to never even make it into the book (at least not the first set of stories), but the crystals do have a deeper origin than just "came from outer space."

An alien race called the Yarin, who live on a planet about 18.8 light-years from Earth, have been studying humans for generations. While they have only made one stealthy trip to our system, they did return to their home with several dozen human specimens from around the world. These humans were initially little more than lab rats to the Yarin, but were eventually provided with a secure communal living area so that they could live reasonably normal lives while still remaining as test subjects. None of the original humans remain, but their descendants are still on the planet of Yarix.

The Yarin discovered the essence within the human body—something they do not have. After years of experimentation, they developed a way to focus a body's essence through a device that is black and crystalline. This is not a naturally occurring crystal it's a technology that is crystalline-based. When developing the technology, the Yarin found that even with the crystals, the essence was only able to leave the body while the body was unconscious. This proved troublesome for testing and the Yarin began to induce sleep in order to study the essence further. A second complication arose when the Yarin discovered that each Essence was much more powerful than the human it inhabits: when an essence was free of the body, it displayed abilities that took the Yarin by surprise. They were not ready for what they had let loose on themselves. There were many death—both Yarin and human—and the program was shut down.

Years later, the Yarin Science Consulate discovered that their star, Draconis, was dying. It would still be able to support life in the system for a few thousand years, but there was nothing they could do to save it. H0ping to find a way to revitalize their star, the Yarin turned once again to studying human essence. While none of the humans remaining on Yarix possessed a power that could help, the Yarin were determined to find one that did. They constructed a device that could deliver thousands of crystals to Earth. To lower the chance of their exposure, they constructed the device to look like a meteor. It was designed to shatter shortly before entering the Earth's atmosphere, so that the crystals would be distributed across much of the planet's surface. While they could not control where each landed, they hoped that more would find their way into human hands than not. Along with the crystals, the Yarin sent a Science team to earth, disguised as human, to search for one or more powers that could help save Draconis—and Yarix, along with it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dreamwalkers—concept, continued: reluctant heroes

As I had mentioned last time, these characters are not really the hero types. I would actually consider them reluctant heroes—or some, even antiheroes. My central cast of characters may be the heroes of my story, but they don't want to be. Calista Hart (17), Josiah Wakeman (17), and Tristan Wolfe (15) are three teens from Norristown, Pennsylvania. They all attend the same school but all travel in different circles. They each acquire a crystal—I'll get into how when I discuss their individual stories—and they begin dream walking. At first, they think they are simply dreaming; they wake up each day believing that what happened overnight was a lucid dream. However, that all changes when they witness the villain of the story, Robert Porter (34), committing a murder. The next day they learn that the murder really occurred and realize that everything that has happened while they were asleep was real.

A couple of other dreamwalkers take this as an opportunity to do some good and try to become real heroes, but the central characters are more interested in helping themselves than in helping others. However, when the villain starts coming after other dreamwalkers, they realize that they will have to work together to survive. This doesn't come easy to them: They haven't fully mastered their powers individually, and they sure as hell don't have any clue how to fight as a team. But, fighting as a team is what it will take, and they will need to work together to develop their powers so that might have a chance at defeating Robert.

I am still determining the exact number of core team members that I want to have. Right now I am planning for the three I have already listed, but there is potential for me to add one or two more depending on the direction I decide to take the story.

I know this post was short, but it's really just a continuation of yesterday's. Tomorrow I will write about the origin and purpose of the crystals. Soon after that I will start writing up some character profiles / back stories.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


A while back—well, years ago now, even—I had a sketch/idea book. I used to write little blurbs in it—just ideas for stories or brief poems. I sometimes even drew in it (although I am not a very good artist. In the end, though, it was just for me, so the quality of the art didn't much matter. A couple of months back, when I was digging around in my closet for some Advil, I came across it again. I picked it up, read a few pages, and was brought right back to when I actually had a creative outlet that was not work related. That night, after our raid was done, I read through the rest of it. I had so many unfinished ideas back then! When I went to bed that night, my mind was racing with these ideas. Some of them I started expanding on... others I realized were complete and utter crap. I couldn't sleep; all I could do was think about these stories.

The next day I decided that I was going to start expanding on some of these ideas. I started by working on a drawing that represented a poem I had written. Again, I am not the best artist, so it wasn't that great, but it was a start. Later I decided that I would be better off working on one of the many stories I had started. One, in particular, caught my attention: It was called "Dreamwalkers." Now, the original idea was just a blurb—nothing more than a single paragraph that outlined an idea for a story that would take place entirely in a dream realm. I liked the idea, but the more I thought about it, and discussed it with others, the more I realized that it was too limiting. Sure, I could write this one story, but what about after that? Would there be room to continue with these characters if I ever wanted to? Now, I am not saying that I will end up writing more than one of these stories anyway, but I don't want to write myself into a corner either. I'd like the option to continue with it if I one day have the desire. To do that, I would need to take these characters out of this dream realm and have them affecting the real world more directly. That's when my idea morphed from a world of dreams to astral projection. These dreamwalkers could be used in more than just one good story—I could now begin.

The concept begins with a meteor headed for Earth. Various global powers see it coming, but not before it is too late to do much. There is just too much sky to watch, and by the time anyone sees the behemoth of a rock hurdling toward Earth, all they can try to do is blow it out of the sky and hope that the pieces that make landfall don't cause too much damage. There is no hope of diverting its path—this is not going to be a near miss.

The story will primarily take place in the U.S., but it won't be limited to just one area of the world. This event directly affects an entire hemisphere (and indirectly affects the entire planet). Somewhere in the U.S., a military base is getting ready to fire a barrage of missiles that they hope will break the meteor into small enough pieces to not be much of a threat, but before they can fire, the meteor shatters into thousands upon thousands of pieces—seemingly on its own. Governments from around the world are confused: Who took it out? Who saved their asses? The sight is a beautiful one. The sky is filled with shooting stars. Most of the pieces appear to be small enough to burn up without making landfall. The ones that do, don't appear to cause significant damage. There are a few deaths, some fires, and some fear induced panics, but overall, the damage is low.

In Norristown,
Pennsylvania, landfall occurs. What makes it to Earth is not rock-like. Instead, the surviving pieces are crystalline. The crystals look similar to pieces of pure black onyx, but they are not what they appear to be. Several residents come across them. Unaware of what the crystals are, or their origin, most take them home—after all, the crystals are of stunning beauty. Most notable of those that found crystals in the Norristown area are three teens. They all attend the same school but are not friends; they all travel in different circles. None of them is prepared for what was to come next.

Before continuing on, I must explain a part of this universe that I am creating. In it, a body is just a shell for a person's essence. Their essence, or true being, is contained within this vessel. This containment is necessary for the essence to exist in our world. Without the body as an anchor, the essence would eventually dissipate, unable to hold its form; without the essence, the body would be catatonic. Each essence has the potential for a power. When first born, a person's essence is pure, unscathed, naive, a blank slate. As the person matures, and experiences life, their essence will develop an ability that is a result of their experiences. While trapped within the body, the essence cannot manifest its power, but the power is there. Each power has three stages of development (or strength), however, the power cannot progress through these stages without being used.

The crystals are not as benign as they may look. When a person has one of these crystals close to them while they are sleeping, their essence is able to manifest outside of their body. The crystal allows the essence to remain anchored to the body even though there may be a great distance between the two. Once outside of the body, the person's essence is finally able to manifest its power. However, because these people have never used their powers before, they will have to discover them... grow into them... develop them.

While the teens are not friends, and definitely not the hero types, they will eventually come to rely on one another and will even fight for a common goal. I will get more into that part of the story next time. That's it for now, though. Feel free to chime in if you have an idea or criticism. Nothing is set in stone yet. I have a lot of writing to do, and I am still in the early planning stages.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dos Drakes

For the last couple of weeks, my 10-man raid group has been attempting Sartharion +2 drakes. We have been leaving Tenenbron and Vesperon up. The first night of attempts was an absolute disaster. After back-to-back tries leading up to respawns, we eventually went back to one Drake (Tenenbron) and completed the raid with ease. It seems that now, leaving Tenenbron up is easy for us. I guess that makes sense after a couple of hours of working toward killing 2 of them.

This past weekend we tried again. We definitely improved. Our DPS on Tenenbron was much faster, and we downed him pretty consistently before Vesperon landed. The practice and upgrades our group had gotten over the past week had made a difference. However, we still were unable to win. We got Tenenbron down and even got to the point to clearing whelps a couple of times, but never without losing people. The damage everyone was taking was just too high. We finally (again, after respawns) gave in and killed Sarth with one drake up—but this time we chose to leave Vesperon up. We wanted to get practice on this second drake. We all assumed it would be as easy as Tenenbron, but there was a distinct difference: When we were doing 2 drakes, we had to leave our third tank (me) and his dedicated healer (Tamzz) outside of Vesperon's first portal to continue handling the many whelps and fire elementals that were still up from when Tenenbron's last batch of eggs hatched. This left Laeryn (our Ret Pally) to attempt to tank the add inside Vesperon's portal and left Whammie (our Ele Shaman) to heal him. Basically giving two of our DPS players non-DPS roles in the portal. That just left Ay (Rogue) and Vressa (Boomkin) to burn down the dragonkin. By the time the portal was cleared, another was spawning—and people were dying. We learned a lot by switching it up. It was clear that we can't complete the fight with that strategy. Without trying Sarth + Vesperon (rather than Tenenbron), it may have taken us much longer to come to this conclusion. See, when we moved to one drake, we still used the same setup. There were no whelps, but Tammz and I still stayed out of the portal and just dealt with Fire Elementals. The four who went into the portals just were not set up for success. Once we discovered this we decided to have Tammz and I go in and let our DPSers get back to DPSing. Wouldn't you know, it was cake.

Lesson Learned: Six of us need to go into ALL of Vesperon's portals. In order to do this, when we have two drakes up, we'll have to clear out all of the whelps before entering the first portal. We were under the impression that the portal should take priority over the whelps, but freeing up Tammz and I make dealing with the portal possible, so the whelps need to take priority. Next time we go into Obsidian Sanctum and try Sarth + 2, we'll handle all of the whelps before any of the six of us enter the portal. Yes, that means a longer amount of time with no one in the portal (and more damage occurring outside), but it also means that (once we are in the portal) the dragonkin will go down quickly. Once the first one is down, it should be cake. I think we'll get it the next night we try it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Glory of the Hero

Last week, my five-man group finished the Glory of the Hero achievement. It was a long road and the reward of a Red Proto-Drake was felt to be well deserved. As far as I am aware, this makes Aille, Ay, Bluid, Laeryn and I the first in the guild to complete the meta-achievement. Some of the achievements were very easy, and some so difficult that I am not sure how Blizzard intends for them to be done, but we completed all of them. We also did this without respecs or even a specific group make up. Our group consisted of a Holy Priest, a Rogue, a Feral Druid tank, a Retribution Paladin, and an Unholy Death Knight. The all melee group drove our healer batty at times, but in the end, we were successful. Now that we've completed this, I'd like to reminisce on the best and worst of the required achievements.

The Best
  1. Emerald Void: This achievement requires players to Defeat Ley-Guardian Eregos in The Oculus on Heroic Difficulty without anyone in the party using an Emerald Drake. Because the Emerald Drake is the only drake that can heal in this instance, this achievement has to be done with zero healing. We completed this achievement by using five Amber Drakes—at least the first time we did it. We had to do this achievement twice because Laeryn was out of town the first time we did it. The second time, we used four Amber and a Ruby, but the strategy we used was nearly identical. This achievement takes a lot of coordination (probably more than any of the others). It also relies on skill and timing, not on luck. Properly timed Time Stops and perfectly coordinated Shock Lances and Temporal Rifts make this achievement possible and my favorite of all of them.
  2. Consumption Junction: This achievement requires players to defeat Trollgore in Drak'Tharon Keep on Heroic Difficulty before Consume reaches ten stacks. To complete this, we had to play with line-of-sight and make sure that, when Trollgore cast Consume, everyone but the tank was out of his view. It took coordination and good timing. It was another very well designed achievement.
  3. Volazj's Quick Demise: This achievement requires players to defeat Herald Volazj in Ahn'kahet on Heroic Difficulty in 2 minutes or less. It all hinges on players being able to kill their shades quickly enough during Insanity. We also found that stacking at a specific position during Insanity made it much faster to come to the aid of party members who were not able to kill their shades as quickly as others. This one took some crazy DPS and a good amount of skill.
Those are my three favorites. Here are the three I disliked the most:

The Worst
  1. Watch Him Die: This achievement requires players to defeat Krik'thir the Gatewatcher in Azjol-Nerub on Heroic Difficulty while Watcher Gashra, Watcher Narjil and Watcher Silthik are still alive. We tried many many different strategies for this achievement; however, none of them really worked. Everything we found online said that players simply zerged it and hoped for good luck. Some kited adds away, and some didn't, but in the end it was simply a DPS race to the death. We wiped even when we successfully completed the achievement (as did everyone else we read about completing it). I can't imagine that Blizzard intends that the successful way to complete this is to wipe, but that's the only way that we were able to complete it.
  2. Less-rabi: This achievement requires players to defeat Moorabi in Gundrak on Heroic Difficulty while preventing him from transforming into a mammoth at any point during the encounter. Unfortunately, his cast speed just gets too fast when he is below 30% health. Even with a few players who can interrupt the cast, it becomes nearly impossible to stop him from transforming. We took the easy way out on this one and kited him to the door so that he'd reset. I hated that we had to cheese it, but without stacking classes with silences, there was no other realistic way for us to complete it. Blizzard now says "Take the player, not the class," but that doesn't hold true with this achievement. This one needs to be reworked.
  3. Defenseless: This achievement requires player to defeat Cyanigosa in The Violet Hold without using Defense Control Crystals and with Prison Seal Integrity at 100% while in Heroic Difficulty. The reason I dislike this achievement is not because it was too hard—in fact, it was the exact opposite. This achievement was a joke. We got it without even realizing we had done anything special. We did it with quest greens and blues. It was way too easy. Most PUGs have an easy time completing this one. It simply isn't challenging in the least. In order to fix this one, Blizzard needs to make the instance more difficult than it is.
There were many other achievements that we needed to complete, with varying levels of difficulty, but these were the ones that stood out to me. I very much enjoyed the challenging ones that were not absurd. If the achievement is too easy, it doesn't feel like an achievement at all. Hopefully, with future instances, Blizzard refines their achievement system so that more of them are a challenge to most groups but still feasible. But, for this round, I win—I have my Red Proto-Drake.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why it's broken and ways to fix it

I have talked about Blizzard dumbing down World of Warcraft before. Today I would like to take that topic further and explain why I think that this "dumbing down" is ruining the game (at least for the segment of the player base that I am a part of).

Back in the days of—well, all previous days before WotLK—groups had to think about pulls.
  • In Molten Core we had to be careful to pull one mob (or small group of mobs) without aggroing another nearby group or patrol. Pulling additional mobs usually resulted in a wipe.
  • In Black Temple we had to sheep or banish specific mobs within a group while we killed others. Leaving the additional mobs active would likely cause a wipe (or at minimum, several deaths).
  • In The Eye we would require some mobs (who had one beast of a whirlwind) to be tanked outside of the group, while others were sheeped, and still others killed. Further into the raid, there were pulls where we had to banish one or two mobs (within a larger group) at nearly the instant we pulled—without mistake—or there would be many deaths.
  • Even in the Vanilla and BC 5-mans, CC was an important and necessary part of grouping.
In WotLK, CC is pretty much a lost concept. No one even attempts to CC most of the time. Sure, every once in a while you'll get a player who triesto CC something, but it's less out of necessity and more out of habit (a habit that is quickly fading). Now, when we pull a group in a Naxxramas raid, we just charge in and AoE everything. If another group pats by and aggros, we just add it to the AoE we already have going. Usually, even when we have multiple groups at once, we don't have many (if any) deaths. This shouldn't be possible, but everything just dies so quickly in the AoE that it doesn't have a chance to do much damage at all. Sadly, this takes a lot of the fun and challenge out of raids (and 5-mans) for that matter. Sure, you could still do it the old fashioned way, but at this point if you're not AoEing it when it's the most efficient means of clearing trash, then you are just wasting time.

So, what has caused this? There are a few factors that have combined to create this issue, but a lot of it comes down to the same basic concept: Blizzard wants to make every part of the game more accessible to the casual gamer (except for Arenas, it seems—those are less accessible than ever, now that ratings are required for all decent (non-VoA) PvP gear.
  1. Current tanks have amazing threat generation compared to that of tanks from Vanilla or BC. Not only is their single target threat much better, but their AoE threat is great too. It's now to the point where threat is rarely a concern for any DPSer. We can go in and single-target or AoE DPS to our hearts' content. Sure, increasing the tanks' threat generation has made even poor tanks decent at holding threat, but this also made it so that threat is a non-issue for nearly everyone involved. It's very very rare that anyone pulls aggro from a tank in most normal fights. I remember a time when Fury Warriors were limited by their threat output. They would have to hold back or risk pulling aggro and dying. Without the threat limitation, Fury Warriors just go all out on damage all of the time. Threat being a non-issue makes fights too easy for all parties involved.
  2. Buffs to AoE are another problem. In WotLK, too many classes have strong AoE. Some classes, like Mages, Warlocks, and now Death Knights were meant to have strong AoE. Other classes only had limited AoE (like Druids, who's Hurricane spell used to be on a cooldown). But now all classes have some form of AoE and most of the AoE spells that had cooldowns have had the cooldowns removed. With the repeated pressing of one button, Rogues can AoE as well as most other classes. On pulls with lots of mobs that die quickly, Rogues can out AoE DPS pretty much anyone. Hunters' Volley, Druids' Hurricane, Priests' Mind Sear, Rogues' Fan of Knives, and many many other spells have created a game that does more than take advantage of AoE, it necessitates it. How could Blizzard even expect CC to be used when every class has solid AoE available. Sadly, classes that were not designed around AoE typically only have one AoE spell. This causes these players to be reduced to pressing a single button repeatedly in most trash pulls—a boring concept indeed.
  3. General accessibility has also impacted CC. In trying to make the game easy enough for everyone, Blizzard has made most mobs pretty tame. Some are more dangerous than others (and should be killed first), but in general, none are really large threats. There are some exceptions, but they mostly affect melee (such as mobs with Whirlwind or other AoE spells of their own). Even when a mob does have a more-deadly-than-average attack, groups usually still AoE them and just deal with the few casualties incurred. The only melee class who is particularly susceptible to death due to Whirwind is the Rogue (and the rarely seen cat Druid). All other melee DPS classes wear plate, so they can usually survive the first barrage from a Whirlwind and back out in time to not die—Rogues typically get one-shot. In our raids, it's pretty easy to see when a Whirlwind happens, because all of the Rogues just drop dead at once. This could be avoided by separating the mobs with Whirlwind from the rest of the pack, but since everything is AoEd, this separation doesn't happen. It's clearly not the way it should be done, but even with the Rogue deaths, it's still most efficient. One of my roommates plays a Rogue, and he's getting to the point where he doesn't even want to participate in these pulls (and sometimes the raids in general) because he believes Rogues are seen as expendable—a point I can't really argue with based on how we handle the AoE packs.
Obviously there is a problem here. AoE and CC are clearly broken. All AoE and no CC make Srom a dull boy. Sure, I play an AoE class, but I should be forced to single-target sometimes. There should be SOME strategy to the game. Right now it's just a joke. So how can we fix it? I have a couple of ideas that could help.
  1. First, not every class/spec has to be equally capable of the same amount of damage on AoE packs as other classes—just like not every class/spec should be equally capable at single-target damage. Leave AoE damage to the Mages, Warlocks, Death Knights, and the occasional (non-spamable, cooldown-based) spell from other classes. Classes/Specs that have limited AoE should have their single target damage buffed in some way. One solution would be to create a debuff that all (direct damage) classes/specs have that stacks on a single target up to X times. The debuff would drop off quickly if not reapplied by any DD attack (AoE spells would NOT apply the debuff). A single character's debuff stack could only be on one Mob at a time and each stack would increase their DD output by Y (X and Y are variables that I am not comfortable assigning a specific value to because I do not claim to be capable of MMO damage output balance, but I would guess that you get the idea that I am trying to get across). Casting any AoE spell would remove the stacks immediately and prevent them from being reapplied for a few seconds. Classes/Specs that are heavily AoE-based would not have this stacking debuff, but they would, once again, be much stronger in AoE.
  2. Blizzard could create mobs that have to be CCd. Having groups of five elites AoEd down with no CC is just boring. Creating packs of mobs that require a specific kill order or a specific amount of CC would go along way toward making raids more interesting.
    • For example, Blizzard could add a stacking aura to mobs in a five pull. Each mob emits the aura while they are active, but if they are CCd in any way, their aura is suppressed. Up to three stacks of the aura would provide no additional buff—the mobs would just do 100% damage. However, if four stacks are active, the mobs would do 200% damage; with five stacks active, they would do 400% damage. This example could be modified, but the basic idea is that if groups did not CC at all, even the tanks would be one-shot.
    • A second option would be to give specific mobs buffs that protect other mobs or give other mobs special abilities. For example, have one mob in a pack provide a 90% damage reduction shield to all other mobs within a short radius. Obviously, groups would want to kill that mob first (or CC it, or pull it away from the group). Another example would be to have one mob that, while alive, gives all other nearby mobs an AoE attack that would necessitate that mob dying first. Forcing a kill order would provide some much needed diversity to the game. Sure, there could still be some AoE pulls, but not every pull should be AoE.
I am hoping that Ulduar provides some of this diversity, but I am not counting on it yet. As long as Blizzard is trying to make all of the game content accessible to the casual gamer, we'll likely be seeing similar trends.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Conferring and Confirming

Tam recently blogged about raid confirmations. Her, myself, and sometimes Moxy are really the only three that ever touch them. We go in streaks where one of us will do them for a while, then another, and then another. This pseudo-rotation works well in the sense that not one of us ever should have to do everything in a given week. As Tam expressed in her blog, players often complain to the person whose name is listed next to the confirmations for a raid. However, it really doesn't stop there—they often complain to multiple officers. Melee DPSers are most common. I hear from them every week. This week, since I did confirmations for some of the raids, I am hearing from them even more. I'll often hear complaints through third parties, as well. I'd prefer people come to me if they have questions or concerns, but not everyone is equally comfortable with handling things directly. I understand that. What bothers me is when people read too much into confirmations. It seems that people don't understand how complex they really can be... let me elaborate.

Lately, we have had between 30 and 40 players signing up for our 25-man raids. We try to bring 6-7 healers, 3 tanks, and 15-16 DPS (divided up pretty close to evenly between melee and ranged DPS—with melee sometimes being more prevalent due to our current overabundance of melee in the guild). When selecting those players, we can't just go by the role, but we also try to make sure that as many classes/specs as possible are represented. On top of that, we have to consider player skill, consistency, and availability. All of this adds up to some pretty complicated decisions when trying to get as many capable players into raids as possible.

Let's look at a melee situation:
  • Player A can only raid on Thursdays, so that's all he signs up for.
  • Player B can raid all three days, so he signs up for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
  • Player C can only raid on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so he signs up for those two days.
If there is only room for two of these three players on any given raid night, what's the most fair way to do these confirmations? Would you go with:
  • Monday: Player B
  • Wednesday: Players B and C
  • Thursday: Players A and C
That's what I went with. It seems most fair without any further context. But, now, what if Player B really only needs the content that we are clearing on Thursday? The other players also need gear from the Thursday content. Well, player B is likely to complain that he isn't seeing the content that he needs. This happens often because many players have real life situations that keep them from being able to raid some nights. That's the main reason why we rotate the days that we do specific content as much as possible. But, this doesn't always work out for everyone—we don't always finish what we expect to.

Because we cannot predict the future, we have no real way of assuring that Player B will see the content he needs, unless we let him raid all three nights at the expense of one of the other players. Clearly we cannot do that, so we do the best that we can by rotating content.

Of course, many players want to raid all three nights. However, as more players hit 80 and gear up, we are likely to need to incorporate more players into our raids. For example: we recently had a couple of additional Mages and a couple of additional DPS Warriors hit the level cap. If we want to work any of these players in, we will need some players who currently raid three nights per week to sit out once a week. Obviously, this can cause some hard feelings. However, if we never get these newer 80s into raids, they may leave the guild and we will have a more difficult time replacing someone who has to miss a raid they would normally attend.

So, as Tam said, it's a balancing act. We have to balance the days of the raids, the classes, the roles, the specs, the players, the skill, our friendships, and so much more. Players who take it personally when being confirmed or not on any given night should simply sit back, relax, and look at the overall picture. Of the raid days that you are available, do you raid more days than you don't? If so, you are better off than some. If not, speak with one of us to find out what you can do to get into more raids. There are several things it could be:
  • It may be that we just have too many people of your role/class and we can't fit you in. If that's the case, you can try to reroll, or you can wait for a spot to open.
  • It may be that you are undergeared. Is your average item level below 200? If so, you really need to work on some upgrades before expecting to raid 25-man content. If you are unsure of your average item level, a mod like RatingBuster will allow you to see item levels in your tool tips.
  • It could simply be a skill issue. If you are not performing as well as your peers, talk to a Lieutenant or an Officer who plays your class. You may be able to learn something new to help your performance. Also, take the time to read about your class, the various specs players use, and how to perform best in your role. I read several Death Knight blogs as well as the Elitist Jerks forums frequently—this has helped me tremendously.
  • Maybe your attitude is getting in the way. If you make other players uncomfortable or are abrasive, you will have a more difficult time getting into raids. This doesn't mean you won't get in, but it can make it harder.
I am not implying that no personal consideration goes into confirmations. As Tam said, some of us have real life friends who may have an advantage over players who we do not share a home, or home town with. I'll go to bat for my roommates before I will go to bat for someone I have never met—that's just the way the world works. But that doesn't mean that other skilled players can't win spots in raids, and it certainly doesn't mean that a lower performer will win a spot just because he or she has the ear of an Officer. If you are good, we will find a place for you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

TV Talk Etiquite in the Time of TiVos

This past Friday evening, I had something disappointing happen. If you have not watched the first episode of the second half of season 4 of BSG, don't read on, or you will be in the same boat that I was on Friday night.

Battlestar Galactica is one of the few shows that I truly love to watch. There are several shows that I watch on a weekly basis, but very few that I actually discuss with others. BSG is one of those shows that I like to talk about. I like to try to figure out what's going on: It has a great mystery component to it. That's all probbaly pretty clear to you, if you read my blog entry from Friday. I may usually guess incorrectly, but I enjoy the guessing and discussing process. Now for what happened on Friday evening:

My roommates and I typically watch a few of different shows togetether—or, at least, I usually watch a couple of shows with at least one of them. These shows include BSG, Lost, and Heroes. Watching TV together is made possible by TiVo (of which I have three). When you own a TiVo, it's unlikely that you will watch many shows live. When you own three TiVos, it's even more unlikely that you will watch anything live. I mean, really, who wants to deal with commercials? In the time of TiVos, this is a fairly common practice. I don't watch ANYTHING live, and some shows I don't watch for weeks. This brings me to my question: What is the TV talk etiquite in the time of TiVos? When is it safe to discuss a show? Should you check before saying anything at all?

I have had TiVos since around 1999 or 2000. I frequented the Tivo Community Forums for years and still visit fairly often (though I don't post nearly as much as I used to). I learned the culture of this group, and spoiler ettiquite was strictly enforced. As more and more people have started using TiVos or other DVRs, I expect that this "spoiler free" concept would grow. I never talk about a show unless I ask if those around me are caught up on the show in question (unless I am aware that they have no plans/desire to ever watch it). On Friday evening I eagerly awaited the return of BSG. I was looking forward to seeing where things went, to seeing how off my predictions were, and to the stunning beauty of the show on my new HDTV. Sadly, while I was playing WoW on my computer, I got a text message to my phone that told me that Dualla was dead. I didn't see the text message right away, but that didn't stop me from seeing the spoiler—the same person that sent me the text message then proceeded to tell me the same spoiler in a WoW whisper. Wonderful >_<

I wait for months for this show to return, and people can't even bother to say, "Hey, have you seen the new episode of BSG yet?" before spamming me with spoilers? The moment of Dualla dying was a big moment. It was huge, really (especially for me, considering I had her pegged as a likely candidate for the final Cylon). The whole time I was watching the episode, I was thinking, "When's she going to die?" I couldn't enjoy the experience of seeing her near the brink of insanity when she realized that the Earth that was, was no longer; I couldn't enjoy her rekindling romance with Lee; I couldn't enjoy the prospects of what might be, because I knew what would be. When I reacted in a not so cuddly way to the source of the spoiler, I got a "You should have watched it" retort. After a while, the culprit back peddled and said that I just should have made it clear more quickly that I had not watched the show, and he eventually conceded that he should have asked first, but that took a lot of doing to get that final response.

My opinion is that, before discussing a show that has recently aired, you should ask if everyone involved in the conversation is caught up to that point. If it's a show that aired weeks ago, it's a whole different ballgame. I would still prefer that I am asked, but I can't hold someone at fault for assuming I have watched the season 4 finale of LOST a couple of days before season 5 is about to start (and, of course, I have ^_^).

Yes, I am spoiler sensitive. I watch these shows because I enjoy the storytelling process, and I enjoy considering what may come later. I lose out on that when I am told what is going to happen. There are so few good shows available. It sucks when the good ones are ruined for me. Please be considerate and don't be a spoiler.

Friday, January 16, 2009

BSG Returns - Who's the final Cylon?

Tonight is the much anticipated return of Battlestar Galactica. The show has been on break since June and I have been eagerly awaiting a resolution to the story. When we last saw our friends of the Galactica, they had just arrived at a post-apocalyptic looking Earth and we were still unsure who the final Cylon would turn out to be. What happened to Earth? Who is the last Cylon? What really happened to Kara during her two month gap? These questions and more have been the topic of many discussions at my house, at work, and even within our WoW guild. What are the answers to these questions? Hopefully the writers won't let us down and we will soon have our answers.

Until then, here are a few of my thoughts:

The Final Cylon: When I put together my thoughts on who the final Cylon may be, I am mostly thinking from a a writing perspective—What would I write? I am not the one writing the show, so this makes most of what I am about to say most likely entirely off base, but it's still fun to speculate. There are a lot of possibilities here for who the last Cylon is. Popular opinion has named Lee Adama, Kara Thrace, Gaius Baltar, and Felix Gaeta as the most likely candidates (although there are plenty of theories that include other names as well).

Before talking about each of these characters, I'd like to provide my thoughts on what qualities the final Cylon should have:
  1. The final Cylon should be someone that the audience has had time to become attached to. Preferably someone who has been around since the beginning.
  2. It should be someone close to those with power (or with power of its own).
  3. It needs to be someone that both the viewers and characters would be surprised by (at least to some small degree. With so much analysis going on, it would be hard to be VERY surprised by any revelation).
  4. In order to garner a worth reaction from the audience, it must be someone that the audience cares about.
  5. It should be someone who is viewed as entirely loyal.
  6. It should be someone who is very human (what I mean here is someone who is emotional, makes mistakes, loves, etc.).
  7. It just makes sense to me that it would need to be someone without verifiable family connections. If there were more Cylon models, this wouldn't matter; if we are only looking for one, it does. If someone had a child, unless that child was switched at birth (or adopted), it's pretty obvious where they came from.
Let's start with Lee Adama: My main reason for ruling Lee out is that he has had direct family connections throughout the series. His father is the only one the audience can verify through current events, but his brother can be verified by his relationship with Kara. If this is the case, then for him to be a Cylon, he would have had to have been switched out with the real Lee at some point. Lee fits every other criterion that I have listed though, so his family connections are the only reason why I think he couldn't be the final Cylon (so the switched at birth theory could still apply).

Kara Thrace: Wow, this one is tough. I really don't know how to rule Kara out. I want to rule her out, because given what has happened over the last half season it just feels too obvious. It screams red herring. At the same time, though, there is a lot that I cannot explain. She fits all of my criteria. They showed her mother in some flash backs, but we have no reason to believe anyone else has ever met her, so these could just be implanted memories. We saw her ship get destroyed last season, and then at the beginning of this season she returns in a brand-spankin'-new Viper. That's clearly very suspicious. I am not sure how to rationalize how she could have escaped death. One of my roommates suggested that she may have had a Flux Capacitor on board and what we really saw was her bursting into another time, but sarcasm aside, as far as we know, her Viper went BOOM! So, in order for her to return, we either didn't see her somehow get out of her Viper and into some other vessel, or she's not the original Kara (She could be a Cylon or a clone—remember, they did steal some of her eggs on Caprica, so it's entirely plausible that the Cylons did create a clone Kara). If she is a clone, that still doesn't explain how she had all of Kara's memories up to her disappearance. It also doesn't explain how she got to Earth in a brand new Viper. If she was a Cylon or a clone, another Cylon had to have deposited her there, and from what we've seen, the Cylons know less about Earth than the humans do. I guess it's possible that the final Cylon knows the location of Earth and deposited her there, but that would require that the final Cylon is someone we have not seen in a while (or at all).

Gaius Baltar: Gaius is another of the "it's too obvious to be him" type. He wants it too badly. He's also not very loyal to anyone but himself (although I think he was given a pretty raw deal in a lot of ways). Self preservation is Gaius's way, and because he is so selfish, I just don't can't see him as the final Cylon. People wouldn't really be surprised, and we'd here the "I knew if! He was such a tool anyway." I think we'd find similar responses if Zarek were the final Cylon (so, I'd also rule him out).

Felix Gaeta: Gaeta fits all of my criteria. He may have made some bad decisions, but his heart was always in the right place. He played a significant role in the resistance on New Caprica (and as we know three other key members of the resistance ended up being Cylons). When he lost his leg I thought, "they wouldn't make the last Cylon a one-legged cripple," but I take that back now. I think that makes him come across as more human and more vulnerable. I would put him in my top two picks. When he was singing in the sick bay, it was eerily familiar to when the other four "spylons" heard the music that brought them together.

Others: My original first pick for the final Cylon was Anastasia "Dee" Dualla. I picked her because she was a very human character. She was who the William Adama confided in. She humanized him to some degree. Someone with this connection William Adama is clearly in a very key position to gather intelligence. She has also been put on the back burner a bit in Season 4. This could be because her character is simply not important to the story, or it could be misdirection so that we aren't focused on her as a possibility. She's very trustworthy, loyal, and closer to the people with power than many. She would have also been the only Cylon on the Pegasus while Lee Adama commanded it and the majority of the survivors were on New Caprica. If she's not the last Cylon, then no one was there to watch Lee (even if only subconsciously). Although she was my first pick, I now have her tied with Gaeta. I am pretty sure it will be one of the two—of course, I am nearly always wrong, so take that for what it's worth (-_^)

Ellen Tigh is dead, as is Cally Tyrol, Billy Keikeya, and Priest Elosha. If it's any of them, I would call that cheating. I really don't want this show to cheat on this, but I guess we shall see soon.

A final point to consider is that Deanna stated that only 4 of the final 5 were within the fleet. This could mean that the final Cylon was already on board their ship (as one of the captives). It could also very easily mean that it's someone who was lost long ago (making those that were dead a distant possibility). However, she could also simply be lying. I don't know that I would take anything she says at face value. Why would she force the other four out of hiding but not be willing to out the fifth? Maybe she didn't see the last face as clearly as she has lead everyone to believe.

Who do you think is the final Cylon? What do you think happened on Earth? Are they returning to a world their ancestors left due to a previous Cylon war ("All this has happened before and will happen again")? So many unanswered questions!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How do Achievements fit in to guild progression?

Yesterday I wrote about achievements that I thought were broken. The original plan for today was to talk about how I think achievements could be fixed/improved. I am still going to touch on that, but some posts on our guild forums have caused me to expand on the original topic.

Last night in Naxx 25, some of our members asked if we could try to do some of the heroic raid achievements. Now, I am all for a good challenge, but not just for the sake of making the encounters slower or more difficult. I like heroic achievements that are about doing the fight the right way but without mistake, or faster, or with less handicaps (such as resistance). However, achievements that ask you to do a fight in a way that it was clearly not intended, just to make the fight harder, are a complete crock (I.M.n.s.H.O.). Yesterday I mentioned Spore Loser as an achievement that I considered broken. Well, I also consider it a crock. This was the achievement in question last night. Some raiders wanted to try it, but some did not. We did a quick poll in the Officers' channel, and it was a unanimous decision (at least among those who responded) to not attempt the achievement. So, why is this? There are probably several reasons that players don't want to try something like this, but my reasons are as follows:
  1. Not killing the spores prevents players from getting the crit buff, which in turn increases the length of the fight significantly. Many of us want to clear Naxx as quickly as possible. If the achievement were to ensure that every spore results in 5 people gaining the buff (something else that would take skill, but would also speed up the fight), I would be all for it.
  2. The reward for completeing this achievement is achievement points. Yes, that is all. So, we make the fight more difficult and a heck of a lot slower and we get bragging rights. Wow, sign me up >_<
  3. This isn't how the fight was designed to be completed. The spores were put into the fight to provide the buff so that players had to coordinate (ensuring that the maximum number of players were affected). So, the achievement is to do the fight improperly—it's just not my cup of tea.
In all fairness, not all of the achievements incite those same thoughts in me. In fact, some of them are just what I think they should be. I would love to see us complete Make Quick Werk of Him, in which we would have to down Patwerk in 3 minutes or less. This achievement both speeds up the time in which the fight is done AND takes skill. This is the type of achievement I can stand behind.

However, there are players who want to complete all of the achievements (or at least the ones that are required for the meta-achievement Glory of the Raider. The Glory of the Raider meta-achievement has a reward of a Black Proto-Drake (a coveted 310% speed mount). I understand why some players want to work toward this, but a faster mount (or, at least this specific faster mount) is not at the top of everyone's priority list. Sure, most of us would like a faster mount, but there are other ways to get one, and not everyone is on board for working toward this one. So, my question is, "How far should a guild go, for several players, for something as unnecessary as this mount?" That's a difficult question, but here are my thoughts:
  1. I don't like the idea of asking 25 people to work on achievements that maybe half of them really want. It could be more than half, but from a guild poll we are running, it looks like it's less than half (at least at the time of this posting). It just feels unfair to me to ask people to jump into this when they are really there to clear the instance.
  2. Players can acquire a Plagued Proto-Drake by completing the non-heroic version of this meta-achievement. Finding 10 people who are like-minded and want to complete the raid achievements is a lot easier than finding 25. Of course, the 10-man content is a bit more difficult, but it's within reach of a balanced group of good players who really want it.
  3. For those that cannot get the 10-man achievements done, time (and gear) will improve their chances. By the time Ulduar is available, players should be much better geared. Also, once our guild is in Ulduar, we will most likely not be running Naxx 25 (at least not regularly). This makes the perfect opportunity for players to form a guild PUG for the achievements. If players are interested in getting the mount, they will attend. If they are not, well, then I'd rather not have forced them to do it in the first place. And, hey, a guild PUG can always be filled out with a few non-guildy PUGers.
I guess I have made it pretty clear where I stand. I don't want the achievements to get in the way of speed, progression, or the proper way of completing a fight. If all achievements were challenging, but met these rules, I would be the happiest of "cheivers." The only other way you could pull me in would be for the achievements to offer more rewards. Sartharion does just that. Not only is there a mount drop, but there is also upgraded gear (and more of it), from doing the achievement. And, clearly, the fight was designed to be done with three drakes up in the first place. this is an achievement handled correctly. It offers a challenge and appropriate rewards for overcoming that challenge—not just a faster way to move around when we are not raiding.

That's how I think Blizzard can fix achievements: They need to make sure that the effort to reward ratio is appropriate in the eyes of the majority of players. From what I have heard, this is the direction Ulduar is headed. I hope that ends up being true, because if it's not, I will be sorely disappointed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Achievement Unlocked: 25 Respecs

Achievements: Some of us love them, and some of us hate them, but most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. I am in the "somewhere in the middle" category. There are some achievements that I am actively working toward and others that I just don't care about at all. However, a post on our guild forums got me thinking about something that happened in our 10-man run this weekend and I thought I'd bring it up here.

See, in my opinion, some achievements are just broken. The specific one that was on my mind today was Spore Loser. To get this achievement, the raid must kill Loatheb without killing any Spores. The problem here is that some classes have passive damage that they can't control. For example, my Death Knight has a talent that gives my diseases a chance to do damage to nearby enemies within 8 yards. This damage is entirely passive and the only way it can be prevented is by not casting my diseases on my primary target (which is really not an option at all), or keeping all additional targets at least 8 yards away from what I am pounding on. So the solution is clear: we have someone kiting the spores with a non-damage taunt. I don't know how easy this will be, but it's either that or I respec out of a very common Unholy talent just for this fight. So, my question is, if the kiting method doesn't work, should players have to respec out of common raid builds for specific raid achievements? I am not asking if they should or shouldn't do it for their guild, but should respeccing be necessary to complete a raid achievement in the first place? Now, maybe the kiting method will work, and this will be a moot point, but I am still curious what everyone thinks.

Another achievement that I think has been poorly designed is Watch Him Die. On the surface, this achievement is pretty simple: Defeat Krik'thir the Gatewatcher in Azjol-Nerub on Heroic Difficulty while Watcher Gashra, Watcher Narjil and Watcher Silthik are still alive.The problem is that, as far as I can find, the only way to achieve this is to die at the end of the kill. You leave the adds up and kill the boss, but after the boss is down your whole party ends up dying due to the adds. I am sure that Tier 8 or 9 gear will help with completing this achievement while remaining alive, but until then, is the intended way to complete this really to have everyone die at the end? I was in a very competent group that worked on this for 2 nights. We did finally get it, but we still all died. It was crazy close, and three of the five of us were dead even before the kill. From all of the comments on WoWHead, this seems to be the way people beat this one. It just doesn't seem right that the achievement comes with death. Shouldn't this be do-able while remaining alive? Now that would be an achievement!

The last one I want to mention is Less-rabi. To gain the achievement, you must defeat Moorabi in Gundrak on Heroic Difficulty while preventing him from transforming into a mammoth at any point during the encounter. Now, this one is very possible without cheesing the encounter, but only if you stack silencing classes. If he even attempts to cast his transformation while he is below 20% health it's pretty much an instant cast. GhostCrawler told us "Take the player, not the class." Does this not carry over into achievements? Now, there are other ways of getting this achievement, but they all involve cheesing the encounter and having someone drop from combat to reset the fight after Moorabi transforms. It's a blatant exploit, but it the only way some of us will ever get this achievement as it currently stands.

I may be up the middle on how I feel about achievements overall, but with the game getting so easy, the achievements that are a real challenge draw me in. I am just not a fan of achievements that are not possible without a certain class/spec makeup or ones that have to be exploited. Hopefully Blizzard fixes these and improves the achievement system overall. I have some ideas for that, that I will discuss in the near future.

Changes to my Death Knight's Spec
Several weeks back I decided that I needed to up my single-target DPS. My AoE DPS was astounding, but when it came to a single-target fight like Patchwerk, I felt like a wasted spot in the raid. I made some changes that helped, and I did a lot of research, as well. I found that the best spec for DPSing single-target boss encounters was a dual-wielding DPS tri-spec. I guess I have found my second spec for when patch 3.1 releases. For now, though, I have decided on making a couple of additional changes to my current Unholy spec:
  • First, I am taking the four points I had in Desecration. This will actually lower my DPS on fights where we don't move (like Patchwerk), but it is an absolute waste of points in all encounters where I do have to move (which includes most of the encounters in the current raids—at least to some degree). I just don't get the 5% damage bonus if I can't stand in one spot for any significant period of time.
  • Second, I am taking two of those four points and putting them into Unholy Aura. I had this in my first raiding spec, but sacrificed it to up my personal single-target damage. I have decided that the overall damage increase for the raid that will result from everyone being able to move 15% faster outweighs any personal benefit I had from using those points elsewhere.
  • The other two points I removed from Desecration will be invested in Night of the Dead. While the talent is pretty lame right now, in the next patch it will also include 70% passive AoE spell avoidance. That will help my ghoul stay alive and make him usable on many more encounters than I can use him on now.
We'll see how those changes work out for me. I expect to see my single-target DPS falter a little, but the overall raids DPS rise. If that's the case, it's a sacrifice worth making.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The First of Many

There was a time when I had a blog. It was a while ago now. I started it when I started my MySpace account. Over the years I lost interest in MySpace, deleted my account and transitioned to Facebook. When I deleted that account, my blog went with it. I have finally decided to start a new one, and I plan to update it fairly regularly, but i'll just start with post one and see where it goes from there.

Last night our WoW guild (xeno) ventured into the Obsidian Sanctum to face Sartharion with one drake up. We had destroyed him without any drakes up several times—with no drakes, it's so easy that it just feels like a waste of time. I was really looking forward to tackling the fight with Tenebron up in 25-man. Just two days prior, our 10-man raid group completed the exact same encounter; it was a challenging fight, but we were able to take it down after three serious attempts (Of course, this wasn't or first night trying the 10-man fight with Tenenbron up. We had worked on it the week before for several hours without a successful kill). the experience from our 10-man lead me to beleive that we wouldn't have too much trouble in the 25-man version, but I didn't expect it to be the joke that it was. Now, this was the very first time we put in a real effort at 25-man Sarth with a drake up. I expected we'd put in a couple of hours before we saw his demise. The true result was quite anticlimactic: We one-shot it. It didn't even get very hectic. When Tenenbron went down there was an overall feeling of disappointment and surprise. It seemed that the fight wasn't much more difficult on 25-man than it was on 10-man—but you have 15 more people to help.

It is a joke of a fight and it reinforces my opinion that Blizzard has made the game too accessible. I can't really blame them. They are looking out for number one; they want as many subscribers as they can get; they know that providing everyone with access to all content gives most people more to do. I get it, but it frustrates me. Back in the days of vanilla WoW, when 40-man raids were end-game, everything had a more epic feel. You didn't have to have a lot of great players to progress, as long as you had a solid core. You could pretty much carry 10 people through, even if they were AFK. When BC came out, Blizzard made changes that resulted in the necessity to bring people to raids that knew how to play. You could not longer carry several people through—in fact, in some fights, it was even a stretch to carry one bad player through. Now it seems that Blizzard has done a complete 180. WotLK 25-man raids require very little skill. Sure, there are exceptions, but overall the n00b is back in the game. Most of the WoW population is probably thrilled with this, but I am not. I enjoy the challenges. this week my guild will try Sartharion with 2 adds up—maybe even 3—and if we beat that, we'll have nothing to work on until the next content patch. Lame. WTB a challenge.