A Totally Serious Guide to Firelands
Feb28

A Totally Serious Guide to Firelands

I think I’ve mentioned before that for the most part my newly returned WoW guildies skipped the last half of Cataclysm. With that in mind this weekend we’ve got a handful of max-level folks going to Firelands for the very first time. It sounds… warm!

Ellyndrial isn’t able to make it but as a former Firelands raid leader he did manage to post some boss tactics for our noob group, and I felt I should share them today on a sunny silly Friday. Have a great weekend!

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Ellyndrial’s Guide to Firelands Boss Fights

raglegs 300x295 A Totally Serious Guide to Firelands

Dude with dogs
– Keep the dogs away from the boss, sometimes they try to eat someone.

Spider whatsit
– Kill all the spiders, some people kill the boss, or more likely fall down the holes.

Gatekeeper something or other that stands in front of a gate
– Literally no idea.

Firebird with flying moonkin and rolling balls
– Don’t stand in the fire. Seriously, stop standing in the fire. Also, kill the balls. Also some people fly and get rings of doom and hooray.

STOMP STOMP I WALK INTO LAVA
– Steering is hard.

Dude who drops the sweet fire-cat druid staff that all the hunters always steal
– Everyone stands in when he’s a scorpion, everyone spreads out when he’s a cat, repeat.

Ragnaros has LEGS?!
– Sort of complicated, but mostly don’t get hit by the hammer and don’t get hit by the fire. Unless it’s your job.

(PS: You can find Elly on the Cat Context podcast or his blog That Angry Dwarf.)

Gear Scores and Gatekeepers: automated non-solutions to a social problem
Jan07

Gear Scores and Gatekeepers: automated non-solutions to a social problem

Yesterday two lovely bloggers, Belghast and Alternative Chat, wrote posts about why WoW could use a better player skill ranking system, and ways to go about that. Bel wrote about the Gatekeeper in The Secret World and proposed a similar skills test in WoW. The Godmother devised a detailed way to essentially create an “effort score” for gear instead of just a flat gear score.

With respect to both, I think they are looking for automated solutions to what is essentially a social problem.

To The Logs!

The Godmother wrote in her post:

“How do you ensure that your player base understands that playing your game isn’t just simply a case of turning up, taking what they want and wandering off when satisfied? How can you prove they are capable of actually playing?”

I’m not even sure that Blizzard is in the business of making sure players are capable, but let’s look at this from the perspective of a guild leader. How does a guild or raid leader know that their team is capable of taking on certain raid content? Easy — they play with them.

Way back in TBC and WotLK when my guild was raiding GearScore was a big huge deal. And yet our application specifically stated that we were not interested in the least in what people’s GearScores were. In fact, I don’t think I ever recruited a single person who included it.

Why? Because gear doesn’t really matter when recruiting for a raid team. Okay, yes, you probably don’t want to bring a fresh level 90 in greens to heroic Garrosh but for a group that raids on a regular basis gearing up the new guy is pretty simple, particularly nowadays. Instead, I recruited for personality and previous experience. Once we got someone in their first raid we’d look at their response times, and then after at the logs. Within a raid or two we would absolutely have a great idea of how well the newbie could actually play.

The Godmother has come up with a complicated system that removes high level crafting and other “easy” gearing methods so that players can’t just cruise to a high ilevel, but reading it reminds me of the famous line Laurence Olivier said to method actor Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man: “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting?”

Forget an automated score, any score, that will tell the world how good one is at WoW. Instead, read logs and watch your raid team. (And if they’re not on your raid team.. then you don’t really need a skill score for them, do you?)

Good Guild Leaders are Jerks. Sometimes.

While The Godmother took on ways to create a better Gear Score, Belghast went a different direction and proposed a skill testing system. He something like the Gatekeeper in TSW, an NPC who presents tough challenges that players must complete individually to unlock Nightmare-level group content.

In theory I like the idea of having ways outside of raids to train your skills. I am a big fan of Proving Grounds, the solo skill test recently added to WoW. It took me three tries to get my Silver as a (rusty) disc priest, and I’m proud of it. But really, isn’t Proving Grounds supposed to be the skill test of WoW? If one is worried about setting a skill barrier to entry, why not just say that everyone has to have the Silver or Gold achievement to join the raid?

The truth is that skill level is not actually the problem that Bel is trying to solve with a Gatekeeper. He wrote in his post:

“It sucks being the one to tell a player that they just are not good enough to be able to do the content. Without hard facts as to why, it often feels like the leader is playing favorites or simply singling a player out unjustly.”

Ahh yes. The gatekeeper is really there to let the guild or raid leader avoid delivering bad news themselves.

I totally understand that having difficult conversations about performance is one of the least fun parts of running a raid team, and I also happen to know Bel fairly well so I know he is a kind person who doesn’t like confrontation, which is a not at all a bad thing to be. However, creating a whole system of raid barriers basically just so a guild leader never has to say a strong word seems like an inefficient solution.

Again, logs are the answer here. Hard facts are available! Performance charts, death numbers. Show underperforming shadow priest X how much better shadow priest Y’s uptime on Shadow Word: Pain is. Write or link guides on your guild forums to proper reforging for Death Knights, or even start a post with “raid tips”. Codify your expectations of raiders and post them where everyone can see.

Those people who are oblivious to how much they’re dragging the rest of the team down? They’re not going to be any happier being told by a robot that they aren’t good enough to raid, and my experience is that it won’t suddenly inspire them to train and become the best. Sometimes, if you care about raid progression, good guild leaders have to be the bad guy.

Robots Can’t Create Caring

I mean no slight to The Godmother or Belghast here. They both seem like awesome guild leaders! But this is not a problem that needs an automated solution and I think creating hard-coded limitations for social problems is a mistake. Not only does it limit the game for everyone through removing things like end-game crafting and making skill checks mandatory, but I don’t actually think either measure would actually fix the issues.

At this point, nine years into WoW, if someone doesn’t care at all about their raid performance then no amount of gear scores or gatekeepers is going to change their mind. Instead, it’s up to the guild or raid or role leader to monitor their own team if they care about this kind of thing — look at logs, recruit carefully, and bite the bullet and have that slightly uncomfortable conversation if someone is letting down the other 9-24 people.

Serpentshrine Cavern: the best raid ever
Nov21

Serpentshrine Cavern: the best raid ever

For some reason game blog folks have been talking lately about their favorite WoW raids, past and present. (See Klep and Doone, for example.) While “best raid” is a pretty subjective title, and one (as Klep points out) that is probably heavily swayed by one’s guild at the time, there are a few names that always seem to pop up in these lists.

Karazhan is a huge fan favorite, and with good reason. While the change from 40-mans in Vanilla to 10-mans in Karazhan to 25-mans everywhere else in TBC was kind of a pain in the butt as a guild leader, the instance itself was beautiful, sprawling, and had some mechanics we had never seen before like the random Opera House boss.

Ulduar is another raid zone that comes up often in these conversations. Again it’s huge and thematically very interesting. The bosses were memorable (“In the mountains!”) and the hard modes in Ulduar were probably the best Blizzard has ever done, both in technique and integration. Also, Firefighter, a.k.a. Mimiron hard mode, remains one of the most fun fights ever in WoW raid history.

I come to you today, though, to talk about a raid instance that doesn’t come up very often in “best raid” lists, and yet is the nearest and dearest to my heart: Serpentshrine Cavern.

Serpentshrine Cavern bosses 500x334 Serpentshrine Cavern: the best raid ever

Certainly a great deal of the joy I experienced in SSC was a product of my guild. We had a great group, many of whom I still talk to and play with today. (And if you are reading this and we haven’t talked lately, say hello!) Our guild had some amazing in-jokes from SSC, like warning people about the “veranda hole” outside Leo’s cavern that newbies always fell through, or everyone popping their sprint abilities to be the first one to activate the bridge to Vashj.

However even beyond the awesome people I was there with, the bosses themselves were also really fun. The Lurker Below had to be fished up to start the encounter, and diving underwater to avoid spout was pretty unique at the time. Hydross had lots of running around to stay on the right side of debuffs, and Karathress was one of those crazy council-style fights with a ton of bosses and tank assignments. Morogrim (who we called Karl for some reason) had a giant ship wheel as a belt buckle which inspired a million “Arr, it’s drivin’ me nuts” jokes, and Leo not only allowed for a warlock tank but also had the potential to let us kill mind controlled guildies.

(We had an enhancement shaman named Doomikov, and everyone knew that if you didn’t kill your shadow and got mind controlled the last thing you would see was Doom’s giant mace.)

And then there was Vashj herself. While Kael’thas in Tempest Keep actually took us much longer to learn, I think Vashj was probably the more complicated fight. Everyone in the raid had to be assigned an area. While killing adds we tossed “cores” around like a basketball, trying to position someone to dunk it. In the middle, a couple of kiters ran around in circles, tossing nets and stuns and being followed by gigantic fen creatures. And then once you did THAT, you still had a DPS race phase where people would avoid standing in green stuff and get horrible debuffs.

Vashj in her day was a crazy, crazy, crazy fight, and killing her the first time was satisfying in a way that probably no other boss aside from Kael would ever match.

SSC had everything I liked in a raid zone — difficult and interesting encounters, killer elevators, and good friends.

Why raid accessibility made leaders less tolerant (WoW)

There seems to be a feeling of regret floating around old school WoW raiders lately. I’ve seen it in other places, but this post over on Raging Monkeys does a great job of summing up the conflict. Syl writes,

“To this day, I am deeply resentful; resentful of Blizzard, of the game’s later raid designs that presented my own guild with such a reality. [...] Most of all, I resent them for making me that different person. A person with less and less tolerance for team diversity.”

Reading that passage the first time was striking because I lately have been feeling almost the exact same way. But is the “hardcore” raid culture really to blame?

The Cats were never traditionally hardcore, not even in our peak raiding days. I always believed (and still do) in recruiting smart raiders and then getting out of the way so they could do their thing. We didn’t yell or insult people for performance, and attendance was always optional. But as time went on, we — I — started getting more and more picky about who was and was not considered an essential part of the team.

That nice guy with a newborn who could only raid once a week? Accomodating him felt less important than keeping the experienced people together when faced with night 3 of Heroic Putricide. The woman from Australia with bad latency but awesome attendance? Taking her on a cloak run of TotGC put everyone on edge. Granted, in TBC we got a little more serious about raiding as a guild, but the folks who found themselves on the outside were generally the people who didn’t care that much. They didn’t have enchants, or “forgot to train taunt”. But in WotLK in particular I definitely started leading the guild in a more serious business direction.

So, why did that happen? Part of it was that I personally wanted to keep the ol’ progression train rolling along, and certainly the increased emphasis on fights where individuals can kill the whole raid was a factor, but I think there is another obvious culprit: Casuals. Yeah, that’s right. I said it.

Okay, that was a bit sensational, but I genuinely think the drive to increase the accessability of raiding actually made the culture of raids more focused on performance.

In TBC, after a certain point you had to raid to earn PvE upgrades. And because there were multiple tiers at once and no outside way to obtain the gear, you had to work through the tiers in order. Many tiers of content were valid at the same time. The lean, mean raiding machine with the army general leader could log on and work on their upgrades in Hyjal, while my guild with our not-ungenerous portion of dorks and drunks ( <3 ) could log on and obtain our upgrades in SSC. Usually by the time we worked our way to a boss it was ~10% easier beween nerfs and class buffs and we were loaded up with gear from the previous tier.

My guild, anyway, was quite satisfied with this system. I did not worry what Raidy McRaiderson was doing in Hyjal, because I was too busy securing a resist tank for Hydross attempts or other goals appropriate to our raiding dedication and ability.

In WotLK, Blizzard added two big (and totally successful!) initiatives to improve raid accessability in WoW: badge gear (technically introduced in TBC, but right at the end) and the LFD. The effect was, of course, people being able to gear up faster than ever before, almost to the equivalent of the latest raid content. Running previous raid tiers became obsolete overnight, and out with it went guilds clearing content at thier own pace.

Now every guild started the same raid at the same time, and stopped the same raid at the same time. The sense of being in direct competition, somehow comparing ourselves to them all, began to get hard to ignore. Additionally, the introduction of the simultaneous badge/raid system meant that raids were no longer released en masse, but one at a time. Instead of looking at a handful of raids and thinking we had 18 months or so (we averaged a new boss every couple of weeks), the window of opportunity for current content seemed to become smaller and smaller. Ulduar, for example, had 14 bosses, some of whom had 3 different difficulty modes, and a whole giant mess of achievements. It was current for 5 months.

So not only were we all forced to raid on the same timetable in WotLK due to having a badge system tied to raid tiers, but that time got a lot shorter. Is it any wonder that some of us started to get a bit squirrelly about failure?

Before you accuse me of being a jerk about raid accessibility, let me assure you that I’m all for it in theory. Play the game, raid the raids — I don’t care if you have better gear than I do or whatever it is I’m supposed to be all elitist about.

However, the specific ways that Blizzard chose to implement raid accessibility actually alientated a lot of the players they were trying to help, and encouraged leaders to be more stringent about individual performance. Sure, we did it to ourselves, but Blizzard paved the way.

This is why casuals can’t have nice things (WoW)

Here is a post I read this morning on a WoW discussion site. I chose it because it is a good representation of many similar posts I have seen in the last couple of days:

I have a Deathwing kill on my Hunter and I’m already finished. But, for the first time ever, I unsubscribed for a positive reason. I came back to learn and gear my Hunter, get a transmog bow, and kill Deathwing. Done, done, and done. Time to move on to other games.

And herein lies the problem with easy content. This player’s reaction would be great if Blizzard’s business plan was to run an MMO for a week after a content patch and then shut down the servers, but that is clearly not the case.

The LFR version of Deathwing can be one-shot in a pug (as I did last night) and then Shaman Ex Machina Thrall shows up in the post-kill cinematic to declare “The Cataclysm is over!” (I’m not making that up, he really does) and millions of players say, “Oh sweet, later guys” and go play League of Legends for the next 8 months.

At the end of the day the Looking for Raid feature will be a monumental reminder of why uber-easy, no risk, “casual” raiding doesn’t work beyond a week or two.

4.3 and Finding the Line Between Too Easy and Too Tough (WoW)

I have fallen back in love with WoW this week. Part of it is that I stumbled into a nice little group of folks in my guild with whom I can run instances and get into trouble, and of course the arrival of Patch 4.3 helped a lot. It has not escaped my attention that the patch that returns Azeroth to a state more resembling the oh-so-casual Wrath of the Lich King expansion is the one that has everyone talking and playing. Is returning to Wrath’s difficulty level the answer to Blizzard’s subscription problems?

To be fair, the three new heroics are not pushovers. They are short, have interesting mechanics, and are easy to die in if you’re not paying attention. Healing some of these fights is a little intense right now, but the risk seems even with the reward. It reminds me a lot of the three “lore” heroics that came into the game with Icecrown Citadel. They are a happy medium between the early ICC heroics, which were so boring I would come up with gimmicks to amuse myself like only running backwards or wearing costume clothes, and early Cataclysm heroics which were very tough and in many cases very long.

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be long, arduous heroics available (I really feel for non-raiders who want challenging content), but it’s nice to have some that are short, fun, and will kill you if you slack off too much.

My guild doesn’t raid until Saturday, so I haven’t had a chance to see Dragon Soul on normal mode yet but judging by the results of others it seems to be going back to ToC levels of difficulty. Average raiding guilds are killing 4+ bosses on their first night in the place. The Looking for Raid finder is even easier: I walked in on Wednesday night and one-shot the first three bosses and wiping once on the last one.

I think the difficulty (or lack thereof!) in the LFR is fine. That is what it’s for, and I think it’ll be a great way to level alts. Additionally, average raiding guilds will benefit greatly from having their members check out a fight in LFR before doing it on a guild run as well. However, I think once again Blizz has fallen into the WotLK problem of alienating their middle of the road guilds. It seems like most will have cleared normal Dragon Soul in a month. An average raid guild can kill roughly half of hard modes in any given instance, which means that yet again most guilds will have maybe 4 bosses to reasonably work on for the next six months. I’m glad recruiting in that situation is no longer my problem.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my time as a raiding guild leader in WoW, and in retrospect I think the biggest mistake I personally made was falling into the trap of heroic raids. The Cats were never about being top 10 or better than our fellow players, but were mainly concerned with just seeing the content. Instead of agreeing with the Blizzard that heroic raids were progression, I think focusing on achievements would have fit better with our “be prepared, but not too serious” ethos. Run normals, do heroics if we want, but make achievements our “progression”.

Given the option between normal modes that are pushovers and hardmodes that are overtuned recycled content, I feel like an achievement-oriented raiding guild would be the best way for a mid-level group to navigate between the two.

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