Thursday, 31 March 2011

Another day in the life of a Game Master

leprachaun2A continuation of this post the second in the series of my friendly chat with one of those shadowy figures who occasionally appear and solve all of your problems, if only real life had a submit ticket button….

Mystic: We’ve talked a little about your interaction with players, do you, or your colleagues, ever receive much feedback from WOW players?

GM: Well I can't really comment on others but I know I have popped up on a few sites for either what I have said, what I have done, and in some cases just someone wanting to shoot me some praise to the bosses. You can never tell when someone will take a screenie and then you are [in]famous on WOWbash or the forums.

Mystic: What’s the strangest, funniest, and most bizarre things you’ve had to deal with?

GM: Jees, where to start! I've seen it all from bosses who would not die, players stuck in things which boggles the mind as to how they got there, but the one that would stand out most from my time would be a Gnome who had a strange thing happen every time he logged in: I picked up a ticket which instantly made me go “ya right, no way, this could be going on!”  
The player was online so I popped in-game and asked him to show me what was going on...sure enough the player logged out and came back in quite fast; and there it was plain as day for even me to see! What was it you might ask...well the player would log out with brown hair and some facial hair....come back in with a pink mullet and his face would be totally new! EVERY time he did this he would have a new face / hair. We all laughed our asses off at that one, thankfully the player saw the funny side too. Anything can happen in this game and sometimes when it goes wrong it brings out a laugh or two.

Mystic: Enough about us mere mortals, lets talk about you; what are the best and worst points of being a GM?

GM: The best part would be getting to help someone who really needs it at the time. It's great to know you that someone who has come to you for help has gone away smiling and their issue sold.
Worst parts come in as the opposite of above; when you have done all you can and things just don't pan out the way you wanted. Such things can ruin the customers day and also yours when you know there is just not enough there to help. [doesn’t it just make you sick – Mystic]

Mystic Are there any perks to the roll?

GM: There are a few yup! Some nice pets, early access to beta releases of games, Previews and the chance to meet some really cool figures who are high up like DEVs etc.

Mystic: Has being a GM had any impact on how you play the game, has it affected your enjoyment at all?

GM: Yes it has in a few ways. The main one is an inability to switch your brain off while in game [as a player]. Every chat line, every moan, sick joke or flippant remark is scanned and you are mentally taking action and planning what you will do. Coming home from a long shift and then logging in to relax and play is very hard.
Now don't get me wrong, I still love the game and enjoy it but sometimes you just look at the screen, see some crap kicking off and you just say 'meh' and log right back out.

Mystic: Do you generally tell friends in game that you're a GM, and why do you / don't you?

GM: I do tell people what I do who are in the guild or close friends, but these are people I have played with for years and I know I can trust. The whole thing is it is a very touchy subject.
I'll put it to your readers [reader, I still don’t think it’s plural – Mystic] this way. Guild 'Awesome Sauce' is kicking ass in raids and is one of the best raiding guilds on the 'EU-WOWnub’ server. Now, people get wind that there is a GM in that guild. People come up with the idea that the GM is giving them extra items and using his powers to kill the bosses fast for them. The guild begins to get a crappy name and then someone decides to name the GM. The GM then gets whisper upon whisper and is forced to leave the server and Blizz are forced to disband 'Awesome Sauce' due to the GM being named.
Telling people can be dangerous not only for the GM but also his guild. It only takes one spanner to ruin it for a large amount of people. This is why I only tell people I trust, as I know they will not screw me, or the guild over. And just in case people are I am not in a guild called Awesome Sauce, I’ve made it up for the example, so don't bother looking. [I’ve just checked, there are loads of Awesome Sauce guilds out there, but not on the WOWnub server… I’m not even convinced it’s a real server…. Mystic]

Mystic, so we’ve talked about the players, we’ve talked about you, lets switch tack again and talk about me….  From personal experience, and it’s one of my little gripes, there seems to have been a big influx of gold sellers in game spamming trade and general channels recently. Why do Blizz see Gold sellers as a problem (I know the answer but I want you to tell me ) What is Blizz doing to stop this? Is there anything the community can do to help?

GM: Well the main issue with this is that it can destroy a servers economy. If everyone has 1000000g, you start to see hyper-inflation [ok I reworded the bit about hyperinflation – mystic] the simplest items begin to cost stupid amounts, which forces new or honest players out as they simply can not buy anything. Blizz are very active on putting the smack down on these guys. If they are in game, just right click the name and hit report spam. Once this happens it lets the GM team know and then they go bye bye via the ban hammer!
As for what the community can do they can do the report spam action above and of course do not buy gold. Read this line carefully folks then read it again, WE SEE ALL. When we catch people doing this there is no mercy. You can have your account banned and the gold will be removed which means you can not buy that item you wanted, plus you are out of pocket on your real cash which you spent to buy the gold. Be smart and work for your money, it's better to work for your items and earn them fairly

Mystic: on a similar vein, as someone who’s suffered in the past from key loggers, account security seems to have been a big issue at points over the history of WOW, what tips can you give to people to avoid having their account compromised?

GM: Yes it is! Now I know a lot of people already know this but I’d like to stress account security is the players responsibility! It is up to you to secure your account, just as you can’t really blame the police when you get burgled if you’ve left the front door open with a big neon sign saying “out to lunch”, you can’t expect Blizzard pick up the pieces if you go posting your account password on Facebook.  No one is going to hold your hand on this one! here are a few tips:
1) DO NOT SHARE YOUR ACCOUNT! I can’t stress this highly enough, giving your personal login details to anyone is a security risk, even if you trust them, they are unlikely to hold your private data in as high esteem as you do.
2) Get an authenticator – this makes the account 99.99% un-hackable. [ahem possibly ahem – Mystic]
3) Be smart and do not go to stupid sites such as – this links to gold sellers, they often obtain gold through these means, and will have no qualms about taking your money from you and then stealing your account details to take gold off you 5 minutes later
4) Same as number one
5) Scan anything you download to avoid Key loggers...AVG free FTW!! [other virus guards are also available – Mystic] 
I've had my account for 5 years now and followed those steps. To date I've never any troubles.

Mystic: well that’s about it, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions on behalf of me and my reader, is there anything else you’d like to mention? [hoping he doesn’t go off on another Blizz corporate-gush  – Mystic]

GM:I guess what I would like anyone who maybe reading this to take away is GMs are here to help, are human, and are generally gamers too just like you. People think we are here to just thank for reports etc. but that is not the case. Every one of us on the other end of those in game whispers are players at heart, it's how we got the job! If we can help you in anyway we will, but if we can't it's not because we don't want to, it's more of case we are missing something vital. Treat us in the way you would want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot [or hoof – Mystic] and we will all get along just fine!
As a closing note I'd like to thank you for the questions and I hope this shines a bit of light on the subject.  Have fun guys and I hope you all enjoy WOW for now and in years to come!

And that’s it for the moment, if you’ve any more questions for our friendly leprechaun then please let me know and I’ll pump him for information next time there’s a rainbow.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A day in the life of a Game Master

leprachaunOne of the downsides to any company offering a successful product or service is, as they gain popularity and grow, they start to lose that human face and interpersonal touch which local organisations such as a corner shop have.  This is often the very thing that attracted people in the first place; the ability to know the supplier of your product or service by name, and interact with them personally should you as a customer desire.  The games industry is no different, gone are the days where software houses, consisting of a couple of mates in someone's garage cranked out best selling video games for less than the price of a round of drinks at some swanky London wine bar; the gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, WOW is one of the biggest, if not the biggest product of this industry.  Being an MMORPG, WOW is in a strange juxtaposition of being a game whose very fabric lies in social interaction, being run by a seemingly faceless multinational corporation.  Blizzard have gone to great lengths to retain their community spirit, encouraging, and in some cases actively supporting,  fan-sites, blogs, forums.  Providing their own conduit to developers through their own forums and introducing the thoughts of the developers with things like Ghostcrawler’s blog.  But there’s one person, that every WOW player has, on occasion, spoken to and interacted with, but will almost certainly know nothing about; the Game Master.  Who are they? what do they do all day? what makes them tick? I’ve managed to get access to the inner thoughts of one of these elusive leprechauns, and I’ll be attempting to bring a human face (or is that a troll face?) to the mysterious entity that is the GM.  Over the course of my next two blogs will be asking some questions about exactly what goes on in the day to day life of a GM, and what makes them tick.

Mystic: Blizzard are keen to highlight the fact that their staff are keen gamers themselves, what initially attracted you to becoming a GM?

GM: Well I suppose the thing that attracted us all at first was those stories you hear of GMs doing all this cool things like making mobs appear, turning everyone in to Gnomes etc.

Mystic: What comprises a typical working day or week for a GM?

GM: There’s no such thing as average... depending on what has gone on; patch days, server or network issues, or anything else which mean the queues can explode in untold number of ways.  Typically we’d work a healthy 40 hours a week of non-stop pew-pew of the [support request] queue.  There are several different shift patterns available to GM’s from a standard five-day 9 till 5 to 4 day shifts which cover other hours; whatever time of day there are always GMs sitting at computers waiting to help.

Mystic: How does your workload change when there’s a major patch release, or network problem?

GM:Well with patches it's all new codes / fixes which, as with any other patch can either be very good and go smoothly, or occasionally be a horrible one where things go wrong and it goes south, quickly, after a 'fix'. In some cases we might see a NPC not die for you take into account how many people are dying to play this new content and suddenly nothing works. First thing they do...BOOM ticket! It can be as if a million voices cry out, but unlike Alderaan, can not be so suddenly silenced.
Reports are handy though to show us what’s up and we can then spring into action. But you can't stop the flow once it starts hehe.

Mystic: Many technology companies, such as Blizzard, offer their employees the opportunity to work from home, are you able to do this or are you solely based in an office?

GM: Office all the way! There is so much that could go wrong if a PC at one of the GMs homes was key-logged, the office offers a far safer and more secure environment that it is simply not an option to work from home. 

Mystic: What interface do you have into wow?

GM: The only thing I can say about this is we use the same base client players have but with a few additions to help us help you guys. Other than's a secret!

Mystic: Being a GM strikes me as being quite a solitary role, you pick up a request, deal with it, move on to the next one, is this the case? or do you work in a close-knit team with the other GM’s?

GM: We are all in teams as it gives us access to more ideas, points of view, options etc. A second pair of eyes looking at what you may see as a hopeless case can yield another way to deal with the issue at hand which is a great thing!
The teams are set like most others out there, we have a head guy who acts as the final word on issues then there is the rest of us ground troops, so to speak. Most teams would have about 10 people in them and the people on the team have different skill sets to assist players. We can work alone most of the time but when something pops up we can just ask for help
Don't know if you want to plug another site (always – Mystic), but, has some other details people may not know! 

Mystic: Do you all work on the same server?

GM: No such thing for us really. We help everywhere when we are needed, being tied down to one server would be a pain if things get quiet! Any EU player that needs help will get it from any GM who is free to do so.

Mystic: Do you have any regular contact with the developers and testers of WOW?

GM: Not as much as some of us would like, but they are always there for us to give them a poke if the need is called for. As you can imagine these guys in the dev team are very busy guys and girls; trying to keep the game fresh and new while fixing bugs keeps them on their toes from the moment they set foot in work.

Mystic: Do you have any influence over what goes into the patches / future releases?

GM: Some yes, and I can already see people face palming after this, but the suggestions forums, or what used to be the suggestion forums, have done more for this game than any GM will ever do. We would mainly give feed back [to the developers] on bugs and other minor issues.  A player with a well thought out idea for a game is king! I don’t mean the most common, ill thought through ‘suggestions’, which we encounter all the time, which are along the lines of “ NERF MAGES!!!11J!” and “DKS SUk BUFF EM OR I QUIT “.  The suggestions which make a difference to the game are those which have been though through and well articulated. [DOES THAT MEAN THE ONES IN LOWER CASE? – mystic] So if you have an issue, think about it first, then act; post your comments on the forums, but don't be one of those NERF guys!

Mystic: Have you or any of your GM team (or anyone else you know) been referenced in-game with one of the items / characters? And why?

GM: The devs are a bunch of smart asses when it comes to things going on in the world alright. I'm sure we have all come across Haris Pilton, Ophera Windfury etc. They love to throw these little Easter eggs in where they can.
A lot of people who see these usually go ' LULZ at the name ' which kinda cheers people up sometimes.  But for every joke they also tend to go out of their way to show respect to some people by including them in game or having something small dedicated to them;
I'm not sure if anyone reading this(anyone? my regular reader is not just anyone! – mystic) remembers a young kid in the US called Ezra Chatterton. Ezra had a brain tumour and, through the Make-A-Wish foundation, was able to visit Blizzard headquarters. Here he spent the day as a dev and even made an in-game item and quest for the game up while he was there!
Sadly in 2008 on the 20th of October Ezra passed away. The devs decided to give this young guy a spot in the history books buy making that quest active, creating the item to be used in game etc. The NPC he created, Ahab Wheathoof, still stands in Bloodhoof village today and they again then made him an Elder in Thunderbluff as part of the Lunar Festival.
Again all these little things they have popped in game can be looked up! Just google WoW Easter would be surprized at how cool the devs are.

I’m afraid that’s all you’re getting for now, if you like what you’ve read and want to hear more, check back in a few days time for the final part of the interview.

Monday, 28 March 2011

GTFO! nub.

gtfoI got summoned into a guild 25 man last week, they were a touch short again, and in a clearly desperate attempt to scrape the bottom of the reservist barrel they asked me along.  Cho’gall was the foe, a boss that has eluded the guild for longer than it should have done.  This is a completely new fight to me, I’d not even read the strategy, other than a cursory glance over the BoT boss list a while ago, as I hadn’t planned on being here any time soon.  I’d learnt from my previous mistake of unpreparedness, and had a stock of flasks, food and assorted other niff-naff to aid my performance.  A quick run through the strategy text on the guild website and a few pointers from the raid leader over vent (fortunately we were waiting for one of the raid to reboot from a crash so I didn’t waste anyone's time) and we were off.

I’ve, on several occasions in this blog, referred to my basic cookie cutter heroic strategy:

"don't stand in the crap on the floor or you'll die"

"sometimes the crap on the floor will keep you alive, stand in it"

"kill the adds please"

"if you can't kill it, kite it"

Cho’gall, conforms nicely to these rules, with one slight addition on positioning; when there are no adds you need to stand RIGHT UP his chuff, I mean really close, the whole raid; this is for interrupting the worship ability.  When the corrupting adherent add is summoned the raid disperses, nukes it and then forms back on the afore mentioned bosses chuff, burning down the rather nasty blood of the old gods adds which spawn from the corpse of the first add.

This quite often leads to a smear of raid members behind the boss, rather than a nice close group.  This makes interrupting rather difficult, but also means it’s particularly difficult to spot the assortment of nasty crap on the floor.  there’s also an abundance of crap spawning as you move to kill the adds, and move back the the boss which must be avoided; given the speed movement must be complete to be in position, this is quite difficult, especially when you have a high “i don’t know what I’m doing coefficient” multiplier…

After a couple of attempts, I was surviving till the wipe, or there about, but it was pointed out that I was getting hit by a bit too much of the crap on the floor, when one of the raid members pipes up “have you got GTFO?” I didn’t, nor did I even know what it was. turning to my trusty laptop I quickly looked it up, and decided it was something that I should definitely have a look at.  A quick download and relog and I was up and running.

GTFO is a very simple mod, if you’re familiar with the acronym, you’ll be able to guess what it’s about;  very basically it’s an idiot saver… If you’ve not noticed you’re standing in crap, it alerts you to the fact that you need to move with a rather loud klaxon.  Whether you’re the day dreamer type or the flustered not got a clue what's going on type being new to an encounter, or just need something as a backup just in case you miss some floor-crap GTFO is brilliant.

Not only can it give you an audible alert, if you use power auras, you can get further visible “GET OUT” messages.   And that's not all! as if that weren’t enough, it not only tells tells you that you’re in crap and need to move, it tells you if you’ve moved out of good crap and need to move back!  It EVEN lets you configure it to give different audible warnings for must move now type AOE, or low priority, finish your cast and then move type damage. 

Pure, pure, genius, I don’t know how I ever managed without it.  Clearly last week, my games room office was lit up with the sound of alarm bells which we more akin to what you’d expect to hear in a burning building; on my return last night, where I’d had time to digest what was going on and what I was doing, and compare that to what the strategy says, I was far better at avoiding the crap – I was generally in the right place at the right time, but even then there were a couple of reminder bells which saved our healers mana.  The icing on the cake was downing Cho’gall, a guild first (and my second guild first boss kill) not bad for a slacker casual who ‘doesn’t raid’…. ahem

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

50 Not Out

50Well this is my 50th post, who’d have thought it? After three months of toiling away, I’ve managed 50 (FIFTY) blog posts (and two guides).  In that time, I’ve managed to nearly triple my regular reader, found out a hell of a lot about the WOW blog scene, frittered away countless otherwise dull hours on the train, and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process.

To celebrate this arbitrary milestone of insignificance, I thought I’d write a few words about the experiences I’ve had so far, what's gone well and not so well, and where I’m planning to go in the future.  I’ve also got a little surprise under my hat about an upcoming article, more of that later.

Lets start, as all good theorycrafters do, with some stats.  As i mentioned, I’ve amassed 50 blog posts in my time as a blogger since the 13th Jan, that’s 50 posts in 69 days, not a bad waffle ratio if you ask me.  I’m not sure what to say about my traffic levels, then again, I’m not sure what I expected.  Its quite variable from day to day but I’m generally averaging in the several 10s of hits per day.  having just scanned through the limited stats that blogger gives it seems my hits have more than doubled week on week since I started, at this rate,every person on the planet will be reading my blog on a weekly basis by the end of the year….  My top read posts have been one of my originals on my first heroic which generated quite a bit of early interest, the idiots guide to simulationcraft, an article on hit caps for shadow priests, and quite surprisingly my blog not so long ago about net neutrality; the latter has been up for the shortest period but seems to have attracted a lot of attention. 

I’ve had a little bit of attention from the blogging community as a whole, not much, but a bit, making it onto the blog roles of one or two other popular sites, and getting the occasional mention in peoples twitter feeds and the like.  I’ve recently featured on the welcome wagon on twisted nether which provided a welcome boost to traffic.  Looking down the referral sites on the stats, twitter features heavily (I advertise pretty much every blog post on there).  Quite surprisingly (actually, not so surprising if you read the guides to blogging) my comments on others blog posts which provide a link back to my post are one of the main referral methods.  Most pleasing is the fact I’m now starting to get random referrals from Google searches so i must be doing something right.

On the critical side, and having wrote a blog about constructive criticism, I don’t think I could get away without this paragraph; I’d obviously like more hits, I’m not disappointed with the traffic levels by any means, but I suspect if you asked any blogger if they’d like more traffic they wouldn’t say no.  My main disappointment is the number of comments I get, or lack there of.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten a few, but I’d love to get more engaged with my regular reader and see what he / she thinks, not sure what I can do to remedy this other than keep on posting and hoping.  I suppose I’d also like to wade into a few more unique posts, the trouble with unique, is it requires a lot of time and generally access to the game to test things; for example, if I was to compare the relative merits of shielding people over direct healing, it’s a pretty easy comparison on the face of it, but unless you can sit in front of the game and collect figures with different talent builds, it’s hard to back your thoughts up with facts.  I don’t get the luxury of this in my normal journalistic pose (Coach C to London Liverpool Street…) and if I do it at home it cuts into my already constrained playing time.

Where do I go from here then? well firstly its the bread and butter of a blogger, posting, I’ll be keeping up the posts.  I’ve got a decent base now, so the regularity might drop slightly in favour of some of the more practical type posts outlined above.  I think I’m going to try and whore myself out, if anyone will have me, and try a guest post on post on someone else's blog.  I wont to do this for two reasons; firstly to engage a bit more with other bloggers who’ve been at it for far longer than me and see how they go about their business of blogging.  Secondly, I’m intent of getting myself a mention on one of the bigger sites, such as wow insider, this is less important than my first objective, and might happen naturally without me doing anything, but a bit of self publicity can’t hurt.

And finally, a mention to that little surprise, and a bit of uniqueness (as I’ve not read another blog on the subject), I’ve been working on an interview with a Game Master the last few days, that's right! a real, live, Game Master.  I’ve asked him a whole host of questions and will be spending the next few days editing them down into something readable, possibly over two posts as there's so much information.  I’ve been genuinely surprised by some of his answers so am hoping it’ll be a good way to mark the blogs big Five-O.  Watch this space.

Monday, 21 March 2011

How I roll

imageI’ve finally got round to adding a blogroll, to the site (see the right hand menu), something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, but never quite got round to it until I was having a look at my referral stats over the weekend (you know I’m a stats whore..) and had my conscience pricked as I seem to be making it on to the blogrolls of the occasional other blogger (my regular reader need to take note: you’re no longer the only one).

I thought rather than just stick it up unannounced I’d prattle on talk a little about why some of them are on there.  Firstly my main port of call, and probably the initial reason I started reading blogs; WOW Insider, it’s moved about a bit over the years as it’s become bigger and bigger (and possibly a tad more commercial), and is the only blog which I know about which can boast coverage of every class and every spec and a whole host of other regular columns.  Fox Van Allen is the regular Shadow Priest author, Dawn Moore the Holy (and Disc)  and both talk an enormous amount of sense (generally).  Seriously, if you’re regularly reading WOW blogs and haven’t heard of these guys you’re not doing it right.

One of the first blogs I click on when catching up on the rss feed is Divine Aeigis, with two main authors, Lyria and Lilitharien with regular posts focusing on the pro’s and con’s and the use of specific priest abilities, raiding, up and coming developments and patches, its a must read for me.  Next Comes the Stories of O, written by Oestrus,  who until very recently had jumped ships and was authoring for Divine Aegis.  Oestrus is now back on the one blog and covering similar types of topics to Divine Aegis but is often found branching out to druid (branching! geddit?? ), shaman, and paladin healing to take more of a generic look at all things healing.

The Greedy Goblin is a strange sort of blog, Gevlon strikes me as a pretty hardcore player of WOW and his views are often quite extreme, and polarise the blog community; just have a read of some of the comments on his more controversial posts if you don't believe me.  The blog is extremely  ‘elite’ player focussed and Gevlon spends a lot of time ‘helping’ morons and slackers ‘improve’.  I’ve included a commentary on this blog specifically because it stands out as one of the prime reason why people should blog; Whilst his views aren’t always popular, or in line with my own, Gevlon generally makes good, well balanced arguments, comments are (understandably I suppose) pre vetted by Gevlon as I would imagine he gets a fair few abusive comments, but to his enormous credit, he always seem to post critical comments (by critical I mean “I don’t agree, and here’s why…” comments, not “this post is crap…” the latter I would consider abuse).  I’ve seen some excellent debates go on in the comments of the posts here as a result, and I’ve taken inspiration for a number of my own posts as a result of reading posts or comments here.

Moving from the more niche focussed blogs to, well, random, we have Pugnacious Priest, I’m sure some time in the distant past this blog was more focussed around priests, now it’s at best loosely priest focussed, but is still an excellent and entertaining read.  Larissa and her Pink Pigtail Inn is another one of these blogs that I wouldn’t class as having a specific focus, taking a look at wow from the perspective of a raider, gives an enthralling commentary on the thoughts of Larissa on WOW and the Blogsphere.  with the added bonus that Tamarind, who was recently lost to the blogsphere, occasionally stops by with a guest post.

I also couldn’t write a post like this without mentioning two of the blogs and bloggers that have, for whatever reason, stopped blogging.  Misery written by Merlot which was loosely based around his shadow priest but encompassed an excellently articulated commentary on WOW.  And then there was Righteous Orbs, written by Tamarind, an excellent,well thought out, and thoroughly engaging blog.  Both of these guys decided to hang up their pen about the time I stared putting my ramblings down in prose and I do hope both will have a change of heart soon (though as I mentioned above Tam does occasionally pop up else where, but its just not enough).

Well there's a seemingly random sample of the blogs I read, there are loads more, but I think I’ve prattled on for long enough.  My blogroll will contain only  blogs which I genuinely read and wont be an attempt to get more links.  Rather topically I received an email from some random as I was half way through writing this post “I really like your blog ‘pleasefeedthetroll’ would you be willing to exchange blogroll inks….” yada yada yada.  Looking at the ‘blog’ it was clearly nothing to do with WOW, or actually anything in particular and just survived on trading links with other spam blogs.  I almost replied “certainly, if you can tell me one thing about the content of my blog”, but sensibly decided to consign it to the spam trap instead.  Hey ho….

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Holy Guide up and running

The standard blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground the last few days as I’ve been spending my lunch hours finishing off the holy guide which you can access via the menu bar across the top of the blog or direct through this link

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Happy Monday’s

mondayAnother Monday night off badminton with the bloody wrist, on the up side another night playing WOW (yeah yeah, I know its Wednesday, I’m slack) and another night where I offer my services should they be needed and was taken up on the offer straight away.  This was only my second 25 man experience, my first coming two weeks ago, exactly the same situation as my original post then.  Part way through the instance, stalling on Ascendant Council.  This time I was a touch more prepared having read up on the strategy after the last fight out of curiosity; turns out i was doing everything right (thanks in the main part to an excellent explanation from the raid leader), but now I was confident I was doing it right, and knew the reasons why I was doing it. 

I was pleased with my performance in all, upping my DPS by 1k on the first attempt and by just over 2k by the 3rd and final one in which we were successful.  Again, whilst my DPS output wasn’t close to the best guys in the raid, it was no where near the lowest, and I managed to survive each encounter through till we were about to wipe on the two failed attempts.  As an added sweetener I picked up the DPS trinket as no one else fancied it
Onwards and upwards to Cho’gal for a few learning attempts; most of the guild haven't seen this guy yet so it was a few attempts which went reasonably well to get to grips with the fight before the call.  A thoroughly enjoyable night, even with my sub par gear it was a nice ego boost to realise I picked up the fight quicker than a lot of the more regular raiders, still trying desperately to avoid catching the raiding bug again. Destined to fail.
One thing that I’ve decided as a result, I’m stopping slacking on the buffs front, I’ve been busy sorting the cooking out which I’ve been avoiding like the plague for the last few months, getting a stock of flasks so I don't have to rinse a guildie of their spares or raid the auction house, and start reforging for a bit more hit on my gear as the raid hit cap is higher than heroic cap.  Still think I’d prefer to be healing in raids if I’m going to do it longer term, but not confident enough to have them relying on me yet.

Monday, 14 March 2011

What would you have done?

Another weekend, another job lot of heroics, all pretty non-descript valour points and rep grinds, that is, all but one. I jumped into the queue with a guild tank and another DPS, I was healing, PUGing the final two DPS. The guy tanking normally plays a priest and was undertaking his first tanking exercise since Cata so we were chatting most of the way through, we ended up in Blackrock Caverns, not the best place to have your first experience as a tank. The other two DPS, a mage and a rogue, were kicking out a decent amount of damage, nothing special, but nothing bad, so we decided not to re-queue; all was going relatively well until Karsh Steelbender, Steelbender himself was dispatched with ease, it was the item drop which caused the problem; a spirit neck piece dropped, now I'm at ilvl 346 or above on pretty much everything these days, so it's unusual that I take anything from heroic drops, but my neck was the final piece I needed, I already had a 346 item, but it was a DPS item, so I rolled need. No biggy you might say and I carried on, not noticing that the Fire mage that we'd picked up had also rolled, but had been beaten by mine.

To my surprise I got a whisper: "didn't you already have THAT necklace on?" ( I actually thought this was from my friend the tank as we'd just been talking about gear)

to which I replied

"I don't think so, I hope not"… as I furiously checked I hadn't been thick, realising that it wasn't actually the tank whispering me.

"link your old neck now" came another whisper, which I duly did, explaining that it was a DPS piece and this was a bit of an upgrade for my healing clobber (I kind of which I hadn't bothered trying to justify myself, in hindsight there was clearly no point).

"OMG!! You selfish tard! I've only got [some ilvl 333 piece], give it to me now!" (Actually, I think I'm doing him too much of a service including the punctuation in the correct place…) followed by a tirade of additional abuse before I had chance to reply which were a bit too x-rated to quote here.

Now normally, had this guy asked me politely to give up the item, I wouldn't have thought twice about it, I've actually, on several occasions, given loot that I've won fairly to people in PUGs who would benefit more than I from it; it really doesn't bother me in the slightest, this chap however had managed to rile me a tad. Quite understandably, I feel, I told him to stick it (I'll let your imagination work out where), and put him straight on ignore. I kind of wish I'd had the presence of mind to realise that for a fire mage, this SPIRIT item was actually a downgrade from the item he linked, I also kind of wish I'd given him both barrels and responded in the same manor he'd whispered me, but I think I'd of been annoyed with myself had I let him get to me enough to force me to sink to his level. And part of me wishes I'd taken a step back and tried to explain that, actually, I won it fairly, and actually, it was about as much use to him as it was to the rogue anyway.

Feeling a bit of a crisis of conscience, I whispered the tank to ask if I'd done the right thing, it was actually him who pointed out that it was useless anyway for a fire mage. Feeling a little reassured in my actions were both right in rolling on the piece in the first place, and in refusing to give it up, I promptly forgot about it and got on with enjoying my day. Well, when I say forget about, clearly not forget as I'm writing about it here, but you get the picture. This whole unsavoury incident got me thinking, how often does this kind of thing happen? How do people deal with it? I'm thinking how you as an individual behave can kind of bring it on yourself; I (hope) I'm generally polite and laid back in PUGs, and this is my first experience of any such abuse in 4 months of playing, however, there's a few, shall we say more abrasive characters, who I regular party with, who quite often get themselves into a little war of words with a fellow PUGger.

Did I do the right thing? Should I have reacted differently? Have you experienced anything similar? Was it YOU abusing me? :)

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is a topic that's been in the headlines lots over the past year or two, primarily the technology press but occasionally spilling over into the mainstream media, and is likely to be again in the next week as the main ISPs in the UK get together to announce a code of conduct on it. Net Neutrality is something that's close to me, both in what I do for a day job, and as a gamer and internet user so I thought I'd write a post on the subject. A warning to my regular reader: this post has nothing to do directly with priests, but as a gamer, Net Neutrality will have an effect on you. Firstly, what is Net Neutrality? Basically it's the premise that all things internet are equal; an internet user accessing a minuscule blog from an anonymous priest somewhere in the blogsphere will experience the same levels of service as if they accessed a big site such as the BBC. Similarly, my rich neighbour paying £100 a month for his super-duper top end connection (yes I'm making this up) gets the same level of service as me paying £30 a month. In a nutshell, true Net Neutrality means that no matter who the user or what the site, the same level of service would be achieved (I say service rather than speed or bandwidth as this could be bandwidth, latency QoS and a whole bunch of other things) obviously the physical capabilities of your connection will influence this, if you're 5 miles away from your exchange in deepest darkest country side you're unlikely to get as fast a connection as the guy who lives next door to the exchange.

This was all very well and good, in principle, back in the days of HTML only web page days, you may have had the odd JPEG or GIF but in essence each page hit would only account for a few hundred kilobytes of data at most. Any of you who've ever downloaded porn or stolen music used a P2P client, or even tried to access streaming media services such as iPlayer or YouTube at peak time will know that (most) ISPs actively rate the connection speed you can achieve for these services. There are several reasons for this; firstly cost! If everyone is streaming huge amounts of data the backbone (the connections between exchanges) won't be able to cope and will fall on its arse (and thus need upgrading) and fairness; secondly fairness, if one person is consistently hogging the bandwidth available, neighbours will suffer speed losses, this is called contention. Contention is one of the hidden gotcha's of broadband, it's actually a form of Net Neutrality avoidance that's been going on for ages; cheaper ISP's (generally but not always) will generally offer high contention levels, let say your 20Mb (yeah right, who gets that?) has a contention of 1:100, this means that up to 100 users could be sharing (actually more if you consider how many people in each house could be using the internet) at any one time. That's a measly 200kbps per house! The more expensive ISPs tend to have better contention ratios; basically you get what you pay for! Hence the net is already most definitely not neutral. Similar things happen on mobiles, anyone buying a smartphone today in the UK will have a data cap of around 1gb a month (depending on what they pay) this has been introduced because the mobile operators have realised that if everyone used their full allowance, let alone had unlimited data, their networks would be screwed. Similarly, you try using mobile internet at 9am in a busy station in London on a Monday morning, compared to 10pm in the centre Chorley on a Wednesday.

Why do ISPs want to be allowed to not have Net Neutrality then? Basically, in the UK at least, its cost. Huge cost which is driven by a few websites offering streamed media services, which costs the ISPs a fortune, and the companies which are the source of this data absolutely nothing – and this is the problem, any Tom Dick or Harry can stick a server on the internet (yes you'll pay for data hosting etc.) and stream 'stuff' to any location in the world without having to pick up the cost of transporting that data outside of their connection to the internet. i.e. if you pay for an internet connection from poor speed broadband inc. and you send data to people who are customers of Sky, Virgin and BT, those companies pay the cost of transporting that data and Tom Dick and Harry get away scot-free.

So what does this have to do with gaming I hear you ask? Well lots actually, do a little experiment, stick iPlayer on (if you're in the UK) or some other streamed TV service, download a decent sized file from a P2P site or filesharing website, and then stick WOW on and try and do something. Unless you have a fibre connection, and actually even if you have one, you'll probably find the game is unplayable – this is because the routers, the devices like your broadband router (but bigger) on the internet are set up to simply drop data packets (i.e. just ignore them) when they're busy, or at the very least delay them – some packets have higher priority than others – there's not much point getting a packet from a streamed audio file 2 seconds too late, it would just give garbled sound, however if you have to wait 2 additional seconds for a web page to load it's no biggy, hence the prioritisation (and another source of non-neutralness). Gaming is one of these time sensitive services, especially high action first person shooters, those with a 'quick' connection have a distinct advantage over their slower competition, but even with WOW if your latency is above 200ms you're likely to be experiencing degradation of gameplay.

The premise is that ISPs charge the data providers to increase the priority of their traffic over their competition to recover this cost, basically creating a two-tier internet of 'standard rate' free traffic which gets where it's going sometime, and high speed, high priority traffic which leaves the standard traffic standing in its dust. This has huge implications for companies like the BBC whose iPlayer service is one of the main 'hoggers' of bandwidth in the UK (and soon to be the world). I'm not going to get into the rights and wrongs of Net Neutrality, it's a very poignant subject, I can see it from the fairness of apportioning cost side of the argument, and I can also see the need to make the internet available to everyone – I've seen a study recently (sorry I can't remember the link) which refers to internet access as a basic human right, in the same way as water and personal safety are, I'm not sure I agree with this, but it highlights the internet's importance to the modern world.

Who actually pays then? Simple, you do. It may be that Blizzard pays a 'congestion surcharge' direct to the ISPs, let's say £1 per user, the user doesn't on the face of it pay anything extra. Blizzard doesn't simply magic this money from nowhere, they are in the business of making profit, so they either increase their subscription cost, or they reduce cost in other areas to cover it – reduce the amount the pay for development of new dungeons perhaps? Thus the quality of the game you experience. It's not all bad though, as a user, your gaming traffic is now tip top priority so your lag levels reduce and you rarely experience that annoying night of lag which ruins your guilds attempt on a progression boss.

I can see both sides of the argument, as a user I don't want to pay more, but I do want a good quality of service, and I don't want to suffer because my neighbour has decided to download every movie ever filmed to his PC. As a telecommunications (employee) I want my company to be able to make a fair profit, and not have to subsidise other companies' profits unfairly, but I do want to ensure our customers don't have to pay through the nose for it. It's a hard argument no matter which side of the fence you sit on, the fact of the matter is that it's been happening for years with packet prioritisation and contention, life isn't 'fair' and I'm certain it will happen in some guise or other, so long as it's fair and reasonably costed, and doesn't disadvantage lower privileged communities; gaming is most definitely a premium, luxury, service but things like free media or local government services are often becoming a necessity.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Fostering Performance

I read a blog on Bossy Pally earlier in the week about constructive criticism, what it is, why it's a good thing, and specifically why it's not a bad thing. This post was spurred by another great blog post by Rhii on the novel approach her guild deals with criticism (incidentally another blog which mentions llamas and has no supporting pictures whatsoever). I've always been one to actively seek constructive criticism in work and sport – I'd far rather the person I'm asking tell me what I'm doing wrong and how to improve on it than highlight the good stuff, I can't improve if I don't know I'm doing it wrong – if I knew I was doing it wrong I'd be doing something about it. This approach often raises eyebrows in the person I'm asking, and they sometimes feel uncomfortable giving constructive criticism. These two blogs got me thinking about how people 'manage performance' in WOW (that sounds so corporate) and how anyone can aid the performance of themselves and others quite easily.

I'm not going to talk massively about constructive criticism, Ophelie has already covered this, but I'll frame it briefly for the purpose of this post. Constructive Criticism is giving feedback on areas that can be improved (which need not be bad, but could be better) in a manner which indicates what the issues are, and a 'framework' to go about improving them. It is most certainly not "you suck" type comments, that comes under the abuse category. Football fans will probably agree that Lionel Messi is, if not one of the best, the best footballers in the world at the moment; is he perfect? No, could he improve? Most definitely – he's not the best header of the ball, there's one area he might work on in training. At this point, this post is in danger of becoming a whitepaper on how corporate performance management does and doesn't work, I'll try and keep away from that little can of worms, really I will, but there's a lot of similarities between (good) corporate practice and good gaming.

I'll ignore self-improvement for the moment and concentrate on helping other people, as much of the lessons apply when you turn the focus on yourself. Firstly, who can you help? The answer is anyone; I've helped people who I met 5 minutes precious in a PUG, through to experienced raiders who know their class inside out. Giving advice and having it taken on board are two different things, it's all about the relationship you have with the individual and the way you frame your advice. You have a relationship, of sorts, with anyone you've ever interacted with, it may be a very superficial relationship as in my PUG example, but it's still a relationship. If the person has reason to respect what you say, they are more likely to take heed of your words. Imagine for a moment that on the first pull you've shouted in party chat "GOGOGO" and OMG "WTF IS GOING ON WITH YOUR DPS" and then whisper the other shadow priest in the party and say "excuse me, but do you realise that the Mind Spike you're using is removing the three DoTs you've just cast from your target? You'd be better off…." The recipient of this advice is likely to completely ignore it or worse, tell you to stick it. If however you started off with a pleasant "hi guys" or similar you've already framed your words in an (admittedly thin) veil of respect. By starting off with "I hope you don't mind me saying…." Or similar you further open the person up to accepting you're not just trying to call them a noob.

In recent months, I've seen numerous examples of heroics that were heading south being turned around because someone has helped out one or more of the party (quite often be being one of those on the receiving end). So it's clear that something can be done in the very short term to improve performance, I've seen equally as many, if not more instances of members simple leaving or vote-kicking without a word as soon as problems are encountered.

Taking this to the raiding and guild environment, where improvement is more likely to be sought, or even demanded, it's a bit easier, but also a lot harder in some respects. On the relationship front, it's a lot easier, you've had a long time to establish trust, but they recipient has also had a lot more time to observe your actions, if they see that you're not practicing what you preach or lack respect for your words, for whatever reason then you've hit problems. You will also be more likely to encounter the suborn types, you know the ones, the pretty decent players who aren't the best, but are better than average who assume they are the finished article, they're not! See my comments about the certain diminutive football player above.

Once you have established a trusting relationship, how do you go about improvement? Firstly look for the low hanging fruit, pick the easiest things which give the biggest boost first. Take saving money on energy bills for instance, if you want to save money on your electricity bill, what do you do? Spend £10,000 on a solar panel for your roof? No, you pay £100 to replace the insulation in your loft; it's cheaper, easier and quicker, and gives a far better payback on the investment. In the same vein, if someone's DPS is 15k and the best achievable is 18k, but they keep dying, it's probably more profitable to look at why they're dying and focussing on positioning rather than DPS rotation (incidentally DPS may reduce in the short term as a result, but total damage output will drastically improve). On the same token, concentrate on one area at a time, try rubbing your tummy in a circular motion and patting your head at the same time, unless you've practiced for hours (saddo) you almost certainly can't do it – peoples brains best deal with things in a serial nature, tackle one thing, 'fix' it, move on to the next.

If you're a raid leader and you need to help someone improve, you need to make sure your message doesn't come out of the blue – if someone's DPS has been substandard for three months, telling them you've been watching them for some time and they have a week to sort it out or be benched is silly, tackle issues openly and early to avoid drama (llamas?). On the same token, it's not just about negatives, focus on positives, which sounds best "you're DPS is good, but I think we can improve it by…." Or "you're not doing enough DPS, you need to improve by…." Notice also the subtle difference between we and you! We are a team and we are working together to jointly improve our performance. As opposed to you aren't good enough and you need to do something about it.

My final point, is don't forget to look in the mirror; lead by example (even if you're not a GM or a raid leader, you can still lead), actively seek feedback, it's almost impossible to spot your own failings without help; if you've ever tried to proof read an assignment at school or college thinking it was perfect, only to have the teacher hand it back scrawled in red ink you'll know what I mean. Don't shy away from people offering advice, be thick skinned and take it, whether you like what you're hearing or not. Above all, nobody is perfect, everyone can improve in some respect or other, so don't think it doesn't apply to you.

And finally, finally, I've mentioned llama's twice, so I'm going to lead by example, practice what I preach and all that, and include a nice picture!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Pulling it out of the fire

Last night something strange happened to me! I started looking, and feeling, like a proper tank for extended periods of time in a heroic. I was milling around waiting for the footy to start (disgraceful refereeing btw) with nothing to do, a couple of guildies wanted a heroic so I asked what classes they wanted. The answer came back "a tank would be nice" the poor, unsuspecting, fools… Out comes the Death Knight and into the queue we go, only 4 of us so we needed to PUG the healer. Blackrock Caverns, brilliant. For some reason I've not randomly been in the place many times before, to the extent that I only just completed it on mystic for the first time over the weekend, I reckon 4 or 5 times in total on all my characters, I've always skipped Beauty and I've certainly never tanked it.

I explained to the healer and the rest of the group that this was my first time tanking the place, and that they'd have to bear with me, whipped wow wiki up on the laptop and had a quick scan of strategies, fortunately one of the guys there has an alt tank and has done it several times before. My admission also prompted the healer (I think) to say it was his first time too… great… on closer inspection it was his first time healing, he'd got a million alts so knew the instance inside out. We had a load of crowd control with two mages, so the trash was relatively straight forward, a couple of cockups here and there but nothing major. That was until we got to Karsh Steelbender, the basic strategy is to kite him in and out of the flame in the middle of the room, he can't be killed without the having debuff it gives him, but too many stacks of the debuff and the part gets overwhelmed with adds, the trick is to try and get his toe in the fire so he gets one debuff at a time, if he gets to 8 then the tank stands him out until the stack drops and it starts over. You get the picture. It's a pretty daunting task for a tank, or possibly just me as a tank, the onus is on you and only you, if you balls it up, everyone dies. More so than normal. Anyway, I checked up on the strategy and began the pull, all way going smoothly, whilst I wasn't managing one debuff at a time, I was keeping it to two, so not all too bad. We got him down to just below 30% when the healer didn't notice he was stood in crap and died. Now normally a dead healer on a boss fight means wipe, but, amazingly, not this time. The damage is pretty low and smooth in this fight, and I was at about 100% health at the time, with all my cooldowns. Blood DK's have 6 damage mitigation cooldowns (if you include Army of the Dead), or at least 6 that I've found… plus I have a click to increase dodge trinket. So I set off slowly popping cooldowns and healing myself as much as possible with Death Strike and Rune Tap. The DPS was pretty high so it wasn't long before we had him down to sub 5%, I was near death with only Army of the Dead left so out it came. Now this was nearly fatal in itself; as I mentioned earlier the boss needs a debuff from the flames to take damage, the whole point of popping Army of the Dead was to take aggro from me to allow me to heal, but unfortunately I popped it just slightly outside the flames so the boss became immune to damage on 1% health. Bugger. Put fear not, I have taunts! On a massive 20% health myself I utilised the DKs two taunt abilities to move the boss just enough to be in the flames before the ghouls took agro again.

Steelbenders death was greeted with calls for DK's to be nerfed and general mocking of my ability and amazement that I managed to pull it off (don't worry, I gave as much as I got…) Now I've been in situations before as a healer, or shadow priest swapping to heals, which have saved raid or party wipes, it's a great feeling to know something you, and only you, did saved the group. More so with a tank I suppose, as a healer you're expected to heal, as a tank you're expected to tank WITH healing. All in all a great confidence booster, and the satisfaction of actually, for the first time, feeling like I'm a reasonable tank, I've still got a long way to go, but I'm getting there on the tanking front. The run also gave me an appreciation for previous tanks bemoaning the aggro magnet mage, with two of the idiots (one extremely well geared) blasting away controlling aggro was a nightmare, still at least they both knew where the sheep button was.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

10-man went to Maloriak

So I was milling around last night, minding my own business running a heroic when a little whisper pops up in my chat box from a guildie "have you done BWD this week?" I explained I still don't raid so clearly haven't, to which the reply comes "would you like to?" Now one of the reasons I don't currently do any raid instances is I have commitments on every evening my guild raids. Mondays I'm generally playing badminton, but as (bad) luck would have it I've sprained my wrist so was unable to play last night. As it turns out, this was a 10-man with a different guild, they are a smallish guild and struggle to make up the numbers on some nights so had invited this guildy along on a number of previous occasions (my guild has no issue with alts and casuals running 10-mans with PUGs) so I finished up the heroic and jumped in. There ended up being 3 Camelids in the raid; we started at the 3rd boss, Maloriak, in BWD, this was their first ever pull of him, I quickly scooted round Org pulling together mats for a few potions and flasks, jumped on their Vent server, and took the summon to the instance. Their guild leader took the time to carefully explain the strategy, from the way he described it he'd clearly been there a few times, but wasn't overly sure of what he was saying for other roles than his own, as he ran through the strategy I had wow wiki up checking off its guide and making my own crib notes. I was one of three healers, a Paladin, my friend another (Disc) priest, and me. It turns out the fight was pretty simple for a healer, or specifically me, I was assigned to AOE healing so most of the usual spells in the kit bag went out of the window – I assigned Circle of Healing and Prayer of Healing to alt-mouse clicks in Healbot (I normally use key binds for them in instances as they're not as useful as the direct healing spells).

As I said the healing is pretty straight forward, there's no crap on the floor to avoid, the only complexity in the fight for me was the three vial stages (he throws a vial into a cauldron which initiates different abilities), red blue and green; red meant grouping up in the middle and sticking down a few big AOE heals, occasionally running out of the group if you get a debuff. Blue meant spreading out, basically mana conservation and watching out for characters which got ice blocked in order to sling a few heals their way, and the green stage which was pretty easy healing. The phase struck me as being all about mana conservation later in the fight. The lighwell went down, amazingly it got clicked, lots, and I was struck by how good the raid leader was on vent at communicating what was going on and what people should be doing, typically I copped the first red debuff, untypically I noticed straight away, and was already running when the call came over Vent for me to move out. After the first fight ended, which was a bit of a blur in all, having gone reasonably well (30 something % I think) I had a chat with my other priest who told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to concentrate on AOE heals more and forget the direct heals – I protested explaining that there was very little raid damage and the tank was copping it, hence the skew towards direct heals and muttering something along the lines of "healings not just about the numbers". He was having none of it and politely told me to shut up and do as he said… The next pull my healing output went up, my mana conservation down, and a feeling that my effectiveness was lessened, I also suffered from three consecutive debuffs in the red phase which had me running round doing very little healing. The raid wiped because the main tank went down, I smugly announced over whisper that "I could have saved him, but you told me not to use direct heals…" (Clearly this wasn't true, I'm not that much of a dick, I was out of mana, but I do like winding people up).

We went through the motions a few more times, the raid got progressively better, as did my healing output, and more importantly my own feeling of how I was performing. On the meters I was on a par if slightly behind the Pally and ¾ of that of my fellow priest which was to be expected as my gear is pants in comparison; most importantly I felt m performance improved, to the extent that I was never in danger of going oom, with at least one CD or pot left until something went wrong like a tank dying. Unfortunately I was only able to stay for two hours, the final two pulls were very close and I had the feeling that Maloriak would be downed very soon, but alas I had a stupid-o'clock train to catch, which I'm writing this from now BEFORE 8am, so I had to leave them to it. All in all a great night, a large flasks bill, a large repair bill, and a few new friends, well worth it.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

It’s not easy being a priest

I first realised I might have a little bit of an alotoholicism problem last week when I stepped back and had a look at the number of alts I have. I'm in the position now where I have 3 characters at 85, two of which (Priest and Mage) have been through tens of heroics, one which (the DK) is on his way to being reasonably geared, so I can safely say I know quite well. I've the druid which is late 60's and a Hunter Warrior and Warlock all in their 60's that I must confess I haven't played at all (yet!) since returning to WOW, a Rogue and Paladin in the 30's and the Shaman that I created but haven't played purely to make up the numbers. That's nine out of the ten classes I've spent playing, when you consider the different specs too, I reckon it's about 16 different class / spec combinations I've played, clearly some of those experiences are out of date since Cata hit as the play styles on most classes have changed significantly but you get the picture.

I was running a good few heroics over the weekend on my mage and DK as we had guild healers available, and then swapping to the priest with many of the same group. We were taking it easy and chatting as we went, when it struck me how much more involved the Priest is to play; on the mage I play a fire spec, I can easily kick out 12k DPS on regular occasion, with pretty poor gear, all that's needed is Living Bomb and Fireball till your heart's content, with a quick scorch to begin with, and looking out for Pyroblast and Fireblast procs; there's a little bit of complexity in choosing the correct spells for crowd dps, and the cool downs, but nothing overly challenging. Contrast this to the Priest, as DPS you've got three dots to keep up on the mob, your own buff to refresh, providing you have shadow orbs to be able to, Mind Flay to ensure you don't clip, SW:D to bring into the equation when the mob is at 25%, and that's before you take into account the cool down spells and when's best to use them. Cross over from the dark side and take a look at healing and it's even more complicated! There are a massive 12 healing spells which a holy priest may use in general play, another 4 occasional and "oh shit" type spells, and a further 12 situation specific spells, like Dispel Magic, which may or may not be added into the mix for a given encounter, add to this the different usage profiles of these spells, depending on what Chakra state you're in, the very fact you can now cancel Chakra after 30 seconds and recast to another state; it's a nightmare, a great big, fun filled, nightmare! Now don't get me wrong, I love the complexity the priest offers and the learning curve for playing it, anyone can pick up a priest, either healing or DPSing, but it takes a long time to master it.

Now I'm being a bit unfair to Mages in comparing them to healing Priests, I've always said tanking is harder (to master) than healing, and my experiences on the Death Knight over the last week certainly back that up, and healing is harder than straight forward DPS. But just taking the DPS comparison, looking at my first heroic with both classes, the Priest kicked out about 5k, the Mage was touching on 10k. Even on the healing front, I've been running through the old instances on my Druid, and am now getting to the stage where the instances are becoming difficult to heal (i.e. a Rogue with a few bandages and a bottle of magic spray couldn't do it) and I can't believe how simple the choices are, basically it's a hot, and a small heal (read Renew and Heal equivalents), a big heal for when things go wrong, a PoH equivalent and a reverse Holy Word: Serenity type spell (in that it removes a HoT and adds a big heal, plus an AOE healing circle on the ground, as opposed to making the next heals better with a Priest). Admittedly I'm not at 85 yet, so it might get more complex, but looking at the spell list on wowhead I doubt it's going to be that much different.

Actually the most difficult class I've played to pick up is the Death Knight, Tanking especially, but even on the DPS front; you're instantly presented with a million and one different diseases and abilities, with Runes and Runic Power to bring in, and none of the normal early learning curve as you don't start from level 1, fortunately I had a friendly guild DK, who I'll be eternally grateful to, who explained that it was more about priorities of sorts, than a true DPS (or tanking) rotation. Once you get to grips with the DK's abilities it's a lot more straight forward, it's not the face rolling it used to be by any means, but it's not hugely taxing. Of the other classes I've played, Hunters are pretty straight forward, ahem auto shot ahem, Warlocks are just wannabe Mage's with DoTs and a self-harming problem, Rogues just stab things in a similar vein to Cat Form Druids (but with knives I suppose) Paladins have it a bit harder (from memory) and warriors were a set key mashing order. Clearly if you're Tanking (well) on any of the classes which can, it takes a lot of ability, but as healing or DPS goes, I can't think of a harder (or more fun) class to play than a priest. But perhaps I'm biased? Go on tell me I'm wrong!


Thursday, 3 March 2011

You can never have too many Llamas

My regular follower will have realised by now that I initially had thoughts of remaining semi-anonymous in the blogosphere, not naming my characters or my guild, I suppose you'd have been able to guess it was me from my early posts if you knew me, but the chances of one of my guildies randomly wandering along here are pretty remote. Since I started rambling blogging 3 months ago, I've decided, well kind of stumbled into the decision actually, that this is pretty much unworkable as I've posted screen shots and the like and I can't be bothered to blur things in pictures.

Since I've been outed I thought I'd say a word or 600 on my naming convention and the reasons behind it. I've talked to a few people over my time in WOW about the names they choose, some people have a naming convention which they stick to, others just chose whatever takes their fancy at the time, others need to be beaten to death with the inspiration stick; I've seen some people take inspiration from names from their favourite characters in books or myth, others chose names that are vaguely amusing, Ezzagood the shaman is one that stands out in my mind (don't make me explain why) and Akdov, when asked about his name, the reply came back "because it spells Vodka backwards". Genius. Others, struggled for inspiration upon first logging into the game, and clearly looked around the room they were sat in for inspiration; I give you Bookshelf, Lampshade and Window, some didn't even make it past where they were sitting, Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor, Computer and CPU! Dear god people!?!?!! And then there's the worst of the lot, the type of people who log on and think I'm a mage, I'm I gnome, I KNOW! MAGEGNOME!! Idiots. Anyways, last week Leafshine made a post titled "Oh! Noes! Drama Llama Loose in Blogosphere!" which prompted a flurry of tweets between us which can basically be summarised as me accusing him of false advertising and demanding the inclusion of more llama's in his post. At this point you're probably thinking "he's lost the plot, this has nothing to do with naming conventions" but this was actually the inspiration for this post, in a round-about sort of way. Here's why:

I have a bit of an admiration for llamas. Actually it's not just llama's, it's any kind of camelid, be it camels (one hump or two), llamas, alpaca, vicunas or guanacos, probably more than healthy admiration, possibly more of a fixation. This fixation with camelids came, I think, from a drink fuelled conversation after a particularly messy jaunt to the local while I was on a year's placement from uni, I can't remember exactly what the conversation was about (I was quite drunk, that happens…) but the end result was we (me and my then-housemate) decided that we liked alpacas. A lot. This quickly turned into the fixation with all things camelid, I don't know why, the reason is not important, it just did.

So it all first started on some online game or other, probably Counter Strike or Unreal Tournament or some such, where you have to choose a name for yourself. A simple 'Alpaca' seemed a little dull, it doesn't quite breed the amount of fear and awe I was looking for in the opposition reading my name at the bottom of the kills board. A bit of thinking, and with an obvious constraints which these games tend to impose on the length of your name, and Mightyalapca is born! Mighty stayed with me through a whole host of games on PC and xbox, until I came to WOW, my first mage was created and tradition was maintained, he was called Mightyalpaca. Now again my regular reader will notice, if you've been paying attention, that I no longer play a mage as my main; I quickly migrated to a priest. So what do I do? I can't use Mightyalpaca again. It's got to be something camelid related, do I go for a different camelid, or stick with alpacas? Choices choices. I eventually decided on llama as the one, not an easy choice let me tell you. And then it came to the decision of what to put before (or indeed after) the llama whilst staying within WOWs name length limit. After literally minutes of soul searching, I fixed on mystic, it was a good looking name, and given I was rolling a priest, mystic seemed to fit. Since then my naming convention has stuck with this convention (with one or two exceptions). Chose a camelid, choose a suitable adjunct, the sillier the better, job done. I've had Eminentcamel, my warrior, Divinellama my new druid, Dramallama the DK, Greatguanacco the rogue, Holyhumps, the paladin (a slight move away from the naming rulebook I grant you, but a subtle reference to Camelids, I like subtle), Camelkazi my shaman, Cameltoes the hunter and Splendid the warlock. That's right Splendid, my one slip up, this guy was named thus back in my GM days when I couldn't go 5 minutes without being whispered by some muppet demanding a guild invite who thought he was too good to read the application rules on the forum or one of the raiders asking what their DKP score was etc. etc. I used him as an anonymous way of still playing the game as my normal names tended to give the game away, I should really get round to renaming him to something suitably silly sometime.

And there you have it, my naming convention, but that's not quite it… back in the day when we first created the guild, some idiot left me in charge of collecting signatures for the charter, as no one voiced an opinion on the guild name, and there was no one online to ask at the time, the Marauding Camelids were created, and are still going strong six years later! Incidentally I like to think the Ramkahen camel mounts were created solely in recognition of my naming convention, clearly they weren't, but I like to think they were…

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Shadow priest guide up and running

I don't think it'll show up in RSS feeds, so this is a little post to say there's a shadow priest guide page been added to the site, you can access it here or via the links across the top of the page under the banner. I'll be pulling together an equivalent holy post sometime soon, but it took a lot of effort to write and edit so don't expect it too soon. If anyone wants to see anything more over and above these on the site, or has more general comments on the content in the guide please leave a comment or email me.

The reason behind this guide is the abysmal state of information I've seen on the interweb about shadow priests, with incorrect, incomplete, cluttered, and out of date information confusing the hell out of people (including me). I've tried to keep the information minimal and to the point and will be endeavouring to keep it up to date, or at least marking it as out of date if I'm being slack.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A night of firsts

A bit of a strange sort of night last night, I'm not normally online on Monday evenings as I play badminton but due to a damaged wrist I couldn't play so decided to run a few instances. I logged in and found I had almost 1.5k in gold waiting for me from auctions, a nice way to start the day off, and proof I wasn't talking complete arse in my post yesterday. Anyways, after I cleaned out my mailbox and decided to have a little spring clean of the banks, a couple of guildies were asking for a heroic, I said I was up for it and was instantly thrown an invite, I explained that my DK (which was the character I was on) wasn't quite ready and I'd get the priest, by which time the party was full, and I realised I was only 1 ilvl away from being able to go on the DK. I'd been eying up a tanking relic on the AH that would easily up my level and there were no other tanks available in guild so I gave them the choice; I'd happily come along if they wanted me, but was happy to drop out if it clearly wasn't going anywhere so they could get a proper tank. They all agreed, so 2k later (so much for making a profit on the AH!), we were queued for a random heroic. Halls of Origination! no crowd control. Bugger.

The first pull went as expected, it was a complete disaster and we wiped, not wanting to waste peoples time I offered to drop and let them re-queue for a PUG tank, they persuade me to have one more go and amazingly we were off, we only did the compulsorily bosses as it was closing in on the guilds raid time, we only wiped twice (or was it three times?) none of which on the bosses, quite pleasing. I came away with 2 new shiny bits of plate and will be eternally grateful to the 4 guildies who took the risk.

A successful start to the night, but that wasn't the end of it, I mentioned we skipped the optional bosses because it was approaching the raid, well the invites went out so as I was planning on being around all evening I whispered the GM and said if I was needed I'd be about, and popped off to make some supper. On my return I was amazed to see a reply asking me to join, so I quickly picked a few pots up from the bank, which amounted to my total preparation, and headed in. This wasn't like my previous 25 man raiding experience in Cata, previously it was the Conclave of Four Winds, an encounter which the guild has had licked for some time, this was the Twilight Ascendant Council, an encounter that the guild has not yet managed on 25 man. As always, wow wiki and a host of other sites were up on the laptop next to the PC, I had a quick read as we were dispatching trash and the GM took me through the strategy on Vent, it seems this was quite useful to some of the regular raiders as they asked a couple of questions (ahem slackers). As with any progression raid, the learning curve was steep, as with my first experience of heroics in one of my earliest (and still most popular) posts about Stonecore. Raids however, in my experience, generally have an extra twist or two; firstly, they generally last loner, having multiple different phases to learn; generally the punishment for slacking is not only do you die, but several of your group do as a direct result of your stupidity too. The Council was no different, three phases, loads going on, and most importantly debufs which kill others. This worried me, I'm happy for me to die if I'm stupid, but I don't like killing other people, my main objective therefore was not to kill others, my secondary objective to last out the fight, and finally, assuming the two former, melt something….

Very Basically, the Ascended Council has three phases, in one and two there are two mobs, the trick is to keep their health as close to each other's as possible, the bigger the difference in health when they de-spawn, the more health the boss has. As you'd expect, in accordance with my heroic instance rules, there's lots of crap on the floor to (not) stand in, there's lots of crap on the flor (and swirling around) that you most definitely must stand in not to die, and just to confuse matters, sometimes the crap on the floor that you mustn't stand in, is exactly the same crap you must stand in depending on what debufs you have. Added to that, and this is the killer (literally) there's a lightning rod debuf which gives you, and two others, about 5 seconds to get out of the middle of the room and away from the raid, or you kill people. The first pull came and to my amazement, I lasted till just before the wipe, more importantly I didn't kill anyone, and whilst I wasn't always too sure which debuff I needed to get from standing in particular shades of crap I seemed to manage it, and I even managed to do reasonable DPS; not great DPS, but reasonable, and not the worst!.

The second pull came, and I forgot about the gravity well thingymabobs, and died early (first or second) so we won't speak about that again, ever. Third up and I lasted the whole fight, stepping in the correct debuffs at the correct times, dealing with a particularly vindictive spate of lightning rod debuffs without killing anyone, and what's more, improving on my DPS by a good 2k from the first run. Unfortunately at this point we had a couple of disconnects and (probably because of this) we got locked out of the chamber so the decision was made to call it. I kind of wish we'd gone on longer, we got to the third phase, and were getting the hang of DPSing the mobs at the correct rate (and listening to calls to swap on Vent – amazing how many people ignore these), but I'm really pleased to have been asked to help out, and (hopefully) didn't let anyone down. All in all I had a cracking night, and I think I might have been bitten by the raiding bug…. I'm almost hoping the wrist hasn't healed in time for next Monday.