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Archive for April, 2010

Guild Wars 2 begins its onslaught
with articles some would deem most hot:
high-level design screeds start off the reel,
then combat and a class to sweeten the deal.

However, to my eyes what stands out the most
are the gorgeous screenshots which accompany the post.
Their artistic flair delights the eye;
their production quality admirably high.
The horrible dumps us gamers receive
of worthless pictures without reprieve,
insultingly our taste they seem to reave:
That we thirst for beauty they cannot believe.

Yet beyond pretty art,
design plays its part.
Refinement to combat is coming this way
improving the way that we play.

First, our beloved hotbar
has come ajar:
now 10 skills it holds, not 8.

5 of these skills are forged by your weapon,
or determined directly due to profession.
Another skill slot is reserved
for insuring your groups’ health is preserved.

4 slots more bring the tally to ten
Topping off the combat system
In these last you may place
any skill from your class or your race
The mirror of the skill bar of old.

In addition to this concrete alteration,
Skills will receive visual optimization.
The shifting sea of battle’s glory
Impedes players’ sense of war’s story.
Skill execution they strive to make
As clear as thunder in a storm’s wake.

Areas displayed with Platonic clarity,
Lines with no ugly disparity,
Cones of wind show Euclidean precision
Boon to observers in times of decision.

Actions play out with brutish effect
Provide visual cues on what we affect.
Simple and obvious stand in the sun
Subtle, their shadow, in combination.

As for combat, fighters are needed
And this call ArenaNet heeded:
Professions of battle they bring to the fray
Death-dealers refined from prior days.

Most delicate of these combatants
Is graceful in function (and fashion)
She drops rocks from the sky,
Shoots flames from her eye,
And calls lightning down with abandon.

By title we dub her “Elementalist”
With pure energy she is a specialist.
Her control of the tides of war
Is unparalleled heretofore.
From fields of energy, which harm and stun
to walls of ice (which are always fun)
She models the very form of terrain,
Burning the ground with hellish flame
In its midst, she freezes bone marrow
Her enemies flesh her winds do harrow.
While ‘neath frozen boots, earth cracks
Providing old Hades with snacks.

Hopefully these lines your appetite have whet
For more meaty meals from ArenaNet.

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Facebook made some waves with the announcements at their recent f8 Developer Conference.  Among the announcements was the introduction of the Open Graph Protocol.  This protocol does two things.  First, it allows Facebook to extend its reach into more of the web, making the always-on facebook experience even more ubiquitous.  Second, it provides an early version of a standard for expanding the semantic web.

Now, the semantic web is generally a pipe-dream.  The problem with it is that it’s a top-down notion of semantics, where data can have meta-data attached defining what it’s about and what it means.  Semantics, however, is harder to pin down; meaning shifts between contexts.  The relevance of a particular bit of data to other data tends to be decided most fully by the direction from which you approach it.

Implicitly, we get this: the best information aggregators tend to use data already out there to try and determine relevance.  Google uses links back to a page to help arrive at relevance (along with a variety of other things, not limited to meta-data tags).  Digg uses user views.  Last.fm uses library preferences among users.  Pandora attempts to use “musical genes” within the music, rather than attempting to explicitly categorize songs.  And Facebook uses connection people make to things on Facebook…and now, out on the web (where the web supports it).

Understand that if Facebook manages to really push out this Open Graph and convince sites to support it, and there’s no reason to doubt they’ll be at least somewhat successful, at least in a primitive manner, it’s a simple step for facebook to use this as a sort of “Social Search Engine”.  If that takes off, expect the Open Graph to expand further.

However, the Open Graph isn’t just for Facebook.  I mean, they’ve made it for themselves, and as far as the meta-data tagging is concerned, it’s really built almost entirely with facebook in mind, but it is a standard nonetheless.  It suffers from but a single – though important – flaw: it remains top-down.

The page itself still has to describe what it is.  For Facebook, this makes sense, as they focus on connecting concrete nouns, and doesn’t want its users to deal with having to pick those out.  For the semantic web, though, this is harder to make sense of.  A page can be seen as multiple things, depending on your perspective.  A simple example is Penny Arcade.  How exactly do they tag their site?  As being about people?  A group?  A business?  A webcomic?  Games?  Or is it just…a website?  Or a blog?  How do you tag it?

Generally, websites aren’t necessarily about objects, making the base conception of the Open Graph rather…primitive.  It’s still an advance for the Semantic Web, and it may end up being a giant step in moving that project forward, but it’s still a primitive step.

Now, we do want patchwork of overlapping networks.  Not just social networks, but meaning networks are needed to really drive any semantic web, and the more, the better.  What I mean by that is that people should be able to connect things together…that’s how you drive the semantic web.  And you want them to connect them via a context, because that drives the meaning.  The Facebook context is other people, both their connection among people and their connection to the things facebook allows them to connect to.  For instance, if I want to find out about actresses/actors a certain subgroup of people like, well, I just have to find members of that sub group on Facebook, check their connections, and peel out the actresses and actors (which will be tagged as such, via the Open Graph Protocol).  I can use connection of this sort to produce all sorts of people groupings, and then use the people groupings to narrow contextualize other “things” on Facebook.  That helps provide a social meaning for the things Facebook recognizes.

There are other ways to contextualize things, though.  For instance, Wikipedia is built around citations.  Well, that implies there’s a contextual network built up out of the web, linking Wikipedia entries out into web sites (and books, periodicals, etc.).  A less strenuously regulated network of such connections could be build, maybe Wikipedia Examples, where people could take an entry or group of entries and a web site, and connect them.  It’s akin to saying the “Kurt Vonnegut” entry “Likes” “Breakfast of Champions”.  It could also “Like” a highschool book review of Breakfast of Champions an enterprising student posted to the web.  I wouldn’t really advocate attempting to build this into the core citation/bibliography system of Wikipedia, but it would greatly expand the context of websites and Wikipedia entries.

That sort of contextualization, though, is true metadata.  Metadata exists outside of the data it describes, whereas the Open Graph attempts to embed at least some of the metadata into the data itself.  In the wikipedia example, we don’t want pages to describe their type, that’s implicit in the fact that they’ve been connected to Wikipedia.  Instead, you want Wikipedia to have a standard way to publish metadata it has about its connections.

A network is often best represented by a graph: a structure of nodes and connections between them.  A meta-network, like those above, has primary nodes: nodes contained strictly on the network itself.  These would be, in Facebook, People, Pages, Groups, Events, etc.  The meta-network also has secondary, or exterior nodes, which are data elements not strictly in network, but reference-able from the network.

Another way to describe this is primary nodes are things the network understands, creates, and manages, while secondary nodes are things the network really doesn’t understand, but can point at.  To use a (probably very poor) programming analogy, you might have a C++ pointer pointing at a specific object of a known type or you can have a void*.  The program can actually do stuff with the object pointed at by the pointer of known type, but a void*?  Unless you’ve got a really thorough understanding of your entire program, it’s a good bet you’re playing with fire if you try and do anything with whatever that points to.

Yes, I probably could have used a child object reference versus a reference of type ‘object’ for C#, Java, Javascript, whatever programmers, but I’m feeling nostalgic for C++.  Most of you probably glazed over the last few sentences, anyway.

The primary nodes of a network provide  known semantic context.  If you’re on Facebook, these will generally be social in nature, whereas the Wikipedia Examples network would be Wikipedia Articles.  The secondary nodes then gain additional context and meaning by the connections primary nodes make to them.

Consider such a thing for a game network.  Games become primary nodes, probably alongside game devices and consoles, players, developers, composers, development houses, publishers, reviewers, etc.  Network users might link news stories to games, reviews to reviewers and games, development houses, etc.  Those secondary nodes enrich the information contained within the network itself…but the primary nodes contextualize the meaning of secondary nodes.

In a way Google already attempts to do this, but they’re proceeding in an extremely inorganic way, as they have no concept of the various subnetworks which live across the web.  Instead, search engines attempt to view all pages, generally, as pages.  At best, they seem to view pages as part of a “site”.

But what about a search engine that crawled the web not via web addresses, but through the eyes of various networks.  A given web page would be given semantic meaning based on what connected to it, in all the various networks.  Combined with a more traditional web search, this information could more effectively drill down to find sites relevatn to the context the searcher is coming from.

Heck, that sort of search engine could move to being a meta-meta-crawler, drawing connections between primary nodes in disparate networks in order to establish a higher-order context.

Such a network would contain all the metadata for in its primary nodes and in the connection descriptions; secondary nodes would have no need to know what the network thinks of them.  In order to integrate this into the semantic web, the network itself needs to expose an API for getting at information relating to both primary nodes and secondary nodes.  Facebook has the primary node queries down pretty well, with their new Graph API allowing networks to, assuming they have some starting point, nearly any publicly exposed portion of the primary network and ask for permission to access even more.  The difference here is Facebook doesn’t really have a concept of Secondary Nodes.  Instead, it is asking other websites to make themselves primary nodes of the Facebook network, via the Open Graph Protocol meta tags.

A secondary node is contextualized by two things: the set of connections from primary nodes to it, and the type of connections those are, which is defined by the network itself.  For instance, in Facebook you can connect to something directly.  You can have friends, pages you’re connected to, groups you’re a part of.  Generally, People have the largest range of possible outgoing connection types.  In addition, you can “Like” things, which describes another sort of relationship.  Currently, those are limited strictly to primary nodes in the network (strictly things Facebook can actually understand), so you can’t really submit a website to Facebook and see…what everyone thinks about it already.

For instance, if I had this blog on my own server and could make my own widgets, it might be fun to take the link to this post and submit it to Facebook to look up people who’ve connected to it, whether via “Like” or whatever.  I could then use Facebook’s authentication system to authenticate people and show them any of their friends who’ve connected here.  Beyond that, I could use associated meta-data to check for potentially related links, to text search your friends public connections for things related to the tags on the post, etc.

Sadly, I don’t seem able to do that on Facebook as it is now, because Facebook would want me to embed my blog into its network…and associate it with Bilsybub, the person, I think, so that it could figure out how to categorizes the site.  So we’re not quite where I think we’ll end up.  We’re closer, though.

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Ars Technica posted an article discussing the prevalence of papers purporting to confirm a hypothesis compared to papers disproving a hypothesis.  I’ll post it without comment, though I’d like to hear Jormundgard’s opinion on the article, as it relates to things we’ve discussed before.

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So sayeth the guy who talks about movies a lot: never can video games aspire to have, amidst their mighty pantheon of wondrous achievements, a single, solitary instance of a “Work of Art”.

I disagree, and I think it comes down to definitions here.  Apparently, I have a broader definition of art than Ebert…or perhaps we approach it in two very different directions, leading to radically different final definitions that end up with some overlap.  In reading through his argument, I’m really unable to discern precisely what his definition of art IS.

Of course, the basis of his discourse is a rebuttal of a rather poorly made argument, by a woman who undermined her point at the very beginning of her talk by agreeing with Ebert that “No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.”  This isn’t a very persuasive rhetorical maneuver, nor is it true.  I emphatically can name games worthy of such comparison, and know people who would name other such games.

She then continues down the strictly shoddy rhetorical path of continually throwing up obstacles to her argument.  Games which have been with us for centuries or millenia are not art.  This actually isn’t too controversial, which is why I think she so easily agrees: how is baseball art?  Football?  Mahjong?  We don’t really call these art normally, and since we’ve never granted them the positive assertion, then the negation must apply.  If something isn’t art, it’s “Not Art”.

I think this is partly a problem of our linguistic structure, where we have the exact same syntax for denying a property to something and saying we don’t know if it has that property.  If we never say something is art…that could mean, you know, that we’ve just never gone about thinking about it.  But Kellee Santiago simply goes on with the uncontested assertion that none of these games are art, appealing directly to common usage.  Never does she ask why they aren’t art.

Instead, she hops over to wikipedia to try and define art, arriving at this:

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.

Of course, the article has a giant label over it, pointing out potential issues with it.  This definition, for instance, has no corroborating citations.  Wikipedia is built strictly on summarizing multiple sources in an effort to distill common, accessible knowledge, of which definitions are a part.  But let’s work with this, since it’s going to, at least initially, be Santiago’s starting place.  It’s worthwhile to point out that further down, wikipedia delves into the substantial argument raging with the philosophy of aesthetics (a particular philosophical endeavor I’ve always found cringeworthy, anyway), quickly diluting the clarity of its original definition.  Further, as Ebert notes, chess may fit that definition…as might football, baseball, mahjong, and other non-video-games.

Part of the issue here is that beauty, passion, the “Dionysian”, as Nietzsche called it, is somehow missing.  Take Kellee’s final definition: “Art is a way of communicating ideas to an audience in a way the audience finds engaging”.  What, precisely, is the idea communicated by music?  It doesn’t seem to be anything specific.  Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, something I tend to consider a staggering work of art, seems to offer no specific concepts or conceptual arrangements.  Pachelbel’s Canon in D is another wonderful artistic accomplishment, and the idea there seems to be…the generally accurate application of the rules of the canon, rules which are quite precise.  Indeed, the act of creating a canon, as Bach was famed for, was very much like…a game.  Simply look at the puzzle canon.

In fact, it feels like she just pushed the argument off.  Anything can be said to communicate an idea, as, strictly speaking, the moment a human comes in contact with something external, an idea is formed to attempt to mentally model this something.  Really, the thing differentiating art seems to be “engagement”, which remains poorly defined.

See, there’s little point in continuing.  We can’t use the examples she gives as a means of inductively arriving at a general definition of art, because she’s trying to convince they are instances of art.  We’d need to know they were first, and then try and move from there.  So really, she’s trying to claim her definition is good, and show how games are getting close to whatever her definition is.

It’s no good; her argument is, as Ebert properly notes, not terribly cohesive and difficult to see from the examples given.  She already conceded the ground that these examples aren’t art…they’re apparently the chicken scratches of early cave painters.  I agree with Ebert in his response to this:

They were great artists at that time, geniuses with nothing to build on, and were not in the process of becoming Michelangelo or anyone else.

Art, I think, has to be considered an end in itself.  A work of art is self-contained.

But then, what is art?  Ebert doesn’t seem to have a solid definition either, nor does he respond to the “engagement” definition.  He does point to a single difference, as he sees it, between games and art.

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome.

This is interesting, I think, because it seems to miss the point.  It is not that games have “rules, points, objectives, and an outcome”.  That’s like saying a human body has hands feet, torso, chest and legs.  A game IS those things.  He’s correct, if you don’t have rules and goals, you don’t have a game.  You can win at a single instance of a game; you cannot “win” a game.  The game sits seperately from our playthroughs, giving weight to them, providing the bones to hold up the meat of our interaction.

A game, in its essence, consists entirely of a conglomeration of concepts, of abstract rules governing a “world”, a set of particles upon which those rules operate.  If ever there were a medium which sought to express ideas, games, in all forms, is it.  Games are representations of structures of motion, whimsical, semi-real, relevant, or absolutely divorced from any connection to the rules of our own world.  All of the narratives constructs, the stories, the setting, the graphics, the music, the controls, the design, all of these are woven together into the higher form of a game.  They are subordinate to the whole, which is experienced as discovery.

Consider a Monet.  Impressionism is not, at least to me, terribly interesting initially.  However, upon finally seeing a monet, in person, from a distance, I discovered what was being shown: not simply the static image of a pond, or a snowed-upon roof, but the distillation of the motion.  Seen from afar, they managed to convey a more dynamic, visceral representation of the subject matter than a more statically detailed rendition.  That’s not to say Impressionism therefore was better art…it simply has its own virtues.

I am left to think that it is something of this sort which makes something potentially art: it’s ability to evoke passion in us.  Art is something towards which we cannot be indifferent, or at least which was cared for in its making.  Passion is the true tool of the artist, and all the myriad forms of “art” are simply new ways to express the passion of the artist.  Perhaps I am simply troubled by the lack of concern for the artist, for we focus on the audience.  Does an artist even think of the audience?  Is an audience necessary to art?  Or is art the result of the vain attempt to give form to what is strictly a concept, to birth into reality something hinted at in a mind?  If it is this latter, isn’t the impact on the audience simply a secondary concern?

Really, part of my disagreement here is that I find logical proofs to be artistic.  Indeed, they cannot fail to meet any definition provided by either Ebert or Santiago, yet I bet neither of them would wish to call logical proofs…art.  There is, however, no other word I can find to apply to the deft mental construction, the elegance and awe-inspiring brilliance of things like Cantor’s Diagonalization Argument or Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems.  If math and logic can produce works of art, I find myself open to discovering works of art anywhere.

Thus, I disagree with Roger Ebert and Kellee Santiago that games have yet to produce a masterpiece of the form.  I am quite willing to assert the Silent Hill 2 ranks as an absolute masterpiece of a game, on par with any of the masterpieces of psychological thriller I have seen and certainly equal to any of the great novels I have read.  I put down super mario brothers as an example of distilled fun, and put forward that watching what truly great players can do with the game says that the game itself is a work of art.  I would happily contend that Modern Warfare 1 (but not 2) was an absolute masterpiece of first person shooting and single-player gaming.  I think Final Fantasy VI and VII are both worthy of being called works of art, along with Chrono Trigger.  These games were not merely pivotal points in games history.

I shouldn’t fail to include Braid, though I sadly haven’t played it.  I would happily call Audiosurf a successful piece of experimental art.  Geometry Wars Evolved also qualifies as a work of art.  For me, Extreme G 2 delivered to me an experience which was evocative and brilliant (I couldn’t quite call Extreme G 3 better, and I didn’t play Wipeout XL, so I can’t comment on it).  Many Bioware games could arguably fit within this pantheon of masterpieces of art, along with many of Blizzard’s works.

Tetris is a masterpiece.

These are things I would put in a gallery, if a gallery could be a place where one person could sit, ensconced in the setting envisioned for these games for the time it takes to squeeze their wonder from them, and call them worthy of display.  I do not think games are lacking for works of art.  I think the world of video games overflows with some of the most profound and earnest creative effort humanity has ever born witness to, whether crass entertainment or high-minded morals.  Heck, the world SURROUNDING games gives birth to a massive creative effort, from the fansites to the webcomics to the theorycrafting to the remixed music.

In fact, I defy Santiago or Ebert to describe a single artistic subculture which has ever promoted such a diversity of creative effort.

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So I’ve had a rough week of being horribly busy.  This means that all the commentary I’ve wanted to offer has had to wait, until life decides to leave me the hell alone and let me get on with the important business of theorycrafting the impacts of the new warrior changes.  Sadly, life’s priorities fail to align with my own, wholly more important values.

This week looks like it’ll be better, and I should be able to at least get more tweets out there.  In the meantime, here’s a choose your own adventure, starring the Heavy!

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I’m gonna try posting my short, byte-size comments on twitter, rather than posting them here.  When I post here, I tend to want to add a fair amount of personal commentary on the subject (hence the often 2k+ word posts), while twitter forces me to near-haiku brevity.  You’ll find my twitter feed in a widget to the right, so you can still view my commentary from here…or you can follow me and get it however the hell you get twitter.

Or you can totally ignore me, because I promise my twitter will be even more inanely ADHD than my posts.

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The preview of upcoming changes to the Druid class went up last Friday, and managed to create what may have been the longest response thread from Ghostcrawler of any of the previews (to a great extent because GC has indicated he’s spent a lot of time healing as a druid).

For myself, I was happy with the changes.  I’ve dabbled in every tree, though Resto and Balance have been by far the most common specs for me, and it appeared that the class was going to evolve in line with expectations, adding a few new tricks to fill in gaps while iterating on existing mechanics.  While I’m not alone in this, I certainly don’t feel like I fit in the vocal portion of the population, who was up in arms about some of the changes.

Here are the changes along with my reactions:

First, just like the other classes, druids were given three new abilities in the preview.  It bears mentioning that there’s no real way to tell if these are it, what is coming in the form of talented abilities, and what is going away.  All we know is Blizzard has some pretty strong inclinations of providing at least these three:

Thrash (Level 81): Thrash deals damage and causes all targets within 10 yards to bleed every 2 seconds for 6 seconds. The intent here is to give bears another button to hit while tanking. Talents will affect the bleed, such as causing Swipe to deal more damage to bleeding targets. 5-second cooldown. 25 Rage.

Stampeding Roar (Level 83): The druid roars, increasing the movement of all allies within 10 yards by 40% for 8 seconds. Stampeding Roar can be used in cat or bear form, but bears might have a talent to drop the cooldown. The goal of this ability is to give both bears and cats a little more situational group utility. 3-minute cooldown. No cost.

Wild Mushroom (Level 85): Grows a magical mushroom at the target location. After 4 seconds the mushroom becomes invisible. Enemies who cross the mushroom detonate it, causing it to deal area-of-effect damage, though its damage component will remain very effective against single targets. The druid can also choose to detonate the mushroom ahead of time. This is primarily a tool for the Balance druid, and there will be talents that play off of it. No cooldown. 40-yard range. Instant cast.

Thrash ought to serve as both a single target and aoe tanking tool for bears, forming part of a rage priority dump.  With the rage changes and Maul being moved from an “on next attack” to an instant cast rage dump, bears will find themselves having to prioritize their rage income.  Mangle, Lacerate, and Faerie Fire will obviously be the basic button presses, but instead of filling the gaps with Swipe and Maul, bears will now be forced to deal with a mixing in Thrash.  Given what’s said above, I expect the rotation to be something like “FFF, Mangle, stack lacerate to max, mangle on CD, Thrash on CD, swipe if rage is low or there are multiple targets, maul if rage is high and there’s only one target.”  If Blizzard provides more instant-rage generation abilities for druids, we should have ample snap aggro and such for making this work.  I still feel like the bear’s standard threat rotation will be a bit lame, but we don’t really know how the other utilities play out.  Perhaps things like Barkskin, roars, etc. will play a bigger role in fights, without necessarily being part of a rotation.  Ultimately, this change is good, though potentially not sufficient to add the “fun” GC is looking for here.

Stampeding Roar is an interesting utility addition for ferals.  Keep in mind that it’s highly likely any druid can pop forms, mash the roar, and grant the buff…this is only easier for a cat or bear, not out of bounds for moonkins/resto druids (and given the tree form change (more later), restos will have an easier time swinging this than moonkins).  Interestingly, as a kitty dps player, this serves to make cats one of the single fastest classes in the game, when added to feral swiftness and dash.  From a pvp perspective, I feel like this qualifies as a Big Deal.  I don’t think it’s a game changer, but consider a boss fight with even two ferals in it: for two short movement phases, raids can be in position 40% faster.  That can add up to an awfully large gain in DPS, if used properly.  I do think, though, that this is so situational as to be really difficult for players to grok on; it’s simply not flashy enough in a way players understand.  I can hear arena teams nearly cackling with glee at the potential, though.

Finally, Wild Mushroom provides an additional tool for Balance druids to make their rotations work.  Let me add some pretty educated speculation on how this will work.  Since you’ll be able to explode the mushroom at will, that implies you can only lay one at a time, and the spell cast will be a toggle: once to place, another to detonate, then another to place a new mushroom.  Any mob triggering a placed mushroom will reset the toggle.  Given it’ll be effective versus both single and multiple targets, I expect Blizzard intends this to fit in the pve damage rotation for moonkins…the pvp implications should be pretty obvious.  The lack of a cooldown is telling here: there’s no way the system designers intend for this to be a wrath/starfire replacement, so this won’t be a chain-cast spell.  For one, it’ll be nature damage (if I had to guess), meaning it’ll tilt our Eclipse scale in such a way that we’ll probably want to MF->SF to tilt our balance back to Arcane, adding a boost to the shroom, and making it worth placing.  For another, as talents are supposed to play off the spell, I’d be shocked if we didn’t have procs/added damage for situational effects added to the spell in order to make it be awesome when everything coalesces and meh when it doesn’t.  Finally, this is almost assuredly a ground-targeted ability, which are difficult to properly aim within the GCD…we’re just not going to want to lose the dps of attempting to place a finicky mushroom unless the situation really warrants it.

However, the mushroom does give Balance druids another instant cast for when dots are up and typhoon is on CD.  Depending on the talents and the workings of the spell, I consider this a welcome addition to our feathery form.

Next up, some basic mechanics changes, some of which were mentioned prior to the preview:

  • All heal-over-time spells (HoTs) will benefit from crit and haste innately in Cataclysm. Hasted HoTs do not reduce their duration, but instead add additional HoT ticks. Haste will also benefit Energy generation while in cat form.
  • Unlike the other healers, Restoration druids will not be receiving any new spells. They have plenty to work with already, and our challenge instead is to make sure all of them have a well-defined niche. A druid should be able to tank-heal with stacks of Lifebloom, spot-heal a group with Nourish and Regrowth, and top off lightly wounded targets with Rejuvenation.
  • We want to add tools to cat form and depth to bear form. If a Feral cat is going to fill a very similar niche to that of a rogue, warrior or Enhancement shaman, it needs a few more tools — primarily a reliable interrupt. Bears need to be pushing a few more buttons just so the contrast between tanking and damage-dealing is not so steep.
  • Barkskin will be innately undispellable.
  • We will be buffing the damage of Mangle (cat) significantly so that when cat druids cannot Shred, they are not at such a damage-dealing loss.
  • Druids will lose Abolish Poison with the dispel mechanics change, but Restoration druids will gain Dispel Magic (on friendly targets) as a talent. All druids can still remove poisons with Cure Poison and remove curses with Remove Curse.

Really, nothing unexpected here.  DoTs will also benefit from haste and crit, for you worriers.  The lack of new spell additions is disappointing, until you realize that we have a number of spells just aching to be revamped to actually, you know, do something meaningful.  Seriously, healing for me is a combination of rejuvenation, wildgrowth, and then sporadic usage of regrowth, nourish, and swiftmend to fill in some gaps.  Healing touch is utterly ignorable, lifebloom is simply a nice touch for when I’ve run out of rejuv targets, and Tranquility remains a really, really lame emergency heal.  That means over half our repertoire has ample room to be improved to fit more defined, useful roles, and I’m happy they’re focusing on that over adding new abilities.  The interrupt for cats and bears is an obvious, gaping whole in their utility, particularly when pvp is considered, but also for 5-man content where it’s less likely there’ll be two reliable interrupts, while the rest of the changes arejust plain common sense (especially with purge spilling out into another class).

The small set of talent changes they announced is interesting, to say the least, and may have generated the most commentary:

  • Tree of Life is changing from a passive talent to a cooldown-based talent, similar to Metamorphosis. Mechanically, it feels unfair for a druid to have to give up so much offense and utility in order to be just as good at healing as the other classes who are not asked to make that trade. We are exploring the exact benefit the druid gets from Tree of Life. It could strictly be better healing, or it could be that each heal behaves slightly different. You also will not be able to be banished in Tree of Life form (this will probably be true of Metamorphosis as well). Additionally, we would like to update the Tree of Life model so that it feels more exciting when you do decide to go into that form. Our feeling is that druids rarely actually get to show off their armor, so it would be nice to have at least one spec that looked like a night elf or tauren (and soon troll or worgen) for most of the time.
  • We want to make the Feral cat damage rotation slightly more forgiving. We do not want to remove what druids like about their gameplay, but we do want to make it less punishing to miss, say, a Savage Roar or Rake. The changes here will be on par with increasing the duration of Mangle like we did for patch 3.3.3.
  • Balance druids will have a new talent ability called Nature’s Torrent, which strikes for either Nature or Arcane damage depending on which will do the most damage (or possibly both), and moves the Eclipse meter more (details below). The improved version of Nature’s Torrent also reduces the target’s movement speed. 10-second cooldown.
  • Restoration druids will have a new talent called Efflorescence, which causes a bed of healing flora to sprout beneath targets that are critically healed by Regrowth.
  • We plan on giving Feral cats and bears a Kick/Pummel equivalent — an interrupt that is off the global cooldown and does no damage. We feel like they need this utility to be able to fill the melee role in a dungeon or raid group, and to give them more PvP utility.
  • We want to make sure Feral and Balance druids feel like good options for an Arena team. They need the tools to where you might consider a Feral druid over an Arms warrior, or a Balance druid over a mage or warlock. Remember that the PvP landscape will probably look pretty different for Cataclysm with a focus on rated, competitive Battlegrounds.

To leap through the less controversial changes, the feral rotation is probably going to see some GCDs free up via buff/debuff duration increases (Savage Roar, Rake, and Rip being obvious candidates), along with a pummel/kick ability and arena utility (how vague can you get, Blizz?). Moonkin get yet another spell on their bar in the form of Nature’s Torrent. My guess now is that Torrent will deal damage not based on the target’s resistance (like frostfire bolt), but rather based on the position of the Eclipse meter (the new Mastery passive for Balance, see below). So, if you’ve got an eclipse buff for Arcane, it’ll deal arcane damage and swing Eclipse even farther the moon, increasing Arcane damage more. In effect, consider this an Arcane Blast for druids: you can ratchet up the damage of one-half of your spec really high, but you gimp the damage of your other half.

Restoration druids got two bits here, both pretty damn big, though one has overshadowed almost every other thing mentioned in this entire preview. First, Regrowth can be improved to add an additional aoe hot, which appears on the ground at the feet of targets critically healed by regrowth. I can nearly guarantee this bed of flowers will remain in place and heal anyone standing on it, thus giving druids another significant aoe heal. What’s important to realize here is that all of our spells are getting a once-over, regrowth included. If GC really does intend regrowth to be the druid flash heal, I suspect the HoT portion will be toned down, perhaps in favor of this new addition (and potentially via glyphs). Efflorescence will also probably be in addition to the crit heal, thus serving to make it akin to a bonus to the amount a critical heal heals for.

The other change is the switch of Tree of Life from a constant form to a cooldown. Essentially, druids will heal pretty darn well in their normal form, and then either a) dispense life like a new edition of Genesis or b) switch healing styles slightly to fit a unique situation. Honestly, I suspect it’ll end up being a combination of the two. You simply can’t erect a barrier like a multi-minute cooldown on healing and have it be a major factor in the average throughput of a healer. That is, ToL will be inevitably be either a very short-term, massive healing boost which is ultimately an “oh shit” button (it’s worth thinking of it like Last Stand, the healer version), meaning druids will maintain a very solid continuous (and efficient) healing rotation for both tank and raid healing, though being generally unable to match the sustained throughput of a priest/paladin/shaman. They’ll be more than adequate, but not stupendous…until they hit ToL, at which point a single resto druid would be able to keep the entire raid alive…for the 15 seconds the buff lasts. If I really had to guess, I’d lean toward HoT’s becoming instant-cast direct heals, or gaining a direct heal component such that we can increase throughput and burst healing without altering basic mana consumption for the duration of ToL.

The argument about losing the cosmetic tree form just falls flat to me. I still remember when druids were forced to go 31 points resto for innervate, 11 points feral for feral charge, and 5 points Balance for either Nature’s Grasp or Improved Wrath, leaving 3 points to stick wherever. During that day and age, a druid was a more true hybrid, particularly while soloing or in pvp. Fights could start with cat or a starfire alpha strike, followed by moonfire, hots, and bear form. From bear form, the druid could stun or root, switch out for a free heal (via a very old talent which is completely gone now), reapply moonfire, root, kite, go back to bear, switch to cat to mess up casters, wrath spam, cheetah to run like heck, or whatever. Every form really was used all the time. Ever since moonkin was introduced back in the first druid class review, I’ve missed the hybrid druid, so I absolutely welcome the return of caster form. This also represents an enormous boost in the utility of resto druids in nearly every respect; whereas we needed to shift out for a cyclone, now it’ll simply be part of our repertoire. Hitting cheetah(outside) or cat+dash(inside) for a movement speed boost will be that much easier, and we’ll have access to our (wholly unused) balance spells. You have no idea how much I look forward to being able to root without losing my tree form bonuses.

I also have no worries about the loss of the ToL bonuses to healing. Ghostcrawler may be stupid half the time, but he’s a really solid theorycrafter; he knows his math. Those bonuses are just getting rolled up into our passives and other talents (for instance, the armor bonus in tree form could easily be rolled into a talent or assumed that we’ll grab it by grabbing feral talents). I’m just not worried about the balancing here.

Last, but not least, we have the new passive bonuses for our trees:

Balance
Spell Damage
Spell Haste
Eclipse

Feral (Cat)
Melee Damage
Melee Critical Damage
Bleed Damage

Feral (Bear)
Damage Reduction
Vengeance
Savage Defense

Restoration
Healing
Meditation
HoT Scale Healing

Eclipse: We are moving Eclipse from a talent into a core mechanic of the class and making it less random. Balance druids will have a new UI element that shows a sun and a moon. Whenever they cast an Arcane spell, it will move the UI closer to the sun, and buff their Nature damage. Whenever they cast a Nature spell, it will move the UI closer to the moon, and buff their Arcane damage. The gameplay intention is to alternate Arcane and Nature spells (largely Starfire and Wrath) to maintain the balance.

Bleed Damage and Savage Defense: Feral druids will receive two sets of passive bonuses depending on whether the druid is in cat or bear form. Bleed Damage will be improved for cats. Savage Defense is the current bear mechanic for converting crits into damage absorption and will be improved for bears.

HoT Scale Healing: HoTs will do increased healing on more wounded targets. The mechanic is similar to that of the Restoration shaman, but with HoTs instead of direct heals. In Cataclysm, we anticipate druids using a greater variety of their spells so there is a distinction between healing and HoT healing.

Vengeance: This is a mechanic to ensure that tank damage (and therefore threat) doesn’t fall behind as damage-dealing classes improve their gear during the course of the expansion. All tanking specs will have Vengeance as their second talent tree passive bonus. Whenever a tank gets hit, Vengeance will give them a stacking attack power buff equal to 5% of the damage done, up to a maximum of 10% of the character’s unbuffed health. For boss encounters we expect that tanks will always have the attack power bonus equal to 10% of their health. The 5% and 10% bonuses assume 51 talent points have been put into the Feral tree and the druid is in bear form — these values will be smaller at lower levels. Remember, you only get this bonus if you have spent the most talent points in the Feral tree and are in bear form, so you won’t see Balance, Restoration, or Feral druids in cat form running around with it. Vengeance will let us continue to make tank gear more or less the way we do today — there will be some damage-dealing stats, but mostly survival-oriented stats. Druids typically have more damage-dealing stats even on their tanking gear, so the Vengeance benefit may be smaller, but overall the goal is that all four tanks do about the same damage when tanking.

Eclipse is a pretty big deal for Balance druids. Right now it’s this massive buff to damage that is completely screwed by half the stuff that goes on during fights. Now, it will serve as a push to switch spells up, without a fear of losing the bonus gained from casts. There’re a variety of ways this could work, but I want to focus on just one here. First, much of a balance druid’s damage is dependent on dots or casts that “hang around”, such as the new wild mushroom. I suspect that no eclipse damage bonus would be sufficient to make up for dropping these from your rotation. Thus, balance druids will want to tip the balance far enough to gain the max bonus for a dot reapplication, then quickly reset the meter and tip it back over the other way for the other dot types, before switching back. Nature’s torrent is intended to help push that along, providing a filler spell designed specifically to manipulate the Eclipse meter. Torrent is unlikely to have a higher dps than starfire or wrath; however, it probably moves the meter farther than either, allowing the moonkin to speed the eclipse meter into place (once it’s on the right side of the scale) in order to have it at max for dot application.

Here’s an example. The druid starts balanced between the sun and moon. They cast starfire once, increasing their nature damage (and moving the meter to the sun). They then cast torrent until the meter maxes, before dropping mushroom and/or insect swarm on their target. That pushes the meter down, and places a dot on the target. They now have the duration of the dot to swing the meter through a full cycle, so they begin casting wrath. This pushes the meter back towards balance, and then over, towards the moon, increasing their nature damage. Once again, they torrent until they max the meter at the moon, at which point they press starfall and/or moonfire, then they starfire the meter back to nature and repeat. In essence, the balance druid rotation reproduces the day/night cycle, using the zeniths of the cycle to maximize dot damage. I suspect this also maximizes starfire/wrath damage, as Torrent will benefit from the eclipse buff regardless, while casting the buffed accompanying spell will instead reduce the overall buff.

The chief concern is ensuring that moonkins want to hit each zenith and then swap back rapidly, rather than settling at one and sticking there via alternating casts. I posted this would be done by a desire to reapply dots with the maximum damage bonus, but that will depend on how the bonus interacts with dots.

Feral druids get a pretty standard set of passives, switching them out depending on your form. Bears get a carbon copy of warriors while cats get a standard melee dps passive set. Nothing really special here. I will say that the vengeance passive, given to all tanks, is very intriguing and may help mitigate the rage loss when tanking lower level dungeons, in addition to increasing threat scaling.

Resto druids received the much-maligned “HoTs heal more when your target has less health”. Now, GC has repeatedly claimed they want health pools to be larger and to remain in mid-ranges longer, and I believe they’ll try to make this happen, though how well they’ll succeed is something we’ll have to see for ourselves after launch. Consider, though, that healing throughput will definitely be lower compared to size of health pools then it is now (this is an easily achievable goal for Blizz). If that’s the case, then druids should see increased throughput, for free, at precisely the time they need it most: when their target is hurt. In fact, this is a rather large bonus to tank healing for a druid, because it will apply at any point in the tank’s health pool, rather than the currently lackluster Rejuvenation Glyph only applying under 50%. We’ll have to see how this one plays out…if it’s a large enough bonus, and other spells change appropriately, it may actually serve to help make nourish a fantastic group spot heal (I also expect the basic workings of nourish to change).

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