Archive for the ‘Ghostcrawler Watch’ Category

I believe this vindicates that old series I had on the many issues of GC posting in the forums.


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Watching the ongoing evolution of World of Warcraft is something of a unique experience for people interested in game system design.  In few other games do we get the same exposure to the mechanics underlying the gameplay, and in fewer still (most of them MMOs) do we get to watch the ongoing evolution of the game systems.  Developers simply don’t have much chance to iterate on a live game in response to its reception.  But here we have a game which gets to make sweeping changes to the way core mechanics interact every couple years (expansions) along with constant iteration on the pattern set in place by those sweeping changes.

As Cataclysm slowly approaches, bits and pieces of the vision for character systems have been revealed, either directly or indirectly.  Obviously, we had the big direct reveals from Blizzcon ’09.  However, we’ve also had a steady trickle of information from Ghostcrawler about where he sees stat pools, combat, and the like in Cataclysm.  On top of this, he’s also made somewhat clear what he dislikes about the current gameplay, and we can assume he’ll attempt to address this in Cataclysm.

Along those lines, we have this recent series of forum posts from GC which starts talking about protection warriors (who are currently apparently low on the damage totem pole compared to other tanks) and then moves into more high-level discussion about tanking generally.  Two quotes stand out.  First, this one:

Long-term, the paladin manner of generating AE damage and threat is probably too good, especially given how simple it is. To be honest, we have very mixed feelings on the whole AE tanking game. We brought the druid and warrior more in line with the paladin for fear of recreating the Shattered Halls / Mount Hyjal experience, where other tanks just weren’t competitive. What that has led to of course is the AE tank + AE style of damage for almost every pull. You need the tools to be able to tank legitimate adds fights (imagine lots of incoming mobs), but does that mean every pull needs to devolve into that? We’d like to see less AE overall, so buffing everyone’s AE tools isn’t going to be tops on our agenda. That does however mean that we really can’t afford to have a “best AE tank”, and while things are more fair there than they were in BC, they aren’t fair enough.

Effectively, GC is backing away from the entire style of group tanking, particularly in 5-mans, that has come to dominate Wrath: the tank grabs every single add, locks them down with massive aoe threat while DPS rains massive AoE damage on them and the healer just pounds right through.  This style of tanking is new to Wrath.  I actually remember my shock when I first ran a 5-man that was tanked this way…what, know sapping/polymorphing/rooting/hexing/whatever a couple adds to limit damage?  Nope…tank mitigation and healer throughput were high enough that the tank could absorb all that, and AoE dps was high enough to eat through the pulls before healer mana was an issue.  This manner of play has been supported throughout the expansion by Blizzard for a variety of reasons (many of them related to the “Bring the player, not the class” initiative).

The second quote is from a few posts down:

It would be nice if there were more of those pulls. BC might have been too extreme the other way where many of the trash pulls felt like boss encounters in terms of risk and planning. But maybe every third pull or something you’d need to say “Okay, we have to pay attention on this one.”

I don’t think making the tanking abilities harder to use is the answer. I’m not even sure making them do less threat is the answer. If AE dps wasn’t so effective and if tanks were at greater risk of dying to 5 pulls, then we’d end up at the right place anyway.

My point earlier was we aren’t looking to make generating AE threat trivial because hopefully it will be less essential and differences in how tanks AE tank won’t turn into big problems. Some tank abilities are probably essential, such as a taunt, survivability cooldowns and a way to generate snap aggro on a single target (yes, DKs, we hear you). We hope not every tank ability needs to be shared across all 4 classes, or else the druid just becomes a warrior with different art.

We have a re-affirmation to the commitment to moving away from supporting AoE tanking, along with a hint at how they feel they’ll do this.  Any fight is a race to kill them before they kill you.  Once the tank goes, the group is generally gone as well, so the lynchpin is keeping the tank alive while the dps kills everything else.  Because AoE threat is so high, we don’t have to worry about things attacking other group members (though more on that in a bit).  Keeping the tank alive is going to be a factor of the tank’s mitigation and their incoming healing.  As long as healing per time matches damage to tank per time, the tank won’t die.

Incoming damage is a bit more granular though: burst damage can kill a tank because it may be able to ramp up faster than a healer can ramp up their healing to match.  This is something like Gormok’s impale.  You also have the point where healers run out of mana, assuming that maximum throughput drains mana faster than mana is generated.  For wrath, healer maximum throughput has exceeded damage input by a hefty amount except in very rare, high burst situations.  Usually, fights come down to killing things before the healer runs out of mana and/or making sure massive bursts don’t kill people.  Because maximum throughput exceeds incoming damage so dramatically, it takes some time to run a healer out of mana, so unless burst damage is very high, it’s almost impossible that dps won’t be able to kill things rapidly enough.

The problem is that increasing burst damage isn’t the solution.  There’s not enough granularity there, because the maximum throughput of healers, relative to effective health pools of tanks (which puts an upper bound on how much damage an unavoidable ability can do) is so high.  A healer can top off any health pool in, at most, 5 GCDs.  At worst, that’s 7.5 seconds (assuming unhasted, which is darn near unimaginable in most gear these days).  That means that the burst damage has to nearly beat the tank’s entire health pool, plus continue beyond that at greater than the healer’s max output.  That’s a ton of damage, and so open to random fluctuations that you might as well have an occassional “Just kill the tank instantly” effect.  Now, you can distract the healer (and blizzard does that via raid damage and movement) to try and limit their responsiveness, but I think you get my drift: if the boss doesn’t have a chance to damn near instantly destroy the tank, there’s almost no point.

What GC is suggesting is that trash potentially be able to kill the tank faster than DPS can kill it.  However, with the current state of Wrath, this is simply impossible without making trash viciously difficult.  Also bear in mind that Blizzard is now contending with the new world order of the LFG tool.  In order for random groups to work, frustration needs to be kept to a minimum.  Wiping is frustrating.  Thus, wiping needs to be kept to a minimum.  Trash that has the potential to murder the tank if the healer so much as glances away from their health bar is a guaranteed wipe, particularly when you’re trying for a semi-casual experience.  I know I don’t want to have to be at the edge of my friggin’ seat, nose glued to Grid for every trash pull.  So clearly massive burst is not what is meant.

I think it’s now worthwhile to call attention to a couple other broad changes Ghostcrawler has made clear will be occuring in Cataclysm.  First, health pools will be rising dramatically, relative to the increase in damage.  GC has repeatedly stated he wants damage profiles to look a lot more like a steady chipping away rather than the current massive spikes, followed by full.  Along with this, healing output will lower relative to health pools and relative to damage.  Now, I think, Ghostcrawler’s statements about a 5-pull being a threat make sense.  I get the impression that this will come along with the realization of Ghostcrawler’s long-stated intention of making mana more of a concern.  So 5-pulls will be a threat to the tank not because the tank will drop too quickly for the healer to keep up, but because the tank will steadily drop and the healer will be unable to keep up without risking eventual going out of mana.  When you couple that with reduced aoe damage, relative to enemy health pools, you end up with a severe risk of an attrition fight the trash will (eventually) win.  Importantly, though, this will take some time: that tank won’t drop instantly due to a bad pull; the healer can keep up with a sudden increase in damage.  The flow of combat ends up slowing down somewhat, particularly for healers.  Damage is more steady, more manageable, and less prone to sudden changes that are simply impossible to respond to.  This, in turn, implies that groups will have more time to react and adapt during the course of a fight.

That last is important.  It means that Blizzard can afford to make interesting fights, fights that require players to do more, to think more, without forcing them to wipe in order to try something new.  Thus, we can imagine a group venturing into an instance for the first time and pulling just 2 mobs.  However, it rapidly becomes evident to the healer that they won’t be able to keep the tank alive in the face of the damage from both mobs.  Seeing this, the healer can communicate this because the tank isn’t in IMMINENT danger…just eventually, he’ll die if things continue as they are.  Maybe they can plow through because damage is high enough in this case.  Maybe one needs to be CC’ed.  Maybe it needs kited, or maybe some ability is being cast that needs interrupted.  Maybe it’s a positional thing.  Regardless, people now have time to react to this, to communicate and make decisions.  If they don’t, well, they wipe eventually.

Part and parcel with this, I suspect, will be the talent revamp and masteries.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the current, highly role-streamlined talent specs will see a whittling away of their efficacy in favor of utility and reactionary abilities.

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Random dungeon in cross-realm LFG.  Seriously.  If Blizzard is correct that cross-realm LFG lowers time waiting for a PUG, then the concept of being able to queue for a dungeon run, much like queuing for a BG, would be enticing.  That this would include the new dungeons, while providing decent badge rewards is merely icing on a potentially delicious cake.  It’d mean I could log in, hit up a couple heroics, get a decent reward, and log out…all for the price of maybe an hour and a half of my time.

I’m not a sure of their Looking For Raid stuff…how do they intend to handle multiple raid IDs, or are they planning to move away from that system for raids?  Or do I only get one shot at a raid, and if my PUG falls apart and I can’t reassemble them the next day, I’m screwed?

Also, Ghostcrawler has been back to talking again.  I wish, once again, that he would stop.  The continual attempts to explain Chill of the Throne tend to sound condescending, and he continually accuses his audience of being ready to twist his words.  While this may be true, he is deliberately twisting their perceptions of their intent in order to make them feel guilty and trust him.  Simply because your audience will use irrational arguments doesn’t mean you should either to bolster your claims.  Frankly, just stop trying to hold this conversation spread out across threads with people.

And what follows 3.3?  Well, Blizzard has a pretty well established pattern here.  Monetarily, they care more about the subs than expansion box sales, which means they care deeply about maintaining interest in interim times.  Expansions are there to redefine the focus and remake the world for people, in ways that (hopefully) draw new customers while retaining the majority of existing players.  This means expansions need to be solid when they hit…particularly now.  Blizzard won’t be putting Cataclysm in our hands until late next year at the earliest.  Any earlier would interfere with the Starcraft 2 release and stomp on the momentum of 3.3.  Keep in mind that 3.3 is still a bit out.  It doesn’t look like all the items have hit the PTR, nor all the content been finalized.  We may see it by January, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it slips into the new year.  Blizzard usually gives new patches about 4 months to die down, so the earliest I could possibly see Cataclysm would be next May.

Ghostcrawler has alluded to Icecrown being the “final tier of raiding”.  This would seem to say they don’t intent to add additional raid content…but not that they don’t intend additional content.  I suspect we’ll see 3.4 midway through next year.  3.4 will bridge the gap between whatever happens with Arthas and the Cataclysm of Deathwing, allowing some content to hold out the life of Wrath while Cataclysm continues development and launches late next year.

I could be wrong, though.

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I surf by MMO-Champion.com daily because, well, it’s habit, and I like following WoW news updates.  This tends to bring me into contact with Blizzard employees speaking in public, however.  For whatever reason, the folks which speak really annoy me.  For instance, the attempts to justify the Argent Tournament in the lore are just…bad.  These people aren’t authors and have next to no sense of cohesiveness to their world narrative.  Now, I don’t know if these are really the guys who came up with the lore or even know what they’re talking about.  The folk who talk for games usually don’t do the nitty gritty, and even when the actual content creators do speak there’s no guarantee they’re actually good speakers.  Many of them likely communicate better in another format, like writing or by actually making the game they’ve got in their head.

I think this is the biggest reason I do GC watches: They really form a convenient point of discussion, in much the same way WoW does.  Communication is hard.  That’s the point missed by many people speaking.  Here in my blog, I have the great luxury of taking my sweet-ass time to write posts.  In general, the conversations I take part in unfold over a period of a day or two in only a few pieces.  But forum communities?  Those conversations are a rapid fire discussion unfolding in the middle of a large venue.  Imagine a group of friends meeting at a coffee shop, some coming, some going, with some remnant of the group essentially always there.  Sometimes a random person will come by and make a comment, sometimes they’ll join the group, sometimes they’ll move on.  Around the outskirts of the conversation will be a shifting sea of people observing while doing their own things.

That sort of conversation doesn’t make room for subtleties.  It’s a group activity, in which huge portions of the communication take place in the invisible social context.  For the main group in particular, the regulars, they know how to read the others, how to pick up on what hasn’t been said.  In order to talk with these people, you need to be a part of that social milieu.

Communication between people is something of a dance.  When we say something, we’re trying to convey a thought.  Thoughts are rather complex things, though, deriving meaning not just from what is in them but what is not in them; how they are arranged with respect to other thoughts, from where they come, and to where they lead.  It is difficult (impossible) to compress that fully into words.  Heck, this is half the reason metaphor, simile, poetry, symbolism, etc. are so damn useful: by using words in obviously non-specific ways, we have the opportunity to keep listeners from locking down on the particulars of a statement and get them to leave their minds open to the rest of the context: what isn’t said.

But in conversation, we can refine our meanings simply by continuing to speak.  That’s one of the important factors of forum conversation that is missed by so many WoW posters: this conversation isn’t a conversation they’re a part of, so their listeners can’t really understand their meaning.  GC frequently accuses people of taking his words out of context, but it’s not always apparent to readers what his context is.  It may be apparent in his mind, but forum goers aren’t telepaths.   On top of this, regulars read and interact in the forum along very specific lines: there are social rules and patterns they understand.  GC pops in and disrupts that with statements that are generally just thrown out there.  It’s as if an outsider burst into your conversation, said something you care about, and then…wandered off.  “Wait, what?  What did you mean by that?  How does it impact all this other stuff?”  Usually, the answers to those questions percolate through the conversation, entering what might be called the social wisdom: the collected understandings of the community.

But that simply doesn’t happen when outsiders speak.  GC’s words enter the community’s mind after the community has reinterpreted it.  Because communication is hard.

I see the same thing happen with my (admittedly small) readership.  As you have noticed, I’m a rather prolific writer.  The average length of my entries seems to sit at around1.5k words; unfortunately, word count doesn’t help communicate my point effectively.  I’ll still run into my intelligent commenters not catching my gist, or getting one thing from me when I meant another.  Luckily, I like conversing with them, and we tend to clean that up.  GC and the Blizzard forum crew don’t have that luxury.  Too many people post there for that to be possible.

It’s for this reason that I harp on their communication: it’s not working the way they’d like.  Their Class Q&A sessions were good, but almost too…condescending.  That’s why I suggest centralized posting points, consistent updates, and consistent Q&A forms.  I’m not a community person, but I know what’s worked for me.

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The Warrior Q&A saw Ghostcrawler demonstrating his consistent lack of a coherent vision for the future of WoW gameplay, thinking instead in an ad-hoc manner about specific problems.  There’s the possibility that his thoughts are crystallizing into a broader realization that perhaps they have gone TOO FAR in insuring the efficacy of each class in every role.  I don’t mean to suggest classes shouldn’t be effective in every role they have available; I like my Balance Druid.  I am saying instead that their changes carried unintended consequences, which led to a feedback loop.  This loop has produced a situation that Ghostcrawler is feeling more and more frustrated with, even if he only vaguely gets why.

Unfortunately, Ghostcrawler is still caught up in a certain manner of thinking about pve content and the Holy Trinity (damage dealer – tank – healer).  He still views everything through that EQ-style lens, and it colors how he looks at the future of WoW classes and specs.  Looking at basic MMO combat naively, I suspect there’s certainly a tendency for the three roles to emerge consistently.  As they do, the advantage of specialization becomes obvious.

Let’s look sort of abstractly at how combat in, well, any game really, breaks down.  Let’s go ahead and imagine combat as it’s own game.  My standard definition of a game is a start state, an end state, and ways to change between states.  The end state of combat is when one opponent or set of opponents is defeated.  We generally measure that via something like a health pool, so we can say that the end condition is met when one player or team is reduced to 0 or less health.  The player or team with more than 0 health when the game ends is the winner, the other the loser.  Any combat game state which does not meet the end condition is a valid start state.

Since I’m talking about combat games in a very abstract manner here, rules for state changes are going to be necessary general.  A combat game is, at its core, about the rate of change to health for each opponent and the time to health = 0.  Each opponent seeks to maximize the difference in time to health = 0 between themselves and their opponents.  We can then say that actions can focus on changing the rate of change in health for the opponent or for oneself.

The three roles of WoW each focus on a specific aspect of this: Damage dealers, obviously, focus on increasing the loss rate of their opponent’s health.  Tanks focus on minimizing the loss rate of their own health.  Healers focus on introducing a positive rate of gain on theirs or their team’s health.  However, as long as the net effect of the activity of a side produces a time to health 0 smaller than their opponents’, they will win.  That point can be effectively guaranteed by achieving a net health loss rate of 0 while insuring your opponent’s loss rate is >0.  Once your loss rate has achieved 0, there is absolutely no reason to do anything else to alter the loss rate: additional effort to either reduce  the incoming damage rate or increase the incoming health rate are pointless (this is a simplified case: mitigation buffers and healing buffers to take the net incoming damage rate below 0 can obviously help things such as “burst damage”).

WoW boss fights are predicated on the fact that no single character can reduce the rate of incoming damage from the boss to 0.  The best way to achieve optimal health loss is for whoever takes damage to focus on minimization of the rate of loss and for the team as a whole to focus on reducing the number of targets.  Because of the threat system, in a standard fight this trivially becomes get the damage to be focused on a single target with the highest threat.  The point of target minimization is two-fold: first, as you reduce the number of potential targets, you reduce the need to focus on  team-wide mitigation.  That allows non-targets to focus on either positive health gain for their team or positive health loss for the other.  Second, it reduces the amount of positive health gain needed to produce a loss rate of 0.

The next focus is obviously healing output to bring net health loss to 0.  Once that magical threshold has been reached, increased damage is the greatest optimization (it becomes the sole variable capable of altering the difference in time to 0 health).

All this puts a hard (and soft) cap on the benefit of mitigation and healing.

Looking at combat like this, I can point out all sorts of ways to avoid the strict player division into the holy trinity.  An important note: the holy trinity is not needed to promote grouping.  Increased damage is always more optimal than healing or mitigation once the proper health loss rate is hit, which implies that even without the requirement of additional people to achieve the correct healing/mitigation levels, a group will be than one person, and a larger group better than a smaller.  We need not worry everyone will take off on their own.

So, knowing that grouping will not disappear if we alter the holy trinity, what sorts of things could be altered that would dispense with the MMO Caste system?  The trinity depends on the need for a tank and healers: damage dealers would be necessary regardless.  Tanks and healers are both mitigation roles: they are focused on reaching that magical nil loss rate.  The necessity of specialists comes from two, related sources: the inability of the baseline character to mitigate or restore enough to compensate on their own, and the enormous gain to mitigation for specialization.

Part of why I’m focusing on the Holy Trinity is that it’s so…static.  As a player, it’s frustrating to realize that I can’t meaningfully contribute in the event that things go south in any other role.  This is particularly true for damage dealers: in pve content, there is very little in damage dealing that is truly DECISIVE.  This is particularly the case in large raid environments, where the majority of the group are damage dealers whittling away with butter knives at an ancient redwood: it’ll eventually fall, by sheer dint of the number of butter knives, but no butter knife was particularly effective on its own.

Combatting this is a matter of attempting to make individual decisions more meaningful, by making them decisive.  Decisiveness is a function of choice: seeing the opprotunity, realizing it, and acting upon it.  It is the essence of puzzle-solving in boss fights.  A damage rotation is not decisive.  Even a complicated rotation, or small state diagram, or FCFS system, or whatever, is not decisive, it’s busy work.  It is decisive to perform an act that you know altered the course of things.

Admittedly, I feel like addressing this would require an entirely different design philosophy on large-group content.  However, I do think there are some ways to address things without radically altering WoW raids.  For instance, if personal mitigation were better or incoming damage were lower, the need for consistent, long term healing would fade.  Instead, the focus of a healer would move to dealing with instantaneous damage: reacting to the application or threat of significant damage.  The tank would see their role specialty decline, but still be favorable: they’d maintain an advantage in damage mitigation, at the price of damage output.

This mitigation improvement could be done through increases to passive mitigation, or by adding utility powers that help mitigate damage.  Frost mages leap to the fore as leading examples in survival utility.  Of particular interest is the lack of importance in movement as it relates to pve combat.  Sure, there’s the “avoid the crap on the ground” trope which peppers modern WoW fights, but anything which might lead to “kiting” is often frowned upon in design.

Other options would be to simply hand out group mitigation more broadly, such that certain abilities for classes provide a consistent, long-term mitigation (such as baseline, group wide healing every time an ability is triggered, though that is painfully boring).  As we move to more sustainable, long-term mitigation, it feels like resource management in the short run becomes more interesting.  Right now, mana, energy, runes, or rage don’t impose very interesting limitations on classes usage.  For mana-based damage dealers, Blizzard has specifically said that the damage rotation will be mana neutral: you’ll only run out if you do something other than damage.  Energy, rage, and runes merely serve as limiters on ability usage, not as interesting choice producers.  A lot of this derives from abilities being relatively uninteresting: there is no reason not to simply use them in order of highest DPS addition.  The only way to insert an interesting decision in ability choice is to have abilities do something different, thus making resource management suddenly meaningful.  First, time is a resource: if two abilities do meaningfully different things, the opportunity cost of using one is the loss of doing the other, and the time spent waiting to be able to.  If you add a flow-constrained resource to the mix, it becomes an even more interesting decision.  DK runes showed promise in this direction, but ultimately were pushed into a pretty standard rotation.

Anyway, I think I’ve rambled on enough.  I will likely expand on this.  If I have to point at any example of what I mean, I’ll point at Magic: the Gathering and Guild Wars.

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You’ll see how this pertains to Ghostcrawler as you read the post.

I don’t really have enough readers for this to generate any real response, but I’ve been kicking around some math on the change to Fire and Brimstone which increases the bonus damage incinerate does to a target afflicted with immolate.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any sort of sample of numbers to work with beyond a couple lists by the same guy in Elitist Jerks (seen here and here).  I’d like to present preliminary findings, then ask for people to give me some actual, in game comparisons of incinerate on a target with and without immolate.

First, my math.  Incinerate has 2 different damage equations, one for when immolate is on the target and another for when it isn’t.  The question I’m looking at is how the normal damage changes when immolate is on the target.  So let’s first look at the normal damage of incinerate.  It uses the standard spell damage equation: M * (B + c * SP), where M is the total damage multiplier, B is base damage, c is the coefficient on SP, the character sheet spell power.  Incinerate receives the 15% damage bonus from Emberstorm along with a potential 5% bonus from the glyph of incinerate for a total of 20%.  The character that generated the above results seems to have had both.  B is 629.  WoWWiki says c is .71, .91 with Shadow and Flame…but wowwiki does not indicate whether that is with immolate on the target or not.

Unfortunately, discovering c is the problem.  Ghostcrawler indicates here that incinerate’s bonus damage from immolate scales.  Here’s the specific quote, which is open to interpretation:

Incinerate’s current damage bonus is not flat. It literally takes the damage done, multiplies that by 25% if Immolate is present, and adds it to the base damage. The talent changes that bonus from 25% to 55% (plus 30%).

What does “adds it to the base damage” mean?  A naive reading tells us, basically, that incinerate deals 25% additional damage if immolate is present.  Certainly the base damage is increased by 25% if immolate is present, but does that hold for the portion of damage contributed by SP?  For that, we need to find c for Incinerate without Immolate, then find c for Incinerate with Immolate and decide if they’ve changed.  So, what is c without immolate?

1.2 * (629 + (c + .2) * SP) (c + .2 is from Shadow and Flame).

Looking at the first post, we see with 1935 SP our tester had an average damage of 2725.9.  Looking over the number set, the average of the min and max was 2743, meaning his numbers tended to weight lower.  That’s a discrepancy we’ll have to live with in the sample size.  That said, I think that a margin of error less than 1% is acceptable.  Let’s check for c using both numbers:

1.2 * (629 + (c + .2) * 1935) = 2725.9

c = .649

1.2 * (629 + (c + .2) * 1935) = 2743

c = .656

c is likely somewhere around .65…about 6% off wowwiki’s reported coefficient.  Perhaps WoWWiki’s discrepancy is explicable from the bonus damage gaining some scaling from SP?  That would imply that c is different when immolate is on the target.  Let’s check our friend’s test numbers for when immolate is present.  His overall average with immolate present is 2938.8, while the average of his largest and smallest hits is 2936.5, a negligible difference.  We know from the spell description that Incinerate gains a base of 157 damage when immolate is on the target, taking B to 786.  We don’t know how Incinerate’s SP coefficient is affected by immolate’s presence; specifically, we don’t know if there’s anew c that S&F is added to, or if the old c is multiplied by some new number.  We’ll simply use c:

1.2 * (786 + c * 1935) = 2938.8

c = .859

1.2 * (786 + c * 1935) = 2936.5

c = .858
As expected, no great difference in either average.  With S&F, the coefficient on Spell Power for Incinerate without Immolate was .85.  With Immolate, it’s .86.  That difference is so small it’s much more reasonable to think it’s a sample error.  That would imply that GC is either misinformed on the workings of Incinerate damage (a not unreasonable assumption, given past performance) or that it’s planned to change.  In no way can we deduce that this is “damage done…[multiplied]…by 25% if Immolate is present, [added] to the base damage”.  It looks as if Incinerate gains a flat bonus if Immolate is present.

Now, to the testing.  Could any warlocks on the PTR please incinerate a target dummy.  First, take off all armor and buffs such that your spell power is 0.  Select these talents (and whatever prereqs needed): Emberstorm, Shadow and Flame, and then equip the Incinerate Glyph.  Do not take Fire and Brimstone yet!!  Set your combat log to only record damage you do, and start spamming incinerate.  Discard crits, and give me those numbers.  Now, put on SP gear and repeat the test, giving me the numbers and your current SP.

Finally, grab Fire and Brimstone and repeat.  We’ll see if we can find the hidden coefficient or if Ghostcrawler is once again confused.

I will be doing this myself tonight.

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Ghostcrawler has been rather quiet lately, so I didn’t have much to relate from my vigilance.  No logner, however: 3.1 has gone live and Ghostcralwer exploded onto the forums with it!

First up, a topic which rather amuses me: Blatant lack of professionalism

Ghostcrawler decided to take the challenge and post therein, noting that he would not respond and would leave the thread open, and was reading it.  I do suggest reading the thread…it’s fascinating to watch the discussion on both sides.  I think this post sums up my feelings on much of GC’s posting style:

GC does the community a favor by posting useful information. Discussing ponies does not provide anyone with any insight about the game. As stated by him numerous times: if your post does not provide anything to the conversation, don’t post it them. Would you talk about ponies with your boss or professor during a meeting GC? If not, why would you post about that in response to people’s questions?

I also think GC’s communication style is somewhat broken…he’s not a people person.  His sense of humor, as expressed on the forum, tends towards mockery rather than “levity”.  I have seen him deride trolls outright, sarcastically mock complaints, and condescendingly inform the forums that they know best.  I have never seen any of the more subtle forms of humor used in communication, such as wry self-deprecation, situational irony, or shared jokes.  Often he is an authority holding, at best, an arms-length conversation with someone he is educating.  He never feels like “one of us”.  He comes off as a know-it-all who thinks we’re all children.  That’s fine, he can feel that way and Blizzard can allow him to do that.  I don’t think it’s very professional though.

And if you’re going to pretend to be a know-it-all, I will happily demonstrate that you, in fact, do not know it all.  Honestly, thank god for GC…otherwise I’d be scrambling for subjects to rant about and you’d have to deal with more discussions about logic or math.

To really understand the professionalism call, imagine that you are trying have called a customer support rep to make what you consider a reasonable gripe about their product.  It may or may not be something in their power to resolve, your gripe may not be very important or reasonable at all…that’s really beside the point.  How would you prefer to be treated as the customer calling in?  Would you appreciate having your gripe be mocked, even mildly?  That would be unprofessional.  The same holds for GC responding in the forum.  He’s not responding as just another forum poster…he’s a representative addressing community concerns and information.  That makes him customer support and customer outreach.  He can play that game how he wants, but that doesn’t make it professional.

The big GC forum topic has been the rapid-fire nerf to Conflagrate within a day of 3.1 going live.  Conflagrate was changed with 3.1 to this effect:

Consumes an Immolate or Shadowflame effect on the enemy target to instantly deal damage equal to 15 sec of your Immolate or 8 sec of your Shadowflame.

The nerf took the damage dealt to 70% of an immo or shadowflame.  The reasoning was purely pvp: the burst possibilities made it possible for locks to rapidly crush most other health pools.  That’s reasonable.  The spell hit live, turned out o be unacceptable for the player base.  Lock that shit down, then start reexamining assumptions.  If the prior damage level of conflag was used to determine pve damage and balance them, then this likely necessitates changes elsewhere to make up for the nerf.

Obviously, this sort of change produced a cacophony from the crowds on the forums.  Ghostcrawler leapt on to the scene with a somewhat disjoint series of responses in a variety of threads.  For instance, one poster notes that this has been on the ptr and was never changed.  GC responds:

Sometimes you need pretty large sample sizes from Arena or elsewhere to make a call. Sometimes you don’t. I think every one of us who was playing last night (warlocks and no) came back this morning saying “Um…”.

The PTRs move pretty fast. I think some of you may not have participated on them much have the impression that a PTR is like say patch 3.09 that stays relatively static for weeks so that everyone gets really used to the way the game works. But we make many, many builds during the course of PTR testing. Not all of those builds go external of our offices to the PTR. There are builds where horrible bugs stop you from doing any testing. Sometimes you think an issue is caused by a bug but it’s casued by a different bug. Sometimes things work one way on the PTR and work differently when they go live even though nobody changed anything in the interim (usually because of the nature of the server – client structure). It’s a big game. Doing a complete regression test on it takes a long time. All of these are reasons (and certainly not all the reasons) why something that might or might not have been a problem on the PTRs might or might not be a problem when the changes go live.

True, but he’s being disingenuous.  Burst damage in pvp has been a hot-button issue since 3.0 went live, forcing nerfs to mages, paladins, DKs, and rogues.  I’d rather expect that, by this point, you’d be paying attention to that specifically.  This should be something internal testing finds.  Taking conflagrate in a destruction build isn’t some uncommon, strange twist that would never have occured to testers.  This is a core ability.  In fact, I’d guess test DID find it, and it wasn’t considered a big deal till the uproar hit live.  As to “I think every one of us who was playing last night (warlocks and no) came back this morning saying “Um…”.”, seriously?  You guys have had this in front of you for a while.  Surely someone saying “Damn, look at my conflag crit!” would be a cue?  Much of that preceding paragraph on build testing is true…to an extent.  Development testing is constantly in flux, because developers work on the codebase as it is then.  They receive almost all changes as they become available.  But TEST should not.  Test should receive a stable build for a continuous time period on which they may stably and consistently test for problems.  They can then compile those and they will be addressed in a future build.  Full, consistent, systemic testing is nearly impossible in a development-style environment.

Besides, it’s all beside the point of the conflag bug.  Most of that has very little bearing on determining Conflagrate’s damage.  In fact, this would qualify as a perfect case for theorycraft: the value of conflagrate should be readily determinable from analyzing underlying values.  Discrepancies between that damage and the game can be analyzed and understood.  Once those even out, it’s a design issue, and not a bug.  That is to say: bugs should be an issue when this is analyzed.  Consider this unit testing for design: when you implement something, first develop a prediction of what should happen.  When your prediction isn’t matched by the data, find out why.  Reevaluate your prediction model or fix the causes of differences.  Repeat until prediction matches observation.  Done.  Having done this, bugs in conflagrate could not be an issue.  This was entirely a balance concern, and one that probably was noticed and then glossed over.  Perhaps test wasn’t vocal enough or design was otherwise occupied.  I don’t know.

A more reasoned post from GC occurs here:

We need to see what effect this change (Conflag nerf) really has on PvE. I know players are posting simulation numbers, and those are helpful, but we also need to see what it really means for a raid. You’ve seen some of the boss encounters now so you know it varies a lot from tons of adds to lots of running around. Different strategies are going to work better for different fights and therefore different specs are going to work better for different fights. We don’t want every lock to go Affliction, but we don’t want every lock to go Destro either (or hybrid for that matter).

Fire and Brimstone is something we’re looking at, as is Molten Core. We don’t want to necessarily kill the hybrid spec dead, but if there is going to be a “mandatory” spec, we’d rather it be one that didn’t just cherry pick all the best talents from multiple trees. Molten Core is there to make Demo’s rotation a little bit more interesting than send in the pet + Shadowbolt. So far it seems like a lot of them may just be using Shadowbolt anyway to benefit from the debuff.

We’re also not sure the Conflag glyph has ended up all that great in practice. It’s interesting perhaps, but it also works at odds with some of what the talent tree is trying to get you to do.

Hope that explains a little bit about where we’re trying to go with the PvE design.

Here’s a pretty solid response, though I’d wish he’d consolidated all this somewhere.  First , explain your reasoning: “This was a nerf to lock PvP damage, which was far too bursty in light of other things.”  Then demonstrate empathy with those affected and apologize for the trouble you’re putting them through: “We’re sorry we missed this during testing, I know nerfs are never fun.  While we try and keep our eyes on important issues (and burst damage in pvp recently has certainly been one), sometimes things can become overwhelming.  This has been a huge patch and sadly this slipped through the cracks.  I know I was looking forward to the built-in Outfitter, myself.”  Finally, describe how you plan to address their concerns: “We understand that you may be concerned with the impact of this on pve damage, especially since conflagrate at 3.1 launch seemed to put full destruction in line with all other specs.  While we are looking for additional data from live playing to supplement the simulations and theorycraft, we share your concerns and are examining a few possible ways to rebalance destruction damage while keeping conflagrate burst damage manageable”.

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