Friday, February 17, 2017

The numbers, they are scary

In the Mythic+ 5 person dungeons Blizzard introduced in this expansion they really have a hit.  A lot of people are playing them and I personally love that there is scaling 5 person content that is really challenging.  It also is interesting because it uses different sorts of abilities than larger raids do.  Stuns and interrupts and other such things are valued in M+ while being usually ignored in raiding situations.

One issue they have had so far is the balance of the additional mods on dungeons. As you get to level 4, 7, and 10 a new mod shows up on the enemies.  Volcanic causes each enemy to randomly spawn a volcano under players every few seconds, while Bolstering gives all nearby enemies 20% more health and damage every time an enemy dies.  There are a bunch of mods, which is great, but one problem is that some are far more challenging than others.

The real issue is that some mods can be beaten with skill, and some need gear.  Sanguine, for example, creates a pool on the ground when a monster dies and that pool heals enemies and injures players.  This is occasionally annoying but most of the time you just keep moving the enemies out of the pools as their friends die and nothing bad comes of it.  This takes concentration and skill but adds little in terms of output requirements.  If you play correctly it hardly matters at all.

On the other end of the spectrum is Necrotic where each enemy attack stacks up a debuff on the player that reduces healing they receive by 3%.  Very quickly the player becomes unhealable and dies no matter how much gear they have so the tank must use a movement boost and run away from monsters to get rid of the healing penalty debuff.  This drastically reduces the damage your group deals because monsters are running around everywhere and increases the healing you have to output to cope with the debuff.  Skill matters, but when Necrotic is up you need a ton of extra gear to overcome it.  Also because Necrotic takes 10 seconds to drop off you absolutely must wait 10 seconds between fighting enemy groups.

It turns out that all the mods that just take skill are considered the easy ones and the mods that force actual numbers increases are the hard ones.  In groups with weaker skill the difference isn't that large, I suspect, but there is no question that on weeks with really difficult mods there are far fewer people playing because they are stuck doing much lower level dungeons than they are used to.  The people pushing really high level dungeons who expect high skill notice this the most.

Blizzard is making some changes to the M+ system in an attempt to address this disparity.  Their changes are moving in the right direction, I think, but aren't going to change the fundamental situation that any mod that can be ignored via skill will end up being the easy one for those pushing their limits.

  • New Affix: Bursting (level 4)
    • When slain, non-boss enemies explode, causing all players to suffer 10% of their maximum health in damage over 4 seconds. This effect stacks.
  • New Affix: Fel Explosives (level 7)
    • Creatures have a chance to summon an Explosive Orb at a nearby location that will explode, inflicting damage of 50% of the player’s maximum health.
  • New Affix: Quaking (level 7)
    • Periodically, players will Quake, inflicting damage of 20% of the player’s maximum health and interrupting spell casts of themselves and nearby allies.
  • New Affix: Grievous (level 7)
    • While below 90% health, players are afflicted with Grievous Wound.
  • The Overflowing affix has been removed.
  • The Bolstering affix range has been reduced to 30 yards (was 45 yards).
    • Developers’ notes: The intent of this change is to allow players more opportunities for crowd control.
  • Necrotic Rot will now expire after leaving combat. Duration reduced to 8 seconds (was 10 seconds).
    • Developers’ notes: This should eliminate the situation where players were waiting for Necrotic to fall off after killing enemies, and it should give tanks more opportunities for resets while in combat.
  • Skittish threat reduction has been lowered to 75% (was 80%).
  • Fortified damage bonus lowered to 30% (was 40%).
  • Tyrannical damage bonus lowered to 15% (was 20%).
  • Sanguine radius increased to 8 yards.

The Overflowing affix has been removed, and while they don't justify this, it is easy to see why they chose to do it.  Overflowing causes any healing in excess of the player's maximum to create a *negative* healing debuff of the same size.  Some healing classes rely on big critical hits on their heals, and Overflowing punishes this brutally.  Other classes rely on healing over time buffs, and those create small healing penalties that are immediately cured again.  Removing Overflowing was mostly just acknowledging that druid healers were outrageously overpowered during Overflowing weeks and that wasn't particularly balanced.

Sanguine, easily the easiest mod, has had the size of the pools increased from 5 yard radius to 8.  This is a serious buff because the total area covered by Sanguine is now 2.56x as much as before.  Players will still be able to avoid Sanguine much of the time, but in enclosed spaces it will actually become a real problem to deal with and may require dragging groups of enemies long distances to find open areas to fight in.

Probably the most hated mod was Skittish, which reduced tank threat by 80% and randomly added threat to damage classes.  This meant that melee classes were pretty worthless as the enemies would constantly turn around, 1 shot the melee, and then turn back to the tank.  Blizzard is changing Skittish to reduce tank threat by only 75% instead of 80%.  This is actually a really large change and will mean that there will be many less random deaths.  Skittish will still punish melee over range disproportionately but at least it won't be the case that I just want to skip the entire week when it is Skittish week.

The mod I hated most as a tank was Necrotic, and it is being changed to make it easier to drop the debuff (8 seconds instead of 10), and as soon as all enemies are defeated the stack vanishes.  This will eliminate the mandatory standing around part of Necrotic and that makes me happy.  It will still be a serious issue on challenging encounters, but it won't be nearly as much of a pain in the ass.

I like these changes a lot.  They are taking the joke mod and making it real.  I think people will initially still laugh at Sanguine, but once they try out the new size they will find it a real challenge.  I like that the mods that made me refuse to tank or refuse to do damage on a given week are being altered so they are less gruelling.  I don't know how all these new mods will play out of course because we don't have ranges or frequencies but they look quite reasonable at a glance.

Under these new mods each week will be different requiring new tactics and priorities.  However, I think there will be less of a difference between the trivial weeks and the brutal ones, which is good.

It won't fix everything though.  The absolute best runs will still be Sanguine / Volcanic, where the enemies are quickly moved out of the pools and the players adeptly dodge the Volcanic bursts.  When people are pushing themselves to the limit of their gear if you can get mods that don't actually influence the numbers you have to take them.  However, these changes will even things out considerably and that is a good direction to go in.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Grind forever

In World of Warcraft there used to be really serious limits on how good you could make your character outside of raiding.  Once you finished up with dungeons you never needed to go back, generally speaking, and once you finished a raid there was little point in returning.  If you wanted to get better you threw more time into trying the boss you were stuck on, and if all the bosses were dead you could log off.

These days that isn't the case.  Now you can never really consider yourself finished.  The grind to maximize your artifact power is an enormous one and even though I play a lot I still haven't made it to the cap on a single weapon, much less on all my weapons.  It is certainly possible to hit the cap, as I am at 51 of 54 right now, but the time investment is huge.  In the next patch Blizzard is going to raise the cap again and the initial estimates are that after the 75 day setup period it will take around 1000 dungeon runs to get to the new cap.

A lot of people hate this.  There is a real perception that unless you are absolutely at the peak of your ability you are letting your team down.  There will be a ton of hardcore raiders who will feel pressure both internally and externally to play 10 hours a day, 7 days a week to get their 1000 runs in within two months.

This of course is hardly relevant for people a little ways down the ladder of competitiveness.  That last 250 hours of grinding to get 3% more effectiveness is not in the cards for the great majority of players, and honestly they would gain far more just from the practice of playing that 250 hours than they would the numerical bonuses.  Most people are going to look at that impossibly high cap and laugh.

The thing I have been wondering is how much it matters that the cap exists.  If people were allowed to grind forever but the cost of each new point kept increasing then at some point people would have to say that they have done enough.  The game wouldn't have a preset 'you are finished' marker and so people would stop when they wanted to.  My sense is that as long as a cap exists top players are going to insist that they and their teammates must be at that cap, no matter how absurd getting there might be.  They could do that now, of course, and the great majority of the playerbase does so, but the top players would have to be like the rest of us and accept that they cannot be perfect.  They would have to admit that their time was a real constraint on their power level.

Having an unlimited progression scheme does have its risks though.  Blizzard greatly underestimated how hard people would farm for artifact power in the early going of the expansion and that led to the first raid being badly undertuned.  It was true throughout the raid but was most obvious on the final boss who simply didn't do enough.  People's numbers were simply too high.  The current raid is much more appropriately tuned though because Blizzard had a hard cap to work with and could tell exactly how much damage people would be capable of.

If their new cap is unachievable under any reasonable playstyle then Blizzard is going to be in guessing mode again.  They will have to decide just how nuts people will be and guess at how much time the most hardcore will sink into the game when tuning encounters.  In previous expansions this might have been a huge issue for the slightly less hardcore players but right now it actually works out just fine for people who are a bit behind the curve.  They can just take an extra couple of weeks to farm more gear from the instance and make up the difference that way.

This is of course drawing data from the public test realm.  Things are subject to change.  However, it does make me wonder if Blizzard truly intended for the current system to be effectively endless and were surprised when it came to an end all of a sudden.  It might be that the completely outrageous new cap is actually intended to be outrageous.

If I were designing the new cap myself I would make it endless.  With any hard cap people are going to complain that they are 'forced' to get to the cap.  With a soft cap they can figure it out for themselves.  If each new point cost 30% more than the previous point and each new point gave a .5% increase then people would fairly quickly stall out.  Sure, the most hardcore players in the world would be doing 5% more damage than me, but they would also be playing 11x as much, so that seems fine.  I have a feeling that people would then just decide for themselves when it was enough.  Some of them would presumably always feel inadequate if they weren't the best in the world, but there isn't a lot I can do about that.  They will likely always feel that way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The horror!

Yesterday I played Arkham Horror for the first time.  It is a cooperative board game for 1-8 players themed around Lovecraftian monsters coming into the world, eventually followed by some sort of horrible evil Elder God.  The players are investigators trying to fight or evade the monsters and either close all the gates to other worlds or defeat the Elder God.

I hate Arkham Horror.

Part of it is Arkham Horror's design flaws and part of it is simply the type of game it is, which isn't necessarily a flaw but makes it a game I dislike.  Arkham Horror is one of those cooperative games where players all have the same information so instead of each player deciding things on their own they all can make decisions together.  This is pretty much the definition of the Alpha Player Problem where newer or less aggressive players get told what to do by the better or more yelly players.  It is also extremely random and involves drawing lots of cards that either ruin you or help you, and rolling lots of dice to see how encounters come out.

I dislike both random games where you just do stuff and see what happens and games where one player can just run the board.  They make me sad.  You might like those games but I have no use for them whatever.

Let us imagine for a moment that I am the sort of person that likes the kind of game Arkham Horror is.  Does it do that well?

No, not really.

The quality of the pieces and art is great.  The theme is well done and I like the characters and events.  There is all kinds of fluff and lore that is well made and enjoyable.  Unfortunately the play of the game is rubbish.  In the game I played I just did the same thing over and over again because there was no reason to explore or do anything interesting.  The cards that came up were extremely favourable so we just walked through the game effortlessly and it hardly matters what we did at all.  We won handily, never felt like there was any real threat, and honestly spent much of our time not having anything to do.  People just wandered to random locations to draw random cards to see what would happen because there was nothing useful to accomplish.

I read a strategy guide written by someone who had played a lot and who read all the cards and the optimal strategy is to just sit in one place that has mostly really helpful cards and do nothing else if you can avoid it.  When the strategy guide is "Just sit in the Newspaper office all game" then the game itself seems extremely weak.  It is fine to have some areas be good for some things and not others, and it is also fine for some areas to be risky but with big payoffs, but when you just stay in one place because it is flat out the best then the game is not well made.

Arkham Horror feels like a game that was built by someone who liked the Lovecraftian lore, got lots of nice art made, and had no clue how to build a good game.  It is the Monopoly of modern cooperative games - trivial strategy, extremely long, and unpleasantly random.

Two thumbs way, way down.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Am I bad?

Today I was looking at warcraft logs rankings of retribution paladins to see if my spec is actually a good one.  The first ranking I was linked to shows ret paladins in 22nd place of 24 specs.  Ouch.  Then I realized that this was only showing Mythic difficulty, so I changed it to Heroic difficulty because that is what I actually raid.  Now I am showing up as 2nd place instead of 22nd.  There is some small correlation between the two data sets, but it is pretty random.  When I switch to Normal or Looking for Raid I similar giant swings.

What gives?

A lot of this is going to be due to people's perceptions of how specs are performing.  If the absolute best players all decide that one spec is a couple percent higher than another, then that best spec will end up overrepresented amongst the top players.  This will inflate its numbers, and even though all things being equal one spec might do 95% of the damage of another, once you account for the shift of top players towards the better spec it suddenly appears as though the number is 85%.

You also have problems with some players doctoring logs to make themselves better, some groups organizing raids just to give certain specs great parses, and specific sets and legendaries making perfectly optimized characters of specific specs amazing without actually affecting the average people playing those specs.  People represented in mythic raids are going to represent not the average but the extreme top end and that means that highly variable specs will be overepresented.

In other words, much as people really want to use warcraftlogs rankings to complain about the shape their own spec is in I don't think you can use it effectively that way.

I figure that I am consistently top two in my pickup group Heroic raids and guild raids.  I don't get cut from groups because of my spec.  Given that, I ought not to worry about it.  Far better to work on being better than to look at online statistics and fuss over my place in them.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Boss fight

Many times in the past I have had conversations with people trying to figure out which World of Warcraft raid boss would win in a fight.  The game becomes most interesting when you assume that all of them have their numbers scaled to similar degrees, otherwise of course the old bosses get 1 shot by the new ones and that isn't interesting.

There were always a lot of questions.  For example, Azgalor has a debuff that instantly kills the target after 1 minute, so pretty clearly either the fight can only last 2 minutes or bosses need to be made immune to instant death attacks.  I generally think that instant death attacks aren't allowed, as bosses are immune to most status conditions and I think it would be fair to put instant death on that list.

Which boss wins the Royal Rumble is not immediately clear to me, but it is pretty certain that modern bosses do much better than old ones.  Largely this is because of mechanics designed to force tank swaps.  Old bosses just sat there and bashed one tank for the entirety of a fight in many cases, or forced tank swaps just by dropping aggro.  Both of these are shockingly ineffective against another boss.  Modern bosses tend to have stacking debuffs that are extremely dangerous and if two bosses are just standing there beating each other those debuffs would become dominant, far exceeding the damage of mere autoattacks.

A big part of the challenge is figuring out how smart the bosses are.  Star Augur Etraeus, for example, summons a Thing That Should Not Be, and that Thing, if it is anywhere near Etraeus, grants both of them 99% damage reduction.  Players simply drag the Thing far away but if another boss is just standing there beating on them then this ability is absolutely brutal.

Some bosses also have healing abilities that are similarly impressive.  Unless you can kill the Twin Emperors in just a few seconds they will heal each other to full over and over again with little you can do about it.  Their other abilities aren't particularly scary though so I expect that other bosses would eventually stack up huge damage over time abilities that would overcome even that incredible healing power.

In both of those cases though the power of the abilities depends on the location of the critters in question.  If the Twin Emperors choose to stand next to each other they are a massive problem.  If the other boss is allowed to separate them they would be total pushovers.

I think the best way to tackle this is to simply assume that all bosses stand in a pile beating on whatever has the most threat.  If some bosses have outrageous positioning based powers, then let those powers do their thing.

Funnily enough this week in Hearthstone there was actually a Tavern Brawl that emulated this sort of question but for Hearthstone bosses instead.  There were lots of really neat matchups between wildly different strategies.  Chess let you play minions with immense health pools for their cost who attack without the enemy being able to counterattack.  The Grim Guzzler let you put a random minion into play for each player, and its deck was full of gigantic minions.

I didn't get enough of a chance to play the Tavern Brawl to be sure of what boss was the best, but I absolutely love the idea.  It is one thing to play against these outrageous things as a player, but doing so as a boss is a totally new and intriguing problem.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Nerf me more

I have been ranting some here about the way retribution paladins work in WOW at the moment.  Blizzard agrees with my basic thesis, it turns out, and they are moving to change things.  The principle of my issue is that Crusade is too powerful.  I can see why it ended up where it is, because the basic version you see here is totally reasonable.

Crusade

Talent
Instant2 min recharge

Increases your damage and haste by 3.5% for 20 sec.

Each Holy Power spent during Crusade increases damage and haste by an additional 3.5%.

Maximum 15 stacks.

This is a fine talent.  The problem is that at the end of Crusade you are doing a truckload of damage, and there are a bunch of ways in the game to extend the duration of Crusade, which means you extend the part of the buff where you are a brutal hitting machine but leave the setup time of the buff the same.  When Crusade is fulled stacked you are doing roughly 2.3 times normal damage, so trinkets and other buffs that give you temporary bonuses that coincide with Crusade become nuts.

It isn't good.  That is, ret paladins do lots of damage, but there is no realistic choice other than Crusade, and every relic you pick has to buff Crusade duration, and every trinket you pick has to synergize with Crusade.  Blizzard wanted us to have options, and right now we don't have that.

I won't take any credit for this, but Blizzard agreed with my posts and decided to nerf Crusade to 3% per stack instead of 3.5%.  This is fine and all, since ret paladins are one of the top dps specs right now, but it doesn't solve the problem.  Crusade, even with this nerf, is still absolutely the best and you still want to stack trinkets and relics to buff it.

There is hope on the horizon though.  People have datamined changes in the next big patch that have two more ranks in the trait that extends the duration of Crusade, potentially allowing you to get it up to 40 seconds in duration.  Clearly this cannot go live with the current version of Crusade.  There is also datamining that suggests that ret paladins will get a trait that allows you to cast Judgement more during Crusade (or Avening Wrath, if you don't have Crusade.)  At the moment this Judgement benefit is quite terrible because Judgement is bad.

But wait!

Many months ago I suggested that Crusade should be gutted and Judgement damage should be doubled.  This would be pretty much a wash in terms of overall damage dealt, but it would mean that ret paladins might actually care about the mastery stat on gear because it affects Judgement, and the new trait that affects Judgement would get a lot more attractive because Judgement would be a hard hitting attack.  Relics and trinkets that line up with Crusade would still be fine, and running a hardcore Crusade build would be viable.  However, it would also be viable to take other options on that talent row and use relics that buff other strategies.

For example, if you took the Greater Judgement talent, it would be great to stack Judgement relics.  The Final Verdict talent would make using Templar's Verdict relics good.  There would be lots of choices, and Blizzard wouldn't have to worry that if they forget to include relics or trinkets that buff Crusade in a particular tier of content that ret paladins will be trash, and they also wouldn't have to worry that if they put a few too many of those things in that ret paladins will be too dominant.

What I would do personally is change Crusade to have a flat 35% damage bonus, but have the stacking haste buff be at 2.5% per stack.  This means that fully stacked Crusade is a 85% damage increase, much less than now, but it is better at the start.  Crusade would still retain its flavour, and would be comparable to the other talent beside it, but would be lowered enough in overall power that relics and trinkets that buff it wouldn't be such a problem.  People that chose Crusade would obviously lean towards things that buff it, but other strategies would be perfectly fine.  Again this assumes a doubling of Judgement damage in order to make this work out.

So there you go.  Blizzard agrees with my goal... now to see if they implement it the way I suggest.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

One big problem

In the new Nighthold raid in WOW I am looking forward to one particular item.  It is called Convergence of Fates, which does this:

Convergence of Fates
Item Level 875+

Binds when picked up
Unique-Equipped
Trinket
+1,634 [Agility or Strength]
Equip: Your attacks have a chance to reduce the remaining cooldown on one of your powerful abilities by 5 sec.

This is a good trinket for many people, I presume, but it is completely ridiculous for me as a ret paladin.  My current trinkets are worth roughly 5-7% of my damage depending on luck and conditions, including both their passive stats and their unique bonuses.  Convergence of Fates is worth 14%.  That is absurd, and completely beyond the scope of what Blizzard intends for trinket power.

To give context, they recently nerfed a ret paladin Legendary item that increased my damage during Crusade, which is the powerful ability that Convergence of Fates modifies.  That belt's legendary power was worth about 10% additional damage, and they nerfed it to half of its original strength so that it is now worth 5% additional damage.

If they don't want a legendary item, of which I can only wear two, to do 10% additional damage, they absolutely cannot want a random trinket to raise my damage by 8% over comparable options!

The link here is Crusade.  Both items modify Crusade, and Crusade is so over the top powerful that anything that benefits it becomes outrageously strong.  My rough napkin math suggests that the Crusade talent is worth about 20% additional damage, and the other options you could choose instead aren't remotely close to that value.  This is of course before you factor in Convergence of Fates, which makes the Crusade talent even more dominant.

Crusade is a problem.  No talent point should be as automatic a choice as Crusade is, and the fact that Blizzard consistently underestimates how critical it is to a ret paladin's performance is an issue.  They are going to nerf Convergence of Fates for ret paladins when they realize how powerful it is, but they shouldn't... they should nerf Crusade itself.

Not that they should just nerf Crusade and walk away!  Ret paladins are so dependent on it that Blizzard should probably give a flat 10% damage bonus in exchange and then nerf Crusade to be something comparable to Holy Purpose, which is the other reasonable alternative, and rewrite the third choice completely so it isn't terrible and a problem at the same time.  Right now there isn't any choice but Crusade, and it is so good that it warps all kinds of things.  The only relics I want are Crusade relics.  The only trinkets I want are trinkets that work with Crusade.  It dominates everything, and that isn't good.

I want options.  Right now I don't have them, and Blizzard so underestimates the power of Crusade that I am on a whoopsoverpowered -> nerf train that isn't fun.

The belt isn't the problem.  The trinket isn't the problem.  Crusade is the problem.  It needs fixing.

Edit:  Blizzard has already noticed the problem that Convergence of Fates was presenting, and nerfed it by 70%!!!!!!!   It has been out for 1 whole day.  This means Convergence is now still a fine trinket, but not completely bonktastic.  Good, I guess?