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Archive for May, 2011

The Dungeon Journal poll results and another raid-themed musical medley!

May 27, 2011 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, dungeon journal, music, raid-themed musical medley

Happy Friday! Happy Bank Holiday (for us in the UK) and Memorial Day (for you Americans) weekend! I’ve got a short and sweet (for me at least) blog post today along with my latest raid-themed musical medley (this is where I pick two songs by one artist where the title or lyrics relate to something raid-ish). This week’s selection is thanks to Arx, actually, and a song he told me used to come to mind during a particular boss fight. If you have a musical medley challenge for me (just give me an artist), let me know. I’ll do my best!

So we weighed in with our thoughts on the new Dungeon Journal (DJ). The majority of respondents (65%) are not happy that new raid content is included in the DJ, with 20% finding it acceptable and a further 15% being unsure as to its actual impact on raiding. The results are below:

Are you happy with Blizzard’s current plan to release so much information on all new raiding content (heroics included) through its forthcoming dungeon journal system?

  • No. The less information on the top tier content the better. (65%)
  • Yes, it’s fine with me. It seems like a handy tool! (20%)
  • I don’t know. It seems a bit too soon to tell if the system will impact raiding negatively. (15%)

While I can’t actually verify this, I believe I draw higher level and elite raiders to my site based on where I typically place additional blogs (Paragon’s site) or information. It’s possible these results are skewed (and don’t represent the opinion of the wider raiding community) as a result of that. But it’s also possible that serious raiders in general (regardless of their raiding success and guild affiliation) would just prefer to discover content on their own or rely on the broader gaming community to help inform their raiding strategy. As I said in my earlier blog about this, for those raiders who are opposed to the DJ containing significant information about the new raiding content (particularly the heroic content), I have not run into a raider yet who is opposed to the overall concept of a DJ in and of itself; for them the issue is about the new content being in the DJ. This is also linked to the way that the PTR functions and impacts competitive gameplay, especially for the elite raiding guilds. And I’m not so sure the elite raiders like the PTR. They have to access it so they can be prepared for the race (like how a competitive alpine skiier might run practice runs of a downhill course in advance of a competition), but I get the impression quite a few of them would rather not be as involved in testing and hit the ground running with more polished content that’s been tested via other methods. Will Blizzard change its approach? No one can know, but the recent posting of job openings by Blizzard for a ‘raiding testers’ could be the signal of some changes down the road in relation to how we anticipate and plan for new content. Either way, patch 4.2 is a done deal and we’ll just have to see how our elite raiders ‘roll’ with the changes and what impact it will have on the progress race. I for one hope it won’t be too adverse as I know I love following the race as closely as possible and want it to be a solid, satisfying run for the raiders themselves.

Raid-themed musical medley!

And now, the raid-themed musical medley for your listening pleasure! I have Arx  (formerly known as Xaar) from Paragon to thank for getting me started on this. He said in a former guild they used to sing ‘Ring of Fire’ during the Archimonde fight due to the casting of Doomfire. Quite clever! I struggled to find my second song, but ‘Redemption’ reminded me of Freya and her tree… hopefully the lyrics will remind you too. :) I threw in a third because well it’s just an amazing Johnny Cash cover of an amazing NIN song.

Inspired by Archimonde, Mount Hyjal:

Freya’s song, Ulduar:

And finally, because this is my favourite Johnny Cash song (even though it’s a cover, he really masters the song!) and because ‘hurting’ is quite integral to the Beautiful Wipefest that can be progress raiding:

Do you have a Method?

May 21, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Cataclysm, elite, raiding, raiding guild

Note: Yes, it’s another wall of text! But I tried to fix this with some music and video footage… I just had too much to write about my wonderful chat with Method and this is just barely touching the surface!

Preamble: A raid-influenced musical medley!

I’ve never added music to a blog post before but lately I’ve been accused of creating walls of text… so listen to this music while you read! Or don’t! At least enjoy the breaks in the wall of text!

I should preface this by saying my taste in music is as varied as there are stars in the sky, so my selections here are more of a whimsical attempt to represent common raiding elements through a particular genre of music. I’ll do a Nirvana or Arcade F ire one next….

Anyway allow me to present “Raiding deadmau5 style”:

  • “Raise your weapon”–well, duh… it’s a raid and melee have to do more than just stand there looking pretty with their big weapons….
  • “Move for me”–how many times do I have to tell you to move and get out of the fire/goo/crash/lava? Yes, you!

Also, I’d say these songs reflect more how I felt about my discussion with Method than anything else. Plus I had the awesome deadmau5 on my mind. Enjoy, guys. :) See below for the actual article…

Introducing Method

So what do you get when you put seven Greeks, a Welsh guy, a Scouser, and a couple Scots together and then add a dash of Danish and Swedish, a bit of Romanian, a sprinkling of Dutch, a healthy measure of French and German, a splash of Finnish and Portuguese, a pinch of Serbian and Polish, with a generous helping of an allegedly cross-dressing American*…?

(*Sorry, Shaam, I could not resist…. ;) )

No it’s not a United Nations meeting or the participants in an ill-fated holiday at a Mediterranean beach resort…  it is Method. You might have heard of them? That guild that’s been nipping at the ankles of Paragon? Well, they’re an OK guild… three world firsts during Cataclysm, eight world seconds. Not bad. Maybe they are better than OK…. Actually, one might even say they are extraordinary.

I can safely say speaking with Method was a very eventful two hours of my life. We laughed, we cried. We talked about our feelings, we shared our thoughts on the future. But seriously, if I had to pick one word to sum up my impression of Method it would be “certitude.” And before you have to look that word up, allow me to provide a definition:

The state of being certain; complete assurance; confidence.

Method exemplifies certitude to me because in our discussion they didn’t just talk about what their goals are with raiding but they feel certain that they can do it. And what’s that? Well, they want to be the world #1. (As Rogerbrown said, “It’s the one thing Method hasn’t done yet.”)  I can relate to that. No one likes to be in 2nd place. For some reason it feels even worse than 3rd or 4th place. It is *almost* number one. It’s so close you can taste it. But Method feels more ready than ever to try and dethrone Paragon. Sco, Method’s GM puts it quite succinctly: “”Our progress on this tier was good. It’s quite high in regards to our previous finishes. And I feel like our roster since progress has gotten even stronger. Realistically achieving that top position has never been better for the guild.” Certitude? Most assuredly.

Method speaks about: The progress race, “broken 10-man,” and dungeon journals

It was a tight race during the first tier of progression raiding. According to wowprogress’ ranking criteria, less than 600 points (out of a maximum of 42000 points possible) separated Method and Paragon from each other when all was said and done. In fact, the top four guilds (Paragon, Method, Ensidia, and For the Horde) were extremely close in the final rankings. But that’s how the elite raiding guilds like it. In some recent footage taken at a gathering in China, some elite raiders from Paragon (ranked 1st) and For the Horde (ranked 4th) were interviewed saying that having strong teams to compete against was integral to their enjoyment and focus during the progress race.

Progression racing is challenging, both by design and circumstance. It requires a lot of time and focus and can often present a series of unexpected bumps in the road, like trying to master the encounters while Blizzard is still tweaking them. Members of Method pointed out how during progress raiding one guild would get a boss down using one particular approach but when they would try and use a similar approach it would not work because Blizzard had  “fixed” it between tries: “The worst thing was when Paragon killed something and then afterwards it was fixed so no other guild could kill it using the same mechanics.”

If you remember any of the back-and-forth during the progress race, some members of high level guilds vented stress about this in different ways, with some occasionally blaming certain guilds for “questionable tactics or mechanics” and others pointing to a flaw in the way the encounters get “hotfixed” between attempts. I asked Method how this experience was for them and where they fell in the debate–it was clear they found this more an issue with the approach to raid design and did not hold any hostility toward any particular guild for this. As one member pointed out, “Of course when we’re in the middle of progress we’re a bit aggressive to each other because in the end we want to win. But afterwards, when you look at it and how it went, you don’t really blame them—you can’t blame them.” Their “blame” seemed more directed toward the way in which mechanics for encounters were changed right after they were used.

Their criticism of how raiding mechanics are handled and improved extended also to the 10-man raiding race. While Method itself did not engage in 10-man raiding they acknowledge the “broken” nature of the encounters at that level and the fact that it took game designers a long time to introduce changes. “10-man raiding this tier was just sh**. They didn’t test it and it was not tuned at all,” Padmay says. “You can see how much they care when you see when they patch things for 10-man so late in the game. We’re about 4 or 5 months into the new content and they realised some abilities are impossible on 10-man and they are just now fixing them,” notes Rogerbrown.

“I think that’s why they forced us to test 10-man on the PTR this time, so it’s not so screwed up,” explains Padmay.

Another area that members Method chimed in on was the inclusion of so much information about heroic raid encounters in the forthcoming Dungeon Journal (see my last blog post about this). Though the comments below show that not every member feels the same way about it:

  • “There is only one boss we can’t see on the PTR, but the mechanics are in there, so basically there is nothing left to explore.”
  • “It’s like reading the end of the book, it’s like spoilers.”
  • “It’s a nice idea and it’s not bad but how they approach and how everything is available, that shouldn’t be right now.”
  • “Would be better if came out two months after.”
  • “It’s maybe not that bad but it’s like a puzzle you’re making and you know what the puzzle will look like. But you have to put them there though. It’s not going to do it itself. The boss won’t just die because you read the journal.”
  • “It fits the image of WoW turning casual.”

The atmosphere of Method

Method isn’t just a place where good raiding happens, however. It’s got the other key components I’m finding are essential to any raiding guild’s long term success: stability, a positive social atmosphere, and a commitment to each other. Sco, with the pride typical of a person who established and spearheaded this guild since its inception six years ago, stresses the longevity and stability of the guild: “I would say this is the final resting place for 90% of the players [who join Method]. I mean there is nowhere else for them to go if they want the pinnacle of raiding. Method’s pretty much among the best international groups that you can get.”

And just like with every other well established guild I have ever spoken to (from the most casual to the elitist of the elite) having a positive social atmosphere is integral to the success of the guild. They are often on TS and IRC chatting while they play, they like to do other things between the hard core content, and they have met up in real life (yes I have given visual proof of this along with some questionable singing and pole dancing on the part of a certain guild member!). And another area of focus for a lot of elite raiders between new raid content is focusing on other games, such as Starcraft 2. Some are competing, but most are just enjoying watching the competitions unfold. When I asked how they would compare the competition of WoW with the competition of SC2, Padmay explained it’s “Completely different as you can live off of playing SC2 but not with a game like WoW with its large teams.”

Method has some similarities to other elite raiding guilds that may help support raiding success at this level: similar demographics (average age is early 20s and mostly male), the required skill set, and a lifestyle (through work or school) that allows a schedule flexible enough to tackle the demanding progress raiding schedule when it hits.  Another important fact that seems pervasive in and fundamental to all successful raiding guilds (and I’m not just talking about elite guilds here) is a respect for the aims and goals of the group and, often, its leaders. Method members kept pointing to the valuable role that their GM Sco has played in the smooth functioning of the guild. Their respect for him and the guild’s goals was evident when we spoke. They also jokingly said that Sco’s “commanding voice” has “scared” them at times. “If it’s not you being yelled at, then you find it pretty hilarious, but otherwise it can be pretty scary” said one (mostly joking). “We need good leadership and Sco provides that.”

What’s your Method for a world first?

And Method had their share of spectacular world firsts during the last progress race: Magmaw, Atramedes, Chimaeron (on 25 man; Ensidia actually achieved the overall world first on 10-man). Below is the video of their Magmaw fight. I absolutely loved watching this video–even rewatched it a couple times! I particularly liked their relaxed, calm (well mostly calm) demeanor while they casually down this boss for the first time. The laughter and jokes you can hear on vent point to the positive atmosphere in the guild that I experienced when I interviewed them. I could tell they were loving what they were doing. And considering the guys spent up to 12-14 hours a day during peak progress raid time, their cordial, spirited attitude says a lot about the guild. Trust me, if you can make jokes and sincerely laugh after spending that much time together, you must have something good going.

And the progress raiding is intense. “We had maybe 7-10 days off out of a two month period,” explained one member. And working around the clock was not unheard off for the guild, though they knew when to stop if the group kept making the same mistakes due to exhaustion. Of course this did not prevent them from getting a few kills in the middle of the night (in fact, their world #2 Conclave kill was at 4.30 am game time!).

Method vs. Magmaw: World First

Personal favourites in this video: 1. Vent is just free running, “having a blast” and 2. The phone ringing at 4:29 or so.

As far as their approach to raiding goes, it felt very similar to what I’m learning about the other top guilds: A loose structure with some specific instructions given but, overall, mechanisms like vent or TS are used for ongoing discussion and feedback while individual raiders are just expected to “do their job.” There are very few reminders to move at certain times or react in a particular way: they are just doing it. Obviously when we watch kill videos and the like, we’re only seeing a raiding guild when they are achieving success–we don’t see their 6,931 wipes–but I think in the case of Method here, we have had a nice opportunity to watch their PTR footage and the same ongoing discussion and feedback seems to be happening here. I actually asked the guys if the PTR chatter was normal for them and they all emphasised that it was.

And speaking of PTR and raiding and listening to Method, tonight (Saturday, May 21st) they are appearing on Nordrassil radio! Live! Go check it out. I will be. :) http://www.nordrassilradio.com/site/method-live/

Muuum!! Charlie’s trying to read my dungeon journal again!

May 16, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Cataclysm, dungeon journal, raiding

Epic Gnome warrior Smullfrai walks into the brand, spanking new Perpetual Mists of Doom raiding instance. Before him stands a 32-metre tall female giant with three arms and twelve heads. Whatever shall he do! Fear not, my diminutive warrior friend, just reach into one of those five very large bags you somehow manage to carry on your tiny back and pull out a book that magically appeared in there three days ago. In it is the wisdom and knowledge of Smullfrai’s ancestors who managed to traverse this terrifying place at an undisclosed time in the past and fell these fearsome foes. Smullfrai flips through his “Idiot’s Guide to Raid Instances”, thinks for a moment and then closes the tome. He can now face her.

So this is one of those times when I struggle with the two hats that I usually wear: the raider/player hat and the games researcher hat. As a raider I think about how changes in gameplay are going to impact my friends’ or my own experiences with the game; as a researcher I try to relate to what’s happening to the game in general and how changes are impacting the many levels of play experience in an MMO like WoW. I love both hats and I can usually switch between both quite lucidly and appropriately but sometimes an issue pops up that muddles the issue and I seem to have both hats on at the same time. This is the case with the reaction to the new dungeon journal that Blizzard is introducing in patch 4.2. So I hope this blog post isn’t too muddled as a result!

I didn’t think too much about it at first, this “Dungeon Journal” idea. I don’t think many active raiders probably did either. And if we did think about it, I believe we probably all thought about it from the angle that Blizzard presumably did when they created it: that it would be geared toward helping the unfamiliar or uninitiated with complex game activities like dungeons and raids. And it does provide some other features that could be helpful on other fronts. So who would question that? Not such a bad idea, really. It’s a feature one might view as suitable for a newer player but not really necessary for a more experienced raider, like the tutorials you can follow when you first start WoW. And who knows, a few might have wondered nostalgically about the bittersweet reality of there being little to no mystery left in WoW anymore. But no one seemed to ask if we have too much advance knowledge about the game already… even if we seem to know the ending before it’s even begun.

In case you have no idea what I’m on about, here’s the blue sticky that Blizzard put out on its US forums:

http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/2456449381

I get a sinking suspicion that quite a few elite and hard core raiders overlooked this to some extent since the journal didn’t appear to be designed with them in mind. They are a group that generally doesn’t want to be told how a boss fight works, rather preferring the thrill of an unsolved puzzle that “no one else has figured out yet”. A dungeon journal might appear unnecessary for players with that much experience.

And then the PTR hit. Naturally the elite raiders have an obligation and competitive drive to check out the new content, especially in light of their tight progress race. And there was the “dungeon journal” with its listing of “all major spells, abilities, and phases for [any boss] fight.” Everything? Every piece of information about a particular encounter? Even the Heroic content? Well, this has caused a reaction, at least on the EU PTR forums. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t on the US ones as well. While the elite raiders who have posted are acknowledging that the journal is not a bad idea when designed for new or inexperienced players, they question why information on their key content—new heroic bosses—needs to be included. Why give it all away, they seemed to be asking in their posts? The first thread of posts was deleted some hours after it began, I imagine in large part due to the fact that some of the top tier raiders opted to just post “signed” as a way of supporting what others had written, thus making the thread read like a petition. So Arx from Paragon (great diplomat that he is) put the thread up again with a stern reminder to raiders to just add comments and not turn it into another petition. And this is what’s been said so far, and I hope it will last this time!

http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/2098122483

The following are a few salient comments from posters on the forums about their objection to the dungeon journals including too much information:

It robs any anticipation, any fun, etc. I want to discover by myself what a Raid Boss has for abilities and I want to find by myself a solution how to counter it. –Dexxz, For the Horde (EU, German)

Instead of having a natural learning curve of progressing on an encounter, excessive amounts of information is given before anything has been experienced and people are tossed right into what should be the “final” part of progress — execution.—Phailia, Inner Sanctum (EU)

This really does take a lot of the excitement out of the learning process. – Siivekäs, Clarity (EU)

Figuring out the fight, learning the mechanics and progressively adapting a tactic to it is what I enjoy the most in this game, be it on the PTR or on live.—Wakez, Inner Sanctum (EU)

I can’t ignore the new dungeon journal and just let it be, as it feels like it’s taking away the thing I love in this game the most: exploring and figuring out the mechanics for the first time with my guild. I realize this all has been said above and will be repeated again and again, but I just wanted to add my voice to the thread…. let the game be “hard” for me and the people who share my view on this matter.—Xenophics, Paragon (EU)

So certain words and ideas seem to stand out here for me: “learning”, “puzzles”, “let the game be ‘hard’”, “figuring out the fight”, “robs any anticipation”, “I want to find by myself”. Elite raiders—and if I might add most WoW players who self-identify as raiders—like to solve problems and find solutions; that’s often the biggest draw to raiding. And if anything, Phailia’s comments above seem to capture the impact that this depth of information could have on the experience of raiding at the high levels: providing too much of a solution to the puzzle before the group can actually figure it out themselves could change the very way in which groups plan and execute their work—and not in a way that I believe they would prefer.

In a conversation with another high end raider, Thifyx, about the implementation of the dungeon journal, he seemed to echo what the raiders on the forum thread are saying: “[The dungeon journal] gives away far too much. The whole exploring, adjusting, reacting aspect is pretty much gone like this. And the damage has been done already since it’s on the PTR.” This is counter to the rationale that a tool like this is in support of new players. New players, the premise of the dungeon journal seems to suggest, require some additional support and information. Blizzard wants them to have access to the game content and not be confused or lost about what can happen during these admittedly more complex and involved game encounters. I think that’s admirable and appropriate, but it may overlook the pre-existing players’ needs.

What high end and competitive raiders seem to be asking is “why throw the baby out with the bathwater”? The core concern arises from this decision to incorporate information (and so much of it, to boot) about the more complex encounters–namely heroic raiding content at the latest tier level–into the journal right off the bat. Players that are new to raiding are extremely unlikely to dive into that material as fast as the elite raiders will. So why give the “ending” away to the group that doesn’t want to know just because it serves the needs of a different part of our WoW playing community? Yes we are different parts of a community, but why put the needs of one group above the needs of another one, even if it’s a smaller one size wise? From my observational perspective, I’d say casual WoW players and elite raiders need each other to keep the game moving well, developmentally. Both groups drive the development agenda in a way that ensures we have solid, good content to keep us interested this long.

Now I wanted to touch a bit on this notion of tiers of raiders and players. I have spoken and written about this quite a lot and it does inform a lot of my research, but I also have a notion that we’re overlapping tiers. It’s a game and a fluid online environment, so there is no cut and dry about how we exist and who we interact with, and a lot of overlap happens, but there are some lines of distinction:

The elite raider: This is the raider who, with his or her raiding guild, will prioritise their efforts, skill, and schedules around new content. The new content comes, they lap it up. They will play for many hours over a condensed period of time. Their progress and achievements are often watched and followed by more than just their own guild mates or other guilds on their own server.

The hard core or high level raider: This raider is usually in a raiding guild that’s lower ranked, globally, than the elite guilds, but they have opted to follow a consistent, intense schedule over a prolonged period (4-5 day a week) rather than a more focused push at the outset. This kind of commitment results in steady progress, albeit it a slower pace than the elite raider.

The casual or social raider: This raider has less time or inclination to dedicate to raiding and may, as a result, move slower through the content. But this does not mean they lack a desire for steady progress, even at the slower pace.

Casual or social player: This is a player who may occasionally join groups for playing activity but their playing priority is not focused on raiding. They may, in fact, constitute the majority of the player base in WoW.

There are many grey areas between these categories but in general these tiers typify different ways that we approach play and raiding in particular. And, of course, these groups have different priorities, needs and expectations when it comes to raiding. I would have to think that each group’s needs and priorities could be accommodated in any given design change introduced by Blizzard. This is, after all, why we have something like the two level raiding groups and normal vs. heroic modes.

In closing I just wanted to say that I view raiding as interrelated in nature, from the most casual of raiders to the most competitive, and I don’t feel there is any advantage to dwelling on what separates us. Yes, we handle content in different ways and yes we move at a different pace, but that’s more about opportunity, knowledge and skill than anything else. For some, raiding is a more accessible experience and for others it is less so. Just as the game allows for the casual player to enjoy questing, grouping up, or interacting as they please, the game also allows the elite and hard core raiders–the ones who choose competitive raiding as their primary interest–to enjoy its content. I would hope that for the long term development of the game this  interrelatedness and accessibility of the game–at all levels and everything in between–can be accommodated. It is a game after all–we’re all supposed to be able to enjoy it in our own way.

Are we struggling to maintain our numbers?

May 09, 2011 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, raiding

In my discussions with a lot of raiding guilds lately, something has been coming up: raider turnover. Maybe it’s because it’s spring, maybe it’s because progression raiding took its toll on our elite raiders, maybe the competition is getting too fierce… but whatever the reason, as what I said in my discussion with Blood Legacy below, a higher than usual number of raiders are taking a break (some of them permanently) from raiding. And guilds are having to catch up to keep their raiding ranks healthy, especially with the new content looming.

This is certainly not the case across the board and some guilds are doing an excellent job with recruitment in the face of these departures, but it may be putting less stable guilds in a more precarious position. I know of some that completely folded after Cataclysm came out. They opted to downsize to 10-man raiding and that did not necessarily solve their problems and so, sadly, quite a few guilds are fading into the sunset.

So has your guild faced any turnover issues in recent months? Or are you fortunate to be high enough on your server or in the world rankings that you can still find people coming to your door, hoping for a chance to move up in raiding experience and progression? One might say this is a natural evolution of gaming and it’s a natural thing when games like SC2 or even new MMOs like Rift come along that draw our attention for a while… but it can put guilds and their leaders into a stressful situation, wondering if they are going to be able to keep their guild and its particular social atmosphere alive for the duration.