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Archive for July, 2011

The 10/25 Debate and Tragedy in Norway

July 26, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Firelands, raiding group size

My sincere apologies for the delay in a new blog post. I’ve been quite busy of late with some personal matters. Also while I had prepared a nice blog about the progress race, it seems to need updating now with the changes of last week. If you’ve followed the raid progress, you know that Paragon downed the 25-man heroic Ragnaros on July 19th and went on to down heroic 10-man Ragnaros on the subsequent Friday (July 22nd). So until we have more completion in the progress race (with only Paragon having cleared all of the heroic content so far), I think I’ll hold off on my post about the progress race until more of it is said and done.

So there are couple things on my mind that I wanted to write about: recent events in Norway and the 10-man/25-man difficulty debate.

The Challenge of Difficulty and Comparing the 10- and 25-man raid

This issue seems alive and well, doesn’t it? I think as long as we have raiding instances that are identical in boss names, geography, and graphic design with their only variation being the scale of the fight as intended for 10 raiders or 25 raiders, we’ll feel compelled to compare. And looking at the fight’s difficulty level is the primary way in which we prefer to make that comparison.

As you can imagine (or may have read for yourself), Paragon’s decision to tackle both the 25-man and 10-man heroic content (and clear it all before anyone else) made an impact and prompted some reaction (mainly on mmo-champion but also on other community sites as well). Comments seemed to range from ‘wow, Paragon is awesome!’ to ‘why did they have to take it from the 10-man guilds’ to ‘Paragon was overgeared anyway so it doesn’t prove anything’.

Paragon claims they did it to gauge difficulty between the two raid group sizes. I think their decision to attempt both raid sizes was not just about gauging difficulty, however, but also about proving they can do both before anyone else (so perhaps others can’t claim down the road that Paragon’s world first was on the ‘easier’ version of the end boss?), and this appears to be a valid and understandable approach from a competitive standpoint. But when it comes to using what’s happened here to validly or objectively compare difficulty between Firelands-10 and Firelands-25 I think it becomes problematic. Without a doubt, what has happened lends important insight and perspective into the differences between the 10 and 25 versions, but as Paragon admitted, they had an advantage going into the 10-man fight having spent so much time learning Ragnaros on the 25-man version—so it could never be perfectly objective (nor am I convinced that Paragon is claiming that). They also, from what I can read, have avoided trying to suggest that they thought one fight was ‘better’ than another one or that a 25-man raiding group is ‘better’ than the smaller group–but like any boss fights, the mechanics will lend themselves better (or worse) with the different raid group sizes. Ahh doesn’t it feel a little bit like language (English, in this case) fails us? “Easier/harder”, “Different/different”–what best describes the difference without us falling into the trap of what’s better or worse and thus triggering these contentious responses? These are their posts:

http://www.paragon.fi/articles/10-vs-25-comparison
http://www.paragon.fi/news/10-man-vs-25-man-debate
http://www.paragon.fi/blogs/what-difficulty

So how do you gauge difficulty and how can you compare two completely different raid group sizes? Well I am not convinced we can ever really do this properly. Imagine, if you will, trying to compare the 800 metre and 3000 metre races in the track and field events:

  • They are both running events. (Same.)
  • They will require similar running gear. (Same.)
  • While each race has a strategy, how and when the runner applies that strategy varies significantly. (Not same.)
  • Often a runner’s training process for these events is quite different. (Not same.)

So yes, while these track and field events are both running events and both will often take place around the exact same track, how long they take, the strategies of the runners involved, and the ways in which runners prepare for these races differs greatly. I’m quite certain that most of us would not sit and have a big debate about whether the 3000m race is ‘harder’ or ‘more important’ than the 800m race. Of course we have preferences about what we might watch or prefer to follow and if we’re runners ourselves, we may think about what we could actually viably achieve and prefer doing, but I’m quite confident that a multi-page thread on ‘the 800m vs 3000m debate’ on a random runners’ Web site just would not happen (and please, don’t any of you go and start a thread like this just to be cheeky). What we’d probably more likely find is a discussion about whether the indoor/outdoor debate is valid or if certain training or running strategies are more valid. And if we want to get nitpicky about the ‘but some raiders are just better than others’, well the same thing applies in running. The simple fact that I am physically capable of running 800m or even 3000m does not mean you’ll be seeing me at the Olympics any time soon. There are great runners in both events, after all, and only the best will win.

So we turn back to the 10/25 raiding comparison debate. Can we actually set up an unbiased, measurable experiment to truly gauge difficulty? Can we really ever know perfectly what’s more or less difficult? Well, I’m not sure I can even sort out the problematics of the methodology, but here goes:

  • Blizzard would have to buy into this. We’d need them to help set up and design the test as it would need to involve certain game mechanics like allowing the same group of players to do two versions of the fight during the same period (to help minimise the ‘they had 500 wipes on the boss in 25-man but only 32 wipes on the 10-man version’ disparity).
  • We’d need the same group of players, or at least as closely similar as possible. This relates to a lesser extent to class, spec, and gear, and to a greater extent to skill set.
  • We’d need to run the test concurrently, or as close to concurrently as possible. To keep things fair (and avoid a stacking of wipes or attempts on one raid size) the test should be run simultaneously, which makes the previous element difficult to achieve unless we have…
  • Cloning. Yes, we’d probably need to clone the raid group.

I don’t mean to be a smarty pants here but I think ascertaining complete, unquestioned parity that everyone will be happy with may require cloning. And that may take a while for us to develop. But maybe one of you programming geniuses out there can design a simulation of the fights using virtual raiders… that could work. But I’d rather we invented teleportation first, honestly…

So from where I sit I believe this debate about ‘what raid size is more difficult or worthwhile’ seems like a somewhat futile endeavour. It will always come up as long as Blizzard opts to use this financially prudent approach to raid instance/boss design. Having to face the exact ‘same’ (sameness here referring to the fact that the boss does look the same and have the same name, but ‘same’ also hinting at the fact that it’s been adjusted to accommodate the two raid sizes and thus not exactly the same) boss in the exact same location but with two different raid size groups will always cause us to wonder what’s more legitimate or important as far as the difficulty issue goes. Comparison appears inevitable. And after all, difficulty is paramount when it comes to valuing the raid bosses. The competitive core of raiding wants to ‘win’ the race on what is considered the more difficult version of the most difficult fight. I believe that’s viewed as more satisfying. And for all intensive purposes, the more ‘difficult’ way to do it appears to be viewed as the 25-man raid composition. Whether that’s true or not is impossible to determine, but we do make a lot of decisions based on what we think about something versus what is actually happening. I think another reason this debate is alive and well is due to how Blizzard has opted to give achievements and, as a result, how player-run ranking sites lump together the 25-man and 10-man raiding guilds. And while the latter can be addressed by these sites to some extent, the former issue is really up to Blizzard and I honestly have no idea if they’d put any priority into resolving that particular issue.

And what we’re not even factoring into the ‘difficulty’ debate are things like skill, experience, play schedule preference, social commitments, raid composition, and other ‘messy’, intangible, and unpredictable details. Certainly something may seem a lot harder to master if I spend maybe 5 hours a month devoted to it versus if I spend 5 hours a night on it.

I would rather not engage in the heavy debate here about the 25- vs. 10-man raid but I think it’s interesting and probably inevitable that it will keep coming up for us–which is why I’ve posted all of this here. I did like what Synti wrote in one of the Paragon blogs over the 10/25 man debate in relation to how 10-man raiding keeps being regarded: “The competition in that bracket… is still in its infancy.” Maybe we just need to settle down and let 10-man raiding be 10-man raiding and 25-man be 25-man and stop trying to compare them or debate them. But… that’s too easy, isn’t it?

I’ll probably post more about this, but wanted to just get these initial thoughts down.

Tragedy in Norway and An Unwelcome Link to Gaming

First of all whenever a human being chooses to perpetuate acts of such violence such as what occurred on Friday in Norway, it is deeply saddening. I’ve spent quite some time in Norway myself and its calm and beauty are notable, as well as its good-natured and down-to-earth people. (My profile photo above was taken there.) It feels particularly disappointing that in a place that is regarded as so developed and advanced (according to the UN, Norway had the top-ranked Human Development Index in the world in 2010: http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/NOR.html), something like this could happen. I suppose it just proves (as many would remind me) that nowhere is immune. And add to this the fact that I’ve spent my time in recent years studying a fun and uplifting thing like a game—with its environment that is all about community, game play, skill, competition, and teamwork—and when I learned that the suspect in custody had manipulated (in his rambling ‘manifesto’) WoW gameplay and even suggested using it as a kind of ‘cover’ while planning his activities, well I admit I was disheartened. We have a hard enough time providing the non-gaming world with a realistic picture of what the gaming community is really like (with its pros and cons, not just the cons), and this kind of madness could potentially just reinforce the anti-gaming sentiment that’s alive and well out there. Of course, the attack suspect made other equally outrageous suggestions—like pretending you are questioning your sexual identity as a way to get people to ‘leave you alone’ or investing in a farm in order to acquire goods in an allegedly legitimate way—so I ought not to be overly disturbed by his links to gaming, but it is still disappointing. I’m sure the media will spend more time on it at some point, but so far the bigger, more troubling elements of his actions appear to be taking centre stage. What a horrible, sad thing. :(

And the dash has settled into a bit of a gallop with trolls and stalkers…

July 11, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Firelands, progress raiding

I’d not suggest that we’ve slowed down as much as our front pack runners seem to have settled into a comfortable but energetic pace, with more runners (aka guilds) joining the ones who got to 6/7 HC on Friday. We now have 14 guilds (as of this writing) that have cleared 6/7 and are, presumably, working on Ragnaros HC. I spent most of my weekend in the Method and Paragon IRC chat rooms (I know, a bit saddo). They are usually quite mellow and quiet on any other day but last weekend it was quite noisy! We had the trolls (apparently the #1 troll joke was ‘Ensidia disbanded’ with the ‘XXXXX guild just downed Ragnaros HC, congratszzz!!!’ coming a close second–I’d have paid money at one point for a more original troll joke), we had the curious onlookers (‘How is Raggy coming?’ ‘What % are you?’, etc), and the regulars. I talked to one of the guys last night and he said he had lost count of how many whispers he’d received in game along the lines of ‘what %’ or ‘r u on Rag’ (if any of you reading this are familiar with American slang, this last question is kind of hilarious). I suppose we yearn for progress and status updates, like the kids in the car on a long car trip asking their parents endlessly, ‘Are we there yet?’ And the IRC room has often served at the best way of finding out where things stand. And in the case of the elite guild chat rooms, it’s not just where the members of those particular guilds hang out, but other elite raiders hang out there too. It’s the closest thing we have had to a kind of live update. But that’s before Lolisa came into our lives.

Yes, Lolisa: Play-by-play tracker, armchair stalker, and add-on creator. And unintentional research assistant to me! Who is this, you may ask? Well, here is a link to the thread. It started as a quiet bit of information that Lolisa posted on Friday evening and within several hours, word had obviously spread as more people were posting about it and commenting (mostly in a humourous or positive way) about the ‘stalker’ like quality of this tracking–when had they wiped, what class/spec composition was in the raid, etc.  By Saturday afternoon it was jokingly being called the ‘stalker thread’ with people checking up regularly and even members of Paragon and Method joined the fun by giving added updates about their toilet runs or Web browsing habits. The excitement started to die down around Sunday afternoon when Lolisa explained that he or she had found the tracking process a bit boring. I can empathise. Data collection can be quite tedious after a while.

Well, naturally I wanted to talk to Lolisa about why he or she’d done this and what he or she thought about the somewhat bemused reaction in the community. This was fascinating stuff. Progress raiding is, out of necessity, quite a secretive process as each team has to protect its strategies and approach. So giving us all a closer view on what kind of team substitutions and possible progress was being made was quite interesting. This was not information any of us could not have tried to gather before, but for a player to independently collect it and then post it for the raiding community to follow was compelling. I found it intriguing that people were calling this stalking as Lolisa wasn’t doing anything any sports sites don’t regularly do when they report substitutions or time outs during a sports event. But we called it stalking.

But Lolisa was quite hard to track down! I became a kind of stalker myself trying to track down the stalker. Lolisa is obviously not his or her main character (it was a level 1 gnome alt) and while I had a few theories about who he or she might be on Paragon’s server (probably a low level alt), I never could pinpoint him or her or they had opted to ignore my whispers. I can’t entirely blame them–who am I after all? But this was a new and fun element of the progress race that I’ll definitely be integrating into my writing around the Firelands race. :) And Lolisa, if you ever read this, get in touch with me! (My email is on the About page.)

And so it’s Monday and our intrepid elite raiders are getting ready to go at it again. Some may have the day to devote to the venture, others may be resuming later on, but with 14 guilds working on Ragnaros, we may have a world first before we know it! And who knows, it may be one of these ‘dark horses’ that have quite pleasantly surprised us by sneaking into the top 14, it could be one of the predicted favourites, or it could be one of the guilds that is still in the running but has had less success than the previous tier. I suppose we bystanders just get to wait and see!

The mad dash…

July 08, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Firelands

So if you’ve been under a rock, busy with work, on holiday, glued to the tv watching the Tour de France, or elsewhere for a couple days you’ve almost missed it! The progress race, that is.

Starting on Tuesday on the US servers, WoW raiders who had cleared all of the normal content for the new Firelands raid, were able to unlock the heroic content. By the time the servers had gone live in Europe (11 am CET on Wednesday), many guilds had cleared the first boss or two, with several US guilds having already defeated 4 of the available bosses on heroic mode. How could this be, more than half of the bosses cleared in under 12 hours? Well I’d like to say it was a big surprise but most of the elite raiders I’ve spoken with were predicting a very fast turnover of heroic boss content within just a few days. So here we are on Friday and this is where things stand (as of this writing): Method (EU) and Paragon (EU) have both cleared 6 of the available 7 heroic bosses, with only Ragnaros left. Another four guilds (vodka, Blood Legion, and Premonition [all US guilds] and Inner Sanctum [EU]) have cleared 5 of 7. And finally an additional fifteen guilds have now cleared 4 of 7 heroic bosses. Things may have changed since I started writing this, too!

This is fast. To give us some perspective, let’s look at the first 4 heroic bosses in the last tier of Cataclym raiding: Did we clear those in just hours? No, we did not. Paragon, for example, took seven days to go through the first four; this time it took them five and a half hours. (Other guilds did clear those first four bosses faster than Paragon but none were faster than 5 days.)

How did we move so fast? Was it the PTR? The dungeon journal? The better gear? The skills of the elite raider overpowering the complexity of the encounters? The streamlined approach to strategic planning on the part of these elite raiding guilds? I’d like to say all of these, but there is more to this situation. It’s not just the elite guilds that are burning through things quickly, either. A lot of guilds–even the more casual ones–had cleared much or all of the normal content within the first week of Firelands release. We obviously do have a new feature on the scene, the dungeon journal, so that may be the most likely added contributed factor to this high speed race, but whatever the cause is, we can be sure that it will be a matter of days (maybe even hours?) until the first guilds will have completely cleared Firelands.