You are all cheaters! .. or are we?

Raph has been sparring with Tobold on the topic of RMT, and now Raph threw a curveball: Information not provided within the game is cheating. Of course, I disagree. Otherwise this would have been a very boring blog post.

The central idea in Raph's argument is that information is a mechanic. Poker would be a very boring game if everyone knew what cards the other players have. Card counting, card marking, spotters, or other methods of knowing your opponents' cards is considered cheating. Likewise, strategy guides, videos and searchable database sites provide information about a computer game. So using that information is cheating, right?

Wrong. There are variations of poker, like Texas Hold'Em, where other players do get to see some of your cards. And you are allowed to plan your next move according to that extra information. Nobody's forcing you to look at those exposed cards, but you'd be a fool if you didn't.

Raph continues by addressing a common counterpoint:

Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.

* But everyone has access to the info, which makes it OK. This may not have been the case back in the mud days.

So if everyone cheats, it’s OK. :)

If you consider playing Texas Hold'em cheating in poker, be my guest. Just don't be surprised if other players do not share your opinion.

We are not playing the same game as in the MUD days. MUD admins were well within their rights to say that using information sites is cheating. It's their game and their rules. These are different games with different rules. These rules do allow players access to more information, whether it's in-game, via vendor-approved APIs and web services, web sites or from other players. The games are balanced with the assumption that players have access to all this information, just like Texas Hold'Em is balanced on the assumption that players see some of the opponents' cards. And this is an ongoing process. It wasn't that long ago when people were making the argument that WoW addons that display the name and the estimated casting time for an enemy spell were a form of cheating. But now WoW gives you that information out of the box. The developers felt that not only was using that information allowed, but that it would be required in the future. For example, at the Reliquary of Souls. A part of that encounter relies on the flawless reaction to enemy casting, and reacting flawlessly does (in practice) require knowing the spell being cast and the estimated casting time. Otherwise it would be too difficult and stop being fun.

To his credit, Raph does acknowledge this:
Because of this, designers have increasingly simply designed around the assumption that the info will be shared — that players will cheat.

But still insists that it's cheating:
In the case of something like WoW’s Armory, they simply threw up their hands, and instead said “this isn’t cheating anymore” by providing it themselves.

If you feel that seeing some of the other players' cards in Texas Hold'Em is cheating, you're free to stop playing and find a vanilla poker game. You, the player, are not the authority on what is cheating and what's allowed. The organizer of the game, or the house, is. Whether that organizer is a casino holding a poker tournament or Blizzard maintaining a WoW server is irrelevant. It's their game with their rules. If you disagree, you are free to try to convince them otherwise, or to find an another game.

Finally, Raph says that this change is a bad thing, that we are losing the ability to teach them those lessons that come from hidden info.. Personally, I'd say that those lessons weren't worth much anyway. Lessons that rely on hidden information are only challenging for the first few tries. Security by obscurity is worthless after the veil of secrecy has been lifted. Once you learn those precious few gimmicks, the encounters are trivial and therefore boring.


Reliquary of Souls

Reliquary of Souls
Reliquary of Souls,
originally uploaded by Shalkis.
Rest in peace. This was definitely one of the more interesting fights I've seen, and a landmark of the philosophy behind 25-man raids.

The boss itself is guarded by a very short BWL-like gauntlet, which measures the raid group's ability to move and AoE as one. It also serves as an exercise in mana management, since it's very much possible to go OOM at the gauntlet and have no mana for the boss itself.

Reliquary of Souls is basically three completely different fights stringed together. Between every phase the raid is swarmed with weak ghosts, which restore your health and mana upon death. They are effectively a reset button between each phase.

First, there's the Essence of Suffering. His aura nullifies all healing and he aggroes on the closest person for 5 seconds at a time. These abilities make him an exercise in survival and movement for everyone, not just tanks. In practice, everyone tanks him for 5 seconds, and then hands off the boss to the next person. Sounds simple, but it is harder than it sounds until everyone understands how he works.

Phase 2 is Essence of Desire. She has an aura which keeps reducing your maximum mana, so naturally there's a DPS race involved. She must die before your healers have zero mana and can't prevent the tank from dying. She also has a Rune Shield which can be dispelled and a feedback ability that deals back 50% of the damage dealt. But the interesting parts are her other abilities: Deaden and Spirit Shock. Deaden increases damage on the target, so the tank must spellreflect it back to Essence of Desire to boost DPS. Spirit Shock is a quickly-cast spell which disorients the person with aggro and deals a large amount of damage. If the tank gets hit by it, Essence of Desire switches targets and casts the next Spirit Shock faster. The trick to killing her is to interrupt all Spirit Shocks while allowing the tank to reflect all Deadens and maintain maximum DPS. In other words, an exercise in total focus and seamless raid coordination.

Finally, there's Essence of Anger. He has a stacking aura which keeps dealing more and more damage as well as a timebomb-style ability called Spite. While he has a cone-like ability that burns rage as well as mana, this phase is not about tank survival per se. It's a frantic DPS race against mercilessly increasing raid damage, much like Buru phase 2 in Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj.

The combination of all these requirements in one fight makes it definitely one of the most memorable fights in World of Warcraft, because it tests all aspects of a successful raidgroup: gear, coordination, knowledge and focus. Those that can get past it get access to the next three bosses and the final 3 pieces of tier 6 sets.


Schizophrenic set design

The Hunter’s Mark recently discussed hunter set bonuses, so I'll do the same for mage sets.

As a rule, mage set design has always been.. schizophrenic. There's the sets with simply awful bonuses: Magister (dungeon set 1), Sorcerer (dungeon set 2a), Ironweave (dungeon set 2b), Vaulted Secrets (AQ20), Incanter(dungeon set 3a). People who designed those sets have no idea of overall mage gameplay. No intelligent mage is going to stand still and let his Mana Shield absorb hits while chaincasting Flamestrike. Not only it's suicidial, it also fails to provide adequate DPS due to having to recast Mana Shield. Even a Mana Shield amplified by set bonuses is only going to take 2-3 hits at most from non-raid mobs before crumbling, which means you have to recast it. Recasting Mana Shield leaves no time to take advantage of the reduced cast time on Flamestrike, so you end up doing minimal DPS and using all of your mana while doing it.

Then there's the okayish sets, like Arcanist(tier 1), Enigma(AQ40) and Tempest(tier 6). Definitely worth collecting, but could be eclipsed by careful itemization. If you head to Molten Core wearing Magister, Arcanist is certainly an upgrade. It's less so if you have cleared Zul'Gurub or gotten most of the better level 60 blues. Still, the decent 8-piece bonus of -15% threat helps a lot.

Enigma has a spec-specific set bonus, but makes up for it by having pretty hefty stats and a nice proc for boss fights if you didn't have Spell Hit capped (most mages didn't).

Tempest is currently the set with the highest itemlevels of mage gear, so it's best by default. It might eventually be eclipsed by stuff that drops from the Sunwell Plateau, but will hold up pretty well until that. The 2-piece bonus is a bit underwhelming when compared to the equivalent Frostfire one, but the 4-piece bonus is exactly what mages need: more damage.

Then there's the nifty sets, worth having for simply the set bonuses: Netherwind (tier 2) and Frostfire (tier 3). All set bonuses are useful and the items themselves are nothing to scoff at. Furthermore, the set bonuses are useful for all mages, regardless of spec.

Finally, there's the bizarre sets. Aldor (tier 4) is mediocre as a PvE set, but has a few of the most useful set bonuses ever for PvP. Pushback immunity and shorter cooldowns on PoM/Blastwave/Ice Block. Either of those bonuses would have been welcomed with cheers if those were put into the Gladiator set(s).

Then there's Illusionist (Zul'Gurub), an another oddball set. It has the bread-and-butter spelldamage bonuses, but then mixes the promising set up with reduced mana cost to buffs and Flamestrike cast time reduction. Even pre-nerf, Arcane Intellect and Arcane Brilliance mana costs were a non-issue. When you are buffing, you usually have plenty of time to do so. And since you can conjure your own mana drinks, you always have ample mana. Then there's the Flamestrike bonus. An okayish generic set which has a spec-specific set bonus in the end? And to get the said set bonus, you have to wear Hazza'rah's Charm of Magic, which boosts Arcane damage, not Fire. Is Illusionist a generic set, a fire mage set or an Arcane mage set? I really cannot say.

Finally, there's Tirisfal (tier 5). If there ever was an argument why mages should get alternate sets like most of the other classes, Tirisfal is it. It's exclusively designed for Arcane mages. For all others, Arcane Blast not only provides substandard DPS, it also is an order of magnitude more expensive than the other nuke spells (Fireball, Frostbolt). No sane frost/fire mage would ever want to make it even more expensive.


Mage Class Concerns

Vaneras has requested feedback on the mage class. I've posted on the thread as well, but here's the short version: Inferiority Complex.

Oh, you wanted the long version? Quoting Wikipedia:

An inferiority complex, in the fields of psychology and psychoanalysis, is a feeling that one is inferior to others in some way. Such feelings can arise from an imagined or actual inferiority in the afflicted person. It is often subconscious, and is thought to drive afflicted individuals to overcompensate, resulting either in spectacular achievement or extreme antisocial behavior, or both. Unlike a normal feeling of inferiority, which can act as an incentive for achievement, an inferiority complex is an advanced state of discouragement, often resulting in a retreat from difficulties.
Overcompensation? Check. Extreme antisocial behavior? Check. Advanced state of discouragement? Check. Retreat from difficulties? Check.

Is it simply in our heads? Most of it, yes. But there are some real issues, some of which I listed on the feedback thread. Since the thread rules forbade me from discussing them at length or offering suggestions, I'll do it here. Since 95% of my non-RP playtime is either raiding or preparing to raid, I'll ignore 5-man PvE and PvP completely. Off we go then.
Provide a brief description of the areas you feel are most in need of improvement (you may list a maximum of three issues and each issue should be described in one or two sentences).
  • Itemization. With the change to Evocation, Spirit is even more useless than it was before, yet it's still very "expensive" to have on an item. This makes all items designed for mages objectively worse than the corresponding warlock items. Even if the differences in individual items are small, they do add up when you compare full sets of gear.
    To fix this, Spirit either needs to removed completely, made significantly cheaper or made worth having at the current cost. Cheaper Spirit would also benefit healers, who do have spell rotations which allow Spirit to work.
    Spell Peneration is an another "junk" stat. Although it's rarer than Spirit and can be useful on some Black Temple bosses.. most of the time it's useless. One way to make it more useful would be to re-introduce the concept of negative resistances. If your Spell Penetration reduces the resistances of your target below zero, he would take extra damage. This would make Spell Penetration useful in fights where the target has zero resistances, such as.. almost all of them.
  • Comparatively low DPS, in both single-target and AoE. Partially caused by poor itemization. Even with our top-of-the-line gear and min/max:ed talents, we get outdamaged by hybrids on single-target DPS and by warlocks on AoE DPS. I admit that while this can be more about individual skill, (lack of) class synergy and gear, the effect is still real and feeds the inferiority complex.
    But there are some issues that truly require Blizzard's attention, such as Seed of Corruption. The spell itself is pretty nice. A decent amount of AoE damage that doesn't require active targeting and can be chaincasted from a distance. The trouble is that Seed of Corruption scales with other AoE while mage spells do not. Any source of damage can trigger the Seed of Corruption, so if there are other sources of AoE damage present (such as mages), the Seed will detonate immediately for 1200 damage (non-crit, without spelldamage). No AoE spell in the game can compete with the Seed of Corruption in such a situation. Either the scaling needs to be removed or introduced into other spells.
    Single-target DPS inferiority can be divided into two subcategories: Melee and shadow priest + warlock. Melee should always do more DPS than mages because melee DPS is more hazardous than ranged, but the huge variety of melee buffs and procs tilts the favor heavily to melee. Melee classes benefit from increases to their base stats, while the +crit gained from Intellect is mostly neglible. Therefore paladin, shaman and druid buffs benefit melee much more than they benefit casters.
    The other side of the inferiority is shadow priests and warlocks. A competent warlock can already outdamage a mage, but a warlock coupled with a shadow priest can rack up numbers that mages can only dream about.
    Unfortunately, figuring out a way to fix this without introducing more imbalances is hard. Mages do need some classes to buddy up with. Elemental shamans and moonkins could be viable candidates, but the synergy needs to be reciprocal. Aside from Winter's Chill (which is only benefical to Frost Shock) and Fire Vulnerability (which is only useful to Flame Shock), there isn't that much that the mage can provide. The one common thing that these three classes do have is the need for spell crit. Elemental shamans have their totems and Moonkins have their aura, so mages would need something similar. Like a Winter's Chill that worked with all spells.
  • Mana economy. To try to keep up with other classes in DPS, mages need to sacrifice mana efficiency completely. The design philosophy behind mage tier 5 set and the whole Arcane tree is a perfect example. We need to literally burn much more mana (which we don't have) than other classes to do less damage than they do. The upcoming reusable mana gems will alleviate this somewhat, but don't remove the problem altogether. Mages would need a lot more intellect to wean their addiction to mana potions, and increased +spell crit from the intellect wouldn't hurt either. Add in additional scaling mechanisms as Master of Elements and 3-piece Spellfire set and we might have something viable there. To get that intellect the stat needs to be made cheaper, just like stamina was made cheaper for the Burning Crusade. Warlock gear would delegate those freed item points to stamina (which provides them a dual benefit), while mage gear would get much more intellect-heavy.